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Newsroom diaries 2016: Marathwada, elections, Olympics, demonetisation and how we covered them

This past week Facebook has resounded with plangent laments about the year that will not end.

Most timelines are lengthy dirges punctuated with cries of cashlessness, Aleppolessness, musiclessness and Baracklessness. Annus horribilis is the Latinate of choice.

There hasn’t been a better year for journalism in recent history. The sordidness of 2016 has presented our estate with sufficient opportunities to peel open and consider the human condition. It has allowed us to recount such stories that newsmen and women don’t often get to tell. This is especially true for a band of journalists relaying reports, opinion and analysis from a newsroom freed of the constraints that tie down a print publication — no curbs on article length, supporting media, revisions and improvements, narrative possibilities, and so on.

Firstpost is one such outfit.

The Firstpost newsroomThe Firstpost newsroom

The Firstpost newsroom

Four stories we’ve reported in the past year should serve to showcase the breadth of material (and digital reporting opportunities) 2016 has provided the Firstpost newsroom.

The first came early when a visiting former chief minister of Maharashtra told us of the seriousness of drought conditions in Marathwada. We dispatched three writers to the region, each equipped with a small camera — none had used one in the course of reporting — to record the extent of damage. The series that resulted from their month-long journey, encrusted as it was with rich media, helped set the general course of debate on state intervention and the failure of successive governments in instituting any lasting solutions to address water scarcity in Marathwada.

In preparing for elections held to elect members to five state Assemblies, in May, we resolved to replicate a television newsroom online; in-studio political analysts, an anchor, multiple video and audio feeds from the five states, data visualisation, combined with on-ground reportage, gathered by writers applying — many of them for the first time — the fundamental tenets of print journalism to digital storytelling methods.

Soon after, the sports desk — frugally peopled — came up against the Rio Olympics, which afforded them the chance to run one of the lengthiest live blogs Firstpost has operated thus far, spanning 16 days, book-ended by the two ceremonies at the Maracana Stadium.

The fourth story is a biphonic texture of two stories that occurred almost simultaneously, over the course of 24 hours, beginning 8 November: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise announcement that 86 percent of currency in circulation would be rendered invalid in 50 days‘ time, and an election in the US that advanced the likelihood of an orange-haired real estate huckster with tenuous grasp of policy occupying the Oval Room.

Both offered Firstpost the occasion to set off a lengthy, live, accretive discourse drawn from analysis that combined text, video and audio; we hadn’t embedded such a large volume of fragmentary opinion pieces in live blogs until then. The election allowed us to build on what we’d learnt in May — we ran an eight-hour broadcast on the website, with commentators weighing in live from Toronto, New Orleans, New York, Delhi, Dubai and Mumbai.

And from all accounts, those last two stories have yet to coil themselves to a close.

The fading days of 2016 could well serve as prologue for the year before us.

A newsroom is made not by the technology or resources at its disposal, but by those who inhabit it. For a more personalised view on the experiences of various members of the Firstpost newsroom while covering specific stories, check out the following accounts:

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 08:51 IST

India lauds Fidel Castro in UN homage to late Cuban leader

United Nations: Paying tributes to Cuba’s late leader Fidel Castro, India said Cubans under him have achieved notable success in areas like education and health despite “outside pressures” and Havana’s “significant voice” for the cause of the Global South brought the two countries together.

“Fidel Castro indeed towered on the global stage. Under his leadership the people of Cuba achieved notable development successes in areas such as education and healthcare, despite outside pressures,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin said at a special commemorative meeting in the General Assembly yesterday to pay tribute to the late commander of the Cuban revolution. Akbaruddin said Cuba gave a “significant voice” for the cause of the Global South, and this is what drew India and Cuba together.

Over the years, the two nations have worked together closely at the UN to promote the aspects of economic equity and social justice in international relations, he added. Nearly 30 envoys representing regional groups and nations paid tributes to Castro, who died at age of 90 on November 25, and his indelible legacy during the ceremony, presided over by General Assembly President Peter Thomson. While speakers included Russia, South Africa, Iran and China, there were no representatives from Western nations. Akbaruddin said Indians learnt about Castro’s demise last month “with a sense of loss.”

File image of Fidel Castro. APFile image of Fidel Castro. AP

File image of Fidel Castro. AP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described Castro as one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century and had captured the emotions of India’s one billion people when he stated that the country mourns the loss of a “great friend”, Akbaruddin added.

As a mark of respect to the legendary leader, members of both houses of the Indian Parliament had paid tributes to the late leader. The Indian envoy told the General Assembly that India was one of the first countries to recognise Castro’s government after the Cuban revolution in 1959. “Fidel Castro was a stalwart of the Non Aligned Movement during the Cold War years, when India and Cuba commenced their close partnership to advance the interests of developing countries,” Akbaruddin said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his message on the occasion said, Castro was “one of the most important Latin American leaders of the 20th century” and “the most influential shaper of Cuban history since his own hero, Jose Marti, struggled for Cuban independence in the late 19th century.”

The outgoing UN Chief said as president, Castro turned Cuba into a “regional model of access to education and public health” and “until his last days he was deeply concerned about the future of humanity and challenges of the current times.” Castro left “a major imprint on his country and global politics,” Ban said in remarks read by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca. Lauding Castro’s “charismatic and wise leadership,” Akbaruddin said India will always “remember and cherish our friendship” with the “strong leader of a resilient nation.”

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 13:46 IST

Demonetisation: Opposition fails to capitalise on govt’s poor management of crisis

We are going through a strange political phase in India. On the one hand, for the first time in two and half years, there is a sense that the government is in trouble. On the other hand, there is also the feeling that the Opposition doesn’t really have the talent and the ability to either express popular sentiment or to capitalise on the moment.

The issue being debated is of course demonetisation, an exercise that has entered the second fortnight of its second month. Banks are still relatively low on supply, ATMs are still often not fully stocked with the right bills. But most importantly, the initial violence of the move to take out most of India’s cash is still passing through the system. The economy looks to have been put through an action which has damaged it and there does not seem to be sufficient control over managing the instability.

Opposition leaders after meeting President Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

Opposition leaders after meeting President Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

There was a moment, one week after the demonetisation announcement, when it may have been possible to reverse it. This was when the first hearings on the matter began in court and when most of the old currency was lying in the hands of the public. That moment has passed. The money has vanished in physical terms also, into the coffers of the RBI or banks, and the new notes have not been fully distributed through the system. The government says it will take another month, till the middle of January, before the system is stable. Even if that is true, merely printing the money doesn’t mean that the economy has received it. The cash has to be distributed across the system and there is no real estimate of how long that will take.

Few, including the prime minister who warned us about this in his latest speech on demonetisation, believe that there is no further pain ahead. This is the sort of moment and sort of political issue which any Opposition in a democratic space would have capitalised on. A deliberate action that slows the economy and inconveniences hundreds of millions of people daily for months is the sort of gift that politicians in Opposition dream of.

Incredibly, the government was actually able to make gains on this in the first couple of weeks. The media was strongly on the side of demonetisation then, and the public was shown as happy to be queuing up in support of the nation and against black money and terrorism. The Congress said it supported demonetisation but would insist on good management so that people were not inconvenienced. This position showed a lack of confidence and, more importantly, a lack of understanding about what was about to unfold. It could be said, rightly, that most people including experts, had no idea that things would drag on so long. But the Congress has decades of experience governing this country at the level of Centre and state. Surely it has enough input and data to be able to have known, and if it doesn’t then that is incompetence.

Instead it was two grassroots leaders, Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee, who from the first instance opposed the act of demonetisation unconditionally. They perhaps recognised that the action was reckless and that popular support would wane. Sure enough, this euphoria began to blow away from the queues as the discomfort continued and the nature of the goal changed from attacking black money to securing a digital economy.

It speaks poorly of the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi in particular that they have not been able to introduce original phrases that would capture the tragedy of demonetisation. In popular politics it is vital that you rally your support base with slogans. Gandhi was excellent at doing this against the British and so is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is the most talented politician of our time. The Congress has no such ability and it bumbles along, having been handed a priceless political opportunity and not knowing how to properly grasp it.

The way in which Rahul has approached the crisis makes no sense. He has first been tentative, then he has senselessly broken Opposition unity by unilateral Congress action. He has threatened to reveal the prime minister’s personal corruption and then changed the subject to farmers’ distress when he eventually met Modi. There seems to be no discipline and no strategy in his approach. Very few people believe the prime minister is personally corrupt. It was not the sort of allegation that was to be made casually, yet it does seem to have been made in that fashion.

And so here we are, in the middle of the biggest self created crisis of this government. A crisis which involves and includes citizens and affects the way we go about our lives. A crisis that promises to continue into the first weeks of the new year at the level of individual inconvenience and the first few months at the level of the economy. It is crisis that is being managed poorly by the government and, it is absolutely clear, even more shoddily by the Opposition.

First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 09:38 IST

Civic polls: BJP makes inroads in semi-urban, rural Maharashtra

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The ruling BJP has emerged as the net gainer in the first two rounds of civic polls across Maharashtra as it made inroads into semi-urban and rural areas, giving leverage to the party to counter the opposition onslaught over the demonetization.As the counting of votes for the second phase of polls concluded last evening, BJP’s tally in two rounds went up to 974 seats in municipal council and nagar panchayats, dealing a grim blow to Congress and NCP which had for long held sway in rural and interior parts of the state. The decision to hold direct elections to the post of municipal council presidents brought handsome gains to the BJP which secured 56 positions.In the first phase, BJP put up an impressive show winning 893 council and nagar panchayat seats while it finished slightly behind the NCP with 81 seats in the second round. The NCP, which won 615 seats in the first phase, bettered its tally over the rival in the next round with 93 seats while the Congress, which won 727 seats in the first phase bagged 45 seats.Shiv Sena, the bickering partner in the ruling alliance, pocketed 529 and 23 seats respectively in two rounds.The polling to elect 324 councillors and 14 municipal council presidents in Latur and Pune districts was held on Wednesday. The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena drew a blank in all seats it contested.The outcome is also seen as a shot in the arm for Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who led the campaign from the front.According to political observers, BJP’s success is more prominent in the Vidarbha region, once a stronghold of Congress. Fadnavis hails from Nagpur and that could be one of the reasons for BJP’s sterling performance in the region, they said.Difficulties caused by demonetization appear not to have gone against the BJP because people still feel it will yield positive results like eradication of black money at the end of the day, they said. Hailing the results, BJP state president Raosaheb Danve said, “Like in the first phase, the results of the second phase also showed that people have displayed their faith in PM Narendra Modi’s demonetization decision. People have endorsed the performance of Modi and Fadnavis governments,” he said, adding, the results show that BJP continues to be the “number one” party in Maharashtra.The outcome shows that Congress and NCP, which received a drubbing in the Lok Sabha and state Assembly polls in 2014, are yet to regain the trust of large sections of people, analysts say.Some of them, however, pointed out that these parties, who had ruled the state for long, recovered some of the lost ground, as compared to Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. In the 2014 Assembly polls, Congress and NCP were badly hit by the “Modi wave”, getting only 42 and 41 seats respectively, after ruling the state for 15 years.Congress leaders admit that the results of the civic polls fell short of their expectation. “We thought that Maratha agitation and demonetization would work against BJP. However, it may take some more time for the ill-effects of demonetization to be felt,” Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said.Both Congress and NCP have alleged that BJP’s success in the polls was due to misuse of money and administrative machinery. “Old scrapped notes were distributed to get votes. Bundles of cash recovered from BJP legislators and ministers is enough indication. Even Shiv Sena, the BJP’s ally in government, has made this allegation,” Congress Mumbai unit chief Sanjay Nirupam and NCP spokesman Nawab Malik alleged.However, BJP has vehemently refuted such allegations, crediting the victory to organisational skills and good governance at the Centre and the state. “Our success is due to the meticulous organisational planning and leadership of Devendra Fadnavis. He led from the front and addressed election meetings in most parts of the state,” said Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil.Congress and NCP leaders, on the other hand, restricted themselves to particular districts, say observers.Congress leaders admit that the results is a wake up call to the party to get its act together at the taluka level and strengthen its grassroots base.They say the party has got more seats at the nagar panchayat level, which means the rural population was upset with the present state government. The third phase of elections for 20 municipal councils and two nagar panchayats will be held on December 18. On January 8, 2017, the elections for 11 municipal councils will be held. Besides, the elections for 50 gram panchayats in different districts will be held on December 28.

Tata-Mistry battle: Nusli Wadia hits back, says Ratan Tata using ‘muscle power’ to remove him

Mumbai – With Tata Sons seeking to remove him as director from main listed group entities, Nusli Wadia on Monday hit back saying he has been targetted for his “independence of
mind and action” and he is not required to act in their interest as he does not not serve the Tata group in any capacity.

In a letter to the shareholders of Tata Steel, which has convened an EGM on December 21 to consider a resolution by Tata Sons to remove Cyrus Mistry and him as directors, Wadia said several allegations levelled against him were false, unsubstantiated and baseless.

Terming the allegation that he has acted in concert with Mistry as “totally false and baseless”, he wrote: “My actions as an independent director are totally independent and not linked to any individual.”

Nusli WadiaNusli Wadia

Nusli Wadia

Stating that he is the only Independent director that Tata Sons has sought to remove from Tata Steel, Tata Chemicals and Tata Motors, Wadia said: “The reasons for which I am being sought to be removed as director is my independence of mind and action…”

Reacting to the allegation that he was acting against the interest of the group, he said: “I do not serve the Tata group in any capacity and I am not required to act in their interest. The statement is irrelevant to my position as an Independent Director of Tata Steel. It is also baseless and unsubstantiated.

“I have a fiduciary responsibility to act as an Independent director in the best interest of the companies on whose board I serve, no more or less.”

He further said, “My independent stand has aggravated Tata Sons and my removal is being sought because I chose not to follow their diktat. My fiduciary duty is to your company and not to an unidentified Tata group.”

Wadia further said Tata Sons’ principal allegations against him “are unsubstantiated, baseless, false, motivated, defamatory and libellous and have been made with the intention of harming my reputation.”

He also claimed that it was “the first time in the history of corporate India that a promoter is using his muscle power with false and vindictive allegations to remove an Independent director”.

“Although it is my removal that you are being asked to vote upon, the real ‘person’ on trial is the institution of the independent director itself and not me,” he said.

Underlining his actions as an independent director, Wadia recalled that he differed “strongly” with Ratan Tata “in the acquisition of Corus but a decision was ultimately taken by
consensus”.

Further, Wadia said he “differed strongly providing continuous financial resources towards Tata Steel Europe from the year 2012 prior to Tata stepping down. From that date to now the capital employed in the business has risen by around Rs 25,000 crore with nil return.”

Any return on investment to the shareholders of Tata Steel from its investments in Tata Steel Europe looks a near impossibility, he said.

“The shareholders of Tata Steel have already suffered a serious impairment of approximately Rs 35,000 crore and are likely to have further substantial impairments in future,” Wadia claimed.

Alleging violation of insider trading regulations, Wadia said: “I believe that Mr Ratan Tata, Mr Noshir Soonawala and the Board of Tata Sons even post notification of the insider trading regulations (January 25m 2015) sought access to information and documents of Tata Steel, Tata Motors and other Tata companies.”

Recalling that he joined Tata Steel as a director almost four decades ago when JRD Tata invited him, Wadia said at that point of time JRD encouraged freedom of thought and expression.

“It is both sad and unfortunate that Tata Sons and its interim Chairman Ratan Tata are not only not practicing this great tradition but effectively destroying it,” Wadia wrote.

Last month Wadia had sent a legal notice to Tata Sons stating “the special notice for EGM of Tata Steel shareholders are aimed at defaming me as the content of the notice are false, frivolous, and per se defamatory, which are now established to be unsubstantiated for which I shall be compelled to initiate legal proceedings to protect my interest.”

First Published On : Dec 13, 2016 08:59 IST

100 million for 100 million: Nobel Laureates, leaders launch child rights campaign

In passing amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, earlier this year, India’s political class failed the children of the country. To put it mildly, this was a devastating move. Instead of banning child labour in its entirety, the new law allowed for children to work in family enterprises and reduced the list of banned jobs for children from 83 to just three.

Now, it is legal for a child to work in a brick kiln, a blast furnace, or a garment factory provided the owner is able to convince the authorities that he or she is related to the child. With India’s wide and lose kinship structures, anybody can easily be proved to be related to anybody. This has opened a backdoor for children to be forced to join the workforce.

IMG_5750

Each morning, 168 million child labourers struggle in the harshest of conditions instead of learning in school. Of them, 5.5 million are child slaves. Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi had his sight fixed on eradicating child labour and hasn’t been dismayed by how non-conducive the state of affairs in the country are. His struggle bears testimony to the fact that there is no time and no need for cynicism because a lot of lives are in need of urgent help.

While the government essentially negated Satyarthi’s 36-years of hard work, in which he rescued more than 84,000 children, the 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate decided to build a singular moral voice that speaks for humanity, not with political agenda or for economic gain, but a voice that cuts through wry debates and blame-games; a voice for those who need it the most. Child slavery is a modern reality. In India, 41 percent of the population is below the age of 18 but as Satyarthi puts it, if we don’t invest in them we cannot consider them a dividend.

On Sunday, the ‘100 million for 100 million’ campaign was flagged off by President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan’s forecourt, amid the presence of laureates and leaders from across the world and hundreds of children. The campaign will call upon 100 million young people to learn about their own rights and the lives of other children, who live in unimaginable situations caused by conflict, exploitation and extreme poverty to build a child-friendly world.

Satyarthi’s foundation plans major campaigns and outreach events in 10 countries, covering every continent. By 2019, the campaign will operate in over 60 countries worldwide and would have secured 40 million supporters. The campaign’s success will be measured by a change in public opinion on issues of child labour, exploitation and child refugees, the number of young people taking action on behalf of the other young people around the world and over the longer term, the policy and practice change and improved outcomes, such as the global reduction in the number of child labourers.

“We need both a top-down policy approach and a bottom-up social initiative,” said Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He added that all the evidence needs to be collected and combined in a way that it assists policy makers. “We need to speak louder and jump higher,” he exclaimed.

“Child rights cannot be tackled in isolation. Unless we deal with large-scale problems like poverty, social injustice and terrorism, we cannot uproot this social evil. Even the best policies are not implemented on-ground because there is massive corruption,” noted Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate from Yemen. She suggested that since the summit was launched in India, the country should become the headquarters of the international alliance for protecting kids’ rights.

In conversation with the children, Leymah Roberta Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, said, “The number of displaced people are growing and we don’t have time. We need to identify efforts people are making in different pockets of the world and seek global solutions.” The solution, the dignitaries established, is going local and identifying complex realities on-ground and then developing solutions that are global; unless people learn from each other, the world won’t change for the better. As Lorena Castillo, the First Lady of Panama put it, “let’s pledge to make a world child-labour free. We will use our voices to amplify voices of millions.”

What happened in the momentous confines of the Rashtrapati Bhavan was historic and unprecedented. In the Indian capital, the first chapter of the Laureates & Leaders for Children Summit gave the world the message that a child’s arms cannot be stretched to the left and to the right. Children cannot suffer at the hands of ego-driven ideology clashes and lethargic policies. India’s political leaders, with the exception of Piyush Goyal Minister of State (IC) for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy, didn’t address the summit. Among other things, the world leaders concluded that we need greater political awareness and that the moral deficit is nowhere but inside our willingness.

First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 18:13 IST

Demonetisation: Construction workers return home as cash crunch heightens

Hundreds of thousands of construction workers have returned home since Prime Minister Narendra Modi abolished high-denomination banknotes, leaving some building sites across the country facing costly delays.

A month after Modi’s shock move to take away 86 percent of cash in circulation to crush the shadow economy, the growing labour shortage threatens to slow a recovery in India’s construction industry, which accounts for 8 percent of gross domestic product and employs 40 million people.

Work at SARE Homes’ residential projects, spanning six cities, has slowed dramatically as migrant workers, who are out of cash and have no bank accounts to draw from, have little choice but to return to their villages.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

“Construction work at all projects has slowed down in a big way,” managing director Vineet Relia told Reuters.

Property enquiries, meanwhile, have slumped by 80 percent around the Indian capital since the cash crackdown, according to property portal 99acres.

Getamber Anand, president of Indian builders’ association CREDAI, said projects nationwide had been hit, and estimated that roughly half of the migrant workforce, numbering in the low millions, had left for home.

Road developers have also reported a slowdown as they struggle to find sufficient labour.

The exodus shows little sign of reversing, risking damage to construction activity and the wider economy into 2017, despite Modi’s assurances that hardships from his radical “demonetisation” should be over by the end of the year.

The disruption to building raises doubts about the Reserve Bank of India’s view that the impact on the economy would be transitory. The central bank held interest rates on Wednesday despite calls for action.

No bank account

Modi’s gamble is that the majority of workers will be compelled to open a bank account as sub-contractors refuse to pay in cash, bringing them into the formal economy and expanding the country’s low tax base.

That may happen eventually, but for now, millions of workers who depend on daily wages for food and shelter are struggling. Many have never held a bank account, and even if they wanted one, some do not have the necessary documents to do so.

At a construction site in Gurugram, a satellite city near Delhi, worker numbers have halved to 100. The site manager received a government circular on 25 November saying every worker’s wage should be paid into a bank, a message relayed to each contractor.

Biseshwar Yadav, a 36-year-old migrant labourer from Bihar, worries about arranging documents to open an account and the cost of making regular trips to the bank.

Standing in the largely deserted worker housing colony opposite the unfinished 20-storey blocks of flats he had been building, Yadav said that with no salary, he was surviving on $89 borrowed from a local shopkeeper to pay for food.

Some labourers back in their villages are reluctant to return. Duryodhan Majhi, 38, travelled to Odisha after his employer in Secunderabad ran out of cash to pay his $4.4 daily wage.

“We keep moving from city to city in search of work. This new order would mean opening a new bank account every time we change cities. How and when will we work then?” he said, adding he would seek farm work.

CREDAI’s Anand predicts activity on construction sites will not return to normal until April, and only once labourers are able to open accounts at banks still struggling to serve long queues of people desperate for cash.

“Right now the banks say they don’t have time to open accounts. It’s the biggest challenge,” Anand said.

