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Exclusive: CISF to be the world’s largest aviation security player by 2030, says OP Singh

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) that made a humble beginning in 1969 with a small strength of 3,129 men, has witnessed an exponential growth in terms of strength, portfolio and revenue earning. Today, with the latest sanctioned strength of 1.8 lakh armed personnel and 12 battalions, the CISF will be the world’s third largest aviation security expert by 2020. The only security force that earns its own salary, CISF has been aiming to be the largest player in the aviation security market by 2030.

On various aspects of the security force that guards the economic installations of the country, the CISF’s director-general, OP Singh, a 1983 batch IPS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre spoke to Firstpost in an exclusive interview. Edited excerpts follow:

Prior to your appointment as CISF chief, you had been the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) chief and had stints in the CRPF and Special Protection Group (SPG). What challenges do you perceive as director-general of CISF?

I have worked with the CISF earlier and was in charge of 59 airports in the country. But it was only for a year. Working in the paramilitary forces is a challenging task and each (unit) has its own different way of performing its duty and dealing with crises and humanitarian work. CISF was created to secure the industrial environment. After the 1956 industrial policy, the country witnessed the emergence of large public sector undertakings (PSUs) and lots of industries. Following economic liberalisation and globalisation, there was a surge in the industrial sector and security of this sector became paramount. It emerged as a futuristic force, where the need was to secure the most sensitive installations and also those sectors like airports, seaports, Metro rail etc that have a direct impact on our economy. Our role is to protect all these vital economic installations in government, public and private sectors. We’re even protecting heritage sites.

How challenging is it for CISF to secure airports, especially after the Kandahar incident in which IA flight IC-814 was hijacked in 1999?

After the hijacking incident, the government decided to revamp airport security system in a big way, when the need was felt to give the responsibility of securing airports to a professional, dedicated and strong force. CISF was assigned the job and we were given the responsibility of Jaipur airport in 2000. Earlier, it was looked after by the state police. Ever since, aviation security was a new and highly challenging assignment for us.

The aviation sector is growing by leaps and bounds, and by 2020, CISF will be the world’s third largest aviation security expert. We’ll be the largest player in the aviation security market by 2030. Besides, aviation security is regulated by international standards and norms; CISF has to catch up with all these challenges.

CISF director-general OP Singh in his office. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

CISF director-general OP Singh in his office. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

How does CISF safeguard sensitive installations in nuclear and space sectors? 

Different treatment is required to protect various domains in the country. Here, technological advancement comes into play and therefore besides manual training, CISF goes for technological training, and gadgets become one of our most important USPs. From securing airports to nuclear plants and space centres, we require hi-tech gadgets. We undergo a high level of technological training combined with our soft and hard skills, physical reflexes, armed training, etc. So, CISF is a conglomeration of all these tools and techniques.

What is CISF’s modernisation plan? 

Technology is required in various fields of our functioning. For instance, in access control — which is the know-how required to gain access to a particular installation such as an airport building, or in perimeter security — the area of the airport which is banned for public and is under constant patrolling. You need different gadgets for these specialised jobs. For a quick response time to vulnerable and emergency situations like any terror threat, you need quick response teams to protect installations. Then screening and frisking all require technical gadgets. All CISF personnel, whether working in airports or in different fields, undergo specialised training as per requirement. Securing an airport requires different skills than for securing a nuclear power plant.

CISF wants to provide an integrated security solution under a single umbrella.

Is CISF’s backhand operation equally important?  

Of course. We provide training on computerisation, monitoring events via CCTV, post-investigation of incidents, analysis of events etc. On the basis of these, ground-level decisions are taken.

After the Mumbai terror attack (26 November) in 2008, what is CISF’s brief in combating terror threats?  

After Mumbai, the mandate of the force was broadened to provide security cover to private establishments by amending the CISF Act. We have specialised training for anti-terror activities, which is provided to our people in the training institutes based in Madhya Pradesh and Greater Noida. Then we have VIP security. We conduct mock drills at various installations to measure up our preparedness for any such eventuality.

Is CISF providing security to installations based in the Red Corridor that is home to Naxals? 

Yes, in a big way. Our men have risen to the occasion by not only providing security to installations against Left-wing extremism but also in managing a big public domain — by providing safety and security to thousands of staff members working in the industrial sector. Our job is to protect all the economic installations like mines, steel and power plants, gas pipelines, rail tracks, etc in the Red Corridor from the Naxal threat looming over them.

Besides the Red Corridor, CISF is deployed in other sensitive areas in Jammu and Kashmir and North Eastern states to provide security to highly vulnerable and critical establishments.

How is CISF’s role evolving with the ever-expanding Delhi Metro?         

It’s one of the most challenging assignments, as lakhs of people commute every day — securing them is a big task. The population is increasing and the Delhi Metro network is undergoing its third phase of expansion. By sheer numerical strength of the Delhi Metro, it becomes a gigantic task to manage the network — we have to take care of access control, frisking, monitoring, safety and security of commuters, movements, tracking petty crimes, criminal behaviour, women, senior citizens, children safety, issue of human trafficking, missing children, and lost-and-found baggage systems. We’re flexible in finding  lost baggage both in Metros and at airports. We’ve deviced a mobile app for this need.

Can you tell more about this mobile app? 

It’s called the ‘Lost and Found App’. You can register yourself, log in and find your lost item. We can help you in finding your lost baggage. The app has received the ‘Ficci Smart Policing Award’.

Does CISF have any expansion plans? 

Looking at the way we’re expanding in various fields, the government has sanctioned an additional strength of 35,000. Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs increased the manpower ceiling and now from a 1.45-lakh-strong force, we have 1.80 lakh people. We have to undergo a process of recruitment for this and then train them. We’ve been sanctioned two additional reserve battalions, one of which will be posted in the Maoist hotbed of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Now, the CISF has 12 battalions and 1.80 lakh members of personnel.

The CISF is probably the only security force that earns its salary from its-…

Very true. CISF is a cost-reimbursement force. We’re the only security force in the country that earns its own salary. We provide security and get paid by our clients. We give security consultancy services to various PSUs. We’ve done consultancy for IIT-Kharagpur and Chennai; IDBI and ICICI banks; integrated steel plants; Tata Steel, Tata Power; Allahabad High Court; Tirupati and Thirumala Devasthanam etc.

After the Bhopal jail break incident, the Madhya Pradesh government approached us and we provided them security consultancy. Now they have asked us to do it for Indore, Gwalior and Jabalpur jails.

At present, we’re providing consultancy in safety paradigm and architecture to eight private installations including Reliance Refinery at Jamnagar (Gujarat), Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Food and Herbal Park in Haridwar, Electronic City in Bengaluru. So far, we’ve done 134 consultancy services and we earn money out of this. This is our source of revenue as well as salary. We generate revenue for the government and deposit it with the government exchequer.

CISF director-general OP Singh in his office. Firstpost/Debobrat

CISF director-general OP Singh in his office. Firstpost/Debobrat

How important is the role of women in CISF?

Among the Central Armed Police Forces, the CISF has the largest number of women officers and personnel and they work on par with their male counterparts. Airports and Delhi Metro Rail are two areas where women personnel play a vital role. A group of women personnel has been trained in the Filipino martial art Pekiti Tirsia Kali to respond quickly and effectively against the aggressors.

Any overseas assignments?

The first contingent of the CISF went on a UN Mission to Cambodia in 1991-92. Our officers have also served in Mozambique, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Sudan, Cyprus, and Tunisia, among other countries.  The present — 8th CISF contingent comprises 140 handpicked, highly-trained armed personnel, who are assisting the Haitian National Police in weapon control and public security measures.

First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 11:38 IST

Jonty Rhodes got thumbs up for naming daughter India, then why fuss over Taimur?

Now that Jonty Rhodes named his kid India in April this year we will give him the key to the country. While just a couple of days ago we handed the rusty ‘chain’ to Taimur because it drove so many of us into paroxysms of rage.

When the editor of Firstpost asked me if I could do a piece remarking on how this April announcement would largely be received like a benediction I burst out laughing and said half the Caribbean cricket team is of Indian origin, is it a big deal.

Jonty Rhodes. Getty ImagesJonty Rhodes. Getty Images

Jonty Rhodes. Getty Images

It is a nice thing, good show and all that, happy for the Rhodes (whose name might well have been given after Cecil of Rhodesia ) but not earth shattering in any way. We tend to get so carried away by names and associations that whether it is rage or praise, there is an out of bounds reaction. It is questionable but does it have something to do with a shortage of self-esteem. Why cannot all this be in the normal course of things instead of constantly looking like we are needy for approbation and endorsement.

Not that Jonty is the first. There have been some before him and Aussie star Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers) actually wanted to call his son Indiana (after Jones) but since the baby was a girl they lopped the ‘a’ off. That’s all.

And before we get too excited about it let’s take stock of the fact that as a favourite name it has dropped from 297 position in the Top 1,000 to nowhere on the list in 2011 and now supposedly at 927 or thereabouts.

It is a sobering thought that George Bush called his cat India which kind of puts things in perspective. And while we are on sobering thoughts India is actually derived from the Indus river most of which flows through Pakistan territory from its origins in Tibet.

I don’t think Jonty or anyone else intended to praise us as a people or extol our virtues, he just liked the sound of the name. Like the people of Dakota didn’t fall about because the Channings called their daughter that. But we will go overboard, make it look like we have been given a certificate of merit. Brooklyn, Camden, Austin, Alexandria, Sydney, Virginia, ask Paris Hilton or Savannah, it is not exceptional.

Famous people named India include India Hicks (English royalty and fashion model); India de Beaufort (British actress/musician) and that is about it.

This inclination we have to hug to our bosoms anyone with the Indian connection and set it to music like we had been awarded some accolade is pretty childish.

How quick we are to link up with someone who was remotely Indian in the distant past. VS Naipaul told us to buzz off and we still would not let up. We ran after Hargobind Khurana but we could not catch up. Vijay Singh putted us out and we still want to act as if he is Indian. Bobby Jindal won’t even admit it.

Oddly, Prince William, heir to the British throne has been found to have Indian ancestry and if he gets crowned one day we will have an Indian king in London and won’t that give us cheap thrills. Believe his DNA testing showed that the India part in his saliva is believed to originate from Williams’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother Eliza Kewark.

According to the Mail: “Although often described as Armenian, DNA analysis has revealed that she was at least half-Indian and is known to have lived in the country’s western region.”

Maharashtrian, Gujarati, khem cho, Willyum?

First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 21:45 IST

Demonetisation: Suicide of a bank manager in Arunachal Pradesh raises suspicion of illegal transactions

The suicide of an HDFC bank manager in Arunachal Pradesh due to “financial matters” has drawn attention to the illegal transactions — conversion of black money into white —  that have allegedly taken place in the north eastern state after demonetisation came into effect.

The suicide came to light soon after reports emerged that large amounts of cash are being flown into the north eastern states for illegal currency exchange. According to local news websites, Rituparna Gohain, the manager of Naharlagun branch of HDFC branch, committed suicide by hanging himself on 21 December in his rented accommodation.

M Bui, the SDPO of Naharlagun, told The Arunachal Times that the deceased left a suicide note where he mentioned about financial matters. He added that the letter has been sent for forensic test. The report said that the higher officials of the HDFC bank have also reached Naharlagun to probe the matter.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Though there has no been no official statement on what the “financial matters” were, Asomiya Pratidin, a local daily in Assam reported that the note refers to an alleged cash scam. The report mentioned illegal transactions of Rs 1,300 crores in black money and said that the bank manager was facing an enquiry for being allegedly involved in it.

Sources told Deccan Chronicle that a huge amount of fund was smuggled into Arunachal Pradesh post-demonetisation and Gohain was under pressure from various quarters to justify the transactions. The report further said that Rs 1,300 crores were deposited in a few bank accounts and that Gohain had mentioned the names of a few contractors and politicians in his suicide note, who had allegedly deposited huge amounts of demonetised currency in his branch. Sources told Deccan Chronicle that cash belonging to politicians from Assam was routed to Arunachal Pradesh after 8 November.

The tribal-dominated states of north eastern region, Arunachal Pradesh being one among them, have recently come under the radar because of black money conversion due to the income tax exemption status.

As per The Indian Express, a month ago Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu had asked the Income Tax Department to trace all accounts that “deviated from normal history and pattern of deposit and take appropriate action.”

The Indian Express quoted Khandu as saying, “Since frauds are likely to take place on account of tribal people being exempted from taxes, there is every possibility of some people from outside the state trying to use bank accounts of local tribal people to deposit money in huge amount.”

The chief minister’s move came just after a report emerged that Anato Zhimomi, a resident of Nagaland, was arrested for allegedly attempting to convert crores of demonetised currency belonging to a Haryana-based businessman Anil Sood.

In 2012, the Income Tax Department had released a press statement expressing concerns that few people, who are not residents of the North East, are availing benefits of income tax exemption granted to the Scheduled Tribes of the region. As per the report, only income earned in the specified region are subject to income tax exemption.

The problem, however, turned severe after demonetisation, with reports emerging of cash being deposited from other parts of the country in the bank accounts of local tribals for illegal currency conversion. Even terrorist groups in the region were reported to have attempted to deposit their money in the accounts of the local tribals.

Anand Mishra, superintendent of police of South Garo Hills District in Meghalaya told Firstpost that terror money worth a crore has been recovered while being deposited in the bank accounts of local residents.

An income tax official told Firstpost, on condition of anonymity, that there is a common misconception that money deposited in the bank accounts of the local tribals of the region will not be traced. “This is not correct as these transactions can also be subjected to scrutiny,” the source said.

A week has passed by after the bank manager’s suicide and the Arunachal Pradesh government’s continued silence on the issue only raises more questions about the nature of the “financial matters” that was mentioned in the suicide note.

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 21:11 IST

Mumbai-Pune Expressway: Three dead in road accident, traffic towards Mumbai affected

Three people died in a road accident involving two container trailers, a tempo and a car on the Mumbai-Pune Express on Tuesday morning, police said.

Representational image: News18

Representational image: News18

“The accident took place somewhere between 8 am to 9 am near the Khalapur toll naka, next to the food plaza,” a Highway Traffic Police official told Firstpost, adding that rescue work is in progress.

The Highway Traffic Police official also said that the accident took place on a lane towards Mumbai and that traffic towards Mumbai has been affected indefinitely. “We are making all efforts to clear the road and resume traffic as soon as possible,” the police said.

According to a Maharashtra Times report, the injured have been admitted in a nearby hospital. However, the identity of the dead has not been ascertained as yet.

“We will able to give a final detail in another half an hour,” the Highway Traffic helpline said.

The Mumbai-Pune Expressway had witnessed an on Monday as well where the driver of an SUV died on the spot.

For more details contact Maharashtra Traffic Police on the following numbers: 022-22626655, 98334 98334, 98675 98675, 95032 11100, 95035 11100

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 12:44 IST

As cashless shift makes tax evasion tough, resentment becomes obvious

Evading tax is intrinsic to us and we do it with an uncanny ease. And the fact that cashless transactions are spoiling the victory dance of stealing tax is making us even more resentful to the demonetisation process.

Let’s accept this; Narendra Modi government has been completely unfair in compelling us to change this habit.

Consider this: On a regular day a person visits a furniture shop in Jangpura-Bhogal in New Delhi. He selects furniture worth Rs 20,000 and offers to pay through his debit card. The shopkeeper conveniently informs the buyer that he needs to pay the amount at a nearby chemist shop. Reason: If the furniture shop owner takes the amount in his name extra 12.5 tax would be added to the bill and this “would make the purchase unnecessary costly for both; the customer and the buyer”.

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

Reuters

The buyer trying to be a law-abiding citizen, offers to pay the tax but the shopkeeper declines to accept the deal.”Either cash or payment at the chemist shop”, he puts forward conditions of selling his goods in categorical terms.

Visit to other markets in the city confirms the same pattern. Jugaad transaction is thriving and tax is being evaded. Let’s accept it again we are essentially compulsive tax evaders.

Demonetisation leading to cashless economy might help in curbing tax-evasion and that is precisely why the ‘great Indian middle class’ is resenting the demonetisation so much.

Post-demonetisation announcement on 8 November, reports started emerging about shops selling gold jewellery in the national capital, indulging in massive tax evasion by accepting demonetised currency notes.

Experts have stressed for long time that cashless economy will help the income-tax (I-T) department audit various transactions more accurately and help check the parallel economy. Also, it will help in curbing tax evasion and increase the taxpayers’ base.

Cash transactions have always facilitated the tax evasion. According to report published in the Mint a “significant number of transactions used to evade taxes by trading in penny stocks were cash deals”.

According the report an investigation by the tax department last year “uncovered a trail of Rs 38,000 crore involving manipulation in 84 BSE-listed penny stocks and through 5,000 listed and unlisted firms, many of them shell companies. The taxman’s report said at least 64,811 entities evaded taxes through such fraudulent methods”.

Ashutosh Dikshit formerly, joint secretary, ministry of finance, Government of India in an article published in the Financial Express, writes, “Tax evasion due to the prevalence of the informal sector starts with suppression of turnover to evade value-added tax and service tax by small and medium businesses and professionals which automatically results in under-reporting of incomes for income tax. The informal sector also absorbs capital from gains made through corruption and violation of regulatory acts which therefore cannot be reported as taxable income”.

He adds, “The systemic solutions to this are the rapid introduction of digital, mobile-based payment systems to replace cash transactions, a stringent reporting and penalty mechanism for benami transactions and assets (which has been pending for long) and the introduction of the nation-wide invoice based GST which is substantially self-regulating as a business needs a tax-paid invoice to claim credit against its own GST liability”.

According to an IANS report published on Firstpost, under Income Declaration Scheme (IDS) announced by Modi government this year, Rs 67,382 crore was received from 71,726 declarants excluding two high-value disclosures”.

The report stated that, “The Income Tax Department did not take into consideration the Rs 13,860 crore declarations made by Ahemdabad-based Maheshkumar Champaklal Shah, which was reported prominently, as well as another made from Mumbai”. This makes the extent of tax evasion clear.

An Indian Express report published recently talking about how cashless transaction can help in curbing tax evasion writes, “A move to digital payments would, indeed, make transactions more transparent and trackable by the taxman and to that extent, tax evasion more difficult. (It is important to keep the distinction between corruption and tax-evasion, though. In the popular mind, these two are synonymous, but as we have seen, they NEED NOT BE. There can be mammoth corruption that involves no tax evasion, and there can be plain vanilla tax evasion that involves no other corrupt deed than the evasion itself)”.

Hindustan Times in an article published last year states that cash deals keep India’s parallel economy afloat and the ultimate loser is the government.

“Nearly two-thirds of India’s GDP, ($1.4 trillion or Rs 90 lakh crore), is a cash economy where buying goods, paying for services, or paying wages are all in cash. And while some of this is legitimate tax-paid money, quite a bit of it is not. Just how big is India’s black money economy? In 2011, three government think tanks were asked to estimate that. Their final report remains unpublished. But other, unauthorised estimates peg it at 25-30% of GDP or $600 billion annually”, states the report.

It adds, “The real loser is, of course, the government: it is deprived of an estimated $200 billion (or Rs 13 lakh crore) in yearly tax revenues because of black money. Consider this: India’s revenue, including indirect and direct taxes, is currently around Rs 9.1 lakh crore; if the black money that is swirling in the economy is reined in and accounted for, then (albeit theoretically) the government could declare a tax-free year!.”

In this context as cashless transactions are making tax evasion difficult, resentment becomes obvious.

First Published On : Dec 26, 2016 17:28 IST

Anger in Afghanistan at female pilot’s U.S. asylum bid | Reuters

KABUL There was an angry reaction in Afghanistan to news that the first female fixed-wing pilot in the country’s air force was requesting asylum in the United States after completing an 18-month training course.The Afghan defence ministry confirmed on Sunday that Captain Niloofar Rahmani, 25, had sought asylum after the Wall Street Journal quoted her as saying that she feared her life would be in danger if she returned home.A recipient of the U.S. State Department’s “Women of Courage” award in 2015, Capt. Rahmani had been a symbol of efforts to improve the situation of women in her country, more than a decade after the fall of the Taliban regime.Mohammad Radmanish, a defence ministry spokesman, said the government hoped that her request would be denied by U.S. authorities who have spent billions trying to build up Afghan security forces.”When an officer complains of insecurity and is afraid of security threats, then what should ordinary people do?” he said. “She has made an excuse for herself, but we have hundreds of educated women and female civil right activists who work and it is safe for them.”

Capt. Rahmani, who graduated from flight school in 2012 and qualified to fly C-208 military cargo aircraft, had been in the United States on a training course and had been due to return home on Saturday.In a conservative country notorious for the restrictions placed on women, Rahmani’s story stood out as a rare example of a woman breaking through in areas normally reserved for men.

Her success came at a price, however. The citation for the “Women of Courage” award said she and her family had received direct threats not just from the Taliban but also from some relatives, forcing her family to move house several times.However, there was little sympathy on Afghanistan’s active social media networks, which were replete with comments criticizing Rahmani, accusing her of wasting government money spent on expensive training and avoiding her responsibilities.

