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India’s first transgender college principal resigns citing ‘non-cooperation’ from staff

Krishnagar: India’s first transgender college principal Manabi Bandopadhyay has submitted her resignation after about one-and-a-half years in office, expressing frustration at “non-cooperation” of a section of teachers and students of her institution.

Nadia District Magistrate Sumit Gupta on Thursday said he had received her letter of resignation from the post of Principal of Krishnagar Women’s College in the district on December 27 and forwarded it to the state Higher Education department on Wednesday.

Manabi Bandhopadhyay. Image courtesy: FacebookManabi Bandhopadhyay. Image courtesy: Facebook

Manabi Bandhopadhyay. Image courtesy: Facebook

Manabi alleged that she started facing non-cooperation from a section of teachers soon after she took over as the principal of the well-known women’s college on 9 June, 2015.

On the other hand, the teachers also levelled the same allegation against the principal, resulting in a standoff.

A four-member team, led by Joint Director of Public Instruction (DPI) RP Bhattacharjee, visited the college recently on a fact-finding mission and talked to the principal and teachers.

Manabi said, “All of my colleagues went against me. Some of the students went against me. I tried to bring back discipline and an atmosphere of education in the college. Most probably, that is why they went against me. I always got co-operation from the local administration, but never got it from my colleagues and students.”

She went on to say that she had been under tremendous mental pressure and could not take it anymore, forcing her to resign.

“I feel tired due to the agitation and gherao by the students and teachers. I faced a lot of legal notices from their end. I had come to this college with new hopes and dreams but I was defeated…,” she said.

Manabi (51), whose earlier name was Somnath, underwent a series of operations in 2003-2004 and became a woman. In 1995, she published the country’s first transgender magazine, Ob-Manab (sub-human).

First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 09:30 IST

Budget 2017: Along with digital push, govt also looking to widen ‘Google tax’ net

The government may have been pushing hard its agenda by asking people to adopt to digital transactions in the current demonetisation period, but the Centre at the same time is also looking to bring in more such online transactions into the tax net in the upcoming union budget.

In order to bring more multinational companies under the tax net, the government seems to be working on plans to levy wide ranging digital transactions such as Online sales of goods and services, downloading of software, songs, movies and books, and online consumption of news, a report in the Business Standard has said.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

“Internationally the trend is to bring more digital transactions into the tax net as multinational companies end up avoiding taxes,” the BS report said quoting a government official.

As per the report, a committee set up by CBDT had recommended equalisation levy of 6-8 percent on 13 broad services offered by ecommerce companies.

Although, the government has no plans to hike the current equalisation rate of 6 percent, it could be looking at bring in more services under the tax net, the report added.

Besides this, the committee had also recommended to include other services such as advertising on radio and television, designing, hosting or maintenance of websites, digital space for websites, email, blogs, facility for online sale of goods or services or collecting online payments.

Earlier this year, the government had proposed in the Budget to introduce a tax on the income as accrue to a foreign e-commerce company outside India. However, the government starting June introduced a 6 percent levy on online transactions raising concerns that the move would impact the bottomlines of technology companies like Google and Facebook, which are expanding at a brisk pace here.

According to the budget announcement in February, any person or entity that makes a payment of more than Rs 1 lakh in a financial year to a non-resident technology company will now need to withhold 6 percent tax on the gross amount being paid as an equalisation levy.

The prevailing tax structure in India is similar to the one prevailing in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations and European countries.

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 16:06 IST

India says it is in touch with Yemen, Saudi Arabia authorities for Father Tom’s release

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India on Monday said it was in regular touch with Yemeni authorities and Saudi Arabia regarding the safe release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted nearly nine months ago from war-torn Yemen, after a video of the priest pleading for help became viral.”You are aware of the circumstances currently prevailing in Yemen where fighting is going on with no central authority in that country.”With regard to the safe release of Father Tom who was abducted some months ago, we have been in regular touch with countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia as also the local Yemeni authorities. Efforts continue in this regard,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.In the video, also uploaded on Facebook, Tom was seen as pleading for help from Indian government and fellow Christians including Pope Francis. However, the veracity of the video could not be ascertained.He also said “several months have gone by and my captors have made many contacts with the government of India to get me released. Honourable President and Prime Minister of India, I am very sad nothing has been done seriously in my regard. Reports have been in news that everything is being done to get me released quickly but in reality nothing seems to have happened.”He further said had he been “a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously by authorities and people and (they) would have got me released. I am from India and therefore, I perhaps am not considered as of much value”.Uzhunnalil was abducted from the port city of Aden on March 4 by militant group ISIS.

Fake news in review: Here are the top 10 forwards Indians (almost) believed in 2016

By Alison Saldanha

From currency to salt–very little escaped the reach of fake or fabricated news in 2016. Rumours spread from WhatsApp and other social media into the mainstream media. Institutions such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had to step in and tell us what was true. Even Facebook and Google, two of the world’s biggest Internet companies, sat up and took notice.

Such news can have widespread reach: India is one of the biggest markets for several social media and communication companies–it has 160 million of WhatsApp’s one billion-plus monthly active users, 148 million Facebook users, and over 22 million Twitter accounts.

The potency of fabricated news came into focus after the 2016 US presidential elections. In the run-up to the ballot, fake news on the elections drew more engagement on Facebook than top-performing stories from major news outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, or The Wall Street Journal, this BuzzFeed News analysis found. Other countries witnessed the rise of fake news too, according to this Guardian report, rendering it a global phenomenon in 2016.

Here are some of the most popular Indian fake news stories of 2016:

Unesco declares PM Modi best Prime Minister

Unesco has been one of the primary alleged sources of fake news in India. In June 2016, fake news broke out on WhatsApp groups, and other social media, that the UN cultural agency had awarded Prime Minister Narendra Modi the title of best prime minister in the world.

That rumour is still circulating on social media:

World billiards champion Pankaj Advani shared the news on Twitter congratulating PM Modi.

After media organisations pointed out the news was a hoax, Twitterati trolled Advani leading him to post this rebuttal:

Unesco declares Jana Gana Mana best national anthem

Another favourite Indian rumour involving Unesco is the claim that India’s national anthem–Jana Gana Mana–has been declared the “Best National Anthem In The World”. The fake news started in 2008 through email and then caught the UN agency’s attention. “We are aware of several blogs in India reporting this story, but can assure you that Unesco has made no such announcement concerning the anthem of India or any country,” a Unesco official told India Today in 2008.

Circulation of the rumour peaked around India’s Independence Day in 2016:

Unesco declares new Rs 2,000 note best currency in the world

Another fake Unesco certificate for India touched upon the notebandi crisis, as messages claimed the organisation had certified the new Rs 2,000 note as the “best currency in the world”. The message, shared widely on WhatsApp, claimed “Dr. Saurabh Mukherjee, head of cultural awareness department of Unesco announced this to media.”

The rumours caught the eye of the BBC, which reported that “thousands” of Indian WhatsApp users had “forwarded the message along with joyful emojis”.

New notes have a GPS chip to detect black money

Another notebandi rumour proliferated when PM Modi announced the withdrawal of old Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes on 8 November, 2016. In less than an hour, rumours circulating on WhatsApp of a nano geo-positioning system (GPS) tracking device embedded in the new Rs 2,000 notes gained traction. This chip, the messages said, would alert authorities if black money was hoarded .

The nano-GPS chip does not need any power source, the forward said, according to this Firstpost report. “It only acts as a signal reflector. When a Satellite sends a signal requesting location the NGC reflects back the signal from the location, giving precise location coordinates, and the serial number of the currency back to the satellite, this way every chip-embedded currency can be easily tracked & located even if it is kept 120 meters below ground level. The NGC can’t be tampered with or removed without damaging the currency note.” Mobile currency-scanner apps emerged claiming the app can scan new notes and have these authenticated by RBI, according to this Firstpost report.

The RBI has clarified the new notes contain security features such as latent images, coloured strip security threads, watermarks etc, but they do not have a chip installed, according to this The Hindu report.

Still, rumours are rampant. Recent news of authorities tracing hoards of illegally-held new notes seems to have further fanned rumours, and more YouTube videos explaining the placement of chips in the new notes are circulating on social media.

New notes have radioactive ink

Notebandi provided more fodder for fake news. Earlier this month, rumours began circulating that the RBI was using radioactive ink to print new Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 notes. The new notes include a “radioactive isotope of phosphorous (P32), which has 15 protons and 17 neutrons”. The fake news claimed the income-tax department was using the isotope to trace large quantities of cash held at a particular spot. The trace amounts of radioactive isotope employed in this exercise were not harmful to humans, according to WhatsApp messages, as FirstPost reported.

Even some banks fell prey to notebandi-related rumours, and were called out on Twitter.

WhatsApp profile pictures can be used by IS for terror activities

A WhatsApp forward, supposedly sent by the Delhi police commissioner, requested “moms” and “sisters” to delete their WhatsApp profile pictures for security purposes. These pictures were supposedly vulnerable to misuse by the terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS), whose hackers had access to citizens’ details and could easily steal their virtual identity, according to the forwarded message. The message further claimed that WhatsApp’s CEO had requested users do this for 20-25 days, while their team worked on enhancing the messaging application’s security features.

The message was signed off by an AK Mittal, who claimed to be Delhi’s police commissioner, but the phone number mentioned in the message had since been marked as “blacklisted” in Truecaller, which a caller identification application, according to this Indian Express report.

A Reddit thread discussing the WhatsApp message is here.

 RBI declares the Rs 10 coin invalid

Months before notebandi was announced, the message that the RBI had declared the Rs 10 coin invalid spread through WhatsApp, particularly to areas in Agra, Delhi and Meerut.

This confusion led shopkeepers, kiosk-owners, auto-rickshaw drivers and vendors to refuse the coins, according to this Hindustan Times report from September 2016.

In June 2016, the RBI had issued a new Rs 10 coin. At that time, rumours had spread that the old coins would now no longer be valid. WhatsApp messages made other claims too–two kinds of counterfeit coins have flooded the market, and that the RBI was phasing the coins out because of widespread circulation of fake currency–according to this Business Standard report. The RBI stepped in and clarified that the coins were indeed legal tender and those refusing to accept the currency could face legal action.

After the withdrawal of Rs 14 lakh crore–the value of bank notes withdrawn on November 8, 2016–the rumour resurfaced in Odisha, spreading panic and adding to the currency chaos as vendors refused to accept the coins, according to this NDTV report from November 2016.

Jayalalithaa’s ‘secret daughter’ and heir lives in the US

Soon after the death of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, fake news and photos of a secret daughter went viral on WhatsApp and social media. The message alleged that the woman in the photograph was Jayalalithaa’s daughter, who lived somewhere in the US in anonymity.

As it turns out, the woman in the photograph was not connected to Jayalalithaa and lived in Australia, according to popular singer and TV show host Chinmayi Sripada, who took to Facebook to dispel the rumours.

“She belongs to the family of renowned Mridangam Vidwan V Balaji,” wrote Sripada. Musician Trivandrum V Balaji also clarified that the woman in the photo was his sister-in-law.

Salt shortage in India

WhatsApp messages of a salt shortage (despite a 7,517 km coastline) in November 2016 triggered panic buying at markets past midnight, and caused a four-fold price-rise in some parts of the country. Western Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra and Hyderabad were particularly affected by this bit of fake news, said news reports. The subsequent chaos to stock up on the essential commodity led to the death of a woman in Kanpur, while police baton-charged crowds and stopped mobs from looting grocery shops, according to this India Today report.

The government issued a clarification denying any shortage of the commodity. “We monitor the prices of 22 essential commodities on daily basis. As per the prices reported by centres from across the country, there has been no increase in price of salt whatsoever,” the department of consumer affairs said in a statement, as quoted in this The Times of India report.

Speaking at an event in Goa, PM Modi claimed the fake news was being circulated by “vested interests hurt by demonetization”, according to this IANS report. The prime minister’s claim is unverified.

“Nehru Govt has stood like a Banyan Tree”: Mark Tully

Fake news claiming former BBC India bureau chief Mark Tully called for support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, while describing India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s government as standing “like a banyan tree, overshadowing the people and the institutions of India”, went viral on social media earlier this month. “Nothing grows under the banyan tree,” the message added.

The fake Facebook post reads: “For a year or so we may witness more of Dadris, more of Kaniyahas, more of Owaisi style shouting but finally if the *Society keeps its cool, acts maturely* and continues to perform we will sail through and the old forces will die a natural death.” The post claimed Tully made these statements while discussing “changes happening in MODI’S regime” in his new book, No Full Stops in India.

Tully rebutted the claims of the post in this Hindustan Times column, though the post still appears to be in circulation. Not everyone believed the statements were authentic but some did ask for confirmation, he wrote: “But some did think they were authentic, a few even congratulated me. The fact that people could believe such obvious fakes were genuine indicates the power of fake news…If the reports had been more credible, less absurd, my credibility would have been severely damaged.”

Indiaspend.com is a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit

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First Published On : Dec 26, 2016 09:28 IST

Snapchatters from across the world save a 20-year-old pregnant Delhi girl from committing suicide

For her, it was the end of the world as she could only foresee a dark future for herself. When this 20-year-old Delhi girl became pregnant she became so distraught that she expressed her intention on social media to kill herself to guard the family’s reputation. Shocked at her intention, folks on Snapchat took it upon themselves to prevent a tragedy, emerge the girl out of depression and show her the bright path ahead. And, they did that successfully.

She posted an image on The Artidote’s Snapchat channel– it was curating a feed of responses from around the world—and she received supportive messages in response to her post that said she was on the verge of committing suicide due to an unexpected pregnancy.

Artidote/Facebook

The other Snapchatters who saw the post quickly responded with supportive messages and encouraged her to brave the storm.

Artidote/Facebook

People from across the world raised her spirits. In addition to empathising with her, some even offered to talk her out of the situation.

They tried different ways and persuaded her to refrain from taking the drastic step.

Artidote/Facebook

new delhinew delhi

Artidote/Facebook

Messages from Delhi, Kuwait and different parts of the world poured in and helped the Delhi girl gather courage and confront her mother.

Artidote/Facebook

kuwautkuwaut

Artidote/Facebook

After confronting her mother, she posted a picture that said she was going to see the gynecologist with her mother. She also replied to The Artidote and thanked everyone who instilled the courage in her, and “saved” her life.

responseresponse

Artidote/Facebook

finalefinale

Artidote/Facebook

This episode of kindness and humanity is proof that the power of Social media stands tall in the face adversities.