Slowing economy

Data suggest that demand in India’s economy has slowed sharply since Modi’s decision on 8 November.

Indian services activity plunged into contraction in November for the first time since June 2015, a survey showed, while factory activity also slowed.

The real estate industry was already carrying an overhang of unsold inventory, and was hit by an earlier clampdown on “black” money, much of which is invested into property.

Indian cement and steel makers are feeling the pinch.

“Developers have cut down purchases,” said Mukesh Kasana, a dealer for UltraTech Cement Ltd, part of the Aditya Birla conglomerate, estimating his sales had slumped 80 percent.

India’s decade-long construction boom created one in three new jobs as tens of millions of people made the journey from the rural hinterlands to seek employment in towns and cities.

For Modi, a healthy construction sector is vital if he is to fulfil his promise of boosting job creation for the one million Indians joining the workforce every month.

There is no reliable data on the number of migrants who have abandoned construction sites since demonetisation, because most are undocumented. But stories abound of cash-strapped workers thronging railway and bus stations to make their journey home.

Jainuddin, a labour contractor near Delhi, said he had lost about 40 of his 50 men since 8 November.

“The ground reality is vastly different from what it appears to those designing these policies.”

First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 11:28 IST

PM Modi’s demonetization directives are like Tughlaq’s orders: Shobha Oza

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Congress leader Shobha Oza dubbed as “Tughlaq like” some of the orders issued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the wake of demonetization decision. “For last one month we have seen several new Tughlaq ke farman from the Prime Minister. First they (government) said you can exchange upto Rs 4,000, which was later changed to Rs 4,500 and then Rs 2,000. At the end of the day it is the common man, farmer, students, housewives who are suffering,” All India Mahila Congress President Oza told reporters on Saturday.”It is their hard earned money which has nothing to do with black money. Today to withdraw their own money, people have to stand in queue for hours. More than 100 people have died in the queues. In the entire world nowhere any person has been stopped from withdrawing his own money,” she said.Taking a jibe at the Prime Minister, Oza said “If anyone forgets to read a newspaper for a day, he will not know what new farman (directive) has been issued by the government.” “Nation is facing the side effects of ill-preparedness of the central government as far as demonetization is concerned,” the Congress leader said.”We all know while addressing the nation, Prime Minister talked about curtailing black money, solving the problem of fake currency and funding to terrorists,” she said, adding, “Later government changed their stand and they said that they want to go for cashless economy.” As far as cashless economy is concerned we all know 40% of the population does not even have bank account,” Oza added.She alleged, “During last two-and-half years, Central government has not arrested even two-and-half people who are involved in generation of black money. Those who are involved in black money and named in Panama papers are friends of this government who have helped them during election.”

RBI says there is no notes shortage, but hundreds face job loss outside Delhi

By Malini Nair

Around 08.30 every morning, hundreds of workers arrive at the main bus depot in Noida Phase II, about 30 km from New Delhi. They fan out into the lanes of the neighbouring Hosiery Complex. With nothing more than a tiffin box in their hands, they begin their daily job hunt.

Almost every factory gate has a board proclaiming “Avashyakta hai (wanted)”. It lists the daily requirement of jobbers–tailors, finishers, ‘pressmen’ (as those employed for ironing are called), packers and so on–needed by the 200 small, export-driven garment units in the complex. The boards have been blank since the factories were hit by the aftermath of ‘demonetisation’–as the invalidation of the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes is being referred to.

These men and women are among the 92% of India’s workforce employed in the informal sector, which generates about half the country’s gross domestic product, according to the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector. Casual workers enjoy no job security or benefits of labour regulations, and about 79% of them live below the official poverty line.

With 7 million workers, the textile and apparel industry is the second-biggest employer in India–after agriculture–and about 80% of these workers are temporary. They are paid almost entirely in cash, currently in severe short supply, despite Reserve Bank of India governor Urjit Patel saying on December 7, 2016, that there was no shortage of currency nationwide.

Losing even a day’s work, at the minimum wage of Rs 350, is not an option for workers like Chanchala Devi, 35, a native of rural Nalanda in southern Bihar. Devi is a tailor, and has been trudging up and down 2 km for an hour and she has been turned away at every gate. The first shift has begun and gates have shut at 9.30 am. But she is reluctant to return home.

“I heard they are looking for workers in D block. I have four children at home and my husband who works as a checker hasn’t been paid in a month. I have to keep looking,” she said.

When the peak season turned slack

For the textile and apparel industry, November to January is peak season, a time when factories normally send out vehicles to pick seasoned workers like Devi off the street. In these three months, garment factories produce merchandise for the spring-summer lines of fashion houses in the West.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

This year is different. Demonetisation has created a cash crunch that has sent the small-scale units, which form 78% of the readymade garments sector, into disarray. Nearly 80% of the workforce in this sector is employed as casual, off-rolls labour, and they are paid entirely in cash.

Workers like Devi are paid every fortnight–either as dehadi (daily wage), which is Rs 350 in Noida, or on piece-rate basis. Two cycles of fortnightly payment have gone past since November 8, 2016, and the units and workers managed to tide over the cash crunch–mostly by using old currency notes. But now, there is anxiety about where the factories are going to find the cash to pay these workers.

“I haven’t had a job since November 10, and I am missing my wage every day that I stand in a bank queue to exchange/deposit cash instead of looking for work,” said Nandan (he uses only one name), a 25-year-old tailor from Umrala in Bulandshahr, western Uttar Pradesh.

No jobs as units downsize

Nandan worked in one of the most stable units in the complex. Just last week, the factory shut down two assembly lines–each ‘line’ usually employs between 25 and 45 workers.

Owners of the small-scale units say they have no choice but to downsize because the seasonal and unpredictable nature of the business and its economies do not allow for permanent staffing and formalised modes of payment to labour.

A small to mid-scale entrepreneur, who did not wish to be named, said in an average November-December, he would have at least 1,500 workers at his factory; of them 75% temporary. He has, post demonetisation, cut the numbers down to 500.

“We are in wait-and-watch mode, but if the liquidity crunch remains, we will downsize even more. And others (in the field) are saying that too,” he said. On the shopfloor, there are lines where sewing machines sit unmanned, huge piles of cloth waiting to be stitched.

“Productivity has taken a huge hit and if a single link in the assembly line drops, the whole process collapses,” he added.

Word of the layoffs spread quickly around the complex. Knots of anxious workers stood exchanging tips about possible openings. “Factriyan band ho rahin hain. Suna hai kala dhan pakad rahein hain. Par amir log nahin honge to haemin naukri dene wala kaun hoga? (Factories are closing. We hear that the rich are being caught with black money. But if they are put away, who will give us jobs?),” asked Javid (he uses only one name), a tailor from Motihari in north Bihar.

He has managed to hang on to his job, but has lost daily wages for four days, queuing up at banks to exchange old notes.

The hunt for seasonal jobs

Like Nandan and Javid, most workers in this complex are migrants, unskilled or partially skilled. Almost all of them come from the impoverished districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, mostly men who leave their families behind. They live in the rural islands that still dot an area being swallowed by high-rise housing estates.

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Nayagaon, Bhangel, Haldawani, Nangla Charandas, Yakubpur–these are the urban villages flanking the complex where they cram in small rooms, three or four workers to a room. Since the work is seasonal, they have no reason to drop anchor in the city.

Labour activists have, for a long time, been criticising the high levels of informalisation or casualisation of the workforce in the garments industry.

But small-scale employers insisted that in a seasonal industry with fluctuating demand conditions, this works ideally. “These migrant workers look for seasonal employment and return to their villages in dull months. They are not interested in permanent employment and they prefer nakad (cash),” a factory owner said. “They don’t want salaries in banks, or the headache of ESI (employees’ state insurance) or PF (provident fund) cuts.”

He added that if employers add the cost of permanent staffing to their costs, they will have to raise their prices and thus lose the competitive edge in the world market. Jobbers say they prefer the flexibility the arrangement offers, the freedom to look for the best-paying employer in the market and the scope for overtime at any given point of time.

The next month will be critical for the industry and if the cash scarcity continues, workers like Devi and Javid may have no option but to return home.

(Nair is a consulting editor with IndiaSpend.)

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

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 09:37 IST

Tata-Cyrus spat: Trusts’ work exemplary but may need to redefine relation with group cos

New Delhi – The role of Tata Trusts, which together control about 66 percent in Tata Sons, the holding company of the $100 billion Tata group, has come into sharp focus in recent weeks. That the Tata Trusts are charitable in nature but continue to be majority shareholders in Tata Sons and through this association, in commercial group companies, is a proposition which is now being called into question by ousted Tata Sons’ chairman Cyrus Mistry.

Mistry has made numerous allegations of impropriety in the functioning of Tata Trusts and their interference in the workings of Tata Sons and therefore also of group companies. These charges have been stoutly denied by Tata Sons. But one must remember that the entire tussle over control of one of India’s largest business houses erupted precisely because for the first time in the group’s decades-old existence, two different people were heading Tata Sons and the two Trusts.

Cyrus Mistry was the chairman of Tata Sons while Ratan Tata headed Trusts. Mistry was ousted in October by a board resolution where Trusts’ nominees were also votaries and sooner rather than later, a successor to Ratan Tata will also have to be found to carry on the philanthropic activities of the Trusts.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

That the Tata Trusts do commendable work in upholding public good has never been in doubt.

This piece points out that for nearly 125 years, these trusts have often been an “oasis for the poorest and most deprived of Indians. The oldest of the trusts, the JN Tata Endowment dates back to 1892 and the youngest, The Tata Education & Development Trust, was set up in 2008. Their vintage and the funds they have made available point to their commitment.”

It goes on to say that increasingly, from being a back-end provider of funds to non-government organisations (NGOs) and self-help groups, Tata trusts are now at the forefront of implementing new models of social work.

So there is no quarrel with the exemplary work the Trusts have been doing. The trouble lies almost entirely in the way their relationship with Tata Sons and commercial group companies is structured. Proxy advisory firm IiAS, which on the one hand has advised TCS shareholders to remove Mistry as chairman in the upcoming EGM, had, on the other hand, raised questions over the Tata Groups’ operating structure in a report last month.

It had noted that the Tata Trusts exert control over Tata Sons, which exerts control over operating companies, several of which are listed and subject to scrutiny by external stakeholders including shareholders. While shareholders expect these companies to operate along commercial lines, they are overlaid with additional expectations regarding behaviour and the brand.

“A philanthropy running a commercial business creates its own paradoxes. The Trusts elegantly solved this problem by putting Tata Sons between themselves and the operating companies….The Tata group needs to address possible areas of conflict and clearly set the terms of engagement between the three tiers of the group. They need to put in place an operating structure that outlives individuals,” IiAS said in a note to clients last month.

According to this piece, the choice of a successor to Ratan Tata as the head of the two Trusts is a crucial upcoming event. It says Tata Trusts have a unique position in India because they are allowed to hold shares in a commercial entity despite being completely income tax exempt given their charity work. The story quotes Noshir Dadrawala, CEO at Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy, a company specialising in the areas of charity law, as saying “Trust is not a corporate body. It is not a legal entity, it is a legal obligation. The Charity Commissioner can’t interfere with appointments and salaries. Good governance and best practices would demand that they make the succession plan clear to all stakeholders, including the public.”

The power to select Ratan Tata’s successor, therefore, lies in the hands of 20 trustees that run India’s most powerful charity organisation. There are no laws governing the selection of chairman of a charity organisation, according to Maharashtra Public Trust Act.

Meanwhile IiAS CEO Amit Tandon raised some pertinent points with regards to needless complexities in the Tata group structure, thanks to the role of Trusts in Tata Sons, and ways to deal with the mess.

First, he questioned even those members of the Trusts who do not sit on the Tata Sons’ board get information about group companies. “Ratan Tata, Soonawala are not on Tata Sons’ board. It is not obvious why they should get granular information about decisions at Tata operating company level.”

Second, he pointed out how the operation and functions of Trusts in general are opaque in India. “Trusts operate like blackboxes in this counrty. Unlike companies, where the Companies Act and other rules governing their functions are known to market participants, little is known about how trusts operate and the rules that govern there functioning.”

Third, he suggested that the Trusts need to look beyond dividend income from group companies for funding their charitable activities. “The whole issue of Trusts is very important because it is at the heart of the Tata-Mistry disagreement. Ratan Tata alleged that Trusts were not getting enough money by way of dividends for charitable activities. The trusts then need to look beyond dividend income and supplement equity holdings with a corpus that gives fixed returns.”

IiAS has suggested that to align the interests of the Tata Trusts and Tata Sons, the chairperson of the Tata Trusts and Tata Sons must be the same individual, noting that when this was the norm in the past, things “worked smoothly”. The firm has also advised that in future, independent CEOs should manage Tata Trusts and Tata Sons, with the chairperson being the custodian of the Tata brand.

This piece suggests that the composition of Tata Trusts has changed recently. “The composition of Tata Trusts has undergone a change in line with their allegiance to the prevailing chairman in the war against Cyrus Mistry. Less than three weeks after the controversial Tata Sons board meeting to sack Mistry, Venu Srinivasan was quietly made a trustee of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. Of the seven trusts that cumulatively own 65.29% in Tata Sons, it is the single largest shareholder at just under 28%.”

Mistry has now sought government probe into the workings of Tata Trusts even as an income tax probe is already on. In 2013, the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) had alleged tax evasion by Tata Trusts. The CAG report had said: “In Maharashtra, DIT‐E, Mumbai, Jamshetji Tata Trust and NavajbaiRatan Tata Trust earned Rs 1,905 crore and Rs 1,234 crore on account of capital gain during AY 09 and AY 10 respectively and invested the same in prohibited mode of investments which is in contraventionto the provisions of section 13(1)(d) of Act. It resulted in short levy of tax of Rs. 1066.95 crore.”

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 14:49 IST

Jayalalithaa is dead: Amma’s legacy — industrial, social, crime rankings among India’s best

By Prachi Salve

Tamil Nadu’s 19th chief minister (she was also the 11th, 14th, 16th and 18th) J Jayalalithaa, who died on 5 December, 2016, was known for gifting her 72 million people a record set of freebies, but she also leaves behind a state that ranks among India’s top five in many social, crime and industrial indicators.

File image of late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa. AFPFile image of late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa. AFP

File image of late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa. AFP

Tamil Nadu now has India’s lowest fertility rate–lower than Australia, Finland and Belgium–second best infant mortality and maternal mortality rate; records among the lowest crime rates against women and children; and has more factories and provides more industrial employment than any other Indian state, according to an India Spend analysis of various data sets.

However, financing the freebie culture came at a cost. Tamil Nadu witnessed a 92 percent increase in debt  over five years ending 2015, according to an India Spend analysis of state budgets in November 2015.

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Tamil Nadu’s education indicators have always been above the Indian average and have steadily improved during Jayalalithaa’s from 15 years stint as chief minister.

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Although Tamil Nadu regularly reports violence and discrimination based on caste, the state’s crime rates are among India’s lowest, particularly those relating to women and children.

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As regard industrial growth, Tamil Nadu has more factories than any other Indian state (37,378), according to the Annual Survey of Industries, 2013-14. Maharashtra ranks second with 29,123 factories, followed by Gujarat with 22,876. More people are engaged in industrial work (2.04 million) in Tamil Nadu of any Indian state; Maharashtra (1.8 million) is second and Gujarat (1.37 million) third.

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Tamil Nadu’s per capita income is India’s fifth highest, but the four states preceding it are substantially smaller. Among the country’s large states, it has the richest people.

Freebies come at a cost

Jayalalithaa is known for the freebie culture, which she did not begin but did expand, personalising it along the way. For instance, her 2011 election promises included 100 units of free electricity to every household, a free laptop for class 11 and class 12 students (with free internet connections), a gram of sovereign gold as marriage assistance, and four goats/sheep to families who lived below the poverty line. The laptops had images of “Amma (mother)”, as Jayalalithaa was popularly known. Other programmes also carried that name, such as Amma canteens (for subsidised food) and Amma medicals (for subsidised medicines).

While some programmes were applauded as having a social effect–such as the midday meal scheme, which Tamil Nadu pioneered before Jayalalithaa took office for the first time in 1991 and encouraged children to stay in school–they resulted in the fastest rising debt of any Indian state, as IndiaSpend reported in November 2015.

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Debt, per se, is not bad, if the state’s economic growth can sustain and service it. So, the key matrix is the debt as a percentage of the state’s gross domestic product (GSDP) or total economic output. Tamil Nadu’s debt-to-GSDP ratio at 20 percent is lower than the national average, an indication the state is growing despite the spike in debt.

(The author is an analyst with IndiaSpend)

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 03:19 IST

Meet Kali and Vedan from a snake-catching tribe from Tamil Nadu that saves lives

Chengalpattu: A small scythe, a crowbar and a bundle of canvas bags are all that Kali and Vedan carry when they venture into the fields of southern India to catch some of the world’s deadliest snakes.

Their skills, passed from generation to generation of the Irula tribe they belong to, are crucial for the production of anti-venom in a country with the world’s highest number of deaths from snake bites.

Snake catchers Kali and Vedan save lives. AFPSnake catchers Kali and Vedan save lives. AFP

Snake catchers Kali and Vedan save lives. AFP

Since it began in the 1970s, the Irula snake-catchers’ cooperative on the outskirts of the southern city of Chennai has revolutionised the treatment of snake-bites in India, enabling it to produce enough anti-venom to supply hospitals across the country.

It also provides much-needed income for the Irula, one of the region’s most deprived groups, who used to hunt snakes and sell the skins but lost their livelihood overnight when India banned the practice in 1972.

Kali learned the intricate skill of tracking and then catching snakes from his father, whose abilities were renowned in the small community.

Now the 36-year-old uses those same skills to catch snakes for the cooperative, which keeps them for a month under licence from the government and harvests their venom before returning them to nature.

This month he is tasked with catching the saw-scaled and Russell’s vipers — two of India’s four deadliest snake varieties — under the quota system the cooperative uses to ensure it harvests the right quantity of venom.

Within 20 minutes of starting the search in rice fields less than a mile (kilometre) from a busy highway, he has spotted a tiny snake concealed under the bark of a fence post, its brown markings barely visible against the wood.

Minutes later his partner Vedan has expertly manoeuvred the slithering creature with his bare hands into a canvas bag, which he secures with a tight knot and slings into a plastic shopping basket.

“It’s an adult female saw-scaled viper, one of the most venomous snakes,” says Kali, who like many Indians goes by only one name.

“In winter they like to hide in tree bark, that’s how we found it.”

‘Sacred work’

Kali will be paid 300 rupees for the viper under a tariff system that rises to 2,500 rupees for a cobra.

Sometimes he gets lucky and finds a snake quickly; other times he will go for days without a catch, but the money is good, and unlike him, Kali’s children are able to attend school regularly.

The cooperative, which was set up by the American conservationist Rom Whitaker and is now controlled by the state authorities, will keep the snake for a month and harvest its venom four times.

Non-lethal amounts of venom from four snake species are injected into horses, which then produce antigens that are used to make antivenom for all bites.

That is the only reliable treatment for a human bitten by a venomous snake, although the Irula also use herbal treatments that they say give them more time to reach a hospital.

India has 244 snake species and the four most venomous, the cobra, krait, Russell’s viper and saw-scaled viper, are found throughout the country.

Experts say thousands of people die every year from snakebites in India, still a predominately rural economy where farmers run the risk of being bitten every time they go into their fields.

Government figures show just a few recorded cases every year, but most go unreported because victims never reach hospital and a 2011 study put the number of annual deaths at around 46,000.

Villagers living near the cooperative said snakes frequently entered their homes, putting them at risk of being bitten in their sleep — but were pretty nonchalant about the threat.

“In our village one person was bitten by a snake. He was taken to hospital and he recovered,” said Maragadham, a 36-year-old child minder.

“Snakes are found in most homes, but they are not a threat to us.”

That is because most health facilities in India now have sufficient supplies of anti-venom.

Back at the cooperative, Kali and Vedan have placed their catch in a clay pot in preparation for the extraction process.

The extractor takes out the snake, gripping it below the head, which he places in front of a thin piece of leather that has been stretched over the top of a small glass jar to imitate skin.

As the snake opens its jaw and sinks its fangs into the leather covering, the deadly liquid drips into the jar.

“The snake has to bite, only then will it inject the venom,” explains R. Kumar after snipping a few scales from the snake’s skin to indicate that extraction has taken place.

“We don’t have much education. We’re not interested in any other work. But this work is important, it is sacred to us.”

First Published On : Dec 4, 2016 12:22 IST

Rosberg stuns Formula One with retirement bombshell | Reuters

By Alan Baldwin
| LONDON

LONDON Nico Rosberg stunned Formula One on Friday with the shock announcement that he was retiring only days after achieving a lifetime ambition by winning his first world championship with Mercedes.”From the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became world champion,” the German said in a statement.”On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time,” the 31-year-old added.The driver, who had given no previous indication of his intentions, said he had made the decision the day after the title race.Rosberg, who was due to attend the governing FIA’s gala prize-giving in Vienna later on Friday along with team mate and triple world champion Lewis Hamilton, did not say what he planned to do next.He will leave with a record of 23 wins in 206 races – putting him equal 12th on the all-time lists with Brazilian triple champion Nelson Piquet – and as only the second son of a champion to take the title.His Finnish father Keke was champion with Williams in 1982.Nico Rosberg was also the first German driver to win the Formula One title with a German car and team, and now becomes the first champion to walk away without defending the title since Frenchman Alain Prost in 1993.”Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula One World Champion. Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target. And now I’ve made it,” he said.

“I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.”HAMILTON RIVALRY
Rosberg’s battles with Hamilton, his boyhood friend and rival in karting, have lit up the last couple of seasons – and provided plenty of headlines – and he said that too had taken its toll.”This season, I tell you, it was so damn tough,” said the man who also partnered seven-times champion Michael Schumacher, and beat him, in his early career at Mercedes.

