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Rahul Gandhi submits charter of demands to Modi, wants all restrictions on cash withdrawals gone

New Delhi: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi put forth a charter of demands to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to lift restrictions on cash withdrawals immediately and pay Rs 25,000 to every family below the poverty line.

Rahul Gandhi. PTIRahul Gandhi. PTI

Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Gandhi took to Twitter to highlight his demands ahead of Modi’s second television address to the nation on Saturday, after his surprise 8 November announcement, where he announced the demonetisation of Rs 1,000 and old Rs 500 currency notes.

The Congress vice-president, a staunch critic of the government’s decision to demonetise the notes, listed out his eight demands to Modi as the 50-day period asked by the prime minister to normalise the situation expired on Friday. and there still isn’t seem to have some issues with the availability of notes.

He has dubbed the move the single most arbitrary decision in the history of the world affecting 1.3 billion people. Besides asking Modi to “lift restrictions on withdrawal of money with immediate effect”, Gandhi demanded the prime minister to deposit Rs 25,000 in the account of one woman in each Below Poverty Line (BPL) family.

He advocated immediately abolishing charges on digital transactions and called for income and sales taxes rebate of 50 percent to small-scale shopkeepers and businesses. Gandhi demanded the prime minister to compensate all bank account holders with special interest rate at 18 percent per annum for the “time restrictions are in place”.

He also urged doubling of number of guaranteed workdays and wage rate under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment
Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for a year and a special one-time bonus of 20 per cent over and above the Minimum Support Price
(MSP) of all rabi crops.

Another of his demands was that rate of ration under public distribution system (PDS) be halved for a year under the provision of Food Security Act. In one of his tweets, Gandhi said, “Destroyed in the last 50 days: trust in the Prime Minister’s word. Weekly cash withdrawal limits must go.”

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 17:30 IST

One little BHIM set to change India: Your thumb is your bank now, says PM Modi

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>More than 50 days after announcing his demonetization move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday launched the mobile app BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) which he said would enable easier digital transactions for the common man.The app—an updated version of UPI (Unified Payment Interface) and USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data)—can be downloaded from the Android app store.Dedicating the new app to Dr BR Ambedkar, the Prime Minister said that Ambedkar had always worked for the poor. “Very few people know that Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar who gave us the Constitution, was a great economist and had even wrote a thesis on the Indian rupee…RBI was born out of Ambedkar’s thesis,” said Modi, adding that the app will empower small traders, tribals, and farmers.Modi also felicitated winners of the Lucky Grahak Yojana at the DigiDhan Mela in Talkatora stadium. The event saw a crowd of more than 5,000 people and around 65 stalls of banks, e-wallets and private players.The PM said the BHIM app can be used on any phone. “There is no need for Internet connectivity, one only needs a thumb,” said Modi adding, “There was a time when an illiterate was called angutha chaap. Now, the times have changed. Your thumb is your bank now. It has become your identity now.”Taking a dig at the Opposition, Modi said, “Look at the newspapers or video clips from three years ago; the news was all about what we had lost in scams. However, today, it is about what has come back or what is the gain?””Over the 100-day period, several families will be given the prizes. These schemes were launched as a Christmas gift to benefit poor,” Modi said reiterating that the mega draw will take place on April 14, the birth anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.He said that India can once again bring back its past and become the sone ki chidiya (bird of gold) with an increased digital connectivity.”The day was not far off when the cash-based transaction will turn completely digital,” he emphasised. For the first time, India united to remove its own shortcomings, he said.Thanking the media for highlighting digital payment issues, he asked people to at least do five digital transactions from January 1, 2017.Meanwhile, several people attending the event said they are yet to open a bank account.”I don’t have an account. My children withdraw money for me whenever needed. I just wanted to meet Modi to highlight some of my problems,” said Malviya Nagar resident Gulab.The exhibitors, however, said the fair has given a common ground to the visitors to learn and operate on the different modes of digital payment.An exhibitor from the NPCI stall said they have received several enquiries from visitors, especially from the lower middle class strata, keen on operating the Aadhaar-enabled payment system and UPI as ways of digital transactions.”The best part is they could get an instant bank account here at the fair and get started with digital payments,” he said.

UP polls: RLD, ally declare Jayant Chaudhary as CM candidate

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>RLD leader and former MP Jayant Chaudhary was today projected as chief ministerial candidate for the party and its allies at a rally at Abairani crossing here.”Young RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary would be projected as chief ministerial candidate during the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha elections in the state,” JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav announced amidst applause from the large gathering at the Kisan Adhikar rally.He also said if voted to power, the alliance government would implemenet total prohibition in the state.”People want change since there has been no development during SP or BSP rule in the state,” he claimed.He sarcastically said while the cycle (poll symbol of the Samajwadi Party) has reached a “punctured stage”, elephant (BSP’s poll symbol) is without its ‘mahavat’ (controller).”An elephant without Mahavat would cause heavy destruction to crop,” he said.Calling BJP as ‘Bhartiya Jumla Party’, National President of RLD Ajeet Singh reminded the audience the promises made by Modi during Lok Sabha election campaign.”Modi had allured everybody that 15 lakh would come in his account however the allurement proved otherwise,” he said.Referring to the ongoing inner fight in the SP, he said, “Both the wheels of cycle are moving in different directions.

Railways announce 10% rebate on vacant train berths

Thu, 29 Dec 2016-10:21pm , New Delhi , PTI
<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Worried over many unoccupied seats in Mail/Express trains, railways on Thursday announced 10% rebate for vacant berths after finalisation of the reservation charts from January 1.A passenger can avail 10% rebate in basic fare for availing the vacant berths in all reserved categories including AC and Sleeper class after the finalisation of the chart, according to a railway notification.The rebate will to be made effective from January 1, 2017 for six months.The 10% discount will be based on basic fare of last ticket sold in the train. However, all other charges like reservation and super fast will be levied accordingly.

Days after Swati Chaturvedi’s book on BJP’s social media tacts, whistleblower Sadhvi Khosla’s credibility questioned

The cloud of controversy surrounding Swati Chaturvedi’s book I am a troll: Inside the secret world of the BJP’s digital army continues to get murkier.

The book that released last week on the Juggernaut imprint attracted instant attention for the details it contained about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its social media tactics and the methods employed to intimidate dissenters. Over the days since its release, the author has been — somewhat unsurprisingly — trolled viciously on social media and on certain online publications. Meanwhile, the credibility of Sadhvi Khosla — whose account of what it was like working in the BJP’s IT cell — has been called into question, most notably by Smita Barooah.

Barooah was also part of the same cell for which Khosla worked, and has fiercely denied the claims made in Chaturvedi’s book.

Silly games or not, there appear to be a few people who aren’t entirely convinced by Barooah’s claims.

Whether or not this escalates further remains to be seen. For now, one thing is certain, internet trolls are in for a fantastic start to the New Year.

First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 16:05 IST

CMs’ committee on digital payments in favour of continuing incentives on cashless transactions

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu on Tuesday said there are plans to import one million PoS machines to enable cashless payments across India. Naidu, who is the convenor of the 13 member committee of chief ministers on digital payments, said that the committee would recommend continuation of the incentives beyond December 31.Naidu said the committee will present its interim report on digital payments movement to Prime Minister Narendra Modi within a week, while also planning a sustainable, long-term, policy to attract the majority in India to move to digital payments through providing incentives. “Our focus is on providing more incentives for making digital payments a mass movement,” Naidu told the media after the fourth meeting of the committee. The government has given certain incentives post demonetization like waiver of Merchant Discount Rate (MDR) on card usage till the year-end.“Two major breakthroughs using existing infrastructure have been Aadhaar Pay and modified versions of USSD and UPI, and the two would be launched soon,”Naidu said, adding that the technology has also been significantly upgraded for a larger number of Indians to pay digitally. “An app for UPI and interoperability of USSD and UPI has now been made possible which will be a major push for 600 million Indians to use digital payments,”Naidu said, adding that the committee is working with NITI Aayog to address existing constraints in connectivity, hardware and technical infrastructure to push cashless transactions.During the meeting, a presentation was made regarding the best practices and learnings from other countries for a digital economy in India.Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was also part of the meeting, tweeted, “We stressed on inclusion of all cooperative, regional banks and DCCBs in this integrated app to make it more beneficial in rural areas.”NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya said IT industry body Nasscom, telephone operators and Niti Aayog have created a dedicated helpline – 14444 – for addressing all queries on digitial payments, which will soon be made operational.

Here’s why demonetization is barely affecting certain tribal villages of Maharashtra

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>As we entered Mendha Lekha village in Dhanora Tehsil of Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, one thing which will surprise you the most is that almost every household has grown pumpkin or native beans (wal) and has goats or poultry or cow in their backyard.The livelihood of 300-odd people of Gond tribe community in Mendha is dependent on forest produce and farming. The village has community forest rights on 1,800 hectares of forest land under the Forest Rights Act 2006. Then there is a 100 hectare of farmland under the “individual rights” of all the residents. Following centuries-old traditions, the close-knit tribal village grows only food crops such as rice and pulses, mainly for its own consumption. While, vegetables are grown in the backyard, in every household, eggs, chicken and mutton are also available at home. Barring purchase of small items like salt, spices, tea and utensils, which is usually a monthly affair, tribal families do very little cash transactions.“We hardly need cash above few hundreds. The money we earn by selling tendu and bamboo is disbursed to all villagers through bank accounts only. Hence, demonetization has no effect in my village,” says Devaji Tofa, the village leader of Medha, known for grassroots democracy. He is credited with transforming his village into a rich, self-reliant entity by heading a successful campaign to acquire community forest rights for the Mendha Gram Sabha in 2011, emulated by over 1,300 villages of the district later.While a large part of urban and rural India is facing hardships due to the cash crunch in banks since demonetization, Tribal villages in Naxal-affected Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra seem to be largely unaffected by the move mainly because of self-reliance and adopting banking. The district has nearly 4.8 lakh tribal population, 40% of the total headcount. Maharashtra is home to one crore tribals, who account for nearly 10% of the population in the state.The “big cash component” comes into the picture in the Gadchiroli tribal villages only when they sell tendu leaves, bamboo and some other minor forest produce.This is an annual affair for tendu and other produce and once in 3-4 years for bamboo. Over 1,300 gram sabhas and their residents have bank accounts. Each gram sabha has around 50-100 households, earning up to Rs 40 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore by selling tendu and bamboo. “The earnings are then distributed equally among all, through online mode only,” says Bavsa Pave from Mohgaon, a village nearly 50 km away from Gadchiroli city.The tribals, whose livelihood is primarily based on forests produce and farming, largely remain as a close-knit family even now. They exchange farm produce, celebrate together and help each other in crisis.“We grow rice and pulses in fields while vegetables like beans, pumpkin are grown in the backyard. For constructing home, we use sand and wood from our own forests. All we need is just a few hundred rupees to purchase fruits and other items which are not grown here. Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 never comes into picture, hence no worries,” says Dinesh Tekam, a farmer from Dhanora. Most of the children study in tribal residential schools and the youngsters, a few of them, study in colleges in big cities and live in hostels supported by the government. For big festivals and feasts, which are a community celebration, Gond and Madia tribes go and hunt bigger animals like deer and wild pigs from deep forests. “We have been doing so since ages but we have some strict rules to conserve the nature. A hunter attempts for only three consecutive days. If he fails to get a wild animal, then we abandon it altogether for that festival,” said villagers from Laheri village in Bhamragad tehsil. Other 15 tribal districts in the state are also largely unaffected in the demonetization drive albeit due to different reasons. Since community and individual forest rights are poorly implemented in these districts, people suffer due to lack of livelihood resources. For instance, villages in Palghar and Amravati (Melghat) struggle with poverty and malnutrition. “Being cashless is not a choice but a compulsion for many of us,” says a Palghar villager, who lost his child to malnutrition in May. In Nandurbar, Thane and Nanded, which have sizeable tribal population, most tribals are either farmers with small land holdings or farm labourers. “Many of them have never seen Rs 1,000 or Rs 2,000 note for that matter. Their needs are minimum,” said Gowardhan Munde, a teacher from Kinwat, Nanded. “Cops inquire whether we carry Naxals’ money”Many villagers in Naxal-affected Gadchiroli district charged security personnel of highhandedness and unnecessary questioning while they queued up outside banks to deposit now invalid currencies. “Police personnel unnecessarily harassed us by asking whether we are depositing own money or that of Naxals’. Those who came with higher amounts were questioned by the cops at many places,” claimed Ramdas Jarate, a tribal activist in Gadchiroli. Villagers had to travel 50-60 km to reach to their nearest banks, a part of which was on foot, to deposit banned notes in the initial few weeks. Some had to spend the entire night outside when they failed to get cash. Only handful of banks and ATMs exist in the district, while the tehsils have just one or two.

Rahul dares PM Modi to reveal names of Swiss account holders

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of protecting black money hoarders and demanded that the names of Swiss account holders be revealed to the nation.”He (Modi) said he is going to reveal the names of those who hold Swiss accounts. The Swiss Government has given the list to Narendra Modi ji. When is he going to bring the list in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha” We want to know who the corrupt are. He should also tell why he is trying to protect these defaulters,” said Gandhi. Gandhi also continued his outburst against the government”s demonetization move and demanded answers from the Prime Minister.”Since November 8, how much black money has been recovered” How much economic loss has the nation faced” How many people became unemployed” How many people lost their lives due to demonetization and if the government has provided compensation to them and if not then why. When the PM took this decision whom did he ask, name the experts whose advice did he take” PM should give the names of those who deposited more than Rs. 25 lakhs two months before November 8,” he said.Terming the decision to ban high-denomination currency notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 as a yagna, Gandhi demanded proper compensation for those affected post this decision. “The PM has performed the yagna of demonetization for 50 families. The Congress is demanding the way compensation should be made. The limit of Rs. 24,000 should be withdrawn. By putting this limit, you are snatching away the financial independence of the people. Secondly, loans of the farmers should be waived off and bonus on 20 percent MSP should be given. Every women of the BPL family must be given Rs. 25,000. The daily wages of the MNREGA workers should be doubled,” he said.Gandhi’s fresh outburst against the ruling dispensation came a day after the anti-demonetization meeting, which was attended by all opposition parties except the Left, Janata Dal (United) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Taking on the opposition for raising objections to the demonetization drive, Prime Minister Modi yesterday described the move as a ‘safayi abhiyan’ aimed at curbing black money and corruption. Addressing a parivartan rally in Congress-ruled Uttarakhand, the Prime Minister said that the country has suffered in the past not just because of black money but also due to leadership with ‘malicious heart.’

Hyderabad: Con men posing as CBI officials loot 40 kg gold from Muthoot Finance

Hyderabad: Posing as CBI officials, five unidentified persons looted 40 kg gold from a Muthoot Finance officer here on Wednesday, the city police said.

The con men escaped with gold ornaments valued at about Rs 10 crore after first gaining access through the CBI pretence and then threatening the staff with weapons at the Ramachandrapuram office of the company on the outskirts of the city.

Cyberabad Police Commissioner Sandeep Shandilya said they also looted Rs 1 lakh cash.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Initially police had stated that 46 kg gold was looted.

According to police, five persons came to Muthoot Finance branch in the morning and told the staff that they were Central Bureau of Investigation officials and wanted to check records and gold in the lockers as they were investigating a case of theft.

When the branch manager said he was not in a position to show the lockers without permission from top officials, the unidentified men threatened action against him for disobeying orders of CBI officials.

When the lockers were opened, the intruders started collecting the golden ornaments in their bags. As the employees raised objection, one of the men whipped out a gun, threatened the branch manager and other employees and locked them in a bathroom.

The robbers also took away the hard disk of CCTV cameras with them.

Police have launched a massive hunt for the robbers, who escaped in a black coloured Scorpio.

The police commissioner said 16 teams have been formed to track down the culprits. Police were trying to identify the con men by analysing the footage from CCTV cameras around Muthoot Finance branch.

The policemen were searching vehicles along Hyderabad-Mumbai highway from Ramachandrapuram to Zaheerabad town in Sangareddy district.

Meanwhile, dozens of account holders who had kept their gold in Muthoot Finance branch gathered outside and wanted to know from the officials as to when will they get back their gold.

The officials told the people that their gold was completely insured. They said nobody should be worried as Muthoot Finance has 160 tonnes of gold at 4,500 branches spread across the country.

First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 17:21 IST

Demonetization | ‘Will pressure Modi to resign if fails to solve problems’: Rahul leads fractured Opposition to attack PM

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Eight Opposition parties under Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, and Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, on Tuesday, joined hands against demonetization and launched an attack on Prime Minister Modi, accusing the party of “corruption.”Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who had steered the Opposition’s unity, had invited 16 political parties, but in the end only eight turned up. Unexpectedly, no joint programme was announced, leaving it for parties to chalk out their own protest programmes on a common minimum agenda against demonetization. The Congress will launch its own nationwide protest from January 5.The press conference was attended by the Trinamool Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the DMK and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, while the JD-U, Samajwadi Party, BSP, CPI (M) and NCP decided to give it a miss. Ahead of the meeting, the leaders held a meeting at the Constitution Club. Sources said that Mrs Gandhi had carefully chosen the venue, so that it didn’t appear to look like a Congress sponsored programme.On the issue of demonetization though, Opposition party members however seemed to slightly differ in their demands. While Mamata demanded the resignation of Modi for “pushing India back by 20 years through demonetization,” Rahul had a different slightly viewpoint. Instead of endorsing Mamata’s call for Modi to resign, the Congress vice-president wanted the PM to explain clearly why he went in for demonetization, “instead of constantly changing the goalposts.”Rahul added, “We (Opposition) would certainly put pressure on him to resign if he neither justifies the move nor solves the problems of the people suffering from his arbitrary financial experiment.”The Congress leader also continuously referred to allegations that Modi had benefitted financially from the Sahara and Birla corporate houses, when he was Gujarat chief minister.In a counter attack on Rahul at a press conference at BJP headquarters in Delhi, union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described him as “lacking maturity” as he kept making “baseless and shameless comments against the PM.” Prasad also pointed out that none of the Opposition leaders at the joint press conference had repeated Rahul’s allegations.He went on to accuse Rahul of “trying to save the corrupt” by demanding a disclosure in Parliament the names of account holders received from foreign banks.

All my cash is white: Mayawati

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A day after the Enforcement Directorate detected cash deposits totaling over Rs 104 crore in an account belonging to her party, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati said on Tuesday that “every penny” was deposited in a bank account and not stashed in her office or at home.At a hurriedly convened news conference in Lucknow, the BSP leader was at her combative best as she accused the ruling BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “misusing power and maligning the image” of her party ahead of crucial elections in Uttar Pradesh.Responding to allegations that the sources of the money were dubious, Mayawati said that the money had been deposited following due procedures. “We have an account of every rupee deposited in banks, but what about deposits by the BJP?” asked Mayawati. She also dared the PM to make public bank deposits by the BJP, which she alleged was “anti-Dalit”.”After I exposed the conspiracy of the BJP in forcing an alliance between the Samajwadi Party and Congress on Monday, BJP was taken aback, and out of sheer frustration it indulged in this petty act against my party and family members of the party chief,” she said.Reacting to Mayawati’s allegations, senior BJP leader and union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad took strong exception to her linking the ED’s move with the Dalit issue. “If the Enforcement Directorate is investigating some deposits, why should this be labelled as an ‘anti-Dalit’ issue? We can clearly dismiss this contention with some contempt,” he said.”The bigger question is that can corruption be hidden behind a Dalit card? What is Mayawati trying to say, that her corruption is a movement for the rights of Dalits? This is an insult to all the Dalits of India,” he told news persons. Prasad added that Mayawati had not denied the existence of the deposits in the account and asked if it was a donation or a money conversion exercise.”The development of scheduled castes should not be ‘mortgaged’ to corruption to one party or leader,” he said.In her news conference, Mayawati asked the PM to make public major expense, statement of deposits, and expenditures of the BJP. Her party, the BSP, is pitted in a do or die battle against the BJP, the SP and the Congress in a power packed contest in the UP elections. This election is being seen as the most crucial election before the national elections of 2019.Sources in the Enforcement Directorate have said that around Rs 104 crore were deposited in a United Bank of India account belonging to the BSP in the seven weeks since PM Modi banned 500 and Rs 1,000-rupee notes. At the same bank, Rs 1.43 crore were reportedly deposited in the account of Mayawati’s brother, Anand Kumar, sources said.Under the Income Tax Act, the income of political parties is exempt from tax provided all donations above Rs. 20,000 are taken by cheque and that in cash is properly documented, with full details of the donors. These accounts also have to be audited.Mayawati said the note ban came in the midst of the process of seeking donations from supporters for the elections. The old notes that the party had were deposited by due process and she had herself inspected accounts, she said, adding, “should we have thrown away the old notes?”Dismissing allegations against her brother, Mayawati said, “He has his own business and deposited money in bank account as per Income Tax norms.”Commenting on the alleged moves of the BJP against her, Mayawati said this action of BJP is a “good omen” for her party, as it had been in 2007. In 2007, the then BJP government at the Centre had raked up the Taj Corridor issue, but the issue helped her get absolute majority in the UP Assembly.”If Modi and his government take a few more decisions like note ban, it will make our return to power in UP easier… they will pave our way for an easy victory and I will not have to toil much… I want to thank them for it,” she said.”BJP and other parties have also deposited their money in banks. Nobody is talking about that,” she said, adding it only went on to prove the “anti-Dalit and casteist mentality” of the BJP.