“Niloofar Rahmani took a million dollars from the pockets of the people of Afghanistan to pay human traffickers to get to America to seek asylum,” one Facebook user wrote in comments typical of others.Dozens of Afghan troops receiving training in the United States have gone missing over the past two years, and at least one has been detained while trying to cross the border to Canada. (Reporting by Mirwais Harooni, writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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

First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 18:11 IST

Wall Street recedes and Dow 20,000 slips further away | Reuters

By Noel Randewich

U.S. stocks fell on Thursday as investors stepped back from a recent rally fuelled by optimism that President-elect Donald Trump will invigorate economic growth.The dip pulled the Dow Jones industrial average further away from the 20,000 mark after it nearly breached the level this week for the first time. Following a sharp rally since the Nov. 8 U.S. election, the Dow is up about 14 percent for the year and the S&P 500 is 11 higher on bets that the economy will benefit from Trump’s plans for deregulation and infrastructure spending.Some investors believe that recent gains may have made stocks too expensive, and that Congress may water down or prevent major infrastructure spending or tax cuts proposed by Trump.”There are issues hanging over the market,” said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at Newbridge Securities in New York. “You need to digest these gains, and once he becomes president, we’ll see what is actually going to get passed.” Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, tapped by Trump on Wednesday as a special adviser for regulatory issues, said in an interview on CNBC that he was concerned about the stock market in the short term following its recent surge.

A report earlier showed that the U.S. economy grew faster than initially thought in the third quarter, notching its best performance in two years. Gross domestic product increased at a 3.5 percent annual rate instead of the previously reported 3.2 percent pace, the Commerce Department said.Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, rose 0.2 percent in November, below the estimated 0.3 percent gain.The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was last down 0.07 percent at 19,928.76 points and the S&P 500 .SPX had lost 0.15 percent to 2,261.79. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 0.36 percent to 5,451.49.

Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower, with the consumer discretionary index’s .SPLRCD 0.94 percent fall leading the decliners. The discretionary sector was weighed by a 0.57 percent drop in Amazon (AMZN.O) shares.The S&P telecommunications index .SPLRCL led the gainers with a 1.08 percent rise.Apple (AAPL.O) fell 0.74 percent after Nokia (NOKIA.HE) said it had filed a number of lawsuits against the iPhone maker for patent infringement. The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.

ConAgra (CAG.N) rose 3.30 percent after the packaged foods maker’s quarterly profit beat estimates.Red Hat (RHT.N) slumped 12.6 percent after the Linux software distributor’s quarterly revenue missed estimates.Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.26-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.55-to-1 ratio favored decliners.The S&P 500 posted 11 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 100 new highs and 43 new lows. (Additional reporting by Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 23:38 IST

Retailers weigh on Wall Street, Dow 20,000 slips away | Reuters

By Noel Randewich

U.S. stocks fell on Thursday, weighed down by weakness in retailers, as investors stepped back from a recent rally fuelled by optimism that President-elect Donald Trump will invigorate economic growth.The decline pulled the Dow Jones industrial average further away from the 20,000 mark after it nearly breached that level this week for the first time.Retail stocks fell after CNN reported Trump’s transition team is considering a tariff of as much as 10 percent on imports. The S&P 500 consumer discretionary index .SPLRCD lost 1.01 percent, its biggest one-day decline since October. Home Depot (HD.N) fell 1.02 percent and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT.N) lost 2.32 percent, both weighing more than any other stocks on the Dow.Following a sharp rally since the Nov. 8 U.S. election, the Dow is up about 14 percent for the year and the S&P 500 is 11 higher on bets that the economy will benefit from Trump’s plans for deregulation and infrastructure spending.Some investors believe that recent gains may have made stocks too expensive, and that Congress may water down or prevent major infrastructure spending or tax cuts proposed by Trump.

“There are issues hanging over the market,” said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at Newbridge Securities in New York. “You need to digest these gains, and once he becomes president, we’ll see what is actually going to get passed.” Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, tapped by Trump on Wednesday as a special adviser for regulatory issues, said in an interview on CNBC he was concerned about the stock market in the short term following its recent surge.A report earlier showed that the U.S. economy grew faster than initially thought in the third quarter, notching its best performance in two years. Gross domestic product increased at a 3.5 percent annual rate instead of the previously reported 3.2 percent pace, the Commerce Department said.Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, rose 0.2 percent in November, below the estimated 0.3 percent gain.

The Dow finished 0.12 percent lower at 19,918.88 and the S&P 500 .SPX lost 0.19 percent to end at 2,260.96. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 0.44 percent to 5,447.42.Apple (AAPL.O) fell 0.66 percent after Nokia (NOKIA.HE) said it had sued the iPhone maker for patent infringement. The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.ConAgra (CAG.N) rose 3.39 percent after the packaged foods maker’s quarterly profit beat estimates.

Red Hat (RHT.N) slumped 13.89 percent after the Linux software distributor’s quarterly revenue missed estimates.Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.26-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.55-to-1 ratio favored decliners.The S&P 500 posted 11 new 52-week highs and three new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 100 new highs and 43 new lows. With many investors already away for the end-of-year holidays, volume was very low. About 5.5 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, well below the 7.3 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions. (Additional reporting by Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and James Dalgleish)

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

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

Hundreds resist eviction from Delhi slum as new housing falls short | Reuters

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Hundreds of residents in a New Delhi slum are resisting eviction by city officials and police in the third such protest this month in India’s capital city, as anger mounts over a shortfall in housing for the urban poor, campaigners said.Evictions began this week in Kathputli Colony, home to 3,500 families of street performers and puppeteers, after authorities marked it for development as part of a plan to upgrade the city.City officials say residents were notified of the plan which involves moving them to a temporary location while a private builder constructs modest high-rise homes for a nominal sum.They say more than 500 families have already moved to temporary accommodation.”Residents were given sufficient notice. The police are on hand to maintain law and order,” said J.P. Agrawal, a principal commissioner with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).But some residents said they were not given the option of relocation, and that they received no notice of the eviction.

“No one told us it would be this week. Suddenly one morning we woke up and found hundreds of policemen in the colony,” said Dilip Bhatt, head of an artistes’ cooperative in the settlement.”We are surrounded by the police like we are criminals, and they have cut off water and power,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.Television images showed police in riot gear, holding assault rifles and shields as residents gathered around them.

About a third of India’s 1.25 billion population lives in cities, with numbers rising every year as tens of thousands of people leave villages to seek better prospects. Many end up in overcrowded urban slums.A government plan to provide housing for all by 2022 is meant to create 20 million new urban housing units and 30 million rural homes.But the slow pace of implementation is leaving thousands homeless, according to advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).

More than 33,000 families living in urban areas across India were forcefully evicted since January 2015 to make way for redevelopment projects, HLRN said on Thursday. In rural areas, more than 75,000 people were displaced.Only 2,776 houses were built in urban areas under the housing plan from June 2015 to August 2016, HLRN said.In several evictions, violence and arbitrary detentions have been reported, and there has been little or no consultation, advance notice, consent or compensation, HLRN said.”It is a sad irony that despite claims of providing ‘housing for all’, the government has destroyed many more homes than it has built over the last two years,” said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of HLRN. (Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 18:50 IST

Mumbai police bust baby trafficking racket amid fears more children at risk | Reuters

By Roli Srivastava

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Mumbai police have arrested a gang of six people accused of stealing babies or convincing single women to sell their children in the latest bust in a series of baby trafficking rackets.A police spokesman said the group, which included five women, sold the infants to childless couples in various states across India.The arrests followed the rescue of five children – four boys and one girl – aged between four months and one year in the states of Goa, Gujarat and Karnataka, and came less than a month after a similar trafficking racket was busted in West Bengal.Officers are now investigating if the couples that purchased the babies, for between 200,000 to 400,000 rupees ($3,000-6,000), were aware that the children had been kidnapped or bought from their biological parents.”The gang was operating for the last two to three years. We are still investigating the number of children they may have kidnapped and sold,” senior police inspector Naresh Kasale told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”We suspect more people are involved in the racket.”The police spokesman said one child has been reunited with its biological parent but the others were at a rescue home.Local media reported that police were looking into whether the group was linked to cases of kidnapping in hospitals.

‘ALARMING TREND’
Kasale said police first uncovered the racket in early December while investigating the case of a missing child in Sathe Nagar slum in Mankhurd, eastern Mumbai.They found a woman from that slum was also missing and tracked her by her mobile phone to Goa where she was detained.

She told police she had sold the child and gave them details of the racket.”She had told the couple that it was her own child and that her husband was dead and she wanted to remarry. We rescued the child and have reunited him with his parents,” Kasale said.Last month, 13 babies were rescued and the remains of two other infants discovered in a series of raids in West Bengal in what police suspect is an international child trafficking racket.Eighteen people, including doctors, midwives and the owners of charities and clinics, were arrested, suspected of taking babies from women immediately after they had given birth and telling them their children were stillborn.

Adoption experts said that two gangs busted in quick succession is indicative that baby trafficking is becoming a widespread and organised crime in India.”This is an alarming trend,” said Sunil Arora, president of Federation of Adoptive Agencies. Arora said there are laws in place for women to give up their children if they are unable to keep them but single mothers are often unaware of these processes and, fearing social stigma, may hand over children to trafficking gangs.Reports of human trafficking in India increased by 25 percent in 2015 to about 6,877 compared to the previous year. More than 40 percent of cases involved children being bought, sold and exploited as slaves, according to government data.($1=68.0181 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Roli Srivastava, Editing by Ed Upright.; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 18:44 IST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demonetisation: Digital transactions meet roadblocks in rural India, effects felt everywhere

After the central government’s demonetisation drive started on 8 November, fruit seller Yamuna Sahni was one of the first people to put up a board urging people to pay using PayTM. About a month and a half later today, he uses it only as the last option to receive payments. Explaining his reluctance to use cashless transactions, he says, “I can transfer a maximum of Rs 25,000 from my PayTM account to my bank account every month. So if I sell fruits worth more than that, I have to wait an extra month just to transfer the excess amount back to my bank. Though I have money, it gets blocked for a month, which means my working capital is affected.”

Sahni mentioned that while he has head this limit can be increased, he doesn’t know how it gets done.

Digital payments have picked up across the country in the last month-and-a-half, but the many impediments mean that the signs aren’t very encouraging.

Many small-time shopkeepers have begun accepting digital payment. ReutersMany small-time shopkeepers have begun accepting digital payment. Reuters

Many small-time shopkeepers have begun accepting digital payment. Reuters

Raju Yadav, who sells paan on the streets of Noida, says he too had opted for digital payments, but is now facing hurdles. “The wholesaler from whom I get my daily supplies doesn’t accept digital money. So I need to first transfer the money to my bank account, then write a cheque to my wholesaler to clear my dues,” he said.

Market watcher Bimal Jain, who works as an office bearer in the Punjab Haryana Delhi Chambers of Commerce, told Firstpost that people have started using digital modes of payments. “But we have to wait some more time before digital becomes the first option as a mode of payment,” he said, adding that cashless transactions have proliferated in Tier-I and Tier-II cities on account of unavailability of cash in accordance with demand.

“Unavailability of cash has definitely pushed digital transactions in these cities. But it will take more time for digital payments to pick up in Tier-III and Tier-IV cities,” he added.

But the problems faced by these towns in the country’s hinterland are felt even in the National Capital Region. Many weekly haats in Noida are considered to be good places to buy cheap fruits, vegetables and foodgrains. Most of them do not accept digital payments.

Raghav Choudhury, vegetable seller in one of these markets, says he purchases in wholesale from farmers of Uttar Pradesh. While he gets his supplies from the farmers on credit, he has to repay them in cash. “If I accept payment through Pay TM, how will I pay them back, since they do not use such modes of payments?” he asks.

On the other hand, many traders also believe that online payments will decrease their competitiveness. “People buy from us because we provide goods at cheaper rates. But digital payments may include service charge, which will add to our cost price and selling price,” he added.

PayTM charges minimum a of 1 percent and maximum of 4 percent as service charge on transfers from wallet to bank accounts. Jain said one way to encourage more digital transactions is by making them completely bereft of additional costs. He said the government should take special precautions to acquaint people with digital transactions, especially to encourage people in Tier-III and Tier-IV cities.

The Finance Ministry had launched a PR campaign to popularise digital transactions. ‘Span Communications’, a PR firm that won the campaign to make India a cashless economy said in a press release that it has come up with an ambitious plan to carry on the aggressive plan forward.

CEO Naresh Khetrapal said, “We live in a country where cash is king. Considering the demographics of India, the campaign will help create awareness about cashless transactions among the masses and embrace the new methods of payments in the digital era.”

First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 22:10 IST

No homo? Bar’s refusal of entry shows all-access spaces for the LGBT are still a dream

A couple of years ago, I received a call from my friend, Suzette, late at night. She was screaming on the phone, so much that I had to keep the receiver away. She had been denied entry into a restaurant called Ginger in Kolkata. The reason – because she was the ‘park street rape victim’. She was told on her face that she couldn’t enter because she is the ‘Park Street Rape Victim’. The eatery owner had the audacity to say that she had visited the place with other men before and had created a ruckus — further maligning her character. Suzette told me that she felt raped again.

If you’re going to say that she should have been okay with it and should have gone to to more accepting places, spare me the thought. That’s not how equality works in this country. Every citizen has the right of dignity.

Representational image. APRepresentational image. AP

Representational image. AP

In January this year, a good samaritan in Pune decided to take a kid from the streets to McDonalds. The kid was not allowed. The kid was thrown out and was not allowed to buy his fanta. Because, may be, poor children spoil the look of McDonalds? Or what else could be the reason? And why should this be tolerated?

Even if you were not from Mc Donalds you would have felt really angry. You would have shared this Firstpost article on Facebook. But how do you treat your house help? How do you treat your lowest-ranking staff in your office? Do you mind him or her or her eating with you? How do you treat your house help? Wouldn’t it be a good practice to look into your own prejudices before you give us your sermons on Facebook?

Recently when I was at The Bar Stock Exchange at Lower Parel in Mumbai with a male friend, I was told at the entrance that only “couples could enter,” I quickly responded saying “we are a couple”. The staff first giggled and then said that couple meant “men and women”…all these episodes came to my head. A similar incident had happened in Shiro’s — a pub in Worli, Mumbai where a gay person was denied an opportunity to ring in the new year with his loved one from his own gender. Soon, DNA carried a story and suddenly everyone was speaking about it.

Shiro’s offered a response after being tagged many:

Dear patrons,
We extend our sincere apology on behalf of our management for the miscommunication that has gone up in the media. We strongly disagree with the accusation and we do not discriminate between people on the basis of race, ability or sexual orientation.
As a matter of precautionary measure of our female guests on the occasion of New Year and to avoid any misbehavior or unwanted issues at the restaurant where men posing a couple to gain entry, the management decided that a man can be accompanied with a couple(s) or two men can enter with a lady .
We strive to provide the best possible experience to our guests and will continue to do so.

Regards,
Shiro Management

I am also urging people to re-evaulate their Zomato reviews of Bar Stock Exchange.

We should be careful; such behaviour percolates from the management. The people, at the counter, at the door, the waiters, have been told that the meaning of couple is “man and woman” and they in-turn must be feeling that as long as there is regular influx of women, the place will be safe. We all know, how women are used as a trophy to make venues, not more accessible, but also lot more ‘attractive’. If you get the drift? Also, with so much prejudice, I haven’t seen any straight man fake his sexuality as gay, put his arms around his male friend romantically to just gain entry to a bar. If we lived in a world where this was happening, maybe, we would be in a more liberal world.

My friend Bhuvan Narang from The Little Door says “We have a ‘come as you are’ policy. We don’t care about people’s sexuality or gender. If you are drunk and behave nasty, we will kindly see you off the little door. If you are nice, we will be nice. And we will not brand all women or all men or all trans people who come to our place because of one episode or one person. That’s not how businesses work. And more importantly, that’s not how humanity works’.

Nothing will change if we don’t go to Shiro’s in Worli or the Bar Stock Exchange in Mumbai. The ‘Guysexual’ of Firstpost will still be doling out his homo gyaan. The earth will still revolve around the sun. And these little cosmic particles of homophobia will and we still will be kicking some real mean ass. That’s us. What to do. We are like that only. We don’t take insults lying down. We will not bear any cruelty against our people. Poor, rich, Dalit, Muslim, Brahmin, gay, lesbian, woman, man, trans irrespective.

First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 12:33 IST

This winter Delhi will see a rapid rise in pollution, says executive director of CSE

Public health emergencies of the previous century, such as cholera, malaria and TB have all been tackled with antibiotics and vaccines. But what about the biggest public health emergency of contemporary times? That’s the pollution in the air we breathe which has reached unprecedented life-threatening levels — recall Delhi’s situation post-Diwali — yet we are not prepared to deal with it. It may worsen with the advancing winter.

However, things may change with the notification that the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) is soon going to issue to Delhi-NCR, and subsequently to other states, on implementation of Graded Response Action Plan. That is a system based on the Air Quality Index (AQI), designed to take effective steps to combat public health emergencies due to pollution.

To decode the plan and understand its efficacy, Debobrat Ghose of Firstpost speaks to Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (Research and Advocacy) and head, air pollution and clean transportation programme at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), one of the stakeholders in the planning process.

Firstpost: What’s the Graded Response Action Plan all about?

Answer: Last week, the Supreme Court directed the MoEF to notify the graded response action plan for Delhi-NCR and once it’s notified, the government has to implement it at the earliest. The plan prepared jointly by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), CSE and others, charts a detailed strategy on what kind of action is needed for a certain level of pollution defined by the AQI. There are various categories of pollution — moderate, poor, very poor, severe and above that, the emergency level. The actions listed in the poor category need to be implemented throughout the year. But during months when weather conditions turn more adverse, there is need for greater scrutiny of enforcement. It’s the first-of-its-kind measure to be implemented in India. This will slow down the peaking up of the pollution level.

It’ll also catalyse long-term action because the kind of measures they have listed as per the levels of pollution would help us to get better results. Besides, it’ll also help us put in place more systemic solutions urgently needed to give benefits of sustained quality air throughout the year.

FP: What kind of actions has been recommended in the plan vis-à-vis the levels of pollution?

A: Based on AQI that shows air pollution levels — from moderate to severe — various measures have been recommended like shutting down of brick kilns and coal-based power plants; maximizing generation of power from existing natural gas based plants; mechanized cleaning of roads and sprinkling of water; stopping the use of diesel and kerosene generator sets; stopping construction activities, and entry of truck traffic into Delhi (except essential goods); removing polluting vehicles from the road; putting an end to burning of wastes and garbage, etc.

Anumita Roy Chowdhury. Photo courtesy: Naresh SharmaAnumita Roy Chowdhury. Photo courtesy: Naresh Sharma

Anumita Roychowdhury. Photo courtesy: Naresh Sharma

FP: Immediately after Diwali, Delhi witnessed an emergency like situation due to high-level of air pollution. But, again with the advent of winter, the air quality has begun to deteriorate.

A: During winter due to calm and cool weather condition, air gets trapped close to ground level and along with it pollution already present in the city also gets trapped. This winter too, we are witnessing this situation of rapid building up of pollution. We are going to see several episodes of smog and this condition will prevail till mid-February. This happens due to this severe anti-cyclone situation. There will be ups and downs, with the pollution level hitting the severe level continuously.

FP: What steps need to be taken to prevent this onslaught of pollution?

A: We should have the winter plan in place where emergency measures should be implemented with absolute stringency. The implementation of graded response action plan will ensure that if weather condition is adverse, pollution in air doesn’t get worse. The measures mentioned in each category need to be strictly followed.

FP: What factors aggravate the pollution level in Delhi-NCR?

A: Vehicular pollution, burning of waste and garbage, construction debris, emissions from coal-based power plants, dust, burning of crop stubble, etc are the major culprits. However, stubble burning is a temporary phenomenon, because it takes place during October and November, before the new crop.

FP: Where have we faulted and what needs to be done?

A: In the area of public transport system, we’ve really slipped a lot, because except Metro rail, no investment has been made in this sector. Now, the priority should be to have an integrated public transport system, where Metro system and highly improved bus system are integrated physically and through a common ticketing system. Simultaneously, a well organized para-transit system needs to be in place, supported by a good walking and cycling infrastructure. Odd-even scheme is an emergency measure and can’t be a permanent solution.

Besides Delhi-NCR, other states too have to follow the same template of the action plan with absolute stringency, because things aren’t happening in a systematic manner. When a plan gets delayed, we lose momentum. We have to be extremely careful – even post-winter — to keep momentum going by adopting all measures—short term, medium term and long term.

FP: Delhi children are being deprived of a carefree childhood due to this pollution…

A:
Very true! There is one death per hour due to air pollution; lungs of every third child are impaired. They are being recommended indoor activity and are discouraged from outdoor activities when pollution is severe.

FP: Delhi’s pollution can’t be seen in isolation. To contain it, active cooperation from states and central agencies is needed. Is there any common authority to deal with inter-state issues and enforcement related to pollution control?

A: No, there is not. Rather it’s not required as MoEF and CPCB are already there as central agencies to supervise the whole process and then the state governments should implement measures. The CPCB has to take the lead as the most legitimate body.