“I pushed like crazy in every area after the disappointments of the last two years; they fuelled my motivation to levels I had never experienced before. And of course that had an impact on the ones I love too.”The Monaco-based German married his childhood sweetheart Vivian in 2014 and they had a daughter last year. A devoted family man, Rosberg said his wife was the first person to know his decision.He acknowledged that his retirement had put his “racing family” in a difficult position, although Hamilton will now be an even stronger favourite to win his fourth title next season.Rivals also will see a dream vacancy that every driver on the starting grid would jump at if given the chance, Mercedes being the most dominant team in the sport with 19 wins in 21 races this season.Mercedes have won the drivers’ and constructors’ titles for the past three years in a row and will start next season, despite significant rule changes, as favourites again.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff hailed a “brave move” and said it was “testament to the strength of his character”.”The clarity of his judgement meant I accepted his decision straight away when he told me,” added the Austrian.Wolff said Mercedes would take time to evaluate their options and they will probably need it, given that the top drivers are already signed up by rivals.One who is still available is reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein, who has impressed at tail-enders Manor.The 22-year-old, who holds joint Mauritian and German nationality, was passed over, however, when Mercedes-powered Force India went looking for a replacement from the Mercedes stable for Nico Hulkenberg.Frenchman Esteban Ocon, 20, who is also a Mercedes-contracted driver, was chosen instead with Wolff describing him at the time as boasting the most impressive track record in junior formulae.That, however, is unlikely to stop others from thumbing through their contracts to see whether they can engineer a move. (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 20:13 IST

SC verdict on National Anthem reinforces “pro-nationalist” winds of change blowing globally

The Supreme Court’s verdict directing cinema halls across the nation to play the National Anthem before a movie screening has elements that can also explain the success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in recently concluded Assembly and Parliamentary bypolls in Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu, and civic/panchayat polls in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. These victories came despite the BJP’s image taking a beating following the Narendra Modi government’s demonetisation decision.

In fact, these common elements (of the Supreme Court order and the government’s demonitisation policy) add to the “global” discourse on liberalism and nationalism (including patriotism). I am using the word “global” because this debate is taking place all over the world, particularly in Europe and America.

The question of whether a man or woman should remain strictly an individual with all the “rights” of one, or do they become part of a group (as a social animal) that demands some “duties” (including loyalty).

Supreme Court of India. Reuters file imageSupreme Court of India. Reuters file image

Supreme Court of India. Reuters file image

In its order, the Supreme Court has said, “The directions are issued, for love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as to the National Flag. That apart, it would instill the feeling within one, a sense committed patriotism and nationalism.” According to the apex court, “A time has come, the citizens of the country must realise that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem, which is the symbol of constitutional patriotism to inherent national quality.”

It referred in this context to Article 51(A) (a) of the Constitution, which states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem”.

It seems that the court isn’t impressed by arguments presented by Left-liberals that this particular article is part of the non-enforceable “directive principles” of the Indian Constitution. Inherent in the order is the notion that it is incumbent on every individual citizen to think beyond oneself and think about the greater good of the nation.

In my considered view, it’s in this same vein that Prime Minister Narendra Modi tells people to tolerate miseries and pain for some more time, as it’s a “bitter measure” that is good for the country as a whole in the long-term. It will bring unaccounted money into the national banking stream, reduce black money and curtail corruption, all of which will accelerate the national development, create jobs and reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. The point here is that individual sacrifices for collective good or national interests are needed at times. This fits into Modi’s slogans of “India First” and “Sab ke Saath, Sab ke Vikaas”.

And it appears that more and more Indians have bought the logic of Modi rather than that of his Left/liberal critics (including the opposition parties), who are highlighting only individual or sectional rights, particularly in ethnic terms. More and more Indians seem to be siding with the Prime Minister, as they dislike the prospect of balkanisation of India into identity groups, particularly when those groups dismiss the nation’s centuries-old history and culture as majoritarianism.

Accordingly, reactions of the Left liberals to the National Anthem verdict or about demonitisation have been very predictable: “Who are you to force me to display my patriotism?”, “Nationalism is a vital component of fascism, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, and talking of “national interests is a manifestation of majoritarianism and xenophobia” etc.

They aren’t impressed by the argument that their agenda is essentially divisive, not inclusive. In fact, they have no problems when ethnic minorities talk of having their own civil laws and disrespect national symbols like the National Anthem, National Song or Yoga, saying that these are impositions of Hinduism. And they have no issues with illegal immigration from neighboring countries and slogans challenging the unity and integrity of India. They justify casteism in Indian politics as politicisation of caste and magnify separatist outlook as essential to “democratisation” of the polity. Such examples are only illustrative, not exhaustive.

It just so happens that at the intellectual level (level of the elites of the country), it has been an unequal battle between the “liberals” and “nationalists”, because the former has been overwhelmingly dominating the intellectual space (national media, educational establishments, think-tanks, NGOs, bureaucracy etc). Their influence on public policy has hitherto been inversely proportional to their number.

However, at the ground level, it’s the nationalists who’re gaining momentum and succeeding. This explains the Modi phenomenon in India and the Trump phenomenon in the US. As the noted weekly The Economist found out in one of its recent issues, “All around the world, nationalists are gaining ground.”

Examples it has cited include Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who played an important role for Brexit; the Rightist National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen having a great chance to do well in the coming French elections; Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant Party for Freedom in the Netherlands; Egypt president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi legitimising his authoritarianism; and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan suppressing democracy for building a new Turkey. The magazine has also dealt with the phenomenon of Modi in India, Xi Jinping in China and Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Among the many reasons that the magazine cited, it said, “Communication tools have accelerated the spread of the new nationalism. Facebook and Twitter allow people to bypass the mainstream media’s cosmopolitan filter to talk to each other, swap news, meet and organise rallies.”

And, ironically, common men and the marginalised sections of the society (the blue-collar workers in particular) tend to repose their trust in the “nationalists”, who promise provide them jobs.

However, the above explanation is not fully satisfying given the fact that the Left liberals also talk of poor and jobs. In my considered view, therefore, Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion makes a better sense. A social psychologist at the University of Virginia who, until 2009, considered himself a “partisan liberal”, Haidt explains human behaviour (including the choice of voting) through a catalog of six fundamental ideas: Care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity” (alongside these, he also found related themes that carry moral weight like divinity, community, hierarchy, tradition, sin and degradation).

Going by Haidt, the Left liberals go by only the first three in his catalogue: Care, fairness and liberty; whereas the nationalists deal with all six, including loyalty, authority and sanctity. The worldviews Haidt discusses start with the group, not with the individual. And the group here could be families, armies and nations that nationalists exalt. “They assume that people should be treated differently according to social role or status — elders should be honored, subordinates should be protected. They suppress forms of self-expression that might weaken the social fabric. They assume interdependence, not autonomy. They prize order, not equality,” Haidt argues. “They’re common in history and are so across the globe, because they fit human nature.”

Through research, he shows how people punish cheaters, accept hierarchies and do not support equal distribution of benefits when contributions are unequal.

These are the ideas that one finds the most in the parties and leaders believing in nationalism, and most of them happen to be conservative. “And those who vote for them are not fools,” aren’t fools. As Haidt says, drawing from the experience of blue collared workers voting for the Republican party in the US, “They are voting for their moral interests that include moral capital — norms, practices and institutions, like religion and family values, that facilitate cooperation by constraining individualism.”

However, all this does not suggest that liberalism is a lost cause. What it means is that they need to reexamine their thought processes. There are innate contradictions among the nationalists too. Trump’s “America First” implies relative isolation of the country in global affairs, as was the case between two World Wars, and hence a challenge to the phenomenon of globalisation. But Modi’s “India First” depends more and more on globalisation itself. Also, it is equally a paradox that at a higher level — Modi’s support for globalisation is something that the Left liberals will not find fault with. All told, globalisation does not go with distinctiveness and yearns for an across-the-board leveling in which everything is the same — be it in sexual conduct, values, morality or  religion.

In other words, there are meeting points between liberalism and nationalism. But unfortunately, it’s the liberals, as the recent events in India and the US show, who are not prepared for a debate. They are increasingly becoming uncompromising, dogmatic and often malicious, their slogans for “dissent” notwithstanding

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 16:32 IST

Twitter reacts to Rahul Gandhi’s hacked account

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Twitter handles of both the Congress party and its vice president Rahul Gandhi were hacked on Thursday morning. What followed was a slew of tweets from both accounts, criticising the party and its members, including plenty of cuss words directed at the Gandhi family.And yet, though it was obvious both accounts were compromised, that didn’t stop Twitter from piling on the insults where Rahul Gandhi was concerned. “Please don’t blame Rahul Gandhi,” said one Twitter user, “Twitter is not a Swiss company and Congress is only good at managing Swiss accounts.” Another user added, “Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter account hasn’t been hacked, it’s just that for the first time he himself is tweeting from that account.”Confirming the hack, Gandhi’s office said efforts were being made to rectify the problem.Taking to the micro-blogging site, Congress party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala ​said, “First @OfficeOfRG & now @INCIndia hacked by lumpen fascists. Free speech & right to disagree in India is under attack by licensed trolls.” The Congress has, meanwhile, filed a complaint with the Cyber cell of Delhi Police over the hacking of Rahul Gandhi’s account.The complaint was filed by Surjewala, demanding strict action against those behind the hacking.After the incident, Congress raised questions on the digital safety of all Indians and said it reflects disturbing insecurities of the prevalent “fascist culture” in the country. The party is likely to raise the issue of hacking of verified twitter accounts of Rahul Gandhi and Congress in both the houses of the parliament.Meanwhile, Delhi Police has initiated a probe into the hacking of Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter account and has written to the management of the social media site seeking necessary details.“We have written to Twitter to provide us log details such as the IP address of the hackers. We have started investigating the matter,” a senior police official said.

National Anthem verdict: Nationalism is not something which can be enforced by a song

In this theatre of the absurd around nationalism, let’s not slight one more absurdity: Rabindranath Tagore, author of the national anthem, whose rendition the Supreme Court has now made compulsory before the screening of every film, was among the most passionate critics of doctrinaire nationalism. Tagore, were he to witness the goings–on in contemporary India, would surely have rebelled against such a top–down imposition of nationalist ideology. He would perhaps have penned an impassioned essay interrogating the wisdom of such a decision that imposes nationalism through a dramatic fiat.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

This Wednesday, the apex court ordered that “all the cinema halls in India shall play the national anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the national anthem.” This is part of the citizens’ “sacred obligation”, ruled the court, dismissing in the process, “any different notion or the perception of individual rights”. The screen at the movie hall, the court said, must show the image of the national flag, and doors of the hall must remain shut during the anthem.

Through the 1970s and the 1980s, cinema halls across the country did play the national anthem at the end of films. But that ritual (through which many in the audience nonchalantly walked out) did not seem to have “instilled” any deepened sense of nationalism among people. If anything, the territory of nationalism – the way the idea is experienced and perceived by different sections – has become far more contested and far more complex in the decades since then. The apex court on Wednesday dismissed “different notions and perceptions” of nationalism. But the question still remains: is it possible to homogenise nationalist sentiment and outlaw all interpretations that vary from the State’s? Does such an effort not smack of all those abusive words we like to hurl at political opponents – ‘Stalinist,’ ‘Orwellian,’ or even ‘totalitarian’?

We have been now handed a legal cure to what seems to be an endemic illness engulfing large parts of the country and large numbers of citizens. It’s as if all it takes to turn a rebellious soul into a patriot is exposure to off–key strains of the national anthem.

Moreover, this latest event is not an isolated one. Similar occurrences have gained momentum over the last couple of years. When Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was at the centre of the debate on nationalism earlier this year, the Narendra Modi government decided that flying the national flag at the top of a 207–feet mast in all central universities would cure strands of critical dissent. According to a report in the Hindustan Times: “The first such flag will be unfurled at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which is on the boil over the arrest of a top student leader for alleged anti-India demonstrations and sloganeering.”

The decision was taken at a meeting of all central university Vice Chancellors. “The flag will symbolise the unity and integrity of the nation, under which higher education would flourish,” the report had then quoted a source as saying. One wonders whether the heathen turncoats have since transformed into nationalists of the highest order that the government would approve of. If the cure is so simple, why waste crores of rupees stationing troops in Kashmir or in the North East? Why not play the national anthem instead?

Interestingly, around the same time that the Supreme Court came out with this order, a similar drama around the national flag was unravelling in the US. A controversy erupted in the country when President–Elect Donald Trump tweeted : “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail.” What should draw our attention, however, is the position adopted by the US Supreme Court on the issue of burning the national flag. On more than one occasion, the court has upheld the right to burn the national flag as a First Amendment right guaranteed by the Constitution.

Responding to burnings of the flag at demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the US Congress passed the first federal Flag Protection Act in 1968. Over the years, 48 of the 50 US states passed similar flag protection laws. The turning point came in 1989 when the Supreme Court overturned these statutes by 5–4 vote in the Texas v Johnson case. The apex court found the state statutes to be unconstitutional restrictions of public expression. Though the Congress responded by passing a federal Flag Protection Act, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision by the same 5–4 majority in United States v. Eichman in 1990. The court declared flag burning to be part of the constitutionally protected free speech.

We in India, who want to always ape the West in all matters – from demonetisation to privatisation – would perhaps do better to imbibe these more uncomfortable lessons that might actually lead us to question cherished ideals instead of blindly reinforcing them.

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 08:59 IST

Indian YouTuber’s mannequin challenge video on demonetisation shows you how it’s done

Social media certainly is quirky. There’s no doubt about that. The oddest things can go viral and with no apparent reason. Take the mannequin challenge for instance. What is it, you ask? You and a bunch of friends (man’s best friend included) pose like mannequins while someone else shoots a video of the whole thing.

But why?

We honestly don’t know. As with the Harlem Shake before it, and planking, and the ice bucket challenge, and just about everything else that went viral, it’ strange, and strangely appealing at the same time.

You just can’t tear your eyes away from the scenes. Take this one with dogs, for instance:

Or how about this one direct from the White House (yes, it’s gone that far):

Making a mannequin challenge video isn’t that hard. On the surface, there’s not much to it. What’s so hard in getting people to stand still and shoot a video of them? Nothing. However, the devil is in the details.

As with any photograph or other art form, a successfully orchestrated mannequin challenge needs a story—it needs depth.

You need to imagine a scene, then freeze it and then shoot it. Sure, that dog is looking mighty fine in his little bow-tie, but to what end? Is he going to a party? Maybe he’s got a friend waiting for him in the driveway. Who knows?

Without a story, a mannequin challenge is just people standing still.
Be YouNick seems to have understood that concept, as you can see from his take on the mannequin challenge below:

Firstly, he’s picked a great topic — demonetisation, and secondly, he’s frozen a scene that will hit home for each and every one of us at some level.

That one scene has managed to capture the very essence of demonetisation. You’ve got everything from guys filling forms, to people standing bored in line at the ATM, to girls taking selfies with the new notes to a slugfest with the bank guard. He’s even thrown in a “Sonam Gupta bewafa hai” reference for good measure. It’s almost perfect.

Now that’s how you make a great mannequin challenge video.

As you can see, making a mannequin challenge video isn’t all that hard. As Master Yoda once said…

Do or do not Yoda FPDo or do not Yoda FP

First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 12:35 IST

India v England: Haseeb Hameed & Joe Root cannot prevent Mohali defeat

India wrap up an eight-wicket victory over England in the third Test to go 2-0 up with two matches of the series to play.

Demonetisation: Why RBI, Urjit Patel owe an explanation on cash-condition, flip-flops

On Monday, a late night press release from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) took everyone by surprise. The release read thus: “As it is impeding active circulation of currency notes, it has been decided, on careful consideration, to allow withdrawals of deposits made in current legal tender notes on or after November 29, 2016 beyond the current limits; preferably, available higher denominations bank notes of Rs 2000 and Rs 500 are to be issued for such withdrawals”. To put it in simple words, if you deposit money in ‘acceptable’ currency denominations, you can withdraw beyond the current weekly withdrawal limit of Rs 24,000.

RBI Governor Urjit Patel. File photo. PTIRBI Governor Urjit Patel. File photo. PTI

RBI Governor Urjit Patel. File photo. PTI

Legal tender
Now, what are the legal tenders currently?

Going by the 8 November televised speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, old notes of Rs 500, Rs 1,000 notes ceased to be legal tender from midnight. “To break the grip of corruption and black money, we have decided that the 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee currency notes presently in use will no longer be legal tender from midnight tonight that is 8th November 2016,” the PM said announcing one of the biggest demonetisation exercises in the country since the 1978 crackdown by Morarji Desai government.

But, the Rs 500, Rs 1,000 notes are banned only from transactions but are still ‘legal’ enough to be accepted at bank counters in the form of deposits till 30 December. The question is, Will such deposits too qualify for higher withdrawal limits or does the RBI notification refer to only deposits made in currency denominations that are in use (denominations of Rs 100 and below and new Rs 200, Rs 500 currency notes). There needs to be clarity on this aspect. Reason: If the latter is the case, the RBI is treating customers differently based on the type of notes they deposit, even though both set carries the same promise to the bearer as offered by the constitution. One customer who deposits his old currencies faces restrictions on withdrawal and the other with new currency notes gets unlimited withdrawal facility. Is that the case here? An email sent to the RBI spokesperson seeking clarity on the press release remained unanswered at the time of writing this piece.

There are two logical questions that arise:

First, at a time when currency in existing lower denominations (Rs 100, Rs 50 and Rs 10) is a luxury and the new ones (Rs 2,000, Rs 500 new notes) a rarity, why would someone deposit cash in these denominations in a bank. Those who have the first lot will preserve it for use and the second lot — who acquired them after standing for hours in long queues will be very cautious with it. Even otherwise, there are withdrawal restrictions on new currency from ATMs and bank branches. There are still many ATMs even today that have shut shop. Someone should have to be out of their minds to deposit “hard earned” money back to the bank in these times. Even those who get salary in cash (mostly low-income workers or small traders) would rather keep the cash in hand than deposit it it in the current scenario.

Second, at a time when bank branches are struggling and ATMs are gasping for cash despite the restricted withdrawals since 8 November, how can the RBI expect banks to offer unlimited withdrawal (which is what the line beyond the current limits; preferably, available higher denominations bank notes of Rs 2,000 and Rs 500) suggests. An email sent to the RBI spokesperson seeking clarity on the press release remained unanswered at the time of writing.

So far, given the withdrawal restrictions, only a fourth of the money deposited in bank branches have gone out of banks as withdrawals. Since 10 November up to 27 November, 2016 banks have received deposits of Rs 8,11,033 crore, while exchanges amounted to Rs 33,948 crore, taking the total figure to around Rs 8.4 lakh crore. As against this, the amount withdrawn by the public is Rs 2,16,617 crore from their accounts either over the counter or through ATMs.

RBI-finmin disconnect
PM Modi and economic affairs secretary, Shaktikanta Das have been dominating the demonetization episode from the beginning, not RBI governor Urjit Patel. Theoretically, the central bank is the authority on currency management and hence the governor should have played an active role by taking the public into confidence and push ahead the demonetization exercise. This is despite the fact that demonetization was primarily a political decision, not an RBI job. But, it would have been far better if the execution of the plan was effectively communicated to the public by the central bank governor, rather than a government bureaucrat. But, Patel has been behind the scenes from the beginning.

Also, there has been a serious disconnect between the RBI and the government on the implementation of demonetisation. Frequent changes in rules and broken promises have become the norm since the 8 November announcement that points to absence of coordination. In a 11 November press release, the RBI had said, “The facility for exchanging the withdrawn denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 is available for nearly 50 days. The Reserve Bank appeals to members of public to be patient and urges them to exchange their old notes at their convenience, any time before December 30, 2016.” This promise of the central bank to the public to give time till 30 December was broken when the Finance Ministry said on 24 November that beginning midnight, the exchange of old Rs 500, Rs 1,000 currency notes at bank counters would be stopped.

The Opposition parties have criticized Urjit Patel for compromising the central bank’s autonomy for his silence on the cash-crisis for over two weeks. Since then Patel has spoken to a few media houses but except for his assurances that the cash situation is under control (which is not reflected on the ground though), the central bank governor hasn’t addressed the media to offer more clarity to the public on the actual liquidity position of the banking system and how soon will the currency-crunch last.

The ball is in Patel’s court now. The governor would do well coming out of the shadows of the finance ministry and be his own man to address the public. Else, the demonetization episode will also be remembered as an event when RBI, an institution of impeccable record, compromised its functional autonomy.

First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 13:24 IST

Recent leopard death in Gurugram shows we aren’t ready to co-exist yet

The best-hated and the most feared animal in all India, whose only crime — not against the laws of nature, but against the laws of man — was that he had shed human blood, with no object of terrorising man, but only in order that he might live…

– Jim Corbett

While there is a reason for wildlife lovers in the national capital to celebrate as the forest department has confirmed the presence of a leopard around Yamuna Biodiversity Park, there is something one should really worry about. The news confirming the leopard’s presence in the capital contradicts the headlines that appeared two days later on 25 November.

A leopard was beaten to death and that too brutally, by the residents of Mandawar village in Gurugram’s Sohna area. The forest department officers who were present on the spot, say, the villagers didn’t allow them to do their job. They took the task on themselves attacking the leopard with stones, sticks, spades and what not. I mean, really!

There is no denying the fact that it attacked eight people in the village, but how does it justify what the villagers did to the leopard? The leopard probably  panicked after seeing the crowd and must have reacted; not to harm anyone, but to save herself. Shouldn’t the forest department have tried harder to tranquilise it, especially when they claim to be present on the spot and were fully equipped with tranquiliser, nets and cage?

Forest officials prepare a pyre for a dead male leopard killed tea plantation workers in Assam. Reuters

Forest officials prepare a pyre for a dead male leopard killed by tea plantation workers in Assam in 2014. Reuters

Isn’t it too early to celebrate the presence of another leopard around the National Capital Region? Are we, the humans, ready for the co-existence?

And, this is neither the first time when a leopard has come out of his habitat nor is it the first that a leopard has been beaten to death by a mob. It is the failure of a system that’s unable to control the situation when such circumstance arises, which eventually leads to loss of lives both the species, whether it’s human or the animal.

On 20 February 2015, news of a leopard death was reported in Usmanpur, the north-east area of Delhi. This was fourth such death in a row and ninth reported in between June 2014 and February 2015.

They say, “A leopard cannot change his spots.” So, is it we humans who need to change? But if people and large carnivores like leopards share a landscape, can coexistence between the two foster?

