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TMC, BJP demand removal of tainted Tripura minister

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Trinamool Congress and and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state units in Tripura have separately sought the expulsion of the state’s Forest and Rural Development Minister Naresh Jamatia from the cabinet for his alleged involvement in a sex scandal in his constituency.While the TMC brought out a protest rally raising slogans demanding the removal of the minister, the BJP demanded Jamatia’s resignation at a press conference.TMC MLA Asish Saha said, “For a long time this state is holding the top position in crime against amongst the states. One after another incidents of rape of woman and children are taking place here, and surprisingly, of late, a child was raped by a councillor of the Agartala Municipal Corporation. In crimes against women in the state, not only the supporters and leaders of the ruling party are involved, but also elected people’s representatives.””Allegations are raised against the state Forest Minister Naresh Jamatia by their own party’s elected member of the Autonomous District Council, Joykishore Jamatia. This is not our allegation. Earlier, we had demanded in the floor of the assembly that he should be immediately suspended from his post as forest minister and the law be enforced against him. Today, the TMC is raising the same demand and taking part in a protest rally,” Saha added.BJP state president Biplab Deb said, “The biggest problem of Tripura is crimes against women, which as high as 80%. In 1988, when Manik Sarkar became chief minister for the first time, the rate of crime against women in Tripura was between 20 to 25%, but now, it has risen to 80%. Today, there is an allegation against a councillor of being involved in a sex scandal with a five year old child, but the state government is silent about it. An elected MDC of the state Joykishore Jamatia has been removed from the CPI-M party after he was charged with sex scandal. He had to resign from his MDC post and which is like an MLA within the ADC area. Now, a similar allegation has been made by Joykishore Jamatia against a state minister. I am not speaking in favour of Joykishore Jamatia, but if he can be removed from the party, then why not Naresh Jamatia?”He added, “This is my question to the chief minister, who in 2002 had dismissed a male minister from the cabinet for involvement in a sex scandal, a female minister was also removed on allegation of having a illicit relationship with her PG. Many other CPI-M leaders have been removed on similar allegations, but in the case of Naresh Jamatia, the chief minister is still silent. During a four day session in the House, the opposition had raised this issue, but then also, the chief minister maintained his silence. Now we want to know from Manik Sarkar why no decision is being taken in the case of Naresh Jamatia?”Jamatia has refuted the allegation and told the house that he has filed a case in a local court against the newspaper that alleged that he was involved in a sex scandal.The speaker of the state assembly has refused to allow a discussion on the issue, saying the matter is sub-judice.

Watch: TMC MLA Sudip Roy Burman tries to run away with Tripura assemby Speaker’s mace

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Tripura Assembly on Monday witnessed uproarious scenes over personal allegations relating to Forest Minister Naresh Jamatiya, during which a Trinamool Congress MLA fled with the Speaker’s mace.During Zero Hour, TMC MLA Sudip Roy Burman, former leader of the opposition, raised the issue published in a local Bengali daily.Jamatiya then stood up and said that the charges published in the newspaper were baseless and it was a conspiracy to malign his image.The minister said that he has filed a defamation suit in a court against the newspaper.The entire opposition – Congress and TMC – started shouting and demanded a statement from Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who also holds the Home portfolio.Sarkar said the matter was subjudice and opposition members would have to wait for the court’s verdict.Opposition members trooped to the well and raised slogans demanding that Speaker Ramendra Debnath allow discussion on the matter.At one point of time, Roy Burman picked up the mace lying on the Speaker’s table and fled from the House.He, however, handed it over to the watch and ward staff in the lobby. The Speaker adjourned the house till 2 PM.When the House reassembled, the Speaker condemned taking away of the mace.