First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 13:25 IST

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

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

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

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Tom Bergin and Jim Finkle
| LONDON/BOSTON

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sale of rape videos continues in Uttar Pradesh; no concrete action from cops, govt

After an investigative piece by Al Jazeera uncovered the disturbing practice of sale of rape videos in Uttar Pradesh, revealing exclusive details of the trade in its report, it was expected that the government and police machinery will swing into action and bring an end to this ‘dark trade’.

However, when Firstpost re-investigated the matter it found that the trade was still flourishing, right under the noses of the Uttar Pradesh government and the police machinery. The trade, a reflection of the deep seeded patriarchy in our society, is not just a mockery of our law and order system but also has the potential to perpetuate more violence against women. The fact that it can normalise a crime like rape in the young minds exposed to these videos is perhaps the most dangerous outcome of this practice.

Sources on the ground have revealed to Firstpost that new clips continue to surface despite the many assurances offered by Uttar Pradesh police that it is taking all measures to stop this trade.

Sale of rape videos continues to flourish in Uttar Pradesh, right under the noses of the government and the police machinery. ReutersSale of rape videos continues to flourish in Uttar Pradesh, right under the noses of the government and the police machinery. Reuters

Sale of rape videos continues to flourish in Uttar Pradesh, right under the noses of the government and the police machinery. Reuters

When Firstpost spoke to JK Shahi, Deputy Inspector General (IG) of Saharanpur, where such videos are being sold, we received a standard response both times where he asked that the video clips in question be sent to him on WhatsApp, disregarding the fact that circulation of these videos is illegal.

He, like others in his department, assured us that all Station Head Officers (SHOs) had been directed to look into the matter, to stop this trade at the earliest. Nevertheless, he declined to provide details of any affirmative action taken by his department.

In addition, a carefully crafted response from IG Meerut range, Ajay Anand told us that the police had raided these shops and that he had alerted all police officials in his jurisdiction to ensure that no such trade took place.

To confirm the veracity of these claims, Firstpost went back to its sources on the ground and asked them if any such raids had actually taken place. Yet again, we were told that the shops dealing in such trade had not been raided and that the business of selling rape videos continued to flourish. We, however, are not dismissing police claims that they had raided the shops but are rather questioning the sincerity displayed in such raids, for several shopkeepers indulging in the trade themselves revealed to us that no such raids had taken place.

A dealer of porn videos, who owns an electronics repair shop in Incholi village some fifteen kilometres from Meerut, told us that his shop had not been raided.

“No one came to check my shop or the material we have on our laptops and computers…we are selling porn as usual. I don’t specifically sell rape videos, though they might be lingering somewhere in my computer and I might have transferred them to a customer’s laptop in a bid to transfer porn…but I do not intend to sell rape videos exclusively…there are videos with violent content which reach us but we do not sell it deliberately as rape videos,” the dealer said .

On being asked how the rape videos reach him, he promptly replied, “At times customers come to us to get their mobile phones or laptops repaired, they have some personal videos in them, we download it from there and sell them. We can’t help it if some of them are rape videos.”

This corroborates the claims of a customer who had explained the details of this trade to Al Jazeera in its investigative piece. The customer, who had said that ‘he loves watching videos with violent content’, had revealed the modus operandi of the trade and how it flourishes.

The customer, who lives in a village in Saharanpur, said, “We go to the shops in our village to ask for exclusive porn, they hand us rape videos in return. We like watching it though, since it is something new…we are bored of the same usual porn.”

The shopkeeper from Incholi also informed us that the sale of such videos is rampant in Western Uttar Pradesh – be it Agra, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar or Saharanpur. He added that the videos are mostly found in village shops and not in towns or cities.

To get an idea of how the political class is responding to the menace, Firstpost made several attempts to reach out to Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi. She, however, did not respond to the telephone calls and emails.

Sanjeev Balyan, Member of Parliament from Muzaffarnagar, who had gone hammer and tongs in criticising the ruling Samajwadi party for being inefficient in curbing crime against women, did not bother to respond to our phone calls or emails on why he had not raised the matter in the winter session of the Parliament.

Jagmati Sangwan, of the All Indian Democratic Women Association, expressed deep concern over the videos being sold in the market. She also questioned the direction in which our society is moving, where a market exists for these videos. She assured Firstpost that her organisation will raise the matter and pressurise the state machinery for taking action against those involved in selling these videos. However, so far, we have not heard of her organisation releasing a statement condemning this trade or questioning the authorities.

This depicts the dire state of affairs in Uttar Pradesh and the non-seriousness of the state establishment in curbing crimes against women, despite flagging off various programs and initiatives to make the state safer for women. The political class, which time and again talks about women security and safety for pragmatic and electoral reasons, does not even have the time to talk about such crimes; probably because there are no electoral dividends attached with actually dwelling into the matter.

After the infamous Nirbhaya gang rape case in 2012, new legislations were brought in amid pressure on the then government to act strictly against those committing crimes against women. Many thought that the stricter laws will change things, making the society safer for women. But it seems that little has changed.

Rapes continue to happen, cases of harassment are rampant and women are still afraid to go out in the dark. At the time of writing this piece, a local leader from a village in Gautam Buddha Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, had called to inform that a woman and her daughter had been gangraped some two months ago. He said that neither the media or the authorities had taken note of the incident and that the perpetrators were far from being brought to justice.

Post the Nirbhaya case, amendments in the Indian Penal Code defined that the minimum punishment for rape under article 376 as seven years, and that filming any sexual act without permission of the woman is punishable by a jail term of up to a period of three years, under article 345.

But all this holds little importance unless we as a society sensitise ourselves towards gender inequality, and until sex education is given to children in school. A serious effort is needed to fight the inherent patriarchy in our society, rather than just using the rhetoric around women safety as a means to secure votes.

First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 17:50 IST

BJP cries foul over 2016 Parliament Winter Session: How different is it from 2013?

This year’s Winter Session looks like it’s a washout. Apart from Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s grouse that the Opposition has been stalling the proceedings, not letting him address the Parliament on demonetisation and instead addressing the “Jan Sabha“, the Winter Session has left a lot of bills in the cold.

There are only three more days left for the Winter Session to end (16 November to 16 December) and the government says it’s ready for a debate on demonetisation, so is the Opposition but with certain conditions. According to The Tribune, many key legislative bills face a logjam in Parliament and “every minute of running a session costs over than Rs 2.5 lakh”. Earlier this month, Firstpost put out a similar piece on how Rajya Sabha scores zero on the productivity scale and that both the Houses have failed to conduct any meaningful business, unless you count slogan-chanting and disrupting the motion.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Delhi think tank PRS Legislative that tracks the functioning of Parliament found that this Winter Session the productivity of Lok Sabha was 14 percent and that of Rajya Sabha was 20 percent. The data also showed that Rajya Sabha spent zero hour on questions, whereas the Lok Sabha spent 5.1 hours. Rajya Sabha spent 11.8 hours on non-legislative issues while the Lok Sabha spent 4.3 hours on the same.

The future of the GST Bill especially hangs in the balance — Bloomberg Quint reports that the GST Council met for the sixth time on Sunday and will continue to discuss the central and state GST Bills on 22 December. The GST rollout from 1 April
next year looks impossible now, reports PTI.

In 2013, when the BJP was the Opposition it wasn’t any different: The party has disrupted Parliament the most in the last five decades. PRS Legislature noted that in the 2013 Winter Session of Parliament that ran from 5 to 18 December, both the Houses of Parliament adjourned sine die on 18 December, and that several hours were lost thanks to the disruption on issues relating to Telangana‘s separate statehood. Lok Sabha worked for six percent of the scheduled hours and Rajya Sabha for 19 percent; six legislative bills were introduced and one legislative and two appropriation bills were passed by both Houses, and two bills were withdrawn during the session, it noted.

BJP, which has been crying about being interrupted in Parliament, should note that in 2013 more than half the Parliament’s time was wasted — Parliament met for 63 days and was productive for only 44 percent of the time, according to this Business Standard report. The Winter Session was also the shortest, that of 10 days and since it wasn’t prorogued, the second part was held from 5 to 21 February, 2014. This again witnessed several disruptions with a pending non-confidence motion not taken up. Lok Sabha worked for a total of 21 percent and Rajya Sabha, 27 percent. PRS Legislature‘s report on that session says that 15 bills were introduced and 12 of them were passed (of those 5 related to General and Railways budgets).

With inputs from PTI

First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 15:05 IST

Environmentalists raise red flag over proposed landfill project on Yamuna river bed

Environmentalists have raised a red flag over the proposal by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) to set up a landfill spread over 49.24 acres on the bed of the east bank of River Yamuna in New Delhi – an active and vulnerable flood plain.

In a letter to Delhi Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Najeeb Jung, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, a civil society consortium dedicated to the restoration of river Yamuna as an eco-system, has asked for the former’s intervention to prevent the project from being executed.

East Delhi Municipal Corporation has proposed to set up a landfill spread over 49.24 acres on the bed of the east bank of River Yamuna. PTI

East Delhi Municipal Corporation has proposed to set up a landfill spread over 49.24 acres on the bed of the east bank of River Yamuna. PTI

In the letter – that was also marked to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal – Manoj Misra, the NGO’s convenor, has not only appealed to the government heads to consider the environmental and legal fallout of the proposal but has also taken pot-shots at the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for being a silent approver and for ‘not applying its mind on the matter.’

The environmentalists only came to know about the matter after EDMC filed an application before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), seeking clearance for the project.

“We came to know about the proposal when it got listed at NGT for clearance. Presuming that the L-G has given approval to this proposal, EDMC has claimed it in black and white. I have written to the L-G seeking his intervention in this matter, as I feel that he has been kept in the dark about various aspects related to the proposed landfill,” Manoj Misra told Firstpost.

Stating that the proposal is not only illegal but environmentally dangerous if implemented, he said, “Setting up a landfill on a river bed is beyond comprehension. Nowhere across the world has such a thing ever happened. It’s like you are creating another Ghazipur or Bhalswa like landfill on the river bed of Yamuna,”

“The proposed site adjoins residential areas of high population density. Lakhs of people will get affected due to this move, as the underlying aquifers and ground water will get contaminated and become highly toxic. The residents of east Delhi, especially Shahdara, Mayur Vihar, etc will be worst hit,” Misra said.

According to environmentalists, the proposed site is an active flood plain, which revives after every flood in the river. The NGT expert committee report has earmarked the site for development of wetlands and water bodies to store flood waters for the city.

“Besides the NGT, the DDA too had planned for the proposed site to be used for a series of wetlands. The site being in the river bed violates all legal provisions in the country under the Water Act 1974, Environment Protection Act 1986, Waste Management Rules 2016, DDA Act, Zonal Plan for Zone O, etc. Despite having full knowledge of these legal requirements, how could the DDA suggest this site is beyond comprehension,” added Misra.

A Google Maps grab of proposed landfill site on the Yamuna Flood Plains.

A Google Maps grab of proposed landfill site on the Yamuna Flood Plains.

Meanwhile, in addition to approaching the NGT, environmental activists have also launched a signature campaign. Swechha, an environmental NGO, has also launched an online campaign against the proposal.

“EDMC’s proposal to develop a 150-acre landfill site along with a waste-to-energy plant on the floodplains of river Yamuna, is the most preposterous and ill-conceived proposal in the history of urban governance in the country. The landfill proposal with a capacity of managing over 3000 metric tons of garbage daily is a dangerous proposition. It’ll sit over a source of drinking water, it’s in the high seismic zone near densely populated area and also next to several archaeological sites,” said Vimlendu Jha, secretary, Swechha.

Besides the landfill site, the EDMC has also proposed a waste-to-energy plant, compost plant, C&D processing plant, Leachate treatment plant, recycling units, etc. The proposed site is in Ghonda Gujran Khadar (floodplain).

In fact, environmental experts strongly advocate a ‘no landfill policy’ and promote decentralized waste management.

“There should be no landfill on Yamuna’s banks. In fact, the entire paradigm of waste disposal management has to be changed. We shouldn’t keep looking for more and more landfill sites; rather decentralized waste management should be promoted and the need of waste disposals in landfills should be minimised. There should be a ‘no-landfill policy’ in place and existing landfills need to be managed well,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.

Meanwhile, the Delhi government has ruled out any such proposal for a landfill site on Yamuna floodplains.

“There can’t be a landfill on Yamuna floodplains. It needs to be seen from where such a proposal has come. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee will cancel such a proposal,” a senior Delhi government official told Firstpost.

Letter to L G From Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan by Firstpost on Scribd

First Published On : Dec 10, 2016 16:14 IST

AgustaWestland scam LIVE: Deal was ruled out because of ceiling constraints, CBI tells court

How was Tyagi involved in the scam?

According to an earlier report by Firstpost, the Indian Air Force had urged the Defence Ministry to purchase helicopters that were capable of flying in high-altitude areas like Siachen and Tiger Hill. After careful evaluation of the AW101, it was ascertained that it was not capable of flying 6,000 m and above and could only reach up to 4,572 feet.

The alleged middleman in the deal, Guido Haschke, revealed that while AW101 did not meet the technical requirements of the IAF, the deal was signed after
Haschke tweaked the contract with the help of his Indian contacts.

​AgustaWestland allegedly paid €30 million in bribes, of which €20 million was routed through Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.

A CBI report that came in later said that prior to Tyagi being appointed as Air Force chief, the IAF had ‘’vehemently opposed’’ the lowering of the altitude requirement. This changed after Tyagi came into the picture and the IAF “conceded to reduce” altitude requirements, allowing AgustaWestland to re-enter the bidding process.

Initial investigations by the Italian prosecutor said that Tyagi had personally met Haschke before, and that the bribery took place via Tyagi’s cousins Julie, Sandeep and Dosca. Tyagi, however, has denied any claims of having met Haschke.

In investigations by the Milan Court of Appeals, particularly in its 225-page judgment, Tyagi’s name appeared more than once. The judgment said, “So, in the absence of contrary indications, it must be concluded that the reward bestowed to ‘Tyagi family’ for their work in support of AW in relation to the race of the Government (of) India for military helicopters amounts to €10,500,000.”

AgustaWestland scam LIVE: SP Tyagi in Patiala House Court, CBI seeks 10-dau custody for all 3 accused

How was Tyagi involved in the scam?

According to an earlier report by Firstpost, the Indian Air Force had urged the Defence Ministry to purchase helicopters that were capable of flying in high-altitude areas like Siachen and Tiger Hill. After careful evaluation of the AW101, it was ascertained that it was not capable of flying 6,000 m and above and could only reach up to 4,572 feet.

The alleged middleman in the deal, Guido Haschke, revealed that while AW101 did not meet the technical requirements of the IAF, the deal was signed after
Haschke tweaked the contract with the help of his Indian contacts.

​AgustaWestland allegedly paid €30 million in bribes, of which €20 million was routed through Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.

A CBI report that came in later said that prior to Tyagi being appointed as Air Force chief, the IAF had ‘’vehemently opposed’’ the lowering of the altitude requirement. This changed after Tyagi came into the picture and the IAF “conceded to reduce” altitude requirements, allowing AgustaWestland to re-enter the bidding process.

Initial investigations by the Italian prosecutor said that Tyagi had personally met Haschke before, and that the bribery took place via Tyagi’s cousins Julie, Sandeep and Dosca. Tyagi, however, has denied any claims of having met Haschke.

In investigations by the Milan Court of Appeals, particularly in its 225-page judgment, Tyagi’s name appeared more than once. The judgment said, “So, in the absence of contrary indications, it must be concluded that the reward bestowed to ‘Tyagi family’ for their work in support of AW in relation to the race of the Government (of) India for military helicopters amounts to €10,500,000.”

AgustaWestland scam LIVE: CBI to seek 14-day remand in custody for SP Tyagi and other accused

How was Tyagi involved in the scam?

According to an earlier report by Firstpost, the Indian Air Force had urged the Defence Ministry to purchase helicopters that were capable of flying in high-altitude areas like Siachen and Tiger Hill. After careful evaluation of the AW101, it was ascertained that it was not capable of flying 6,000 m and above and could only reach up to 4,572 feet.

The alleged middleman in the deal, Guido Haschke, revealed that while AW101 did not meet the technical requirements of the IAF, the deal was signed after
Haschke tweaked the contract with the help of his Indian contacts.

​AgustaWestland allegedly paid €30 million in bribes, of which €20 million was routed through Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.

A CBI report that came in later said that prior to Tyagi being appointed as Air Force chief, the IAF had ‘’vehemently opposed’’ the lowering of the altitude requirement. This changed after Tyagi came into the picture and the IAF “conceded to reduce” altitude requirements, allowing AgustaWestland to re-enter the bidding process.

Initial investigations by the Italian prosecutor said that Tyagi had personally met Haschke before, and that the bribery took place via Tyagi’s cousins Julie, Sandeep and Dosca. Tyagi, however, has denied any claims of having met Haschke.

In investigations by the Milan Court of Appeals, particularly in its 225-page judgment, Tyagi’s name appeared more than once. The judgment said, “So, in the absence of contrary indications, it must be concluded that the reward bestowed to ‘Tyagi family’ for their work in support of AW in relation to the race of the Government (of) India for military helicopters amounts to €10,500,000.”

CBI arrests former air force chief SP Tyagi in bribery probe | Reuters

NEW DELHI The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested the former head of the air force, retired air chief marshal S.P. Tyagi, on Friday in an investigation into allegations of bribery in a contract to buy for a dozen AgustaWestland helicopters, an official said.Tyagi, 71, has been at the centre of allegations of impropriety in the 560 million-euro ($590 million) deal to buy the helicopters from AgustaWestland, a unit of the Italian defence group Leonardo-Finmeccanica.The deal was cancelled in 2014 after Finmeccanica‘s then chief executive, Giuseppe Orsi, was arrested on suspicion of paying bribes to secure the order for the helicopters, which were meant to fly senior Indian politicians.Tyagi was arrested on Friday along with a cousin of his and a lawyer, an official of the CBI said. The CBI has filed a complaint against the three men alleging offences including cheating, bribery and money laundering, the official said.

“There is sufficient evidence against them for us to arrest them,” the official said. The men will appear in court on Saturday and formal charges will be drawn up later on.The three men could not be reached for comment. Tyagi has in the past said that he is innocent in the affair.

Orsi was in April sentenced to four and a half years in prison in Italy for corruption and falsifying invoices.

India is one of the world’s biggest arms importers but critics say its procurement process is not transparent, and that millions of dollars have often been paid to politicians and top government and military officials to swing deals. ($1 = 0.9472 euros) (Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 19:57 IST

AgustaWestland scam LIVE: Ex-IAF chief SP Tyagi’s arrest sparks Congress-BJP war of words

How was Tyagi involved in the scam?

According to an earlier report by Firstpost, the Indian Air Force had urged the Defence Ministry to purchase helicopters that were capable of flying in high-altitude areas like Siachen and Tiger Hill. After careful evaluation of the AW101, it was ascertained that it was not capable of flying 6,000 m and above and could only reach up to 4,572 feet.

The alleged middleman in the deal, Guido Haschke, revealed that while AW101 did not meet the technical requirements of the IAF, the deal was signed after
Haschke tweaked the contract with the help of his Indian contacts.

​AgustaWestland allegedly paid €30 million in bribes, of which €20 million was routed through Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.

A CBI report that came in later said that prior to Tyagi being appointed as Air Force chief, the IAF had ‘’vehemently opposed’’ the lowering of the altitude requirement. This changed after Tyagi came into the picture and the IAF “conceded to reduce” altitude requirements, allowing AgustaWestland to re-enter the bidding process.

Initial investigations by the Italian prosecutor said that Tyagi had personally met Haschke before, and that the bribery took place via Tyagi’s cousins Julie, Sandeep and Dosca. Tyagi, however, has denied any claims of having met Haschke.

In investigations by the Milan Court of Appeals, particularly in its 225-page judgment, Tyagi’s name appeared more than once. The judgment said, “So, in the absence of contrary indications, it must be concluded that the reward bestowed to ‘Tyagi family’ for their work in support of AW in relation to the race of the Government (of) India for military helicopters amounts to €10,500,000.”

Sri Lanka president cancels colonial-era order amid falling popularity | Reuters

COLOMBO Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena on Thursday rescinded a colonial-era British order naming 19 nationals as “traitors” for leading a rebellion nearly 200 years ago, his office said, as he strives to shore up his fading popularity.Sirisena hailed the ethnic Sinhalese men whole led the insurrection against the island’s British rulers as national heroes, a move some critics were swift to denounce as a political gimmick to bolster his support among the Sinhalese majority.Sirisena said he had “cancelled the gazette notice issued by then governor of Sri Lanka Robert Brownrigg in 1818 naming the … Sinhalese leaders as traitors.” Sirisena’s leadership of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has been weakened as grassroot supporters shift their loyalties back towards the Indian Ocean island state’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.Rajapaksa remains popular among the Sinhalese and some of his supporters have formed a new party in the expectation that he will lead it. Kusal Perera, a political columnist and outspoken government critic, said Thursday’s act was a clear indication Sirisena was now going to cater to the larger Sinhala majority”.

Even so, Perera said, Sirisena was unlikely to win back much support as a result of the announcement. “Sinhala leaders anyway have been treated as heroes in Sinhala society. This shows how desperate Sirisena is,” Perera told Reuters.Sirisena was a one-time ally of Rajapaksa before he challenged his leadership and won a surprise victory in last year’s presidential vote.