The crumbling of forests and wildlife habitat close to the cities is apparently becoming a grave reason behind the extermination of the wildlife. Although by and large, the local leopard population tries to steer clear of humans, at times, conflict becomes inevitable either because people simply see a leopard and create a havoc, or, because a leopard starts visiting human settlements in search of goats, cattle and even dogs since its prey is dwindling due to human encroachment.

The human-leopard conflict isn’t anything new to us but we generally turn a blind eye to its repercussions. The repercussions do involve us, but it largely affects the leopards. Humans still have a shelter but the leopards, unfortunately, are fast losing it. Besides, we still take pride in mob lynching and poisoning of this otherwise harmless creature.

While Delhi has the Asola Bhati Wildlife Sanctuary in the Aravali hills and Rajasthan has the Sariska Tiger Reserve, the intervening Aravali areas in Haryana have no sanctuary or national park. The Aravali hills adjoining Delhi especially along the Gurugram-Faridabad highway connects Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary with the rest of the patchy jungle belt of Haryana and Rajasthan. It can serve as an important wildlife corridor if conserved. In my opinion, the Aravalis have been the leopards’ traditional habitat. There is enough wild prey in the scrub forest. There are ravines too, which make it a perfect area for the leopards to live stealthily.

In November 2014, a fully grown leopard was attempting to pass through the Delhi-Jaipur highway, having very little idea of what was going to transpire. The next few minutes brought with it the most terrible sight when an unidentified speeding vehicle ran over the animal making it lifeless. The tragic fate of leopards had probably just started to unfold.

A month later, an adult male leopard began paying surprise visits to the villagers of Abupur in Ghaziabad district. He was seen wandering around the sugarcane fields keeping terrified villagers at bay. After a few days of sightings, the leopard’s dead body was discovered in a sugarcane field near the railway track.

Just a day before that incident another leopard’s carcase was found near Pachehra village in Loni, Ghaziabad.

Although any foul play was ruled out by the forest department, the animal had reportedly died because of coming in contact with high-voltage wires laid by someone.

Is it the leopard, which seems to have forgotten its territory and dares to venture in the urban settlements, or, is it the authorities who are unable to put a halt on the rising number of leopard deaths? There isn’t a definite answer for the same, but ensuring a safe and rich prey base in leopard corridors is a need of the hour. The fragmented corridors need to be linked so that a larger habitat is available for the leopards giving them fewer chances of straying away from their habitats and ending up being prey to urbanisation.

A leopard probably enters a village in the search of food, especially the stray dogs, which are easy prey for them.

There is a need to educate people especially, the villagers living on the fringes of our Jungles… a leopard only needs a way to go back from where it has come… and being humans, this is a part of our duty. It’s high time we realised their importance in the ecosystem.

It’s a universal truth that if humans destroy wildlife and its habitat, the leopards will get even closer and that too without any prior notice. We must preserve the leopards by preserving some wilderness around us.

(The author is ex-member of  Project Tiger steering committee)

First Published On : Nov 28, 2016 17:00 IST

Manohar Parrikar says he was ‘shivering’ on his first day in office as defence minister

Panaji: In a candid admission, Manohar Parrikar on Saturday said he was “shivering” on his first in office as Defence Minister, though he tried to put up a brave face.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

“When I went to Delhi, I took experience of that city. I became Defence Minister with the blessings of you all. I did not know anything,” Parrikar said, addressing a ‘Vijay Sankalp’ rally at Sanvordem constituency on Saturday.

“Let me admit, I was shivering on the first day (of taking charge). I put up a brave face banking on my experience, but in reality I didn’t even have knowledge about the rank of military officers,” he said.

Parrikar was chief minister of Goa before his induction into the Union Cabinet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Goa’s brush with the military was during 1961 when Indian Army liberated the state from Portuguese rule. After that, we saw 1965 and 1971 wars. During the Kargil war, I have given slogans but in reality, I was unaware about what is war and what is the preparedness required for that,” he said.

The minister said he realised that “armament stores are empty and government had tied hands of the soldiers. I did nothing much for last two years but told the army that if anyone attacks, you are free to retaliate.”

“You have noticed the impact of this liberty. Whenever there was attack on us, our brave soldiers have retaliated strongly. Whether it be the surgical strike (in PoK) or firing at the line of border, Army has responded strongly, forcing the enemy to plead for peace. During the last four days, there has been no firing on the border.”

First Published On : Nov 28, 2016 08:27 IST

Jayalalithaa’s well, speaks using tracheostomy tube valve, says Apollo chairman

Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is doing well and speaks using a valve attached to the tracheostomy tube as she continues to get treatment, Apollo Hospitals Chairman Dr Prathap C Reddy said in Chennai on Friday.

Reddy said the Chief Minister, who is getting whole body physiotherapy, is undergoing a “normal recuperation” after being in bed for several weeks and it is she who would decide when to go home.

Asked whether she has any trouble in speaking, he told reporters “…she speaks from a few seconds to a few minutes… but she is not in a hurry.”

Reddy said with tracheostomy, “normally they (patients) cannot speak. It also has a speaker attached. She uses that speaker (valve), but it is not easy for a person to speak with a speaker because they have to hold their breath.”

File photo of Jayalalithaa. AFP

File photo of Jayalalithaa. AFP

Speaking on the sidelines of a programme on organ donation, he said that for some patients, tracheostomy (a tube and attached valve for communication) may be permanent. Only such patients are trained to use and speak using the speaker.

In Jayalalithaa’s case, “it was only temporary and she need not go through it.. (need not have it permanently). We also do not spend time in training her to use that speaker”, he said.

The chairman said that normally, the tracheostomy tube is left in the patient. “She (Jayalalithaa) is breathing on her own most of the time… 90 percent… we just leave it as one will become more comfortable,” he said.

On physiotherapy, he said the Chief Minister was getting whole body physiotherapy, both static as well as active. Physiotherapists were also encouraging her to do exercises.

Explaining what he termed was the ‘set pattern’, he said for each organ there is a specific way of doing physiotherapy, all of which was being followed.

The next thing to do is to see if the Chief Minister stands up and walks and then she would be ready to go home.

“If you ask me when that will happen, I told you she is a very strong Chief Minister, she has a very strong mind and she will tell you all. Not me.”

The Chief Minister is “absolutely well today and it is she who would decide (to go home), not the health minister or health secretary… only when she realises, feels that everything is perfect,” Reddy added.

On the recent shifting of the Chief Minister to a room from the Critical Care Unit, he said the intensive care team and all specialists, including cardiologists, nephrologists and a pulmonologist decided she could be managed in a normal room where she will feel much more happy.

Hence, she did not need the same care as she did in the first few weeks, he said.

“I am glad to say that at Apollo with a wonderful team of doctors they could give back all of the organs which had severe problems. It is all solved now and all that is happening is for her to return to back to normalcy,” he said.

Reddy said “she is now having a normal recuperation after being in bed for several weeks, getting treated for illness.”

First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 18:47 IST

Hurriyat leader slams Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for comments on Kashmir

Srinagar: Separatist Hurriyat Conference on Thursday hit out at chief of Art of Living Foundation Sri Sri
Ravi Shankar for his statement on Kashmir, terming it as “ridiculous and hilarious”.

At a peace conference in Jammu on Wednesday, Sri Sri had said, “The (Kashmir) conflict has become the cash cow for some people. They don’t want to put an end to it. This has become a source of earning for them. But the common people are facing the brunt of it. They need to come forward and isolate those people.”

Reacting to this, a spokesman of hardline Hurriyat Conference led by

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. File photo. AFP

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. File photo. AFP

said, “It (Sri Sri’s comment) is far from reality and the remarks regarding the present freedom movement and resistance leadership are baseless and illogical.”

Advising the spritual guru “to go through the history and equip himself with the facts” before commenting, the spokesman said in a statement that “this deceitful rhetoric has no takers” in the valley.

Referring to Sri Sri’s statement regarding the type of “freedom”, the Hurriyat spokesman said “before asking this question, he should have gone through the pages of history and resolutions of United Nations and promises made by his own political stalwarts….”

First Published On : Nov 24, 2016 21:58 IST

Remembering M Balamuralikrishna: The legend, pioneer, and human

The evening of 22 November, 2016, saw one man’s name dominate the shared mental space of the Indian South: adorned and adored vocalist, composer, and teacher, Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna passed away. Today, we collectively revisit his legacy and pay homage to the legend whose music touched so many lives.

The news broke at about 5.30 pm, after which the (mononymous ‘Balamuralikrishna’) sir quickly dominated the news cycle: “veteran Carnatic singer passed away at 86;” the great “scholar, singer, guru . . . a game changer” was being mourned by civilians and celebrities alike. (While we’re on the matter, dear Deccan Herald, might I suggest renaming your article? Figure of speech aside, he may have passed away, but he is still very much here, in our psyches. He has become the number one searched term here in the South, where I write from, and is the fourth most discussed topic in the entire subcontinent. (Listen closely — I can almost hear the feet of sabha directors shuffling to arrange for memorial concerts already, can you?).

The Legend Behind the Man

His tale as we know it to be, is quite legendary. On the east coast, in Andhra Pradesh, you will find the Godavari river breaking out into her many tributaries. Squarely placed in between the southern most streams, with a base made of the Bay of Bengal, resides the village of Sankaraguptam, where Balamuralikrishna was born. Folklore leads its natives to believe that Lord Shiva spent time here once, when in hiding from a boon gone wrong. Such is the village to house the fitting beginning for the legend. More than half a century later, he would be given the keys to the landmark city of Vijayawada, about 150 kilometers away from his birth village, as the crow flies. The government would name him an ‘Honorary First Citizen.’

So the story goes: his mother, Suryakanthamma, was a vainika. Her father — Balamuralikrishna’s maternal grandfather — was a composer named Prayaga Rangaiya. His own father, Mangalampalli Pattabhiramaiya, was a multi-instrumentalist, playing his wife’s signature instrument, the veena, alongside the violin and flute. Balamuralikrishna was not afforded the chance to grow up in the arms of his mother. On the thirteenth day of his life, she is said to have complained of a headache. She passed away three days later. His mother’s elder sister, Subbamma, took over the responsibility rearing the child. She named the young one Krishna, but called him Murali. Hence was born the name ‘Murali-Krishna.’

He is said to have stopped school at age 10 (fifth standard), at the advice of the principal, who insisted the young boy instead focus on music. His father, charged with continuing the family’s musical legacy, would later choose to enroll his young son under the tutelage of Parupalli Ramakrishnaiya Pantulu. His guru, PR Pantulu, traced his own lineage to that of Thyagaraja, claiming a relationship that was only thrice removed. This would place Balamuralikrishna as the fifth sishya of a paramparā that could claim the legendary member of the Carnātic trinity as one of their own.

In a 2011 cover story for Sruti, one reads the fantastical story of his first concert, and the creation of his moniker:

On 18 July 1940, on Ashadha Suddha Ekadasi day, exactly nine Hindu calendar years after his birth, Muralikrishna ascended the stage – with Kambhampati Akkaji Rao (veena) and Radhakrishna Raju (mridanga) as his accompanists. He paid obeisance to his guru seated in a corner of the platform. The Kalyani varnam Vanajakshiro was the opening item, followed by Sobhillu in Jaganmohini.

Young Murali’s music seemed to challenge the audience: “Are you looking for melody? It is inborn. Do you expect mastery over laya? It is there in abundance. Sruti, laya, arithmetical manipulations – are all at my beck and call.” Though the allotted time was thirty minutes, the concert crossed three hours. The audience was unaware of the passage of time.

When the recital came to an end, Pantulu stood up to say a few words, but his voice choked. Tears rolling from his eyes, he rushed into an adjacent room, carrying Murali on his shoulders and started to weep. Musunuri Bhagavata took Pantulu’s place and spoke at length about Murali’s music. He said, ‘This boy reminds us of the young Muralikrishna of Brindavan, who swept away the universe with his sweet music. This young Muralikrishna may henceforth be called “Bala Muralikrishna.” Hope you will all agree.’ From that day, Murali came to be known as Balamuralikrishna.

(I highly recommend this article for those interested in learning more about the myth of the legend that he is).

The larger-than-life details don’t stop there. He started performing at 6, says one. Seven, says another. He performed and composed before he started to receive training, says one. He has over 400 compositions to his name. He has performed over 20,000 concerts says a grieving Tamil Nadu governor – nay, the number is closer to 25,000 says another. He accompanied the legends of his day in violin, we read. “And mrudangam!” cries another. “Did you know about the time he played the viola for Ariyakudi?” (I didn’t. Did you?)

Kamal Haasan called him a “maha-guru,” the “great teacher.” Tamil Nadu claimed him as one of their Kalaimamani-s, the nation claimed him as a Padma Vibushan. Even in France was he claimed, with the Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. (For a full list of his impressive accolades, might I suggest this link).

The Spirit Behind the Pioneer

It is important for us to remember that Balamuralikrishna transcended the realm of Carnātic music, in that he did not play only by its rules. He sang memorable numbers in Bollywood movies, building an impressive fan base out of Carnātic rasika-s and film fans alike.

Many opinions of him are floating around now, but the chorus largely sings the tune of a man whose voice they can still hear in their hearts. The sopranos sing of a Carnatic musician. The baritones sing of a Bollywood actor who sang. The tenors sang of a prolific composer. The altos sing of a game changer. Jayanthi Kumaresh says of him: “there are musicians who flow along the current of the wave that music is. But there are those who create a change in the wave.”  Says Aruna Sairam: “His was a free mind — his music wasn’t pocketed into any particular set-up. Also, he was aware of the knowledge he was sitting on. It was because there was his childlike approach that made everything sound effortless.”

A strong sense of identity is consistently found in him across the span of his eight-decades: in a telling interview for The Hindu, Gowri Ramnarayan wrote six years ago that “[he was] convinced that his love for verse, [made] him excel in handling the Trinity. ‘When I sing Sadasiva Brahmendra or Jayadeva, [says Balamuralikrishna], you will think that the composers would have sung like that.’”

He tells Gowri:

“I flew into the skies with ‘Sogasu Nee Somma Kalyaniragini.’ The moon melted like butter, the stars ran helter-skelter trying to find the source of the music. The woman’s half-closed eyes brimming with feeling energised [Lord] Brahma into fresh creativity. The woman was none other than Kalyani Raga. Others saw her too! . . . My love songs will make you feel I have a lover beside me. Can’t sing without experience!”

This honesty when describing one’s own sense of self is refreshing in a cultural norm that expects humility to trump pride, even at the cost of authenticity. When asked if he regretted any of his bold choices, he says to Gowri: “I am content, won’t change even the controversies. They improved my knowledge.” Balamuralikrishna did not buckle to the will of controversy. Many may have agreed or disagreed with his choices, but his public persona has been largely consistent: a feat for someone in a largely populist and group-think-led world.

M Balamuralikrishna. PTIM Balamuralikrishna. PTI

M Balamuralikrishna. PTI

Improvisation is a skill possessed by practically every Carnātic musician. But to do so with the intention of crystallisation, to unabashedly pen their own compositions, is most certainly not. In a genre where the likes of the Carnātic Trinity dominate — not only with their compositions, but with the tales of their divine lives — to compose can be seen as your attempt to rank yourself self amongst them. This can be a dangerous move in a world where the composers of the past have risen steadily to the status of sainthood; the aesthetics of Carnātic music has strong lines of Hindu (if not Brahmin) sensibilities woven into its fabric. To compose, then, can require one to defend their own divinity as per the understandings of a largely Brahmin sensibility — piety as it is understood here, rarely allows for the brand of pride and self-confidence that Balamuralikrishna showed throughout his career.

All that aside, a mind preoccupied with the mundane details of how to circumnavigate this issue has not transcended it. In this way, Balamuralikrishna did surpass it. He would have proudly told you himself, that he has many compositions to his name. As the reader may already know, he even has rāgam-s to his name — an uncommon pursuit for the Carnātic composer. He is said to have composed the rāgam Mahati at age 24.

Some of his creations have been contested. Two years ago, SH Venkataramani chronicles of a “Stormy Exit:” Balamuralikrishna had just announced a retirement of sorts, where he would continue singing in radio programs, television shows, and abroad. When asked why he swore off public concerts in the motherland, he was quick to retort that “the dignity of professional music concerts had deteriorated to a very low level and become commercial, communal and political.” This might have been a hard swallow for the rather insular sabha scene, where criticism is not taken lightly. Venkataramani writes: “It was Balamurali’s claim of having created new ragas that got the tradition-bound music circles of the south truly up in arms against him. Balachander vehemently contended that some of the ragas already existed.” In a largely gratification-driven world, that his creations were being spurned didn’t seem to deter him. Other ­rāgam-s of his include Lavangi, Manorama, Murali, Omkari, Prathimadhyamavathi, Rohini, Saravashri, Sumukham, Sushma, Ganapathi, Siddhi, and Pushkara Godvari.

In fact, the same Sruti article I mentioned before writes of how “in 1944, Balamurali provided viola accompaniment to Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Chittoor Subramania Pillai.” Viola — would you believe it? Let’s put this in context: pioneers who picked up non-traditional instruments include Sukumar Prasad who started playing the guitar in the 1970s (who would later accompany Balamuralikrishna). There is, of course, Guitar Prasanna who debuted in in the late 1980s. We have our late Mandolin Srinivas who debuted in the late 1970s; saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath became a part of the public sphere in the 1980s. Balamuralikrishna picked up a viola to accompany someone a good three decades before any of this had begun.

My own grandmother, Seetha Doraiswamy, played the jalatharangam. Although she technically debuted at 1937, she didn’t really resurface for another 40 years until her familial obligations were over, in the late 1970s. Regardless, for the purposes of the exercise and tracing the trend of playing innovative instruments in the Carnātic scene, the jalatharangam is not entirely a non-traditional instrument to begin with. But bear with me, as I explain why I am reminded of her: to pick up a non-standard instrument and venture to play your own music on it requires a child-like curiosity, and a clear understanding of one’s own language. There has to be a love for the growth of what is yours. You have to love it enough to not let its limitations limit you. I bring this up because I know this, from having seen my grandmother’s own work — existing outside of the box has its advantages, but the disadvantages can easily topple the scale. I can only imagine the look on attendees’ faces a young man ascended the stage to play a viola (or as my mother called it once, the “periya (big) violin”) for the likes of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar .

Nearly 72 years later, do we have any viola players playing in our Carnātic circuits? As an amusing aside, I wonder how the landscape of our collective music experience would be different had he instead chosen to go down that route. Would “Viola Muralikrishna” have moved us just as much? What would we have done without his trademark bass voice, which effortlessly glided between three octaves? Who would have instead been our Narada in Bhakta Prahlada? Would as many people know and love reetigoulai, without his Chinna Kannan Azhaikiran? To recount all of this, Oru Naal Pothuma?

Let us remember during this time, as we are flooded with information of him, that no matter what thinks of his musicality and how he lived his life, that this was a man who dared to be innovative.

Can we say that we dare to do so in our everyday lives? Do we boldly take credit for our work? Playfully approach things after decades of training? Innovate?

The Human Behind it All

For those who know him — or of him — we will always have those memories to hold on to. My older cousin tells me once of when she was driving in a late-night, darkened Chennai. She saw a car nearby driving with the lights on. As she peered in, perplexed, she recognised his face. We are all now recounting our memories of him, as thousands of pictures and stories are being shared.

I met him as a child. I was young, perhaps teetering on 10 years of age? To be completely honest, I don’t recall why I was there, but I do remember being upset. I was missing my scheduled weekly allowance for doing non-school or music related activities, yet I was standing in for Tukaram Ganapathi Maharaj, a harikathā exponent. I believe I was there to receive an honour on his behalf. The honour, of course, was to be bestowed by a certain M Balamuralikrishna.

It was loud; people were yelling over each other. Everyone was scurrying. The chaos broke suddenly; the sea of people parted to form a clear path as he came into the room, in a feat of wordless organisation that struck me to be no less miraculous than the many ancient stories of parting seas.

This was indeed an amusing picture: here came a legend, for whom the people collectively silenced themselves, and respectfully sat in awe. And I still sat, uncomfortably under layers of clothing, pouting — mourning the loss of my weekly free-time. Perhaps he picked up on this. I did not know then Balamuralikrishna the legend, but I did know the grandfather, who sat with me kindly.

He did not stay for long. We went on stage, he opened the large silk cloth — the ponnādai, as it were — and with a seasoned flourish opened it and covered me in it, as he towered me. “Smile,” he directed, turning to the camera. I did. Somewhere, in the crowd, my dear friend Bhavya’s mother could be heard telling my mother: “Let her be upset now, it’s okay. One day, she will know the worth of that picture.” As we all look back now together at his prolific career, I wonder if I comprehend the entirety of it, even now.

That’s my first memory of him. Tell me yours?

Ganavya Doraiswamy holds degrees in psychology, and graduate degrees in performance (Berklee College of Music), and ethnomusicology (UCLA). She has lately been on the road with Quincy Jones’s production company for Tocororo, an album that hit #1 in jazz charts. 

First Published On : Nov 24, 2016 09:01 IST

Demonetisation: Banks get Rs 5.12 lakh cr in deposits in 8 days

Banks have amassed deposits worth Rs 5,11,565 crore until 18 November after the government announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes and exchanged notes worth Rs 33,006 crore, the Reserve Bank of India said in a press release today. All the notes the banks have received were in banned Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations.

Earlier, finance minister Arun Jaitley had said that In the first four days until 13 5 pm, banks had received deposits worth Rs 3 lakh crore.

The government announced cancellation of legal tender of the high denomination currencies claiming it would put an end to circulation of fake notes, terror financing and also black money generation.

PTIPTI

PTI

Ever since the measures came into force, banks, ATMs and post offices have been seeing huge crowds thronging to either exchange or deposit the banned currency notes they possess.

The government has also taken a few measures to curb any misuse of the deposit and exchange scheme by black money holders to whiten their ill-gotten wealth.

A look at the numbers released today shows that the pace of deposit accretion in the banks is slowing progressively.

While in the first four days, the accretion stood at Rs 3 lakh crore, in the next five days the corresponding figure is just more than Rs 2 lakh crore.

Observers don’t see anything fishy in the figures. Anis Chakravarty, lead economist, Deloitte, said the the surge on deposits in the first few days could be because of the initial panic.

“People might have rushed to the banks to deposit at the first instance due to panic. Over the last few days the queques have also reduced showing the worries may be subsiding. However, these figures are of least importance. What I am looking at is the final figure that the government will give out after 31 December,” he said.