Demonetization: Constable suspended for hitting people in queue outside bank

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A Delhi Police constable has been suspended for allegedly hitting a few people with a baton and engaging in an argument with others, including a woman, while trying to control a crowd outside a bank in Yamuna Vihar area.The incident took place on Tuesday when the woman arrived at the bank to get her currency notes exchanged, police said.A video has emerged where the constable is seen getting into an argument with the woman and then hitting people with a baton, sources said.The constable, Ram Naresh, posted in northeast district, said since the woman was trying to get into the queue, he asked her to follow the line.A few people stepped in to help the woman and the constable allegedly hit them with a baton, a police officer said, adding an inquiry has been initiated in this regard and the constable has been suspended.

Soon, an e-portal to fix appointments with docs at NDMC hospitals

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Come November, patients will be able to skip long queues to see a doctor at New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC)-run hospitals. In what should come as a relief to about 25,000-30,000 people visiting NDMC’s 39 dispensaries and four hospitals, they will be able to log on to its e-portal to fix appointments and find details of their medical history, among other services.In a bid to make Lutyen’s Delhi a smart city, the civic body has taken up the initiative to bring all hospitals and dispensaries under one e-portal by mid-November.”A few of the modules are already functional, including at Charak Palika Hospital, Moti Bagh and in a few other dispensaries. We expect the system to go live by November-end,” said NDMC chairman Naresh Kumar.Under the e-health system, people will be able to scan through the list of available doctors and make appointments to visit the OPD and other departments.”People will not be required to carry their medical reports every time they visit the health care unit. The portal will allow them to feed in the details of their health history, which will then automatically find its way to the medical wing they are being treated at. This would cut down the hassle of waiting in queues and at times having to return home without seeing a doctor,” said a senior official.The civic body will also connect the portal to its mobile application—’NDMC 311′, which will allow patients direct access to the portal.Through the portal, the civic body is also looking at having data ready to ascertain which diseases are more prevalent and the demand for which medicines is the highest.”The patient data available from the portal will help us plan better and narrow down the areas of focus for community health projects and supply of medicines,” the official said.The software for the facility is being developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC). The NDMC is collaborating with the NIC for cloud-based hospital management.

Love wins: Swaraj assures visa to Pak girl and family getting married to Indian boy

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>After his cross-border wedding ran into the headwinds of rising tensions between India and Pakistan, a youth here has approached External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who assured him of help on Friday.Jodhpur resident Naresh Tewani and Karachi-based Priya Bachchani, who are planning to tie the knot exactly a month from now, were facing anxious moments as the Indian embassy in Pakistan had not granted visas to the bride’s family and relatives.According to the groom, despite having applied for visas in the prescribed time and format, no one from the bride’s side has been issued the documents so far. Seeing no headway in the process, Tewani had reached out to External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Twitter for help.Swaraj responded to his plea on Friday saying that the visas would be issued to them. “Pl do not worry. We will issue the Visa(sic),” she said on Twitter.Tewani said, “The applications for visas for the family of the bride were filed well in time about 3 months back. We assumed that the documents would be issued in time.” The groom’s family had said wedding preparations had come to a standstill as all their efforts were being directed towards ensuring that the bride’s family gets the documents.”The minister has been quite responsive to tweets by people in trouble and they have received aid from her. Seeing her willingness to resolve the troubles of those in need, we knocked on her twitter account,” Tewani said.”It was my long-cherished dream to have a Pakistani bride for my son since my visit to Pakistan in 2001, considering the resemblance in culture and traditions between the two countries. But given the circumstances, I was afraid that the realisation of this dream might take longer,” the groom’s father Kanhaiya Lal said.

Sushma Swaraj promises to unite Indian bride and Pakistani groom

Jodhpur: After his cross-border wedding ran into the headwinds of rising tensions between India and Pakistan, a youth here has approached External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who on Friday assured him of help.

File photo of Sushma Swaraj. AFPFile photo of Sushma Swaraj. AFP

File photo of Sushma Swaraj. AFP

Jodhpur resident Naresh Tewani and Karachi-based Priya Bachchani, who are planning to tie the knot exactly a month from now, were facing anxious moments as the Indian embassy in Pakistan had not granted visas to the bride’s family and relatives.