Demonetisation: In Kerala, many back cashless drive but political opposition remains concern

Gafoor T was restless when he found 70 percent drop in sales in his tea powder shop at Kottakkal in Malappuram district of Kerala post-demonetisation. He did not have much hope when employees of the Akshaya Common Service Centre approached him with a suggestion to use e-wallet to overcome the cash crunch that hit his business.

Though Gafoor was aware of e-wallets, he was skeptical how his customers, who are mostly rural folks, will receive it. To his utter dismay, Gafoor found most people willing to use their mobile phones to buy tea leaves.

After he put up a board announcing acceptance of e-wallets outside his shop, Gafoor saw not only his old customers returning but also new ones joining him. This has helped him not only cover the loss but also gain additional 10 percent sales in just one month.

Niyas Pulppadan, Malappuram district coordinator of Akshaya, a project initiated by the Kerala government in 1990s to bridge digital divide, said many like Gafoor in the district had switched on to cashless transaction methods.

He told Firstpost that majority of the 850 merchants at Kottakkal were now using one or the other digital payment platforms to run their business. He said people both in rural and urban areas were eager to try the cashless transaction options.

All this is made possible by the intensive campaign launched by Akshaya, which was designated by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology as the nodal agency for the ‘Go Cashless’ campaign in Kerala, to promote digital payment platforms among merchants and the general public.

digital-list

Cashless drive in Kerala has found many takers. Photo courtesy: TK Devasia

The drive being implemented through 2,654 Akshaya citizen service centres across Kerala with the help of banks and other agencies concerned and is aimed at bringing all 941 village panchayats, 87 municipalities and six corporations in the state into a cashless regime.

Niyas said almost all 94 panchayats and 12 municipalities in Malappuram district had completed the target and the district was ready to be declared as the first cashless district in India. A place is deemed to be cashless, when at least 10 traders and more than 40 consumers start using digital wallet as per the Government of India’s directive.

“We needed to enable only 4,240 consumers and 1,060 traders to use digital wallet to get the cashless district status according to the government norms. But we have already reached out to 18,650 people and more than 1,200 traders in the district. We expect an official declaration in the first week of January,” said Niyas.

PP Jayakumar, manager, e-Governance and networking, Akshaya, said Malappuram was able to march ahead as it has a well-knit Akshaya network and has the highest number of migrants working abroad.

Malappuram was the first district in the country to achieve total computer literacy. At least one member in every family in the district was made e-literate under the Akshaya project piloted in the district way back in 2002.

“The other districts that followed suit are also trying to keep pace with Malappuram. Districts like Thrissur, Kottayam, Kozhikode, Palakkad, and Pathanamthitta are closely following Malappuram,” Jayakumar said.

He told Firstpost that their attempt was to bring the entire state into cashless economy. Akshaya has covered more than 2 lakh people and 13,000 merchants in the state so far under the campaign, he added.

Jayakumar said they were trying to familiarise people with digital payment platforms by organising live demonstrations. At the training sessions, participants are also given tips on enhancing security for online banking.

The initial focus is on five platforms, namely debit/credit/prepaid cards issued by banks, USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), Aadhaar-enabled payment system (AEPS), UPI (Unified Payments Interface) and e-wallet. Jayakumar said that the e-wallet system was preferred by most people.

He said that the merchants had initially shown hesitation in accepting digital payments because of their fear about tax liabilities. However, they overcame the fear when they were told about the convenience and advantages of cashless transaction.

“The small traders need not fear about tax liabilities as turnover up to Rs 10 lakhs is now exempted from tax. This may go up to Rs 20 lakhs when GST is implemented. As far as big traders are concerned, cashless transactions will minimise the need for maintaining records and free them from security concerns,” he added.

Jayakumar pointed out a sharp drop in burglary and thefts following demonetisation. The traders, who had initially opposed demonetisation, are now fully supporting the digital payment drive. The Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi, which is rated as the single largest trade body in the world, is actively associating with the ‘Go Cashless’ campaign.

Niyas said that the Malappuram unit of the traders’ body had taken the lead in creating awareness among the merchants and the general public about e-wallets. They have joined hands with Akshaya in taking e-wallets to the people, he added.

Jayakumar said that the ‘Go Cashless’ campaign may help Kerala to increase the digital transactions by 30 to 40 percent. The total digital transactions in the state are now estimated to be around 30 percent. The state can easily switch over to full cashless economy with little more efforts, he added.

However, Akshaya coordinators in some districts are concerned about lack of support from political parties to the campaign. Devi S Nath, the coordinator of Palakkad district, said that the local bodies ruled by certain political parties were showing reluctance in issuing the certificate declaring the panchayats cashless.

This is mainly because of the political opposition to the demonetisation scheme. All parties, barring the BJP, had come out against the scheme citing hardships caused to the people.

While the Congress-led Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) is lying low after their initial round of protests, the CPM-led ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) is trying to intensify their agitation by organising a human chain across the state on 29 December .

Senior Akshaya officials said that the political opposition will not affect the campaign as cashless transaction will improve tax compliance and boost the state’s revenue. In fact, digital payment is a major component of the digital empowerment programme launched by the state government with a view to bridge the digital divide by 2020.

The programme is aimed at making 10 lakh people digitally literate. The services of around 40,000 student police cadets (SPCs) from 400 schools across the state are proposed to be used for the training.

Tablets have already been provided to the students as part of the training ahead of the campaign. The pilot phase of the project in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram is now nearing completion. It has covered 10,000 people in the district so far.

Kerala has all infrastructures in place to embrace cashless economy. Besides 100 percent literacy, Kerala is one of the most banked states in the country today. The state achieved 100 percent bank account coverage for all the household way back in 2011. The state now has one bank branch for every 5,900 persons as against all India average of 11,000.

Apart from this, Kerala also became India’s first complete digital state in 2015 after it achieved 100 percent mobile density, 75 percent e-literacy, highest digital banking rate and broadband connection up to panchayat level. The state has implemented e-district programmes in all districts and has linked Aadhaar card with bank accounts.

Akshaya officials hope that the current campaign will enable Kerala to achieve another distinction of becoming India’s first cashless state.

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 14:02 IST

Demonetisation: Four things Narendra Modi should do to take the economy out of the mess

For the Narendra Modi government, which stormed into power in May 2014, to come out of the demonetisation mess unhurt isn’t an easy task. This is despite what it promises to achieve in the future –an economy free of black money, corruption and fake notes, and no matter how good the latter-stated objectives are (including a shift to a cashless economy). And certainly not in the manner it has gone about scrapping 86 percent of currency in circulation all of a sudden on the night of 8 November throwing the economy into a crisis. The consequences so far have been disastrous — corporate profitability has taken a hit, lakhs of jobs have been reportedly lost in the informal sector, consumer ability to spend has been curtailed, farmers affected as prices have crashed, services and manufacturing sectors have been impacted and there is skepticism globally on the rationale behind Modi’s currency ban.

Not surprisingly, both government and private forecasters are competing to show lower India GDP numbers for fiscal year 2017. The estimates range from 7.1 percent (Reserve Bank of India) to an extremely pessimistic 3.5 percent by Ambit Capital, a private brokerage firm.  The available data–advance tax payments by corporates, PMI numbers, auto sales and slowdown in service-oriented sectors confirm the fear of a deeper impact to the economy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFPPrime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

Most economists have ruled the third quarter as a miss, but the real danger comes if the cash crunch-woes spill over to the fourth quarter since then there will be a cascading impact in the economy.

According to data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), unemployment rates fell to less than 5 percent in the week of 27 November, but has since risen to 6.1 percent in the week of 4 December to 6.6 percent in the week ended 11 December and then to 7 percent in the week ended 18 December. The impact comes with a lag and we need to wait for fresh numbers.

Need of the hour

There are a few critical tasks before the Modi-government that should be done urgently:

First, refrain from populist, non-productive expenditures such as promising the poor that the gains on black money will be distributed to them and that farm loans will be waived. The government should focus on boosting the capital base of banks on an urgent basis so that bank credit flow to productive sectors doesn’t suffer, and sell off the loss-making banks or consolidate a few if there is synergy amongst them. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has a good opportunity in the 2017 Union Budget slated for 1 February to announce some bold measures to take the reform process ahead in the public banking sector.

Presently, state-run banks are severely undercapitalized and the problem is worsened with their non-performing assets (NPAs) hitting the roof (nearly Rs 6 lakh crore as on September, 2016 or nearly 8 percent of the total bank credit), and total chunk of stressed assets (bad loans and restructured loans together) jumping to 12-13 percent of the total bank credit. Under the government’s Indradhanush plan, of the Rs 1.8 lakh crore capital needed by banks under Basel-III, the government has offered to infuse Rs 70,000 crore over four years till 2018-19 and wants the government banks to fend for themselves for the remaining Rs 1.1 lakh crore from the market. This is not enough. Also, it is almost impossible that weak state-run banks will find takers. This compounds the problem. So far, there is not much progress on the reform front. That is why the government, the majority owner in these banks, will have to think about infusing them with higher chunks of capital and push the reform button.

Two, offer a fiscal boost to the economy by ramping up infrastructure spending. A section of economists agree that the economy is in need of a strong stimulus to get back on track. This is warranted because several layers of economy have taken a hit post-demonetisation. One of the expectations from the demonetisation exercise was to get a ‘windfall’ of Rs 4-5 lakh crore provided that kind of money doesn’t return to the system as black money hoarders run for cover. The government was expecting to garner around Rs 10 lakh crore of the Rs 15.44 lakh crore demonetized on 8 November. But, that hasn’t happened yet. This, coupled with the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) clarification that there is no possibility of a transfer of surplus from the central bank to the government on account of reduced currency liability, has ruled out any immediate tangible gains for the government. Instead, the exercise has resulted in considerable damage to the economy.

Third, Jaitley should also announce reliefs to both individuals and corporations in Budget 2017 by offering substantial direct tax reductions to tide over the difficult phase. This will work in three ways—to make India still an attractive destination for companies when US president-elect Donald Trump’s administration rolls out massive tax cuts, reverse the negative mood on account of the artificially imposed cash-crunch and put more money into the household kitty to keep the consumption story going. Corporate tax incentives should be over and above the ongoing plan to bring down corporate tax rates to 25 percent over a period and gradually remove exemptions. But this hasn’t found much appeal in the industry since the effective rate is only about 23 percent after exemptions. This is the reason the marginal tax cut in the last budget hasn’t received much response. The government will have to act to regain losing momentum by offering industry a temporary stimulus.

Fourth, it is even more critical now to resolve the cash crunch as fast as possible and bring things back to normalcy. The government can’t expect a miraculous shift to digital payments in a few months replacing a world of cash. Estimates are that 70 percent of the economy still transacts in cash. Pulling out 86 percent cash in one go in a country like India and then facing a cash shortage could be compared to an act of removing blood out of a healthy human body to filling it again with better quality blood, only to realize that there is not enough stock!

Until 19 December, the RBI has infused only Rs 5.92 lakh crore into the banking system as compared with deposits worth Rs 12.44 lakh crore in old Rs 500, Rs 1,000 currencies. Of the total 22.6 billion pieces of notes of various denominations infused, only 2.2 billion belonged to higher denominations of Rs 2,000 and Rs 500. It is not clear how many of the 2.2 billion is in Rs 2,000 notes and how many are Rs 500 notes. Herein lies the problem. The ongoing cash crunch, according to bankers, is mainly due to shortage of the new Rs 500 notes. An end to the current cash crunch is possible only when there is enough Rs 500 notes coming out of the government mints.

But the tricky part for the Modi government will be to find the fiscal space to spend more simultaneously keeping the fiscal roadmap intact. It needs to meet a 3.5 percent fiscal deficit target for the fiscal year 2017. Given that demonetisation itself is unlikely to give any major fiscal boost, the only hope is for the taxmen to dig out substantial chunks of illegal cash from the system from the funds that reach bank accounts either through the black money declaration scheme or raids contributing to the exchequer. Handling a bigger budget, including that of the Railways, is another challenge. “There is a big monster called the Railway budget coming as part of the general budget this year. This can sharply spike numbers on the expenditure. How will the government handle the new situation is worth watching,” said Devendra Pant, chief economist at India Ratings and Research. The expected boost to tax kitty from more number of digital transactions will come, but only at the beginning of the next year.

The short point here is about balancing Union Budget 2017 with the much-required economic stimulus while keeping the fiscal deficit roadmap intact. This will be a trial by fire for the Modi-government.

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 13:42 IST

‘BJP forced Snapdeal to dump Aamir Khan’: Party IT chief allegedly ordered online abuse

The raging intolerance debate against actor Aamir Khan, which led to Snapdeal dropping him as a brand ambassador in February this year, was not just the e-commerce company’s first choice. According to journalist Swati Chaturvedi’s book I am a Troll, which is being published by Juggernaut, the BJP’s social media cell was implicitly told by the party’s information and technology cell head to exert pressure via social media on Snapdeal to drop Aamir as its brand ambassador.

Snapdeal had announced the termination of contract almost a month after Incredible India, the signature advertising campaign for the tourism ministry to promote India globally, dropped the actor as its brand ambassador. The decision, at that time, was attributed to Khan’s remark on “rising intolerance in India”, but the government had tried to distance itself from that controversy.

Actor Aamir Khan. AFP

Actor Aamir Khan. AFP

In her book, Chaturvedi spoke to Sadhvi Khosla, a former volunteer at the BJP social media cell. Khosla was part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s social media ‘dream’ team in the run up to the 2014 General Election. She quit the BJP social media cell as a volunteer at the end of 2015. Khosla, who runs a knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) company in Gurugram, was in the US in 2014 when she got the call from Modi’s social media team and told Chaturvedi that she was ecstatic at the offer and believed that Modi, “her idol, the man she wanted to see as the Prime Minister of India”, would bring in all the positive change and development that he promised.

In a couple of months, Khosla came to realise that everything was not as it seemed. Khosla told Chaturvedi that the BJP IT cell head Arvind Gupta, who ran the “biggest ever social media operation in the country”, told Khosla that the “goal was to attack and expose the UPA government and the Gandhi family. Volunteers were told to attack certain mainstream journalists — the book explicitly mentions the names of NDTV‘s Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai (then of CNN-IBN) — and malign a few politicians on social media. The trolls were ordered to attack any unflattering mention of Modi,

Khosla admitted that she herself was forced to send messages trolling and abusing minorities, Gandhi family, liberals and journalists. She told the author that WhatsApp messages threatening rape against Barkha were sent out at the behest of Gupta, whose word was the last word as he was directly in touch with Modi. An IIT alumunus, Gupta joined BJP in 2010 and was part of the core team that was credited hugely for the massive mandate that Modi received in 2014.

“It was a never-ending drip feed of hate and bigotry against the minorities, the Gandhi family, journalists on the hit list, liberals, anyone perceived as anti-Modi,” she is quoted in the book as saying.

The “breaking point” for Khosla, however, was when the two reigning Khans of Bollywood were attacked. Last year in November, breaking his silence on the stormy intolerance debate, Aamir had expressed alarm and despondency over the rise in such cases. Speaking at the Ramnath Goenka Awards, Aamir had said:

“Kiran (Rao; filmmaker and Aamir’s wife) and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet.”

Aamir was attacked in the worst possible manner after his comments and Khosla said Gupta messaged everyone from the party’s social media cell: “Sign the Petition to Snapdeal India. Appeal Snapdeal to drop Aamir Khan from their ads” (sic). It provided the link to sign an online petition. At the end of January 2016, Snapdeal did not renew Khan’s contract.

Khosla told Chaturvedi that this incident was the “last nail in the coffin” for her association with BJP. The decision to go after Aamir appears to have had the tacit approval of Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Khosla, in the book, has said that the operation to troll anyone who has unfavourable remarks for the prime minister, still continues.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Gupta rejected the claims made by Khosla and said that she was a supporter of the Opposition Congress party. Her claims are unsubstantiated, Gupta told the paper. He said the BJP had published social media guidelines on its website and never “encouraged trolling”. He said the social media cell of the BJP is being headed by another person since July 2015.

The author of I am a Troll, Chaturvedi herself has been the target of social media trolling. She filed a police complaint last year against an anonymous Twitter account that had deluged her with malicious posts.

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 13:37 IST

Rs 104 cr deposit | Centre misusing machinery to malign BSP, all deposits as per norms: Mayawati

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati on Tuesday hit out at Modi government after the Enforcement Directorate detected cash deposits totalling over Rs. 104 crore in an account belonging to Mayawati-led party.Addressing the media, Mayawati alleged that the BJP was misusing the state machinery to malign the name of BSP party.”We have deposited the money collected as party funds honestly in the bank account. We have account of every rupee deposited in bank, but what about deposits by BJP,” she said.She also alleged that BJP is tarnishing image of BSP ahead of UP Assembly elections.The ED on Monday detected cash deposits totaling over Rs.104 crore in an account belonging to the BSP and Rs 1.43 crore in an account belonging to party Supremo Mayawati’s brother Anand in a branch of United Bank of India.Agency officials said the sleuths called for the records of the deposits made in the BSP account and found that while Rs 102 crore was deposited in Rs 1,000 notes, the rest Rs 3 crore was deposited in the old Rs 500 notes.The ED has also asked the bank to provide to it CCTV footage and KYC documents used to open the accounts, they said. With regard to Anands’s accounts, it is understood, that the agency will soon issue notices to him and also intimate the I-T sleuths for investigation under anti-tax evasion laws.

Rs 104 cr deposited in BSP accounts after note recall, blow to Mayawati as ED investigates

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati came under Enforcement Directorate (ED) scanner on Friday, as the agency detected cash deposits totalling over Rs 104 crore in an account belonging to the party and Rs 1.43 crore in an account belonging to Anand Kumar, Mayawati’s brother, on Friday.ED sources said that the accounts had been detected in a branch of the United Bank of India (UBI) in the capital.Officials said they visited the Karol Bagh branch of the bank as part of their routine survey and enquiry operations to check huge cash deposits, and found that huge deposits were made in these two accounts after demonetization.The agency found that while Rs 102 crore had been deposited in Rs 1,000 notes, the remaining Rs 3 crore had been deposited in old Rs 500 notes. Officials said that about Rs 15-17 crore were being deposited into these accounts every other day. In Anand’s account, ED officials found old notes worth Rs 18.98 lakh.The ED has sought details about the accounts from the bank. It has been understood that the agency will write to the Income-Tax (I-T) department. The ED has also asked the bank to provide it some CCTV footage and the KYC documents used to open the accounts.This is not the first time that the BSP’s supremo’s brother has come under the radar of probe agencies. In April 2015, the Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) started investigating Kumar for alleged dubious transactions, running into crores. The FIU had coordinated with the CBDT and I-T department for a further probe.Currently, the agency has been carrying out enquiry operations at over 50 bank branches to check possible instances of hawala dealings and money- laundering after the demonetization drive.BSP spokespersons and senior leaders refused to comment. Interestingly, the party’s arch rivals, the Samajwadi Party (SP), came to their defence on this issue. A senior SP leader said: “This was not an amount which was found stashed away in homes or lockers. This was an amount deposited in the bank after demonetization. It should not be made a political issue.”

Demonetisation: Woman finds Rs 100 crore in Jan Dhan account, seeks PMO intervention

Ghaziabad: Shocked to find nearly Rs 100 crore in her Jan Dhan account in a Meerut branch of a state-run bank, a woman on Monday sought the PMO’s intervention after the bank officials did not attend to her complaint and kept asking her to come some other time.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

In the complaint to the PMO, sent by her husband Ziledar Singh, Sheetal Yadav said she maintained a Jan Dhan account in Sharda road branch of the State Bank of India (SBI). On 18 December, she went to draw money from the ATM of ICICI bank near their house and was shocked to see that her account stood at Rs 99,99,99,394.