First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 16:07 IST

Demonetisation: Banks get Rs 5.45 lakh cr Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in 8 days

Banks have amassed deposits worth Rs 5,11,565 crore until 18 November after the government announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes and exchanged notes worth Rs 33,006 crore, the Reserve Bank of India said in a press release today.

What this means is the banks have received Rs 5.45 lakh crore worth Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations over the eight days of demonetisation exercise.

Earlier, finance minister Arun Jaitley had said that In the first four days until 13 5 pm, banks had received deposits worth Rs 3 lakh crore.

The government announced cancellation of legal tender of the high denomination currencies claiming it would put an end to circulation of fake notes, terror financing and also black money generation.

PTIPTI

PTI

Ever since the measures came into force, banks, ATMs and post offices have been seeing huge crowds thronging to either exchange or deposit the banned currency notes they possess.

The government has also taken a few measures to curb any misuse of the deposit and exchange scheme by black money holders to whiten their ill-gotten wealth.

A look at the numbers released today shows that the pace of deposit accretion in the banks is slowing progressively.

While in the first four days, the accretion stood at Rs 3 lakh crore, in the next five days the corresponding figure is just more than Rs 2 lakh crore.

Observers don’t see anything fishy in the figures. Anis Chakravarty, lead economist, Deloitte, said the the surge on deposits in the first few days could be because of the initial panic.

“People might have rushed to the banks to deposit at the first instance due to panic. Over the last few days the queques have also reduced showing the worries may be subsiding. However, these figures are of least importance. What I am looking at is the final figure that the government will give out after 31 December,” he said.

First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 16:07 IST

Demonetisation move not well thought out, after-effects to last longer: Chidambaram

Mumbai: Holding that the demonetise move was not well thought out, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram said on Saturday that its after-effects will continue for a longer period than expected and wondered whether government had consulted its chief economic advisor before taking the decision.

The demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes accounted for over 86 per cent of the total Rs 16.24 lakh crore value of banknotes in circulation as on 31 March, 2016, according to Reserve Bank of India’s latest annual report.

“You are seeing the first-order effects of withdrawing, sucking out 86 per cent of the currency in circulation from the market. The first order will continue for several weeks now. Then you will see the second-order effects,” Chidambaram said at Mumbai LitFest, when asked what the repercussions he was seeing of the exercise.

“My suspicion is the only knowledgeable economist in the government, Dr Arvind Subramanian, was not consulted,” he said.

Talking about the first-order effects, he said there are many people now living with very less money and are not consuming, which means produce, especially perishable produce like vegetables, fruits, are not being sold.

Chidambaram. PTIChidambaram. PTI

Chidambaram. PTI

Chidambaram said the second-order effects are already visible in places like Tirupur and Surat, where lay-offs and retrenchments have started.

The second-order effects will be more prominently felt if farmers, who have sworn their farms, do not have money to buy fertiliser and hire labour. “So I think the consequences will certainly be negative,” he said.

He, however, said it was too early to quantify the damage, which has been done because of the decision.

Talking about the 50 days’ time Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked for his anti-black money initiative to show results, Chidambaram said it might ease the liquidity crisis for individual hands, but won’t solve many other issues.

“The PM’s time out for 50 days might ease the liquidity crisis at individual’s hands, but it won’t solve many other problems.

“Take a simple arithmetic…they demonetised 2,200 (total volume) crore Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. The capacity of all printing presses taken together is 300 crore per month. So, even if you print note for note, it will take seven months. If you print smaller denominations notes like Rs 100 for Rs 500, it will take five times more time…Think somebody didn’t think through…that’s not unusual for government,” he said.

Chidambaram said the exercise will not completely remove the counterfeit notes from the system.

“There is only Rs 400 crore of counterfeit currency, 0.028 per cent in a total circulation of Rs 16.24 lakh crore. If somebody can tell me in five seconds, how many zeros are there is 16.24 lakh crore, I am willing to give him Rs 100, very priced now,” Chidambaram said.

When asked about a brokerage lowering country’s growth target to 0.5 per cent in the second half due to demonetisation, he said the situation was not that dismal.

“That’s a very aggressive statement. I don’t think it is so bad,” he said.

Brokerage firm Ambit Capital yesterday said the demonetisation-driven cash crunch that is playing out in the country will paralyse economic activity in the short term.

“Hence, we expect GDP growth to decelerate from 6.4 per cent in the first half of financial year 2016-17 (as per it’s estimate) to 0.5 per cent YoY in the second half with a distinct possibility of GDP growth contracting in third quarter of the current fiscal,” Ambit said in a report.

It also has cut its financial year 2017-18 GDP growth estimate to 5.8 per cent y-o-y from 7.3 per cent earlier.

First Published On : Nov 19, 2016 17:33 IST

Visit to pave way for India-Israel free trade pact, hopes Israeli Prez Reuven Rivlin

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India is a “top trading partner”, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said on Thursday, expressing hope that his visit to New Delhi will pave the way for free trade pact (FTA) that will foster economic growth in both the nations.Rivlin’s assertion could provide fresh momentum to the conclusion of the FTA, which has remained elusive despite negotiations having begun more than six years ago. The First round of negotiation was held here on 26 May, 2010. “I express here today an official Israeli hope that this visit to India will open the way to a full free trade agreement between our two countries and I am sure that the free trade agreement will boost our economies,” Rivlin said. He said the India-Israel trade “can and should grow even larger”, adding, “We would like to see in the future more mutual investment and trade”. Bilateral trade stands at around US $5 billion.The two countries have built a “powerful and strong” partnership and they must work together to make it even stronger, he said. “I came here today to say loud and clear, India is a top trade partner for Israel,” Rivlin said. Pointing out that India has become the top global destination for foreign direct investment post the launch of the ‘Make in India’ campaign in September 2014, Rivlin said: “We have come here today to send a strong message. We are here to make in India, to make with India”.He added: “We are here to grow our economies together in full partnership for the benefit of all of us. The message should not remain an empty one. None is patronising the other side. We have to be together to bring better life to all our people.”Rivlin observed that over the past two years, trade relations between Israel and India have boomed thanks to the Modi Government. Outlining the areas for bilateral cooperation, Rivlin said India can leverage Israel’s expertise in water management through technological solutions and “greatly benefit” from it. He said Israel can become an important part of the Clean Ganga project by applying its experience in waste water management. Expanding the farmer exchange programme with India will help boost the efficiency of India’s enormous food market.Rivlin was addressing the ‘India-Israel Economic Forum’ organised by industry chambers Ficci, CII and Assocham.

Demonetisation day eight: ATMs run dry, exchange limit lowered to Rs 2,000

In the evening of 8 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation, announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 will no longer be legal tenders. He explained that the decision to demonetise high-value currency notes was taken to flush out black money and end corruption. Thus started the mad scramble for cash.

The move was supposed to give sleepless nights to black money hoarders, but ended up in serpentine queues outside banks and ATMs with anxious citizens putting their lives on hold to exchange old currency notes or simply to withdraw money from ATMs.

It’s been over a week since the demonetisation move came into place and the situation is far from normal. Banks are struggling to meet the demands, ATMs are running dry and there is mounting frustration and panic among people.

The government on Wednesday said it will take one more week to recalibrate half of the two lakh ATMs to dispense the new 500 and 2,000 rupee notes and the printing of new Rs 500 notes has been stepped up. Earlier in the week, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said that it will take up to three weeks for all two lakh ATMs in the country to be recalibrated.

People outside a bank in Gurugram. File photo. PTI

People outside a bank in Gurugram. File photo. PTI

Currently, the ATM withdrawal limit from savings bank accounts stands at Rs 2,500 a day, but some ATMs are dispensing only Rs 2,000 notes or Rs 100.

To identify people who have already exchanged money and reduce the chaos at banks and ATMs, banks were directed to start applying indelible ink mark on the right hand index finger of customers in select metro cities. As per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for exchanging notes, concerned bank branches and post offices would put indelible ink mark on the right index finger of the customer so as to identify that he/she has exchanged the old currency notes once. However, many banks reported shortage or non-availability of ink, which did not make any difference in improving the situation.

On Wednesday, a cash-carrying van was attacked in Assam, killing the driver and three more people. Seventy-year-old Digambar Mariba Kasbe, who was standing in a queue outside a branch of SBI at Tuppain in Maharashtra’s Nanded district, collapsed and died, police said.

A 54-year-old bank employee died after he collapsed in a bank branch in Pune during office hours on Wednesday, officials said. According to the latest report, the death toll due to demonetisation now stands at 47.

Modi, at a public meeting in Goa, made a passionate appeal. “My dear countrymen, I have left my home, my family, everything for the nation. Some do it out of pressure. A large number of my countrymen want to be honest. I gave them chance to declare unaccounted money.” The government came under fire by the Opposition on the first day of Parliament Winter Session. The move was termed “ill-timed” and “ill-conceived”. While Congress’ Anand Sharma termed it “insensitive”, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury took a dig at Modi had said, “It reminds me of Marie Antoinette who during the French Revolution said if they [people] don’t find bread, why don’t they eat cakes. Now, we have Modi Antoinette who says: ‘If you don’t have paper, use plastic’.”

Meanwhile, Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das on Thursday, announced a slew of measures to help tide over the cash crunch. The Government lowered the exchange limit for now-defunct Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes to Rs 2,000 from the existing cap of Rs 4,500, effective Friday.

Among other measures, it has allowed up to Rs 2.5 lakh cash withdrawal from bank account of a bride or groom or their parents for a marriage during the ongoing wedding season. Farmers will be permitted to withdraw up to Rs 25,000 per week and registered agri-traders Rs 50,00 per week from their bank accounts.

“Crop loans are sanctioned by various bank to farmers. The government has allowed Rs 25,000 per week for farmers to draw in cash, subject to the limit of which crops they are sowing. This cash can also be taken from their Kisan credit card,” Das said.

Another concession is for farmers who sell their produce through the various Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published On : Nov 17, 2016 12:41 IST

Demonetisation: From the stench of old notes to fights, here’s a banker’s view

On 8 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, in order to flush out black money. Thus began the mad scramble for cash. Queues outside ATMs and banks grew as frustrated and anxious citizens made a beeline to exchange or deposit the old notes, or get cash. Banks were directed to extend their working hours and meet the demands. A bank employee shares her experience with Humans of Bombay after the currency ban came into effect:

“I’m the manager at a bank. On 8 November, I was working a bit late when my husband called me and said, ‘how did you not tell me that 500 and 1000 Rupee notes are getting scraped’ and I was shell shocked. None of us had any idea what was going on… we just knew it was huge. So we went into work the next day, preparing for the days to come but no amount of preparation could fully prepare us for what was coming.

Image courtesy: Humans of BombayImage courtesy: Humans of Bombay

Image courtesy: Humans of Bombay

People’s view of the whole situation was limited to the lines they saw outside the bank, but what was happening behind closed doors was entirely different. We became a part of the dirty cycle that runs in this country. On one end there were chaiwallas, istriwallas who are queuing up to deposit their hard earned money but on the other end we’re receiving black money that had been stashed away for years possibly and all this cash smells like rotten leather to the point where every one of our branches has ordered masks for the cashiers — that’s how unbearable the stench became! From fights breaking out and the police intervening to educated people storming our offices and violently asking us for money — we’ve dealt with it all.

Just the other day a builder who’s had an account with us for many years, came forward to finally pay us an amount that he had defaulted on a Non Performing Asset. When we had chased him for months to pay up, he had defaulted but all of a sudden he came forward! He has over 300 crores in black money, but before this he claimed to have none at all — that’s how dirty the business is.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about what has happened — it’s a revolutionary move that will only strengthen our country and I completely understand what the common man is going through as well, but what can we possibly do? There’s only so much cash we have, and only so many people who can attend to such a large population.

What’s ridiculous is how people are behaving — they’re treating us so badly. Just 4 hours ago I received a call from a man from a place called Nanded who screamed at me non-stop. He went on yelling, blaming me, cursing in Marathi and I’m sitting there just wondering what I could possibly do and we’ve received dozens of such calls each day. Not just that, but the threats have also come. We get calls from people who are politically endowed and threaten to ‘send media to expose us’ or to ‘create a scene’ if we don’t move money — I mean when will we learn? We’re bankers — there’s only so much we can do! We’ve hardly slept these past few days, we’re not taking any weekends off… in fact most of us haven’t even exchanged our own 500 Rupee notes because we’re trying to help others first.

Our banks are losing money on interest and there’s already enough chaos… do we really need to add to it? We’re all in the same situation, we just need to sit tight and understand that steps are being taken to aid the process — this is for the future of our country and the least we can all do at a time like this is have patience and believe that everything will stabilise soon. And for heaven’s sake, stop trying to use more corrupt methods to get out of an already corrupt situation… we don’t need any more of it!”

First Published On : Nov 17, 2016 09:32 IST

India’s NSG bid: China sticks to tough stand; calls for ‘non-discriminatory’, applicable solution

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>China, which has been blocking India’s NSG bid, on Tuesday maintained its tough stand on the issue and called for a two-step “non-discriminatory” solution to admit non-NPT members into the 48-member elite grouping.China’s remarks came as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) at its meeting in Vienna November 11 discussed a formula acting on India’s application to join it.”We maintain that we should follow two-step approach. First we should find out a solution that is applicable to all non-NPT members applications to the NSG through consultations and discussions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a media briefing here outlining China’s stand at the Vienna meeting.The second step is to discuss specific non-NPT (Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty) members’ admission into the NSG, he said.”We believe that the solution should be non-discriminatory and applicable to all non-NPT members and it must not damage the core value of the NSG as well as the authority, effectiveness and integrity of the NPT,” he said.”We hope that we can enter into the second step after finishing the first step at an early date which is to talk about specific non-NPT members joining the NSG,” he said.China’s stand for a non-discriminatory criteria is regarded significant as Pakistan, a close ally of Beijing too has applied for the NSG membership along with India.China, which has blocked earlier India’s entry on the ground that India has not signed the NPT, has held two rounds of talks with India and Pakistan about their admission into the group.India has secured the backing of the US and majority of the NSG members based on its non-proliferation record in comparison to Pakistan which faced serious allegations of nuclear proliferation in the past specially with regard to its nuclear scientist Dr AQ Khan.Geng said at the Vienna meeting of the NSG, members talked about the technical, legal and political matters relating non-NPT members accession to the NSG.He said this is the first time the group talked about entry of the new members.Earlier a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “It is the first time a discussion, not only since the Seoul Plenary, but also since the NSG’s inception in 1975, for the Group to formally take up the issue of non-NPT states’ participation in an open and transparent manner”.Geng said the discussion about the entry of new members is a “good start”.”We believe it is good start and we will continue to support the NSG in following through on the first step and explore the final solution at an early date,” he said.India has been maintaining that NPT membership was not essential for joining the NSG, as was the case with France.

PM Narendra Modi on demonetisation: ‘Govt has implemented Nehru’s vision’

Amid raging opposition from Congress and Left parties on the issue of demonetisation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday invoked Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on his birth anniversary to garner support for the Centre’s move to ban old currency notes.

“Pt. Nehru’s party may curse me all they want, but I have implemented his vision for the poor,” Modi said while addressing a rally in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, adding that the Congress has entirely missed his message.

Rubbishing Congress party’s allegations that the move is anti-poor, Modi said that it was the rich who were spending sleepless nights.

“Poor people are sleeping peacefully, it is the rich who are running from pillar to post to buy sleeping pills,” he said.

PM Narendra Modi. PTIPM Narendra Modi. PTI

PM Narendra Modi. PTI

The Prime Minister was in Ghazipur to flag off the weekly Shabd Bhedi Superfast Express from Ghazipur to Kolkata and inaugurated the newly constructed perishable cargo centre in Ghazipur. He also laid the foundation stone for doubling of the railway track between Ghazipur and Ballia, rail-cum-road bridge on the river Ganga on Mau-Tadighat rail route.

Modi, however, also took the opportunity to justify his move to demonetise higher denomination currency notes in the poll-bound state. “I had no other option to crackdown on black money. This move has brought the rich and poor on the same tangent,” Modi said.

Acknowledging the problems caused to the common man, Modi said, “I feel your pain and I am spending sleepless nights to do all I can to facilitate the situation,” adding that the inconvenience faced by the common man will not go in vain.

Addressing his first public rally in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh post the demonetisation drive, Modi said: “I want to assure you that your inconveniences will not go in vain.” Modi urged people to bear with the “short term inconvenience for a corruption free India.”

Koi bhi kaam karo thodi bohot takleef to hoti hai irada nek hona chahiye. (Every new effort causes a little inconvenience but the intent behind it should be righteous),” the prime minister said.

He also asked a cheering crowd whether he was right in implementing certain “hard measures for the greater good” and whether people were ready to face “slight inconvenience” for this. His appeals were largely greeted with resounding applause.

Modi also played up his “chai-walah” days, stating that his decision to crack down on black money was a little “Kadak (strong)” just like his tea.

Mujhe yaad hai mujhe gareeb log kehte the Modi ji chai jara kadak banana. Gareeb ko jara kadak chai achi lagti hai, magar ameer ka muh bigad jaata hai. (I remember poor people used to ask me to keep their tea a little strong. Well, the poor love their brew on the stronger side but it usually spoils the taste buds of the elite),” Modi said taking on the black money holders, who he said are spending sleepless nights since the crackdown.

Modi said the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency was to target those with unaccounted cash. “But I will not spare those with unaccounted Rs 2.5 crore cash, and those who have stashed money under the bed.”

First Published On : Nov 14, 2016 14:25 IST

Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 note ban: Theatrical action can’t substitute meaningful steps against black money

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the entire nation by surprise with his announcement of announcement of phasing out of the existing Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. A stunned nation admired the initiative as a landmark step for effacing the scourge of black money. I too joined the ranks of those who marvelled at the sheer audacity of the measure. But now that the initial euphoria is behind us, the massive chaos the move has spawned more clearly perceptible and being wiser from a more nuanced analysis, I feel obligated to make amends for my initial cheerleading of the move.

So here are important problems with the move that should make us all reconsider our exuberant celebration of it:

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Poor bleeding

The abrupt phasing-out has led to widespread panic as people are running helter-skelter to get rid of their stock of such notes. The worst victims of such panic are the poor and the marginalised.

First, taking advantage of their panic and information asymmetry, many unscrupulous elements are shortchanging them. Reports are pouring in how people are being fooled into exchanging Rs 1,000 notes for Rs 100 notes worth a much lower value as the demand of Rs 100 notes outstrips supply. I myself came across many such poor vendors in the market who had agreed to bad deals due to the panic.

Second, there are long lines at the banks with workers and daily labourers — who are losing out on their day’s wage — just waiting in these long lines to have their turn. Such an inconvenience is being faced most by those who are poor and lack any connections to avoid the queue whereas the powerful just have to tap into their connections. Since my father is a civil servant, I can tell from personal knowledge that in this circle, getting the notes changed is just a phone call’s work.

Third, those who live in remote places with no access to banking facilities and no bank accounts, have been the worst hit. Many of these places are so remote and disconnected that their residents will have to spend days worrying about getting rid of these notes.

Fourth, many poor people who have saved large amounts in Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes for events such as marriages are feeling trapped. Since the government has imposed restriction on amounts that can be changed in a day, they will now be forced to make multiple trips or be burdened with producing proofs of income (most people in informal employment have no income documentation).

Finally, the poorest of the poor, the most marginalised, who have no ID proof, will pay the highest price as they can’t exchange their lifelong savings in these notes through banks and thus are left high and dry.

The fact that the move was painful was also foreseen by Modi when he implored the public to bear the pain for the greater good.

But even the prime minister could not have predicted it would be this painful and part of the blame lies with him as he could have made the system better equipped to deal with the load and taken steps to address impact on financially excluded sections on the margins of the society.

But a number of shopkeepers, vegetables vendors and traders with whom I interacted, even while making the above observations, were actually appreciative of the step as they hoped that the hardships that they faced were worth it as the move may benefit the nation.

But even if the selfless poor of our nation are ready to bleed in the cause of common good, it does disconcert me that it is always the poor who are asked to suffer for the greater good.

Besides, even the belief that it serves the common good merits greater scrutiny.

Economic activity disrupted

The sensational style — characteristic of Modi — in which the announcement was made and then legends spun around it has had the adverse effect of generating chaos that has disrupted economic activity. 

First, the workforce, that is frittering its time in long ques at the banks, is an economic loss, as so many productive hours are lost and production adversely affected.

Secondly, the withdrawal of the the larger denominations has made transactions in the markets more difficult and adversely affected economic activity there.

Finally, it is a chapter from Economics 101 that stability, continuity and predictability in public policy facilitate economic growth. But when there is already so much uncertainty due to a fragile global environment, the government has injected more uncertainty through its decision. The prices of gold, commodities and real estate are swinging like crazy. Such wild fluctuations are detrimental to investment and growth, and will depress investments when we need them most.

Black money will be unaffected, may even prosper

Despite the economic cost as well as the burden falling most on the poor, the policy will fall far short in its touted aim of handing a deadly blow to black money due to multiple reasons.

First, most of the black money is with the top quartile of the population. They keep it in non-cash assets such as property, stock markets and real estate. Also the big fish have a substantial portion of their black money in foreign accounts which again won’t be affected by this.

Second, the small portion of black money that is in cash in these denominations can easily be converted to smaller denominations. For example, under the conditions imposed say one person converts Rs 2 lakh with a simple ID proof, to convert Rs 2 crore of black money, only 100 employees are needed.

Thirdly, many bureaucrats in the railways, postal services and other government departments, where the denotified currencies are allowed in their public dealings, are getting their currency changed from these offices without even requiring IDs.

Fourth, the panic that has spread is, in fact, allowing many of the bank employees to earn black money. For instance, they can simply adjust who is exchanging above the specified limit against others who have exchanged below the limit specified and demand a cut for doing so, thereby increasing black money generation.

Finally, the claim of the move reducing black money in the political economy suffers from serious flaw. Political parties don’t declare donations below Rs 20,000. So all they have to do to convert their larger denominations to show them as donations from smaller anonymous donors and then they can convert as much as they like, as it will become their legal money.

Lessons from the past

As a sum of all that has been discussed above, India’s three experiments with demonetisation in the past were giant failures. They had no significant impact on black money which continued to thrive.