The president, who like Rajapaksa is from the majority Buddhist community, has reached out to ethnic minority Tamils and Muslims, upsetting Sinhala leaders.Sirisena’s government has postponed local council elections by more than a year citing the new electoral process is still not ready.

Sri Lanka was under colonial rule from 1815 to 1948.The 19 Sinhalese leaders launched their revolt in a bid to restore the ruling of Sinhalese kings who exercised power before Portugal’s invasion in 1505.The British governor ordered their execution. (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Shihar Aneez)

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

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 22:24 IST

Triple talaq, Constitution, Quran and self-imposed custodians of Islam in India

The burning issue of triple talaq is back again with the Allahabad High court’s observation that the Muslims’ practice of divorcing their wives by uttering the word “talaq” thrice is unconstitutional, as several media outlets have reported.

“Personal laws of any community cannot claim supremacy over the rights granted to the individuals by the constitution,” the high court stated.

The triple talaq tangle. ReutersThe triple talaq tangle. Reuters

The triple talaq tangle. Reuters

Court and Constitution

A strongly-worded article in Firstpost has commented on the high court’s observation: “The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and some other Muslim organisations which have been aggressively defending triple talaq, citing the holy Quran, may not like the court’s judgment but it’s better they understood that the Indian Constitution makes itself very clear on the rights of individuals and no amount of creative interpretation of the concession to communities would change that.”

AIMPLB and Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind

Indeed, it is for the Supreme Court to look into the intricacies of such a fragile matter and come with a verdict which is in compliance with the Indian Constitution and, at the same time, with the Quran so that it may be acceptable to all Muslims. However, we cannot leave the issue to the desecration of the self-imposed custodians of Islam and Muslims in India like the or the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH). For, these self-proclaimed apex bodies of the Indian Muslims make use of such serious issues only to maintain their political hegemony over Muslims in the country. An earlier article in Firstpost has candidly exposed how the religiopolitical wings like the AIMPLB maintain its monopoly over the Muslim affairs in India using issues like the triple talaq as a political ploy.

In this political gimmick, both the AIMPLB and the JUH enjoy a huge support of the two diametrically-opposed Muslim sects — the Muqallids (those who follow any of the four Islamic schools of law) and the Ghair Muqallids or the Ahle-Hadisi/Salafis who don’t follow any of them.

Since its inception, the AIMPLB has been dominated by the males. But now it has also created a women wing which is nothing short of a group that supports the misplaced patriarchy in the name of Islamic Shariah. Isn’t it a great irony that the AIMPLB has decided for the first time in its long history, to form its women wing only to support the patriarchal power of executing triple talaq? Why didn’t it take cognizance of the need for a female-oriented body to go into other issues concerning Muslim women? After the creation of the AIMPLB’s women wing, it has been directed only to engage with the pro-personal-laws signature campaign in order to tackle the Law Commission’s questionnaire.

As for the JUH’s take on triple talaq, it has been good for nothing. Worst of all, it has confused the entire Muslim community in India which looks up to the JUH as a body of the high-profile Deobandi clergy. Recently, the JUH held its 33rd annual conference in Ajmer, where it clearly castigated the triple talaq as ‘un-Islamic’, while at the same time opposing any proposals for a Uniform Civil Code.

But, on the contrary, the JUH showed completely different colors when it proclaimed in clearer words that “triple talaq, ‘nikah halala’ and polygamy are well rooted” and that there cannot be any room for the state’s interference in the personal laws. In its counter affidavit, the JUH stated that the Muslim personal law has an element of certainty and is not local or regional in operation. “There is no scope for interference with the Muslim Personal Law, which is based on primarily the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, explained and applied by various scholars of great antiquity and authority after thorough research,” it said.

Quran vs Constitution?

Much against the prevailing perception in the community, the Quran is full compliance with the Constitution on matters of talaq (divorce) and zawaj (marriage). In a very coherent and logical manner, the holy Quran prescribes a three-month waiting period for a woman undergoing the divorce process (2:228). The Quran issues an injunction for a divorce-giver man to formally articulate his intention at least twice over the period in the presence of witnesses (2:229). Moreover, in a couple of verses, Quran also stresses that there should be time-framing (2:231, 65:2).

Many Quran exegetes have noted that it was a rampant custom in the pre-Islamic Arabia, in the era of ignorance (jahiliyyah), that men could abandon their wives simply declaring, “You are to me like my mother’s back”, as the Quran itself narrates (58:2). In a stark contradiction to the Quranic pronouncements, triple talaq has been a nefarious instance of pre-Islamic Arabian patriarchy. Here’s is what the Quran pronounces in so many words and verses. A few instances:

“Divorced women shall wait by themselves for three monthly periods, for it is not lawful for them, if they believe in God and the Last Day, to conceal what God has created in their wombs…. (2:228). (O men, you must) pronounce the divorce over two occasions. Thereafter live together (with your mates) honourably, or part with (Tasrihu) them honourably…. (2:229).

“And if you divorce women, and they reach (the end of) their term, then either live together honorably, or part with (Sarrihu) them honorably, but do not keep them to injure them, (or) to exceed limits. Anyone who does that merely wrongs his own soul…” (2:231).

“And when they reach (the end of) their term, then either live together honourably, or part with (Fariqu) them honorably, calling to witness two just members from among yourselves and uphold the evidence (as) before God. This is to instruct anyone who believes in God and the Last Day. (Remember,) God will find a way out for anyone who heeds Him” (65:2).

An in-depth and objective probe into the above Quranic injunctions clearly reveal that the Quran is compatible with the Constitution. This compliance becomes more patently clear in the operative part of the high court’s latest observation:

“Muslim law, as applied in India, has taken a course contrary to the spirit of what the Prophet or the Holy Quran laid down and the same misconception vitiates the law dealing with the wife’s right to divorce. The divorce is permissible in Islam only in cases of extreme emergency. When all efforts for effecting a reconciliation have failed, the parties may proceed to a dissolution of the marriage by ‘Talaq’ or by ‘Khola’. The statement that “the whimsical and capricious divorce by the husband is good in law, though bad in theology” cannot be approved as the correct law. The correct law of talaq as ordained by the Holy Quran is that talaq must be for a reasonable cause and be preceded by attempts at reconciliation between the husband and the wife by two arbiters- one from the wife’s family and the other from the husband’s; if the attempts fail, talaq may be effected. (Ref: Pathayi v. Moideen 1968 KLT 763; A. Yousuf Rawther Vs. Sowramma, AIR 1971 Kerala 261; referred to with approval by the Supreme Court in Shamim Ara vs State Of U.P. & another : 2002 (7) SCC 518).”

However, the problem with common Muslims in India is that they buy the misconstrued Quranic texts from the rapacious mullahs and self-serving maulvis. An earlier article in Firstpost has shown how the concept of Halalah (marriage of his former wife to another person in a bid to reclaim his reunion with her), which has fully different connotation in the Quran (2: 230), is grossly misconstrued and ill-practiced in the Muslim society.

But the JUH still seeks to rescue those who stage-manage the ‘nikah-e- halala’. Such ill-designed statements degrade women even in the 21st century India. Similar is the brazen violation of the Quranic verses (4:2, 3 and 127) which pertain to polygamy. Any insight into the Quran unravels that polygamy in Islam was validated under strict conditions. It was primarily institutionalised to safeguard women and orphaned children living in an intolerant Arabian society. But it is quite difficult for the short-sighted minds of the mullahs to comprehend it today. The related verses in the Quran permitted a restricted polygamy under the exceptional circumstances only.

Those with perverted minds will have to go back by 1,400 years to perceive the context under which polygamy was permissible. Since the pro-polygamy verses in the Quran were contextual, they cannot be given primacy over the universal Quranic verses which are always applicable to us. Needless to say, most verses in the Quran enjoin gender justice, equality, egalitarianism and a women-friendly Islam. Azizah al-Hibri has rightly put it: “The fundamental notion in the Qur’an is that of justice, and justice is gender equality.”

MJ Akbar, the Union minister who has been a member of the Forum of Islamic Scholars, has masterly stated: “You cannot deny gender equality to any being. Denial of gender rights is against the Sharia [read Islam]. Anyone who has a deep understanding of the Quranic law will never have the courage to argue. He will simply not.”

The author is a scholar of comparative religion, classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in media and communication Studies. Views are personal. He tweets at @GRDehlvi.

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 21:19 IST

Paris imposes driving restrictions, plans clunker ban as smog hits highs | Reuters

By Geert De Clercq
| PARIS

PARIS The French capital Paris announced on Wednesday licence-plate based driving restrictions for a third day in a row and plans bans on old cars as the City of Light experienced the worst air pollution in a decade. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Paris banned cars from circulation based on whether their licence plates ended with odd or even numbers. It will now ban half of all traffic again on Thursday. Other French cities such as Lyon are also planning bans as clouds of pollution hang over many European cities due to a lack of the winds that normally blow in off the Atlantic Ocean. It is only the fourth time in 20 years that Paris has imposed such a ban and the first time it applies for consecutive days. Municipalities around Paris also imposed the ban. With its famous Eiffel Tower shrouded in a greyish haze and some Asian tourists donning face masks, the city also made all public transport, residential parking and the Velib’ bicycle and Autolib’ electric car schemes free.

“Cars are poisoning the air. We need to take preventive measures,” said Paris city hall transport official Herve Levife. Besides instant measures like licence-plate based driving bans, the city also plans to step up its fight against chronic pollution by gradually banning the oldest and most polluting vehicles from the city centre, he said. “We want these bans to automatically take effect when the pollution exceeds a certain level, not have to negotiate them with the government each time,” Levife added.

From mid-January, Paris will become the first French city to launch the new “Crit’Air” vignette system that will require all cars to have a colour-coded sticker indicating their age and pollution level. The stickers will allow police to control which vehicles can circulate in the city centre. Grenoble in eastern France also plans to use the vignettes and other French cities are looking into banning clunkers from their roads.Cars 20 years and older have already been banned from Paris roads from July 1, 2016 and some 120,000 stickers have been distributed. But participation in the scheme so far has been voluntary and enforcement scarce.

From July 1, 2017, the city will impose bans on diesel-powered cars and vans first put into circulation in 2001 and trucks first registered in 2006. Between 2018 and 2020, the city will gradually tighten circulation permits. Paris has no plans to introduce London-style tolls for cars entering the city.Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is on a drive to reduce car traffic. She has increased the cost of parking meters, banned free parking on Saturdays and the August holiday period, and is turning a highway on both banks of the Seine into a riverside park. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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

First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 23:34 IST

Nearly 100 killed, hundreds hurt as quake strikes Indonesia’s Aceh | Reuters

PIDIE JAYA, Indonesia Nearly 100 people were killed and hundreds injured in Indonesia on Wednesday when a strong earthquake hit its Aceh province and rescuers used earth movers and bare hands to search for survivors in scores of toppled buildings.Medical volunteers rushed in fading evening light to get people to hospitals, which were straining to cope with the influx of injured.The Aceh provincial government said in a statement 93 people had died and more than 500 were injured, many seriously.Sutopo Nugroho of Indonesia’s national disaster management agency, said a state of emergency had been declared in Aceh, which sits on the northern tip of Sumatra island. “We are now focusing on searching for victims and possible survivors,” said Nugroho. His agency put the death toll at 94.Aceh was devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami centred on its western coast near the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, on Dec. 26, 2004. That tsunami killed 226,000 people along Indian Ocean shorelines.Officials urged people to sleep outdoors as twilight fell, in case aftershocks caused more damage to already precarious buildings.

President Joko Widodo was expected to visit the area on Thursday, his deputy told media.Wednesday’s quake hit the east coast of the province, about 170 km (105 miles) from Banda Aceh. Nugroho said Aceh’s Pidie Jaya regency, with a population of about 140,000, was worst hit. Many victims had suffered broken bones and gashes and had to be treated in hospital corridors and hastily erected disaster tents, a Reuters witness said. Television showed footage of flattened mosques, fallen electricity poles and crushed cars.

A Red Crescent volunteer said health workers were struggling. “There aren’t enough medical staff,” the Red Crescent’s Muklis, who like many Indonesians uses one name, told TVOne. Nugroho said more than 1,000 personnel, including military officers and volunteers, had been deployed to help in disaster relief.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck just after 5 a.m. (2200 GMT Tuesday) at a depth of 17 km (11 miles). No tsunami warning was issued.At least five aftershocks were felt after the initial quake, the disaster management agency said.The region suffered massive destruction in 2004 when a 9.2 magnitude quake triggered a tsunami that wiped out entire communities in Indonesia and other countries around the Indian Ocean. Indonesia was the hardest hit, with more than 120,000 people killed in Aceh. (Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA and Reuters stringer in PIDIE JAYA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

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

First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 21:23 IST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jayalalithaa dead: Funeral at 4.30 pm on Chennai’s Marina Beach with full state honours

Things progressed pretty fast after 12.15 am on Tuesday when Apollo Hospitals confirmed the demise of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa (her name is sometimes spelled Jayalalitha).

One of India’s most charismatic political leaders, Jayalalithaa breathed her last after a bitter 74-day battle for life, ending an era in Tamil Nadu politics and plunging the state in deep grief. She was 68. A spinster, Jayalalithaa died after she suffered a cardiac arrest that derailed the halting progress she had been making on the health front.

“It is with indescribable grief, we announce the sad demise of our esteemed Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Puratchi Thalaivi Amma at 11.30 pm,” the hospital said in a statement. As Jayalalithaa’s death became known, a loud wail rent the air outside the Apollo hospital where thousands had gathered since her cardiac arrest on Sunday evening, hoping against hope that she would survive. Two hours after the announcement of her death, in a swift political transition, her loyalist O Panneerselvam was sworn in as Chief Minister at a sombre ceremony at the Raj Bhawan along with all the ministers in the erstwhile Jayalalithaa Cabinet.

All these administrative decisions aside, the Tamil Nadu government announced seven-day mourning period in the state and also said that schools and colleges will be shut for the next three days. It was also decided that Jayalalithaa will be laid to rest next to her mentor MG Ramachandran in Chennai’s Marina Beach.

Here is how the Tamil Nadu government has planned Jayalalithaa’s funeral.

Will be laid to rest next to MGR

Probably one man who was responsible and highly-instrumental in Jayalalithaa’s success in politics was actor, filmmaker and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran or lovingly referred to as MGR. Thrice elected as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, MGR was a maverick and helped Jayalalithaa create her political base. Therefore, it came as no surprise when AIADMK announced that the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister will be laid to rest next to MGR at the Marina Beach.

Where and when

After AIADMK cadre brought Jayalalithaa’s body to her Chennai residence (in Poes Garden), the party announced that the funeral will take place at 4.30 pm at Marina Beach with full state honours. The coffin was soon taken to Rajaji Hall, in the heart of Chennai off arterial Anna Salai, where the public paid their last respects to their favourite leader. Four armymen covered her body with the Tricolour at Rajaji Hall.

This screengrab from Google Maps show the distance from Rajaji Hall, where Jayalalithaa's body has kept right now, till Marina Beach where she will be buried.

This screengrab from Google Maps show the distance from Rajaji Hall, where Jayalalithaa’s body has kept right now, till Marina Beach where she will be buried.

Security at Marina

Sources in Chennai told Firstpost that Kamarajar Salai or the road leading up to the MGR Memorial in Marina beach was heavily fortified with immensely tight security. “Several dignitaries, including the President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and other senior politicians will be present at the funeral. Police has put Chennai under a lockdown and till now security is air-tight,” the source said on the condition of anonymity.

According to Pheba Mathews of The News Minute, who is in Chennai reporting on the issue, Jayalalithaa will be buried, and not cremated as per Brahmin traditions, which she was born into. Police has been deployed and the entire stretch of Marina Beach has been cordoned off. Firstpost also found out that public will be allowed to observe the funeral.

Full state honours to be accorded

The Tamil Nadu state government has announced that Jayalalithaa will be accorded full state honours at her funeral and a seven-day mourning period has also been announced.

Life virtually came to a grinding halt on Tuesday morning as entire Chennai had joined everyone else at the Rajaji Hall. Deserted roads, shops with downed shutter spoke louder than any slogan ever could Public transport services, including auto rickshaws, were off the roads while some private vehicles were seen plying in various parts of the city where police personnel kept a tight vigil at vantage points. A near total shutdown like situation prevailed in the city and several other parts of the state since Monday evening itself.

The Centre also declared one-day state mourning across the country in view of Jayalalithaa’s death and said the National Flag will fly at half-mast in all state capitals including Delhi. The central government also decided to accord state funeral to the departed leader. “The Government of India today announced with profound sorrow the death of Selvi J Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, yesterday at Chennai.

“As a mark of respect to the departed dignitary, the Centre has decided that the national flag will fly half-mast in the capitals of all States/UTs, including Delhi and throughout the State of Tamil Nadu,” an official statement said.

However, the focus on Tuesday turned to Rajaji Hall where Jayalalithaa’s body is lying in state to enable public pay their homage. With even tea stalls, which usually do a brisk business in the early hours, remaining closed, mobile tea vendors could be seen dispensing the brew at some places. Hotels remained closed too. Suburban train services, however, were being operated in the city, albeit with lower passenger rush. Long distance trains arriving at Chennai Central and Egmore stations were on time.

The state government has declared a holiday today for its offices and three-days for educational institutions as a mark of respect to the departed leader.

With inputs from agencies

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 12:50 IST

LGBTQI harassment at Tiss: Issue gets voice in gender-sensitive institute, but what about the rest of India?

Students from the LGBTQ community in the Tata Institute of Social Sciences have complained of being harassed and discriminated against, according to a report by The Times of India. Some even submitted their complaints with the institute’s Gender Amity Committee (GAC) citing harassment in relation to their non-normative appearances or sexual preference claims the report.

The institute is known for fostering social justice, birthing and nurturing equality, and as the defender of all social identities. It provides multiple specialisations even within a single master’s category: such as on the topics of identity, women’s citizenship and governance, women’s writing and engendering governance, all offered as a sub-range within the MA in Women’s studies. In particular, it has stood out as the champion of the liberals, champion of all causes, in what other universities have stayed woefully inept in cultivating – a human agenda.

It was in May this year that we celebrated the news of a street sweeper with the BMC, 36-year-old Sunil Yadav who beat all odds to secure a MPhil degree from Tiss Mumbai, in ‘Globalisation and Labour’ and expressed the aim of pursuing a PhD to deeply understand the social system that has “marginalised our (sweeper) class in the society.” When the news of discrimination against the LGBTQI community arises in an educational institute such as Tiss, it must be taken up as matter of serious concern.

Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Wikimedia CommonsTata Institute of Social Sciences. Wikimedia Commons

Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Wikimedia Commons

The provision of such keenly domain knowledge by the institute serves as the metaphorical potter to shape experts out of all kinds of clay. Though, where such temples of knowledge are often unfairly seen as churning partisan intellectualism, the knowledge of discrimination within its halls could have finally falsified this notion and proved that it truly is a melting pot of different thought processes. A member of the Gender Amity Committee (GAC) said it like it is: “Tiss still exists in India.”

A student* who identifies as queer studying in the institute has said that he faced discrimination in the form of ostracism. He was refused as a roommate and in another instance, a fellow student refused to take a selfie with him based on his gender identity. “I think the campus does claim to be inclusive and sensitive but fails to really provide us a safe space,” he said.

But on the other hand, a student of media studies in the institute, Kamesh S denies having witnessed any discrimination. He has said that there are two formal unions to deal with such issues — the GAC and the Centre Against Sexual Harassment (CASH). “They have many procedures against sexual discrimination, ranging from counseling to stricter ones such as suspension or withdrawal of admission, depending on the case,” he clarified.

Following these complaints, the GAC has issued a circular against discrimination and have launched initiatives to increase gender awareness and sensitisation programmes.

A GAC member went on to say that the committee, which though is independent of the Students’ Union, is running joint programmes with the union to ensure a wider reach. “The committee has received a total of two or three formal complaints, and no reports of physical abuse. We have planned for open talks, role play activities and panel discussions in the coming months, with a proper timeline to combat the problem. Our objective is to destroy the pre-conditioned biases of people, and thus big or small we’re taking this very seriously.”

However, a student who identifies herself as an outsider to the community, and is taking her masters in social work from the university, said that she had heard about two separate incidents of discrimination from other students, one where a security guard had taunted a person for his appearance and another incident where a technical staff from the library made comments. “Tiss constitutes of a very diverse campus and attracts people from very multicultural backgrounds and so everyone is largely accepting of one another. But this very reason could be the cause of clashes – too different a background.” When asked as to what was done to counter this after the first incident, she said that a mail was sent by the Tiss Students’ Union, but not much else.

The mail, dated 29 September, 2016, by the union acknowledges the problem, and reads:

“Many of us find it difficult to go beyond the binary of ‘male’ and ‘female.’ However this does not give us the right to infringe upon the dignity or personal choice of any individual whatsoever. While it is necessary to immediately activate a mechanism to ensure that no one faces further discrimination or/and harassment on the basis of gender or sexual orientation; establishment of a gender-just campus will take some more efforts.”

The mail also announced that the union has strongly condemned any acts of discrimination while simultaneously calling upon the student body to engage in a process of dialogue to unlearn biases. The union has committed to working closely with the GAC-CASH in the future.