Unable to believe it, she said she asked the person standing next to her in the queue to check it and he confirmed the same amount. She went to another ATM of YES bank nearby and found the same balance.

She continued to visit her bank for two days but the staff did not attend to her complaint and asked her to come after a day when the branch manager would assist her to rectify the matter. When she again went to the bank, she was sent back under another pretext.

Singh, who works in a transformer manufacturing company, said that his wife, working in the packaging department of a factory, draws a salary of Rs 5,000 per month while he also works on a meagre salary. They were shocked when this huge amount came into her account.

Frustrated over the local bank staff’s attitude, Singh said he asked an educated person to help them to send a mail to the PMO.

“We have posted a mail on 26 December to the PMO to help us in solving our problem from where about Rs 100 crore came into the account where the maximum limit of deposit is restricted to Rs 50,000 only,” he said, showing the ATM slips and bank passbook to the media.

No bank employee was available for comments.

First Published On : Dec 26, 2016 22:12 IST

Demonetisation countdown to day 50: Why are govt, RBI so secretive on the whole affair?

Indications are that cash withdrawal curbs imposed after the demonetisation announcement will not end fully by 30 December, 2016 the deadline promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to end the pain of the common man. According to two senior bankers, cash curbs will continue beyond 30 December though some withdrawal relaxations are likely to be announced for businesses.

Also, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) might ease some restrictions on ATM withdrawals, but curbs on high value cash withdrawals are likely to stay for a longer-than-expected period.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

“It will take some more time and only gradually,” said one of the bankers quoted earlier. But it is clear that the government will ease some restrictions, to save its face in the backdrop of the promise made by PM Modi to the common man. In his last Mann Ki Baat telecast of 2016 on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi aggressively defended demonetisation. His line of attack on his critics was that it is the corrupt and black money hoarders who are finding fault with his government’s 8 November surprise move. Also, Modi justified the frequent changes in note ban rules saying it was being done only because the government is sensitive to the problems of the people. Since note ban, the Modi government’s stance has been that demonetisation is for short-term pain and long-term gain.

But, none of these excuses would suffice to justify the gross inconvenience caused to people from all walks of life owing to the cash crunch that isn’t over even now. Even after a month and a half, people are allowed withdrawals of only Rs 24,000 per week from their banks and Rs 2,500 per ATM. India isn’t facing an economic emergency to face such prolonged restrictions on normal banking transactions. Even by the current limits, banks are unable to honor it simply because there is not enough cash in the banking system despite the repeated assurances from the Reserve Bank of India and finance ministry.

Hence, Modi’s reasoning that only the corrupt and fraud oppose demonetisation isn’t fair. Only five days are left for Modi’s 50-day deadline to come to an end. That’s the time he sought to end the ‘temporary’ pain of the people on account of demonetisation-induced artificial cash crunch. But, it is likely that the PM will fail to make good of his promise in its entirety.

The reasons for this aren’t difficult to understand. Until 19 December, the RBI has infused only Rs 5.92 lakh crore into the banking system as compared with deposits worth Rs 12.44 lakh crore in old Rs 500, Rs 1,000 currencies. Of the total 22.6 billion pieces of notes of various denominations infused, about 20.4 billion pieces belonged to smaller denominations of Rs 10, Rs 20, Rs 50 and Rs 100, while only 2.2 billion belonged to higher denominations of Rs 2,000 and Rs 500. It is not clear how many of the 2.2 billion is Rs 2,000 notes and how many are Rs 500 notes.

Here is where the problem lies. The ongoing cash crunch, according to bankers, is mainly due to shortage of new Rs 500 notes. The government pulled out 86 percent of total currency in circulation on 8 November. According to an RTI response, the RBI had only 4.95 lakh crore in the new Rs 2,000 notes on 8 November and not even a single Rs 500 note on that day. The printing of Rs 500 notes only began later. That means, the government and RBI started on Day One with less than a fourth of stock of new currency, that too Rs 2,000 bills, which caused a cash crunch. So far, neither the government nor the RBI has given any clarity on the breakup of Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 notes infused since demonetisation. Chances are that Rs 500 notes issued are only a small fraction.

PM Modi’s justifications for demonetisation or finance minister Arun Jaitley’s clarifications cannot wish away the fact that the Modi government started blind on a massive gamble in public life and economy. It was totally unprepared and decided matters on the go. That explains the endless number of rules, sharp U-turns and the 60 circulars from the Reserve Bank in just a month.

The government had an excuse of secrecy for making an abrupt start but that excuse no longer holds after a month and a half. The entire exercise lacks transparency even at this stage. According to reports (read here), the RBI has refused to make public the details of the board meeting that discussed demonetisation saying “it would lead to disproportionate diversion of resources of the organization.”

It has thus refused to disclose its recommendations to the government to scrap Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes. This response isn’t satisfactory since there has been tremendous pain in the lives of the common men during the exercise and the very role of RBI in demonetisation has been questioned by many. On Friday, the Hindustan Times reported that the decision to scrap high-value notes was cleared by the bank’s board hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision on national television on 8 November.

Given that the excuse of secrecy isn’t valid any longer, the common man deserves to know a) how the demonetisation plan emerged in the first place, b) who were part of the decision-making,  c) how many new currency of Rs 500 has been printed so far, d) how long will the cash crunch last, and e) what is the actual quantifiable cost to the economy on account of demonetisation (economic loss, cost of roll out and estimated job losses).

If people have begun hoarding legitimate cash withdrawn from branches and ATMs post demonetisation, that’s because the trust of public with the banking system is shaken and there is considerable uncertainty on the road ahead. The Modi government still draws considerable support from a good number of the 125 crore Indians on the demonetisation gamble, the pains of which is likely to last beyond the short-term and the likely gains (on black money, wider direct tax base and checking fake currency and terror) will only be visible in the long-term. It is only just that both the government and the RBI take the common man fully into confidence and be transparent about the whole affair.

First Published On : Dec 26, 2016 11:27 IST

Maharashtra man-animal conflict

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>From crop depredation by herbivores in Vidarbha to the rampaging herds of wild elephants in Konkan to the rising leopard presence in parts of Pune and Ahmednagar, the conflict between urbanisation and natural habitats of animals is coming to a head.“These conflicts are inevitable,” a senior forest department official with extensive experience in wildlife management said. Rising population, development projects and construction of dams and roads come with their own toll on the ecology, he said. The difficulty in balancing these competing interests leads humans to wildlife habitations and vice-versa.“Wild boars, which live around agricultural fields, are responsible for most cases of injuries to humans, followed by leopards and sloth bear. Wild boars and leopards account for the highest conflicts with humans due to their proximity with them,” noted another official, adding that in case of attacks by a tiger, the chances of death are almost certain.“Wild boars, nilgai, chital and sambar cause crop depredations and leopards are responsible for most incidents of cattle lifting,” he said. In the Chandrapur area, which has the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, apart from the Bramhapuri forest division, with a rich tiger base, around 1,500 cases of cattle lifting (4-5 daily), were reported annually. This despite the area being under the control of the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM).In Bramhapuri, of the 179 injuries caused to people in 2015, 147 were caused by wild boars while it was 70 in 2014. The department had to summon sharp-shooters to cull wild boars in the district after complaints from villagers and farmers.Forest officials noted that the degradation of habitats led to herbivores entering agricultural fields in neighbouring areas, causing crop depredations. This forced farmers to fence their fields affecting animal movement and some even electrocuted the fences, causing animal deaths.From 2008-09 to October 2016, 2,18,394 cases of crop damage by wild animals have been recorded in Maharashtra. The state government has given compensation worth Rs 5,330.85 lakh.Officials claimed that in parts of Konkan, influential landowners have destroyed virgin forest lands for monoculture of rubber plantations, thus severing a crucial link between the Sahyadri landscape and the tiger-dominated areas down south. Presence of mines in parts of Kolhapur has weakened the corridor further.“There is immense grazing pressure on the jungles. This leads to palatable species of grass being trampled upon by domestic animals, which causes an increase in non-palatable and invasive species and a change in the character of forests. This makes it tough for wild herbivores to settle there,” noted wildlife researcher-activist Ramzan Virani.14-year-old Akshay Rose was grievously injured in a leopard attack at Tansa wildlife sanctuary in Maharashtra —File photoThis competition between wild herbivores and domestic animals leads farmers to shift out of jungles in search of food and water, he said. Carnivores like tigers and leopards also move out in tandem for prey. They often feast on domestic animals, which are easier to hunt and yield more meat. Areas near resource-rich habitats were also being diverted for purposes like setting up coal mines and factories, creating an additional burden on the landscape.“Because of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, encroachments in forest areas are rising. Many forests are being cleared for farming, especially in territorial forest divisions near protected areas (like wildlife sanctuaries and national parks),” Virani said. These jungles acted as buffer in areas that were not part of tiger projects (which work on a core- buffer strategy), he said.The number of tigers in non-protected areas is huge. It forms a fourth of Maharashtra’s tiger population of 203, according to the Phase IV exercise conducted by the forest department last year.Virani, who teaches in the department of zoology at the SM College in Pandharkawada, Yavatmal, suggested that to break the deadlock, habitat development work, including moisture conservation, water retention, meadow development and eradication of invasive weeds, should be undertaken fast. This will attract herbivores to these habitats, and, in turn, stabilise a healthy carnivore population in smaller areas due to food and water availability.Virani, however, added that the state government’s schemes, aimed at participatory conservation and development of sustainable livelihoods, saw the involvement of locals.Activists noted that the ban on the culling of bulls had led to these animals being discarded by their owners, once they were past their prime. They often strayed into forests for food. Girish Vashisth, divisional forest officer and spokesperson of the state wildlife wing, said that the department gives 75 per cent subsidy to people in buffer zones for buying LPG cylinders, thus reducing their dependence on forests for firewood. Toilets were also being built in areas around forests.“Livelihood options with training and job placements are being offered to the youth in areas around the Pench tiger project, Tadoba and the Umred Karhandla wildlife sanctuary,” said Vashisth. Eco-tourism facilities in jungles also created additional revenue sources for people, he said. He admitted that they had come across cases where people had encroached upon forest lands to get their rights under the Forest Rights Act.In villages around sanctuaries, cattle are allowed to graze on a rotational basis in “compartments” (the basic administrative unit in the forest department) and in case of problem animals, orders for their killing were given only as the last resort.THE COMPENSATIONDeath (Human): Kin of the victim gets Rs 8 lakh if death is caused by tigers, leopards, dhole, wild boars, crocodiles, elephants, wolves and bisons.Serious injuries: Victims are compensated with Rs 1 lakh.Death (domestic animals): Death of bulls, cows, buffaloes is compensated with 75% of the market price or Rs 25,000, whichever is lower.Destruction: Farmers are also compensated if their fields are destroyed by wild animals. The amount depends on the type of crop (food crops, horticulture, sugarcane, bananas etc).

Kerala: Stampede in Sabarimala temple amid heavy rush; 40 injured, 3 critical

Sabarimala : At least 40 pilgrims were injured, three of them seriously, in a stampede at the Sabarimala temple on Sunday night after a barricade gave way in the huge rush, authorities said.

Due to the heavy rush, a rope barricade between ‘Sannidhanam’ and ‘Mallikapura’ snapped and the pilgrims, who were leaning on it fell on each other, Pathnamthitta District Collector R Girija told PTI.

According to ANI, Ayyappa Dharma Sena President Rahul Easwar has said that the situation has been brought under control.

The injured were initially taken to the Sannidhanam hospital of which two seriously injured were shifted to Kottayam medical college hospital and three others to Pamba hospital, she said.

The two grievously injured pilgrims have suffered head and rib injuries but they are conscious, she said. There was a heavy rush of pilgrims today, the penultimate day before the culmination of 41-day ‘mandala pooja’.

According to the temple authorities, with Monday being a key day in the two-month-long Sabarimala festival, there was an unprecedented rush of devotees on Sunday and the incident occurred when the sanctum santorum of the temple was opened late Sunday evening.

The stampede occurred just as the holy ‘Thanga Angi’ procession carrying ornaments worn by Lord Ayyappa on Mandala pooja on Monday had reached the temple this evening.

The procession starts from Aranmula Sree Parthasarthy temple four days before the Mandala pooja.

To control the crowd, police had set up barricades but on account of the huge rush, the barricade broke and caused a stampede, in which the pilgrims got injured.

Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said there was heavy rush of pilgrims at the shrine when the ‘thanga angi’ procession arrived.

He was at the temple shortly before the stampede and had left the shrine after the ‘deeparadhana’ (evening prayers) with the Thanga Angi.

The minister said he was on his way to the hospital. He later said the situation has been brought under control.

Police are restricting the movement of pilgrims from downhill Pamba to Sannidhanam because of the heavy rush.

With inputs from agencies

First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 20:32 IST

Why has AAP removed list of donors from its website? Yogendra Yadav asks Arvind Kejriwal

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Alleging that the list of donors AAP has submitted to Election Commission and tax authorities is different from the one it has put on its website, Yogendra Yadav-led Swaraj India challenged it for a debate on its sources of funding. The allegation and the challenge come a day after the AAP challenged the Congress and the BJP for a public debate at the Jantar Mantar on their sources of funding.On December 23, Anna Hazare had castigated Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for not putting its list of donors on its website.The AAP, which had taken the donors’ list off its website in June this year, has alleged its donors are “being targeted” by tax authorities. “Why did the party presents two different list of contributions, one to the tax authorities and Election Commission and another to the public on its website? Why do the two lists not match? What did the party wish to conceal?” Swaraj India’s spokesperson Anupam said.He also alleged the AAP “collected crore of rupees in cash” in Punjab and questioned where has the money been deposited since it “does not have a bank account in Punjab”.Here are the five questions:1. Why has this party, ostensibly committed to financial transparency, taken off the list of its past and current donors from its website since June this year? Why has this not been restored despite repeated appeals and public outcry?2. Why did the party present two different lists of contributions, one to the tax authorities and Election Commission and another to the public on its website? Why do the two lists not match? What did the party wish to conceal?3. What has the party done about the four contributions of Rs. 50 lakh each received in April 2014, now that it is proven that those contributions came from shell companies with benami directors?4. Where did the party deposit the hundreds of crores of rupees collected in cash from aspiring candidates in Punjab, since it maintains no bank account in Punjab?5. What is the party’s financial relationship to Shri B. D. Aggrawal of Sriganganar, Rajasthan? Why did the party leadership have a clandestine meeting with Mr. Aggrawal immediately after demonetization?Earlier, Anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare today castigated Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for “not fulfilling the promise” of putting his party’s donors list in public domain, at a time when the AAP has been questioning the Congress and BJP over their source of funding.In a letter to Kejriwal, dated December 23, the veteran activist, popularly known as Anna and also a ‘father-figure’ for the AAP, took a dig at the Delhi Chief Minister and said if change has to be brought into the system, then the leadership should “walk the talk”.”For the betterment of country and the society, I kept aside several important works related to people in Maharashtra and gave you my time without any selfish interest and dreamt big for the country. But my dream has been shattered,” Hazare, who launched an anti-graft crusade, said.He also referred to a letter written to him by Munish Raizada, a US-based medico and suspended AAP member, pointing out that donors’ records have gone off the party website since June 2016. Raizada also launched ‘no chanda’ (no donation) satyagraha at Raj Ghat today.AAP’s national treasurer Raghav Chadha claimed that Hazare was being misled by Congress leaders on the issue while the BJP is using state agencies to threaten its donors.On behalf of Kejriwal, he also challenged BJP President Amit Shah and Congress President Sonia Gandhi to come out clean on party donors and have a debate on the issue at Jantar Mantar.”You made several promises, which includes putting the donations received by the AAP on the party website.”The talks of social change, which we espoused, are fading and politics and money are becoming important. The sense of humility is also fading.”Or else, you would not have taken off the names of people from your website who gave donations to the party during trying times,” Hazare said.He also expressed displeasure over functioning of the AAP. Hazare said that while other parties get donations from people for their “selfish interests”, people give funds to AAP to bring in change.”You penned a book on Gram Swaraj. The way you are going…is this the way to Gram Swaraj? This is the question before me. What is the difference between your party and other political outfits?” Hazare said.”You promised change to me and the people. It pains because the promise has not been fulfilled. You have made several such promises to me and people,” Hazare said.Chadha said AAP is the only party that has transparency in its source of funding and 92 per cent of its donations come through banking channels like net banking, credit and debit card and cheques.”Congress leaders like Muish Raizada are misleading Anna while BJP uses state agenices to harass our donors. Raizada has joined the Congress,” Chadha claimed.With inputs from agencies

Modi warns “dishonest” of ruin, says market participants should pay more taxes

Mumbai: Warning of “ruin” for the “dishonest” after 30 December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi
on Saturday said his government will not shy away from taking difficult decisions in the interest of the country and favoured more taxes from capital markets.

Addressing public events, he also asked the dishonest not to underestimate the mood of the country against corruption.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi  addressing at the inauguration of new campus of National Institute of Securities Markets (NISM), at Patalganga, in Mumbai on 24 December 2016. Image courtesy PIBPrime Minister Narendra Modi  addressing at the inauguration of new campus of National Institute of Securities Markets (NISM), at Patalganga, in Mumbai on 24 December 2016. Image courtesy PIB

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing at the inauguration of new campus of National Institute of Securities Markets (NISM), at Patalganga, in Mumbai on 24 December 2016. Image courtesy PIB

“Dishonest people, you should not underestimate the mood of 125 crore people. You will have to be afraid of it… Time has come for ruin of dishonest people. This is a cleanliness campaign,” Modi said just with a week to go for the expiry of the December 30 deadline when the scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes can be deposited in banks.

“After 50 days (from 8 November), the troubles of honest people will start to reduce and the problems of dishonest people will begin to increase,” Modi said at MMRDA ground in the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) in Mumbai after laying the foundation of various big-ticket infrastructure projects.

Earlier in the day at a Sebi function, Modi promised more “sound and prudent economic policies” which would be “not for short-term political point-scoring” but for “larger national interests.

“Let me make one thing very clear: This government will continue to follow sound and prudent economic policies,
to ensure that we have a bright future in the long-run. We’ll not take decisions for short-term political point-scoring. We’ll not shy away from taking difficult decisions if those decisions are in the interest of the country,” Modi said.

He favoured increasing the tax contribution from various market participants in a “fair, efficient and transparent way”.

Asking the regulators and taxmen to think about the contribution of market participants to the exchequer, Modi
said, “The low contribution of taxes may be due to the structure of our tax laws. Low or zero tax rate is given to certain types of financial income.”

The Prime Minister’s remarks assume much significance ahead of the Budget to be presented on 1 February.

“We took a big decision against black money and corruption on 8 November and 125 crore Indians endured pain
but did not stop supporting me. I want to assure people of the country that this battle won’t end till we win it,” he said.

Hitting out at parties opposing demonetisation, he said, “This is not a simple battle. Those who have consumed
malai (cream) did not leave any stone unturned to foil this (demonetisation).”

Modi said, “The corrupt have made all efforts to defeat the decision (demonetisation). They even thought of managing bank officials to get their black money converted into white. And that’s how many of them got caught.”

“I said there will be pain for 50 days (after demonetisation announcement),” he said, adding people are ready to bear the pain in the country’s interest.

The Prime Minister inaugurated a new campus of capital markets regulator Sebi’s National Institute of Securities
Markets (NISM) at Patalganga on the outskirts of Mumbai at an event also attended by functionaries of the Maharashtra government led by the governor and the chief minister, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Sebi chairman UK Sinha.

Describing the 8 November announcement of cancelling as much as 86 percent or Rs 20.51 trillion worth of currency in circulation as a “difficult decision”, he said, “Demonetisation has (brought about) short-term pains, but it
will bring in long-term gains.”

On the need to increase levies on the capital markets in the light of amendments to the many of the bilateral
investment and taxation treaties, Modi said, “Those who profit from financial markets must make a fair contribution to nation-building through taxes…. We should consider methods for increasing it in a fair, efficient and transparent way.

“… Now it is time to re-think and come up with a good design which is simple and transparent, but also fair and
progressive,” Modi said, adding for various reasons, contribution of tax from those who make money on the markets
has been low due to illegal activities and frauds or due to the structure of our tax laws which offers low or zero tax rate is given to certain types of financial income.