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 20:22 IST

10 things all Indian teens have heard at least once

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Being an Indian teen is certainly not without its share of tantrums and overbearing relatives. Whether it is uncles, aunties or even our parents, we’ve all had to sit through these moments. So, who is the new boy/girl now?Just because some family member gives you a creepy glance and wiggles their eyebrows, it doesn’t mean you’re going to spill all your inner gossip to them. On the other hand, it is quite flattering that they think you’re attractive enough to have a new love interest every month.Do you remember me, beta? I held you in my arms when you were so small.No, random aunty at the raksha bandhan celebration, I actually do not remember you. And having four more aunties stare me down with fake smiles while trying to remember you actually doesn’t make this any more comfortable.But you know Ramesh uncle’s son goes to Berkeley/IIT/Harvard?Thank you, random chacha. Now, I can get some more disappointing nods from my father and raised eyebrows from my mother. “Did you hear that? He goes to Berkeley. Tell her how many hours he studied everyday?” Why does every Indian kid have to have that one relative who goes to some kind of Ivy League? You have no idea how much your cousins have cursed you.Beta take some more mithaai. Are you dieting? You have become so thin!Actually, nani/dadi/chaachi I’ve put on like four kilos so if you don’t mind, I’ll be avoiding that. Why do Indian relatives think that the only way to show true hospitality is to fill someone up till they can’t even breathe anymore? Do they know how many calories one dhokla has?I am just your maid here. This is a guest house for you, no?Said every mother ever. And this just doesn’t make sense at all, because you actually did offer to help her, to which she said no. And now, she’s complaining about how nobody helps her and she’s just a maid. Also, just because you come back late or sleep in, how does that have any correlation to a guest house?Did you accept me on Facebook? Maine abhi “whats up” bhi banaaya hai.The worst part is when your family members add you on Facebook and you need to go through the pain of accepting them and then blocking them, and then trying to explain why you mysteriously ‘deleted Facebook’. It gets even worse when they try to be ‘cool’ and make Instagram/Snapchat accounts.There is a hole in your pantsIt is an impossible thing to even attempt meeting your family in ripped jeans. Like, one person will call you out for the holes and then some other aunty will say “Arre yeh toh aaj kal ka fashion hai” and then they’ll all laugh as if they’ve never seen anything funnier.‘Beta ye message kaise delete karu?’ Or ‘open kaise karu?A grandparent buying an iphone is all fun and games until you have to do every single thing. From deleting messages to reading messages to downloading apps for them, it’s a tough journey. The only plus point is when you get those cute messages that you know they typed (e.g. “love you my kuttu from nani).Stupid idiot/naalayak/bloody foolThese are every father’s favourite words to their son, and every mother’s favourite words to their daughter, son, daughter’s boyfriend, house servants and most of her children’s friends. If aimed towards children, in good cases this comes with a slap and in the bad cases maybe a chappal or belan.Beta, you can marry anyone you want, except for *insert three castes, four different areas and 12 different physical characteristics*This is every girl’s life story. The worst part is you’re not even sure if they’re being serious about this. The best part is, that they don’t even choose your clothes, no way they are going to choose your husband.

Chandrababu Naidu’s demonetisation flip-flop continues, says he still backs govt move

After coming out in support of demonetisation initially, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu on Tuesday did a volte-face saying that this is not what they wished for, only to issue a clarification later that media reports were “misleading the country.”

It was earlier reported that Naidu had said that the solution to problems arising out of the note ban still remained elusive even 40 days after the step and it was not what he wished for. The U-turn was deemed significant as Naidu was one of the first non-BJP leaders to support the Narendra Modi government’s move.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. AFP

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. AFP

“Demonetisation was not our wish but it happened. More than 40 days after demonetisation, there are still a lot of problems but yet there appears to be no solution,” Naidu said addressing a workshop of Telugu Desam MPs, MLCs, MLAs and other leaders in Vijayawada on Tuesday.

However, according a report in News 18, he has now refuted such reports and clarified that his comments were misrepresented and he continues to believe that the note ban is a “good decision, although implementation challenges exist.”

“All that the chief minister had said was that post demonetisation, it was taking time for normalcy to return and that he is having to spend time resolving issues,” Naidu’s son and TDP youth wing leader Nara Lokesh told News18.

ANI also tweeted Naidu’s clarification stating that he only “expressed concerns over suffering of people.”

Naidu’s comments had ruffled feathers in the ruling dispensation, especially because he’s an NDA ally and heads the 13-member  committee appointed by centre to review demonetisation related issues, even as the BJP tried to play it down.

Earlier Naidu had voiced his concerns about the implementation lapses that were adding to the woes of the common man.

“It still remains a sensitive and complicated problem,” Naidu had observed.

“The people who are supposed to manage the crisis are incapable of doing anything. The RBI has not been able to do anything about it. It still remains a sensitive and complicated problem,” he has been quoted as saying in media reports.

“I am spending two hours daily to review the situation and ease the problems caused by demonetisation. I am breaking my head daily, but we are unable to find a solution to this problem,” said Naidu, who heads the 13-member central committee to look into demonetisation issues.

Naidu had been a strong proponent of ban on high denomination currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. In fact, he had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 12 October reiterating his demand.

On 9 November, hours after the Prime Minister came out with the demonetisation announcement, the Telugu Desam Party started claiming credit saying it was a “victory for Chandrababu” over his fight on corruption.

“This is a moral victory for the TDP,” it said on posts on Facebook and Twitter.

“Prime Minister Modi may have taken the decision now but Chandrababu had these thoughts even when he was in the opposition (2004-14). He had been fighting for scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes since then,” the TDP said in a Facebook post.

The party media cell dug out newspaper clippings dated back to 2013 June when Chandrababu raised the demand for the first time.

But as people started facing trouble in exchanging the scrapped notes as well as in withdrawing cash from their savings accounts, Chandrababu seemed to change his tone and started making critical remarks about the Centre’s move, particularly the introduction of Rs 2,000 notes.

“I am spending two hours daily to ease the problems caused by demonetisation. I am breaking my head daily but we are unable to find a solution to this problem,” the CM said on Tuesday.

“We could resolve the ‘August crisis’ (an internal party coup dating back to 1984) in 30 days but this (demonetisation) still persists,” he said.

He said banks were “not prepared” for a transition to digital economy. “They are unable to even register banking correspondents,” he added. Unless there were remedial measures, people’s woes would continue in the long-term, Chandrababu warned.

With inputs from PTI

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 21:00 IST

Kerala writer sedition case: No author will be charged in National Anthem cases, says Pinarayi Vijayan

Following strong protests from various quarters, including the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), the Kerala police have let off a 27-year-old social activist taken into custody for his alleged links with Maoists and dropped sedition charges foisted against a writer and theatre activist in a case related to alleged disrespect shown to the National Anthem.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who controls the home portfolio, ordered the U turn after the action against social activist KP Nadir and writer Kamal C Chavara came under severe criticism from senior leaders of the party, including party veteran VS Achuthanandan and state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

Nadir was detained and charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) citing an old case related to distribution of Maoist pamphlets among Adivasi families at Aralam in the state’s northern district of Kannur.

Kerala Writer

Kamal C Chavara. Facebook

The sedition case under Section 124A of Indian Penal Code (IPC) was slapped against the writer on the basis of a complaint lodged by a Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha worker citing a Facebook post on National Anthem.

The post was an excerpt from his recent Malayalam novel entitled Smamashanangalude Notepusthakam (A book on Graveyards) talking about the relief felt by students, who are not allowed by their teachers to go to toilet during the class, when time comes for reciting the National Anthem at the end of the class.

Chavara was arrested from Kozhikode on the basis of an FIR registered at Karunagappally police station in his home district of Kollam. He was given bail after eight hours under the police detention. Chavara, who complained of nausea and breathlessness, was rushed to the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital.

Nadir was taken into custody when he went to the Medical College Hospital to see Chavara, who subsequently launched a hunger strike at the hospital demanding withdrawal of the cases registered against him and his friend.

State Director General of Police Loknath Behra said that he had directed the police to review the sedition charge under Section 124 of IPC levelled against the writer as it may not stand in a court of law. He said that Nadir was let off as the police did not have sufficient evidence to charge him with UAPA.

Kannur district superintendent of police Kori Sanjaykumar Gurudin said that they had freed Nadir after taking an undertaking that he will appear before the police whenever required. He said that the police may resume the case when they get the required evidence.

Human rights campaigners and civil rights activists had earlier rallied against the arrests after the writer-cum-theatre activist began a hunger strike at the hospital demanding withdrawal of the cases registered against him and his friend.

The activists viewed the action against the two at the behest of supporters of Sangh Parivar as an extension of their politics of intolerance in the state, which is known for its progressive stand on various issues. Many wondered how the Sangh Parivar is allowed to do moral policing in a Left-ruled state.

Achuthanandan expressed concern over the actions of the police. Citing the police action in a series of cases, including the ‘encounter deaths of two Maoists at Nilambur and the arrest of several delegates of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) for not standing while reciting national anthem, the CPM veteran said these actions could strengthen people’s belief that the state was moving towards fascism.

“Kerala is a state where the dalits, tribals, writers and artists live without fear. It is the duty of the police to ensure that the writers in Kerala will not have to face the same fate of Govind Pansare or Kalburgi,” the senior CPM leader said.

Party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan also came down heavily on the police. He termed the cases registered against the social activist and the writer under the controversial sections of UAPA and Section 124A of IPC unnecessary.

“It is not the policy of the LDF to silence dissent. The LDF government is against charging UAPA against individuals who raise political issues. There are some police officers who act against the government’s policy. The government will take stern action against such officers,” Balakrishnan said.

He did not see any ground for taking a case against Chavara. He felt it was sheer atrocity on the part of the police to register a case against him. However, the CPM leader claimed that he could get bail on sedition charges because the LDF government was in power.

CPM Politburo member and former minister MA Baby said the arrest and sedition charge look like a knee-jerk reaction from police. He said that the police had acted in a hasty manner without applying its mind and proper examination of the details.

The chief minister asserted that his government will not charge any writer with sedition in connection with the cases related to the National Anthem. A Facebook post by the CPI (M) quoted him as saying that currently there was no case against anybody in the state under sedition charge.

Human rights activists and political observers take the assertions of the chief minister and his party leaders with a pinch of salt. PA Pouran, secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), thinks that the chief minister was allowing the state police to implement the Sangh Parivar agenda in Kerala.

“Pinarayi has appointed a Modi man as police chief in Kerala because he wants the Prime Minister’s favour in the SNC Lavalin case that hangs over his head. If the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which has investigated the case, presses its review petition strongly in the Kerala high court, Pinarayi may lose power,” says Pouran.

The human rights activist said that the chief minister had given a free hand to Loknath Behra to curry favour with the Central government. He pointed out that Pinarayi had refused to order a judicial inquiry into the encounter killing of the two Maoists despite strong protests from a section of his own party and its allies in the LDF because of this.

Biju Govind, a senior journalist based at Kozhikode, however, feels that the chief minister himself was using the police to implement his own agenda in the state. He said that it was becoming increasingly clear from Pinarayi’s speeches that he was trying for a Chinese model development in Kerala.

“He has appointed pro-liberal Harvard University professor Gita Gopinath as his economic advisor to woo capitalists. He is pushing several mega projects that need huge investments. Pinarayi does not want anybody to obstruct these projects. Therefore, he will not allow any dissent against his agenda,” says Biju.

The journalist said that Pinarayi was getting into the mould of Modi. “There are lot of similarities between the two. Both keep the media at a safe distance. They distrust their ministerial colleagues. I am not surprised if some heavy weights in the ministry find their way out in the next cabinet reshuffle,” says Biju.

Left-leaning political analyst NN Pearson says that the chief minister was able to have his writ in the state as he has a strong grip over the party. He said that Pinarayi will not allow anybody to assert themselves as long as he is at the helm.

First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 20:29 IST

Chandrababu Naidu does a volte face, says solution to note ban woes elusive after 40 days

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>After coming out in support of demonetization initially, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu appeared to do a volte face on Tuesday saying that this is not what they wished for and said the solution to problems arising out of the note ban still remained elusive even 40 days after the step. “Demonetization was not our wish but it happened. More than 40 days after demonetization, there are still a lot of problems but yet there appears to be no solution,” Chandrababu said addressing a workshop of Telugu Desam MPs, MLCs, MLAs and other leaders here on Tuesday.”It still remains a sensitive and complicated problem,” Chandrababu — who heads the 13-member central committee to look into demonetization issues — observed.It was Chandrababu who had been a strong proponent of ban on high denomination currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000. In fact, he had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 12 reiterating his demand. On November 9, hours after the Prime Minister came out with the demonetization announcement, the Telugu Desam Party started claiming credit saying it was a “victory for Chandrababu” over his fight on corruption. “This is a moral victory for the TDP,” it said on posts on Facebook and Twitter.”Prime Minister Modi may have taken the decision now but Chandrababu had these thoughts even when he was in the opposition (2004-14). He had been fighting for scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes since then,” the TDP said in a Facebook post.The party media cell dug out newspaper clippings dated back to June 2013 when Chandrababu raised the demand for the first time. But as people started facing trouble in exchanging the scrapped notes as well as in withdrawing cash from their savings accounts, Chandrababu seemed to change his tone and started making critical remarks about the Centre’s move, particularly the introduction of Rs 2000 notes. “I am spending two hours daily to ease the problems caused by demonetization. I am breaking my head daily but we are unable to find a solution to this problem,” the CM said on Tuesday. “We could resolve the ‘August crisis’ (an internal party coup dating back to 1984) in 30 days but this (demonetization) still persists,” he said. He said banks were “not prepared” for a transition to digital economy. “They are unable to even register banking correspondents,” he added. Unless there were remedial measures, people’s woes would continue in the long-term, Chandrababu warned.

Indian writer held for ‘insulting’ national anthem

A writer in India is charged with sedition for allegedly showing disrespect to the national anthem.

Watch | Caught on camera: TMC MLA speaks on phone during National Anthem

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In an incident signifying embarrassment for the Trinamool Congress (TMC), a party MLA Vaishali Dalmiya was caught on camera speaking over the phone while the National Anthem was being played.The TMC leader, who was present at a sports event in Howrah, West Bengal on Sunday was busy attending phone calls while the National Anthem was being played.Dalmiya, who is the daughter of late Jagmohan Dalmiya, former President of International Cricket Council and Board of Cricket Council of India, was attending Commissioner Cup, a Football tournament organised by Belur Police Station.This is not the first incident when a politician came under the radar for talking over phone during national anthem, as earlier, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah faced a huge backlash for talking on phone while the national anthem was being played.Meanwhile, in Kerala at least six people were detained for allegedly showing disrespect to the national anthem and in another incident a Kerala writer was charged with sedition over a Facebook post that was allegedly disrespectful to the national anthem.