According to the groom, despite having applied for visas in the prescribed time and format, no one from the bride’s side has been issued the documents so far. Seeing no headway in the process, Tewani had reached out to External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Twitter for help.

Swaraj on Friday responded to his plea saying that the visas would be issued to them.

“Pl do not worry. We will issue the Visa(sic),” she said on Twitter.

Tewani said, “The applications for visas for the family of the bride were filed well in time about 3 months back. We assumed that the documents would be issued in time.”

The groom’s family had said wedding preparations had come to a standstill as all their efforts were being directed towards ensuring that the bride’s family gets the documents.

“The minister has been quite responsive to tweets by people in trouble and they have received aid from her. Seeing her willingness to resolve the troubles of those in need, we knocked on her twitter account,” Tewani said.

“It was my long-cherished dream to have a Pakistani bride for my son since my visit to Pakistan in 2001, considering the resemblance in culture and traditions between the two countries. But given the circumstances, I was afraid that the realisation of this dream might take longer,” the groom’s father Kanhaiya Lal said.

Bulandshahr gangrape case: SC asks CBI to serve notice to Azam Khan for ‘insensitive’ remarks

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI) to serve notice to Uttar Pradesh Minister and Samajwadi party leader Azam Khan for his alleged statement on Bulandshahr gangrape case.The top court has asked to serve the notice to Khan for his personal appearance in the matter.Last month, the top court had issued notice to Khan over his controversial statement. Khan had courted controversy saying the incident could be a ‘political conspiracy’ since the elections were near, and a desperate opposition can stoop to any level to defame the Akhilesh Yadav government.However, Khan had maintained that he had not said anything against the victims and their family members.The court had issued notice to UP government and Khan over plea of victims seeking transfer of the case from the state.Azam Khan had made remarks even when the victims’ family had threaten to commit suicide, if the police fails to give them justice in the next three months.A gang of dacoits had brutally raped a woman and her 13-year-old daughter at gunpoint after dragging them out of a car in Bulandshahr on NH-91 when they were travelling with their family from Noida to Shahjahanpur on Friday night.Uttar Pradesh Police arrested the three accused — Naresh (25), Bablu (22) and Rais (28) — and detained a dozen others after launching a massive hunt for the dacoits suspected to be behind the highway crime.Monday maintained that he had not said anything against the victims and their family members.

Vijay Mallya’s loan: Bank of Baroda mistook farmer for Kingfisher director!

Khajuria Naviram village in Uttar Pradesh—Bilsanda block, Pilibhit district–is a seven-hour drive from the national capital.

It’s a long walk on a mud track to the house of Manmohan Singh, 52, a marginal farmer. Set on the edge of his eight-acre farm, it’s a modest two-room tenement, flanked by a thatched-roof granary on the right.

Two jute-rope cots lie outside the house. On one rests Singh’s ailing wife Narindar Kaur, 50, and on another, washed wheat is spread out to dry. A hand pump—painted green with moss—a bicycle, a clothesline tied to two pillars of a tin-shed at the entrance of the house, all speak of a quiet, unremarkable village life.

Shishir Tripathi/FirstpostShishir Tripathi/Firstpost

Manmohan Singh’s house in his village. Image: Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

That’s until December 2015. That month, the remarkable happened, though Manmohan had no hand in its occurrence.

Hundreds of miles away in Mumbai, Manmohan Singh’s name cropped up in the books of India’s second largest public sector bank. He was identified as the “guarantor” for a Rs 550 crore loan taken by none other than Vijay Mallya, corporate India’s playboy.

The glitz and glamour of the (now) runaway business tycoon’s life can hardly find any resonance in Manmohan’s. The sheer size of Mallya’s loan might be well beyond his comprehension, having himself taken a Rs 4 lakh crop loan, a big burden on his meager means.