The Prime Minister said his government has brought back the economy to good health from the brink when it was saddled with high fiscal and current account deficits and high inflation and falling rupee, since he took over in May 2014.

He further said that when the global economy is fighting lingering slowdown, “India is being seen as a bright spot.

“Our growth is projected to remain among the highest in the world.”

First Published On : Dec 24, 2016 20:54 IST

Rumours of dead bodies of Indians piling up in Saudi mortuaries is false: Vikas Swarup

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>External Affairs Ministry described as “completely factually misleading” reports that more than 150 bodies of people from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were lying in various hospitals and mortuaries in Saudi Arabia. External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup also asserted that there are only about 10 cases that pertain to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.”This report is completely factually misleading. The report refers to 150 bodies from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.In reality, there are only about 10 cases that pertain to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. And the total number of bodies is nowhere near that number,” he said.He was reacting to a report which said at least 150 bodies of residents of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are piling up at mortuaries in Saudi Arabia for nearly a year with families unable to bring them back to Hyderabad for last rites and the Indian embassy in Riyadh has been of little help.Noting that there are more than 2 million Indians living and working in Saudi Arabia, Swarup said on average, there are 3-4 death cases registered every day on account of natural reasons.Most cases are ‘clear’ cases in which, as per the local norms, it takes around three weeks to send mortal remains even if the documents are in order, the spokesperson added.”In cases of unnatural death, like suicide, murder and industrial accident, and also in those cases wherein the families doubt the circumstances of death, the investigation procedure is very lengthy, causing delay in completion of documentation/transportation of mortal remains,” he said.Swarup further said in some cases, the families demand release of compensation first, before the dispatch of the mortal remains, whereas compensation is a legal process and takes a year.In other cases of delay, DNA samples from the families back home are needed to identify the body and complete the local procedures, he observed.”So at any given time there would be a number of cases, of all categories, being processed. The Embassy proactively follows all death cases on top priority. In fact, NOCs are issued by the Embassy on 24×7 basis.”In the Kafala system (sponsorship) being followed in Saudi Arabia, it is the responsibility of the sponsor to complete the paper-work and dispatch the mortal remains to India. Despite this legal position, the Embassy steps in wherever there are delays in the transportation of mortal remains,” Swarup said.

Cop teen beam hope on kids living in shadow of Red Fort

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>An unlikely pair of a Delhi Police constable and a 13-year-old girl is slowly but surely transforming the lives of many underprivileged children in the Red Fort area.Than Singh, a constable at the Red Fort Police Post and Ankita, a student of the Jain Senior Secondary School in Chandni Chowk, organise classes for as many as 19 slum children whose parents are either daily wage labourers or involved in other menial jobs, such as cleaning and maintaining the historic Red Fort. Popular for his perseverance and a big heart, Singh himself was born and brought up in a JJ cluster. Though he tried everything, from ironing clothes to selling corn and serving at a restaurant, to fund his education, he was forced to drop out of college in the final year due to adverse circumstances. He now sponsors the books, stationery and other necessary items for the children. Ankita, who actually teaches the kids, was born and brought up inside the quarters at the Red Fort. Her father works as an electrician and also serves tea to make ends meet. The sharp and optimistic teen comes to teach these children after finishing her own classes.The Sai Baba Mandir near the Red Fort, usually out of bounds for the public, is the duo’s preferred spot to educate, learn and thrive. This make-shift tiny tuition centre recognises the children for who they are — curious and eager to learn — without considering their financial circumstances.The initiative has received the support of SHO (Kotwali) Om Prakash Lekhwal and PP Red Fort incharge Pradeep as well, who recently sponsored sweaters for the children. Now the children have taken to those sweaters as their uniform and wear them for the class daily.Everyday, the spartan little room turns into a zone of positive energy. Some posters of Gods and education-related material, a blackboard, a mat and the palpable enthusiasm are the only things that adorn the room where these kids study. “Some kids are very intelligent. Initially, there was some resistance but then we made sure that all the kids came together. They are also very attached to anything we give them and treasure it dearly,” Ankita says.Mausam, 6, used to pick plastic bottles from the Red Fort lawns. Now the proud child says she knows how to count from 1 to 20. Other kids also used to roam around, picking up bottles, selling water, papad and chutneys, among other sundry items. But now they are enthusiastic about their education. The fact that they are provided chips, candies and parathas, along with some sports equipment, on a regular basis is just the icing on the cake.Mahesh, 14, had come to the Red Fort four years ago along with his father, who cleans the stones and marble at the Fort. “I sold water bottles here. Papa enrolled me at a school in Jabalpur but I did not study much and then we moved here. Now, I come to this class every day. I know the alphabet, names of fruits and vegetables, and numbers till 50,” he says.For this lot that was almost invisible in the shadow of the national monument, the future now seems a little brighter.

Maharashtra: Ex-bank manager among 24 booked for misappropriating Rs 3.14 cr

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Nearly 24 persons, including former manager of a bank and son of an ex-MLA from Thane district, have been booked for allegedly misappropriating bank money to the tune of Rs 3.14 crore, police said on Friday.The former manager of a nationalised bank, in connivance with others, allegedly broke some fixed deposits from among the provident fund accounts of employees of Kalyan Dombivili Municipal Corporation to the tune of Rs 2.82 crore without the civic body’s permission, they said.He then allegedly diverted the sum and another Rs 72 lakhs of the corporation to another account of the bank, in violation of the bank regulations, to favour some businessmen and builders, police said.The alleged fraud took place in connivance with the beneficiaries between September 2015 and June 2016.Based on a complaint of a bank officer, an offence was on Thursday registered against all the accused under sections IPC sections 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant, or by banker, merchant or agent), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) and also relevant provisions of the IT Act with Khadakpada police under Kalyan zone.No arrest has been made so far in connection with the case, police added.

Modi govt lobbied hard for ratings upgrade from Moody’s, but US agency didn’t budge

New Delhi: India criticised Moody’s ratings methods and pushed aggressively for an upgrade, documents reviewed by Reuters show, but the US-based agency declined to budge citing concerns over the country’s debt levels and fragile banks.Winning a better credit rating on India’s sovereign debt would have been a much-needed endorsement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s economic stewardship, helping to attract foreign investment and accelerate growth.

Since storming to power in 2014, Modi has unveiled measures to boost investment, cool inflation and narrow the fiscal and current account deficits, but his policies have not been rewarded with a ratings upgrade from any of the “big three” global ratings agencies, who say more is needed.

Previously unpublished correspondence between India’s finance ministry and Moody’s shows New Delhi failed to assuage the ratings agency’s concerns about the cost of its debt burden and a banking sector weighed down by $136 billion in bad loans.In letters and emails written in October, the finance ministry questioned Moody’s methodology, saying it was not accounting for a steady decline in the India’s debt burden in recent years.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

It said the agency ignored countries’ levels of development when assessing their fiscal strength.Rejecting those arguments, Moody’s said India’s debt situation was not as rosy as the government maintained and its banks were a cause for concern, the correspondence seen by Reuters showed.Moody’s and one of its lead sovereign analysts, Marie Diron, declined to comment on the correspondence, saying ratings deliberations were confidential. India’s finance ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Arvind Mayaram, a former chief finance ministry official, called the government’s approach “completely unusual”. “There was no way pressure could be put on rating agencies,” Mayaram told Reuters. “It’s not done.”

Debt burden, bad loans

India has been the world’s fastest growing major economy over the past two years, but that rapid expansion has done little to broaden the government’s revenue base. At nearly 21 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), India’s revenues are lower than the 27.1 percent median for Baa-rated countries. India is rated at Baa3 by Moody’s, the agency’s lowest notch for debt considered investment grade. A higher rating would signify to bond investors that India was more creditworthy and help to lower its borrowing costs.

While India’s debt-to-GDP ratio has dropped to 66.7 percent from 79.5 percent in 2004-05, interest payments absorb more than a fifth of government revenues. Moody’s representatives, including Diron, visited North Block, the colonial sandstone building in the Indian capital that houses the finance ministry, on 21 September for a discussion on a ratings review. The atmosphere at the meeting with Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das, one of the ministry’s most senior officials, and his team was tense, according to an Indian official present, after Diron had told local media the previous day that a ratings upgrade for India was some years away.

On 30 September, Moody’s explained its methodology to Indian officials in a teleconference.

Lobbying for an upgrade

Four days later, the finance ministry sent an email to Diron questioning Moody’s metrics on fiscal strength. The government cited the examples of Japan and Portugal, which enjoy better ratings despite debts around twice the size of their economies. “Given that countries are on different stages of economic and social development, should countries be benchmarked against a median or mean number (as is done by Moody’s)” the email asked.

In India’s case, “while the debt burden lowered significantly post 2004, this did not get reflected in the ratings”, the ministry argued. New Delhi urged Diron to look at improvements in the factors – better forex reserves and economic growth – that Moody’s had considered when handing India its last ratings upgrade in 2004. In a reply the next day, Diron said that, not only was India’s debt burden high relative to other countries with the same credit rating, but its debt affordability was also low. She added that a resolution to the banking sector’s bad loan problems was “unlikely” in the near-term.

In a last-ditch effort on 27 October, Economic Affairs Secretary Das sent a six-page letter to Singapore-based Diron, addressed to Moody’s New York headquarters. Reiterating points on India’s fiscal strength, Das asked Moody’s for a “better appreciation of the factual position”. Das dismissed Moody’s concerns on India’s public finances as “unwarranted” and told the agency that there was “scope for further lowering” the political risk perception to “very low”.

“In the light of stable external debt parameters and the slew of reforms introduced in the realm of foreign direct investment, you may like to reconsider your assessment on ‘external vulnerability risk’,” he wrote. Moody’s on 16 November affirmed its Baa3 issuer rating for India, while maintaining a positive outlook, saying the government’s efforts had not yet achieved conditions that would support an upgrade.

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 00:45 IST

Madras HC quashes appointment of 11 members of TNPSC

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> The Madras High Court quashed the appointment of 11 people as members of the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC), holding that the process was “deeply flawed” and conducted without following any transparent process. A batch of petitions including one by TKS Elangovan of DMK had been filed challenging the appointment of these 11 members in a hurried manner by the AIADMK government.The vacancies for the posts had arisen from 2013 when members completed their tenure and demitted office and the last one demitted office on January 31, 2016.These posts were suddenly filled by a government order, dated the same day (Sunday/non-working day), in anticipation of the election notification for the state Assembly polls, which were ultimately held on May 16.The petitioners claimed that the Commission was sought to be packed with party loyalists “having no eminence and not possessing the requisite merit and abilities to function in the capacity as members of the Public Service Commission”. The First Bench, comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice R Mahadevan, in its 108-page judgment, said, “We are unhesitatingly of the view and conclude that the process of appointment of the eleven members of the State Public Service Commission was deeply flawed without following any transparent process and defeating the very constitutional scheme for such appointment, the result of which is natural, i.e., all these appointments are quashed.” The bench observed, “It is trite to say that from the very inception qualification of high moral values for the person recruited to the administrative service forming the very backbone of the nation was emphasised.””It is the selection based on merits. If this is the principle, then persons who are Chairman or Members of the Public Service Commission have to be equally, if not more, of such competence and high moral values as they are the ones who are conducting the selection process for the Administrative Service Officers.”The government, on its part, submitted that right to make appointment to the State Public Service Commission under Article 316 of the Constitution is left to the state government and the court ought not to interfere with the same, especially as there are no charges or allegations against any member. Quashing the appointments, the bench in its order said: “There was no comparative evaluation of merits, qualifications, administrative experience, competence or integrity of the pool of candidates. “The process was completed in one day, on 29.3.2013, and the file was placed before the Governor, who approved the proposal on 31.3.2013. No character or antecedent verification was really done and the issue which arose for consideration was whether the state could have said to have applied its mind to the relevant facts, i.e., suitability, competence and integrity of the candidate.”Thus, where the deliberative process suffered from constitutional infirmity of being arbitrary, the appointment had to be struck down, it said.”In our opinion, this appointing process or lack of it was on account of a misconception that the appointment to the post of members of the Public Service Commission was part of the spoils system based on the patronage of the state government and not requiring men who are ‘independent’.” “This lack of process appears to have escaped the attention of the Governor himself while making the appointments,” the bench said.Referring to Supreme Court judgments, the bench said: “It is an admitted position that there was nothing put in public domain to indicate that persons who were interested in this post could give material in support of their candidature and on our query, we were informed that the bio-datas may have been received from persons in normal course or may have been called for specifically from persons.”The bench referred to an apex court judgment which stated that the appointment to the PSC could not be equated with an appointment to a purely administrative position and in the context of appointment of a Chief Secretary or a DGP the question of Chief Minister of the state government having confidence in such a person may be a requirement.The bench said, “This would not arise in the appointment of a Chairman or Member of the Public Service Commission, as the Commission does not function at the pleasure of the Chief Minister or the state government, but has a fixed tenure and the oath of allegiance is to the Constitution of India and not to the Chief Minister.””In the case on hand, the bio-data alone was examined. Nothing was found to show that any background check was carried out to ascertain whether the Chairman appointed had come in for any adverse notice in a judicial proceeding or any police inquiry. It was, thus, held that inbuilt constitutional checks had, unfortunately, broken down.”

PM likens Congress to Pakistan, says note ban will expose ‘kala dhan’ and ‘kala mann’

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In a scathing attack on opposition for stalling Parliament over demonetization, Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleged on Thursday that they were trying to “rescue the corrupt” like Pakistan gives cover fire to terrorists to cross border and said the note ban will expose the ‘kala dhan’ (black money) as well as ‘kale mann’ (ill-intentions) of many. “Many people say I had not taken account the consequences of this huge step. In fact, the only thing that I could not take into account was the brazenness with which many political parties and leaders will come to the rescue of the corrupt.But I am happy that this drive aimed at eliminating ‘kala dhan’ has exposed so many ‘kale mann’,” Modi said. The Prime Minister, who was on his first tour of his Lok Sabha constituency after Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were demonetized on November 8, was speaking at a function organised inside the Benares Hindu University campus.Charging the opposition parties, who have been attacking the government over demonetization, with “brazenly standing in support of the corrupt and the dishonest”, Modi compared their stalling of parliamentary proceedings during the latest session to “firing at the borders by Pakistan in a bid to provide cover to infiltrators”.
ALSO READ After PM Modi mocks Rahul’s ‘earthquake’, Congress VP says ‘answer me’He also hit back at former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram, saying their argument that promoting cashless economy was futile due to poverty, illiteracy and electricity not reaching villages in the country “exposes” their own report card. Reacting to his predecessor Manmohan Singh’s assertion in the Parliament that a cashless economy was not feasible for the country where nearly 50% of people were poor, the Prime Minister said, “I wonder whether he was giving his own report card by admitting the dismal situation. After all, he has not just been the Prime Minister for two terms and a Finance Minister previously. Since the 1970s he has been holding key positions”.Taking on former Finance Minister Chidambaram over his assertion that online transactions could not find wide acceptance in India since nearly half of its villages were not even electrified, Modi said “whose faults is he pointing at. Did I uproot electric poles or snap cables in villages which had electricity”.
ALSO READ Manmohan Singh exposing his own misdeeds, says PM ModiHe also took potshots at Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that payments through cards, online transfers etc. would face hurdles in the country due to low literacy levels, saying, “I hope he does not say that I had indulged in some sort of black magic to make illiterate those who knew how to read and write. “He never thinks before he speaks and he may not have realized that he has admitted the failure of the long reign of his own party.”Calling himself “Kashi ka bachcha” (a child of Kashi), Modi said, “I am, nonetheless, delighted to see that the power of this holy land has made me work and forced detractors to admit, even if unwittingly, their failures”. Urging the people to have patience in the face of the inconveniences which have ensued demonetization, Modi said, making use of a metaphor, “The stench of a garbage heap becomes unbearable when a cleanliness drive starts. But if we persevere and remove every bit of filth, we can build a beautiful garden on the clean spot”.
ALSO READ Rahul Gandhi hits back at Modi, says mock me, but answer questionsReiterating the need to move towards a “cashless economy”, Modi said “once black money is eliminated from the system, it is essential to ensure that fresh black money is not generated. Net banking, mobile banking and payment through cards is the way forward”. Earlier, the Prime Minister laid the foundation stones for a cancer research centre and a super specialty hospital and stressed on the need for “not just health insurance but also health assurance wherein the poorest of the poor have access to the best possible treatment and medicines”.Modi, who also interacted with artistes performing a stage play “Chanakya”, hailed the political and economic thought of the ancient Indian strategist saying “so many ideas have come and gone but he remains as relevant as ever”. Offering words of appreciation for the ongoing “Rashtriya Sanskritik Mahotsav” (national cultural festival at BHU), Modi said, “Art must be a part of our life and artistes must get due respect since it is art alone that can prevent human beings from becoming like robots which have intelligence but no sensitivity.”The Prime Minister was speaking in the presence of Union Ministers Mahesh Sharma and Anupriya Patel.

Sixteen years since LeT attacked Red Fort: All you need to know about the terror attack

From Jawaharlal Nehru’s historic “At the stroke of midnight” speech on India’s independence day in 1947 to Narendra Modi‘s fiery “India will not bow before terrorism” address, Delhi’s Red Fort has always been witness to the greatest moments in Indian history. It has borne the marks of time and watched centuries of change sweep through the country.

But 16 years ago, it was on this day that the premises of the majestic fort were shaken up by gunshots, as Lashkar-e-Taiba militants shelled the military shelter inside the fort, killing two soldiers and one civilian.

The historic Red Fort is pictured in the old quarters of Delhi, India. Reuters

The historic Red Fort in the old quarters of Delhi, India. Reuters

The assault and the conspiracy

On a winter evening on 22 December, 2000, LeT militants sneaked into the Red Fort on the pretext of watching the light-and-sound show that retells the tale of the historic structure. According to a report in The Hindusix militants, with their arms hidden under leather jackets, entered the Red Fort around 7 pm through the Lahore Gate, the main entrance to the historic structure. They headed to watch the show scheduled for 7:30 pm. However, they later sneaked into the military shelters under the cover of darkness and fog.

According to another report in The Times of India, around 9 pm, the militants started firing indiscriminately on the guards of seventh battalion of Rajputana Rifles, killing two soldiers and a civilian guard. The militants then escaped through the Fort’s rear wall.

According to the report, the conspiracy was hatched in Pakistan and funded by top LeT operatives. The report further states that funds were transferred to terrorists through a Delhi-based hawala account operator, who was later nabbed by the Delhi police.

The Hindu report states that the prime accused, Ashfaq Ahmed, set up his base in India and opened a computer centre in Gaffur market as a cover for his activities. He then contacted five other terrorists — Abu Samal, Abu Sadd, Abu Sakhar, Billal and Haider, and set them up at a rented house in Delhi’s Batla House area. The terrorists did a recce of the Red Fort, it being a prominent tourist spot.

Ashfaq was later nabbed by the Delhi police based on some notes recovered from behind the Red Fort, according to the report.

The militants, the report states, had come to India on the behest of Pakistan’s intelligence wing ISI in 2000. The prime accused Ashfaq Ahmed, lodged at Tihar jail since 2000, came to India and married Rehmana Yousuf Farooqui, a girl of Indian origin. Rehmana was also arrested as she was reportedly in full knowledge of Ashfaq’s plan and assisted him. Another militant was later killed in an encounter on 26 December.

The legal battle

The Delhi police, after conducting an enquiry in the matter, finally filed a chargesheet against Ashfaq and 21 others in February 2001. However, the special sessions court hearing the matter framed charges only against 11, including Ashfaq and Rehmana, according to a report in Hindustan Times. The court sentenced Ashfaq to death, while his four accomplices, including his wife, were give seven years in prison. Two more militants convicted in the case were given a life term.

Ashfaq later approached the Delhi High Court against the verdict. The high court, however, upheld the lower court’s verdict and ruled that life sentences should be awarded to Ashfaq for waging a war against the country and murdering three people.

In a rare move, the Supreme Court put Ashfaq’s death sentence on hold in April 2014, according to Live Mint. Ashfaq appealed in the apex court that he has already served 13 years in prison, and the death sentence awarded to him would therefore be akin to a double punishment for one crime. He also petitioned that he had been suffering mentally and physically due to the long delays in judicial proceedings.

The apex court’s move was deemed rare as it had, in August 2011, upheld the sentence awarded by the sessions court and termed the attack on Red Fort as a “brazen and arrogant assault to overawe India”.