DNA Morning Must Reads: Pampore attack despite intelligence warning; India lifts Junior Hockey World Cup trophy; and more

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>1. J&K: Pampore attack despite strong intelligence warningAccording to some senior officials of the Jammu and Kashmir police, all precautions were being taken but the race against time was lost when around 2 pm, three motorcycle-borne gunmen ambushed the convoy. Read more.2. Junior Hockey World Cup: India colts on cusp of new era, beat Belgium to lift trophy after 15 yearsWith junior hockey team manager Oltmans promising perfect hockey, hosts will hope to recreate history as they face Belgium in final today. Read more.3. Wary of increasing Chinese activity in neighbourhood, India to revive Special Service BureauThe move to revive the Bureau, in addition to a dedicated Mountain Corps and deployment of the Brahmos missiles along the Indo-China border. Read more.4. Writer from Kerala charged with sedition for allegedly insulting national anthemKamal C Chavara, alias Kamalsy Prana, was taken into custody on charges of insulting the national anthem in a Facebook post. Read more.5. Army chief appointment: Govt cites Rawat’s track record to blunt opposition’s attackOpposition has attacked the govt and asked for compelling reason behind not adhering to long established norms of seniority in Army Chief appointment. Read more.

Writer from Kerala charged with sedition for allegedly insulting national anthem

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A Malayalam writer and theatre artist was on Sunday charged with sedition for allegedly showing disrespect to the national anthem, police said.Kamal C Chavara, alias Kamalsy Prana, was taken into custody on charges of insulting the national anthem in a Facebook Post. A case was registered against him by police at Karungapally in Kollam a few days ago following a complaint from Yuva Morcha activists.The case under 124 A (sedition) has been registered against the writer, police said. As per the complaint filed by the Yuva Morcha activists, Kamal had posted some excerpts from his novel “Smasanangulude Nottupusthakam” on Facebook, which they alleged was an insult to the national anthem.
ALSO READ Kerala: Six people arrested for not standing during national anthem, later released Police said Kamal would be handed over to their counterparts at Karunagapalli.The incident comes close on the heels of the arrest of 12 persons earlier this month for not standing up when the national anthem was being played before the screening of a film at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in Thiruvananthapuram.
ALSO READ Chennai: Three youths beaten up for not standing during national anthem in theatreThe Supreme Court had recently directed that cinema halls across the country must play the national anthem before the screening of a film and people should stand up as a mark of respect. The ruling, however, has received mixed reactions from legal experts with a few terming it as “judiciary’s over-enthusiasm” and others saying playing it and respecting it won’t cause any harm.

Govt toughens guidelines for social media use in CAPFs, stipulates legal action on violations

New Delhi: With smart phones making huge proliferation in ranks of security forces, the government has issued fresh guidelines for regulating sharing of secret operational and service data on such platforms involving troops and officers of central paramilitary forces, violation of which will invite “strict legal action”.

The three-page guidelines, issued by the Home Ministry recently and notified to Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) headquarters in New Delhi, speak specifically of instances where force personnel have used personal cell phones to click pictures of an ongoing or concluded ambush or operation which later finds it way on media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram and others.

The directives state that these are a reiteration and enhancement of the existing directives in this regard, but address some specific issues.

Representational image. Reuters.Representational image. Reuters.

Representational image. Reuters.

The latest order by the Union Home Ministry said there was a “strong need” to issue the do’s and dont’s afresh as it “has come to the notice of government that there have been instances where mobile phones and cameras of force personnel have been used for operational coverage and sensitive material was uploaded on social media without official permission.”

The fresh directives stipulate legal action against defaulting personnel.

“Any such photo, video, among others are meant strictly for official use only and any unauthorised disclosure of confidential operations related information by uploading operational material onto social media sites is a serious breach of rules and may lead to charges being laid against offending force employees,” the guidelines, accessed by PTI, said.

However, senior officials in these forces pointed out a loophole in this directive, saying in a number of operations multiple agencies like state police and army are involved and as these guidelines are not applicable on them, there could still be chances and instances of an information breach and subsequent sharing of multimedia on Internet-based social media platforms.

The guidelines add that “divulging” of such information on social media without permission of competent authority is “against National Information Security Policy and guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs and government”.

The brief guidelines do not make it amply clear what is to be released and what is to be held back during operations and even what construes to be an operational activity, officials said, citing an instance mentioned in the new directives which state that videos of training drills of these men and women “discloses methodology” of forces which “directly compromise safety of officers and men in operations.”

The guidelines have also mandated that the respective chiefs (Directors General) of these forces like the Central Reserve Police Force, Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Central Industrial Security Force, Sashastra Seema Bal and the National Security Guard (NSG) will be the authorities mandated to clear release of pictures, videos, text and other information on “operations and other service matters” on social media either via the official handles of these forces or directly to the media (journalists).

The guidelines, framed after a number of meetings were held between senior officials of these forces and the Union Home Ministry in the last few months, stipulate that only official force cameras and recorders should be used to capture any picture or video of a captured or neutralised terrorist/militant and seizures of arms and ammunition made by them.

It adds that in case when official cameras or recorders are not available at the encounter spot and private cameras or cellphones are used in the aftermath of an operation it”should immediately be surrendered to the appropriate authority for official use with clearances of appropriate levels and then thereafter ensured that the same has been deleted from the private camera/smartphone among others.”

The new guidelines conclude that any violations of these points or any other standing order in this regard will invite “strict action against defaulters under the existing laws and rules.”

All the CAPFs, except NSG, now have their Twitter and Facebook handles and they post general information about the activities in their respective domains after obtaining clearances from the top command.

Officials estimate that over 75 percent of troops in these forces now have smartphones which can capture pictures and videos with good clarity.

First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 16:17 IST

Bad money

Bad info about demonetisation is circulating online.

Yahoo says one billion accounts exposed in newly discovered security breach | Reuters

By Jim Finkle and Anya George Tharakan

Yahoo Inc (YHOO.O) warned on Wednesday that it had uncovered yet another massive cyber attack, saying data from more than 1 billion user accounts was compromised in August 2013, making it the largest breach in history. The number of affected accounts was double the number implicated in a 2014 breach that the internet company disclosed in September and blamed on hackers working on behalf of a government. News of that attack, which affected at least 500 million accounts, prompted Verizon Communication Inc (VZ.N) to say in October that it might withdraw from an agreement to buy Yahoo’s core internet business for $4.83 billion. Following the latest disclosure, Verizon said, “we will review the impact of this new development before reaching any final conclusions.” A Yahoo spokesman told Reuters that the company has been in communication with Verizon during its investigation into the breach and that it is confident the incident will not affect the pending acquisition.Yahoo required all of its customers to reset their passwords – a stronger measure than it took after the previous breach was discovered, when it only recommended a password reset.

Yahoo also said Wednesday that it believes hackers responsible for the previous breach had also accessed the company’s proprietary code to learn how to forge “cookies” that would allow hackers to access an account without a password.”Yahoo badly screwed up,” said Bruce Schneier, a cryptologist and one of the world’s most respected security experts. “They weren’t taking security seriously and that’s now very clear. I would have trouble trusting Yahoo going forward.”Yahoo was tentative in its description of new problems, saying the incident was “likely” distinct from the one it reported in September and that stolen information “may have included” names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers.

It said it had not yet identified the intrusion that led to the massive data theft and noted that payment-card data and bank account information were not stored in the system the company believes was affected.Yahoo said it discovered the breach while reviewing data provided to the company by law enforcement. FireEye Inc’s (FEYE.O) Mandiant unit and Aon Plc’s (AON.N) Stroz Friedberg are assisting in the investigation, the Yahoo spokesman told Reuters.The breach is the latest setback for Yahoo, an internet pioneer that has fallen on hard times in recent years after being eclipsed by younger, fast-growing rivals including Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google and Facebook Inc (FB.O).

Hours before it announced the breach on Wednesday, executives with Google, Facebook and other large U.S. technology companies met with President-elect Donald Trump in New York. Reflecting its diminished stature, Yahoo was not invited to the summit, according to people familiar with the meeting.The Yahoo spokesman said Chief Executive Marissa Mayer was at the company’s Sunnyvale, California headquarters to assist in addressing the new breach. Yahoo shares were down 2.4 percent to $39.91 in extended trading. Verizon shares were little changed from their close at $51.63. (Reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston and Anya George Tharakan in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington and Jessica Toonkel in New York; Editing by Savio D’Souza, Bernard Orr)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 05:54 IST

Cairo church bombing kills 25, raises fears among Christians | Reuters

By Ahmed Mohammed Hassan and Ali Abdelaty
| CAIRO

CAIRO A bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded 49, many of them women and children attending Sunday mass, in the deadliest attack on Egypt’s Christian minority in years.The attack comes as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi fights battles on several fronts. His economic reforms have angered the poor, a bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has seen thousands jailed, whilst an insurgency rages in Northern Sinai, led by the Egyptian branch of Islamic State. The militant group has also carried out deadly attacks in Cairo and has urged its supporters to launch attacks around the world in recent weeks as it goes on the defensive in its Iraqi and Syrian strongholds.There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but exiled Brotherhood officials and home-grown militant groups condemned the attack. Islamic State supporters celebrated on social media. “God bless the person who did this blessed act,” wrote one supporter on Telegram.The explosion took place in chapel, which adjoins St Mark’s, Cairo’s main cathedral and the seat of Coptic Pope Tawadros II, where security is normally tight.At the Vatican, Pope Francis condemned what he called the latest in a series of “brutal terrorist attacks” and said he was praying for the dead and wounded.The chapel’s floor was covered in debris from shattered windows, its wooden pews blasted apart, its pillars blackened. Here and there lay abandoned shoes and sticky patches of blood. “As soon as the priest called us to prepare for prayer, the explosion happened,” Emad Shoukry, who was inside when the blast took place, told Reuters.”The explosion shook the place… The dust covered the hall and I was looking for the door, although I couldn’t see anything… I managed to leave in the middle of screams and there were a lot of people thrown on the ground.”

Security sources told Reuters at least six children were among the dead, with the blast detonating on the side of the church normally used by women. They said the explosion was caused by a device containing at least 12 kg (26 pounds) of TNT. Police and armoured vehicles rushed to the area, as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the compound demanding revenge for the attack that took place on a Muslim holiday marking the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday and weeks before Christmas. Scuffles broke out with police. A woman sitting near the cathedral in traditional long robes shouted “kill them, kill the terrorists, what are you waiting for?…. Why are you leaving them to bomb our homes?”

“EGYPTIAN BLOOD IS CHEAP”
Though Egypt’s Coptic Christians have traditionally been supporters of the government, angry crowds turned their ire against Sisi, saying his government had failed to protect them.”As long as Egyptian blood is cheap, down, down with any president…” they chanted. Others chanted “the people demand the fall of the regime”, the rallying cry of the 2011 uprising that helped end Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.Sisi’s office condemned what it described as a terrorist attack, declaring three days of mourning and promising justice. Al-Azhar, Egypt’s main Islamic centre of learning, also denounced the attacks. Orthodox Copts, who comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people, are the Middle East’s biggest Christian community.

Copts face regular attack by Muslim neighbours, who burn their homes and churches in poor rural areas, usually in anger over an inter-faith romance or the construction of church. The last major attack on a church took place as worshippers left a new year’s service in Alexandria weeks before the start of the 2011 uprising. At least 21 people were killed.Egypt’s Christian community has felt increasingly insecure since Islamic State spread through Iraq and Syria in 2014, ruthlessly targeting religious minorities. In 2015, 21 Egyptian Christians working in Libya were killed by Islamic State.The attack came two days after six police were killed in two bomb attacks, one of them claimed by Hasm, a recently-emerged group the government says is linked to the Brotherhood, which has been banned under Sisi as a terrorist organisation.The Brotherhood says it is peaceful. Several exiled Brotherhood officials condemned the bombing, as did Hasm and Liwaa’ al-Thawra, another local militant group. Coptic Pope Tawadros II cut short a visit to Greece after learning of the attack. Church officials said they would not allow the bombing to create sectarian differences. But Christians, convinced attacks on them are not seriously investigated, say this time they want justice. “Where was the security? There were five or six security cars stationed outside so where were they 12 kg of TNT was carried inside?” said Mena Samir, 25, standing at the church’s metal gate. “They keep telling us national unity, the crescent with the cross… This time we will not shut up.” (Additional reporting by Arwa Gaballa, Amr Abdallah, Mohamed Abdel Ghany and Amina Ismail, and Philip Pullella in Rome; Writing by Amina Ismail and Lin Noueihed; Editing by Ros Russell and Raissa Kasolowsky)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 11, 2016 23:02 IST

India likely to miss April deadline for GST | Reuters

By Manoj Kumar
| NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI India is likely to miss a self-imposed deadline to launch the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from April after a meeting of federal and state officials ended on Sunday without deciding who would administer the tax.Central and state finance officials failed to resolve their differences amid acrimony over Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s shock decision last month to abolish high-value banknotes in an attempt to combat tax evasion, forgery and corruption.The officials agreed to meet again on Dec. 22, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after talks in New Delhi on Sunday, pushing back a possible deal beyond the current session of parliament, which ends next week.The long-awaited GST would turn Asia’s third-largest economy into a single market for the first time, broaden the tax base and make life simpler for businesses that now pay a host of federal and state levies.

Jaitley said the government remains hopeful of implementing the new law from April 1, but officials said the GST is likely to be delayed by at least three months because the passage of legislation would slip.At Sunday’s talks some states raked up the issue of compensation for revenues they fear losing after the launch of the tax, as well as the economic shock from Modi’s crackdown on the cash economy, which has caused huge disruption to people’s daily lives and to businesses.

Calling demonetisation a “tsunami” that had hit economic activity across the country, West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra has said that the government should consider deferring the launch of new sales tax.Under a constitutional amendment that enabled the GST, India needs to roll out the new sales tax in Sept. 2017 when the old system of indirect taxation is due to lapse.

Jaitley does not favour dual agencies auditing and scrutinising each taxpayer, saying that multiple authorities could end up acting at cross-purposes, but states are reluctant to relinquish their role. (Editing by David Goodman)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 11, 2016 22:20 IST

South Korea’s President Park faces historic impeachment vote | Reuters

By Jack Kim and Cynthia Kim
| SEOUL

SEOUL South Korean President Park Geun-hye, engulfed in an influence-peddling scandal, faces a historic impeachment vote in parliament on Friday that could see her become the country’s first democratically elected leader to be ousted from office.Parliament is expected to vote in favour of impeachment, with support from some members of Park’s conservative Saenuri Party, but the Constitutional Court must decide whether to uphold the motion, a process that could take up to 180 days.Park is accused of colluding with a friend and a former aide, both of whom have been indicted by prosecutors, to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy initiatives. She has denied wrongdoing but apologised for carelessness in her ties with the friend, Choi Soon-sil.The 64-year-old president said this week she would await the court’s ruling, signalling that the six-weeks-long political crisis marked by huge Saturday rallies calling for Park’s ouster is set to continue.