Furthermore, the mail confirmed that the administration of the university had taken cognisance of the incidents and had arranged for an immediate sensitisation program for the security guards.

However, one of the students* who lodged a formal complaint has accused a member of the Student Union of allegedly making insulting remarks. “I joined Tiss knowing that they follow a zero tolerance policy towards discrimination and inequality. But some queer people have been at the brunt of humiliating taunts and interrogations based on their dressing style. We have filed a complaint and in the process have started to see what can be done where we cannot seek legal intervention.” Nevertheless, he expressed confidence in the institution’s existing system to take corrective measures. “GAC and CASH have boosted its attempts at sensitisation. Where these matters used to take place before as well, they have now planned for more movie screenings and peer awareness programmes,” he said. “In a way these cases have propelled our visibility in the campus, made it stronger,” he added.

A source within the GAC pointed to the fact that this was an internal issue, and they were not allowed to talk about it. However, the GAC page on the Tiss website states that they have to follow the Vishaka Guidelines against Sexual Harassment mandates that “it shall be the duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places or other institutions to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide the procedures for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts, of sexual harassment by taking all steps required,” which is further delineated in the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) at Workplace Act 2013, in which it is outlines that sexual harassment constitutes physical contact and advances; or a demand or request for sexual favours; or making sexually coloured remarks; or showing pornography; or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature. But the purview of this law is restricted to women, and the section 377 ruling of the Supreme Court that re-criminalised homosexuality makes it difficult for such bodies to operate, and find an outlet to help other genders and sexual identities.

There might be no written procedure or legal process that unions all over India can follow to address harassment to LGBTQ people. Long time LGBTQ rights activist, Sonal Giani saw both negative and positive aspects to these developments. She said: “On the one hand it’s distressing that a place as progressive as Tiss has witnessed such discrimination, but on the other, it goes to show that its students have the courage to stand up to bullying. It’s heartening that there is a redressal mechanism that exists, and nothing is shoved under the carpet. It’s however a catch-22 situation that the student has to come out and talk about it. Where the onus should lie on the varsity to make space inclusive for the trans-person, it is often expected that the trans-person has to take the onus of claiming space for himself or herself. More than anything, this episode highlights what should be the larger focus that the government can’t just expect to create reservations for various minorities to build a pluralistic society, it has to do more to sensitise the spaces.”

Diversity is a social condition, but “pluralism is a political programme; a manifestation of what we wish India to be,” says Ramachandra Guha, and goes on to list five varieties of pluralism that universities must seek to achieve, in his essay on Pluralism in the Indian university. Tiss has almost achieved all — a pluralism in the student body, then in the teaching staff, a plurality of disciplines, approaches within a discipline, and pluralism in its funding. As Hunar Mehta, currently studying community organisation and development practice in the institute, has said, “discussions among friends and in classes help to change your perspective subtly. When exposed to scientific reasoning to what is not considered ‘normal,’ it helps one accept reality.”

Moreover in the case of Tiss, that has about two years to work with its student population to break years and years of prejudices, sensitivity is the key word. We would have to be boorish at the very least, to say that in the light of the recent events that it has failed in serving its reputation. It is perhaps because it is Tiss that these issues have received attention, and the kind of propriety it deserves.

The Supreme Court had heard a curative petition in February, 2016 to revisit its 2013 judgment, signifying that it recognised that the LGBTQ issue was a ‘constitutional’ one and not a ‘moral’ one, according to this Firstpost article. And the Tiss issue among many, may hopefully pave the way for another one.

*Students spoke to Firstpost on the condition of anonymity

First Published On : Dec 3, 2016 13:46 IST

Demonetisation effect: Firstpost visits Dhasai, Maharashtra’s first cashless village

Akodara, a tiny village in Gujarat, became India’s first digital village in 2015 and is now reaping benefits of a cashless economy. While the whole country is stressed due to the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, the villagers of Akodara, who transact on mobile banking almost on daily basis, have nothing to complain.

Now a tiny village Dhasai, some 70 km from Thane, and around 140 km from Mumbai, has become Maharashtra’s first cashless village. But, unlike Akodara, where mobile banking is the main mode of payments, here it’s card payments via EDC machine.

Post demonetisation, the situation in the village got worse, no one had cash in hand and all business were conducted only on credit. However, there’s a limit to which a business can function on credit. Barbers had to cut their customers hair on credit; groceries were sold on credit; chicken, meat and medicines were bought on credit; seeds and fertilisers were bought and sold on credit.

A customer uses debit card for buying groceries in Dhasai.

A customer uses a debit card for buying groceries in Dhasai.

Naresh Raiker, a barber in the village, says: “Post demonitisation, I gave people haircuts on udhar (credit). The first day after the demonetisation, I did a business of Rs 450, but carried no money home, as everything was done on credit.”

Same views were echoed by Sayed, the chicken shop owner, “I had to sell chicken and mutton on credit, and it’s been 18 days now. Some have not even paid back the money they owed me and I haven’t said anything in good faith.”

The impact of demonetisation was extreme. Firstpost spoke to farmers, villagers, shopkeepers, and all voiced the struggle. With a population of less than 10,000, most have Jan Dhan accounts and RuPay debit cards. However, most never used the card before demonetisation. Primarily, a village of farmers and adhivasis (tribals), it has around 150 shops and is the biggest village amongst the 25 villages in the surrounding area.

There are two banks in the village – Thane District Central Co-operative Bank and Vijaya Bank. Neither had any cash to dispense in the initial days post the note ban. Even those who managed to get cash later had Rs 2,000 notes and no one could tender change for such a high denomination.

When the situation got out of hand, the villagers, traders and local NGO Swatantryaveer Savarkar Rashtriya Smarak in collaboration of Bank of Baroda decided to change things and ditch the dependency on cash.

Navtej Singh, the general manager of Bank of Baroda, Mumbai Zone, says, “Nearly 40 percent of shops have already been given POS/EDC machines. In a few days, the whole village will become cashless.”

Dr Atul Chaudhary also saw a dip in the number of patients post the currency ban. The OPD number fell by 50 percent. However, the doctor was quick to apply for the ECD machine and had already gotten a few patients using their debit cards to pay him consultation fees. “The literacy in this area is low, just 60-70 percent of the population is educated, that too till 10th or 12th grade,” he says.

“Going cashless have many alternate routes, like card payments, net banking and mobile payments but low literacy is primarily the reason why we chose debit cards as the mode of payment instead of mobile banking,” says, Navtej Singh.

Which means as long as the trader knows how to use the EDC machine and swipe the card, using a debit card to make payments becomes a pretty painless act for most villagers, especially the illiterate ones.

The bank has installed the machines for free and the trader has to pay a fee for every swipe. The fee, also known as interchange money in banking parlance, is fairly less just 0.75 percent for transaction up to Rs 2,000. That’s just 0.75 paise for every Rs 100 swiped.

Raiker, the barber we spoke to, says: “I don’t mind spending a small fee of 0.75 percent. The money will move directly from the customer’s bank account to my account. If I have cash in hand I tend to spend it, now it will reach my account directly and I will automatically be able to save more.”

Many villagers said that carrying cash wasn’t particularly the best option but now carrying a debit card will make their live much easy.

Maruti Behre, a farmer who made his first debit card transaction to buy a kilogram of mutton says, “Now that I have an ATM card, I won’t be using cash.”

Unlike the digitally-equipped Akodara, where literacy level is also high, Dhasai still has to learn the basics. Although this looks like the first step towards a cashless economy in the tiny village of Maharashtra, it may just be the beginning.

First Published On : Dec 3, 2016 08:22 IST

Trump’s dilemma: slower job growth or rising rates and inflation? | Reuters

By Howard Schneider
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON A drop in the U.S. unemployment rate last month to a 9-year low signals the risk of a collision between President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to goose the economy and the Federal Reserve’s efforts to tap the brakes with higher interest rates.Since Trump’s election, officials at the U.S. central bank have cautiously introduced the possibility that his spending and tax cut plans could prompt a faster pace of rate increases than the two hikes currently foreseen in 2017.An increase is already expected when the Fed meets in two weeks. Fresh economic projections, the first since the election, will also be issued and Fed Chair Janet Yellen will hold a news conference when the meeting concludes on Dec. 14.With November’s decline, the jobless rate is now already below the most optimistic projections from Fed policymakers for where it would stand at year end.If it keeps moving lower, Trump’s spending and tax cut plans may be adding fuel to a tank that’s already brimming. Possible new trade or immigration restrictions could make markets even tighter, and switch the Fed from worrying about the risk of deflation to fighting price rises before they get out of hand.”There is much more than the Trump election driving the … rally that started the day after the election,” Bank of the West chief economist Scott Anderson wrote. “We are seeing signs of a synchronized rebound in the global economy.”

When Fed policymakers issued their last projections in September, the lowest level predicted for the unemployment rate at the end of the year was 4.7 percent. In November, it fell three-tenths of a percentage point to 4.6 percent.The decline was partly due to a drop in the labor force participation rate, which officials have expected to begin falling again because of an aging population with more retirees. In general, the lower the unemployment rate, the slower the pace of job growth the economy can sustain without pushing up wages and prices too quickly.Policymakers insist they still have time to move rates higher to keep price increases under control. Several officials feel it may even help fix some of the damage from the 2007-2009 recession if inflation moved above the Fed’s 2 percent target for a while. That might, for example, allow steady wage increases to restore some of the ground lost by workers.

However, in recent months even ostensibly dovish officials, like Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, have cautioned that steady rate hikes might be needed to avoid the need for even faster increases that could trigger a recession. “I view a small step up in interest rates as appropriate, not because I want to curtail the expansion, but because I believe it will help prolong the expansion,” Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester said on Wednesday..Trump’s victory gives that debate more urgency. His plans for a big infrastructure spending package, tax cuts and tighter controls on immigration could test the limits of what the economy can absorb before overheating.

For a year now, Fed officials have said they expect job growth to slow as the economy nears full employment. It hasn’t happened, meaning Trump will take office at what may be a tough point of inflection: either job creation slows or inflation jumps.Jed Kolko, chief economist at the Indeed job site, said the current pace of job growth and low unemployment rate “sets a baseline for the Trump administration.””Recent wage gains and unemployment declines make this a tough economy to improve on,” he said. (Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Andrea Ricci)

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

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 23:34 IST

‘It took 20-25 years for US to go cashless, but that’s not an excuse to wait’

Jack Ringquist, global leader, consumer products, Deloitte, was recently in Mumbai. Firstpost spoke to him on the likely impact of demonetisation on consumers and India’s switchover to cashless economy.

Ringquist talks about how the US took time to go fully cashless and the changes it brought about in the economy and consumer behaviour. He also points out that it the next generation that finds it easy to adapt to change than the generation that witnesses the shift in economy and the pains that go with it.

Edited excerpts from the conversation:

What was the experience of the US in adopting cashless mode of payment?

Jack RingquistJack Ringquist

Jack Ringquist, global leader, consumer products, Deloitte

It took a long time for the US in terms of penetration and comfort to accept other modes of payments than cash. This switchover takes time. To be honest, even I generally pay cash towards everyday purchases. I use credit cards and debit cards typically only when I have to. But my children pay through credit card or through Paypal. So it’s a generational issue mostly. What I am talking about is the technology and consumer behaviour. Sometimes it can take a generation or two.

How do you see the present Indian situation?

My perspective is that all these changes are very positive signs. Despite the likely slowdown after the move, India is still the bright spot. Look at the rate of growth you have. It is still in high single digits and the rest of the world is in low single digits. India is doing well. You have the youngest population and a growing population of consumers. That also helps the growth of your nation. All the companies will see that potential. These are all challenges, but are also good steps going forward. What I hear from clients is that there is conversations happening between the businesses and the government today. The government is ready to hold discussions and work together. That will help the country tide over challenges like these and the future challenges like GST.

Is there a deflationary tendency for demonetisation?

I might assume in the short-term, there may be. When these kinds of changes happen, or when there is uncertainty, consumers decide to save and wait. But in the medium to longer-term, as the policy uncertainties become clear, typically the younger generation will be all for the new economy.

E-commerce companies like Flipkart had stopped cash on delivery after the demonetisation announcement. But then they restarted it. How do you see this development?

Cash will be there because for businesses it is important that they don’t lose their customers. Not everybody is a saint. The mistake here is to say that there is a tipping point when a country switches to cashless economy. Change happens in waves. The technology is being developed as we are speaking. Over time people become more comfortable to use technology. As generation evolve, they adapt. In the US, it was a 20-25 year journey. But that is not an excuse to wait to begin. It important to begin begin now. There are sizeable benefits even if it is only the cities that are adapting now. Eventually, the consumer behaviour will evolve. The true benefits of electronic payments is that you will see over time greater upticks as consumers become more educated.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 16:43 IST

National Anthem: SC order on ‘closed doors’ sacrifices public safety for pop patriotism

In a bid to “instil committed patriotism and nationalism”, the Supreme Court appears to have overlooked the greater perils of its verdict on National Anthem. In its 30 November order, the Supreme Court ruled, “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.”

While most lines of argument which criticises the Supreme Court order have concentrated around notions of patriotism, free will, freedom of speech and expression, the mandatory bolting of doors has raised a pertinent issue — that of public safety. Part of the Supreme Court’s order states:

“Prior to the National Anthem is played or sung in the cinema hall on the screen, the entry and exit doors shall remain closed so that no one can create any kind of disturbance which will amount to disrespect to the National Anthem. After the National Anthem is played or sung, the doors can be opened.”

According to experts, not only should this directive be “recalled”, it also needs further clarification. Reiterating the same sentiment, Alok Prasanna Kumar, a Bengaluru-based advocate and a senior resident fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, said that if one goes by the Supreme Court’s directive, there is a huge disaster, like the Uphaar fire tragedy of 1997, waiting to happen. “I think by ‘disturbance’, the Supreme Court meant walking in and out of the theatre. But there are two things that need to be kept in mind: Firstly, this order is fraught with potential danger and harm to the public and secondly, the Supreme Court is violating its own earlier order in the Uphaar case where it had ordered that doors should never be bolted,” Alok told Firstpost.

Supreme Court of India. Reuters

Supreme Court of India. Reuters

Supreme Court’s directive on doors being shut raises the question: Is safety getting sacrificed at the altar of pop-patriotism?

While issuing safety guidelines in the aftermath of the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court had stated that “under no circumstances, the entry door (which can act as an emergency exit in the event of fire or other emergency) should be bolted from outside”. The bench had noted that one of the doors in Uphaar cinema was bolted from outside and it prevented scores of victims from escaping the blaze.

The factors which constituted the direct and proximate cause of death of 59 persons and injury of 100 persons in Uphaar cinema were the installation of the DVB transformer in violation of law, faulty repair of the DVB transformer, presence of combustible material in the cinema building, parking of cars near the transformer room, alterations in the balcony obstructing egress, structural deviations resulting in closure of escape routes in the building at the time of the incident, bolting of the exit doors from outside and the absence of fire fighting measures and two trained firemen…”

The “close-door” order also clashes with the fire safety guidelines given to the fire department. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official from the Mumbai Fire Department told Firstpost that doors in cinema theatres cannot be bolted and that flouts fire safety norms. “I have not read the Supreme Court order, but doors in a cinema hall cannot be locked. Shutting of doors is against the rule and every theatre in Mumbai abides by it.” When told that the Supreme Court says that the doors should be locked and what that means for the safety of the public, the official bypassed the question and said, “Why should anyone move when the National Anthem is playing? You are supposed to stand in attention till the Rashtra Gaan is over.”

The Supreme Court not only violated its own earlier order, it also contradicts the Delhi Cinematography Act, which requires at least two exits to be open in the hall at all times. Rule 10 of Delhi Cinematograph Rules lays down that every auditorium must have two or more different thoroughfares or open spaces from which there is at all times free means of rapid dispersal. This rule also says that all doors through which the public have to pass on the way to open air shall be available for exit during the whole time that the public are in the building and during such time shall not be locked or bolted.

According to Alok, the Supreme Court ruling can be altered by submitting an “application of modification or recall of the order.” “Modification of this order is one way to ensure public safety otheriwse the tiniest spark or smoke can lead to mass panic and eventual casualties,” Alok said. Unfortunately, laws of physics cannot be suspended by a judicial order and if a fire breaks out, patriotism will not save scores from a horrible death in a closed space, Alok added.

Firstpost tried to reach multiplex and single-screen theatre owners to understand how will they ensure public safety with closed doors, but no one was available for a comment.

“There was no party present in the court to give the full picture to the Supreme Court. The fact that its current order violates its earlier one and which ends up exposing the safety issue of the public never entered anyone’s mind,” Alok further added.

The fact that the Supreme Court mandates upkeep of nationalist pride at the cost of public safety is something worth mulling. Aside from the totalitarian nature of the rule, a cinema hall is no place for the National Anthem to be played. In several citations, one such being the Ministry of Home Affairs in its “Orders related to the National Anthem”, it has been mandated that in order not to dilute the dignity of National Anthem, it should be played only on certain occasions.

“However, when in the course of a newsreel or documentary the Anthem is played as a part of the film, it is not expected of the audience to stand as standing is bound to interrupt the exhibition of the film and would create disorder and confusion rather than add to the dignity of the Anthem.”

That sentence says more than all the tweets, Facebook posts and article comments in the world combined ever could.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 15:20 IST

Salary day amid note ban: Banks start rationing to combat cash crunch; pressure to escalate

Snehalata Awasthi, a 35-year-old content writer working in a multinational content providing company in New Delhi, reached Citibank branch at Connaught Place in New Delhi at 8 am on Wednesday, to stand in a long queue. Finally, she managed to get Rs 10,000 against her requisition of Rs 24,000.

It’s not just Snehalata Awasthi; there are thousands of customers who have received less cash against their requisitions. Also there are customers, who have failed to withdraw money from smaller neighbourhood branches.

Facing shortage of cash supply vis-à-vis huge demand for withdrawal of cash from customers, the banks have resorted to rationing of cash dispensation. Based on their status of cash in hand, the public sector and private banks have set cash disbursal limits for customers.

Heavy rush outside Bank of India, Delhi. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Heavy rush outside Bank of India, Delhi. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Internal rationing system

According to the latest Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines — a customer can withdraw up to Rs 24,000 from a bank branch in a week. However, due short supply of cash from the RBI, the banks have developed individual rationing mechanism.

“Though my salary will be deposited in my account on Wednesday evening, but it is going to be difficult tomorrow to withdraw cash. As large number of customers will be there to withdraw salary tomorrow, I came to withdraw money from my account. The bank told me that I can withdraw maximum Rs 10,000,” said Awasthi.

Besides, rationing of cash disbursal, the banks have also set limits on withdrawal of cash through cheque and cash withdrawal form. In the case of the latter, withdrawal limit has been set less than the cheque.

“Our maximum thrust is to give cash to as many customers as possible. Due to short supply of cash, we can’t give Rs 24,000 to all. So, we’ve set a temporary limit like Rs 10,000 in a day,” a Citibank official told Firstpost.

Large number of ATMs in Delhi, especially those of private banks had no cash on Wednesday. It is the account-holders of public sector banks (PSBs) who are the satisfied customers.

“I failed to withdraw cash both from my bank branch and ATM. It’s a private new generation bank. But my wife, who has an account in a government bank, got money from there,” Chattarpur-based businessman Rajesh Sharma said.

“Though we’re not getting the amount that we have requested the RBI, yet we’re trying our best to manage it by lowering the withdrawal limit and also ensuring that the ATMs are replenished. We’ve deployed additional staff to deal with the swelling number of customers. After all, it’s salary time and everyone should get money,” said a Central Bank of India official.

A branch and ATM of ICICI bank in Delhi bear a deserted look due to no cash. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

A branch and ATM of ICICI bank in Delhi bear a deserted look due to no cash. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Mad rush

In anticipation of acute cash crunch in banks and ATMs due to the beginning of salary week, a large number of citizens in the national capital pushed off from home quite early on Wednesday to withdraw cash from the respective bank branches.

The branches of PSBs in Delhi have witnessed more rush than the private ones.

The bank branches and ATMs will face immense pressure during the first week of December, which is going to be the real test of the demonetisation move.

Non-availability of Rs 500 notes

Though Rs 500 denomination notes have been released, the banks disbursed only Rs 2,000 and Rs 100 denomination notes.

Surprisingly, many customers have also received Rs 50, Rs 20 and Rs 10 denomination notes. Even customers have complained of having received soiled small denomination notes.

“I received cash in Rs 50, Rs 20 and Rs 10 denomination notes. Many of those notes were old and soiled, which will again be difficult for me to use. I was told by my bank branch that they too have received the same from RBI,” said Akash Chowdhary, a resident of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh.

According to banking sources, anticipating mad rush at bank branches from 1 December as salaried-class and pensioners will go to collect their salaries and pensions, 20-30 percent extra cash has been provided to those branches with salary accounts.

First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 20:16 IST

RBI eases cash balance requirements for banks | Reuters

By Suvashree Choudhury
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will allow banks to use all their cash to meet the central bank’s new cash reserve ratio requirements, not just a certain amount of the money, in a technical but important move that could provide relief to the country’s banks.The RBI on Saturday had ordered banks to put all the deposits they accumulated between mid-September and mid-November under the central bank’s cash reserve ratio. The banks had been flooded with deposits after the government banned larger bank notes.That created problems for banks. Under India’s complicated rules for cash holdings, only a certain amount of the cash they hold in their vaults is eligible to be placed under cash reserve requirements. Those issues should now be resolved. The RBI in a statement on Wednesday widened the criteria for cash that can be included, including all the 500- and 1,000-rupee notes the government abolished this month.