It’s said those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it and thus our amnesia is making us embrace the same measure that has failed in the past.

The wise are not so forgetful. This is why former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has not joined the chorus of celebration around the move.

It is human nature to believe that things are improving and so, we are hoping that this chaotic move — which gives the appearance that at least something is being done to curb black money — will prove to be the panacea. But make-believe theatrical actions cannot become a substitute for real meaningful steps that tackle the root problem of black money generation.

The sooner we realise it, the faster we will attain the aim, that we are falsely assuming to be achieved through this decision.

Losing toss dented India’s chances, says Jadeja | Reuters

Losing toss dented India’s chances, says Jadeja | Reuters

Updated: Nov 10, 2016 19:57 IST

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By Sudipto Ganguly
| RAJKOT, India

RAJKOT, India Losing the toss at Rajkot dented India’s chances more than three England batsmen hitting centuries in the first innings, all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja said.After winning the toss and asking the hosts to bowl on a docile pitch, England capitalised on some slack fielding to amass 537 runs, effectively batting India out of the first match of the five-test series.Joe Root scored a hundred on Wednesday while Moeen Ali and Stokes matched the feat a day later to mark the first time in 55 years that England had three batsmen score centuries in the same innings at an Asian venue.Geoff Pullar, Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter all scored hundreds in the second innings of a test against India at Kanpur in December 1961.”I think toss took the game away from us,” local boy Jadeja told reporters after the second day’s play.

“We all know how the Rajkot pitch is. First two days, it is suitable for batsmen and then spinners come into play.”Alastair Cook’s men arrived in India after an uninspiring tour of Bangladesh where they drew a two-match series 1-1 and suffered their first loss against the Asian side in the longest format of the game.The defeat in the second test in Dhaka came inside three days after England lost 10 wickets in a session against the world’s ninth-ranked test team.

Jadeja said England’s massive total was not because India bowled badly.”I think the main thing is that the surface was pretty different from Bangladesh,” he said. “There the ball was turning sharp. Here only the odd ball is turning.”India openers Gautam Gambhir and Murali Vijay safely negotiated the 23 overs they faced to take the hosts to 63 without loss at stumps but still trail England by 474 runs.

Left-arm spinner Jadeja was the most successful bowler for the hosts with three wickets and said there was no special instruction for the batsmen on how to go about their innings. “We have to score whatever runs are on the board,” the 27-year-old Jadeja said. “Tomorrow is crucial, we need to play good, positive cricket.”We need to play according to the merit of the ball and not plan too much.” (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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

No money to pay salaries of govt staff, says Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Andhra Pradesh is finding it hard to pay salaries to its staff despite a hike in its revenues in the first half of the fiscal year. The state recorded a 12.26% growth rate in the first quarter of the fiscal and is eyeing a 15% annual growth. “We have no money for salaries. We are already running on a huge overdraft,” Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu admitted last evening, bringing out ironies in the state’s economic story.The state’s revenue earnings rose to Rs 22,800 crore in the first half of 2016-17 financial year as against Rs 20,166 crore in corresponding period last year, a 13.05% increase. But what has become worrisome is the mounting revenue deficit which stood at Rs 6,641 crore during the first half of this fiscal. In fact, the government estimated an overall revenue deficit of Rs 4,868 crore in 2016-17, but increased spending has widened gap. “There is heavy pressure on government expenditure and adjustment of finances has become problematic,” Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu said. While the state estimated its borrowings to be Rs 20,497 crore during the year, the government has already borrowed Rs 13,673 crore. “We have reached the fiscal deficit but we are somehow pulling the cart either by borrowing or through internal adjustments,” Yanamala pointed out.Asked about the jump in state’s revenues during the first half, the Finance Minister remarked “the situation is still worse”. Official sources, however, attribute the sorry state of affairs to “unmindful spending”.More than Rs 500 crore have been spent so far on the construction of the Government Transitional Headquarters (interim Secretariat) at Velagapudi and the expenditure is not complete.Over Rs 100 crore was spent on the Chief Minister’s offices and residences in Hyderabad and the capital region (including Vijayawada). Now, another sum of Rs 5.82 crore is being spent on”repairs, renovation, modification and refurbishment” of bunglow at 1, Janpath in New Delhi, that has been allotted to the AP Chief Minister.A private airline, in which actor and former Union minister K Chiranjeevi’s family has a stake, has been granted Rs 4.90 crore a few days ago as “viability gap funding” for operating flights on Vijayawada-Tirupati-Kadapa sector for a six-month period. “These figures appear small and are just an example. But when the government is virtually on a hand-to-mouth existence, such largesse will only add to the misery,” a senior bureaucrat remarked.The TDP government in the state has been desperately pleading with the Centre for over a year to relax the Fiscal Responsibility and Budgetary Management Act norms to increase the borrowing limit by at least 0.5%, if not 1%, from the current three per cent cap. An increase of 0.5% limit would enable the state to borrow an additional Rs 2,800 crore from the market, but the Centre turned down AP’s request given the bad state of its finances.Interestingly, the Centre granted neighbouring Telangana a 0.5% hike in its borrowing limit, much to the chagrin of the AP administration. Though the Centre has released large quantum of funds under different heads to the state, including construction of the capital city, but they were ostensibly not spent or rather diverted for other purposes.Hence, the state is in no position to press for more releases from the Centre, officials point out.

Rs 500, Rs 1,000 notes ban: Modi govt’s demonetisation move will put poor into trouble

They are supposed to be very alike, The Don and NaMo. They both bucked the media and the elite and won big; or so pundits like Shekhar Gupta and Chetan Bhagat and Ram Madhav are telling us on Twitter.

Yet, on the same day, while one was promising that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” the other was running the risk of turning parts of his population into the “forgotten people”.

It was amazing to watch BJP spokespersons and besotted TV anchors dismiss the hardships faced by ordinary people at the abrupt and swift withdrawal of big notes from circulation by blithely referring them to credit cards, debit cards, and cheques. As if that is how most Indians live and conduct their financial transactions. As if ours is a cashless society, the whole country has long been demonetised and bank accounts are common to every household.

PM Modi has also conceded that we would face some inconvenience in the beginning and he was sure that we would put up with it for the greater good. PTI

PM Modi has also conceded that we would face some inconvenience in the beginning and he was sure that we would put up with it for the greater good. PTI

On television, smartly-dressed yuppies were full-throatedly welcoming “the historic move” outside ATMs or driving into petrol pumps with their sedans or SUVs. In short, these people are those who are well on the way to arriving. Ordinary people are either clueless or in a tizzy.

Maybe, it’s because I live in Kolkata, in one of the poorer parts of the country, that I can see firsthand the trials being faced by maidservants, drivers, small shopkeepers, construction workers, electricians, plumbers and other independent service providers. Their only option is to request people like me to relieve them of their “riches” to meet their basic needs.

Maybe, that is why the chief minister of West Bengal was one of the first to point out the trouble this would put the poor into. “I want to know from PM,” she tweeted soon after Narendra Modi finished his speech to the nation on Tuesday evening,“How my poorest brothers, sisters, who’ve received their week’s hard earned wage in one 500 re note will buy, ata, chal, tomo?”

Mamata Banerjee, whose political instincts have seldom let her down, has kept up the refrain with tweet after tweet demanding this “heartless and ill-conceived blow on common people and middle class” be stopped immediately. “Please save people from this disaster. Roads are closed, markets shut, patients not being admitted to private hospitals, millions affected.”

One Bengali tweet doing the rounds that Didi cannot lay claim to says, “Why are our businessmen brothers so happy? Since last night? Because they have no black money? And why are we middle-class so apprehensive? Because we have stashes of black money?”

The ruling party is already dismissing all such reservations as politically motivated and mean-spirited. “Politicians are having doubts but ordinary people are having no doubts,” was how Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu responded to reservations brought to his notice by the press.

But even economists are not unanimous whether such moves to “check corruption, black money and fake currency rackets that slow our progress” really work. It’s been tried before and not been that successful but maybe it’ll be better this time round. At least let us hope so.

The prime minister has also conceded that we would face some inconvenience in the beginning and he was sure that we would put up with it for the greater good. Maybe

Maybe the country will grin and bear it but it would do him no harm if his party appeared to be more sympathetic to the common man’s woes instead of the usual chest-thumping that seems to be their reflex response to any act of the government.

Especially since such moves have a tendency of turning on their heads and biting their initiators in the back.

It was only the other day that outsourcing was seen as the answer to all ills that plagued the American economy. American companies would be able to make goods cheaper, hence make greater profits and thereby contribute to the strengthening of the country’s economy. Ditto: free trade. Moves that were mostly put into place when Hillary Clinton was the First Lady of America.

Today, it is the army of aggrieved people “left behind” by these very acts of globalisation that marched to the voting booths and put a man with no experience in governance into power. In their light, those acts of greater good only helped the rich to get richer and left them with nothing.

It took several decades for people in America to come to this realisation and rise in revolt. It may happen quicker in a country like India. Narendra Modi should beware that his moves for the greater good may end up alienating the greater numbers.

Freedom of press should be used in the nation’s interest: Naidu

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> With opposition and media slamming action against NDTV India, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the NDA government is committed to freedom of press but media should use it keeping in mind the interests of the nation and the people. The Union Information and Broadcasting Minister also said the well-being of the country and society should be kept in mind before broadcasting or publishing any news, and stressed that news and views should not be mixed. “A big discussion is going on in the country that there should be freedom of press. It should compulsorily be there and the government is committed to this. But, there is a need to think. We are citizens first and then the journalists. That’s my view,” he said. “Our government believes in freedom of press and wants the media to truly appreciate the value of such freedom so that it is best used in the interest of the country and the people,” Naidu said addressing a programme for Urdu journalists here.He said while giving/broadcasting news, oen should keep in mind the interests of society and nation first. “The news you are giving should not promote clashes between groups, religions or create unrest in society. The news should not cause harm to the nation’s interests. There should be self-restraint (in following rules),” Naidu said.Journalists should remember that freedom of expression is best utilised only when the value of such freedom is fully appreciated, he said, adding that when this freedom is not exercised judiciously, our existing laws provide for necessary interventions. He advised that journalists must always look for information, but must run the news only after confirmation. “Be nearer to truth and keep away from sensationalism. But what is happening in the electronic media is sensationalism,” he said.Stating that there are some regulations that media should not preach, something which is anti-national; not propagate against the interest of the country aspects like obscenity, vulgarity, encouraging violence, Venkaiah asked electronic media and cinema should seriously think about how to avoid vulgarity, obscenity and violence. He said, “The important thing in media is credibility… which is very important…but now credibility is missing in most of the media, which is unfortunate. We must always work for credibility.” Emphasising that news and views should never be combined, Naidu said “But it is now happening in the country. People are trying to combine news and views, which should never be mixed.”The minister further said information along with confirmation is the “best ammunition”. “Information can fight corruption, inequality, discrimination, oppression. Information can give you entitlement. Through information people will be empowered,” he said. “First give the news and then have the debate. but what is happening is, even TV debates try to mix both the things and then they argue and try to teach us also,” he said.The Union Minister also urged journalists to first focus on truth and then focus on pro-people, rural people, weaker section, women and their views should be heard.”You (journalists) have to reflect the reality of the social combination of the society so that you will be doing justice,” he said, adding that journalists must upgrade their skills and try to become “ideal” journalists.”Urdu is a sweet language and it has also enriched Indian culture over the centuries, but unfortunately some people have linked it with religion in between. Time has come we have to encourage our regional languages…as a language Urdu should also be encouraged,” he said. The minister also said that plans were afoot to increase the time of Urdu bulletin aired on Doordarshan.

Indian govt hits out at Pak leak of diplomats’ details

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India blamed Pakistan for risking the lives of Indian diplomats by putting out their pictures and details in the public domain, on Thursday. In a vindictive move in which Pakistan had to recall six of its staffs, who were tagged ‘undercover agents’ by another staff Mehmood Akhtar, Pakistan Foreign Office in Islamabad alleged that eight Indian ‘diplomats’ in Pakistan were members of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and Indian Intelligence Bureau (IB); they were even accused of being involved in terrorist and subversive activities. The allegations were completely rejected as “baseless and unsubstantiated” by the External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson, Vikas Swarup. Interestingly, it has been revealed that, commercial counsellors in both the missions, who were supposed to supervise promotion of trade relations between the two countries, are crooks. While Akhtar confessed that Pakistan’s commercial counsellor, Farooq Habib, was actually station chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in retaliation, Pakistan blew cover of Rajesh Kumar Agnihottri, India’s commercial counsellor, who was a RAW station chief.Others working for India, who were declared by Pakistan FO Spokesman Nafees Zakaria as working for RAW are, Anurag Singh, First Commercial Secretary, Amerdeep Singh Bhatti, Attache Visa, Dharmendra Sodhi, staff, Vijay Kumar Verma, staff, and Madhavan Nanda Kumar, staff. Two more officials, Balbir Singh, First Secretary press and information, and Jayabalan Senthil, Assistant Personnel Welfare Officer, were accused of working for the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Asked whether they will be recalled, Swarup said it was a procedural matter, but admitted that their lives have been endangered by such allegations. It now seems to be a matter of time until they return, after their cover was blown up. He also said, since they were working in visa sections, Pakistani actions will impact people-to-people and trade and economic contacts and corresponding activities of the High Commission.He said the allegations against the Indian officials represent an “after-thought” and a “crude attempt” to target them after a Pakistan High Commission staff was caught red handed last week, indulging in anti-India activities. Pakistan claimed Indian officials were involved in “espionage, subversion and supporting terrorist activities in Balochistan and Sindh, especially Karachi, sabotaging China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and fuelling instability in the two provinces”.Swarup also said that Pakistan was in complete denial of the problem and was deflecting its responsibility by resorting to “fanciful accusations”. On Pakistan’s allegations of ceasefire violations by India along the LoC, he said that, neither do Indian forces initiate ceasefire violation nor do they target civilians. The MEA spokesperson said, approximately two-thirds of the ceasefire violations by Pakistan this year, have taken place in the last five weeks. “In fact in several districts along the International Border and Line of Control, normal life has been affected, people have been displaced and over 100 schools have been closed,” he said.In Pakistan, the so called leak about Indian undercover agents is one of the most significant exposés relating to undercover agents since the US CIA was forced to pull out its Station Chief in December 2010.TARGETED NAMESThe Indian diplomats ‘exposed’ are: Anurag Singh, First Commercial Secretary, Amerdeep Singh Bhatti, Attache (Visa), Dharmendra Sodhi, staff, Vijay Kumar Verma, staff, Madhavan Nanda Kumar, staff, Balbir Singh, First Secretary (Press and Information), and Jayabalan Senthil, Assistant Personnel Welfare Officer.

Trading goods v/s trading secrets

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India blamed Pakistan for risking the lives of Indian diplomats by putting out their pictures and details in the public domain, on Thursday. In a vindictive move in which Pakistan had to recall six of its staffs, who were tagged ‘undercover agents’ by another staff Mehmood Akhtar, Pakistan Foreign Office in Islamabad alleged that eight Indian ‘diplomats’ in Pakistan were members of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Indian Intelligence Bureau (IB); they were even accused of being involved in terrorist and subversive activities. The allegations were completely rejected as “baseless and unsubstantiated” by the External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson, Vikas Swarup.Interestingly, it has been revealed that, commercial counsellors in both the missions, who were supposed to supervise promotion of trade relations between the two countries, are crooks. While Akhtar confessed that Pakistan’s commercial counsellor, Farooq Habib, was actually station chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in retaliation, Pakistan blew cover of Rajesh Kumar Agnihottri, India’s commercial counsellor, who was a RAW station chief.Others working for India, who were declared by Pakistan FO Spokesman Nafees Zakaria as working for RAW are, Anurag Singh, First Commercial Secretary, Amerdeep Singh Bhatti, Attache Visa, Dharmendra Sodhi, staff, Vijay Kumar Verma, staff, and Madhavan Nanda Kumar, staff. Two more officials, Balbir Singh, First Secretary press and information, and Jayabalan Senthil, Assistant Personnel Welfare Officer, were accused of working for the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Asked whether they will be recalled, Swarup said it was a procedural matter, but admitted that their lives have been endangered by such allegations. It now seems to be a matter of time until they return, after their cover was blown up. He also said, since they were working in visa sections, Pakistani actions will impact people-to-people and trade and economic contacts and corresponding activities of the High Commission.He said the allegations against the Indian officials represent an “after-thought” and a “crude attempt” to target them after a Pakistan High Commission staff was caught red handed last week here, indulging in anti-India activities. Pakistan claimed Indian officials were involved in “espionage, subversion and supporting terrorist activities in Balochistan and Sindh, especially Karachi, sabotaging China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and fuelling instability in the two provinces”.Swarup also said that Pakistan was in complete denial of the problem and was deflecting its responsibility by resorting to “fanciful accusations”. On Pakistan’s allegations of ceasefire violations by India along the LoC, he said that, neither do Indian forces initiate ceasefire violation nor do they target civilians. The MEA spokesperson said, approximately two-thirds of the ceasefire violations by Pakistan this year, have taken place in the last five weeks. “In fact in several districts along the International Border and Line of Control, normal life has been affected, people have been displaced and over 100 schools have been closed,” he said.In Pakistan, the so called leak about Indian undercover agents is one of the most significant exposé relating to undercover agents since the US Central Intelligence Agency was forced to pull out its Station Chief Jonathan Banks, in December 2010, after his identity was revealed in a law suit by victims of drone attacks.

GST Council decides on 4-tier tax structure of 5-28%

New Delhi: A 4-tier GST tax structure of 5, 12, 18 and 28 percent, with lower rates for essential items and the highest for luxury and de-merits goods that would also attract an additional cess, was decided by the all-powerful GST Council today.

Finance minister Arun JaitleyFinance minister Arun Jaitley

Finance minister Arun Jaitley

With a view to keeping inflation under check, essential items including food, which presently constitute roughly half of the consumer inflation basket, will be taxed at zero rate.

The lowest rate of 5 percent would be for common use items while there would be two standard rates of 12 and 18 percent under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime targetted to be rolled out from April 1, 2017.

Announcing the decisions arrived at the first day of the two-day GST Council meeting, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said highest tax slab will be applicable to items which are currently taxed at 30-31 percent (excise duty plus VAT).

Luxury cars, tobacco and aerated drinks would also be levied with an additional cess on top of the highest tax rate.

The collection from this cess as well as that of the clean energy cess would create a revenue pool which would be used for compensating states for any loss of revenue during the first five years of implementation of GST.

The cess, he said, would be lapsable after five years.

Jaitley said about Rs 50,000 crore would be needed to compensate states for loss of revenue from rollout of GST, which is to subsume a host of central and state taxes like excise duty, service tax and VAT, in the first year.

The 4-tier tax structure agreed to has slight modification to the 6, 12, 18 and 26 percent slab that were under discussion at the GST Council last month.

The structure to agreed is a compromise to accommodate demand for highest tax rate of 40 percent by states like Kerala.

While the Centre proposed to levy a 4 percent GST on gold, a final decision was put off, Jaitley said.

Kerala: Blast reported near court complex in Malappuram, none injured

Kerala: Blast reported near court complex in Malappuram, none injured

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Malappuram: A blast took place inside the civil station near the court of the Judicial First Class Magistrate in Malappuram.

Representational image. Getty images

Representational image. Getty images

No one was injured in the incident.

The blast occurred in a car hired by the Homeo District Medical officer (DMO), which had been parked along with some other vehicles near the court.

“No one was injured,” District collector A Shainamol told PTI.

Bomb and dog squads are searching the place, police said.

Further details are awaited.

Mumbai: Fire breaks out in commercial complex in Girgaon, no casualties

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A major fire broke out at a commercial complex near Dream Land theatre in south Mumbai this evening, fire brigade officials said. The blaze erupted on the first floor of the four-storeyed ‘Mehta Mansion’ in Girgaon at around 8:15 PM, they said.The fire then spread to the second floor of the complex, the officials said, adding no casualty or injury to anyone has been reported in the incident so far. According to them, eight fire tenders have been pressed into service. Earlier in the day, a fire broke out in a residential building on P D’Mello Road.However, no one was injured in the incident. The blaze had erupted on the first floor of the ground plus three storey building ‘Sai Niwas’ near Kaisar Hind Hotel at around 3:45 PM, a fire brigade official said.

Spy ring: SP Rajya Sabha member’s PA arrested

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Delhi Police on Saturday arrested Farhat Khan, the personal assistant of Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Rajya Sabha MP Munawwar Saleem. Khan, who belongs to Kairana in western UP, is the fourth person to be arrested as the Delhi Police busted a spy ring on Wednesday.The spy ring was being run by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official Mehmood Akhtar, who worked in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.Akhtar could not be arrested as he enjoyed diplomatic immunity but was asked to leave the country. Khan’s involvement in the spy ring came to light during the interrogation of Akhtar. Delhi Police officers say that Khan was paid well for handing over sensitive documents to Akhtar.”The amount changed according to the kind of documents he provided. He said he would get anything from Rs 10,000 to a lakh for some documents,” said a senior police officer.Khan is said to have been associated with many political leaders since 1996. He has been working with various MPs over the last 20 years. He was also the personal assistant to another SP MP, Munawwar Hasan, in 2008.Munawwar Saleem said he was shocked to know about his personal assistant’s involvement in the espionage case. “This person was working with me for the last one year. Full police verification was done before I took him in. I am at a loss for words… And as this issue is under investigation, it would not be appropriate to say anything more,” said Saleem.Akhtar also stated in the video that he had met Khan in Delhi near the Mandi House Metro station and ever since the two had kept in touch. He has also named other officials in the Pakistan High Commission, which include Syed Farrukh Habib, Counsellor (Trade); Khadim Hussain, First Secretary (Visa); and, Muddasir Iqbal Cheema, First Secretary (Press). The police are yet to verify these claims.Akhtar also told the police that Syed Farrukh is a colonel rank officer and he worked on his directions. After Akhtar’s confessions, the Crime Branch office in Pancharipuri, the Capital’s diplomatic area, has now become a fortress with heavy deployment of security forces, as the alleged spies working for the ISI are being grilled there. Around 20 commandos from the CRPF are guarding the office as well.The Delhi Police caught Akhtar on October 26 while receiving secret documents outside the Delhi Zoo from two Indian nationals, Maulana Ramzan and Subhash Jangir, who were residents of Nagaur, Rajasthan. The duo were held along with Akhtar. Another accused in the espionage case, Shoaib Hasan, has also been arrested.