Manmohan and Mallya are worlds apart. But for Bank of Baroda, India’s international bank—its tagline says so—the world is indeed flat. So, that winter month when Manmohan visited the Bank of Baroda branch in Nand, to pay his monthly loan installment, he was told something he could hardly comprehend.

“I have two accounts with Bank of Baroda’s Nand branch. I wanted to pay the monthly installment for the crop loan I had taken. But the bank officials told me I cannot operate my accounts because they had been frozen. They showed me a paper and said they had orders from their Mumbai head office because I was guarantor to Vijay Mallya’s loan.”

Then began the ordeal to rectify what then seemed like a comic oversight on the part of the bank, the ever useful ‘technical error’.

“My wife has a brain tumour. She is undergoing treatment for that. And while we were struggling with all this, we were punished by the bank for no reason,” says Manmohan.

The trauma was not just logistical and emotional. It was financial, too. Harvindar, 22, the younger son of Manmohan, says: “We had taken a crop loan of Rs four lakh. The interest rate is seven percent on which we get a concession of three percent, so we have to pay around four percent interest. But because of the delay caused by the freezing of our accounts, we had to pay around 12 percent interest and our credibility also suffered.”

“We had never ever heard the name Vijay Mallya before that. After running around the bank branch for six months, we had to go to the media for help. Within a week of the news hitting national headlines, our accounts were re-activated.”

It hit national headlines all right, but only as a sidelight to the Mallya plot, just a comic break from the political, legal and constitutional storm it had set off. No sooner than the bank admitted to the inadvertent mistake and reactivated Manmohan Singh’s accounts, the media moved away.

The basic question lingered. Just how did this happen? How could a marginal farmer in an unknown Uttar Pradesh village, with a Rs four lakh loan on his head and all of Rs 5,200 in his accounts, stand guarantee for Vijay Mallya’s loan?

The bank’s explanation that Manmohan’s name cropped up as “guarantor” inadvertently, did not quite add up. Why Manmohan Singh of Khajuria Naviram, Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh? Why not, for the sake of argument, Susan George Pulimoodu, from the Peroorkada Branch in Kottayam district of Kerala? Or any one of the six crore account holders of Bank of Baroda in India?

This boggled the mind. Un-boggling it required a visit to the Nand branch of Bank of Baroda.

Shishir Tripathi/FirstpostShishir Tripathi/Firstpost

The Bank of Baroda Nand branch. Image: Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

The response was on expected lines. Mange Ram, the manager, was incommunicado. After dozens of calls, he spoke to Firstpost only to tell us that he was on fieldwork and that he could neither meet nor talk to us.

At the Nand branch office, there was a discreet silence. The staff there had been instructed not to speak to the media. All we get to know was what is already known: Manmohan’s account was blocked on 15 December, 2015 and reactivated on 20 May 2016.

From outside the Nand branch, we called Ghanshyam Singh, the regional manager of Bank of Baroda stationed at Shahjahanpur. He responded but once again only to parrot the ‘technical error’ line. “Manmohan Singh has nothing to do with Vijay Mallya or his loan. We are investigating how this happened. At this juncture, I cannot disclose much,” said Ghanshyam Singh.

We had hit a dead end. Bank-client privilege meant that there was no way of knowing what happened unless the bank came out and clarified fully. And it was clear as daylight that the Bank of Baroda central office had issued gag orders to its staff. It seemed like we would have to return with nothing more than the already well-publicised comedy-of-errors narrative.

Then a lucky break happened. By now, we had spent considerable time in and outside the Nand branch trying to convince the staff to show us the letter from the central office ordering the freezing of Manmohan’s accounts. That’s when we ran into a middle-aged person who tipped us that if we were looking for the letter, we were looking at the wrong place. “Try Manmohan,” he said cryptically before walking away.