Parliament introduced the impeachment bill on Thursday and it must be voted on within 24 to 72 hours. The speaker, Chung Sye-kyun, asked for a vote on Friday.If the motion passes, the Constitutional Court will determine whether parliament followed due process and whether there are sufficient grounds for impeachment, a process that will involve arguments from the two sides in public hearings.The court is considered conservative in its makeup but some of its former judges have said the case against Park is strong and was likely to be approved.

The Bank of Korea will hold emergency meetings to review policy measures that may be taken against any fallout from the vote, a central bank official said.In 2004, parliament impeached then-President Roh Moo-hyun, suspending his powers for 63 days while the court reviewed the decision and the prime minister oversaw state affairs.The court overturned Roh’s impeachment.

The stakes are high for both sides. The leaders of the two main opposition parties said their 159 members would all resign if the impeachment motion failed, taking responsibility for their inability to follow through on the demands of the public.Park, the daughter of a former military ruler, is under intense pressure to resign immediately. Her approval rating is at a record low of 4 percent. A Realmeter poll released on Thursday said 78.2 percent of respondents wanted Park to be impeached. (Reporting by Jack Kim and Cynthia Kim; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 02:32 IST

Book hand-written and illustrated by J.K. Rowling up for sale | Reuters

LONDON “Harry Potter” fans will be able to bid for a piece of history next week when a book designed, hand-written and illustrated by J.K. Rowling goes on sale at Sotheby’s auction house in London.”The Tales of Beedle the Bard” is one of six copies the author produced to give as gifts to those who helped bring the story of the boy wizard to life, and is seen fetching 300,000-500,000 pounds ($378,000-$630,000) at Tuesday’s sale.A seventh copy was produced for a 2007 auction to raise money for the author’s charity, Lumos, raising 1.95 million pounds.    “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” is a volume of five wizarding fairy tales left to Hermione Granger by Albus Dumbledore in the final book in the “Harry Potter” series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”.

The manuscript being offered for sale was presented to editor Barry Cunningham who signed Rowling and published her magical debut “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” and contains a personal dedication from Rowling.    “This one has an inscription to Barry, thanking him,” said Sotheby’s books and manuscripts specialist Philip Errington.

“It says, ‘To Barry, the man who thought an overlong novel about a boy wizard in glasses might just sell’, which is a lovely little insight into the role of author and editor.”

Bound in brown Morocco leather, the copy is adorned with silver ornaments with a skull in the centre and has seven mounted rhodochrosite stones, according to Sotheby’s. (Reporting By Sara Hemrajani; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 23:37 IST

#NotePeCharcha: Fishing village Kosamba in Gujarat shares its demonetisation story

While the effects of demonetisation on urban India are immediately apparent to those with access to mainstream English media, its impact on rural lives is as yet unclear. We attempted to understand why during the second leg of our trip into the country’s villages. This time we travelled north with Firstpost senior assistant editor Bindisha Sarang to Gujarat’s Himmatnagar.

She had an iPhone, a couple of mics, a GoPro and no institutional monetary support — she had borrowed money from friends and withdrawn all the cash permitted under prevalent restrictions.380 (1)380 (1)

She went live on Facebook when she was able to locate a reliable cell phone signal, and sent in text updates on WhatsApp. Sarang had a very loose editorial guideline with which to work — she hitched rides when necessary, interviewed as many people as were willing to talk, altered her route as circumstances dictate, and filed updates when she deemed it necessary.

Firstpost broadcast Sarang’s road trip on our Facebook page, and, now that she has returned, It is now releasing the videos in the form of a series of documentary shorts.

Her journey started in Mumbai, and her first stop was Kosamba, a tiny village few kilometers away from the famous Thitha beach, in Valsad district. With nearly 90-95 percent of this tiny village earn their income fishing and allied fishing activities. We spoke to the fishermen, fisherwomen, a former sarpanch, as well as the current sarpanch to know the impact of demonisation on the lives of the villagers.  Watch the video.

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 15:14 IST

#NotePeCharcha Episode 2: Queues get longer at banks; distressed villagers greet our reporters at Kasara

While the effects of demonetisation on urban India are visibly apparent to those with access to mainstream English media, its impact on rural lives is so far vague. We travelled into the interiors of Maharashtra to examine the depth of the impact.

Firstpost sent out Apoorv Mishra, who was accompanied by his friends — Tahir Alimansoor and Kush Shah, into rural Maharashtra with an iPhone, a couple of mics, a GoPro and no institutional monetary support – they had borrowed money from friends and withdrawn all the cash permitted under prevalent restrictions.

Their journey began on a train from Mumbai to Kasara, where they heard progressively worsening tales of woe as they moved further away from Mumbai. If you missed it, you can catch that “>episode here.

The trio arrived in Kasara on 18 November and spent some time talking to the people and documenting their daily struggles in a post-demonetised India.

Kasara only has two banks and four ATMs. Being a small village that primarily relied on cash transactions, this was enough. Following the demonetisation move, however, the situation appears to have dramatically worsened.

“We have to stand for hours in line just to get a small amount of money,” said one lady. “People are falling unconscious in the heat,” said another.

One man tells Mishra that he’s been standing in line since 8 am (it’s 2 pm at the time our reporters speak to him) and that he hasn’t had a chance to either eat or drink since. An old man complains that he’s been in the line since 8 am and that his knees are aching.

Local businesses have also been hit hard. An owner of a sabzi mandi (vegetable stall) ranted about the drop in earnings. “I used to make Rs 4,000 – Rs 5,000,” he says, adding, “Now I only make Rs 500 to Rs 1,000.” He also complained that it’s not worth going to the bank for money, “My whole day would be wasted.”

Some people have seen opportunity in demonetisation. Certain stores are reportedly charging a Rs 100 premium on old notes, others have set up stalls that charge illiterate people a fee for filling bank forms. The fee might be meagre –  Rs 10 – but as we later found out, that fee might amount to 10 percent of someone’s daily earnings.

Amid these tales of hardship are also rare tales of hope. Those who can afford it are giving out goods on credit. Others, like Trimbakutal Shinde, a retired policeman, is housing the physically challenged and offering water to those who want it.

Despite their hardships, the people still seem to be largely in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s move. Their only complaint, in fact, is that demonetisation should have been planned better.

“You don’t see the rich standing in line, do you?” is the common refrain.

Firstpost broadcasted Mishra’s road trip on our live blog and our Facebook page. It is now releasing the videos in the form of a series of documentary shorts.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 20:17 IST

Cuban outpouring extends across island after Fidel Castro death | Reuters

By Diego Oré and Sarah Marsh
| CAMAGUEY, Cuba

CAMAGUEY, Cuba Tens of thousands of Cubans greeted Fidel Castro’s funeral cortege on its journey across Cuba on Thursday, unflagging in their admiration for one of the towering figures of the 20th Century who is equally loathed by his adversaries.Waving flags and singing the national anthem, Cubans thickly lined pastel-coloured colonial streets to pay their respects to Castro. He died on Friday at age 90, a decade after stepping down as president but defiant to the end toward the United States, the world power he tormented from just 90 miles (145 km) away.The government declared nine days of mourning for the man who built a Communist state, aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union and survived what his government claimed were more than 600 U.S. assassination attempts.The cause of his death has not been made public, but Castro had been weak since an intestinal ailment believed to be diverticulitis forced him to relinquish power in 2006.The outpouring from ordinary Cubans contrasts with the hatred of many Cuban exiles who saw Castro as a tyrant who jailed opponents and ruined the economy with socialism.

Whether out of revolutionary zeal, nationalist pride or a sense of obligation in a one-party state that tolerates little dissent, Cubans have poured onto the streets to bid their final farewell.”I was born with him, I lived with him, and I wanted to die before him,” said Ivan Castillo, 44, a public health worker.He carried his 6-year-old son with the words “I am Fidel” across his forehead, a repetition of a phrase that has become the national slogan for the mourning period, shouted from streets and squares.

“Now it’s on those of us who lived with Fidel to teach the youth to continue fighting for his ideals,” Castillo said, in the city of Camaguey, where Castro’s ashes will stay overnight 336 miles (542 km) east of Havana.On Wednesday, his casket spent the night alongside the remains of Che Guevara in the city of Santa Clara. The procession was slowly making its way east, destined for the final resting place of his ashes in Santiago de Cuba, where Castro’s rebels first launched an attack on the U.S.-backed forces of Fulgencio Batista in 1953.

Batista was finally driven from Cuba on Jan. 1, 1959, and the cortege is retracing the trek Castro made from that day until he arrived in Havana a week later.Castro would go on to build a healthcare system for the poor, he sent doctors around the world but also soldiers to Africa to help Namibia achieve independence and weaken apartheid in South Africa.Many lined up for hours on Monday and Tuesday to pass through a memorial in Havana’s Revolution Square. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, gathered there on Tuesday night for a four-hour ceremony in which presidents from around the world delivered eulogies. (Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Jonathan Oatis and Andrew Hay)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 06:49 IST

The volunteers who saved flooded Chennai

A year on from the devastating Chennai floods, we hear from the volunteers who kept the city afloat.

Congress alleges Twitter hacking part of ‘predetermined conspiracy’ to curtail free speech

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Congress on Thursday dubbed as “predetermined conspiracy” and systematic attack on free speech and right to disagree the hacking of its Twitter account and of Rahul Gandhi and raised questions on the safety of the entire digital payment network as also of privacy.”Every right thinking Indian is shocked by such despotic and vulgar attempts, which reflect the extremities of a growing intolerant culture around us that resorts to abuse and insult every time it lacks answers to the questioned raised by those who disagree with their point of view,” Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a statement. He said, “It is a systematic attack on free speech and right to disagree in our country.”He also put out a tweet saying “24 hours after hacking of @OfficeOfRG & @INCIndia, Twitter accounts of other Congress leaders being targeted with impunity as Modi Govt looks on.” Noting that time has come for the government to ponder over susceptibility of entire digital financial platforms, the Congress leader raised questions over the safety and security of all electronic transactions and digital financial data.
ALSO READ Is this real truth of digital India? Congress questions Modi after account hack “Time has come for Modi government, which speaks of cashless economy, to ponder over these important imponderables that have exposed the susceptibility of the entire digital financial platforms. We sincerely hope that Modi government will provide the relevant answers to people of India,”he said. Surjewala also asked if conversational platforms like Twitter can be hacked so “unabashedly” by hackers, what is the safety of entire digital payment network? “Does it not prove the inherent cyber security risks that exist for all electronic transactions and payment gateways?” he wondered.The Congress leader said within seconds, an entire “licenced army of trolls retweeted and reposted the hateful and reprehensible comments and statements of the hackers indicating that they were acting in concert and collusion in pursuance of a predetermined conspiracy”. He said the “brazen hacking attempts” also raise serious questions on the digital safety and privacy of millions of Indians using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, as not only conversational platforms but also for exchange of ideas and dissemination of information. He said the truth is that every Indian’s privacy is similarly under attack and the onus lies upon the Modi government to do suitable course correction for protecting privacy of everyone who is on social media.On the complaint filed by Congress, Surjewala said the party sincerely hope that the government will move expeditiously to not only probe and punish the guilty but will also revisit the issue of digital safety. He also said extreme elements have attacked the Congress ideology over last 132 years in different manifestations, both by spoken words and physical violence. “Congress has always dealt with such hatred and animosity with Gandhian compassion and tolerance. Truth is that totalitarian and authoritarian ideas are an anathema to India’s inclusive democracy,” he said.

Sartaj Aziz to visit India on Sunday for Heart of Asia meet

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz is set to visit India on Sunday to attend the Heart of Asia meet in Amritsar, according to a media report.The two-day conference is being held in Amritsar this weekend (December 3-4) and Aziz visit Amritsar on Sunday, Dawn News reported.Aziz is leading the Pakistani delegation to the meeting of the process that focuses on regional cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours for improving connectivity and tackling security threats. But no meeting with Indian officials is scheduled on the sidelines, the report said.”For now we don’t see any willingness on their part…the ball is in India’s court, for they know we are willing but we don’t know whether they are willing,” an official was quoted as saying.Pakistan and India had held a meeting in Islamabad at the last Heart of Asia ministerial meeting and agreed to start ‘Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue’ that was to cover all outstanding issues.The resumption of the dialogue could, however, not take place due to the Pathankot terror attack in January this year.An official was also quoted as saying that Pakistan had not formally reached out to India for a bilateral meeting in Amritsar.Pakistan’s High Commissioner in India Abdul Basit, while participating in BBC Urdu’s ‘Facebook Live’ interaction yesterday, said Pakistan was ready for unconditional resumption of dialogue if India is ready.External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is not attending the Heart of Asia ministerial meeting.”Since Sushma Swaraj is not attending, it’s difficult to have a meeting with anyone else,” the daily quoted a Pakistani diplomat as saying.”The Pakistani side believes that the way out of the current stalemate in ties is India giving up its intransigence,” the daily said.”India has to make up its mind. They are not willing to discuss Kashmir,” the official said.India has been non-committal about holding bilateral talks with Aziz but has made it clear that “talks and terror cannot go hand in hand”.

Is a stray animal’s life worth just Rs 50?

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>An outraged group of animal lovers have launched a unique online campaign entitled #NoMore50. The campaign, which is being run by a group of nature and animal enthusiasts known as the New Delhi Nature Society (NDNS) seeks to draw attention to the fact that currently the penalty for someone killing a stray is a paltry Rs 50. The initiative entitled ‘Speak for Animals’ can now be seen on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, among others.Speaking to DNA, Verhaen Khanna, founder NDNS, says that its time that everyone— be they animal lovers or not— speak up to change this outrageous law. “Recently, there have been many cases where animals have been tortured and murdered. In spite of this, these criminals pays only Rs 50 as fine, and then walk freely,” he said.A nature activist, based in the capital’s New Friends Colony, Khanna is determined to see change on this issue. The organisers will work on their online campaign where signatures will be collected asking for change. This will then be sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).”Most people were not aware about the fine. This is also the reason that nobody makes a noise when incidents of cruelty with animals come to the fore. We hope through the campaign we are able to create knowledge on the issue,” said Anubhuti Mishra, one of the volunteers at NDNS.The organisation also points to Article 51 a (g) of the Indian Constitution which states that it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to take care of the environment, plants, and animals. Through this, they hope that more people will feel bound to act.Khanna also points out that volunteers from the society have gone around colonies and other major recreational spaces in the city including Deer Park, Hauz Khas village and Lodi Gardens in the Capital to raise awareness on this issue.”Our target is to reach more and more people on the issue. This is crucial for it will take a large mass of people writing to the MoEF to raise the penalty from Rs 50 to a substantial amount. It is an age-old provision under the law, which has not been revisited even after six decades of Independence,” said Khanna.It’s not just about changing the law. The campaign also looks to create awareness on laws protecting animals and raising sensitivity towards stray animals, amongst the public at large.