Political activist becoming a judge is inconceivable now: CJI Thakur

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Scrutiny in appointments to the higher judiciary is much more stringent these days and it would have been “inconceivable” for a judge like late V R Krishna Iyer, who flaunted his political activism, to be elevated to the apex court, Chief Justice T S Thakur said on Wednesday.”A politician becoming a judge and that too a judge of the Supreme Court is inconceivable in present context. That too a judge who has been prosecuted in 10 criminal cases. A judge who has undergone sentence for 30 days,” he said in his speech at Inaugural Lecture series in memory of Justice Iyer here. “A judge who is a political activist, an agitationist becoming a candidate and becoming a judge is inconceivable today,” he further said.While calling himself a die hard fan of Justice Iyer, the Chief Justice said in today’s time, if we had an Iyer-type candidate, the collegium would have hesitated in recommending him. “We had a meeting of the collegium today. One of the objection about two of the candidates were that they had obtained a chamber and the allotment was later cancelled as it was found that the allotment was not valid according to rules.”Allottee has gone to the court to challenge the cancellation. Now one of the objection is that this candidate is in litigation. We have even deferred. Times have changed.Today if we had a Justice Krishna Iyer kind of candidate, we would have been very very hesitant in recommending him for elevation,” CJI said. Beside the CJI, former Supreme Court Judge K S P Radhakrishnan, senior advocates Fali S Nariman and P H Parekh praised Justice Iyer while addressing the first lecture series organised by Sarada-Krishna Satgamaya Foundation, a charitable trust founded by Justice Iyer, to conduct law lectures and to promote other activities connected with legal education and legal literary works. Senior lawyer Nariman, while delivering the inaugural speech of the lecture series, recalled major judgments pronounced by Justice Iyer like the Ratlam municipality judgment and remembered his toughness in dealing with the issues of social justice keeping away his political affinities. Nariman also hailed Justice Iyer as a jurist who defined bail jurisprudence in favour of undertrials when he laid down that bail, not jail was the rule and was averse to preventive detentions as a general rule.The senior lawyer also referred to Justice Iyer’s 1975 conditional stay on Allahabad High Court verdict that unseated Indira Gandhi as MP which led to the events that culminated in the imposition of Emergency. He recalled that once Justice Iyer was denied enrollment in the Kerala Bar Association but he threatened to sue the Kerala Bar Association. “Evidently, it worked,” Nariman said while hailing Justice Iyer as “super judge”.He also criticised the handling of the recent dengue epidemic in Delhi, as something Justice Iyer would never have done. Endorsing the senior counsel’s words praising former apex court judge, CJI Thakur called late Justice Iyer a legend and compared him with Mount Everest. “If we compare the judicial landscape with the Himalayas, Justice Krishna Iyer was the Mount Everest,” he added. He further said the presence of such huge gathering of Bar at this hour, on a working day shows there is a great hunger for knowledge, continuing education, to know about the past legends and their contribution.”Why can’t we organise such lectures on a regular basis in memory of various other prominent lawyers and jurists? This can be an opportunity to the younger generation of the bar. “Only way we can relieve the memories of such great people is to remember them through the work that they have done and especially through the words of those who have worked with them,” CJI said adding Justice Iyer was unique in many respects. “First of all he was the first person who came from politics to judiciary. We know that judges who have retired have a tendency to meddle in politics,” he added.CJI also said Iyer’s understanding about the constitutional ethos was unparalleled. “I admire his vocabulary. Krishna Iyer’s vocabulary was phenomenal. I believe that he has the distinction of coining new expressions. He has made additions to English language. For an Indian to do that, I think it requires only a man from Kerala eating lots of fish, a brainy fellow, who can do all these,” he said.

While lists of debit card holders were being stolen, nation’s ‘chowkidaar’ was sleeping: Congress on Modi

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Congress, on Friday, latched on to biggest debit card breach in India to take pot shot at the Narendra Modi government telling the Prime Minister that he should take credit for this first ever “surgical strike” from hackers in the US and China.”In China, Russia, Indonesia, the US, there are hackers who have stolen lists of 65 lakh card holders. While these lists were being stolen, the nations ‘Chowkidaar’ (watchman), Narendra Modi was sleeping,” party spokesman Ajoy Kumar told reporters. Demanding that the government make a full disclosure on the extent of this “theft”, he wanted it to inform all those affected by this leak and ensure that the banks compensate all card holders for their loss.”There are very few occurrences of this magnitude in the world. And these lists were stolen on Modiji’s watch. This government has a habit of saying that it is the first government to do anything. Well it is the first government to let lists of cardholders get stolen,” he said suggesting that it should take credit for this ‘surgical strike’. He lamented that instead of the NDA government fulfilling its promise of depositing Rs 15 lakh in each citizen’s account by bringing back black money stashed abroad, “money is being taken out of the people’s account in Modi’s India”.

State information commission denies Make in India MoUs

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The state information commission has ordered that Memorandun of Understandings (MoU) between the Maharashtra government and the various firms are not be given to an applicant. The order, upholding the reply of the Public Information Officer (PIO) and the First Appellate Authority (FAA), stated that it is exempted as per sub sections of section 8 (1) as per the RTI Act.The order was passed by Ajit Kumar Jain, State Information Commissioner (Brihanmumbai bench) after a second appeal was filed by Pune based Vihar Durve. Durve in his application had asked copies of the Memorandum Of Understanding (with file notings) as announced by Chief Minister of Maharasthra in Make in India program held in February 2016 in Mumbai.He further demanded total amount mentioned in the MOUs in the event, the amount actually invested, the time limit in which it is to be invested, name and designation of the officer who is supposed to supervise actual amount invested, and the information on the amount spent on the program among others.In a reply, the PIO stated that MoUs cannot be given because it can pose threat to the competitiveness of the party and it is not for public interest. The PIO also stated that 2,603 MOUs were signed of Rs 8.04 lakh crore investment. These would create 30 lakh employment opportunities.All the investment has to come in five to seven years and will be monitored by the Chief Secretary. Industries ministry spent around Rs 52.46 crore for the program.The commission order stated that the purpose of RTI Act is to have transparency, and simultaneously, ensure that sensitive information be kept secretive. Such is the dual purpose of the Act. It went on to up held the exemptions under the Act.”Thirty lakh people are likely to get employment as per what government claims and government will be giving land and water which is our natural resources. The Supreme Court in the 2G case had stated that the public interest is above government policy. The PIO and commission did not apply their mind. All these are registered and limited companies. All the information is shared with their shareholders. The information that cannot be denied to legislature cannot be denied to applicants as per RTI Act. The government should be declaring all this information because it is in public interest,” said Durve.

Battle ground GST Council: Proposed additional cess may queer the pitch at meeting today

As the first day of its meeting concluded on Tuesday, the GST Council managed to arrive at a consensus on how to compensate the states for the losses they incur on account of the tax reform that subsumes various state and central levies.

However, the council has not yet arrived at a conclusion on the crucial GST rate structure. According to finance minister Arun Jaitley who briefed reporters, the proposal for a four-tier structure was discussed.

The discussion will continue today.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

Here’s a round-up of what happened on day one and what lies ahead:

Consensus on compensation for states

This is definitely good news. The Council has decided on the issue of compensation for states. “One main issue in today’s (Tuesday) agenda was to calculate the compensation for states and this matter was concluded in the discussions held,” Jaitley told reporters.

The base year for calculating the compensation is 2015-16. One of the basis for calculating revenue in the first five years, which is the compensation period, will be the secular rate of growth in revenue. This has been arrived at as 14 percent, which would be treated as a possible growth rate. The Centre has promised to compensate the states for revenue losses for the first five years after the implementation of the GST if the states’ revenues come down under the new tax regime.

Commenting on the development, MS Mani, senior director – Indirect Tax, Deloitte Haskins & Sells LLP, said, “Now that consensus has been reached on the revenue compensation and the base year, states can focus more on the steps required to enable GST in each state, including stakeholders consultation.”

Rate structure

The basic structure: The Centre on Tuesday proposed a four-slab GST tax structure – 6 percent for essential goods, 12 percent for merit goods, 18 percent standard rate and 26 percent for demerit goods. However, there is also a proposal to impose an additional cess.

Food items will continue to be exempt from tax. As much as 50 percent of the common use goods will either be in the exempt category or lower band. Also, 70 percent of the items is proposed to be governed by 18 percent of lower GST rate. However, ultra-luxury items such as high-end cars and demerit goods like tobacco, cigarettes, aerated drinks, luxury car and polluting items would attract an additional cess on top of the 26 percent GST rate.

On gold, the GST rate suggested was 4 percent. FMCG and consumer durable products would attract 26 percent GST rate, against the current incidence of around 31 percent.

Taxation of services would, however, be only in the 6 percent, 12 percent and 18 percent range, with the higher rate being 18 percent.

The merits of the structure: The biggest thing could be that inflation is likely to be contained. Remember, one of the concerns many experts have raised with regards to GST implementation has been that the new tax reform may push up inflation rate as services are likely to get a higher tax. A report in The Indian Express, however, says the overall impact on the consumer price index is likely to be (-)0.6 percent. This is the claim made by the Centre at the GST Council meeting on Tuesday.

Estimate of inflation impact on health services is 0.56 percent, fuel and lighting 0.05 percent and clothing 0.23 percent, transport (-)0.65 percent, education (-)0.08 percent and housing (-)0.09 percent, according to the IE report. It also says the Centre’s estimated revenue collection is Rs 8.72 lakh crore as per this structure.

The proposal to impose a cess will help create a fund of Rs 50,000 crore, which can be used to compensate the states. At least that is what the Centre has said.

According to revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia, the Rs 50,000 crore pool that would be created out of cess on demerit goods would be used to compensate the states for revenue loss. Of that, Rs 26,000 crore is expected to be garnered from clean energy cess and the remaining from tobacco and their items.

The demerits of the proposal: First of all, will the Congress agree to this kind of structure? The party has been arguing for capping the GST standard rate at 18 percent, which it says is the “appropriate rate”. With the new structure proposal capping the rate at 26 percent and also adding a cess on top of it, this is unlikely to pass the muster.

The cess is already attracting opposition.

A report in the Mint newspaper says the meeting today is likely to start off on a wrong note.

“It is likely to emerge as a key point of disagreement between the centre and the states as the latter have always opposed levy of central cesses that are excluded from the divisible pool of taxes,” the report says.

Not just politicians, experts also feel this is likely to add to the tax burden. Bipin Sapra, tax partner, EY, says, “The maximum rate of 26% for demerit or luxury goods may harbour more goods than initially envisaged which will make them costlier. Also since cesses would be outside the GST, the present cascading may continue raising the tax burden.”

Kerala’s Thomas Issac has also told PTI that his state wanted the highest rate to be fixed at 30 percent so that common man’s use of daily items can either be exempt or levied with lower rates.

Reacting to the proposal, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) suggested that to check inflation and the tendency to evade taxes “the merit rate should be lower and the standard rate reasonable”.

“As per the current indications and reports, goods will be categorised as being subject to merit rates (12 per cent), standard rates (18 per cent) and de-merit rates (40 per cent),” FICCI said in a release following a meeting in New Delhi with the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers.

Given the likely sharp differences that are emerging, it is very unlikely that a final decision on rate will be taken today. Already, Jaitley has said there are five proposals on the table. Given the diverse problems each states face with the GST, an early resolution is doubtful.

(With inputs from PTI, IANS)

India joins ‘Nuclear Triad’ club with INS Arihant

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>With the INS Arihant now becoming fully operational, India has joined the ‘Nuclear triad’ club of superpowers who can launch nuclear weapons from sea, land and air-based systems, reports News X.INS Arihant, a 6,000-tonne submarine, is country’s first indigenous nuclear submarine and can launch nuclear weapons from underwater. The vessel was declared as ready for operation in February 2016. It was built under the Advanced Technology Vessel Project at the Ship Building Centre. In August 2016, INS Arihant had been commissioned by PM Modi into the Indian Navy.An advantage of such a submarine is that they are harder to track and destroy than land and air nuclear launch platforms.India has now joined group of five other elite countries – USA, UK, France, Russia, China – to have developed nuclear-armed submarines. INS Arihant gives India the power to hold the threat of a ‘second strike’ in a nuclear counter attack, even if the country is completely destroyed. This finds relevance in India’s ‘No First Strike’ policy in contrast to Pakistan’s “First strike” policy. The ‘First Strike’ policy allows Pakistan to use nuclear weapons against India even if India does not.

Full text of PM Modi’s speech at Brics Business Council Meeting

Here’s the full text of PM Modi’s intervention at Brics Business Council Meeting in Goa on Sunday. 

Your Excellency President Xi Jinping,
Your Excellency President Jacob Zuma,
Your Excellency President Michel Teme,
Your Excellency President Vladimir Putin,
Distinguished Members of the BRICS Business Council.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of the Brics Business Council.

The Council reflects the full economic diversity and depth of business engagement between our countries.

I thank their contribution to the Brics agenda of building inclusive economies through responsive and collective solutions.

Leaders during the Brics Business Council Meeting. (Photo: MEAIndia)

Leaders during the Brics Business Council Meeting. (Photo: MEAIndia)

Excellencies and Friends,

Promoting economic and commercial engagement has been a foundational impulse in the creation of Brics. It is, therefore, encouraging to see the Brics Business Council take healthy shape three years after we set it up in Durban.

Our business communities are the strongest proponents for closer and faster commercial cooperation among Brics.

Their partnerships create wealth and value in our societies. And, enhance productivity and create jobs in our economies through technological innovations and capacity addition.

I applaud that vision. I share that vision.

Excellencies,

In India, we have undertaken substantial reforms in the last two years to streamline and simplify governance, especially doing business in India.

The results are clearly visible.

We have moved up in almost all global indices that measure such performances.

We have transformed India into one of the most open economies in the world today.

Growth is strong and we are taking steps to keep the momentum going.

I am happy to note that the Brics Business Council also has matching priorities of ease of doing business, dismantling trade barriers, promoting skills development, establishing manufacturing supply chains and infrastructure development.

The Council’s work holds much promise for expansion of trade and business among BRICS countries.

Excellencies,

The New Development Bank is fully operational now. Its success is a concrete result of our common efforts.

We congratulate the NDB and its management for commencing the first batch of projects.

NDB has kept clean energy and green and sustainable infrastructure as its priority.

We welcome it.

We would encourage the Brics Business Council to work closely with the NDB on identifying and implementing prospective economic projects.

India hosted the First Brics Trade Fair in New Delhi two days ago with active participation from all your countries.

Such activities must be promoted to generate greater business awareness and commercial exchanges.

Excellencies,

Let me conclude by saying that as governments, we count on the Brics Business Council to work with us to achieve our common aim of:

  • Strengthening mutual trade;
  • Enhancing business opportunities;
  • Building investments linkages;
  • Promoting innovation; and
  • and removing bottlenecks to intra-Brics commerce.

In a little while, we will hear from the Brics Business Council and the leadership of NDB.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Uri attack: Terrorists scaled Line of Control fence using ladder, say Army officials

Uri/New Delhi: The four Pakistani terrorists, who killed 19 soldiers in one of the the bloodiest attacks on an army camp in Uri last month, had used a ladder to scale the electrified fence at the LoC.

Investigation carried out by the army to identify the infiltration route of the four terrorists led it to conclude that a ladder was used near Salamabad nallah, official sources said.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The army officials said that one of the four, who mounted the brazen attack in Uri, about 102 km from Srinagar, had infiltrated using the gaps along the fence near Salamabad nallah and erected a ladder on the Indian side of the fence, while the other three had a ladder on their side. The two ladders were connected like a pedestrian bridge.

The sources said it was difficult for all the four to infiltrate through the gap used by the first terrorist as each one of them was carrying heavy rucksacks filled with ammunition, weapons and eatables. It would have taken them a lot of time to cross the fence at grave risk to their lives as army teams, which routinely patrol the area, could have spotted them.

After the four infiltrated into India, the ladder, carried by the first terrorist, was handed over back to the two guides — Mohd Kabir Awan and Basharat — who accompanied them up to the LoC, sources said, adding it was done to ensure there were no tell-tale signs.

The army is conducting an enquiry at Gohallan and adjoining village Jablah as they suspect the terrorists might have taken shelter there for a day before launching the deadly attack on 18 September which left 19 army personnel dead and a large quantity of arms and ammunition destroyed.

The first incident of terrorists using ladders to cross the fence was reported in Machil sector of North Kashmir earlier this year.

The army has launched an internal inquiry into the incident and removed Uri Brigade commander K Soma Shanker. Preliminary investigations suggested the terrorists had entered the area at least a day before mounting the brazen assault.

The inquiry, which will be completed in a time-bound manner, will also suggest measures to prevent such attacks in future. Pakistan-based groups were now indulging more in “shallow infiltration” during which the terrorists, after crossing the LoC, target the first available army camp or security establishment.

During the investigation it was found that the terrorists had sneaked into the army camp by cutting the perimeter fencing of the highly-guarded installation at one place.

In an indication that the terrorists were well aware of the layout of the base close to the LoC, the assailants had locked the kitchen and store from outside to prevent the soldiers present inside from leaving before setting the structures on fire, they said.

The investigators also said the four terrorists might have sneaked in from PoK on the intervening night of 16/17 September and stayed put at village Sukhdar, overlooking the brigade headquarter.

Sukhdar village is located at a vantage point allowing an unhindered view of the army base and movement of personnel inside it.

FBI in Thane in connection with probe in multi-crore call centre fraud: Police

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Team of US Federal Bureau of Investigation is in Thane in connection with probe in multi-crore call centre fraud, the police has said on Friday.High-tech devices like ‘magic jacks’ were used by callers of Mira Road call centres, who posed as US tax authorities to dupe a large number of citizens of that country of several million dollars, police had informed yesterday. Police are also looking forward to crack DID (direct inward dialling) number of the devices used by racketeers to find out more about their modus operandi.DID is used as a way to re-use a limited number of physical phone lines to handle calls to different published numbers.Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime) Mukund Hatote, who is leading the probe, told a magistrate’s court here that the accused in the case are not revealing anything to police even as the prosecution sought extension of police custody of one of the accused Sufiyan Abdulla Marjurki (25). The court of First Class Judicial Magistrate (FCJM) P D Chavan remanded Marjurki in judicial custody for 14 days. According to police, money was transferred from Marjurki’s bank account to the accounts of his brothers, wife, and mother. “Police have definite information that Magic Jacks (MJs) were used in the fraud,” Hatote told the court, adding that investigators are trying to get hold of MJs which can be concealed anywhere and which has a DID.Magic Jack is a device that plugs into a USB port on the user’s computer and has a standard RJ-11 phone jack into which any standard phone can be plugged. This allows the user to make unlimited phone calls to the US and Canada.”Once we get the device and crack its DID, we will travel further and find out details like recipients of the calls and also trace other vital details,” the police officer said. He said police were investigating other financial transactions of the arrested accused whose family members are believed to have played a vital role in the probe.”The probe will take considerable amount of time as the entire racket involved a number of call centres along with hundreds of associate accused,” Hatote said.Police have so far arrested 71 people in the case. During hearing of the case on October 10, the court had remanded 54 of the accused in judicial remand, four persons in police custody till October 13 and 13 men in police custody till October 14. Police remanded three others, excluding Marjurki, in police custody till October 20. The racket was exposed after city police raided three call centres, which were run illegally on the premises of Hari Om IT Park, Universal Outsourcing Services and Oswal House in Mira Road locality in Thane district recently. The callers used to seek financial and bank details of the US citizens and if the victims refused the information, they would allegedly threaten them with dire consequences, including legal action and penalties. The callers used to contact people in the US and conned them after speaking in American accent by posing as officials of US Internal Revenue Service, police had said.According to police, some of the call centre employees earned up to Rs one lakh per month as a reward by the racket operators for making US nationals cough up money. The employees were fully trained in US accent and were given SOP and call sheet, based on which they used to make calls to the ‘tax defaulters’.They used to make at least 100 calls per day of which 10-15 calls would materialise and of these 3-4 people would make payment under threat by the conmen, police said. As per police, the daily turnover of these call centres is said to be to the tune of nearly Rs one crore to Rs 1.50 crore, while the annual turnover could be well above Rs 300 crore.

Monica Ghurde murder case: Accused sexually abused her before killing her, reveal cops

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The man held for the murder of perfumer Monica Ghurde spent two nights on terrace of her building monitoring movements and sexually abused her before strangulating her, police said on Tuesday, as chilling details emerged about the sensational case. The accused, Rajkumar Singh, has confessed to sexually abusing Monica after tying her to bed in her apartment and also forced her to watch porn clips, they said.Singh, a 21-year-old native of Punjab who worked as a security guard in Panaji, has been arrested for allegedly murdering the photographer-turned-perfume specialist on the night of October 5 at her rented flat in Sangolda village in Goa. Singh, nabbed from a Bengaluru hotel two days ago, was brought to Goa on transit remand on Monday night. The accused was produced in a court of a Judicial Magistrate of First Class at Mapusa town on Tuesday, which remanded him in seven-day police custody. He was tracked on the basis of ATM transactions he made at different locations after stealing two cards of the 39-year-old woman and forcing her to reveal their PINs.”The accused has confessed to the crime. He has told the Investigating Officer that for two days he took refuse on the terrace of the building where Monica lived before forcibly entering her flat on October 5 evening,” Deputy Inspector General of Police Vimal Gupta told reporters at police headquarters.Singh, during interrogation, narrated how he tortured Monica throughout the night before strangling her to death, Gupta said, adding he tied the victim to bed and went to the kitchen, where he had boiled eggs for dinner. Gupta said the accused arrived in Goa on April 5, 2016 in search of a job and was employed as a security guard in the complex, where Monica came searching for a rented flat.”The accused was attracted towards Monica since the day she inquired about availability of a flat in the complex and later followed her movements when she started residing there. After his duty as a security guard, he would wash cars of the residents, including that of Monica,” the DIG said.Gupta, who interrogated Singh at Saligao police station in presence of Superintendent of Police (North) Umesh Gaonkar in the morning, said the accused developed grudge against Monica after he was sacked from the job on July 22, 2016 after being accused of stealing her umbrella.”The security agency, which had employed him, kept on hold his two months’ salary amounting to Rs 22,000,” the IPS officer said.”After losing his job, Singh worked as a labourer in Ponda town for sometime before visiting places like Pune, Chennai, Hyderbad and Mumbai in search of employment but was unsuccessful,” Gupta said.During this time, the accused contacted Monica and requested her to tell the security agency to release his salary. She, however, refused to do so. Overcome by anger and sense of revenge over what he perceived as humiliation by the perfumer for his loss of job, Singh went to her residential complex on October 3. He spent two days on her building’s terrace looking for opportunity to get inside her flat and finally succeeded on October 5 at around 6.30 PM, the DIG said.Gupta said the accused had a scuffle with Monica in bathroom. He then overpowered and tied her to bed and sexually abused her. Fearing Monica will complain to the police, Singh smothered the perfumer to death but before that forced her to reveal PINs of ATM cards and password of her mobile phone. The DIG said the woman screamed for help several times during her captivity but no one from the complex could hear it.