We had already met Manmohan. He, and son Harvindar had both told us the bank had only ‘shown’ them a letter. They did not mention being in possession of it. Excited, we rushed back to Manmohan’s house and requested to see any letters/documents that the bank may have given them. It is then that Harvindar fetched this letter :

Mallya Loan

The letter, from the Bank of Baroda, Nariman Point Office (P.O. Box no 11745, Samata Bldg, Gen Bhosle Marg, Opp YB Chavan Centre, Mumbai-400021) to the concerned branch offices, began thus:

“We refer to the Adv A/C M/S Kingfisher Airlines Led and request that our regional office MMSR, Mumbai, has advised us to mark lien in the following accounts of the Directors / Guarantors of the said compnay as mentioned below..”

It then listed nine persons — with their names, account numbers, location of accounts and balance therein — as directors / guarantors of the loan. The first four were Vijay Mallya and three of his relatives. Manmohan figured fifth on the list. While all the Mallyas have their accounts in Mumbai, Bengaluru or Vadodara, Manmohan is the only one off the grid.

How was it possible, as the letter moved from desk to desk in the central office and then down the command chain to Nand branch, that nobody noticed the anomaly?

Importantly, there were four more persons on the list. All four of them had their accounts in Mumbai. Who were they? Were their accounts also frozen like Manmohan’s? Were they really guarantors for Mallya’s loan or were they a mere addition to the ‘technical error’ list of the bank? Was it possible that Bank of Baroda got five out of the nine names wrong on a freeze list involving a Rs 550 crore loan to Mallya?

We headed back to Delhi believing that we may have a small piece of the Mallya loan-guarantee puzzle.

Cut to Mumbai.

The Bank of Baroda central office’s missive had listed four persons with accounts in Bandra and Khar branches of Mumbai. Firstpost made discreet enquiries at the Nariman Point office, Opera House office and the two branches (more about that in part II of this series) to identify these account holders.

Officers at all these places acknowledged, of course, unofficially, that the list was indeed genuine but stonewalled when contact details of the Mumabi guarantors were sought. It seemed like another futile fishing expedition when the second lucky break came along.

To our repeated questioning on how Manmohan, a small farmer from a Pilibhit village could’ve surfaced as guarantor for Mallya, one of the officers blurted out that action was taken against Manmohan not as a ‘guarantor’ but as a ‘director’.

What! Manmohan Singh, a marginal farmer in an unknown Pilibhit village with combined savings of Rs 5200, is a ‘director’ on the board of Kingfisher Airlines?

All the national headlines had said Manmohan became ‘guarantor’ due to a technical glitch. Even Bank of Baroda had clarified that Manmohan was wrongly proceeded against, but was careful not to dispel the public perception that he was penalized for being a ‘director’ on Kingfisher board.

Curiosity suitably pricked, we looked up the Kingfisher board of directors list as filed with the Registrar of Companies (RoC).

Bull’s eye! There, among the list of seven directors, including Vijay Mallya, was Manmohan Singh Kapur.

Manmohan-Singh-Document

Manmohan Singh Kapur is a known name in banking circles, having served as the chairman of Vijaya Bank (from August 2002 to March 2006). He is on the board of a clutch of other companies and lives in Mumbai. The Hindustan Times had unearthed this fact, too, but did not push it hard to question just how this Manmohan Singh became Manmohan Singh, the farmer.

Image: FirstpostImage: Firstpost

Manmohan Singh from Khajuria Naviram village.  Image: Naresh Sharma/ Firstpost

To a detailed 10-point questionnaire from Firstpost, the Bank of Baroda corporate office responded with a one-paragraph answer, the highlight of which was to admit that the ‘technical error’ occurred because of the “similarity of names”.

Manmohan’s ‘directorship’ on Kingfisher board ended, thankfully for him, in just over five months. But it has left many questions hanging in the air. The chief among them are: How much does Bank of Baroda know or care to know about a company that it lends Rs 550 crore to? Who else was Manmohan Singh rubbing metaphorical shoulders with on the Kingfisher board? Vijay Mallya, Siddhartha Mallya, Utkarsha Mallya and Vijay Satish Mallya, is passe. How about a security guard from Mumbai?