India’s Supreme Court orders cinemas to play national anthem | Reuters

By Tommy Wilkes and Suchitra Mohanty
| NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI Indian cinemas must play the national anthem before screening a film and the audience must stand and listen, the country’s Supreme Court said on Wednesday in a ruling echoing growing nationalist sentiment under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.The court ordered that an image of India’s national flag also be displayed on screens during the anthem, and it gave cinemas 10 days to comply, saying its decision would help “instil a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism”.”People must feel this is my country and this is my motherland,” the New Delhi court said in an interim order issued in response to a petition from a local retiree.”The time has come for people to realise that the national anthem is a symbol of constitutional patriotism.”Nationalist fervour surged when Modi’s government said in September it had sent troops into territory controlled by bitter rival and neighbour Pakistan to strike at Islamist militants suspected of preparing to attack.

India’s wildly popular Bollywood film industry found itself caught up in the aftermath when a filmmakers’ body banned the hiring of Pakistani actors and some regional politicians said that those prepared to work with their neighbours were unpatriotic.Playing the national anthem in Indian cinemas was common in the 1960s, but the practise fell out of favour as fewer and fewer people paid attention. A few states had since made it compulsory for theatre halls and cinemas to broadcast the anthem, but there is no nationwide law mandating it.

Some commentators mocked the court’s ruling as idiotic. “The Supreme Court’s moral, constitutional and political idiocy in the national anthem order is truly breathtaking. More dark times ahead,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research think-tank said on Twitter.Thousands took to the streets early this year in India’s biggest nationwide student protests in 25 years after the arrest of a student accused of sedition, prompting accusations that Modi’s government was clamping down on freedom of expression.

To support his case in the court, petitioner Shyam Narayan Chouksey said the Prevention of Insults to National Honor Act of 1971 had been breached, Indian media reported.The court also ruled that broadcasting a shortened version of the anthem would not suffice, and it prohibited playing the anthem at “undesirable” or “disgraceful” places. (Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 23:44 IST

Thriving on raw eggs, world’s oldest person marks 117th birthday in Italy | Reuters

By Reuters Staff
| VERBANIA, Italy

VERBANIA, Italy Emma Morano, thought to be the world’s oldest person and the last to be born in the 1800s, celebrated her 117th birthday on Tuesday, still swearing by her diet of two raw eggs a day.Morano was born in November 1899, four years before the Wright brothers first took to the air. Her life has spanned three centuries, two World Wars and over 90 Italian governments.Friends, neighbors and her doctor gathered in her small apartment in the northern town of Verbania, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, to mark the latest milestone, presenting her with a large white birthday cake.

“My life wasn’t so nice,” she told Reuters TV as she sat in an armchair by her window, a white shawl over her shoulders. “I worked in a factory until I was 65, then that was that.”In an interview with La Stampa newspaper five years ago she said her fiance had died in World War One and that she had then been forced to marry a man she did not love.

“‘Either you agree to marry me or I will kill you’,” Morano said, recalling his proposal. “I was 26. We got married.”It was not a happy marriage. They had a boy in 1937, but the baby died after just six months and the following year Morano kicked out her abusive husband. “I separated from him in 1938. I think I was one of the first in Italy to do that.”

Morano lives alone and has outlived all her eight brothers and sisters, including one who died at 102. She has thrived despite an unorthodox, unbalanced diet. “When I first knew her she used to eat three eggs a day. Two raw, and one fried. Today she has slowed down a bit, reducing the number to two some days because she says three can be too much,” her doctor Carlo Bava told Reuters TV. “She has never eaten much fruit or vegetables. Her characteristic is that she always eats the same thing, every day, every week, every month and every year.”

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First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 21:26 IST

OPEC experts end meeting, no agreement on detail | Reuters

OPEC experts end meeting, no agreement on detail | Reuters

Nov 29, 2016 01:31 IST

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VIENNA OPEC experts ended their meeting on Monday without agreeing on concrete details of a planned reduction in oil output by individual countries that will be presented to an OPEC ministerial gathering on Nov. 30, an OPEC source told Reuters.

(Reporting by Rania El Gamal and Alex Lawler)

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First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 01:31 IST

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Rosberg takes Formula One title from Hamilton | Reuters

By Alan Baldwin
| ABU DHABI

ABU DHABI Germany’s Nico Rosberg celebrated his first Formula One world championship on Sunday after finishing runner-up in a tense Abu Dhabi Grand Prix won by Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton amid accusations of ‘dirty tricks’.After all the suspense and expectation, Hamilton chalked up his 10th win of the season, and fourth in a row, but was powerless to do anything about the championship outcome despite making every effort.His attempt to push Rosberg into the clutches of those behind him, by deliberately slowing the pace in the closing laps to the concern of team bosses, produced a nail-biting finish with the top four separated by just 1.6 seconds.”Lewis, this is Paddy we need you to pick up the pace to win this race,” the team’s technical head Paddy Lowe told the Briton over the team radio.”Right now, I’m losing the world championship so I’m not bothered if I’m going to lose the race,” replied Hamilton, who crossed the line 0.4 seconds ahead of Rosberg with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel third and a further 0.4 behind.The frosty atmosphere between the pair as they waited for the podium ceremony spoke volumes, with Rosberg hoisting the sport’s 86-year-old commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone into the air but ignoring Hamilton.There was minimal eye contact between them, let alone a handshake.The hug, the handshakes and a word of congratulation, eventually came on the podium.

“That was definitely not the most enjoyable race I’ve ever had… really not very enjoyable those last laps,” said Rosberg in podium interviews conducted by former F1 racer David Coulthard.”I’m glad it’s over, and I am ecstatic.”It was really intense and tough out there.” Rosberg, who had needed only to finish in the top three to be sure of the title, settled into second at the start as Hamilton streaked clear but the Briton’s strategy was immediately apparent.

He made little effort to build up a commanding lead, knowing that his only hope of becoming Britain’s first four-times champion depended on denying Rosberg clear air and allowing rivals to get close enough to pass.”It was tricky at the end there with Lewis playing some dirty tricks,” commented four-times champion Vettel over the radio. Rosberg, who becomes his country’s third champion after Michael Schumacher and Vettel, held his nerve and position just as he has throughout a season in which he has insisted on taking one race at a time.As he crossed the line, the son of 1982 title-winner Keke Rosberg let out a whoop of relief and joy as he became only the second son of a world champion, after Britain’s Damon Hill, to take the crown.

In another emotional touch, the tearful 31-year-old’s wife Vivian spoke to him over the team radio on his slowing down lap to tell him how proud she was. His own pride was equally evident. “I am very proud to have done the same feat as my dad achieved, he is going to be coming in half an hour I think,” said Rosberg, whose father was not at the circuit and has been present for only his home Monaco Grand Prix this year.At the same time, Hamilton knew he would have to explain himself to unimpressed team bosses.”We first have to speak to him to get an explanation,” said non-executive chairman Niki Lauda. “We tried to tell him the danger was coming because Vettel had the fastest car at the end. Thank god it worked out in the end.”Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished fourth, another remarkable race for the Dutch teenager who spun at the start and fought back from last place. His Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo was fifth. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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First Published On : Nov 27, 2016 21:08 IST

Delhi Queer Pride Parade: Hundreds march seeking ‘a life without fear’

New Delhi: Draped in rainbow colours, hundreds of people on Sunday marched in the heart of the national capital for the 9th Queer Pride Parade to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community in making a united call for equality of gender and sexuality and seeking “a life without fear”.

Organised by the Delhi Queer Pride Committee, the march kicked off from the corner of Barakhamba Road and Tolstoy Marg and saw members of the community as well as their friends and family members turn out with placards, masks and costumes.

“Pride is an inter-mingling of many movements — feminism, anti-caste movements, for free speech, so this march is important as it is a united call for a prejudice-free India,” one of the participants said, requesting anonymity.

LGBT Community members and supporters during the Delhi Queer Pride March in New Delhi on Sunday. PTI

LGBT Community members and supporters during the Delhi Queer Pride March in New Delhi on Sunday. PTI

Another participant, Delhi University student Esha, said unlike earlier occasions, it is important for queer people this year to shout back equally louder to combat “noise from homophobic groups and an unfriendly government”.

“I’m not out yet so I tend to keep a low profile at LGBTQ events, but this year pride is important as a show of strength more than ever because noise from homophobic groups and an unfriendly government seems to have become louder. It is important that we as queer people should shout back equally louder,” Esha said.

One of the organisers, Rituparna Borah, said this year’s parade saw a greater participation than the last year, with around 800-1,000 people turning out.

“People from all walks of life, identifying with different sexual orientations and genders took part in the
parade, that culminated at Jantar Mantar,” another organiser said.

While the focus of the ‘pride’ has been the repeal of Section 377 that criminalises same-sex unions and the demand for dignity for people who do not conform to society’s ideas of sexual orientation or gender, different movements joined the parade this year in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

This year’s march was also in support of Dalits, Muslims, women, disabled, Kashmiris, people in the North-East, Adivasis, academics, filmmakers and students, according to an earlier statement on the Facebook page created for the event.

The march saw demands being voiced by a wide section of society — from the demand to live free of fear to calls to break down patriarchal mindsets.

“Hence, more than ever, we assert that our pride is inextricably tied to a broader demand for freedom and dignity for all,” a statement said.

A participant, who works with a private company here, said, “We want to live without fear of any kind of
repercussion from our family and from the workplace because of the gender we identify with. It is important to live a life without fear.”

The parade is a yearly festival, held on the last Sunday of November, to honour and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and many gender and sexual non-conforming people, and their supporters.

First Published On : Nov 27, 2016 20:03 IST

RBI takes surprise action to soak up liquidity | Reuters

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Saturday unexpectedly ordered banks to deposit their extra cash with it, in a bid to absorb excess liquidity generated by a government ban on larger banknotes. Many Indians deposited their old notes with their banks after the ban on 500 and 1,000 rupee notes ($7.30-$14.60) on Nov. 8, which is aimed at tax evaders and counterfeiting.Banks had put some of this cash into government bonds, sparking a rally that saw the benchmark 10-year bond yield fall more than 50 basis points to its lowest in more than 7-1/2 years.The central bank said banks would need to transfer 100 percent of their cash under the RBI’s cash reserve ratio from deposits generated between Sept. 16 and Nov. 11, saying it was a temporary measure that would be reviewed on or before Dec. 9.Traders called it a drastic move intended to dent the rally in bond markets, adding that the RBI could have opted for more modest measures such as sucking out some of the liquidity through sales of market stabilisation bonds or telling banks to park funds under reverse repos.The action could also temper market expectations that the central bank would cut interest rates by 25 basis points at its next policy review scheduled for Dec. 7, after already easing them by the same amount at its last review in October.

“The move is more of a ham-handed one than the finesse expected from the RBI,” said Shaktie Shukla, founder of boutique investment advisory firm Kaithora Capital.”The liquidity sweep will definitely halt the down move in (bond) yields,” he added. “It will also temper the euphoria pre- RBI policy.”The move is likely to drain over 3.24 trillion rupees ($47.29 billion) from the banks, according to Reuters estimates.

Traders said bond market yields could rise 8-10 bps on Monday, given that the RBI move would deprive the key source of funding seen in the past two weeks, while banking shares would likely take a hit.Bond investors had also bet India’s demonetisation action would dent economic growth as consumers held back on purchases, raising the prospect of a rate cut by the RBI.

At the same time the bond rally had increased hopes it would lower borrowing costs in the economy and allow banks to reduce some of their lending rates.On Friday the central bank also relaxed its liquidity auction rules by expanding its basket of securities that it accepts as collateral.($1 = 68.5085 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Neha Dasgupta, Suvashree Choudhury and Savio Shetty; Editing by Rafael Namm and Mike Collett-White)

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First Published On : Nov 26, 2016 21:29 IST

Leaders pay tribute to Fidel Castro, but critics scathing of tyrant | Reuters

By Vladimir Soldatkin and Diego Oré
| MOSCOW/CARACAS

MOSCOW/CARACAS World leaders paid tribute on Saturday to Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States, but in death just as in life he divided opinion, and critics labelled him a “tyrant”.Castro died on Friday aged 90, his younger brother and successor Raul Castro announced on state television.U.S. PRESIDENT, BARACK OBAMA:
U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement on Saturday offered his condolences to Fidel Castro’s family and added that history would judge Castro’s impact on Cuba and around the world.”At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” Obama said. “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”Obama added that during his own presidency he had worked to “put the past behind us,” while working on a future that was built on those things that were in common.RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN:
“The free and independent Cuba, built by him and his comrades, has become an influential member of international society and served as an inspiring example for many countries and people. Fidel Castro was a frank and tried and true friend of Russia. He has make a great contribution into establishing and developing of Russo-Cuban ties, close strategic cooperation in all the spheres,” the Kremlin said, citing Putin’s condolences telegram to Raul Castro.FORMER LEADER OF USSR, MIKHAIL GORBACHEV:
Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union which had long acted as an economic and political prop for Cuba, said Castro left a lasting mark on his country and on world history.”Fidel held his ground and strengthened his country at the time of the harshest American blockade, at the time of massive pressure on him,” Gorbachev was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.”Nevertheless he led out his country from the blockade to the path of self-sustained and independent development.”In a telegram of condolence to Raul Castro, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the late leader an “inspiring example for many countries”.”Fidel Castro was a frank and tried and true friend of Russia,” the Kremlin quoted the message as saying.CHINA PRESIDENT XI JINPING:
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a statement that: “the Chinese people have lost a close comrade and a sincere friend”.Xi hailed Castro for his contribution to the development of communism both in Cuba and around the world.FRENCH PRESIDENT, FRANCOIS HOLLANDE:
French President Francois Hollande mourned the loss of a major figure on the world stage and welcomed the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, while noting concerns over human rights under the Castro regime.”Fidel Castro was a towering figure of the 20th century. He incarnated the Cuban revolution, in both its hopes and subsequent disillusionments,” Hollande said in a statement.”France, which condemned human rights abuses in Cuba, had equally challenged the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and France was glad to see the two countries re-establish dialogue and open ties between themselves,” added the Socialist party leader.