However, the Supreme Court in January 2016, took cognisance of Ashfaq’s appeal and has admitted his plea for a hearing. The Constitutional bench led by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur, hearing the matter, emphasised the finality of the death sentence and agreed to an open court hearing on why his punishment should be reversed, according to a report in The Indian Express.

As of now, Ashfaq is lodged at Tihar, and is awaiting the Supreme Court’s order on his fate.

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 21:04 IST

Demonetisation: Why Narendra Modi won’t have an easy win over India’s penchant for cash

The buzzword now in the post-demonetisation days is cashless economy. A change to ‘less-cash economy’ and then ‘cashless economy’ is the new punch line of Narendra Modi government’s changed demonetisation narrative. It believes in target-based massive disruptions in the social equilibrium to attain quick results, not gradual transition. For this reason, both the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are pushing the banking system hard to nudge the public to embrace alternative payment modes to cash transactions, mainly using mobile payment platforms and Point of Sale terminals. Is India prepared for this change?

Going by the data available so far, the citizens in metros are willing to try out the new way of payments but the rural Indian isn’t yet ready for an overnight transition to a cashless world. That’s the sense one gets when analyses the RBI studies and other private surveys. According to an SBI research report, though there has been an increase in the volume of card-based transactions post 8 November (When PM Modi announced demonetisation), however the value per transaction has dropped.

It isn’t hard to understand why this has happened.

1) There isn’t enough infrastructure to propel a sudden spurt in digital payment activities.

2) There is a broader impact on consumer demand thanks to a drop in economic activities following the artificial cash-crunch.

3) A good number of people still do not trust the security features accompanying the digital payment instruments.

4) Laws aren’t strong enough in India as in developed countries to support the customer to compensate him for possible financial loss.

5) Despite all the digital India talk, internet and mobile penetration is far inadequate in non-metros to support the connectivity for seamless mobile-based financial transactions. A significant number of India’s 6 lakh odd villages still do not have good mobile, internet connectivity. According to TRAI report, only 15 percent of India’s 1.02 billion wireless subscribers have broadband connection.

A shop assistant uses an eftpos system at a Specialty Fashion Group owned Katies store in Sydney December 11, 2012. Australia is being invaded by a swathe of foreign retailers, piling pressure on a local industry already battered by weak consumer spending and ruthless internet competition. Picture taken December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne (AUSTRALIA - Tags: BUSINESS FASHION) - RTR3BNKDA shop assistant uses an eftpos system at a Specialty Fashion Group owned Katies store in Sydney December 11, 2012. Australia is being invaded by a swathe of foreign retailers, piling pressure on a local industry already battered by weak consumer spending and ruthless internet competition. Picture taken December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne (AUSTRALIA - Tags: BUSINESS FASHION) - RTR3BNKD

Reuters

Nevertheless, why there has been an increase in non-cash transactions since demonetisation? This spurt is artificial and a forced one by the government’s decision to pull out 86 percent of the currency in circulation in one go.

It is like saying when you artificially spike the price of vegetables to an unaffordable level to common man, he will start using meat and egg products more. That’s not necessarily because of his sudden love for meat but simply because vegetable isn’t affordable for now. For the same reason, when the veg prices come down again, there is a likelihood of many of these people returning to their old consumption pattern. Even in such a scenario, many vegetarians would rather start eating less than beginning to eat meat.

The current scenario, where the government and banking system is pushing citizens is something similar to this. The current spurt in the volume of non-cash transactions isn’t likely to sustain when the cash-crunch eases, unless there are good reasons (clear incentives) for someone to shift to the new mode. This is something one needs to wait and watch.

The reason for decline in per value transactions could be attributed to combination of factors mentioned above, of which a dip in consumer demand and lack of trust of plastic money transactions. The government’s well-intentioned move to progress the economy to a cashless mode needs more than short-term monetary incentives and lucky draws. These are mere gimmicks that might get only some short-term responses but not lasting results as this Firstpost report points out. The government needs to have a well laid out policy plan for the shift to digital economy that should happen over a period of time by preparing the infrastructure.

As the SBI report points out, India is lagging far behind when it comes to providing adequate infrastructure for cashless transactions. “Additionally, we may require an additional 20 lakh PoS machines. Interestingly, the per value transaction in post demonetization period has declined (though the no of transactions has increased) possibly reflecting less number of PoS machines in the country compared to the demand (India has 15.1 lakh PoS machines),” the report said.

This improvement in banking infrastructure is already happening, albeit in a slower pace, with more financial institutions like payments banks and small finance banks that are technology driven coming to the picture and bank accounts are being made available to hitherto unbanked through Jan Dhan Yojana scheme. Along with this, the banking system should make the customer aware about new mode of payments, instead of forcing someone, who hasn’t even used an ATM so far, to do it overnight.

According to an RBI concept paper on Card Acceptance Infrastructure, the average number of card transactions per inhabitant in India is among the lowest in major economies. Between Oct 2013 and Oct 2015, ATMs increased by around 43 percent while POS machines increased by around 28 percent. As of end-December 2015, the number of ATMs has increased to 1,93,580 while PoS machines had increased to 12,45,447 in the country.

As far as the usage is concerned, “from April 2015 to December 2015, the usage of debit cards at ATMs continues to account for around 88 percent of the total volume and around 94 percent of total value of debit card transactions. Usage of debit cards at POS machines accounts for only around 12 percent of total volume and 6 percent of total value of debit card transactions. This is despite the fact that between FY2012-13 and FY 2014-15 the debit card usage at POS machines registered a growth of 72 percent in terms of volume and 63 percent in terms of value,” the report said.

India’s penchant for cash is well known and even post demonetisation this nature is evident with people using their ATM/debit card more than ever but mainly for cash withdrawals, not purchases. India has around 94 crore debit cards but most of it is used for only cash withdrawals (read this report in The Indian Express). Then there are severe concerns about security issue on such transactions and laws to support a common customer in the event of loss from using technology platforms for financial transactions (read here). If the government hopes that it can bring about such a massive transformation, even hoping a less-cash society, in such a huge country in short-term, it is nothing but asking for the moon.

Such a change should happen on a need-based model, wherein a customer who has seen his income levels and financial literacy improves feels the need to migrate to the cashless mode, where the inspiration to shift comes from the customer not the government or banking system.

Having said this, over years, there has been an increase in non-cash transactions in the banking system with more number of people get accustomed to newer modes of payments. Things will improve when confidence builds up in electronic payment modes and infrastructure improves. But, empirical evidence available so far suggests that more than availability of infrastructure, India’s penchant for cash transactions will be the biggest hurdles of PM Modi’s cashless dream. A change in the mindset will be gradual and can’t be forced. Even if it is forced, the results are unlikely to sustain. There is no easy cure for India’s penchant for cash.

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 15:11 IST

ED raids Axis Bank’s Ahmedabad branch, detects Rs 89 cr worth illegal transactions

There seems to be no end in sight to the woes of private sector Axis Bank. According to a report in India Today, the bank’s Ahmedabad branch has now been raided and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has put transactions worth Rs 89 crore under scanner.

The raid was conducted at Mayamnagar branch of the bank and the ED scrutinised 19 accounts, the report said.

Axis Bank logo. ReutersAxis Bank logo. Reuters

Axis Bank logo. Reuters

According to I-T officials quoted in the report, these accounts, which allegedly have lax KYC compliance, saw Rs 89 crore worth of investment after the demonetisation announcement, and the amount was later transferred to beneficiary accounts. Four bank officials are also under the scanner, said the report.

The bank had been in the news in the last few days after authorities found certain branches had opened fake accounts to help tax cheats to launder their ill-gotten wealth.

The ED has already registered a money laundering case in the alleged forging of a customer’s identity to conduct huge illegal transactions in the branch of Noida for conversion of black money into white post demonetisation.

The individual, identified as N Paswan, in his complaint filed with the police has claimed that his identity has been forged and a current and a savings account was opened in his name in the said branch which was allegedly used to launder crores of rupees post demonetisation.

The bank branch, in sector 51 of Noida, is also under scanner of the income tax department owing to alleged dubious transactions using shell companies.

In the Noida case, the ED probe involves a laundering of Rs 60 crore. The officials of the agency had told PTI that they are probing more than two dozen accounts in the bank there which could have been used to perpetrate the crime of money laundering.

The bank, according to a PTI report, had suspended 24 employees and 50 accounts after the I-T raids unearthed such illegal activities.

“We are embarrassed that this has happened, but these are isolated incidents given that we have more than 3,000 branches and 50,000 employees.We have had many of our customers writing to us that the bank has done a great job and, therefore, it is disappointing that a handful of people have let us down,” MD and CEO Shikha Sharma had told The Economic Times in an earlier interview.

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 14:02 IST

Demonetisation: Agri output may remain high, but subdued farm income to hit rural consumption

The impact of demonetisation on agriculture is an indirect one. There are two cropping seasons in India. The monsoon crop, which is kharif, was in the midst of harvesting while the winter crop, or rabi, was in the first stages of sowing when the announcement was made. A good monsoon ensured that the kharif crop across all commodities was good, while the moisture retention meant that the rabi crop would follow suit. The demonetisation exercise began on 8 November, which was at the confluence of these two phenomena and had implications for both the activities.

The kharif crop requires labour for harvesting and has to be supported by the logistics structures in the form of transportation and storage to the final selling point which is the mandi. As every link in this chain is almost entirely settled in cash, the absence of currency in the system has affected the overall post-harvest activity. Hence, while the harvest has been very good which will get reflected in the production numbers, the products have often been sold at a very low price thus affecting the incomes of farmers which in turn impacts spending power. The RBI did react to the situation once the impact was assessed and gave priority to the supply of cash to the rural areas with the limits being enhanced for these purposes. The problem was hence addressed to an extent.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

The rabi crop has gotten impacted to begin with due to the non-availability of currency to buy seeds and fertilizers. While the use of kisan cards is fairly satisfactory, a substantial part is still dealt with cash as the kharif income is used for purchase of seed for the second season. Second, the logistics support in rural India has come to a standstill as while the RBI intervention has led to an easier flow of cash to the farmers, the same has not happened for the support services. Transport operators in particular were affected. Third, employing labour for sowing has also been a challenge for crops like wheat, chana and mustard, which are the main rabi crops. This has raised some concern on the future prospects of the crop.

The area under cultivation under rabi crops is higher at 519 lakh hectares compared with 490 lakh hectares at the same point last year. For all the three main crops, wheat, oilseeds and pulses, area under cultivation this year so far till 16 December has been higher and would not under normal circumstances provoke concern. However the non-availability of currency for these transactions has raised some apprehension even though the final sowing numbers would be better than last year.

In particular wheat prospects have been monitored quite closely as it is expected that with the absence of rains in winter the progress of the crop will be affected. This in turn can affect the final output, which is a problem considering that private estimates have put the output for 2015-16 to be lower than 2014-15 thus leading to decline in stocks. The official numbers put 2015-16 output higher by 7 million tonnes though procurement was 5 million tonnes lower, which is unusual. This is one reason as to why the government has withdrawn the duty on import of wheat so that overall stocks are augmented.

The farm sector was to witness a turnaround this year on account of a good monsoon with growth of around 5 percent expected after two years of drought. The story had been progressing according to plan but the distortion caused by demonetisation, which meant the drying up of cash in the rural economy, has cast a cloud over this optimal situation. While overall growth will definitely continue to be high at probably between 4-5 percent which is only marginally lower than expectation, the lower value of the crop due to lower prices for kharif output in case of pulses and horticulture would impact the income of farmers.

It may also be pointed out that it was expected that the rural spending contribution to growth would be significant after two years of negative growth. Now, the cash crunch has compounded the problem as it has resulted in lower realisations for farmers as they have received lower prices on account of distress sale at the mandis. The implication is that there will be a hiatus between rural and urban spending and the lag can be one or two quarters.

The demonetisation scheme has affected agriculture and linked activities not just in terms of affecting output at the margin, but also lowering potential income as this sector is almost fully cash driven. Until such time that the situation normalises, which will take between 3-6 months before cash is freely available, the farmers would be under stress. This will show not just in consumption demand for industrial goods but also linked activity like transport, packing, labour used in planting and harvesting. There would hence be a multiplier effect on income and consumption.

The writer is chief economist, CARE Ratings. Views are personal.

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 10:55 IST

After another flip-flop, Rahul Gandhi compares Modi govt to ‘confused traffic signal’

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Modi government is behaving like a “confused” traffic signal exhibiting different colours at the same time, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said on the ‘repeated’ changes in the rules regarding deposit of old currency notes in banks. He posted the picture of a huge traffic signal showing red, yellow, blue and a few other colours at the same time, on Twitter with the caption, “Government orders after demonetisation.”The Congress leader had yesterday likened the repeated changes in the rules to Modi’s changing of “clothes” and had said that the message going out was that the Prime Minister’s words were “hollow”.He was commenting on the new decision of the government under which an amount more than Rs 50,00 in scrapped currency can be deposited only once per account till December 30.Earlier, the Prime Minister, while announcing the demonetization decision on November 8, had said old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes could be deposited in banks till December 30 without any questions asked. Party chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala was equally critical of the latest order, with him giving RBI the sobriquet of “Reverse Bank of India.”In a series of tweets, he said, “Unfortunately, Reserve Bank of India has become ‘Reverse Bank of India’!” Surjewala also posted two cartoons stating “the rules of RBI are like weather, which keeps on changing and therefore, requires hourly bulletins to inform people.” “Daily ‘headline management’ is the norm for Modi Govt.If Ind. owner has a choice to pay in cash or cheque, futile to amend the Wages Act,” he said in response to the government bringing an ordinance to amend the Payment of Wage Act for allowing business and industrial establishments to pay salaries through cheques or by using electronic modes.”2ndly, it reflects massive shortage of currency with Modi Govt. Instead of admitting it, it is forcing daily wage earners to stand in bank queues,” he said.Surjewala also latched on to the remarks of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who after supporting demonetisation initially, did a volte face and said the move has created many troubles for the common man.”AP CM, NDA ally & head of #DeMonetisation Committee is breaking his head over the mess. Do u need more proof Modiji?”, he said.Ahmed Patel, Political Secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was equally caustic.”50 days, 60 rules #DeMonetisation,” he said in a tweet.

RBI U-turn on Rs 5,000 deposit rule: It’s time for Central bank to come out of its trance

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has done well by removing restrictions on deposits above Rs 5,000 for the remaining days of this month when the deadline to surrender old, invalidated currency expires.

Though Wednesday’s RBI notification is silent on the reasons for reversing the move, it is obvious that the decision is triggered by widespread criticism against its earlier directive that required anyone who wanted to deposit over Rs 5,000 in old currency to face questions by two bank officials on why he/she didn’t do it earlier.

Even if one makes multiple deposits that add up to more than Rs 5,000, the restrictions would have kicked in.

This was a breach of promise and lacked logic as this writer said in an earlier Firstpost column.

Reserve Bank of India (RBI). ReutersReserve Bank of India (RBI). Reuters

Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Reuters

The new RBI notification, which says the old directive will not apply for KYC compliant accounts, would mean that almost all genuine customers will escape the unnecessary scrutiny, since majority of bank accounts are now KYC compliant. The only exceptions, perhaps, are Jan Dhan accounts which were opened with loose KYC norms and fraudsters.

The Rs 5,000 limit was absurd looking at the purpose (tackling tax cheats) from any angle. Any large deposit in any kind of account should naturally trigger scrutiny by bankers and taxmen to check likely money laundering. For this the government and the RBI didn’t need to trouble all customers and bank officials at a time when the common man is already feeling the pain of an artificial cash crunch.

Besides, such a restriction contradicted the repeated promises of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that people do not need to rush to bank branches to deposit their old currency since there is time till 30 December.

In hindsight, the many flip-flops by the RBI and the government show the lack of planning and coordination among the top authorities who handle the demonetisation implementation. There are reasons to believe that the central bank isn’t in control of the situation and experts have pointed fingers at the erosion in the credibility of the central bank, an institution that is known for its ability to drive the economy through even worse phases with skill and conviction.

It was clear the Rs 5,000 deposit rules will hit the common man hard. Those who would have waited for the queues at the banks to get shorten to deposit their old currency savings, were taken by surprise with this rule. Remember, a number of time rules have changed for the common citizens on cash withdrawals and deposits. Last month, the government had abruptly stopped the currency exchange facility at bank counters after initially promising until 30 December. Bankers, at one point, even inked customers to ensure people don’t withdraw cash beyond certain specific limits, reminding one of war-time rationing. All this created more panic and confusion among the public.

Demonetisation, in the scale the Narendra Modi government has undertaken (pulling out 86 percent of the currency in circulation), has no parallel among major economies.

The entire world is watching this episode in India as a rare case study of a botched up economic reform plan. No one has a clue on where this is taking the Indian economy – the fastest growing major economy in the world – in the days ahead. In this backdrop, there is a closer scrutiny on the Indian central bank and government by global economy watchers and investors on each and every stage of demonetisation.

Here frequent flip-flops in rules only does damage to the credibility of the economy and its political and economic institutions.

As of now, there are a few missing links in the demonetisation plan that the central bank needs to clarify, including the number of new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes printed, giving guidance to the public on until when the cash crunch will last and what is the cost of the exercise to the economy.

Except for assurances there is enough cash in the system, the RBI hasn’t offered specific details of the currency operation that is underway to ease panic. The RBI assurances do not reflect on the ground as still ATMs run dry and bank branches ration money. So far, since the 8 November demonetisation announcement, there have been 60 circulars issued by the finance ministry and the RBI. This points to a lack of planning and hold of the situation.

The RBI should make up its mind and guide the economy and the general public through this uncertain phase. Though demonetisation began as a political decision, the responsibility to ensure that this does not harm multiple spheres of the economy equally lies with the central bank which is the authority of monetary policy and currency in circulation. It’s high time the RBI came out of the trance and took control of the situation.

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 15:24 IST

Demonetisation: Bank officer’s union to protest investigative role being thrusted on banks

New Delhi: All India Bank Officers’ Confederation (AIBOC) has registered a protest to RBI on bank officers being assigned investigative role for customers depositing in excess of Rs 5,000, and demanded complete withdrawal of the order as the staff are facing public wrath.

Even as RBI partially modified its deposit guidelines, the union will be holding demonstrations all over the country in front of Reserve Bank of India offices later on Wednesday to press for withdrawal of the notification.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The RBI on Wednesday modified guidelines saying KYC compliant account holders can deposits more than Rs 5,000 in old currency notes without being questioned by bank officials.

Earlier this week, the RBI issued a notification directing banks to conduct due diligence of customers who wish to deposit more than Rs 5,000 in old currency till 30 December.

“The credit in such cases shall be afforded only after questioning tenderer, on record, in the presence of at least two officials of the bank, as to why this could not be deposited earlier and receiving a satisfactory explanation,” RBI had said.

“The instructions issued vide the RBI communication dated 19 December must be withdrawn forthwith as the banker shall not carry out the duties of CBI/ED/IB at the busy counters,” AIBOC General Secretary Harvinder Singh said in a representation to RBI Governor.

No accountability should be fixed on the bank officers in this respect as they are thrust with a role not expected of them, it added.

“Having demanded this, we strongly feel that withdrawal of the instruction itself will only confirm the Prime Minister’s statement to the public on November 8 and improve public confidence in the banking system and reduce the hardships faced by the officers at counters,” it said.

Pointing out that the banking system itself is losing credibility because of frequent changes in RBI/Government policies, Singh said customer dissatisfaction is increasing because of chaos and confusion created in implementation of the scheme.

“Bank Officers are being subjected to the anger, anguish and wrath of customers or general public due to short supply of currency notes to the banks, particularly to Public Sector banks,” it said.