That exposé is coming up in the next part of Firstpost’s investigation into the Vijay Mallya loan guarantee puzzle. Watch this space.

UP police file FIR against BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj for hate speech against cops

Mainpuri (UP): Controversial BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj has been booked for allegedly using foul language and threatening police officials while addressing a rally in Mainpuri.

BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj. News18

BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj. News18

Besides the Unnao MP, former MLC Ram Naresh Agnihotri has also been booked in this regard after a complaint was filed in Bicchwa police station in the district, SP Himanshu Kumar said on Thursday.

Maharaj, along with Agnihotri and some other local leaders, had allegedly made inflammatory speeches against the state government and the police at a rally in Fardpur crossing on Tuesday, where they were protesting against the arrest of state BJP leader Maidan Singh, Kumar said.

Maharaj allegedly used abusive language against police officials and threatened to “take revenge” if BJP came to power in the state after the 2017 Assembly polls, the SP said.

He also threatened that if policemen reach Fardpur again they would be “shot”, the SP said.

A case has been filed against Maharaj and Agnihotri under IPC sections including 153 (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) by the in-charge of Bicchwa police station, Kumar said.

The SP said action will be taken in this connection soon.

Odd-even in Delhi: Surface-level ozone peaks lower than last April

New Delhi: Although Delhi’s air quality is getting worse with each passing day, the peaks in surface-level ozone, a key air pollutant, has been lower this month as compared to April last year.

According to data shared by the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), eight-hour average of ozone had nearly touched 100 parts per billion (ppb) around April 23, 2015 while this year it is yet to breach 80 ppb.

Representational image. Firstpost/Naresh SharmaRepresentational image. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Representational image. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

The national ambient safe standard for ozone is 100 µg/m3 (around 50 ppb) for 8-hour average and 180 µg/m3 for 1 hour average, says the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

In fact, the volume of ozone saw a sharp dip in the first three days of odd-even scheme, but since then, it has been rising, although the spike has not been as steep as last year around the same time.

The first spike was seen between 17 April and 19 April when it crossed over to the ‘moderate’ category from ‘good’. After tapering off for a while, it steadily started rising, as sunlight scorched the city.

Ground-level ozone, as opposed to stratospheric ozone which shields the earth from ultra-violet rays, is a product of chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) among others in the presence of strong sunlight.

In one of its studies, CSE explained that ozone is a highly reactive and variable gas and that it builds up during the day when sun shines and temperatures are high.

“Volatile hydrocarbons and other gases from vehicles and other combustion sources react photochemically in the air to create ozone. Nitrogen oxide, that largely comes from vehicles especially diesel vehicles, is to a great extent responsible for catalyzing the reaction,” the study said.

CSE Director General Sunita Narain recently said while odd-even cannot be a permanent solution to the city’s pollution woes, it can be invoked as an emergency measure.

She said during the first phase of odd-even, enforced between 1 and 15 January, pollution did not come down but did not go up as much as it could have, meaning the peaks were lower than December.

Nitin Gadkari, a man with dreams of an Indian wonderland: A Firstpost exclusive

It requires amazing gift of the gab or the consummate skills of a conjurer to sell Nitin Gadkari’s idea of India to someone. The Union Transport Minister possesses neither. Yet, he manages it with certain ease.

Much before the end of his government’s term in 2019, India will be a changed place in terms of infrastructure, he said during a 50-minute exclusive interview with Firstpost. For instance, he is working on a plan to connect Dehradun with Mansarovar in China by blasting a way through the Himalayas. Similarly, if you have to go from Mumbai to Goa, you need not take a long detour by road. Park your car and get yourself onto a ship near Panvel and reach any destination in Goa in just 40 minutes, he said.