Hollande met Fidel Castro in May, 2015 during the first ever visit by a French head of state to Cuba since the Cuban revolution.UK FOREIGN MINISTER, BORIS JOHNSON:
“The UK expresses its condolences to the government and people of Cuba, and to the former President’s family. Fidel Castro’s death marks the end of an era for Cuba and the start of a new one for Cuba’s people.””Fidel Castro’s leadership of the 1959 Cuban Revolution marked him out as an historic if controversial figure. The UK will continue to work with the government of Cuba on a wide range of foreign policy priorities, including on human rights.”EU COMMISSION PRESIDENT, JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER:
“Fidel Castro was one of the historic figures of the past century and the embodiment of the Cuban Revolution. With the death of Fidel Castro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many. He changed the course of his country and his influence reached far beyond. Fidel Castro remains one of the revolutionary figures of the 20th century. His legacy will be judged by history.”VENEZUELA PRESIDENT, NICOLAS MADURO:
In Venezuela, a long-time ally of Cuba and staunch opponent of the political stance of the United States, President Nicolas Maduro said Castro had inspired and would continue to inspire his country.”We will keep on winning and keep fighting. Fidel Castro is an example of the fight for all the people of the world. We will go forward with his legacy,” Maduro told television station Telesur by telephone.BOLIVIA PRESIDENT, EVO MORALES:

In Bolivia, where Ernesto “Che” Guevara died in 1967 in a failed bid to export Cuba’s revolution, President Evo Morales said in a statement: “Fidel Castro left us a legacy of having fought for the integration of the world’s peoples … The departure of Comandante Fidel Castro really hurts.”ECUADOR PRESIDENT, RAFAEL CORREA:
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said: “A great has left us. Fidel has died. Long live Cuba! Long live Latin America!”SOUTH AFRICA PRESIDENT, JACOB ZUMA:
South African President Jacob Zuma had warm words, thanking the Cuban leader for his help and support in the struggle to overthrow apartheid.”President Castro identified with our struggle against apartheid. He inspired the Cuban people to join us in our own struggle against apartheid,” Zuma said in a statement.CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER, JUSTIN TRUDEAU:
“A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.”While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”, Trudeau said in a statement.

VIETNAM PRIME MINISTER NGUYEN XUAN PHUC AND PRESIDENT TRAN DAI QUANG:
In a letter to the Cuban people:”In the hour of this infinite suffering, the Communists and the people of Vietnam again reaffirm the solidarity and steadfast fighting spirit with the Communists and the Cuban brothers.””The bright life and immortal career of comrade Fidel Castro will forever live in the glorious revolutionary mission of the Cuban people and other nations striving to build a fair, civilized, democratic, prosperous and happy life.”SYRIA PRESIDENT, BASHAR AL-ASSAD:
President al-Assad said in a telegram to the Cuban leadership:”Cuba, our friend, managed under his leadership to withstand the strongest sanctions and oppressive campaigns witnessed in our recent history, becoming a beacon of liberation for the people of South America, and the people of the entire world. Fidel Castro’s name will live forever in the minds of generations and will inspire those aspiring to true independence and liberation from the yoke of colonialism and hegemony.”TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT:
The Turkish foreign ministry said Castro “left a legacy of values and ideals that will set a path for the young generations in Cuba.””The struggle to which he dedicated his life aroused respect, even in different political camps, and resounded not just in Cuba but around the world. He stood up against global injustice and worked for the establishment of a world with greater equality and solidarity,” it said in a statement.LEBANESE PRESIDENT MICHEL AOUN:
In a telegram to Raul Castro:”The commander of the cuban revolution left for almost a century a mark on the world’s conscience thanks to his long experience, his power to persuade and the esteem with which he was beheld, so that his political attitudes and national debates became a unique approach of its own.” “Fidel Castro’s memory will remain an impetus for Cuba’s present and future.”KENYA OPPOSITION LEADER, RAILA ODINGA:
Veteran Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, whose son born in 1973 was named Fidel Castro Odhiambo Odinga in honour of the Cuban leader, said in a statement:”In many ways, Castro was a great friend and true friend of Africa and other parts of the world that had to fight long and bitter wars to attain freedom from colonialism.”Castro stood very firmly on the side of Africans who were fighting for the continent’s liberation from colonialism especially in Congo (now DRC), Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.”In the case of Apartheid South Africa, Castro was one of the very few voices to speak against that system that was founded on a false sense of racial superiority with dire economic consequences for black people.”Odinga’s son Fidel died in 2015. (Additional reporting by Reuters bureaus.; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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First Published On : Nov 26, 2016 21:19 IST

Facebook builds censorship tool to attain China re-entry: NYT | Reuters

Facebook Inc has quietly developed a censorship tool that could persuade China to allow the world’s biggest social media network to re-enter the world’s second largest economy after a seven-year ban, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.Facebook developed the software, which suppresses posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographies, with the support of Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, the newspaper said, citing unnamed current and former employees. Zuckerberg in March met China’s propaganda tsar Liu Yunshan who said that he hoped Facebook could strengthen exchanges and improve mutual understanding with China’s internet companies, according to state news agency Xinhua.”We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country,” Facebook spokeswoman Arielle Aryah said in an emailed statement to Reuters. “However, we have not made any decision on our approach to China. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform.”

Foreign companies in China, especially in media, face political pressure from a range of regulations. The country’s military newspaper calls the internet the most important front in an ideological battle against “Western anti-China forces.”China, which has the world’s largest population of internet users, banned the website following the Urumqi riots in July 2009 in an effort to stem the flow of information about ethnic unrest which left 140 people dead.

Though Facebook has developed the new tool, it does not intend to suppress the posts itself, NYT said.Facebook would instead offer the software to enable a third party to monitor popular stories and topics that gain visibility as users share them across the network, according to the Times. The third party partner would have full control to decide whether those posts should show up in users’ feeds.

There is no indication Facebook has offered the software to the authorities in China, the Times said. It is one of many ideas Facebook has discussed with respect to entering China and it may never see the light of day, it added.Facebook, which has struggled in recent months to combat allegations that it unfairly removes certain content on its service, aims to continue to grow in developing nations where it currently has smaller penetration rates. (Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 06:46 IST

M Balamurlikrishna’s death ‘irreparable loss’ to the music world: Pinarayi Vijayan

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Kerala condoled the passing away of noted Carnatic musician M Balamuralikrishna at Chennai on Tuesday. In his message, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Balamuralikrishna was ‘an incomparable personality in contemporary Carnatic music’ and his death was an ‘irreparable loss’ to the music world.Kerala also joined the nation in mourning the death of one of the great musicians of the country, he said. The state is indebted to him for bringing into the limelight the various krities of Swati Tirunal, the erstwhile Maharajah of Travancore, by including them in his concerts and making them popular, he said.Balamuralikrishna had been awarded the prestigious Swati Puraskaram, the state’s highest honour for musicians instituted by the Kerala government in 2012. He rendered songs in various languages, including Telegu, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Punjabi, Vijayan said in a Facebook post.
ALSO READ Who was M Balamuralikrishna? All you need to know about the Carnatic music legendState culture minister AK Balan and Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, also condoled his death.

Demonetization: Now you can book a ‘chotu’ for Rs 90/hour to stand in an ATM line for you!

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>PM Modi’s war on black money and the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes has shaken the nation. While the country seems split between deciding whether it’s a good or bad move, some entrepreneurial individuals are using this as a clever business opportunity. With many people forced to stand in line to either exchange their notes or deposit them a Delhi-based start-up called Book My Chotu is using it as an opportunity to provide some gainful employment and make some money as well.The Delhi-based start-up which describes itself as ‘first on-demand helper booking website’. A Facebook post from the company claimed: “Are you short of cash? Need a Helper to stand in Queue of the bank / atm till the time your turn comes?? www.bookmychotu.com First on demand helper booking service Hire Hourly Helpers @INR 90 per hr Available in DELHI NCR****Please note our boys will not go inside bank , they will just stand in the queue for our customers as we understand that there can be some emergency and our helpers can help you in the same by saving your valuable time . Also chotu is just a name , all our helpers are above 18yrs of age.Quite cleverly, the company is making sure they are on the right side of the law by not using their employees to go inside the bank and actually exchange the money. CEO and founder Satjeet Singh Bedi told Hindustan Times: “It started when my mother was ill and I needed immediately needed cash. I requested my teammates to stand in the queue in place of me and quickly replaced them when my turn came.”When asked if other people standing in the queues objected, Bedi said that it was already a common practice amongst family members and insisted that ‘chotus’ be treated with respect.

Arvind Kejriwal: The fiery BBC interview that went viral in India

How Delhi’s popular chief minister Arvind Kejriwal lost his cool during a BBC interview.

Kashmir ‘freedom anthem’ released to controversy

A controversial “freedom anthem” for Kashmir is released in Pakistan, causing controversy.

Axis bank to launch chat bots for more personal banking experience

Axis Bank, India’s third largest private bank, is set to launch intelligent banking chat bots to make mobile banking services more conversational.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The bank tied up with Active Intelligence Pte or Active.ai, a Singapore-based fintech platform, to launch the bots which will enable customers to chat through its mobile banking app and messaging platforms such as Facebook messenger.

“We are enabling new digital technologies to make it easy and simpler for customers to engage with us. Users are moving to an unstructured form of engagement, we want to be where customers are. Active.ai will help us engage with our customers in a conversation — in a personal and contextual manner in the digital space,” said Rajiv Anand, executive director of Retail Banking in Axis Bank, in a press release.

“A new era of personalised banking and commerce is emerging wherein customers can converse with brands and financial institutions in a natural language and through their preferred mode of communication. In the future, customers will just walk to micro branches with voice enabled IoT (Internet of Things) devices to engage with the banks for services,” said Ravi Shankar, CEO and Co-Founder of Active.ai.

According to a Times of India report, chat bots are expected to reduce long-term costs for the bank, as artificial intelligence helps create a wider database on customer needs and on the other hand, customers will find chat bots to be a more hassle-free alternative as compared to bank visits, and phone calls.

First Published On : Nov 15, 2016 14:30 IST

PM Modi’s Twitter account saw sharp decline in followers after demonetisation announcement

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>On Tuesday, November 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the announcement of scrapping Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, taking the country by surprise. The move saw banks shut on Wednesday, with ATMs out of service for recalibration on Wednesday and Thursday.It drew mixed reactions from the public, inconvenienced by having to exchange their notes for new ones and deal with the immediate cash crunch.Interestingly, the immediate reaction to the announcement was reflected in Modi’s Twitter following. The Prime Minister, who is very popular on social media, being the most followed Indian on Twitter and Facebook, lost 3,13,312 Twitter followers the day after the demonetisation announcement. This, however, turned out to be a minor blip as his following bounced back the next day with an increase of 4,30,128 more than making up for the sharp fall the previous day.It’s hard to say how much we can read into this. On Friday, banks across country continued to witness heavy rush as people gathered to get new banknotes in exchange of old bills on the second day. In the financial capital of the country, shutters of ATMs of State Bank of India, HDFC Bank, Bank of Baroda, Yes Bank, Dena Bank were down in many parts. ATMs of many banks reported running dry.From Friday, customers are allowed to withdraw up to Rs 2,000 per day from ATMs till November 18. The withdrawal limit will be raised to Rs 4,000 per day per card from November 19, 2016.On Thursday, anxious customers thronged the branches much before the opening time–some at the crack of dawn–and had to wait for several hours to complete their transactions with senior citizens also not being spared of hardships. Amid frayed tempers, there were complaints galore that the stocks of new hard-to-fake Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes were exhausted within hours though the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were being accepted by banks. Queues were seen at the banks several hours after they opened for public dealings. In some interior areas, some banks and post offices reported that they were yet to receive new notes. Security was beefed up in banks and ATMs even as people fumed over the idea of waiting in long queues on a working day.Several banks have announced they will remain open over the weekend to deal with the increased demand.With agency inputs.

Sun Pharma expects U.S. drug pricing pressures to continue | Reuters

Sun Pharma expects U.S. drug pricing pressures to continue | Reuters

Updated: Nov 10, 2016 21:50 IST

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By Zeba Siddiqui
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd does not expect pressure on generic drug prices in the United States to abate anytime soon, its managing director said on Thursday, signalling a challenging year ahead in the company’s largest market.Dilip Shanghvi’s comments followed publication of Sun Pharma’s second-quarter results in which profit more than doubled from a year earlier, driven by higher sales in nearly all its markets.The United States began an investigation into generic drug prices last year and the possibility of another U.S. probe hit Indian pharmaceutical stocks last week. Sun, the world’s fifth biggest generic drug maker, did not comment on this on Thursday, but said it believed pricing pressures would continue. Like most of its Indian rivals, Sun has had a tough year in the United States due to few regulatory approvals to launch new products, and regulatory restrictions over its Halol drug factory in Gujarat that caused supply constraints.

Sun has now completed an overhaul of that facility and is awaiting an FDA re-inspection, Shanghvi told analysts on a conference call. But he said he was not sure if the plant would win regulatory clearance in the next five months. “Looking at the experience of some other sites, it may take more than three months post-reinspection to get clearance,” Shanghvi said. Analysts are waiting for Sun’s tildrakizumab, an experimental psoriasis drug that showed positive results in late-stage trials, to be put forward for U.S. approval. Shanghvi said the company is also considering testing the same compound in other disease areas.

Sun reported that July-September profit rose to 22.35 billion rupees ($335.8 million) from 10.29 billion rupees a year earlier. Analysts expected an average profit of 16.46 billion rupees, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.Sales in its largest market, the United States, rose 9 percent, while those in India rose 11 percent. In emerging markets, Sun’s sales rose 22 percent, the company said in a statement.

“The synergies from the Ranbaxy acquisition are gaining momentum and we are on track to achieve the targeted benefits,” Shanghvi said.Sun has earlier said it expects to reap $300 million in synergies by fiscal 2018 from its purchase of rival Ranbaxy Laboratories last year.($1 = 66.5600 rupees) (Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai; Editing by Keith Weir and Jane Merriman)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

World Bank probe into Tata tea project finds it failed to protect Indian workers | Reuters

By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A World Bank investigation into a tea plantation project in India that it jointly finances with tea giant Tata Global Beverages has found that it has failed to tackle alleged abuses of impoverished workers, the group said on Wednesday.The International Finance Corporation (IFC) – a member of the World Bank Group – said its accountability office began a probe into the project, run by Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), after reports tea pickers were being exploited.In a statement emailed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the IFC said it welcomed the investigation by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) and would work towards improving conditions for workers in plantations in Assam.”IFC is continually working with APPL in its ongoing programme of improving living and working conditions and will continue to collaborate with the CAO on the next steps, post-audit,” it said.Officials from Tata Global Beverages and APPL were not immediately available for comment.APPL was set up in 2009 to acquire and manage tea plantations previously owned by Tata Global Beverages – which owns Tetley, the second-largest tea brand in the world.