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 14:53 IST

Sheroes to get honoured for selfless service

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In an attempt to recognise the efforts of women who have chosen unconventional life paths for the betterment of society, Stop Acid Attack (SAA) has decided to confer upon them an award named ‘Sheroes Samman’.“We are planning to give ‘Sheroes Samman’ award to women who have broken the stereotype and are engaged in unconventional jobs, such as driving a bus or an auto, or those who have been educating other women in rural areas,” said Ashish Shukla, one of the founding members of the SAA campaign.The name of the award has been derived from name of a chain of cafes — ‘Sheroes Hangout’ — opened in various parts of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Udaipur to rehabilitate acid attack survivors from across the country. The group has called for nationwide nominations and the final results will be declared in March next year.“We will choose the women by taking into account suggestions and entries online. We are still working on the list. The results will be declared in March 2017,” Ashish said.Razi Sultan, winner of the United Nations (UN) Malala Award, has already been shortlisted. The rest of the names are still being discussed.“We launched the award last year, but this time, we are doing it at a larger scale and on a bigger platform. We have invited entries and are also sending invitations to a lot of ‘Sheroes’ ourselves,” Ashish added.Last year, Vineeta Arora had won the award for her selfless work to better the lives of street dogs. Having grown up witnessing the discrimination between pet and stray dogs, and the cruel treatment meted out to the latter, the Gulmohar Park resident had decided to become the voice of the defenceless creatures while she was still in college.At the time, she used to write articles to spread awareness regarding several issues, including treatment of injured dogs, among people.Then she started feeding and treating stray dogs by getting associated with various NGOs, shelter homes and pet houses. She, however, faced strong resistance from local people. “Many people picked fights with me while I was feeding the dogs and the cows. At least in case of cows, religious factors cropped in, but no one cared about the dogs,” Vineeta said.The journey became even more difficult after she got married. “In the initial years of marriage, I could not work for these dogs as my in-laws raised objections. I could not keep dogs at home as well,” she said.But gradually, the opposition fell away.Vineeta’s hardwork finally paid off when she started her own shelter home in Agra in 2014, with the help of her husband. “I started the shelter home Caspers’ in the memory of my pet dog, who lost his life in a road accident. The home was registered as an NGO two years after its inception,” she said.Over 45 dogs have been adopted from Caspers’ till now. It is also home to 43 dogs, and care is provided to injured, paralysed and abandoned dogs.“We have proper rules and guidelines while giving the dogs for adoption. The team from our NGO goes to the owner’s house before the adoption. An inspection is carried out after the adoption as well. If dog is found chained, it is brought back,” Vineeta said.

Demonetization: Constant change in notifications will lead to erosion of trust, says Yogendra Yadav

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav told a bank on Tuesday that he “believed” in the assurance made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the RBI that demonetized currency could be deposited till December 30, when he deposited his old notes.Yadav said he had not deposited old currency notes because he was waiting for the rush to subside as the deadline for the same was December 30. After the circular was issued on Monday, his wife Madhulika Banerjee went to the UCO bank to deposit old currency notes. “I have made no cash deposit in my account since November 8. I see no reason to offer any special explanation for the same for making the deposit now. I normally like and wait for the queues to end. I was assured by the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the RBI that there was no need to rush to the banks and that I had till December 30 for making any deposit. I believed them,” Yadav said in his explanation to the bank.The Swaraj India President also posted this message on Twitter and Facebook which went viral. The government had said on Monday individuals can deposit over Rs 5,000 in old currency bills only once until December 30 and that too after explaining why it has not been done so far.After banning Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on November 8, the government had initially allowed people to deposit the scrapped currency notes in bank accounts till December 30 and there was no limit to the amount that could be deposited. Yadav also lambasted the government and the RBI for regularly changing rules. “On November 12, the Finance Minister says that there is no need to rush as the deadline is December 30. On December 20, the RBI asks why did you take so much of time to deposit old notes. You need an explanation? Currency functions on trust. Such actions will only lead to erosion of trust in institutions,” he said.

RBI changing rules like PM changes his clothes: Rahul Gandhi’s fresh jibe at Modi

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In yet another swipe at Prime Minister over demonetization after RBI announced restrictions on depositing scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said the country’s central bank is changing rules “like the PM changes his clothes”.The Congress Vice President took to twitter to lash out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the AICC demanded rollback of the restriction under which an amount over Rs 50,00 in scrapped currency can be deposited only once per account till December 30. “RBI is changing rules like the PM changes his clothes,” Gandhi tweeted, while posting an article on the RBI rules announced post demonetization.The attack came as the Congress leader is all set to take the battle over the issue of demonetization to the turf of the Prime Minister with a rally at Mehsana in Gujarat on Wednesday.At a rally in Jaunpur, Rahul had on Monday said that only 1% people have 60% of the country’s wealth and that “Modi has made fun of 99% honest people through demonetization”.After Gujarat, Gandhi will be addressing rally at Bahraich in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh on December 22 and at Almora in Uttarkhand the next day.Assembly polls in Uttarkhand are also scheduled early next year. On December 24, Gandhi will be addressing a rally at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram also slammed the new restrictions, calling them “desperate measures of a desperate government” at a time when hoarders have “laundered their money while the poor and the middle class have been left high and dry”.In a series of tweets, he wondered, “Old notes usable until Dec 15. Why can’t we deposit remaining notes until Dec 30 as notified?” Chidambaram said, “RBI makes new rule on deposit, FM contradicts. Who should citizen believe? Neither has credibility.”

Thanks to Modi govt one can neither withdraw nor deposit his own money now: Congress

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Coming down heavily on the Centre over the burning issue of demonetization, the Congress on Tuesday said the rules related to the move have changed over a 100 times since the major step was taken and over a 100 people have died, but it seems to have made no difference to the government which continues to remain unashamed of the inconvenience it has caused across the nation.”We want to ask Modiji that he had said on November 8 that people can deposit money in their accounts till December 30 and in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) till March 21, 2017, so why has he betrayed the people now? Till today, rules related to demonetization have changed 125 times. More than 100 people have died. Still the government is not ashamed of itself,” Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said.Miffed with the fact that a person can neither withdraw his money, nor deposit, Surjewala said only Modi government could lead to such bankruptcy.Commenting on the recent development announced by the Reserve Bank of India stating that deposits exceeding of old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes exceeding Rs 5000 shall be made only once per account till December 30 but after a satisfactory explanation, Surjewala said that even the banks are going to look like police stations asking questions to one about his own money.”Modi government has led to twin surgical strike on India’s workers, labourers and the common man. On the one hand, the interest rate of Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) has been reduced from 8.8% to 8.65% & on the other hand, in a (Tughlaqi farmaan) has now put a cap of Rs. 5000 on one’s own deposits. Even when you will go to make deposit, the bank officer will question you like a police inspector and will ask you the source of the money,” he said.Striking the same chord of objection over Prime Minister Modi’s absence in parliament, Surjewala asked the former to show some courage. “In spite of 300 members of parliament, Modiji is shying away from having a discussion on demonetization scam and its investigation. He has time to attend rock concerts, to put allegations in rallies, but does not have the courage to respond in parliament. Modiji, show some courage and stop insulting democracy,” he said.”The truth of deceit will be revealed only after the investigation of the demonetization scam. Modi ji, the entire nation knows that your intentions are black,” he added.The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Monday announced that deposits of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes exceeding Rs. 5000 shall be made only once per account until December 30 but after a satisfactory explanation.Tenders of Specified Bank Notes (SBNs) in excess of Rs. 5000 into a bank account will be received for credit only once during the remaining period till December 30, 2016. The credit in such cases shall be afforded only after questioning the tenderer, on record, in the presence of at least two officials of the bank, as to why this could not be deposited earlier and receiving a satisfactory explanation.

Demonetistion: Sudden spurt in queues at bank branches as new deposit rules kick in

New Delhi – Unnerved by new set of guidelines announced by the RBI, people rushed to bank branches to deposit the now defunct Rs 500/1,000 notes in their accounts.

Many branches witnessed sudden surge of customers for deposits on Monday, a day before the new rules kick in.

The Reserve Bank on Monday imposed stiff restrictions on depositing more than Rs 5,000 in the scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, mandating that it can be deposited only once per account till December 30, that too after explaining to bank officials the reasons for not having done that so far.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Stipulating that restrictive conditions will also apply on the cumulative deposit of such notes in a single account when it exceeds Rs 5,000, RBI said that defunct currency up to any amount can be deposited under the new black money amnesty scheme PMGKY.

Under PMGKY, black money holders can deposit unaccounted cash in account which will be subject to 50 per cent tax and 4-year interest free lock-in for the remaining 25 per cent of the amount.

The RBI said old notes in excess of Rs 5,000 into a bank account will be received for credit only once during the remaining period till December 30, 2016.

Even after 39 days after the demonetisation of old Rs 500/1,000 notes, banks are still struggling to manage long queues as cash starved customers throng branches to get valid currency notes.

To meet the demand, branches are resorting to cash rationing as they are getting less than their requirement from currency chests.

However, the situation seems slightly better at many ATMs with increased cash availability.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said everyday RBI is injecting a large amount of currency into the banking system as part of its remonetisation exercise.

“Significant amounts are going to be injected in next three weeks which are gradually bringing the pressure down. As more and more new currency comes into circulation, the recirculation itself in the banking system and ATMs will make more currency available,” Jaitley had said.

First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 08:49 IST

Paytm decides to raise limit after DNA queries

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The e-commerce website Paytm on Monday decided to revise their limit from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 for small retailers and shopkeepers within hours of queries by DNA regarding their grievances that the cap of Rs 25,000 was becoming a hurdle for them to use the e wallet.”We have got to know about the problems being faced by these self-declared merchants following which we have announced a new category of self-declared merchants who can accept payments up to Rs 50,000 directly in their bank accounts,” Nitin Misra, Senior Vice President, Paytm, told DNA.Following a guidieline of the Reserve Bank of India, Paytm put a limit of Rs 25,000 for businessmen to transfer to their bank accounts every month. On Monday evening Paytm decided to make the change.Adding that the move is in line with the RBI circular on special measures to incentivise electronic payments, Misra said, “We are on a mission to bring the benefits of digital payments to every merchant in the country. With this new enhancement, the aim is to offer our merchants greater flexibility in handling their money while presenting them with a quick and affordable merchant payment system.”Earlier on Monday, DNA contacted Paytm officials with various grievances faced by small retailers. “I had crossed my Paytm limit of Rs 25,000 on December 8 only which I had transferred in my bank account. I even accepted payments using the online payment mode until December 15th but I can’t accept it anymore. I already have Rs 15,000 in my account which is useless for me. Neither I can transfer them in my account nor I can use them to make my own payments to the dealers as most of them ask for cash or cheques,” said Hemant Khanna, a chemist in east Delhi’s Pandav Nagar area.”Immediately after government’s demonetisation move, we made three Paytm accounts to make things easier for us as well as our customers. But within 10-15 days our paytm wallets were full and we were not able to transfer money in our accounts. We were left with no choice other than stop accepting payments through Paytm,” Manu Sigh, a retailer in south Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar area told DNA.Some of the retailers have even complained about delayed and poor services by Paytm. “Paytm took three days to transfer Rs 10,000 from my paytm wallet to my account. I made several attempts to register a complaint regarding this but nobody received the calls on its helpline numbers,” said Tirup Singh, a general store owner in Mayur Vihar.How will this new Paytm category for self-declared merchants work?To self-declare as merchants, one needs to tap on ‘Accept Payment’ in the updated Paytm app, select ‘Bank Account’, enter bank details and confirm. Next is a self-declaration where the merchant confirms that he/she is the owner of a business and want to accept payments directly in his/her bank account. Post confirmation, the merchant’s bank account would be linked to his/her Paytm account and can start accepting payments directly in his/her bank account. A self-declared merchant can accept payments up to Rs 50,000 in a month. Wallet balance of a self-declared merchant should not exceed Rs 20,000 post which, the amount is settled directly to the merchant’s bank account.

Demonetisation: RBI curbs deposits; 6 points to note if you have more than Rs 5,000 old notes

The government and the Reserve Bank of India have today come out with new rules to curb money laundering at bank counters. As per the new rules, if a customer is making deposit above Rs 5,000, he or she will face questions from the bank officials on why the deposits were not made earlier.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Stipulating that restrictive conditions will also apply on the cumulative deposit of such notes in a single account when it exceeds Rs 5,000, RBI said that defunct currency up to any amount can be deposited under the new black money amnesty PMGKY scheme.

Here’s the full text of the RBI’s rules in today’s notification:

i) Tenders of SBNs (specified bank notes) in excess of Rs 5,000 into a bank account will be received for credit only once during the remaining period till 30 December, 2016. The credit in such cases shall be afforded only after questioning tenderer, on record, in the presence of at least two officials of the bank, as to why this could not be deposited earlier and receiving a satisfactory explanation. The explanation should be kept on record to facilitate an audit trail at a later stage. An appropriate flag also should be raised in CBS to that effect so that no more tenders are allowed.

ii) Tenders of SBNs up to Rs 5,000 in value received across the counter will allowed to be credited to bank accounts in the normal course until 30 December, 2016. Even when tenders smaller than Rs 5,000 are made in an account and such tenders taken together on cumulative basis exceed Rs 5,000 they may be subject to the procedure to be followed in case of tenders above Rs 5000, with no more tenders being allowed thereafter until 30 December, 2016.

iii) It may also be ensured that full value of tenders of SBNs in excess of Rs 5,000 shall be credited to only KYC compliant accounts and if the accounts are not KYC compliant credits may be restricted up to Rs 50,000 subject to the conditions governing the conduct of such accounts.

iv) The above restrictions shall not apply to tenders of SBNs for the purpose of deposits under the Taxation and Investment Regime for the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, 2016.

v) The equivalent value of specified bank notes tendered may be credited to an account maintained by the tenderer at any bank in accordance with standard banking procedure and on production of valid proof of Identity.

vi) The equivalent value of specified bank notes tendered may be credited to a third party account, provided specific authorisation therefor accorded by the third party is presented to the bank, following standard banking procedure and on production of valid proof of identity of the person actually tendering, as indicated in Annex-5 of our circular cited above.

First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 16:29 IST

Lt General Bipin Rawat is new Chief of Army Staff: How does selection process work?

The government on Saturday chose Lt General Bipin Rawat as the next Chief of Army Staff (COAS). He will succeed General Dalbir Singh Suhag, who retires on 31 December. However, controversy broke out immediately as Rawat was not the senior-most officer in the Indian Army. Traditionally, the rule in the security forces is to nominate the senior-most officer as the new head. According to the established tradition, Eastern Command chief Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi was all set to be the next chief, on account of his seniority.

This is the second instance in Indian Army’s history that this principle of seniority has been overlooked. In 1983, the then senior-most officer Lt Gen SK Sinha was superseded by Arun Shridhar Vaidya, who was the army chief when Operation Bluestar was launched.

Here is all you need to know about the process of selecting a new army chief.

Who has the power to appoint the new army chief?

The government of India has the power to choose the army chief. The government chooses a successor based on the security situation as well as the requirements that arise from time to time, noted The Times of India. It is worth noting that seniority has generally been the guiding principle while choosing the head of the third-largest army in the world.

Who exactly is responsible in the government for appointing the army chief?

The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) is responsible for taking the final decision on the appointment. The ACC comprises of the prime minister, minister of home affairs and the concerned ministry, in this case the defence ministry.

File picture of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat. Getty Images

File picture of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat. Getty Images

How does the selection process go about?

The process of selection commences four-to-five months in advance, with the ministry of defence seeking personal data and professional profile of all eligible lieutenant generals from among the vice chief of army ataff and general officers commanding in chief of the various Commands, the IANS reported.

The service headquarter, then forwards data of the eligible candidates, including their professional exposure, achievements and operational experience. These are processed by the ministry and forwarded through the defence minister for consideration and selection to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, the IANS quoted an unnamed defence ministry source as saying.

Generally, the government appoints the prospective COAS as the vice chief of staff to familiarise him with the working at the South Block, the report added.

When is the announcement generally made?

The announcement of the next army chief is made two or three months in advance.

What is the tenure of the army chief?

The chief of army staff has a three-year term. Alternatively, the chief of army staff is in office till he is 62, whichever is applicable at the earliest.

Why has the move to appoint Rawat been criticised?

In an article in The Citizen, ex-army officer Lt General Vijay Oberoi said that such a move may play a negative role in the long run. “Chances of selection based on political, sycophantic and non-professional reasons may become predominant in due course, with professional and character qualities being sacrificed on account of extraneous issues.”

What about Lt General Praveen Bakshi now?

Media reports suggest that the current Eastern Command chief might be the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a position first mooted after the Kargil War. The CDS will be the single point of contact for the defence minister as well as the prime minister.

With inputs from agencies

First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 14:52 IST

Axis Bank MD says embarrassed over conduct of few employees, orders forensic audit for more safeguards

New Delhi: “Embarrassed and upset” over the conduct of a handful of employees bringing the organisation into disrepute, Axis Bank MD and CEO Shikha Sharma on Sunday said the bank has hired KPMG to conduct a forensic audit for enhanced due diligence and building more safeguards.

Assuring that the fundamentals of the bank is on a “solid footing’, Sharma said in a letter to Axis Bank customers that the bank is tracking sudden surge in account activity and have ‘proactively identified potentially suspicious accounts”.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“The recent media reports around the conduct of a few of our employees have left me embarrassed and upset. We have fallen short of your expectations because a handful of people did not follow our fully compliant and robust processes. We have taken the toughest action against such employees and we will do so in every case of divergence from our Code of Conduct.

“I regret that the misdeeds of a few people have eroded the hard work of 55,000+ employees, who have been at the front end beyond working hours, displaying extraordinary patience and commitment to their responsibilities,” she said in the letter.

The Income Tax Department had last week conducted a raid at an Axis Bank branch in Noida and unearthed Rs 60 crore from the accounts of 20 shell companies.

Sharma said the bank has proactively identified suspicious accounts and has given inputs to regulatory authorities for further investigation.

“I would like to reassure you that the bank has always been committed to the highest standards of operational control and continues to fully cooperate with the authorities. We have been tracking sudden surges in account activity and have proactively identified potentially suspicious accounts.

“This proactive identification has been one of the inputs in investigation by the regulatory authorities, who are visiting some of our branches to seek out information. Further, we have hired KPMG to conduct a forensic audit for enhanced due diligence and building more safeguards,” she said.

Thanking customers for the support and understanding since the demonetisation initiative, Sharma said it has been a challenging time and the bank has tried its “level best” to make it easier for customers.

“We have made every effort to ease the transition by making special arrangements for senior citizens and differently abled people at our branches, using micro-ATMs to deliver cash to BSF personnel, ensuring salary disbursement to government and corporate employees across the length and breadth of our country,” Sharma wrote.

“I assure you that the fundamentals of the bank, built painstakingly over the last 22 years, focused on serving its retail and corporate customers are on a solid footing… We will always safeguard your interests because your trust matters the most. I look forward to your continued confidence in making us a safe, strong bank that is always focused on you,” she said in the letter.

First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 15:32 IST

Will file PIL in SC on decision to exempt parties from tax on old notes: Kanhaiya Kumar

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Former JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar has criticised the Central government’s decision to exempt political parties from income tax on old notes deposited by them in banks, saying that a PIL will be filed in this regard in Supreme Court.An online petition has been circulated for signatures of people opposing the government decision and soon a PIL will be filed at Supreme Court after due consultation with lawyers, Kanhaiya said. “We are contacting lawyers and we are going to file a PIL for revoking the exemption from IT scrutiny to political parties for deposits in old notes in the face of demonetization. We have already started taking signatures on an online petition regarding this,” he said.The Central government yesterday said political parties depositing old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in their accounts will be exempt from income tax. Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia said that deposits in bank accounts of political parties are not to be taxed. “If it is a deposit in the account of a political party, they are exempt. But if it is deposited in an individual’s account then that information will come into our radar. If the individual is putting money in his own account, then we will get information,” he said.The online petition addressed to the Chief Justice of India opposed this move as “patently unfair” to the citizenry of the country. “Given the extraordinary nature of this measure (demonetization) which has affected every citizen and business’s financial autonomy and brought their records under scrutiny; the exemption granted to political parties from any scrutiny from income tax authorities whatsoever in this regard, seems patently unfair to the citizenry,” the petition read.

Demonetisation: India can’t win its black money war by going soft on political parties

It is becoming abundantly clear that all the hoopla and about going after black money through demonetisation was more of a spoof. The media, particularly the social media, was hyper about how many stashes of black money political parties had lost, with names like Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Arvind Kejriwal figuring conspicuously.

Then there was plenty of news about politicians from various parties caught with lakhs or crores of cash. That the banks too were laundering cash without political involvement itself is questionable. But the fact remains that bulk of the cash seized as ‘black money’ is new currency. All this while frequent briefings including the current withdrawal limit of Rs 24,000 a week is not respected by many banks because they simply don’t have the cash unless you can stand in queues for days drawing Rs 4,000 or Rs 6,000 each day. Statements of more money being sent to rural areas, but then many news channels show chaos in rural areas as well.

Revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia. ReutersRevenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia. Reuters

Revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia. Reuters

So why not come clean and admit it will take 4-6 months to set things right, instead of 2-3 weeks which banks admit is impossible?