If some disbelief is creeping in already, savour this from the minister: You may soon be able to hire a vessel at Varanasi and cruise along the Ganga for two days along with your friends and family, organise a function and go deep into the sea, far away from the proverbial madding crowd. If this isn’t enough, imagine boarding a luxury boat in Delhi on the banks of the Yamuna and alighting at the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

“You may not believe it right now, but let me assert that all this will happen. My words are not empty rhetoric,” he told Firstpost, a week after he was feted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and a section of the media for holding a successful Maritime India Summit (MIS) in Mumbai.

Gadkari’s assertions indeed do have a sense of authenticity. In common perception, he is the best performing minister in the Modi government. “I do not say what I cannot do,” he pointed out many-a-time in the course of the conversation.

“You see India is a classic case of a rich nation with poor people,” he said. It sounded like an oxymoron.

“What do you mean by this?” I asked in a rather bewildered tone.

“We have the problem of management of resources which are aplenty,” he replied.

Conversion of knowledge into wealth seems to be the guiding motto for Gadkari. India’s waste management will spawn an economy of Rs five lakh crore and create employment for 15 to 20 lakh people, he said, adding “I have given around 15,000 young persons employment in my area through this,” he asserted.

But what about the perception of him being the most efficient minister in the government? Though pleased with the flattering question, Gadkari like a seasoned politician did not allow his emotions to show. “No, everyone in the government is doing a good job. My work seems to be getting noticed as it relates to development of infrastructure,” he said in an apparent show of modesty which he seems to have cultivated during his stint in Delhi.

The Sagarmala project

Then Gadkari explained the significance of his Sagarmala project which envisages huge transportation of goods through the sea and inland waterways.

“It is going to be a game changer for the country. In India, when we send goods outside the country, we incur huge transport costs which we call ‘logistics cost’. Our logistics cost is 18 percent and China’s is eight percent. If you send material from Mumbai to London or from Mumbai to Dubai, it costs comparatively less than sending it from Mumbai to Delhi. Whenever we make any product for the world market, the logistics cost makes it comparatively expensive, thus less competitive. If we reduce the cost to 10 percent then our exports will double. What I am doing is a game changer. If you go by road and you spend Rs 1.50 per kilometre and using railways may cost you Rs one, using waterways will cost you only 20 paisa. You see how economical this is,” Gadkari pointed out.

Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Big plans on the rivers

 Statistics come easy to the minister and he overwhelmed me with data. For instance, he said, “One hundred and eleven rivers are being converted into waterways. Work on five rivers has already started. Contracts worth Rs 4,000 crore have been given in the case of the Ganga. Waterways have been built from Varanasi to Haldia (a distance of 1,620 kilometres).”

Giving examples of his projects, Gadkari said, “Work on the Varanasi, Haldia and Sahebganj multi-modal hub is on. Water ports are being built at 40 places between Varanasi and Haldia. Twenty of these water ports are floating and 20 are of concrete. The gate in Farakka is being converted into a water gate that will be used for navigation. At five places we are starting Roll-on/Roll-off (RO-RO) service. Hundred trucks or buses will be ferried on one ship. We have started this service in Assam. This drastically reduces the travel distance.”

My skepticism did not wane despite the bombardment of these facts and figures and I said, “You see, all this sounds too good to believe in the face of the fact that I have been hearing these assertions since 1998 but nothing could be done to make rivers navigable.”

“I am not talking to you without doing homework,” he asserted, adding that “In the middle of the river we are maintaining a width of 45 metres and a draft of three metres. For this we are using very modern foreign technology with the help of World Bank. We will maintain the three-metre draft throughout the year.”

When asked whether the three-metre draft will be sufficient, he explained: “A European company has designed the barge in such a way that instead of 1,500-tonne, 5,000-tonne loads of goods can be transported.”

When govt ports beat private players

At the MIS, Gadkari he claimed that his PSU ports and shipyards were running huge profits while private ports were incurring losses. “How did you do it?” I asked. “By improving efficiency,” he answered.