The IFC’s $7.8 million involvement in the $87 million “Tata Tea” project was aimed at promoting shareholder workers and helping to create more than 30,000 permanent jobs.Tata Global Beverages took a 41 percent stake in APPL and the IFC took 20 percent, with the remainder held by workers and smaller firms.But complaints by charities and trade unions about exploitation and abuse of tea-pickers – including long working hours, low wages, lack of freedom of association, over-exposure to pesticides and poor health and living conditions – prompted the CAO to launch an investigation in February 2014.

The CAO’s findings, released on Monday, found the IFC failed to identify and address labour, social and environmental issues, including potential violations of Indian and international law, including those related to housing and wages.”CAO finds that IFC has not assured itself that the wages paid by the client are consistent with IFC’s commitment to support jobs which offer a ‘way out of poverty’ or ‘protect and promote the health’ of workers,” it said.The IFC’s investment also supported a problematic employee share-purchase programme, the CAO found. It said APPL misrepresented the risks associated with buying stock, resulting in debt incurred by workers who came under pressure to buy shares.

The CAO said the IFC supported issuing more shares, reducing the value of workers’ shares and diluting their stake in APPL, without consulting worker-shareholders. Human Rights Watch called on the IFC to conduct a review of the social impact of its investment and work with its clients to improve the plight of impoverished tea pickers in Assam. “The IFC has been sluggish in responding to its endemic failures and done little to remedy the impact of its past mistakes at the community level,” said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions researcher at HRW.”The IFC’s board should send the action plan back to the staff and require it to consult with workers and the groups that filed the complaints to make sure that all the violations are addressed and appropriate responses are developed.” (Reporting by Nita Bhalla; Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

India says Pakistani shelling kills two soldiers at Kashmir border | Reuters

India says Pakistani shelling kills two soldiers at Kashmir border | Reuters

Updated: Nov 6, 2016 21:39 IST

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SRINAGAR, India The Indian army said Pakistani shelling killed two of its soldiers at posts along the border of Indian-administered Kashmir on Sunday, and five others including three civilians were injured.It said it retaliated by destroying several Pakistani posts.Artillery tit-for-tat exchanges and skirmishes between the two have intensified along the frontier running through the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir over the last few months. The dispute over Kashmir has sparked two of the three wars between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan since partition and independence from Britain in 1947.

“We are giving a fitting response. (We) will hit them where it hurts the most,” said Indian defence spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Manish Mehta.”It is very unprofessional act of the Pakistan army to target our residential areas.”

On Thursday, Pakistan named eight Indian diplomats it accuses of espionage and terrorism. New Delhi dismissed the allegations as “baseless and unsubstantiated”.

Ten days ago, the two countries expelled one diplomat each from the other’s embassies, each accusing the other of spying. (Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari; Writing by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Clinton leads Trump by five points, swing states tighten – Reuters/Ipsos | Reuters

Clinton leads Trump by five points, swing states tighten – Reuters/Ipsos | Reuters

Updated: Nov 4, 2016 23:25 IST

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By Chris Kahn
| NEW YORK

NEW YORK Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton leads Republican Donald Trump by 5 percentage points, according to a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll released on Friday, keeping her advantage in a national survey while races tighten in several swing states.The Oct. 30-Nov. 3 opinion poll showed that 44 percent of likely voters in Tuesday’s election support Clinton while 39 percent support Trump. Clinton’s lead has varied from 4 to 7 percentage points every day over the past week in the Reuters/Ipsos poll, while other opinion polls have shown the race becoming increasingly competitive. Real Clear Politics, which averages together most national polls, estimates that Clinton’s lead has dropped from 5 points at the end of last week to less than 2 points on Friday. This is similar to 2012, when the Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll showed President Barack Obama with a 3 to 7 point advantage over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the final days of the campaign while Real Clear Politics showed Obama’s lead nearly vanishing ahead of the election. Obama was re-elected with a 4-point advantage in the popular vote.Clinton, despite her national lead, appears to have lost ground in a number of states, according to a separate polling effort that takes a more granular look at the race.

The Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation project shows races in Florida, North Carolina and Michigan have tilted away from Clinton over the past week and are now considered too close to call. These swing states are hotly contested because their voters can swing either to Republicans or Democrats and can be decisive in presidential elections.The project estimates that Clinton still has a 90 percent chance of winning the election, however.

With four days before Election Day, Republicans are increasingly optimistic about Trump winning. (For grpahic on race to the White House, click tmsnrt.rs/298mTyD)Some of this appears to be tied to Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey telling U.S. lawmakers on Oct. 28 that his agency was investigating a new trove of emails as part of a probe into Clinton’s handling of classified information while serving as U.S. secretary of state. While Comey said the emails might not be significant to the investigation, Trump and Republican leaders have seized on the news, calling it evidence that Clinton is unfit for the White House.

Since the FBI announcement, the Reuters/Ipsos poll has seen a surge in Republican expectations. More than half of Republicans now say they think Trump will win the election – up from a low point last week when Republicans were more likely to think Clinton would win. The Reuters/Ipsos national tracking poll was conducted online in English in all 50 states. It includes 2,021 people who were considered to be likely voters from their voting history, registration status and stated intention to participate in the election. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 3 percentage points. (Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Grant McCool)

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U.S. issues travel advisory for India amid fears of Islamic State attacks | Reuters

U.S. issues travel advisory for India amid fears of Islamic State attacks | Reuters

Updated: Nov 1, 2016 23:09 IST

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NEW DELHI The U.S. embassy in New Delhi issued a security message to American citizens in India on Tuesday to be vigilant following reports that Islamic State may be planning to attack targets there.”Recent Indian media reports indicate ISIL’s desire to attack targets in India,” the advisory said, warning of an increased threat to places frequented by Westerners such as religious sites, markets and festival venues.ISIL is an acronym for the jihadist organisation, which has seized territory in Iraq and Syria.

“All U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness,” the advisory said.

Officials from the National Investigation Agency, India’s counter-terrorism unit, has been quoted as saying that an Indian man arrested last month in Tamil Nadu and charged with terrorism offences had been an active member of Islamic State in Iraq.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Watch: Kejriwal singing ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ is nothing short of legendary

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>From reviewing films to asking for proof of educational qualifications, Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, has managed to keep his audiences entertained through thick and thin.Keeping to the top of the chart when it comes to getting trolled, Kejriwal, manages to launch himself into situations that seem ridiculously hilarious. And this time, it is Arvind Kejriwal singing (lip-syncing) to the title track of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.Right after a candid “Mai gaata acha nahi hu, lekin iske bol ache hai, kraantikaari hai” (I am not a great singer but the lyrics is revolutionary), the lip-syncing begins in the video shared by the Facebook page Super Londay.While Arvind Kejriwal has consistently been at the receiving end of all jokes, this one here outdoes every other by a long shot.

Facebook pledges fewer content removals, new criteria as yet unclear | Reuters

By Gwladys Fouche
| OSLO

OSLO Facebook will allow more content on its platform that it would have earlier removed because it violated its standards, with new criteria being worked out, a senior executive said on Monday, following a row over the removal of an iconic Vietnam War photo.His comments came on the same day that more than 70 rights groups asked Facebook to clarify its policies for removing content, especially at the behest of governments, alleging the firm had repeatedly censored postings that document human rights violations.Only a month ago, the company and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg came into conflict after Facebook deleted the photo of a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack, called “The Terror of War”.Solberg posted the photograph on her Facebook page after the company had deleted it from the sites of a Norwegian author and the newspaper Aftenposten, which mounted a front-page campaign urging Facebook to permit publication.”We have made a number of policy changes after The Terror of War photo. We have improved our escalation process to ensure that controversial stories and images get surfaced more quickly,” said Patrick Walker, Facebook’s director of media partnership for Europe, Middle East and Africa.”(And) in the weeks ahead, we are going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest, even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” Walker told a meeting of the Association of Norwegian Editors in Oslo, to which he was invited following the row.

DOMINANT ROLE
Walker’s comments echoed an Oct. 21 blog post by Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s head of global public policy, and Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s head of global operations and media partnerships, in which the executives said the firm would change its guidelines on removing content.

“Our intent is to allow more images and stories without posing safety risks or showing graphic images to minors and others who do not want to see them,” they wrote.On Monday, Walker told Reuters Facebook was at the beginning of the process of changing its guidelines and could not give further details. Reuters reported on Friday that an elite group of at least five senior executives, including chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, regularly directs content policy and makes editorial judgment calls, particularly in high-profile controversies.

To the audience of journalists, the Facebook executive said the company had to have global standards of content as it was mindful that content, such as nudity, that was acceptable in one country may not be acceptable in another.Many were left unconvinced after the debate.”Facebook is trying to isolate this as a question of rules about nudity, about being careful. But this is not the question I am raising,” Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, told Reuters. “The question is whether they now have such a dominant role in distributing information and news that they are becoming a threat against important democratic processes.” (Editing by Ralph Boulton)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Facebook says will remove fewer pictures, stories after Vietnam photo row | Reuters

Facebook says will remove fewer pictures, stories after Vietnam photo row | Reuters

Updated: Oct 31, 2016 18:25 IST

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By Gwladys Fouche
| OSLO

OSLO Facebook will allow more content on its platform that it would have earlier removed because it violated its standards, a senior company executive said on Monday, following the controversy over the removal of an iconic Vietnam War photo.His comments come after a dispute in September between the company and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg after Facebook deleted the photo of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack, called “The Terror of War”. “We have made a number of policy changes after The Terror of War photo. We have improved our escalation process to ensure that controversial stories and images get surfaced more quickly,” said Patrick Walker, Facebook’s director of media partnership for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“(And) in the weeks ahead, we are going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest, even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” Walker told a meeting of the Association of Norwegian Editors in Oslo, to which he was invited following the row, by both the association and the Norwegian culture minister.”We will work with our community and partners to explore exactly how to do this,” he said. “Our intent is to allow more images and stories without posing a safety risk or showing graphic images to minors or others who do not want to see them.”

Facebook re-instated the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph after Solberg and others accused Facebook of censorship and of editing history by erasing the image from their accounts under its restrictions on nudity.

Facebook backed down, ruling that the historical importance of the photo outweighed the company’s nudity rules. (Editing by Alison Williams)

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Espionage links may muddle UP politics

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The reverberations of the espionage racket in New Delhi may soon be felt in Lucknow and Rampur.Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Rajya Sabha MP Munawwar Saleem, whose aide Farhat Khan was arrested by the Delhi Police on Saturday, is considered very close to SP heavyweight Azam Khan, eight-time MLA from Rampur and a Cabinet Minister in the Akhilesh Yadav-led government. Saleem was specially picked up by the SP, on Azam Khan’s insistence, to fight against BJP stalwart Sushma Swaraj from Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Even though Saleem lost badly, his proximity to Azam Khan helped him get the Rajya Sabha berth from UP in 2012.SP sources say that the arrest of Farhat has come at a critical time when the BJP is openly trying to hijack the nationalism and patriotism plank by using surgical strikes. They add that the BJP may use this issue to malign the party’s image, which is already being dented because of the raging family feud.An SP leader, however, said that that if the BJP chooses to take this line, the party won’t hesitate to exploit Shoaib’s, another person caught in the espionage racket, alleged links with the BJP. The BJP has already denied having any links with Shoaib, who reportedly called himself a member of the BJP’s minority front and has posted his pictures on Facebook with several BJP leaders.

Naked threat

Indian woman responds in viral Facebook post to ‘cyber bully’ trying to leak her nude photos online.

Gold firm on strong festive demand in India | Reuters

Gold firm on strong festive demand in India | Reuters

Updated: Oct 26, 2016 21:52 IST

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By Apeksha Nair

Gold prices stayed firm on Wednesday as stronger physical demand for the precious metal, ahead of India’s late-October festival season, offset a firm U.S. dollar.Demand for bullion is expected to pick up ahead of festivals such as Dhanteras and Diwali, which is also a time when gold is traditionally given as a gift.”A recovery in physical demand provided the foundation for the rally that carried over into later trading,” HSBC analyst James Steel said in a note. “Gold investors brushed aside the negative impact on bullion of a firmer USD.”Spot gold was up about 0.1 percent at $1,275.04 an ounce by 0445 GMT. In the previous session, it hit $1276.67, its highest since Oct. 5.U.S. gold futures settled up 0.16 percent at $1,275.7 an ounce.

Flows into exchange-traded funds and pick up in Asian demand were keeping the metal stable, said Dominic Schnider of UBS Wealth Management in Hong Kong.”Markets having already priced in the Fed’s interest rate hike move,” Schnider added.”Yellen may hike rates now, but the trajectory is going to be very modest, and so interest rates in the U.S. in real terms will actually go down into more negative territory,” he added. A Reuters poll showed the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates in December.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney cast doubt on expectations for more monetary stimulus in Europe while ECB President Mario Draghi said on Tuesday he would prefer not to have to keep rates so low for too long. Holdings of the SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, rose 0.34 percent to 956.83 tonnes on Tuesday from 953.56 tonnes on Monday. [GOL/ETF]”The extreme longs on Comex have been reduced significantly providing upside support for the yellow metal and potential for another assault on $1,300,” MKS PAMP Group trader Jason Cerisola said.

Spot gold may rise towards $1,292 per ounce, having cleared a resistance at $1,273, according to Reuters technical analyst Wang Tao.”For the remaining of 2016, the suspense given the U.S. presidential election alone should be enough to support gold prices,” OCBC analysts said in a note. Silver climbed 0.22 percent to $17.82 an ounce.Platinum slipped 0.23 percent to $961.00 an ounce, while palladium edged up 0.2 percent to $634.20. (Reporting by Apeksha Nair and Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru; Editing by Joseph Radford and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Gunmen attack police academy in Pakistani city of Quetta | Reuters

Gunmen attack police academy in Pakistani city of Quetta | Reuters

Updated: Oct 24, 2016 21:24 IST

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By Gul Yusufzai
| QUETTA, Pakistan

QUETTA, Pakistan Gunmen stormed a Pakistani police training academy in the southwestern city of Quetta late on Monday night, wounding up to a dozen recruits, officials said.Reports from police sources of hostages could not be immediately confirmed. Some 200 trainees are stationed at the facility, officials said.”Around five terrorists entered police training centre and they have taken police recruits (at) gunpoint,” a senior security official in Quetta said, on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault.

Mir Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister of Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital, confirmed early on Tuesday that at least five or six gunmen had attacked a hostel where police recruits were staying. The attack appeared well coordinated, with senior law enforcement agencies saying that assailants had fired at the police training centre from five different points.