India tries to hasten deal to buy Predator drone aircraft amid election uncertainty in US

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India is trying to hasten a deal with the United States to buy Predator drone aircraft for military surveillance, one of several defence and nuclear projects the two sides are pursuing in the final months of the Obama administration.India’s request for 22 Predator Guardian drones made in June is in an advanced stage of negotiations. The two sides hope to make enough progress so only administrative tasks remain by the time President Barack Obama leaves office, government officials in New Delhi said.”It is progressing well. The aim is to complete the main process in the next few months,” said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built personal ties with President Barack Obama, whose signature foreign policy move has been a strategic pivot to Asia from the Middle East.The United States has dislodged Russia as the top arms supplier to India. New Delhi is also on the cusp of sealing a US nuclear reactor deal worth billions of dollars.In return, Washington has given New Delhi access to high-end military technology, such as a new system to launch planes off aircraft carriers, and leaned on other countries to give India membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime, which cleared the way for the sale of the unarmed Predator.India’s military has also asked for the armed version of the Predator to help target suspected militant camps in Pakistan but US export control laws prohibit such a transfer.US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who visited India in April, is expected to make a final trip there towards the end of the year.”The administration is eager to get as much done as is humanly possible. They believe the conditions and the personnel in both capitals are uniquely favorable at the moment, and are eager to consolidate and institutionalize the progress,” said Jeff Smith, director of Asia Security Programs at the American Foreign Policy Council.”AMERICA FIRST”Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy statements have raised questions in India and other Asian nations about a US pullback from Asia.Trump has said US allies, such as Japan and South Korea, should pay more towards their defence. He told the New York Times in an interview in March he could withdraw US troops from bases in Japan, and raised the idea of letting Japan and South Korea develop their own nuclear arsenals.”It is a serious concern, and may lead to Chinese pre-eminence in Asia far sooner than expected,” said Dhruva Jaishankar, a specialist on India-US ties at Brookings India.Manoj Ladwa, a London-based political strategist who served as communications director for Modi’s 2014 campaign, said Trump had sent contradictory messages to India.”On the one hand, he says he values business relations with India, but then mimics Indian call centre workers, and disregards the competitiveness that a partnership with India could provide the US,” he said.”His unpredictability is worrisome in a world that requires steady and mature statesmanship.”

IIT Kanpur’s placement drive to begin from December

Popular companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, many Indian firms and Public Sector Undertakings can be expected to join the recruitment drive. <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The first round of the placement drive of IIT Kanpur’s 2016-17 academic session will begin in Kanpur from December 1 to December 22. Around 1,200 students have registered for the first round of the placement drive, university officials said.According to the placement cell sources, the first round will see around 300 foreign and Indian companies and Public Sector Undertakings in the placement drive. The second phase will take place between February to April 2017, they said.Popular companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, many Indian firms and Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) can be expected to join the recruitment drive, the administration said. The registered students are being given tips to brush up their communication and interview skills. IIT Kanpur’s placement drive for the previous academic session of 2015-2016 saw 90 per cent placement rate, officials added.

Surgical strikes against Pakistan along LoC are a breath of fresh air

On Thursday morning, the Indian Army announced that it had conducted several strikes on terrorist camps across the Line of Control. According to the statement by the Director General for Military Operations, Lieutenant-General Ranbir Singh, operations took place in four sectors along the LoC — Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel and Lipa — at 12.30 am on 28 September and destroyed seven terrorist bases that were used to stage infiltrations into India. All facilities were between 500 and 3,000 metres from the LoC. Casualties are reported to include two Pakistani soldiers and 38 terrorists. Commandos were dropped at the LoC from where they crossed over into Pakistani-occupied Kashmir under the watchful eye of Indian drones. The action was undertaken after receiving “credible and specific information” about terrorists at the locations, planning attacks on major Indian cities.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Pakistan’s initial reaction has been to deny these strikes, citing “usual” Indian cross-border shelling instead as the cause of death of two of its soldiers. This buys its leadership time to decide on how to respond, especially in light of the US’ prompt statement expressing support for Indian counter-terrorism efforts. Though worded vaguely, its timing and general import leaves little doubt that Washington knew about and approved of India’s military actions Wednesday night.

The Indian strike is truly genius — while representing almost nothing tactically, it has truly set the cat among the pigeons diplomatically and strategically. At an empirical level, India’s action is a cross-border strike only by the grace of semantics — its Special Forces penetrated Pakistan-held territory only just beyond a good sniper’s range and killed 38 terrorists, a number that could probably be replaced in hours. Normally, a cross-border strike evokes memories of Neptune Spear, Ajax, Moked or Thunderbolt. Nonetheless, this is nothing to be scoffed at — I had written in a previous article that India cannot hope to dissuade Pakistan from terrorism with cross-border strikes and should instead target Pakistan and its terrorist allies.

Wednesday’s strike fits the mould perfectly.

The ingenuity of India’s move comes in its diplomatic package. First, it sought to persuade the US of the justness of its cause — Washington can be a moralising bully as much as India’s early prime ministers were. Second, it announced the strike publicly and reiterated that the operations were limited and had been halted — this dampened any escalatory opportunism by Pakistan. Furthermore, it was a booster shot for national morale, sagging after decades of receiving blows from across the border. Third, Delhi briefed the envoys of 22 nations, including the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, through its foreign secretary S Jaishankar on Wednesday’s mission. This would consolidate international opinion behind Indian actions, especially since Pakistan has a glowing reputation for supporting terrorism.

The briefing was presumably to also reassure the global community that the military action was indeed limited, the conviction of which would lead to their diplomatic pressure on Islamabad to abjure from further provoking Delhi.

Strategically, India has called Pakistan’s bluff that it would respond with nuclear weapons if the former dared to conduct raids into the latter’s territory. Wednesday’s raid is so small and insignificant that a nuclear response would seem insane by any standards. As several analysts in favour of striking back at Pakistan, including myself, have argued earlier, India must utilise the conflict space below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold if it is to have any hope of curbing Pakistani shenanigans. This is exactly what Delhi has now done, challenging Islamabad to actually defend in public terrorists with nuclear weapons. And it seems, Islamabad has blinked.

The Indian strike is truly genius — while representing almost nothing tactically, it has truly set the cat among the pigeons diplomatically and strategically

There is no reason this bluff could not have been called earlier, but previous administrations imagined — and Pakistan allowed them to do so — that even the slightest response to the asymmetric war being waged from across the LoC would incur Pakistani nuclear retaliation. The Narendra Modi government has understood that the threshold had to be higher than that for it to have any meaning. Yet in all caution, Modi authorised only very shallow strikes at first — if Pakistan fails to live up to its rhetoric, future strikes may be even deeper and more significant as India improves its capability to conduct such strikes. Wednesday’s raid has disregarded Pakistan’s nuclear red lines and in all likelihood, pushed them back a bit.

Why did Modi not act earlier? Perhaps because he wanted to, on the world stage, give diplomacy a chance; perhaps the Indian military was not ready in the first two years of the Modi administration; or perhaps he wanted to dispel the stereotypes about him for domestic political reasons. This is all speculation and irrelevant to the national security debate. What matters is that the Indian government has finally acted boldly — and wisely — on the Pakistani-sponsored terrorism question and it is a much appreciated breath of fresh air.

Modi and Pakistan: Rhetorics, postures are all fine but India still lacks a proper answer

It is becoming clear every passing day that when it comes to Pakistan, the Narendra Modi government doesn’t have any plan. From the very beginning of its tenure, Modi’s Pakistan policy has been marked with twists, turns, U-turns, ad-hocism and leaps of faith. The government’s response to the terror attack in Uri shows nothing has changed and that it is still hoping its policy of trial and error would lead to some solution, any solution.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTIPrime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

A day after the Uri attack, the government and its war boys made so much noise that it seemed “a jaw for a tooth” was imminent. When its ministers argued that not retaliating now would be a sign of cowardice, it appeared Modi would live up to his pre-PM rhetoric of replying in a language that Pakistan understands.

Alas, we have come to a stage where the only response to the terror attack seems to be the pretence that a response is underway. From debating a quick counter strike inside LoC to targeting jihadist infrastructure in Muridke, the talk has quickly veered to hare-brained ideas like stopping Pakistan’s water, withdrawing trade benefits and fighting against poverty and hunger.

Ten heads for every slain Indian soldiers has degenerated into ten drops of Indus for every slain soldier.

The entire rigmarole of retaliation the Modi government has gone through since Uri creates the impression that cross-border terrorism is a new challenge for India, something that has just been birthed by our neighbours to the astonishment of the Modi sarkar. Like a country shocked by an unexpected development, heads are being banged, old treaties are being reviewed, trade pacts are being reconsidered in search of a viable “defensive offence.”

So, what policy did Modi have in his pocket when he walked into 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, promising to not write “love letters to Pakistan” or go “crying to Obama” like his predecessor? The answer is — none.

Don’t be mislead by the heightened activity in power corridors in search of a fitting reply to Pakistan. All of it is purely for domestic consumption, to address the chorus for punitive action till it fades away. As Donald Trump argued in the first debate with Hillary Clinton: “All talk, no action. Typical politicians. Never going to happen.”

The military option, as the frenzied debate on abrogation of the Indus Waters Treaty and withdrawal of Most Favoured Nation to Pakistan shows, is currently off the table. No surgical strikes, no Brahmos whistling into Muridke to take out Hafiz Sayeed, no Mig-29s flying into PoK to destroy training camps, all these are clearly off the table.

Stopping the Indus water from entering Pakistan, as many have argued, is just a farcical fancy, simply because where will India store all that aqua fina denied to the neighbour. We can, of course, build dams, start new hydel power projects to slight the enemy. But all this would take not months but years. And, what’s the guarantee that during the interregnum, Modi may once again take a U-turn, well literally, and stop over at Nawaz Sharif’s farm house for his grand daughter’s birthday?

Denying Pakistan MFN status isn’t likely to chasten Pakistan either. With China ready to pump billions in its backyard and use it as a transit point for trade through Gwadar, with Iran dying for a piece of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, withdrawing MFN status would be meaningless.

The fact is, India has no viable strategy to deal with Pakistan, a fact that the neighbour knows and gloats about. Writing in the Express Tribune, Fahd Husain calls India’s response ‘Dumb and Dumber-er.’

“Here’s why: First, it’s never a good idea to start the blame game without a peg to hang your rage on. Second, it’s even a worse idea to allow your ambition to start outweighing your capability. And third, it’s absolutely the worst idea to climb so high up a moral ladder that climbing down is only possible at the expense of your dignity. India’s done all three. That’s classic stupidity,” Husain writes.

A similar sentiment is echoed by former chief of naval staff Arun Prakash in The Indian Express, who in scathing terms advises the Indian government to look before escalating. “Let us be quite clear that exaggerated posturing and jingoistic loud talk are unworthy of the great-power status that India aspires to; they only serve to erode our credibility,” he argues.

Sometimes it is easier to live in the make-believe instead of accepting the reality. But, truth is far more liberating than the tyranny of a lie. So, here it is: It is clear that like his predecessors, Modi too has realised that there are no easy shortcuts to solving the problem of a rogue state bent on sending terrorists to India. The benefits of military options, surgical and air raids have to be carefully weighed against costs and fears of an uncontrolled escalation. Also, as George Perkovich and Toby Dalton argue in this paper, India might be a few years away from teaching Pakistan the desired lesson.

The realities of power have made Modi ignore his own pre-poll rhetoric. Like Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh before him, he too has gone back to the philosophy of time being the only solutions to the Pakistan problem.
Till then, there is always the option of trial and error.

Rahul should retire, BJP likely to dominate for next 20 years: Ramachandra Guha

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Prominent historian Ramachandra Guha, a well-known critic of the RSS and BJP, shocked a few people when he suggested Congress scion Rahul Gandhi ought to take a permanent hiatus from Indian politics. Guha also suggested that BJP would be the most powerful party in India for the next 20 years.He compared the electoral strength of the BJP to the Congress of the 60s and 70s when Indian politics was dominated by one party. He told Economics Times: “Rahul Gandhi is an object of ridicule and contempt by people who would otherwise be attracted to a liberal Congress point of view… Rahul Gandhi should retire from politics, get married and start a family. That will be good for him. That will be good for India also.”He also expressed disappointment at the ambitions of Nitish Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal. He said: “Earlier people thought Nitish Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal could become an alternative pole, but they have been disappointing.”Guha also expressed concern over BJP exerting influence over prominent national institutions and while he admitted that the Congress sought to control those also, the party had ‘no malicious intent’ because of its ‘left-liberal credentials’. Guha on the hand worried that the BJP would unleash a ‘conservative onslaught against the nation’. He also remarked about the Jain monk incident which caused a huge furore stating that it was ‘fundamentally wrong’ and religious preachers shouldn’t have a place in modern democracy.Most right wingers associate Ram Guha as someone with undying love for Nehru. However, Guha had criticism reserved for India’s first PM too. He said Nehru ought to have rolled back the First Amendment which has put reasonable restrictions on free speech. Guha said about Article 191(a): “It, unfortunately, doesn’t have the political will to do that. So this will continue. In the late 1950s, when India was secure and safe, Jawaharlal Nehru should have rolled back the First Amendment (restricting free speech), which he didn’t do. Subsequent political regimes did not have the legitimacy or the courage or the conviction to do that. I don’t think this government sets great store by creative or artistic or intellectual work.”He also hoped that an alternate right-wing could emerge from youngsters, who are ‘outside the RSS ecosystem’.

Tamil Nadu: HC declines to stay suspension of 79 DMK MLAs

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Madras High Court declined to grant an interim stay on suspension of 79 DMK MLAs from the state Assembly on Monday, but issued notice to the state Chief Secretary on petitions filed by leader of the opposition MK Stalin and another DMK member. The petitions challenged their en masse suspension from the Assembly and sought a direction to declare all proceedings and actions taken as illegal, ultra vires and unconstitutional.Declining to pass an interim order, the First Bench, comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice R Mahadevan, said, “Since it is a matter of function of the House and the order has been passed by the Speaker, we are not inclined to pass interim orders. “But there will be no question of making the prayer infructuous as ultimately the validity of the resolution would have to be decided as it may have other ramifications,” it said. The bench directed the petitioners-Stalin and DMK MLA Thiagarajan– to serve private notices to the Speaker, P Dhanapal, and the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Secretary, and posted the matter for further hearing to September 1.When the matter came up, senior counsel for Stalin, Mohan Parasaran submitted that it was for the first time in the history of the Assembly that a resolution had been passed suspending en masse all opposition DMK MLAs. In his plea, Stalin sought an interim direction to permit him and other suspended members to attend and participate in the present session. He submitted that the blanket resolution to suspend all DMK members, who had signed the attendance register on the date was without any basis or material. He said the majority of DMK members, including he himself, were not in the House when the resolution was passed by voice vote.He submitted that the resolution was later modified to include the DMK members who had been present and those who had not signed the attendance register and alleged that the Speaker’s action was “unprecedented, motivated and biased which completely undermines democracy”. Stalin submitted that the resolution was passed under rule 121 of the Assembly “which is ex-facie unconstitutional as it provides for the grave punishment of suspension without any opportunity of hearing to the member in question.” He said, “the resolution and actions pursuant thereto are a blatant violation of Articles 14,19 and 21 of the Constitution of India and completely arbitrary and deprive the members the valuable right of representing the people of their constituency and liable to be struck down.” He also sought a direction to declare Rule 121 as illegal, ultra vires and unconstitutional.On August 17, uproarious scenes were witnessed in the assembly when DMK MLAs were evicted and suspended en masse by the Speaker for a week for allegedly disrupting proceedings. Initially, 80 MLAs were suspended but later the suspension of one legislator was revoked as he was not present during the ruckus, triggered by remarks of an AIADMK MLA who allegedly ridiculed Stalin.

Madras HC declines to stay suspension of 79 DMK MLAs

Chennai: The Madras High Court today declined to grant an interim stay on suspension of 79 DMK MLAs from the state Assembly but issued notice to the state Chief Secretary on petitions filed by leader of the opposition MK Stalin and another DMK member.

The petitions challenged their en masse suspension from the Assembly and sought a direction to declare all proceedings and actions taken as illegal, ultra vires and unconstitutional.

DMK leader MK Stalin. AFPDMK leader MK Stalin. AFP

DMK leader MK Stalin. AFP

Declining to pass an interim order, the First Bench, comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice R Mahadevan, said, “Since it is a matter of function of the House and the order has been passed by the Speaker, we are not inclined to pass interim orders.

“But there will be no question of making the prayer infructuous as ultimately the validity of the resolution would have to be decided as it may have other ramifications,” it said.

The bench directed the petitioners-Stalin and DMK MLA Thiagarajan — to serve private notices to the Speaker, P Dhanapal, and the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Secretary, and posted the matter for further hearing to 1 September.

When the matter came up, senior counsel for Stalin, Mohan Parasaran submitted that it was for the first time in the history of the Assembly that a resolution had been passed suspending en masse all opposition DMK MLAs.

In his plea, Stalin sought an interim direction to permit him and other suspended members to attend and participate in the present session.

He submitted that the blanket resolution to suspend all DMK members, who had signed the attendance register on the date was without any basis or material. He said the majority of DMK members, including he himself, were not in the House when the resolution was passed by voice vote.

He submitted that the resolution was later modified to include the DMK members who had been present and those who had not signed the attendance register and alleged that the Speaker’s action was “unprecedented, motivated and biased which completely undermines democracy”.

Rio 2016: A few mistakes in the third set proved crucial, says PV Sindhu

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>An Indian woman has finally won a silver medal at the Olympics. While a billion people back home burst into spontaneous celebrations, all she wanted to do was binge on junk food, catch the latest movie and talk to her near and dear ones on phone.Emerging from the shadow of her equally celebrated compatriot, Saina Nehwal, the 21-year-old PV Sindhu is India’s new heart-throb, the toast of a grateful nation after forging new pathways for girls back home.Sindhu is now pursuing an MBA degree from St. Ann’s College in Mehdipatnam, Hyderabad. Talking to dna, she shares her dreams and her journey thus far to make her dream a reality. Excerpts:How does it feel after winning silver in your very first Olympic outing?I’m really happy. The feeling is indescribable! No words can adequately describe what it feels to win an Olympic silver in your first attempt. My aim was to win a gold, but never mind, it was a good game and Carolina (Marin) played extremely well. In a match, one should win and one should lose. So it was her day on Friday. Overall, this was a wonderful week for me as I played some really good matches against some of the top players in the world.After winning the first game, you only won two points in your service. Did that cause concern?I don’t think that should matter because Carolina was playing so well in the second. I made some mistakes and conceded a huge lead. I covered it up a few times, but again let her gain a big lead. In the second game, I was just like “let’s play”, but even then I didn’t leave it like that and put in a lot of effort.You were almost matching her in the third one…After she started off well, I did well to catch up with her at 10-all. It was then I believe I made 2-3 mistakes: to let her off the hook which proved crucial ultimately.Was conceding early points in all three games that made the difference in the end?May be in the final game it mattered. I gave her that extra start. But then, she was also not leaving any shuttle. She was going for everything. I was playing with aggression. We both wanted to win and we fought hard till the end. It was anybody’s game and she won.Carolina (Marin) said that she was changing shuttles frequently to irritate you?It’s part of the game. I knew that she would do that and I only complained to the chair umpire that ‘she has not been asking me before changing shuttles in between’. Ups and downs are always going to happen in any match.When did you feel that the match was out of your hands?I never gave up till the very end. I came back from 16-19 to win five straight points to win the first game. So, it was always playing in my mind that anything could still happen.You must have made many sacrifices to reach this far?No doubt, one has to make sacrifices to see this day. But I am very thankful to my coach and my parents for being always there for me.We hear that you used your phone only to talk to your parents for a limited time so that you could focus on the game here? Did you miss that?For the last three months, I had no access to the phone or Internet. I finally got my phone back from the coach after reaching the Games Village on Friday. Now I am planning to wake up everyone back home from their sleep, or may be they are awake after watching this game, and talk to them for long. I do not think it is a sacrifice because badminton is more important to me than the Internet, and I chose what I love best.What really changed after the Australian Open where you lost in the first round (first week of June)?For the last one-and-a-half month, we didn’t have any tournament. We were just working on our game. We made many sacrifices because getting an Olympic medal is definitely every player’s aim. My aim was also the same. I got a tough draw here but then I had belief in myself. Gopi sir had faith in me. He told me to just take one match at a time and not look at others. We kept working hard, no matter what the result would be.At what point did you feel that you had a chance to win a medal?I was not thinking about the medal from the beginning. Looking at the tough draw, I knew I had to think about one match at a time and that’s what I did from the first match against Michelle (Canada) till the final with Carolina.Have you been around the city, to the beaches, like the famous Copacabana here?No, because I was busy playing. May be now I will get a chance to go sightseeing.How do you relax and unwind after a gruelling day like this?If I have an off day, I like to watch a movie, go shopping or even chill out with my cousin sister. I am certainly looking forward to doing all this, once I reach home. I want to celebrate this medal with my family.Who is your favourite actor?Hmmm… Ranbir Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan (Laughs).Do you listen to any motivational song to pep you up?Not really. I love music. I listen to all kinds of music, depending on my mood.

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