In the backdrop of the above, it was a shocker to hear revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia telling reporters that political parties depositing the demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in their account(s), will not face income tax investigation – so sky is the limit. Adhia was replying to in response to a question that whether the government is also investigation political parties/political treasuries depositing their own cash in banks. Adhia specifically said, “If a deposit is in the account of a political party, they are exempt. But if it is deposited in individual’s account then that information will come into our radar. If the individual is putting money in his own account, then we will get information.” But politicians are no fools in such matters; stash must’ve gone white already through accounts of followers, Jan Dhan, whatever. Sections 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961 grants exemption from tax to political parties in respect of their income from house property, other sources, capital gains and income by way of contributions received from any person.

Significantly, Adhia’s statement came on a day winter session of Parliament ended with all the shouting and sloganeering about demonetisation, AgustaWestland helicopter scam, allegations, counter allegations – of which the end result remains a question mark in the same vein as over past decades. For that matter in the case of AgustaWestland, no defence deal or scam can happen without the express involvement of the defence secretary and the DG (Acquisition), who before signing defence deals, make sure that the bribes reach the intended beneficiaries. Even Gen VK Singh, former COAS and presently MoS (External Affairs) states clearly in his autobiography that the corruption pipeline goes right up to the PMO. So let us see how thorough this probe and prosecution will be and with what end result. Does this explain why AK Anthony is doing jumping-jack putting all the blame on the IAF, least CBI probes how much was his cut in the AgustaWestland scam and what route it followed?

The 1993 Vohra Committee report while establishing the nexus between governmental functionaries, political leaders and others with various mafia organisation and crime syndicates, enabling development of significant muscle and money power to operate with impunity, had finally opined that “leakage whatever about the linkages of crime Syndicate senior Government functionaries or political leaders in the states or at the centre could have a destabilizing effect on the functioning of Government.” So, naturally there was no follow up to this report. But in this era of digitisation and connectivity (no matter not complete) all you need is an opinion poll pan-India as to which cross-section has and makes maximum black money in India, the overwhelming majority will be the political parties and politicians, corporate-with-blessings of the polity, and the like. In fact, that is the talk in every nukkad, shop, bank, gatherings of any size. But then is not what the 1993 Vohra Committee Report was implicitly pointed out?

So, if the bulk of the black money and loot is with the political parties, even though bulk is not in currency, where do we go from here – what sort of black money recovery are we executing? Sure Sections 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961 grants exemption from tax to political parties in respect of their income from house property, other sources, capital gains and income by way of contributions received from any person. But given that government has launched a war against black money and corruption, why could Sections 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961 not be amended before the demonetisation drive was launched.

This should have been very much possible considering the surreptitious manner in which FCRA Act 2010 was amended, legalising foreign donations – from ‘unknown’ sources? Why couldn’t a limit be put on what the political parties can deposit in their account and beyond which what percentage would be taxed, and how steep? After all, there are financial limits laid on electioneering also. Leaving limitless deposits by political parties without any taxation actually amounts to a farce being played about fighting a war against black money and corruption through demonetisation, permitting other hoarders now to deposit any amount with 50 percent taxation notwithstanding.

When Modi recently remarked about ‘state funding’ of elections, he was aware that money matters in politics because parties need ever-increasing resources for administration and election campaigns. But he was possibly looking for solutions to problems like: how money should not be allowed to buy access to decision-making power; how to sanction illicit donations and prevent trading in influence; should the state impose limits on corporate donations; and, should parties receive public funding? But looking at the mammoth political expenditure in our country, would it be ethical to use public funds for elections, what will be the tax burden on the common man, and how will it affect development? If that is the reason for the impossible drive of going cashless overnight without adequate infrastructure and education, to simply tax every transaction, it certainly needs a serious relook. It doesn’t take any intelligence to realize that next couple of years, India will need a mix of cash and cashless. If we don’t want to admit it, that is a different issue. The litmus test for Modi, therefore, is how to draw the black money out from the political parties, without which the war on black money will be largely ineffective.

The author is a veteran Lt. Gen.

First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 20:21 IST

Dance of the Dragon: Why India is in urgent need of a new China policy

Between the heat and dust of demonetisation and the pounding of mortar shells across the Line of Control, the twin prongs occupying all headlines and mind space, a fast-evolving development demands our equal and undivided attention for the deep import it holds for the future. India is in dire need of a new China policy.

The delicate equilibrium that defined a major part of the three decades following 1962 Sino-Indian war coalesced into a more stable relationship with the signing of the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement in 1993.

As former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, who played no small part in the signing of the contract during the PV Narasimha Rao government, writes in his book — Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy (176 Pages, Brookings Institution Press, 18 October, 2016), the agreement kept quiet one of the longest-running border disputes in the world across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as both India and China got down to developing their economies and deepening their mutual engagement in other fields.

The deal formalised the status quo and ensured peace despite disagreements over the delineation of international boundary in no less than 16 places. This, writes Menon, has been possible because both countries saw merit in de-linking bilateral trade and normal state-to-state relationship from the “restrictions and inhibitions of the war”.

The strategy has served India well for at least a quarter of a century, a surprisingly long time considering the dynamic nature of foreign policy, but not anymore. There are increasing signs now that the balance of power between India and China has changed. There is now less equilibrium between both nations who may not yet be on a path of direct confrontation but find themselves frequently locking horns on several issues on their divergent paths towards emerging as new 21st century powers.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Not just clashing of mutual interest, a reevaluation of Sino-Indian relationship has also become imperative due to a shift in the balance of international order. As US seeks to look more inward, signaling an end to the post-Cold War era equilibrium where it was the sole superpower, the wane of American hegemony has coincided with the rise of China as a mercantile power rooted in a revisionist culture under President Xi Jinping.

Since the turn of the millennium, as Menon points out in his book, Beijing has clearly abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s 24-character-strategy — “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”

Under a nationalist president, China now sees no merit in hiding its capacities and maintaining a low profile. It is bent on reclaiming the leadership mantle from a retreating US. By adopting a muscular and aggressive foreign policy, seeking a greater say in the global geopolitical order and recalibrating its strategic and maritime relationship with neighbours, Beijing no longer believes in biding its time.

In the recent years, it has invested considerable resources in increasing its land influence over Asia and Eurasia. It is building a formidable network of ports and other related infrastructure throughout the Indian Ocean and Western pacific littorals that may serve as the initial platform for its eventual global ambitions. This has obviously resulted in a heightening of tensions with India, the other regional power and US, the incumbent global superpower.

Even a cursory look at recent developments reflect a new exceptionalism in China’s beliefs — the mark of a nation confident about its rise. It bends rules when it comes to own strategic and military interests (like disregarding the Hague Tribunal Ruling on South China Sea) but when it comes to honoring strategic interests of other nations, it throws the rulebook. Consider the way it has unilaterally stalled India’s inclusion in the NSG Club by citing the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Beijing is furious with Donald Trump receiving a congratulatory telephone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and says the US President-elect is undermining One China policy, yet does not blink twice before siding with Pakistan on Kashmir, showing a scant regard to New Delhi’s One India policy.

China’s wielding of influence hasn’t been restricted to its geopolitical hypocrisy.

As Reuters reported, China has recently installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven of the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea in blatant violation of international rules on a disputed area. It even went to the extent of seizing on Thursday an underwater drone deployed by a US oceanographic vessel in South China Sea, triggering a formal diplomatic protest and a demand from Pentagon for its return. US Senator Ben Cardin told Reuters on Friday that the seizure was “a remarkably brazen violation of international law.”

This is to point out that if China is not afraid of cocking a snook at the US, it will barely bat an eyelid while doing so against India.

As The Telegraph reported, China on Friday read the riot act and threatened India with a downgrading of bilateral ties because President Pranab Mukherjee had on 11 December played host to the Dalai Lama at Rashtrapati Bhavan during the opening ceremony of a children’s summit.

India has dismissed its concerns, saying that the Tibetan spiritual leader was attending a non-political event, but this building of pressure is consistent with China’s posturing. It had recently issued a similar threat against India over its $1 billion aid to Mongolia — another country that became subject to Chinese bullying by hosting the Dalai Lama.

It had even warned India of “endless trouble” in Sino-Indian ties if, as PTI had reported, India raises objections to China’s cargo service with Nepal, calling India’s aid to Mongolia “a bribe” to counter Beijing influence. India has so far acted with reticence but New Delhi can afford to ignore the provocations only at its peril.

This is not to say that India should wade headlong into a war with China. The Dragon uses provocations as a strategic tool to send across a message. It’s message to India is clear and unequivocal — that it is a bigger political and military power and New Delhi should take that into account while formulating its strategic interests.

From India’s point of view, the time is ripe for a re-engagement based on mutually agreeable interests. Peace with a China is imperative if India is to pursue its own trajectory to greatness.

First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 16:30 IST

Rahul baba can’t see change brought out by BJP because of his ‘Italian chasma’: Amit Shah

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> BJP President Amit Shah targeted Rahul Gandhi, saying instead of embarking on roadshows against demonetization, he should take out “yatras against unemployment, poverty and starvation”.Addressing BJP’s ‘Parivartan Rally’, he also hit out at other opposition parties, including SP, BSP and Trinamool Congress, for “ganging up” against demonetizationand disrupting parliamentary proceedings leading to a virtual washout of the winter session.”Rahul Baba is undertaking padyatras daily. It will be better if Rahul takes out yatras against unemployment, poverty and starvation,” Shah said while targeting the Congress leader who has been aggressively campaigning against demonetization.”He (Rahul) asks what change has come after BJP came to power… He will not be able to see as he has ‘Italian chashma’ (Italian glasses) on his eyes,” Shah said, in an apparent reference to Italian roots of Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi.The BJP chief likened the unity among opposition parties on the issue of demonetizationto all animals in a jungle climbing the same tree to save their lives from raging floods. He likened SP, BSP and Congress to “naagnath and saanpnath” (snakes) sitting over schemes for development of Uttar Pradesh forcing youths to migrate to other states for menial jobs, and asserted that “come what may, BJP will come to power” after the coming Assembly election. He said demonetizationhas taken the wind out of BSP supremo Mayawati’s sails.Shah said till November 7 these parties used to ask “Modiji what have you done to check black money. Now, these very parties ask ‘Modiji why have you done this to check black money,” the BJP chief said.The tough step has caused discomfort to those having lakhs of crores of rupees ill-gotten money, Shah said.Noting that it was his duty to answer the questions being raised by the opposition parties on note ban, Shah said every single paisa being deposited after deducting the 75 to 85 per cent penalty by the black money holders will be used for the development and welfare works.Attacking Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Shah said he should give an account of his achievements during his nearly five-year rule rather than trying to divert the people’s attention by raising the issue of demonetization.”SP, BSP and Congress and at some places Ajit Singh (RLD) are together stalling the development of Uttar Pradesh as saapnath and naagnath,” the BJP President said.Shah was particularly critical of Akhilesh and said central assistance for the welfare of the poor and farmers in Uttar Pradesh went in vain as the benefits did not reach the targeted people and instead swelled the coffers of Samajwadi Party leaders. “You can see that their dwelling units had changed to palaces during the SP rule.. Massive dose of financial assistance was given to the state but it was usurped by ‘chacha-bhatija’ (uncle-nephew),” he said, referring to Akhilesh and state party chief Shivpal Singh Yadav.Akhilesh will have to answer for the “wrongs” done during his five-year rule, the BJP chief said.”Akhilesh will first have to answer for Mathura where government land was encroached for years, Bulandshahr where gangrape was committed and his minister Azam Khan made mockery of it and here in Etah 100 people lost their lives in hooch tragedy,” Shah said.”I feel bad to see youths from UP drive taxis and work as labourers in other states as there is no opportunity in their home state,” he said, adding only a BJP government can ensure that they work in their native district, stay with their parents and family. “It is corruption, corruption and nothing but corruption in Uttar Pradesh,” he rued.Referring to the CM’s claims of getting more that 300 seats in case of an alliance with Congress, Shah said he should not leave his ‘Buaji’ (Mayawati). “But, it will be BJP which will come to power in UP,” he asserted.Claiming that incidents of rape increased by a staggering 161 per cent during the Akhilesh Yadav regime, Shah recalled that when the state had a BJP government headed by Kalyan Singh, criminals kept a low profile.He said senior SP leader and UP minister Azam Khan made a mockery of law and order with his comments on rape cases.Shah said the Modi government had done away with interview of youths for Class III and IV jobs, but the SP government was so deep into corruption that it did not comply with the order unlike BJP-ruled states.

PM Modi should read history, will find out who betrayed nation: Congress hits back at jibe against Indira

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Congress back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his party-first remark against it and said he should read history to know who puts the party before the nation. Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal told the Prime Minister that his party fought the freedom struggle which Modi’s party had “opposed” and instead “sided” with the British. “Modiji said the BJP is the only nationalist party and all others are anti-national. The trouble is, Modiji doesn’t know history and neither is he interested in knowing it. Modiji should remember what his ideological masters did in 1947. “When the Indian National Congress was fighting the freedom struggle, they were on the British side and opposed us. For them, the organisation is first, the nation second. For us, the nation is always first. Today, Modiji has forsaken both the nation and the party. He only wants to see his own image on television,” he said.Sibal suggested that Modi reads history and also that of his party leaders who “supported” the British. He also dubbed the demonetisation decision taken by him unilaterally as “anti-national and anti-people” and said he quotes Chanakya, who never said that the King should speak a lie.”Did Chanakya say that a ruler should lie? We want to ask which party has the most black money? Modi ji should ask himself that,” he asked.Sibal also lamented that it is the first time when the Prime Minister did not speak in Parliament and neither allowed the opposition to speak.Taking a dig at him, the Congress leader said, he also may have been a little worried fearing an expose from the Congress when Parliament is in session.”I don’t know how far the new policy will be able to affect the person for whom it is intended. One thing is clear a large number of people belonging to the middle and lower middle classes will be hit hard on account of the demonetisation. “While we Congressmen have no sympathy for profiteers and dealers in the black market, it is not right to penalise honest Indians, who in good faith have their savings in notes of demonetised value,” he said quoting Dr Rajendra Prasad.”Does Modi ji want to call Dr Rajendra Prasad a scamster? That he was anti-national?” Sibal asked. The Congress leader said if Modi wanted to fight black money, he should start from his own party.”We want to ask which party has the most black money? Modiji should ask himself that. If Modiji wants to fight black money, he should start from his own party. When talking about black money, Modiji should look at his own house.” Sibal asked “When Modi ji was giving speeches before 2014 (general elections), were people paying him in cheques? We want to ask, who was paying him in cheques? Which cheques are used to pay shakhas? In Jhandewalan (RSS’ Delhi headquarters), are all payments made through cheques?.”

DigiDhan Mela: IT Min to run digital payment fair on 17-18 Dec , open bank a/c

New Delhi: Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology will organise two-day event in Delhi to create awareness about digital payments and also help people open bank accounts and enroll for Aadhaar.

A shop assistant uses an eftpos system at a Specialty Fashion Group owned Katies store in Sydney December 11, 2012. Australia is being invaded by a swathe of foreign retailers, piling pressure on a local industry already battered by weak consumer spending and ruthless internet competition. Picture taken December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne (AUSTRALIA - Tags: BUSINESS FASHION) - RTR3BNKDA shop assistant uses an eftpos system at a Specialty Fashion Group owned Katies store in Sydney December 11, 2012. Australia is being invaded by a swathe of foreign retailers, piling pressure on a local industry already battered by weak consumer spending and ruthless internet competition. Picture taken December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne (AUSTRALIA - Tags: BUSINESS FASHION) - RTR3BNKD

Reuters

“DigiDhan Mela is being organized by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) at Major Dhyanchand National Stadium, Delhi to create awareness about the benefits of Digital Payment option,” an official statement said.

During the two-day event (17-18 Dec, 2016), MEITY will handhold users in downloading, installing and using various digital payment systems for carrying out digital transactions. The initiative plans to enable citizens and merchants to undertake real time digital transactions through the DigiDhan Bazaar.

“…help will also be extended to citizens for opening their bank accounts, to enrol them into Aadhaar and to enable their existing accounts into AEPS (Aadhaar enabled payment system) accounts,” the statement said.

The event will witness participation from banks, telecom companies, mobile wallet operators, transportation network companies, Department of Post, merchants (through marketing associations), co-operatives like Kendriya Bhandar and organised retail fruits and vegetable chains like Safal, milk booths, agricultural produce marketing committees etc.

Citizens who wish to be enrolled in Aadhaar will need to carry a proof of identity with name and photo, proof of address, proof of date of birth.

Besides, citizens should carry their bank account details to enable the apps and merchants will need to carry the company proof, pan card of the propreitor and the company, address and identity proof, bank account details.

The fair will provide free WiFi to enable citizens to download and install mobile apps for aiding on the spot digital payments, the statement said.

First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 12:17 IST

Legion claims to have hacked the email accounts of 74,000 chartered accountants, banks

Hacking group Legion now claims it has hacked into the emails of 74,000 chartered accountants across India, The Times of India said on Thursday.

The newspaper said that it has received a link from the hacker group during an interview over an encrypted chat platform, offering access to a list of emails and passwords of some major Indian institutions including banks and chartered accounts that the group claims to have hacked.

Representational image

Representational image

The newspaper quoted a member of the group as saying:

We have dumpz from all the major institutions…all the major banks and passwords…of all da chartered accountants in INDIA. And those that had the same pw on Dropbox? Too bad, they got owned and all the dox were dumped. The people they work for? Too bad for them too. Raw data brings chaos (sic).”

The group, the report said, would also release more raw data from the hack.

The hacker group, which goes by the name Legion (Legion Crew according to The Washington Post), has become a sensation in India after it claimed to have carried out the well-publicised hacks of some high profile Twitter accounts including former liquor baron Vijay Mallya, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and journalists Barkha Dutt and Ravish Kumar. The group recently claimed that it has also hacked into the account of former IPL chief Lalit Modi, and would soon be releasing all the data on a public platform.

Just two days ago, the group in an interview with FactorDaily.com, said that it has hacked government emails hosted on Sansad.nic.in. The hacker group had also claimed to have dumped emails of journalist Dutt in the public domain.

Incidentally, there have been contradicting reports about the group’s identity and location; while some claimed it to be based out of eastern Europe, others including The Times of India and The Washington Post claimed the group to be based in India. The group in its various interviews has claimed themselves to be drug-loving, cyber criminals who just want to create chaos.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 15:31 IST

In South Delhi civic schools, over 1,600 posts for special educators are yet to be filled

Due to the lack of an adequate number of eligible candidates, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation has failed to meet its judicial directive to fill up the posts of special educators in Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) schools in the National Capital, the civic body recently admitted in an affidavit in the Delhi High Court. The civic body filed this affidavit as a reply to a contempt petition by Social Jurist, a lawyers group, alleging its non compliance with an earlier order by the same court to fill up the posts of special educators.

According to the affidavit accessed by Firstpost, despite two attempts to fill up more than 1,600 posts of special educators the Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board (DSSSB) has not been able to find the required number of eligible candidates.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The DSSSB is responsible for selection of special educators for schools run by both the Delhi government and the MCD.

The affidavit says that the unified MCD had sent a letter to DSSSB to fill up 1,610 posts of special educators in the month of January 2012. But later on, the DSSSB let the civic body know that a sufficient number of applications had not been received by the DSSSB to fill up the posts and recommended only 40 names for appointment. Later still, another advertisement was issued to fill 1,695 vacancies for special educators in 2014. But this time, only 90 names were recommended by the DSSSB for appointment.

The DSSSB has also let the SDMC know that very few applications have been received against the vacancies.

The lack of special educators in MCD schools has led to serious difficulties in imparting education.

A teacher on condition of anonymity told Firstpost that students who need special education are to be identified and be provided separate education at an early stage. “But due to a lack of special educators, many schools under the MCD fail to identify them and take proper care of them. This is one of the reasons why many students who pass out of these schools often fail to demonstrate adequate reading and writing skills,” said the teacher.

Recently, the Delhi government launched a drive among students in high schools to teach them how to read. Teachers say that some of these students actually require special education in their early years. Ashok Agarwal, the advocate for the case in the Delhi High Court and an activist who has been fighting the case for the rights of special children, told Firstpost, “The lack of special educators in MCD schools have led to a rise in dropout rates in schools. Students who need special care often get frustrated due to lack of it and add up to the dropout list.”

He further said that the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi government to appoint at least two special educator in every school in the year 2009.

“The government’s inability to meet this criteria is a painful failure,” he added.