“In the wake of deposits of specified bank notes in massive quantity and accumulations thereof, the above instructions have been revisited,” the RBI said.The move triggered a big rally in banking shares as well as bonds.Investors had worried that banks would have to scramble to get the cash required to place with the RBI under the more stringent cash reserve ratio requirements.

The 10-year benchmark bond’s yield fell 8 basis points to 6.24 percent on Wednesday, erasing almost all the losses on Monday after the RBI’s announcement. The yield rose as much as 15 bps to 6.34 percent then.The RBI said it will review the decision in the second half of February.

For RBI statement see bit.ly/2gjpZlK (Editing by Rafael Nam, editing by Larry King)

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

First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 19:17 IST

Demonetisation: Why the cash crunch may not end anytime soon

“For us, 33000 ATMs are currently dispensing cash. More will come up as day proceeds. You need to talk to RBI (Sic),” said SBI chairman, Arundhati Bhattacharya on Wednesday, when asked how long the cash-shortage will last in ATMs and how well the banking system is ready to face the week when salaries get credited to employee accounts and people rush to ATMs/ branches to draw money.

A file image of people standing at an ATM queue. ReutersA file image of people standing at an ATM queue. Reuters

A file image of people standing at an ATM queue. Reuters

Presently, SBI has about 49,000 ATMs. If 33,000 ATMs are dispensing money, that means about 67 percent of the ATMs of the country’s largest lender (by assets) are dispensing money. Let’s assume that rest of the banks too have managed to fill in cash in at least 50-60 percent of their teller machines. Things must have improved. But, then you can’t fool your eyes. A good number of the 2 lakh ATMs in the banking system continue to remain cash-starved even after three weeks of demonetisation announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and there are still stories of pain in daily lives.

Even after 21 days, there are still no visible signs of pain easing significantly, especially in rural areas if one goes by reports (read here, here, here and here)

The problem of Rs 500 notes

Both the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government have been assuring the public that there is enough cash in the banking system and there is no need to panic. Then why do we still see continuing cash shortage on the ground?

The reason is simple. There isn’t enough lower denomination notes (Rs 500 and below) to go around. The government mints have been aggressively printing Rs 2,000 notes, whereas the printing of Rs 500 notes, which is more handy to the common man for daily transactions, is a scarce item. Bhattacharya too attributed to the continuing cash crunch to the shortage of Rs 500 notes.

“The current availability is more of higher denomination notes. People want lower denomination notes, especially Rs 500. It takes time to change printing queues. Initially printing was concentrated on Rs 2,000 so as to provide bulk,” Bhattacharya said.

How long more should it take before banking system gets enough Rs 500 notes? “Talk to RBI,” Bhattacharya replied. The RBI has not provided any details about the printing of Rs 500 notes. A detailed questionnaire sent to the spokesperson of the central bank on the details of cash shortage remained answered till the time of writing this copy.

The 50-day promise

On 13 November, PM Modi had sought 50 days from the public to tide over the hardships post the demonetisation. But, can the PM keep his promise? At this stage, it looks doubtful. Most bankers, economists and financial sector experts said that the cash crunch could last at least until March (three more months beyond what the PM sought) for things to return to normal. A recent report in the Quint, says that the printing of the new Rs 500 note has come to a near-halt at the government’s Nashik and Dewas mints.

The report, which quoted RBI sources, attributes a series of errors on the new Rs 500 notes and the low printing capacity of Nashik and Dewas presses as the reason that promoted the RBI and the government to call off printing of Rs 500 notes. Firstpost hasn’t verified this information independently. But, if indeed this report is true, we are looking at even more delay for the Rs 500 notes coming in sufficient numbers to the rescue of common man. But one need to wait and watch how the scenario unfolds.

“The situation is pretty bad. It shall take 5-6 six months before we reach normalcy,” former RBI deputy governor KC Chakrabarty told Firstpost.

Indeed, the government’s hurry to print the stock of Rs 500 notes and the lack of preparedness while doing so was evident when two versions of Rs 500 notes appeared in the public. There were printing errors on certain features like the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi’s picture, placement of the national emblem, colour shade and border size. This shows noting but lack of preparedness by the central bank as far as Rs 500 notes are concerned.

Salary rush and hoarding

In the coming days, the scenario could turn even tougher for banks given that salaries will get credited to employee accounts and to draw this money, there could be long queues before ATMs and bank branches.

Evidently, there isn’t enough lower denomination notes to go around, which means some of the state governments will find it tough to give salaries. One example is Kerala government, which has already written to the RBI citing the lack of availability of currency to give salaries. The state has sought about Rs 1,200 crore worth notes to give salaries and pensions from the RBI, according to reports in local newspapers.

What will likely add to the pain is the hoarding tendency of people till the time cash withdrawal limits stay. As of now, there is a weekly withdrawal limit of Rs 24,000 at branches and Rs 2,500 daily limits at ATMs. Even Jan Dhan account withdrawals have been capped at Rs 10,000 a month, as a temporary measure. All this would mean that the public who draw cash at ATMs and bank branches would be hesitant to spend it except for basic necessities. When the speed of the circulation of the money is slow, that will add to an artificial cash shortage. That is even the money printed out of mints wouldn’t return to the system fast.

This, in other words means, banks will struggle to fill up their ATMs and permit higher withdrawals. Even now, most banks are seeking the KYC details of their own customers who come to the counter to withdraw money, to ensure the person is the account holder and the need is genuine. But, beyond a point, banker at the counter cannot keep doing this. Until the government presses churn out sufficient number of cash units into the system, the RBI would not be in a position to remove withdrawal restrictions for public. More withdrawal restrictions, such the current one on Jan Dhan accounts, signal danger to the common man and tell him the problem persists and he needs to be cautious with the cash in hand.

For now, the most optimistic assessments show the cash situation to turn normal only by March at the earliest, that is if the four government printing presses work in full capacity in three shifts. Until the time Rs 500 notes are available in plenty, there is an issue. The Rs 2,000 notes repel the average user as there is no change out there. One should hope that the RBI and the government prove these predictions wrong.

First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 13:59 IST

Demonetisation: Cash crunch unlikely to end soon; PM Modi’s 50-day promise may fail

“For us, 33000 ATMs are currently dispensing cash. More will come up as day proceeds. You need to talk to RBI (Sic),” said SBI chairman, Arundhati Bhattacharya on Wednesday, when asked how long the cash-shortage will last in ATMs and how well the banking system is ready to face the week when salaries get credited to employee accounts and people rush to ATMs/ branches to draw money.

A file image of people standing at an ATM queue. ReutersA file image of people standing at an ATM queue. Reuters

A file image of people standing at an ATM queue. Reuters

Presently, SBI has about 49,000 ATMs. If 33,000 ATMs are dispensing money, that means about 67 percent of the ATMs of the country’s largest lender (by assets) are dispensing money. Let’s assume that rest of the banks too have managed to fill in cash in at least 50-60 percent of their teller machines. Things must have improved. But, then you can’t fool your eyes. A good number of the 2 lakh ATMs in the banking system continue to remain cash-starved even after three weeks of demonetisation announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and there are still stories of pain in daily lives.

Even after 21 days, there are still no visible signs of pain easing significantly, especially in rural areas if one goes by reports (read here, here, here and here)

The problem of Rs 500 notes

Both the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government have been assuring the public that there is enough cash in the banking system and there is no need to panic. Then why do we still see continuing cash shortage on the ground?

The reason is simple. There isn’t enough lower denomination notes (Rs 500 and below) to go around. The government mints have been aggressively printing Rs 2,000 notes, whereas the printing of Rs 500 notes, which is more handy to the common man for daily transactions, is a scarce item. Bhattacharya too attributed to the continuing cash crunch to the shortage of Rs 500 notes.

“The current availability is more of higher denomination notes. People want lower denomination notes, especially Rs 500. It takes time to change printing queues. Initially printing was concentrated on Rs 2,000 so as to provide bulk,” Bhattacharya said.

How long more should it take before banking system gets enough Rs 500 notes? “Talk to RBI,” Bhattacharya replied. The RBI has not provided any details about the printing of Rs 500 notes. A detailed questionnaire sent to the spokesperson of the central bank on the details of cash shortage remained answered till the time of writing this copy.

The 50-day promise

On 13 November, PM Modi had sought 50 days from the public to tide over the hardships post the demonetisation. But, can the PM keep his promise? At this stage, it looks doubtful. Most bankers, economists and financial sector experts said that the cash crunch could last at least until March (three more months beyond what the PM sought) for things to return to normal. A recent report in the Quint, says that the printing of the new Rs 500 note has come to a near-halt at the government’s Nashik and Dewas mints.

The report, which quoted RBI sources, attributes a series of errors on the new Rs 500 notes and the low printing capacity of Nashik and Dewas presses as the reason that promoted the RBI and the government to call off printing of Rs 500 notes. Firstpost hasn’t verified this information independently. But, if indeed this report is true, we are looking at even more delay for the Rs 500 notes coming in sufficient numbers to the rescue of common man. But one need to wait and watch how the scenario unfolds.

“The situation is pretty bad. It shall take 5-6 six months before we reach normalcy,” former RBI deputy governor KC Chakrabarty told Firstpost.

Indeed, the government’s hurry to print the stock of Rs 500 notes and the lack of preparedness while doing so was evident when two versions of Rs 500 notes appeared in the public. There were printing errors on certain features like the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi’s picture, placement of the national emblem, colour shade and border size. This shows noting but lack of preparedness by the central bank as far as Rs 500 notes are concerned.

Salary rush and hoarding

In the coming days, the scenario could turn even tougher for banks given that salaries will get credited to employee accounts and to draw this money, there could be long queues before ATMs and bank branches.

Evidently, there isn’t enough lower denomination notes to go around, which means some of the state governments will find it tough to give salaries. One example is Kerala government, which has already written to the RBI citing the lack of availability of currency to give salaries. The state has sought about Rs 1,200 crore worth notes to give salaries and pensions from the RBI, according to reports in local newspapers.

What will likely add to the pain is the hoarding tendency of people till the time cash withdrawal limits stay. As of now, there is a weekly withdrawal limit of Rs 24,000 at branches and Rs 2,500 daily limits at ATMs. Even Jan Dhan account withdrawals have been capped at Rs 10,000 a month, as a temporary measure. All this would mean that the public who draw cash at ATMs and bank branches would be hesitant to spend it except for basic necessities. When the speed of the circulation of the money is slow, that will add to an artificial cash shortage. That is even the money printed out of mints wouldn’t return to the system fast.

This, in other words means, banks will struggle to fill up their ATMs and permit higher withdrawals. Even now, most banks are seeking the KYC details of their own customers who come to the counter to withdraw money, to ensure the person is the account holder and the need is genuine. But, beyond a point, banker at the counter cannot keep doing this. Until the government presses churn out sufficient number of cash units into the system, the RBI would not be in a position to remove withdrawal restrictions for public. More withdrawal restrictions, such the current one on Jan Dhan accounts, signal danger to the common man and tell him the problem persists and he needs to be cautious with the cash in hand.

For now, the most optimistic assessments show the cash situation to turn normal only by March at the earliest, that is if the four government printing presses work in full capacity in three shifts. Until the time Rs 500 notes are available in plenty, there is an issue. The Rs 2,000 notes repel the average user as there is no change out there. One should hope that the RBI and the government prove these predictions wrong.

First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 13:59 IST

Nevada man pleads guilty to conspiracy for attacks in India | Reuters

A Nevada man who prosecutors say conspired to provide materials and support to co-conspirators to carry out terrorist attacks in India aimed at creating an independent Sikh state pleaded guilty on Tuesday to federal charges.Balwinder Singh, 42, made the plea in U.S. District Court in Reno as part of an agreement with prosecutors, the Department of Justice said in a written statement. Singh, who was arrested in December 2013, faces a maximum of 15 years in prison during his sentencing in February, although federal guidelines typically call for less time.

According to prosecutors Singh, also known as Jhaji, Happy Possi and Baljit, plotted terrorist attacks in India with several other people as part of a movement to create a Sikh state in the Punjab region.Prosecutors said Singh bought two sets of night vision goggles and gave them to a co-conspirator who was planning to carry out the attack, which was thwarted when the man was prevented from boarding a flight to Bangkok at San Francisco International Airport.

Singh is a citizen of India and a permanent U.S. resident, according to prosecutors.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Richard Chang)

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

First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 01:01 IST

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

By Reuters Staff
| VERBANIA, Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vellore medical students brutally kill monkey: Maneka Gandhi backs fight for justice

Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, a fervent campaigner for animal rights has added heft to the demand of animal rights activists in Tamil Nadu for justice for Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the name given by activists to a year-old female monkey who was found partially burnt and buried in the campus of the Christian Medical College in Vellore, near Chennai on 21 November. Prima facie, the body showed signs of horrific torture and abuse – the monkey’s limbs were tied, a telephone cord around her neck, multiple fractures on  her body and a stick shoved up her rectum and forced out front.

In an exclusive interaction via email with Firstpost, Gandhi said – “Putting a rod into the rectum and pushing it so that it goes through every organ is not rape but murder. The monkey was tortured terribly in full view of bystanders for hours and then killed by a group of louts that are studying to be doctors. What kind of medicine will they practice on humans? Nowadays, anyone with money can get into a medical college and I fear for the lives of their patients. These kinds of butchers should be immediately removed from the college and put into jail.”

Lakshmi, the one-year-old monkey, was tied, stabbed and burnt. Facebook @Shravan Krishnan.

Lakshmi, the one-year-old monkey, was tied, stabbed and burnt. Facebook @Shravan Krishnan.

Gandhi’s anger is echoed by animal rights campaigners in Tamil Nadu. In an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shiranee Pereira, co-founder of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), wrote: “While the four criminals are still at large, let our cries echo Lakshmi’s last cries. Cries that went unheard in the searing pain she endured before her death. Let us now demand justice for her with an email to the Prime Minister’s Office. I request each of you to go to http://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/. Click on “Write to the Prime Minister” and choose the category “Environment issues/animal welfare/forest conservation” and write your request to the Hon’ble Prime Minister to investigate the brutal killing of Lakshmi, the baby monkey, at the hands of young students from the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, India, and demand that the culprits be punished as per the law. We must ensure that no other Lakshmi will ever have to endure this agony and pain that she bore, ever again.”

The hashtag #justiceforlakshmi was trending on Twitter on Friday, as animal welfare activists poured outrage on social media. Four medical students of CMC Vellore have been questioned by the Bagayam Police in connection with the crime which has been registered under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The monkey’s body has been sent for post-mortem and results are awaited. Police sources told Firstpost that the four were likely to be arrested over the weekend.

Activists are also asking why the perpetrators were not arrested by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department since the monkey belonged to a ‘critically endangered species’. “According to Wildlife Act 1972, killing a wild animal is a crime,” said Dawn Williams, general manager of Blue Cross. “The forest department can immediately arrest and produce them before the court. But in this case, it still has not taken any action. This shows how lethargic they are in this case,” he said.

Minister Maneka Gandhi also made a strong pitch for laws on animal cruelty to be amended and made more stringent. “The PCA (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act) should be amended to make cruelty to animals a heinous crime,” Gandhi told Firstpost. “America has done this early this year because they have seen that cruelty to animals is a specific indicator to cruelty to humans.”

The four medical students accused of committing the crime (while a group of about 30 others watched) have been suspended by the college management.

This horrific incident comes a few months after the Bhadra incident where a young stray dog was thrown off the terrace by two medical students. They had filmed the act and uploaded the video which went viral on social media. The dog Bhadra survived, having sustained fractures. Despite the outrage from animal rights activists and civil society, both students were let off by the court with a fine of Rs 2 lakh and allowed to continue their education.

First Published On : Nov 26, 2016 16:56 IST

Delhi govt’s attempts at improving literacy are failing, but were expectations too unrealistic?

Despite the best efforts of the Delhi education department, there are thousands of students in government high schools who still struggle to read.

A project taken up by the government to improve literacy among the state’s children hasn’t had the desired effects. Education minister Manish Sisodia had urged all teachers in government schools to take a pledge as part of the ‘Every child can read’ campaign. The campaign, which ended on Teachers’ Day on 14 November, had come up after statistics suggested 74 percent of the state’s children couldn’t read. “The education minister appealed to all teachers, asking them to ensure students can read before 14 November,” one teacher said.

Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia. PTI file imageDelhi education minister Manish Sisodia. PTI file image

Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia. PTI file image

But not everybody was happy with the campaign; teachers said it was “whimsical” to expect children to start reading in just two-and-a-half months. “It’s impossible to teach reading in such a short period of time, especially to students who couldn’t acquire this basic skill until Class VI,” said a government school teacher on condition of anonymity, adding that students are usually expected to be fully well versed with reading and writing by Class VI, but many of the children in the capital city can’t even identify alphabets by this age.

As per a study conducted by the state government, nearly 50 percent of students who appear for their board exams from government schools fail every year on account of this condition. In June this year, the education department came up with a new policy to eliminate this malady. The scheme, titled ‘Chunauti 2018’, involved holding separate classes for students who lag behind. It was felt that doing so would improve pass percentage and decrease dropout rates.

It has had some positive impact, however. Shashi Kant Singh, principal of a co-ed school in Dwarka, said his school has achieved over 82 percent success when it comes to making its students read. “Of the 148 students who were selected for special classes, 124 can now read paragraphs,” Singh said.

However, sources in the education department said the figure is not representative of all government schools; at many other schools, students fared very badly in tests held after the drive. Only 39.43 percent of students in government schools passed the reading tests, the sources added. And considering there are more than 900 such schools, the number of students who’re still unable to read — despite the much publicised drive — would run into thousands.

Dr Sunita Kaushik, additional director with the state education department, and the person who looks after the drive, was away on leave and unable to comment.

Ashok Agarwal, an activist who has been fighting for the cause of Delhi school students, told Firstpost that the lack of infrastructure is another major problem afflicting government schools. Moreover, there were 26,031 vacant posts at the state-run schools in Delhi. “The Delhi High Court just granted four weeks more time to the Delhi government to file its affidavit in response to a contempt petition filed by a social jurist, highlighting non-recruitment of teachers in the past few years,” added Agarwal, who is also the advocate for the appealing party.

He further added that nearly 10 percent of teachers are always on leave, a benefit availed under service rules. He also noted that many government and municipal schools do not even have adequate space to facilitate education to all the students. “It’s unrealistic to expect students will read at such short notice, given the deplorable condition of educational infrastructure,” he contended.

Some teachers contend that though ‘Chunauti 2018’ is a scheme with a lofty goal of increasing pass percentage and decreasing dropout rates, expecting all students to read in just two-and-a-half months is uncalled for. “To achieve this goal, we need adequate educational infrastructure to back it up, and not just whims,” a teacher said.

First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 20:45 IST

Virat Kohli gives thumbs-up to DRS | Reuters

By Amlan Chakraborty
| MOHALI, India

MOHALI, India India test captain Virat Kohli gave a thumbs-up to the Decision Review System (DRS) on Friday, signalling cricket’s financial powerhouse might permanently embrace the technology aimed at curbing umpiring errors.It took a lot of cajoling to convince India, a staunch DRS opponent after their bitter 2008 initiation in Sri Lanka, to use the technology on a trial basis in the current five-test series against England.Kohli did not get it always right in the first two tests but the India captain sounded pretty much a convert on the eve of the third match against England.”I’m pretty happy with it…I think it is pretty fair for the game,” Kohli told reporters at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium on Friday.The Indian board has been particularly suspicious of the ball-tracking technology but agreed to try it following a presentation by officials from the International Cricket Council (ICC).Kohli appreciated how the ball-tracking technology improved leg-before decisions without challenging the authority of the on-field umpires.

“…they (umpires) are the people given the job to make decisions and their call is respected even in the DRS. I think that’s pretty fair,” Kohli said.”If it is really, really off target, then DRS corrects it but if it is marginal, then you got to respect the umpire’s call. That’s all it does. “I think it clarifies the decision that is made on the field. I think that’s absolutely fine.”

The India players are yet to master the nuances of the technology.”We as a team have only played two test matches with DRS and I can’t analyse the progress in a span of eight days. It is a pretty fair thing to have happened and we are going to get better with using it, for sure,” Kohli said.An excellent lesson was how England teenager Haseem Hameed, fielding at short leg, convinced skipper Alastair Cook to review a not-out decision and get India opener Lokesh Rahul caught behind in the second innings of the second test in Visakhapatnam.

“Obviously, the wicketkeeper and the bowler are the main people involved, who have the best sight of where the ball hit the pad or if they heard a sound of the bat,” Kohli said.”The close-in fielders as well play a massive role as well, as you saw with KL’s (Rahul) dismissal. It was Hameed who actually convinced the bowler that he heard something which someone else might not have.” (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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

First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 20:25 IST

Zakir Naik slams govt in his ‘letter to India’, says ban on Islamic Research Foundation was a set up

Controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, whose NGO Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) was banned by the Narendra Modi-government for five years, has alleged that the ban was timed to the demonetisation announcement to divert media attention. In an open letter released on Friday, Naik termed the ban on IRF as an attack against ‘Muslims’ and has threatened to take legal action against the Modi-government against the move. Naik’s NGO was banned last week for allegedly aiding terror activities. This is the second open letter Naik is writing ever since Naik got into trouble and faced a series of investigations post the Dhaka attacks.