Later, the attackers entered the centre’s hostel where around 200 to 250 police recruits were resting and sleeping, the security officials said.By about 1 a.m. Pakistan time, at least three explosions had been reported at the scene by local media, but there was no immediate word of any additional casualties. Gunfire could still be heard, media said.

The Police Training Centre covers about an acre of land located about 13 kilometres outside the main city of Quetta. (Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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Jaguar Land Rover and Ford test connected cars in Britain | Reuters

Jaguar Land Rover and Ford test connected cars in Britain | Reuters

Updated: Oct 21, 2016 04:37 IST

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LONDON Jaguar Land Rover, Ford (F.N) and Tata Motors (TAMO.NS) are testing connected cars which can communicate with each other using technology designed to speed up journeys and cut accidents, the first such trials in Britain.Cars which are able to warn drivers when another connected vehicle brakes suddenly and those which can monitor traffic signals and regulate their speed to encounter fewer red lights were being showcased at a testing ground in central England.Increasingly sophisticated technology in vehicles is paving the way for fully driverless vehicles, with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), owned by India’s Tata Motors, also demonstrating a self-driving Range Rover Sport which can automatically overtake slower moving cars. “The benefits of having cars that can communicate with each other and their surroundings could be very significant — from increased road safety to improved traffic flow,” said Tim Armitage, a project director at government-backed UK Autodrive which coordinated the trials.

Earlier this month, a driverless car was trialled on Britain’s streets for the first time as part of government efforts to create an industry which can serve a worldwide market which it estimates to be worth up to 900 million pounds ($1.1 billion) by 2025. Britain is aiming to have driverless cars on its roads by the end of the decade.

Automakers are racing to head off the challenge from technology firms such as Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, which is developing autonomous vehicles. Jaguar Land Rover said earlier this year that it plans to create a fleet of more than 100 research vehicles over the next four years to test autonomous and connected technology and Volvo plans to trial driverless cars in London next year.

Ford and Volvo are working with ride-hailing company Uber on trials of self-driving cars in the U.S city of Pittsburgh. (Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Keith Weir)

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Facebook, Twitter weigh bids for media rights to India cricket league | Reuters

Facebook, Twitter weigh bids for media rights to India cricket league | Reuters

Updated: Oct 19, 2016 00:47 IST

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The Indian cricket board said it had received interest from Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) for media rights to the popular Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket tournament.The social media companies are among a host of other firms including Star India Pvt Ltd, Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Reliance Jio and ESPN Digital Media that have shown interest in acquiring media rights for the annual tournament.The bids for the rights – for 2018 onwards – are expected by Oct. 25.

Cricket is the most popular sport in India and teams in the IPL count Bollywood stars and major conglomerates such as Reliance Industries (RELI.NS) as investors.

(Reporting By Nayyar Rasheed and Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru)

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One in three people believe same-sex marriage should be legal – global survey | Reuters

One in three people believe same-sex marriage should be legal – global survey | Reuters

Updated: Oct 18, 2016 23:25 IST

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By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Almost one in three adults globally believe people of the same sex should be allowed to marry, a survey of almost 100,000 people in 65 countries showed on Tuesday.Some 32 percent said same-sex marriage should be legal, while 45 percent said it should not be, and the remaining 23 percent replied they did not know, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) survey said.The rights group said a breakdown of the results highlighted deep regional divisions.

Only 19 percent of respondents in Africa and 26 percent in Asia said they approved of same-sex marriage, against 35 percent in the Americas, 41 percent in Europe and 56 percent in Oceania the online survey found. These divisions reflect that rights advocates in Africa and Asia have focused on more pressing issues, such as fighting discrimination against gays rather than promoting acceptance of same-sex marriage, said study co-author Aengus Carroll.

“This is so far off the agenda for Africa and Asia,” Carroll told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.An ILGA survey published earlier this year found two-thirds of adults would be upset if their child told them they were in love with someone of the same sex.

Gay couples are legally recognised in more than 20 world countries, mostly in Europe and the Americas. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Astrid Zweynert)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Supreme Court dignifies Justice Katju’s Facebook post with a debate: Was it necessary?

Justice Markandey Katju’s reasons for criticising the Supreme Court (SC) judgment in the Soumya rape case may have been legitimate, but is the SC right in engaging with him by inviting him for a debate?

In the last few months, Justice Katju has attacked the Chief Justice of India (CJI), made casteist jokes, mocked Biharis and offended the people of Odisha in his Facebook posts, ending them all with an exclamatory “Hari Om“.

He had to recently apologise for a post he shared on Facebook and on his personal blogpost, ridiculing the people of Odisha. He wrote in the post: “I was asked to write about the Oriyas (Odias). What is there to write about these poor chaps? Ever since they got a thrashing at the hands of Ashoka in the battle of Kalinga they have been a dejected lot. Now all they have with them are a lot of pots (Patras), big pots (Mahapatras) and supposedly intelligent kings (Patnaiks). And of course they have Lord Jaggannath, to whom they pray every day for revenge on the abominable Biharis.

File photo of Justice Markandey Katju. PTIFile photo of Justice Markandey Katju. PTI

File photo of Justice Markandey Katju. PTI

Katju, a retired SC judge, is a passionate Facebook user. His posts in a day put together are enough to fill the edit page of a national daily. Given his standing, the views expressed by him on the social networking website often make the news, which he then happily and unfailingly shares.

You can understand when a retired judge, at leisure, engages with the world through Facebook – more often than not to put forward his unsolicited views on every issue under the sun. What is perplexing is the fact that the highest court of the land is dignifying his criticism of a judgment by inviting him for a debate.

Under normal circumstances, a common man expressing his or her unabashed criticism of a judgment that has already been decided, following due process and the procedure established by law, would have amounted to contempt of court.

Justice Katju’s criticism has, however, attracted a summon for a debate instead.

According to a PTI report,”In an unprecedented order, the Supreme Court on Monday summoned Justice Katju to appear in person before it to point out the ‘fundamental flaws’, as claimed by him in the Soumya rape case,”

“He (Justice Katju) is a respected gentleman. We request him to come in person and debate his Facebook post criticising the judgment. Let him come to the court and let’s debate over the fundamental flaws in our verdict,” a bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice UU Lalit said after issuing a notice to Justice Katju, the PTI report stated.

But, in spite of many of his posts that fall in the ‘just joking’ category, the fact remains that his legal expertise and acumen cannot be questioned and it cannot be denied that he must have had valid doubts and reasons for questioning the apex court’s judgment.

For example, he has raised some extremely important points in his post, which reads, “In acquitting the accused on the murder charge the Court held that there is no evidence that the accused had any intention of causing the death of Soumya and so could not be convicted under section 302 IPC. The Court held that it is possible that after being assaulted on the head four or five times and then being raped, Soumya might herself have jumped off the train on which she was travelling. However, the Court found the accused guilty of rape under section 376 and also guilty of some other provisions of the IPC.”

And he also states reasons for finding the assertions flawed, “Section 300 states that it is a case of murder (for which capital punishment can be imposed under section 302) even if there was no intention to kill, if the accused inflicts a wound sufficient to cause the death of a person in the ordinary course of nature.”

Therefore, the pertinent question to be asked here is whether it was desirable for the Supreme Court to hold a debate on a judgment duly decided by the Lordships just because Justice Katju found it flawed.

In the last few months, on more than one occasion, CJI TS Thakur has talked about the huge pendency that the courts, including the SC, is grappling with.

Earlier this month, CJI Thakur made an important appeal when he urged the ministry of law and justice to devise a mechanism to relieve the judicial system of the “avoidable burden” that arises out of the “sheer apathy, indifference or incapacity” of the government and its departments to take certain decisions.

As reported by PTI, the Chief Justice also asked the government to set up a panel, comprising of former judges, to decide on whether or not to fight a case against any citizen when the issue could be resolved outside the court.

“I would request the law minister to devise some mechanism to relieve our judicial system of avoidable burden that comes on us, not because we are not ready to share that burden but because of the sheer apathy or indifference or the incapacity of the government to deal with a situation to take a decision,” the Chief Justice said.

The appeal was important given the huge pendency that the judiciary is grappling with. According to an Indiaspend report, published in Firstpost in April, more than 20 million cases are pending in the Indian districts courts; two-thirds are criminal cases and one in 10 have been pending for more than 10 years.

The Indian Express reported that according to statistics provided by the Supreme Court’s E-Committee on pending cases in district courts, there are more than 2.18 crore cases pending in district courts across the country. In 12 states, more than 5 lakh cases are pending for disposal.

The report further stated that data, as of 30 April, highlights the glaring problem of the huge pendency across states and Union territories. Over 2.18 crore cases remain pending, of which more than 22.5 lakh cases have failed to be decided in the last 10 years – 10.3 percent of the total pendency.

It also stated that, “Around 38.3 lakh cases are pending for more than five years but less than 10 years – 17.5 percent of the total number of cases. Therefore, more than one-fourth of cases pending across district courts in the country are pending for at least five years. And 29.5 per cent of total cases, or 64.5 lakh cases, have been pending for more than two years.”

Justice Katju, like any other citizen, has the right to comment upon the Soumya case judgment without attacking the legal sanctity attached to the courts. It is an expression of free speech. But there is no convincing enough reason for why any court should spare any amount of its precious time in engaging with such a criticism, unless it involves some pertinent constitutional questions.

Fire in private hospital in eastern India kills 14 | Reuters

Fire in private hospital in eastern India kills 14 | Reuters

Updated: Oct 18, 2016 01:12 IST

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By Jatindra Dash
| BHUBANESHWAR

BHUBANESHWAR At least 14 people died on Monday when a fire broke out at a private hospital in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, officials said.The fire erupted inside the dialysis ward of the SUM hospital’s critical-care unit in the state capital Bhubaneswar, public health officials said.Ambulances ferried more than 120 patients to other facilities for treatment, officials said while firemen brought the flames under control.

Some patients were still in critical condition.”We are trying our best to save lives,” said Arti Ahuja, principal secretary of Odisha’s health and family welfare department.

He confirmed the death toll of 14 though local news channels said more than 20 people had died.Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the tragedy “mind-numbing” and directed the federal health minister to facilitate transfer of those injured to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, a group of government hospitals.

“Deeply anguished by the loss of lives in the hospital fire,” Modi said on Twitter. (Writing by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Kashmir unrest: 100 days after Burhan Wani, lies and mismanagement run rampant

A hundred days after Kashmiri militant commander Burhan Wani was killed, lies and mismanagement have seamlessly turned a mass uprising into large-scale cross-border militancy.

The lies are so blasé that they have even got the century mark wrong. Kashmir was awash with talk on Sunday that it was the 100th day of curfew. Of course, twisting facts is more or less normal in this ‘conflict zone,’ but this particular twist is bizarre. For, it is precisely because the government did not impose curfew on those fateful days, 8 and 9 July, that South Asia is now set on a terrible course.

Since the news of Burhan’s death only spread after 7 pm on the evening of 8 July, and there certainly was no night curfew, the first possibility of curfew would have been on 9 July, the day of Burhan’s funeral.
Especially those who have reported the many back-to-back funerals (eyewitnesses say half-a-dozen, interspersed with long rounds of speeches) should know how strict the curfew was imposed on that day. In fact, hysterical mobs attacked police stations and paramilitary camps across the valley. Some posts were set on fire. One police station was burned to the ground. Its armoury was looted.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Even after 9 July, curfew was not imposed on most of the last 100 days in significant parts of the Kashmir Valley. In Tral, from where Burhan hailed, there was no sign of police, army or paramilitary until a month ago – i.e., most of the first 70 days. That was excellent strategy. For, there was no death or injury there either.

Of course, the phase of repression and depraved police brutality that has followed will only cause more alienation, and insurgency.

But the ‘narrative’ is oblivious to these variations. It says in its blithe two-dimensional imbecility that the entire place has been locked down for hundred days.

Migrant work ethic

On the morning of 11 July, the Monday after Burhan was killed, I drove through large parts of Srinagar. In many places, I saw large numbers of migrant workers standing or squatting on the roadside — waiting for contractors who would hand out work for that day. No contractors were to be seen. Most of those whom the Indian taxpayer pays salaries were absent from work. A few shops were open, though their owners looked uneasy.

The government was invisible. It remained paralysed for several weeks, as those in power waited in vain hope for things to ‘settle down’ without their having to lose popularity. A very vain (pun intended) hope on both counts, as it predictably turned out. Things didn’t settle down. Their popularity plummeted.
But nobody apparently had the intelligence to figure out that the common pattern of attacks on security establishments across the valley could not have been a gigantic coincidence. A long war would unfold.

Restrictions versus narrative

During the first few weeks, the then divisional commissioner had said that ‘restrictions’ were in place. It was a suitable term. For, in fact, there have been only restrictions, at least in most parts of Srinagar through these 100 days. Security men have allowed one past their barricades, even in the often turbulent Downtown on a Friday afternoon in late July, so long as one was not agitating.

And yet, nobody in government challenged the ‘narrative’ of a total lockdown curfew in those crucial early weeks. I would love to be corrected here. Really, I would!

It is only over the last week or so that they have got a couple of news channels to portray what the stone-pelters have been doing. Coming so late, these bold reports risk being perceived as a less-credible counter-narrative. Nationwide, many viewers complain of being confused. Naturally!

Earlier this month, Education Minister Naeem Akhtar addressed a poignant open letter to the high profile secessionist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, highlighting the priority Islam gives to ensuring education. (Most educational institutions have been shut for three months.) The heart-touching letter would surely have moved Geelani.

The sad fact is that, by and large, the boys on the streets don’t acknowledge the Hurriyat leaders. And in any case, control over what is happening had passed across the Line of Control several weeks before.

In those crucial weeks of July, when the government was paralysed, some of its putative managers were actually trying to cozy up to ‘narrative’ walas on Facebook. It was the same old ‘we are with you, against them’ narratives that have been whispered in Delhi and Jammu and Srinagar far too often — ‘us’ and ‘them’ being as variable as convictions, morality and concern for the people. It happened from 1950-52, 1977, 1982 and 1987, but even those who should know better don’t seem to learn.

More recently, those managers have been trying to buy over  the ‘narrative’ walas. That’s another familiar story — raise the price and then squeeze. Such absolutely intolerable cynicism pervades this ‘conflict zone’ that some of those who kill militants have been known to do much the same with regard to the price on militants’ heads.

The problem with all this is not so much that the world at large is confused or misinformed as a result; the problem is the two-fold anger dividend on the ground. One, the ‘narrative’ raises the anger of the agitating youth, as it is calculated to do. In the bargain, it demoralises and frustrates those of the forces that have exercised restraint. Sooner or later, the resulting anger among soldiers will wreak havoc.

No wonder we are skidding headlong into the quagmire of a war-like situation.

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