Explaining the reason of lack of special educators in Delhi, a teacher in a Delhi government schools said Firstpost, “The career of a special educator has not been a very popular one even among the aspirants of teachers jobs. For very few want to get involved with the ‘disabled sector’.”

He further added that some of them join this profession only after they fail to get job anywhere else.

“By then, they cross the maximum age limit set by the DSSB to be appointed as a special educator in MCD schools in Delhi,” he contended.

Moreover, some candidates fail to meet other eligibilty criteria set by DSSB, such as qualifying the Teachers Education Test.

On account of this difficulty in filling these posts, recently the Delhi government has began appointing special educators as guest teachers by relaxing these norms.

Agarwal suggests that SDMC should also follow suit to fill these posts.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 08:08 IST

Demonetisation: Why P Chidambaram’s charges of a gigantic scam doesn’t carry any weightage

The Congress party and its spokespersons were till recently dubbing the ongoing demonetisation exercise as a gigantic scam without a shred of evidence or whiff of verisimilitude but the suave P. Chidambaram the former finance minister in the UPA government latched onto the huge haul of new notes seized by the Modi government to turn the tables on it.

He said lakhs of newly minted Rs 2,000 notes tumbling out of cupboards of crooks pointed to a huge scam being perpetrated by the Modi government. But like with the earlier allegations of Congressmen about demonetisation being a scam, his post haste started singing elegy about the immense hardship caused to the public particularly the poor. The subtext was hardship and inconvenience was scam by itself. Touché!

P Chidambaram. PTIP Chidambaram. PTI

P Chidambaram. PTI

Shoot from the hip and then scoot is the stock in trade of Kejriwal who revels in tilting at the windmills and thirty seconds of fame wild charges bring. But for a seasoned politician and lawyer Chidambaram to do a Kejriwal shows desperation. In 2G scam that brought the downfall of the UPA II, the allegation was first-come-first served was a hush-hush way of awarding precious natural resources to cronies. Coal scam was worse. Coal blocks were allotted to cronies and sidekicks on the basis of screening committee recommendations gratis. The Apex Court rightly castigated the UPA government while recommending auction as the best way for distributing precious natural resources. The CAG’s quantification of both the scams at Rs 186,000 crore each gave further ammunition to the opposition charge of financial irregularities.

But in demonetisation, there is no whiff of irregularity much less a scam. If anything, there was an error of judgment and underestimation of the Indian crooks’ capability to extract a foot when given an inch. No fraud can be consummated without collusion. The crooks preyed on the cupidity of bank officials to get newly minted currency notes mostly of Rs 2,000 denomination in exchange for the demonetised ones by smugly producing fake identity cards mostly aadhaar. Exchange indeed was a powder keg waiting to explode. It conferred anonymity on crooks. But then they had not reckoned with the resolve and ability of the government to gun after them. Through informers, intelligence, spycams and what have you, the government has been successful in tracing the missing cash. More brazen was the act of depositing demonetised notes into the accounts of benamis and withdrawing them post haste.

Professor Bhagwati of Columbia University was bang on when he said demonetisation was one of those remedies that could have a range of repercussions some of them unpredictable. But that was not reason enough not to press ahead with it. On the contrary a good government is one, he said, that thinks on its feet as events unfold and neutralises the fraudsters quickly. The Modi government knew that the scheme could not be taken forward without enlisting banks but also knew that some of the bankers could prove to be its undoing. It wisely kept tabs on them.

Demonetisation then was a bitter pill that had to be swallowed in the face of failure of raids and numerous amnesty schemes to unearth black money sloshing around in the country. True it has brought in its wake untold inconveniences to the masses, making them stand in long queues and depriving some of their livelihood. But it was neither a scam nor a nostrum. Its biggest contribution is its success in mainstreaming the economy. That Rs 12.4 lakh crore has already poured into banks till 10 December, 2016 is a proof.

While the charge of scam was expected from the frustrated opposition clutching at straws and praying for Modi to trip, the charge of abdicating and disowning Indian rupee by the government itself is too ludicrous to warrant a reply. Suffice it to say, we have persisted with the Indian rupee and not hitched our stars to the American bandwagon like quite a few weak nations in the past. That is called dollarisation, a pusillanimous monetary theory that fatalistically condemns the nation to sink or swim with Uncle Sam.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 11:05 IST

Demonetisation: Narendra Modi’s 50-Day deadline for re-monetisation set to fail

By Sahil Kini

We are 17 days away from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 50-day deadline to end the worst effects of the scrapping of 86 percent –by value–of India’s currency. In the chest-thumping, hand-wringing and controversy that has ensued since the announcement on November 8, 2016, there has been an absence of facts on the question of re-monetising India.

An extrapolation of 2016 Reserve Bank of India (RBI) data on the capacity of Indian printing presses and currency distribution indicates that, at current rates, the Prime Minister’s deadline will not be met. Getting adequate money to banks and ATMs nationwide will depend on how many bank notes the government wants to put back into circulation.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

If the government wants to introduce Rs 9 lakh crore ($135 billion)–or 35 percent less money than it pulled out–it will take up to May 2017, and if it wants to reintroduce the entire Rs 14 lakh crore ($210 billion) that it withdrew, that could take up to August 2017.

The crux of the problem is change, specifically the Rs 500 note, which India’s presses cannot, currently, print in adequate number.

Here are the facts:

The RBI has four presses at: Dewas (Madhya Pradesh), Nashik (Maharashtra), Salboni (West Bengal), and Mysuru (Karnataka).
The printing capacity of these presses is roughly 2,670 crore (26.7 billion) notes a year, according to the RBI’s 2016 annual report (page 90). Or roughly 7.4 crore (74 million) notes a day.
If the presses worked three shifts a day instead of two, their daily production capacity could be raised to 11.1 crore (111 million) notes a day.
However, less than half of the machines in the presses have the ability to print the security features required for high-value notes (Rs 500 and above).
This means that even if all the machines that print high-value notes in all four presses printed only Rs 500 rupee notes 24 hours a day, we would at best be able to print 5.56 crore (55.6 million) Rs 500 notes every day.
This translates to about Rs. 2,778 crore ($418 million) in value printed every day in Rs 500 notes.
Before the announcement of demonetisation, the government had already arranged for the printing of 200 crore (2 billion) Rs 2,000 notes, or roughly about Rs 4 lakh crore ($60 billion) in value. So, these were the first set of notes to be circulated. This is why there are so many pink notes in circulation.

Let’s explore the time to disburse in the two scenarios we mentioned:

Scenario 1: Rs 9 lakh crore (or roughly two-thirds the total Rs 14 lakh crore that was demonetised) needs to be returned to the system.
Scenario 2: Rs 14 lakh crore (full amount) needs to be recirculated
For this amount to be liquid, a key condition needs to be met: Rs 2,000 notes can, at most, account for half the total amount to be circulated. The logic: If we do not have enough change, then the Rs 2,000 note will always be hard to “break” into smaller denominations, which is the situation nationwide today.

The other half needs to be available in lower-denomination notes. The total value of Rs 100, Rs 50, Rs 20, and Rs 10 notes is Rs 2.19 lakh crore ($33 billion), according to the RBI’s annual report.

If we put this in a math equation where t is the total value of Rs 2,000 notes and f is the total value of Rs 500 notes, we end up with this equation:

total value of 2,000s (t) = total value of 500s (f) + total value of 100s and below

or

t = f + Rs 2.19 lakh crore

This means the requirement of Rs 500 notes is as follows:

In Scenario 1 (Rs 9 lakh crore disbursal):
t+f = Rs 9 lakh crore Solving for f, the value of Rs 500 notes needed is 681 crore (6.81 billion) notes X Rs 500 = Rs 3.405 lakh crore
Scenario 2 (Rs 14 lakh crore disbursal):
t+f = Rs 14 lakh crore Solving for f, the value of Rs 500 notes needed is 1,181 crore (11.81 billion) notes X Rs 500 = Rs 5.905 lakh crore

As on November 30, 2016, less than 10 crore (100 million) Rs 500 notes were printed and ready (or two days worth of printing), according to an RBI source, quoted in Mint.

We arrive at the crux of the problem: India needs to print at least 681 crore (6.81 billion) Rs 500 notes. In Scenario 2, the Rs 500 requirement is for 1,181 crore (11.81 billion) notes. However, the peak printing capacity of the presses is 5.56 crore (55.6 million) notes a day–or 0.8 percent of what it should be.

At this rate, we will take anywhere between 122 days and 212 days to print enough Rs 500 notes. Given the fact that the RBI started printing Rs 500 notes in earnest after November 30, 2016, printing all the required 500s will be completed only on March 10, 2017 (Scenario 1), or July 8, 2017 (Scenario 2).

Taking into account the time taken for cash transportation and the speed at which banks can push out the money, calculations indicate that complete disbursal of Rs 9 lakh crore can happen in early April 2017.

In Scenario 2 (Rs 14 lakh crore), it could take until mid-July for the cash to be fully disbursed.

(Kini, a B Tech from IIT Madras, is a Principal at Aspada, a venture capital firm that supports entrepreneurs building businesses for India’s underserved markets. He is also an active volunteer with the IndiaStack, where he helps frame policy, while evangelising its impact at various industry events.)

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 08:54 IST

DNA Morning Must Reads: Congress guns for Rijiju over Rs 450-cr ‘scam’, Cyrus Mistry voted out as director of TCS; and more

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Congress guns for Rijiju over Rs 450-crore ‘scam’, minister says ‘I am not connected with the audio tape’The Congress on Tuesday demanded Union minister Kiren Rijiju’s resignation on account of an “audio proof” and documentary evidence which claimed that he facilitated a Rs 450-crore scam embedded in a huge hydro-electric project in his home state of Arunachal Pradesh. Read more here.Cyrus Mistry voted out as director of TCS amid high dramaCyrus Mistry was supposed to feverishly oppose his ouster from the chairmanship of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) at the extraordinary general meeting of the shareholders, didn’t show up at meeting in Mumbai on Tuesday afternoon. Read more here.Parliament Session: From other side of the aisle…counting hours lostThe Congress is facing the blame for disruptions that have led to less than 20% of business being conducted in both houses so far in the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament. Read more here.Pristine white Amul says ‘cheese’ to demonetization, shifts to online payment for big farmersDairy farmers in Gujarat are busy opening bank accounts and learning the basics of going cashless as Amul — owned by India’s largest milk cooperative chain, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) — just decided to take the bull by the horns. Read more here.Sunny Leone’s brother gets marriedSunny Leone’s brother, chef Sundeep Vohra, tied the knot with Karishma Naidu in Los Angeles for which Sunny and her husband, Daniel Weber flew down from Mumbai to LA. Read more here.

Bank accounts of ISIS ‘recruit’ Tabrez and kin under ATS scanner

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Anti-Terrorism Squad is finding out bank account details of Mumbra youth Tabrez Tambe, a suspected member of ISIS held in Libya, and his close relatives here to find out the nature of transactions, if any.Meanwhile, the agency has confirmed that Tabrez’s friend Ali who had indoctrinated him, is a Saudi national. Tabrez, a resident of Mumbra in neighbouring Thane district, was caught last week in Libya, where he had joined ISIS with Ali. According to ATS officials, the agency has written to Central government seeking more information about Tabrez and his activities in the oil-rich country and the exact role he might have played for the terror group.The agency is trying to ascertain the nature of bank transactions, if any, between Tabrez and his kin and if money was deposited in their accounts by any suspected IS handler, they said.ATS officials are now trying to find out if Ali, who had earlier visited India with Tabrez, met or brainwashed more local youths. The ATS teams are making enquiries with Tabrez’s family members, relatives and friends in this regard. “We will investigate Ali’s motive to visit India,” an ATS official said. ATS has also seized various gadgets belonging to Tabrez’s family members, through which he used to communicate with his mother, brother and wife.The gadgets, including mobile phone handsets and a laptop, are sent to Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) to find out details about the communication.According to an official, there is no contact between Tabrez and his family members after a case was lodged with ATS. The agency has already registered offences against him under various sections of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Tabrez had left India earlier this year to go to Egypt for a job and landed in Libya, where he was said to be fighting for ISIS against US-backed forces.Earlier this year, the National Investigative Agency (NIA) and ATS officials had arrested suspected IS member Mudabbir Shaikh (33) from Mumbra. He was believed to be in direct contact with his handler Shafi Armar who is also known as Yousuf Al Hindi in ISIS.

Cold and fog conditions disrupt daily life in Bihar

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Cold day conditions and dense fog in many parts of the state has thrown life out of gear in Bihar with people virtually remaining indoors over the weekend and on Monday, a public holiday on account of Id-ul-Milad Nabi.At least five people, including two women, died in an accident when their car rammed into a stationary truck on NH 2 due to poor visibility in Aurangabad district of the state.“The incident took place between 4 am and 5 am due to dense fog. It appears the driver could not see the parked 18-wheeler truck and rammed into it. The car was then hit by another truck from behind and the occupants got sandwiched between the two heavy vehicles,” a local police officer said.Police sources said the number of road accidents has increased over the last few days after different parts of Bihar started witnessing dense fog and has claimed at least 8-10 lives besides seriously injuring many.The state disaster management department has already issued an advisory to all district magistrates to make adequate arrangements of night shelters for the homeless.The district administrations have also been asked to burn firewood at certain public places auto-rickshaw stands, bus and railway stations and regularly monitor and report the situation to the department. “No death related due cold stroke have been reported till Monday afternoon,” department’s joint secretary Anirudh Kumar told DNA.A number of flights and train operating to and fro Bihar are delayed by several hours daily. The east central railways has also discontinued the service of over two dozen trains once a week to restore their punctuality. Some other mail or passenger trains plying through the zone have also been cancelled for a month.Meanwhile, with the maximum temperatures plummeting almost 10 degrees below normal and the minimum temperature hovering between seven and 12 degree Celsius, many districts, including Patna, have asked schools to shut down their Montessori sections and reschedule their primary and senior classes from 10 am for the next few days.

Accident deaths: Tamil Nadu roads get dubious repute

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>With as many as 717 fatalities in 11 ‘black spots’ or accident-prone stretches from 2011-14, Tamil Nadu accounts for the maximum number of road accident fatalities on national highways, with Meghalaya in the second position and Uttar Pradesh third.While Tamil Nadu is the country’s most unsafe state in this category, Meghalaya reported 222 deaths in just three black spots and UP 146 fatalities across five black spots, reveals data from the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways. However, the maximum fatalities seen in a single black spot remains the Nonthymmai area in the east Khasi Hills at NH 44 of Meghalaya, with 89 fatalities.Data on black spots for 2015 is still being compiled, an official said. Inputs had to be invited twice over after some discrepancies in data sent by the states was spotted the first time, he explained.According to the data, accessed by DNA, five of Tamil Nadu’s black spots were in Kancheepuram and they led to 305 fatalities in the four years from 2011-14. Villupuram district, with 30 fatalities across four such accident-prone stretches, was number two.The three states — Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh – account for the top 20 black spots of the 789 identified in terms of fatalities. Tamil Nadu has 102 identified black spots, while Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh have reported eight and 104 black spots, respectively.Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, with 86 black spots, are actively working to make their highways safer by putting adequate signages and improving road design in the risk-prone stretches. Other states, in comparison, are lagging behind, an official said.”Despite repeated reminders, only 50 per cent states have set up a dedicated road safety engineering cell,” he said. Only 19 states have submitted their road safety action plan, a draft of which was sent to the states in 2013 by the government.While some of these black spots come under the jurisdiction of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), some are also on state roads that fall under state governments. A fund of Rs 600 crore has been earmarked for road safety engineering works by the government; of this, Rs 12 crore has been sanctioned for the rectification of six black spots.India has the highest number of road fatalities in the world with road accidents claiming more than 1.4 lakh lives every year, according to government reports. The ministry hopes to reduce the number of road- accident deaths by half in the next four year, Union minister Nitin Gadkari said at a road safety engineering workshop here recently.Status updateOf 789 black spots, 100 have already been improved and 214 come under ongoing road-widening projects. Survey investigations are on or proposals are under consideration in the case of another 125, sources said.

Exclusive – SWIFT confirms new cyber thefts, hacking tactics | Reuters

By Tom Bergin and Jim Finkle
| LONDON/BOSTON

LONDON/BOSTON Cyber attacks on the global banking system have continued – and succeeded – since February’s heist of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank, underscoring the continuing vulnerability of the SWIFT messaging network, a SWIFT official told Reuters.The network, which handles trillions of dollars in transfers daily, has warned banks of the escalating threat to their systems, according to a SWIFT letter obtained by Reuters. “The threat is very persistent, adaptive and sophisticated – and it is here to stay,” SWIFT said last month in a letter to client banks, which has not been previously reported.Client banks been have been hit with a “meaningful” number of attacks – about a fifth of them resulting in stolen funds, said Stephen Gilderdale, Head of SWIFT’s Customer Security Programme. Gilderdale’s comments are the first confirmation of new thefts involving the SWIFT network since the February heist.The revelations provide fresh evidence that SWIFT remains at risk of copycat attacks nearly a year after the massive theft from a Bangladesh Bank account at the New York Fed. The unprecedented cyber heist prompted regulators around the globe to tighten bank security requirements.

SWIFT’S letter to customers warned that hackers have refined their methods for compromising local bank systems. One new tactic, the letter said, involved using software that allows technicians to access computers to provide technical support. “We unfortunately continue to see cases in which some of our customers’ environments are being compromised” by thieves who then send fraudulent payment instructions through the SWIFT network – the same kind of messages used to steal Bangladesh Bank funds.

On Monday, a top investigator in Dhaka told Reuters that some Bangladesh central bank officials deliberately exposed its computer systems and enabled the theft. The comments by Mohammad Shah Alam of the Dhaka police are the first sign that investigators have got a firm lead in one of the world’s biggest cyber heists. Arrests are likely soon, he said.SWIFT’s Gilderdale declined to provide further details about more recent attacks or to name victims or amounts stolen. Asked how many heists had been attempted, he said only that it was “a meaningful number of cases.” The intrusions had been detected in a variety of ways, Gilderdale said. In some cases, anti-virus software had identified malware. In one case, a financial supervisory body had notified SWIFT of an attempted attack.

The additional attacks SWIFT disclosed to Reuters do not include others that have already come to light since the Bangladesh Bank heist.Thieves stole $250,000 from Bangladesh’s Sonali bank in 2013. More than $12 million was stolen from Ecuador’s Banco del Austro in 2015. Vietnam’s Tien Phong Bank said in May that it foiled an attempt to steal money via SWIFT. (Reporting by Tom Bergin and Jim Finkle; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

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First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 21:57 IST

Winter Session logjam: ‘Ready for debate, allow Parliament to function,’ says Venkaiah Naidu to Oppn

New Delhi: Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu  on Monday appealed to opposition parties to allow the Parliament to function so that the remaining period of Winter session should be “utilised” as the government is ready for debate on any issue including demonetisation.

File image of Venkaiah Naidu. PTIFile image of Venkaiah Naidu. PTI

File image of Venkaiah Naidu. PTI

“We are ready for debate and discussion in Parliament. We hope that the last 2 or 3 days will be useful…no obstruction and there would be proper discussion on all the issues, not only demonetisation but there are also other issues that the Members of Parliament want to raise. “I appeal to Opposition parties to please come back to the discussion table, allow the House to function and see to it that the people’s aspirations are met in Parliament,” Naidu said.

The comments came just ahead of few days left for the month-long Winter session of the Parliament which ends on December 16. Parliament has holidays today and tomorrow on account of Eid-e-Milad-un Nabi. The Information and Broadcasting minister said, “We are ready to do anything but those people (Opposition) are not allowing the Parliament to function. Whether they have understood the reason (behind disruption) or not but we have really not understood,” he said.

Both Houses of the Parliament had witnessed heated exchanges between the government and the Opposition over the way a debate should take place on demonetisation announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8. “I am always optimistic. Parliament should run and the remaining time of the session should be utilised…Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) is also not being allowed to speak so he had to go to people’s assembly,” Naidu said.

Citing the comments of President Pranab Mukherjee and veteran BJP leader LK Advani, the minister said,”It is in everyone’s heart to see the Parliament runs smoothly.”

Last Thursday, in a stinging attack on the opposition over Parliamentary paralysis, Mukherjee said the House is not a place for dharna and disruption which amounts to “gagging of majority” by the minority.

Earlier, Advani had blamed both the ruling and opposition benches for the deadlock, and even pulled up the Speaker and Parliamentary Affairs Minister for “not running the House”.

First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 16:01 IST

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