In the letter “to India”, Naik yet again sought to play the ‘muslim card’ saying IRF and himself were “set up for a ban.” Not very different from his first letter, Naik says the ban imposed on IRF is communal in nature. The radical preacher severely criticised the Modi government for banning the organisation and dubbed it a knee-jerk reaction.

“Like the demonetization fiasco, the Modi government’s IRF ban and its modus operandi has been distraught with senseless decisions and knee jerk actions. After having said that the Islamic International School will not be affected, the government goes ahead and freezes the School’s bank account. How will a school survive without its day-to-day expenses being met? We’re talking about the future of hundreds of school children here.”

Naik and IRF came under the government’s scanner after reports emerged that some of the terrorists behind the Dhaka restaurant attack were inspired by his speeches. Naik, in his letter, claims that the Modi government has absolutely no grounds for the banning. Naik has been banned by a few other countries including United Kingdom and Canada for his speeches that advocates the supremacy of Islam over other religions.

Zakir Naik. Reuters

Zakir Naik. Reuters

In his letter, Naik alleges that Modi-government had decided to ban IRF even before investigators submitted the reports on IRF:

“Before investigations were done, even before reports submitted, the ban was already decided. IRF was to be banned. Whether it was owing to my religion or some other reason, does not matter.”

Investigators had found evidence for IRF’s alleged links to terror activties. Recently,  National Investigation Agency (NIA) said that IRF  funded at least 300 people, some of whom travelled to the Islamic State areas of Syria and Iraq.

This came into light after the NIA carried out searches for three days at 20 premises during which records related to bank accounts and other financial activities linked with Naik and IRF were seized. NIA also plan to prepare a list of IRF members based abroad to track the money trail, reported DNA.

In addition to it, NIA has handed over a list of over 12 people, including Naik, his family members, close friends and organisations, to all 72 scheduled commercial banks to check whether these people had any account in these financial institutions. According to the above report which has quoted official sources,  NIA has sent notices to three private banks to freeze the accounts of Naik and others, which were found to be in operation during the three-day search by it that ended last night, till further orders. In both the letters, NIA has cited Section 43 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for executing such action.

Further in his letter, Naik claims that this “unique ban” was imposed without anyone questioning him.  Since the Dhaka attacks, investigating agencies  have been scrutinising Naik’s speeches.Like this article in Firstpost argues, preachers like Zakir Naik “…typically play mind games with the enchanted listeners, often selectively quoting (rather twisting) the lines from sacred scriptures, to impose the ultimate idea of religious supremacy in the audience’s psyche and ultimately establish why one should embrace that particular religion. This is arguably the trade technique of televangelists…”

Naik has defended himself claiming that many times that his speeches have always dealt with communal harmony, and he has never supported terrorism.  Naik claims himself as an expert on comparative religion and often quotes lines from religious texts in his speeches.

Further in his letter, Naik reiterates that he is “one of the few” who have openly spoken against state-sponsored violence and terrorism. Naik’s arguments, “rather ignorance”, about the relation between religion and the idea of a secular nation are flawed but it is clear why it would convince those who believe in a religion’s supremacy over others. In a February 2012 video (removed from YouTube), addressing a large crowd, Naik implored Muslims to ‘fight for Islam’ and ‘disobey the law of the land if it goes against the law of the creator’. Saying “Vande Mataram,” Naik said, “is not desirable not just Muslims, even Hindus. Why? Because, Hinduism,” Naik says, speaks against the concept of idol worship and hence, it is wrong to bow to the land.”

The hypocrisy of Naik is glaring in the end of the letter, where the preacher, who throughout blamed the government for being communal, plays the communal card himself.

“Don’t such statements and many more by fanatics like Sadhvi Prachi and Yogi Adityanath require them to be arrested and tried under UAPA? Leave aside legal action, the government has neither condemned their actions nor reprimanded them. Is this draconian law mainly meant for Muslims? Muslims who’ve been practicing and propagating their religion peacefully and well within the constitutional framework? Does the UAPA now exist mainly to silence minority groups? I urge my Muslim brothers and sisters in India to rely on Allah alone, unafraid of this vicious campaign against them. Allah says, ‘And if you are patient and fear Allah, their plot will not harm you at all.’ (Al-Qur’an 3:120)”

You can read his full letter here:

Dr. Zakir Naik s Second Letter to India.pdf-page-001


Dr. Zakir Naik s Second Letter to India.pdf-page-002
Dr. Zakir Naik s Second Letter to India.pdf-page-003

Naik also threatens the government of legal action and says that the government is misusing their authority on people and “It needs to change for the future of every one of us.” Naik’s letter is explosive in the way it targets “Indian Muslims” as the preacher goes on to say that the Modi government will fail in its plans and adds that even though the government of India is misusing law to “scare the Indian Muslims”, he will strive harder to spread the message peace, “till my last breath.”

First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 18:50 IST

The bright side of demonetisation: Advance salaries, digital transactions bring about smiles

Sandip Jat works in an apparel manufacturing company in Noida. He is more than happy to receive Rs 36,000 as three months’ advance salary from his employer. Given his meagre salary, it wouldn’t have been possible to accumulate such a big amount of money in a short period of time. But the note ban imposed by the central government has ensured he received the cash up front.

Currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 were discontinued from 8 November. AFP file imageCurrency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 were discontinued from 8 November. AFP file image

Currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 were discontinued from 8 November. AFP file image

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of high value currency notes on 8 November, various companies are paying their employees advance salaries, using the big piles of currency they might have stashed away in safekeeping.

Bimal Jain of the Punjab Haryana Delhi Chambers of Commerce had said that loans and advance payments could be one of the many ways people might use to get rid of old currency notes. Sandip Jat is one of the many beneficiaries of the move.

Speaking to Firstpost, Jat said his company sells apparel abroad, and so has been unaffected by the cash crunch in India. “Our company has always purchased raw materials through banks. The company used up the old notes to pay our advance salary. So,  there has been no cash crunch here,” he said.

Industry experts say companies that conducted a lot of cash-based transactions are the ones hit by demonetisation. “Most of our transactions are made in cheques, but we also make cash payments for some expenditures, which have all stalled temporarily. Since we have a long standing relationship with our suppliers, they have agreed to it,” said Pramod Agarwal of Surinder Devi Creations.

It’s not only the businesses that dealt in cash that are hit, but also the ones that deal with luxury goods, Jain had said.

Wakeel Ahmed works at a shop selling Exide batteries. He says sales have fallen by 90 percent since demonetisation. “Dealers who used to order 100 batteries a day don’t even order 10. It seems that people have stalled purchase of batteries, at least those batteries which are used in car engines,” he said.

While the reduced liquidity among people is directly responsible for the fall in demand, one hopes things will normalise once new currency comes in.

And though former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said the demonetisation move would impact the economy by over 2 percent, many in the industry hope things are more optimistic. Pramod Agarwal, who works with Delhi-based Surinder Devi Creations, told Firstpost that the money unearthed by this process could enrich the economy. He said the move by the government could also ensure goods and commodities are priced more realistically, which would then strengthen the Rupee.

“Our foreign currency accumulation increases in the coffers due to the appreciation of the Rupee. Because of this, our budget deficit will decrease and give a boost to the economy,” Agarwal said.

On the other hand, said Hari Prasad, proprietor of Manokamna Exports, said, “Since the last 15 days, I am carrying a cheque of Rs 50,000 and am unable to encash it. Many of my workers are absent from work, because they are spending entire days at the bank. But despite all this, I am happy with the move. It will make transactions digital and reduce corruption.”

Regarding the criticism coming in from various quarters, he likened it to computerisation of various services. “When computers were introduced, many people were wary it would result in loss of jobs. But computers have become part of our daily lives now. Similarly, people will also take time to get used to demonetisation and digital transactions. Once people get used to it, it would have good effects,” he said.

First Published On : Nov 24, 2016 22:21 IST

#NotePeCharcha Episode 1: A train to Kasara that narrates the demonetisation story in rural India

While the effects of demonetisation on urban India are immediately apparent to those with access to mainstream English media, its impact on rural lives is as yet unclear. We travelled in a north-by-north easterly direction from Mumbai to examine the depth of the impact.

Firstpost sent out Apoorv Mishra into rural Maharashtra with an iPhone, a couple of mics, a GoPro and no institutional monetary support – he had borrowed money from friends and withdrawn all the cash permitted under prevalent restrictions.

His journey started in Mumbai, on a Kasara-bound train, where the passengers told him about their lives post demonetisation. It’s a tale of hardship and struggle that only gets worse as you delve deeper.

When he started out, he had no clear idea of where to go exactly. The idea was to visit a place in Maharashtra that truly fits the rural bill and Kasara just seemed like the natural choice.

On the way, he met a businessman who seemed surprisingly unconcerned about the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. After all, “You only need money for travelling. You can use your debit card everywhere else,” he said. “I don’t want money [cash],” he said.

A little old lady told him that she was completely unaffected. “Those who have money need a bank,” she said.

As he approached Kasara, however, people’s reactions started to change.

Many reported that their business was dead. The lack of money and change has hit them hard. A young man said that he hadn’t been able to drive his rickshaw for over a week, yet another said that he hadn’t sold anything in days.

All these tales are coming to us just on the train to Kasara. Watch the video to find out more about our quest to dig out how demonetisation impacted daily lives in rural India:

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

First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 18:29 IST

AAP announces four more candidates for upcoming Goa polls

Panaji: Aam Aadmi Party on Tuesday announced four more candidates for upcoming Assembly elections in Goa, taking the number of contestants to 25.

Representational image. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

Representational image. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

The list announced on Tuesday includes names of anti-Mopa airport activist Siddharth Karapurkar who will contest from Navelim constituency, currently represented by BJP-backed Independent MLA Avertano Furtado.

Another AAP candidate is former Quepem municipal council chairperson Manuel Colaco who will be fielded from Quepem seat, currently held by Chandrakant Kavlekar of Congress.

Journalist-turned-politician Pradeep Padgaonar will be in the fray as AAP nominee from Saligao constituency which is represented by incumbent Tourism Minister and BJP leader Dilip Parulekar.

Also on the party’s list is social activist Prakash Naik who will contest from Cumbharjua constituency, currently held by Congress’ Pandurang Madkaikar.

AAP had announced to contest all 40 seats in the coastal state, where elections are due next year.

First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 09:03 IST

Advocate alleges Coldplay dishonoured the national flag during their performance in Mumbai

New Delhi: An advocate has filed a complaint at north Delhi’s Roop Nagar Police Station on Tuesday against British rock band Coldplay for allegedly dishonouring the national flag during their performance at the Global Citizen Festival in Mumbai.

Chris Martin performs with the Indian flag at the Global Citizen Festival India. Sachin Gokhale/Firstpost

Chris Martin performs with the Indian flag at the Global Citizen Festival India. Sachin Gokhale/Firstpost

Gaurav Gulati, an advocate, has submitted a complaint against Coldplay and its frontman Chris Martin alleging, “They can be seen to dishonour our National Flag by tying it on the back of his jeans and dancing in objective positions (sic).”

“In the video/photo, it can be seen that the band had used our Indian National Flag to cover their musical instruments,” he said.

Gulati said an FIR should be filed against the band and the singer for dishonouring the national flag during their performance in Mumbai on Saturday.

On Sunday, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik had alleged that lead singer of the rock band has “disrespected” the Indian flag during the band’s performance here.

First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 07:52 IST

Pakistan’s PIA considers Boeing, Airbus jets for fleet upgrade | Reuters

By Alexander Cornwell
| DUBAI

DUBAI Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is evaluating an order for wide-body Airbus (AIR.PA) and Boeing (BA.N) jets as it looks to upgrade its ageing fleet, an executive for the state-owned airline said on Tuesday.”Boeing 777X would be a good option,” the airline’s executive director of human resources and works, Raheel Ahmed, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai, adding that PIA is also looking at the Airbus A330 and A350 models.PIA would consider purchasing the aircraft directly from the manufacturer and financing the order through a sale and leaseback arrangement, when an airline sells a jet to a lessor who then leases it back. It would also consider a direct leasing agreement, known as a dry lease.Ahmed did not say when PIA would order the jets or how many it could buy. It has a fleet of 38 narrow-body and wide-body Airbus and Boeing jets, with three A310s to be retired on Dec. 31, he added.

Ahmed also said PIA would cut its 18,000 workforce by between 3,000 and 3,500 employees by the end of 2017 as the Pakistan government looks to turn around the loss-making airline and sell-off a 49 percent stake.However, PIA later said Ahmed’s figures were incorrect, and no decision had as yet been taken on how many jobs would be cut or over what timeframe.

A meeting between Pakistan’s Privatization Commission and PIA top management was also held on Tuesday, “to determine the best suitable restructuring model to make PIA into a viable entity,” a senior government official who attended the meeting told Reuters. The official said restructuring would be done in two phases, carving out non-essential units within three to six months “to attain a clean balance sheet,” followed by the gradual carving out of other business units.

The airline would spin-off four “special business units” from January 2017, starting with its catering business and later its flight training, engineering and courier businesses.The units are planned to operate independently of PIA with their own general managers and marketing teams. PIA would later look to sell a stake in the units if they are profitable. (Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Islamabad; Editing by Mark Potter and Alexander Smith)

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

First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 23:21 IST

India may ease rules for cash withdrawals for weddings: official | Reuters

By Manoj Kumar
| NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI India may soon relax conditions for cash withdrawals for weddings, a top government official said on Tuesday, the day after the central bank issued rules for such bank transactions widely criticized as unworkable.Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s shock announcement on Nov. 8 that he would scrap high-value banknotes, to curb untaxed “black cash” circulating in the economy, came in the middle of India’s cherished wedding season.Families, rich and poor, go to huge lengths to celebrate weddings in India. A politician in Modi’s party drew massive criticism – and the attention of tax inspectors – after spending a reported 5 billion rupees ($73 million) to stage his daughter’s wedding after the cash crackdown.Under rules set by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), cash withdrawals up to 250,000 rupees ($3,700) are permitted only for payments to those holding weddings who have no bank account. The rules also mandate disclosing the names of all such recipients. The money can be withdrawn only if the date of marriage is on or before Dec. 30, the deadline for relinquishing all old, high-value currency notes.

“We have got complaints from various quarters about these tough conditions,” the finance ministry official told reporters, declining to be named as the proposal was still under discussion. “We could relax some of the conditions soon.” With just a small stock of smaller denomination notes available and people struggling to get hold of new 500 and 2,000 rupee bills, consumers are holding back spending and businesses are suffering.Banks received 5.4 trillion rupees ($79 billion) in deposits from Nov. 10-18, or nearly a third of the cash in circulation in India, while only around 1 trillion rupees was withdrawn.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley expects extra deposits in banks to push down interest rates, ease the flow of credit and boost private investments. That would help growth to pick up after the initial disruption from the cash crackdown.But analysts like Ambit Capital, a Mumbai-based equity research firm, say the cash crunch could result in GDP growth crashing to 3.5 percent in the current fiscal year ending March 2017, from 7.6 percent in the previous year.

Opposition parties led by Congress have stalled proceedings in parliament, demanding a reply from Modi and compensation for the families of dozens of people reported to have died while waiting in long queues outside bank branches to swap old money for new.Modi’s government has tinkered with the so-called demonetization drive to compel tax evaders and racketeers to come clean, and has launched an online survey to elicit public views on his decision. He plans a radio address on Sunday. ($1 = 68.2754 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Manoj Kumar)

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

First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 19:38 IST

Demonetisation: Arvind Kejriwal surges on social media; is the Delhi CM the real winner?

When The Indian Express put out a story on Arvind Kejriwal being the new rage on social media, there was nothing new about it. In fact, Kejriwal’s off-the-cuff ad lib comments on almost every issue are not surprising anymore. The Delhi chief minister is omnipresent, especially when it comes to condemning Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s latest decision: Be it the current demonetisation furore (or success, depending on which side you’re on) or the infamous 29 September surgical strikes across the LoC.

Kejriwal went live on Facebook criticising the Modi government’s decision to demonetise the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, beginning on a neutral note — “If this was to reduce black money and corruption, I’m for it… If something good happens in the country, I don’t do politics over it,” he said. However, Kejriwal said that “if by banning Rs 500 and 1,000 notes and introducing Rs 2,000 notes, the move would reduce corruption, please think about it,” he urged. “It will only increase it.”

On Sunday, the Aam Aadmi Party released official figures for the number of viewers of his speech — it stood at five million. Reportedly, the AAP Facebook page also saw an “organic growth of about 640 percent in the week of demonetisation and Arvind Kejriwal‘s response to it”, the press release added. “Kejriwal’s speech has recorded 48,02,000 views and 1,72,128 shares on party’s Facebook pages, the AAP national Facebook page recorded 27,000,00 views on the speech, while AAP Delhi page recorded 10,50,000 views on speech,” the release mentioned.

As mentioned earlier, Kejriwal seldom shies away from making his point being heard. In this piece for Firstpost, Sandeep B, argues that the AAP chief must stop his noisy politics and go back to work. “… [he’s] doing everything but discharging his constitutional duty of governance…

It takes hard work, patience, and calmness, and an ability to deal with, sustain and digest monotony, to govern. The easy route is what Kejriwal is familiar with: constitutional nihilism… campaigns targeting the Prime Minister, maintaining radio silence on the record number of AAP MLAs being arrested and disqualified and the “internal inquiries” that have unfailingly absolved even the most criminal of his party’s elements.

His comments on demonetisation that the government has “lost connect” with people and that the move smacked of “insensitivity” or alleging that Narendra Modi took Rs 25 crore bribe as Gujarat CM or even alleging that the BJP had informed its ‘friends’ beforehand about its decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, to help them fix their black money — Kejriwal is truly the gift that keeps on giving. In the last allegation, Kejriwal might have a point: How did Sanjeev Kamboj get access to the new Rs 2,000 note much before the announcement of demonetisation?

Delhi, which was in the news, for its dangerous levels of pollution, and for which Kejriwal came under the scanner, has now disappeared from the daily news cycle: The focus is all on demonetisation. And one man stands tall. In a recent interview to BBC Hindi, he slammed the reporter who questioned him about the link between the deaths (people who stood in queues to withdraw money) and the currency ban. “Yeh janta dekh rahi hai ke BBC waale kitne imaandaar hain [The public can now see how honest BBC is],” this report from The Indian Express quoted him as saying.

However, as Livemint notes in its piece, Arvind Kejriwal might be the biggest recipient of the damage caused by Modi’s demonetisation drive. It says that the “political implications are relatively clearer: Modi is the change agent, and the Opposition parties including AAP are status-quoist”. But Kejriwal is not alone: He seems to have an ally in TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — the duo even jointly addressed a rally on 17 November in New Delhi slamming the Modi government’s move. Livemint even observes that Kejriwal might be part of a “loose coalition” that is against the decision.

Essentially, has Kejriwal’s tour de force made him the winner of this round?

First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 16:02 IST

China says Dalai Lama’s Mongolia visit could harm ties | Reuters

BEIJING China urged Mongolia on Sunday to take steps to protect the two countries’ relations after the Dalai Lama visited the central Asian country at the weekend, despite Beijing repeatedly voicing its opposition.The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader arrived in Mongolia on Friday to meet Mongolian Buddhist leaders, according to his website.Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, in a statement, said Mongolia should “adopt effective measures to eliminate the negative effects of the Dalai Lama’s visit, in order to prevent the disruption of the healthy development of China-Mongolia relations.” Mongolia had repeatedly ignored China’s cautions against allowing the visit, much to Beijing’s dissatisfaction, the statement said.

Beijing frequently expresses its anger with countries that host the 81-year old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who fled to India in 1959 following a failed uprising against the Chinese. After the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia in 2006, China cancelled flights between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar. Flights later resumed.

China regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist, though he says he merely seeks genuine autonomy for his Himalayan homeland Tibet, which Communist Chinese troops “peacefully liberated” in 1950.

Rights groups and exiles accuse China of trampling on the religious and cultural rights of the Tibetan people, charges strongly denied by Beijing, which says its rule has brought prosperity to a once backward region. (Reporting by Paul Carsten; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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

First Published On : Nov 20, 2016 18:46 IST

Demonetisation: PM Modi aborted plan to calibrate ATMs for Rs 100 notes. Why?

Across the country, ATMs are dead and the lines outside banks are killing. In a few cases, literally and unfortunately so.

An entire population of 1.25 billion is living in misery, craving something they already have: A strange contradiction of shortage in abundance.

People can’t bank the cash in their hand, nor lay their hands on the cash in their bank. As yesteryear screen villain Ajit famously never said, “It’s like living in liquid oxygen… The liquid is choking them and oxygen is not allowing them to choke.”

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

So, there’s only one question to which the nation really wants the answer: Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi send a country into war against black money without planning?

Also, did he push his troops to the front lines high on emotion and low on ammunition? The scale of the crisis since 11 November when the banks opened for transactions after two shut days suggests so. National Opposition parties and those opposed to Modi’s sudden crackdown are sure this was a Quixotic idea of a destiny-seeking prime minister in a tearing hurry. Even those who are willing to see this as part of their national duty are at a loss to explain the chaos and hardship unleashed by the cash purge.

The government, on the other hand, insists that if it had planned it on the lines the Opposition parties are suggesting — recalibrating the ATMs before announcing the note ban, this massive operation would have delivered a still-born. Any plan to recalibrate ATMs would have lifted the veil of secrecy and black money would have either changed colour or form. There was, the government says, just no other way to do this other than to dive head first into the deep waters of currency replacement with a hope (that people would understand and endure) and a prayer (that it passes off without event).

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The Opposition parties are not wrong — this could have been planned better and the government is not giving us all the facts. The truth is the government did have a plan. Not for recalibration — for which it has come under severe attack — but for the preemptive calibration of ATMs. If this plan had run its course, it could have considerably smoothened the currency exchange at ATMs. But the plan ground to a halt even before it took off. But more on that later.

Buried under 44 other notifications of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in this month, is the notification of 2 November (see below) that is headlined ‘Dispensation of Rs 100 denomination banknotes through exclusive ATMs’.

   RBI Dispensation of Rs.100 Denomination Banknotes Through Exclusive ATMs by Firstpost on Scribd

The contents of the notification were even more noteworthy, in retrospect of course. Under the cover of a ‘pilot’ project, the RBI asked banks to calibrate 10 pe cent of all ATMs in the country to dispense only Rs 100 notes. To further throw prying eyes off the trail of the brewing demonetisation plan, the RBI slipped this big ticket reform under its pet Clean Notes Policy, running since 2013.

Here’s the operative part of the notification signed by P Vijaya Kumar, chief general manager:

“A review of steps taken by banks for installing ATMs dispensing lower denomination banknotes was conducted and found that very few banks had taken initiatives in setting up ATMs dispensing lower denomination notes including Rs 100 denomination banknotes.

“In keeping with the objectives of Clean Note Policy and to ensure that genuine requirement of members of public for Rs 100 denomination banknotes are met, the banks should increase dispensation of Rs 100 banknotes through ATMs which are widely used for distribution of banknotes for retail use.

“With a view to encourage the banks in that direction, it has been decided to conduct a pilot project wherein 10 percent of the ATMs in the country will be calibrated to dispense Rs 100 banknotes exclusively. You are, therefore, advised to configure/calibrate 10 percent of your ATMs to facilitate this arrangement.”

See the notification below:

   RBI November Notification by Firstpost on Scribd

There are 1,03,282 on-site and 98,579 off-site ATMs in the country. This brings the total to 2,01,861 ATMs in all (as per the RBI’s bank-wise ATM statistics as of July 2016). That means by 17 November, when calibration will have been completed, the government had planned for around 20,000 ATMs to dispense only Rs 100 notes. This would have considerably eased the hardship of citizens who are left stranded with notes they cannot use.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

A little detour to understand the difference between calibration and recalibration is necessary here:

Every ATM has three cartridges — also called bins — to keep cash, with one each for notes of the denominations of Rs 100, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. To ensure that the ATM dispenses notes of only Rs 100, the cartridges carrying the other two denominations would need to be removed and replaced with cartridges of Rs 100 denomination. This change would not have raised any suspicions because Rs 100 notes were already in use. The banks would just need to order more cartridges of Rs 100 denomination.

But distributing the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes from ATMs would have required changing the cartridges, or recalibrating them as per the size and other parameters of the new notes. Recalibration of nearly 1,80,000 ATMs across the country would certainly have had tongues wagging about the impending currency replacement. So, recalibration, it seems, was not part of the plan and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke the truth.

Two things are obvious from a post-facto reading of this (then) seemingly innocuous notification.

First, the government and the RBI had anticipated that after removing the larger Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations, there would be a mad rush for denomination of Rs 100 for retail use. And they had rolled out what now seems like a graded plan to meet the challenge of the small notes.

Second, the ATMs were supposed to have been ready by 17 November to dispense only Rs 100 notes. A day after that deadline has passed, it is unclear how many of the 20,000 ATMs are fully Rs 100-note-ready. Chances are very few ATMs are, because at 8 pm on 8 November, this plan was blown off the tracks by the prime minister’s sudden announcement of demonetisation.

The notification was issued on Wednesday, 2 November and the prime minister went live on Tuesday, 8 November. That’s a little over three working days between the two dates. It’s hardly likely that the banks could have done much more than just crank up their systems. And after that, they have been left to deal with the deluge.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

That raises the bigger question: If the calibration of ATMs was scheduled between 2 November and 17 November, why was the demonetisation bomb detonated midway knowing fully well that banks were still not ready? It is very unlikely that the two moves were disconnected from each other. The RBI could not have been on a Clean Note Policy binge six days prior to the entire banking system of the country being shaken from its roots. Particularly when the new notes that have now been released bear the signature of Urijit Patel.

The RBI’s notification does indicate that the government was working to a plan and a schedule. It suggests that the next big move on demonetisation should have been made after 17 November, although it is impossible to know how soon or how much later. But plans had to be abandoned. What was the provocation? Did the government suspect that the plan was leaked? Images of the Rs 2,000 note were, after all, floating on social media very early this month.

Unless the government is forthcoming with answers, we will have keep wondering if on 8 November, Modi was announcing the demonetisation plan or delivering it prematurely.

First Published On : Nov 19, 2016 09:41 IST

Wall Street slips; indexes still near record highs | Reuters

By Tanya Agrawal

U.S. stocks were slightly lower in late morning trading on Friday as investors cashed in after the post-election rally, but the three major indexes continued to hover near record levels.The Nasdaq hit a record high earlier in the session, helped by a rise in Microsoft (MSFT.O) and other big tech stocks.U.S. stocks had been on a tear since Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the presidential election last week as his proposals to increase infrastructure spending and reduce taxes are seen benefiting the economy.The rally lost steam this week as investors took to the sidelines, awaiting more clarity regarding Trump’s policies.Still, the three major indexes are on track to close higher for the second week in a row.”I think given the major indexes are at or near all-time highs, we’re probably due for a little bit of a digestion period,” said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.”Equities are generally expected to move sideways until we get a little more of visibility into what some of the policies are going to be with the new administration.”

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Thursday the central bank could raise interest rates “relatively soon”, sending out a clear signal for a December move.Traders are pricing in an 83 percent chance of a December move, according to Thomson Reuters data.St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said he was leaning toward supporting an interest rate increase in December and that the real question now would be the Fed’s rate path in 2017.Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Esther George also said that while she supports raising interest rates, the U.S. central bank must do so only gradually.

At 10:56 a.m. ET the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 37.08 points, or 0.2 percent, at 18,866.74, about 67 points shy of the record it hit on Nov. 14.The S&P 500 .SPX was down 6 points, or 0.27 percent, at 2,181.12. The index hit a record high of 2,193.81 on Aug. 15.The Nasdaq Composite index .IXIC was down 17.06 points, or 0.32 percent, at 5,316.91.Eight of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were lower, with the health index’s .SPXHC 0.70 percent fall leading the decliners.

Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ.N) 1.4 percent fall weighed the most on the sector.Gap (GPS.N) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF.N) fell more than 10 percent after both retailers warned of a challenging holiday quarter.Salesforce.com (CRM.N) rose 3.7 percent to $77.96, a day after it revenue forecast beat estimates.Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,516 to 1,268. On the Nasdaq, 1,345 issues fell and 1,240 advanced.The S&P 500 index showed 26 new 52-week highs and three new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 137 new highs and 17 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal and Anya George Tharakan; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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

First Published On : Nov 18, 2016 21:29 IST

U.S. dollar, global stocks climb as Yellen signals rate hike coming | Reuters

By Caroline Valetkevitch
| NEW YORK

NEW YORK Global stock indexes rose along with the U.S. dollar on Thursday after U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the central bank could raise interest rates “relatively soon.” Yellen, who testified on the economic outlook before the congressional Joint Economic Committee, indicated little had changed following the victory of Donald Trump in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election. She said she intended to serve out her term, which ends in 2018, and indicated the Fed remained on track to raise rates at its meeting next month.Expectations have been high among investors that the Fed will raise rates in December.The dollar receded earlier in the day from a 13-1/2 year peak, though it turned higher after upbeat U.S. economic data stoked expectations of an acceleration in U.S. economic expansion in the fourth quarter.The dollar index .DXY, tracking the greenback relative to a basket of six foreign currencies, extended gains in U.S. afternoon trading following Yellen’s comments and was last up 0.5 percent.U.S. stocks, which rallied after Republican Donald Trump’s surprise White House win on the potential for economic stimulus, edged up, led by a 1.3 percent gain in financials .SPSY, which benefit from higher rates.

“A December rate hike is priced in. A number of Fed speakers have indicated that and they want the market to be prepared for when they do,” said Erik Wytenus, global investment specialist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.”The Fed, though, is sensitive to the strength of the dollar and they don’t want to hike too far too quickly.”The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 1.78 points, or 0.01 percent, to 18,869.92, the S&P 500 .SPX had gained 7.22 points, or 0.33 percent, to 2,184.16 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC had added 27.73 points, or 0.52 percent, to 5,322.31.MSCI’s all-country world stock index .MIWD00000PUS was up 0.3 percent, while Europe’s STOXX 600 rose 0.6 percent.

In the U.S. bond market, the yield curve steepened after the U.S. data suggested the labour market is tightening and inflation is beginning to gain traction.That prompted investors to sell government debt with longer-dated maturities.U.S. consumer prices posted their biggest increase in six months in October, while housing starts surged to a 9-year high and jobless claims fell to the lowest since November 1973.The 10-year note US10YT=RR fell 15/32 in price to yield 2.275 percent.

Overseas, the Bank of Japan offered to buy unlimited bonds for the first time under a revamped policy framework as domestic debt yields surged in the wake of Trump’s election victory.More broadly, Japan’s efforts will raise questions about how far central banks such as the European Central Bank and others will be willing to tolerate steep and sudden rises in government borrowing costs.Oil prices were higher as expectations of an OPEC deal to limit production outweighed global oversupply concerns. Brent crude oil LCOc1 was up 11 cents a barrel at $46.74, while U.S. crude CLc1 was up 6 cents at $45.63. For Reuters new Live Markets blog on European and UK stock markets see reuters://realtime/verb=Open/url=http://emea1.apps.cp.extranet.thomsonreuters.biz/cms/?pageId=livemarkets (Additional reporting by Marc Dones and Dhara Ranasinghe in London and Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler)

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

First Published On : Nov 17, 2016 23:15 IST

Indian farmers fear lost crops and income after ‘black money’ move | Reuters

By Mayank Bhardwaj
| BAJNA, India

BAJNA, India For Indian farmer Buddha Singh, who works a small plot of land in the village of Bajna south of New Delhi, the government’s decision to abolish 500 and 1,000 rupee bank notes to crush the shadow economy could hardly have come at a worse time.He and millions of other farmers cannot get enough cash to buy the seeds and fertilisers they need for their winter crops, threatening production of key commodities and hurting rural communities only just recovering after two years of drought.”We can’t buy our full requirements of seeds, fertiliser and pesticides on credit. There is a limit,” said Singh, a turbaned man in his 50s, who tills a two-acre field near the highway running from the capital to the holy city of Mathura.”We’re running out of time as we’ve only 10-15 days more to plant crops like wheat, mustard and chickpeas,” he added, to murmurs of assent from around 30 fellow farmers sitting under a neem tree and discussing their predicament.India’s 263 million farmers mostly live in the cash economy, exposing them to the full impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s shock Nov. 8 announcement that larger denomination bank notes would immediately cease to be legal tender.Modi’s drive to purge “black cash” from the economy has, at a stroke, wiped out 86 percent of the money in circulation. Delays in printing new 500 and 2,000 rupee notes mean that money could be tight for weeks to come.While city dwellers are still queuing up to exchange or deposit old money at the bank, and to draw new funds, many villagers live miles from the nearest branch and have yet to see the new notes being rushed into circulation.DRAGGED DOWN
Delays to the planting season that began last month threaten to dent India’s agricultural and overall economic growth, wiping out gains for farmers who this year cashed in on decent monsoon rains after being hit by drought in 2014 and 2015.Farmers who have already spent money on ploughing and irrigation to keep the soil moist can ill afford to leave their land fallow. Late sowing typically reduces yields and increases the risk that inclement spring weather could damage crops.

“In all likelihood we’ll not be able to recover our cost of cultivation as the prime sowing time has nearly lapsed,” said Prakash Chandra Sharma, another local farmer.The farmers said they spent an average of 58,000 rupees ($855) per hectare to grow wheat, only to eke out an income of 70,000 rupees. That assumes a crop yield of about 3.2 tonnes per hectare.A drop in wheat output would boost local prices that are already near record highs. Stocks are at their lowest level for nearly a decade, and even before the latest cash crunch, private traders were expected to import around 3 million tonnes this year.Devinder Sharma, an independent food and trade policy analyst, said rural communities in particular would suffer from the demonetisation move.”It’s a little early to hazard a guess about the extent of crop loss,” said Sharma. “But both rural income and demand will take a big hit before things start improving from April next year.”

THANKS, BUT NO THANKS
In the latest in a series of ad hoc steps, the government on Thursday allowed farmers to withdraw up to 25,000 rupees ($368) a week against their crop loans to ensure that sowing of winter crops “takes place properly”.Shaktikanta Das, a top finance ministry official, also said a time limit for farmers to pay crop insurance premiums had been extended by 15 days.But that cuts little ice with farmers, who often rely for their cash not on banks but on money lenders charging annual interest of up to 40 percent.”Most farmers have already availed of their farm loan for the previous summer season and, for the handful who can still withdraw, the ceiling is too low,” said Tejinder Narang, a New-Delhi-based farm expert.After selling their rice crop last month, many are stuck with old 500 and 1,000 bills they can no longer spend.

They are only allowed to exchange 2,000 rupees into new money, and the rest must be deposited before the notes cease to be accepted by banks after Dec. 30.”Four banks cater to 200 villages of about 2,000 people each. It’s not easy to get your old currency notes converted,” said Harbir Singh, another local farmer.MARKETS IDLED
The breakdown in the cash economy is causing major disruptions to the supply of produce to India’s cities, with payment alternatives such as plastic cards or digital wallet apps on smartphones yet to gain widespread acceptance.At Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi, Asia’s largest fruit and vegetable wholesale market, traders said business was at a virtual standstill, and labourers who usually earn between $4 and $6 a day sat idle.”The bosses are giving us 500 rupee bills, but we are refusing to take those notes,” said porter Raju Kumar Rathore. “Then they are telling us to collect our money after a week or 10 days. For us that is a big problem.” ($1 = 67.79 rupees) (Additional reporting by Sunil Kataria in NEW DELHI and Rajendra Jadhav in MUMBAI; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Mike Collett-White)

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First Published On : Nov 17, 2016 23:03 IST

Demonetisation: Religious places to maintain balance sheet, deposit donations on daily basis

Mumbai: A week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, Maharashtra’s famous temples and shrines are busy counting money. The state government issued a circular on Wednesday asking all religious bodies, NGOs and charitable trusts to maintain a daily balance sheet and deposit donations received, in banks, on a daily basis.

Earlier, religious places used to deposit donations received on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis.

Religious places had been seeing a surge in donations after the ban with many devotees dropping in the banned Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes apart from gold, silver and other valuable items through donation boxes. So, to avoid black money through donations in religious places, the Law and Judiciary Department of the Maharashtra government issued the circular.

Representational image. Reuters

“It is now mandatory for all temples and public trust offices to deposit donations received, daily in the bank,” said legal consultant Rajendra Sawant. The circular, a copy of which is available with the Firstpost, is applicable for all charitable trusts, NGOs and temples who have been received donations in old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.

There are more than 1,000 temples and shrines registered with the charity commissioner’s office in Maharashtra. Besides, the state is also home to several popular temples including the richest temple of the country, Shree Siddhivinayak Temple Trust in Mumbai.

Talking to Firstpost, Narendra Rane, chairman of Shree Siddhivinayak Temple Trust, confirmed that he has received the new circular. “From today onwards we are counting all donations received in our cash boxes on a daily basis. Earlier, we used to do weekly counts in front of bank employees and our members. But seeing the pressure on banks, we have decided to count it using the temple staff,” said Rane.

A copy of the circular issued by Law and Judiciary Department of Maharashtra State government

A copy of the circular issued by Law and Judiciary Department of Maharashtra State government

Interestingly, though the temple has witnessed a 25 per cent fall in the number of devotees in the last 10 days, it witnessed an increase of 50 percent in donations, Rane added. “Before demonetisation, the average weekly collection was Rs 35 to Rs 40 lakhs. This time, we received Rs 60 lakhs in cash. The daily average has also gone up from Rs 5 lakhs to Rs 6.5 lakhs in the last 10 days,” he added.

Rane claimed that earlier majority of the devotees would donate notes of lesser denominations, but post demonetisation, the number of higher denomination notes has increased. “We have received 90 new notes of Rs 2,000, 1,060 notes of Rs 1000  (Rs 10.60 lakh) and 3,340 notes of Rs 500 (Rs 17 lakh),” said Rane. Though the temple trust is not accepting old currency notes, it is unable to avoid them since notes are dropped anonymously.

Though the temple trust is not accepting old currency notes, it is unable to avoid them since notes are dropped anonymously. In fact, at many shrines, signs have been put up to discourage devotees from donating the invalid Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.

Kolhapur’s famous Mahalaxmi temple has also started daily count of donations from Thursday.

First Published On : Nov 17, 2016 18:27 IST

Jaguar Land Rover says half of its new cars will have electric option by 2020 | Reuters

Jaguar Land Rover says half of its new cars will have electric option by 2020 | Reuters

Updated: Nov 17, 2016 00:52 IST

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LONDON Half of all new Jaguar Land Rover vehicles will be available in an electric version by the end of the decade, Britain’s biggest carmaker said on Wednesday, after showcasing its first electric car this week. The automaker, owned by India’s Tata Motors (TAMO.NS), unveiled the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE Concept SUV at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The model is due to hit the streets by 2018, in a sign of how car manufacturers are seeking to tap growing demand for more environmentally-friendly vehicles. “We are shaping the future, developing our own approach to autonomy, connectivity and electrification to offer our customers more choice,” said Chief Executive Ralf Speth.

Last year, Jaguar Land Rover said it would double the size of its powertrain engineering centre in central England to support the development of more low-emission vehicles, the fastest growing market for new cars in Britain.

Speth told Reuters in September that it would make sense for the firm to build both electric batteries and vehicles in Britain. The company said cleaner diesel and petrol engines and plug-in hybrid vehicles were also part of its plans.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Mark Potter)

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First Published On : Nov 17, 2016 00:52 IST

Ousted boss Mistry defends record at Tata Sons | Reuters

Ousted boss Mistry defends record at Tata Sons | Reuters

Updated: Nov 15, 2016 19:15 IST

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By Aditi Shah
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI Ousted Tata Sons’ chairman Cyrus Mistry on Tuesday defended his record at the company and said allegations that he oversaw rising expenses and impairment provisions as “another brazen attempt to mislead the public and shareholders.”Mistry was ousted last month as chairman of Tata Sons, the holding company for the $100 billion steel-to-software Tata empire. Patriarch Ratan Tata is now back at the helm temporarily and a bitter public spat has since ensued between the two sides. Mistry, in a statement on Tuesday, said one reason for a rise in expenses under his tenure was because Tata Sons was bearing some costs on behalf of Tata’s chairman emeritus Ratan Tata, while impairments and write downs were due to legacy issues.His comments were in response to Tata Sons’ statement last week, which highlighted rising expenses and impairment provisions under Mistry.”The challenges the group faced could not be wished away,” Mistry’s statement said, detailing the challenges that Mistry had inherited as chairman.Mistry said in the statement that the group had been bearing the costs for Ratan Tata, when he was chairman emeritus of Tata Sons and also chair of the Tata trusts, including his use of corporate jets and total office cost of about 300 million rupees in 2015.

The statement also said that the impairments at Tata Sons were due to legacy issues, largely relating to Tata Teleservices Ltd, and that Mistry had focused on building reserves and resources to handle the write downs. Tata Sons did not have an immediate comment and Ratan Tata could not immediately be reached for comment. Tata Sons is also looking to remove Mistry as chairman of several of the Tata group’s companies. The group last week axed Mistry as chair of Tata Consultancy Services, a company in which Tata Sons owns more than 70 percent.

Mistry remains chairman of Tata Steel and Tata Motors, owner of Jaguar Land Rover.The automaker’s board late on Monday gave Mistry a tacit nod, but stopped short of an outright endorsement.Tata Global Beverages, which co-owns and runs Starbucks coffee stores across India, became the first Tata group company whose board of directors on Tuesday voted to oust Mistry as chairman.

Seven out of 10 directors voted for Mistry’s ouster and appointed Tata veteran Harish Bhat in his place.For Tata companies where Tata Sons does not have a majority stake, Mistry would have to be removed by a board vote. ($1 = 67.7453 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Rafael Nam and Jane Merriman)

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First Published On : Nov 15, 2016 19:15 IST