When asked what he did that the private sector didn’t, the minister said, “One day after taking over as the minister, I called chiefs of all ports and shipyards and told them to turn around their projects or face removal within a year. And they turned it around.”

“Across the world the growth rate is 0.5 percent whereas we have witnessed a growth rate of 4.6 percent. For the first time, private ports like that of Adani and others have growth in the negative and we have a growth rate of 1.6 percent. We have proved to be more efficient than the private players.”

Once again, Gadkari delved deep into statistics and threw figures at me. He said “In maritime, we have till now given out contracts worth Rs 80,000 crore. This year our profit through 12 major ports and three flagship organisations that include Kochi Shipyard is Rs 6,000 crore. Through ports, we have earned a profit of Rs 4,200 crore.”

Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

The road to the future

Asked how realistic his rosy projection of the road transport infrastructure is, Gadkari said, “When I assumed office, 403 projects worth Rs 3.85 lakh crore stood stalled. Still there are problems. Currently 22 to 23 projects worth Rs 20,000 to 25,000 crore remain stalled. But I have tried to resolve the issue and get the projects started. You go anywhere in the country and you will see work being done. Ask any Congress person, he will say that roads are being built. Ask our critics, they will also accept that a lot of work is being done.”

“After becoming minister I had signed a contract for building 18,000 kilometres of road. Now it must have reached 19,000 kilometres. Rs two lakh crore in roads and Rs 60,000 crore on ports are the investments that we have made till now,” he pointed out.

“But from where will the money for these mind-boggling projects come?” I inquired.

Gadkari seemed prepared for this question. “We don’t have a shortage of funds. We have a budget of Rs 55,000 crore. Every year it will increase by Rs 20,000 crore. The budget for four years will be around Rs three lakh crore. Of this, I can avail Rs 70,000 crore from tax-exempted bonds from the market. Toll income is around Rs 10,000 crore every year. I have a list of 103 projects that we have completed. We have to securitise the toll tax of 15 years that accounts for Rs one lakh crore. So this is around Rs 5 lakh crore. Then there are few projects that can be in public-private partnership (PPP) mode completely. Money is not a problem at all.”

Found encouragement from PM Modi

Gadkari’s confidence level indicates that he is given enormous autonomy in his ministry. This is in contrast to the impression that most oUnion ministers either work under restraint or try to second-guess Modi. “Do you second-guess Modi or ever feel any constraints?” In reply, Gadkari spoke his mind, “I do my work and do not look for appreciation. I have never felt any constraints, instead found encouragement from the PM and all colleagues”.

“You see I have never gone to anyone with a biodata or sought any post for myself. Whatever I got is more than enough for me,” he added.

Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

The plan for Delhi

When asked for his thoughts about the odd-even formula of the Delhi government, Gadkari said, “Don’t drag me into this, I will not comment.” However, he explained his own vision of Delhi in the future and said, “Let me tell you that we are spreading a maze of roads around the NCR to divert traffic from Delhi and shortly, you will find roads in Delhi with smooth traffic flow,” he said, adding that there is a slew of projects of elevated roads that have been commissioned in Delhi. “Unfortunately we have consistently ignored even fundamental problems of traffic management in Delhi,” he said.

And outsider makes Delhi his home

Gadkari’s tryst with Delhi was never smooth.

When he came over to the National Capital as BJP president, he was quite averse to staying here and was uncomfortable with its political cabal. “Yes I was not enamoured of Delhi and wanted to stay in Maharashtra,” he admitted.

“Have you started liking Delhi now?”

“Now staying in the city is my destiny and I like it very much,” he replied. He ruled out the possibility of going back to Maharashtra.

At the end of the conversation, Gadkari literally conjured up an image of an India which is incredibly modern and advanced in infrastructure.

“Will it fructify?”

Gadkari assured me that it would not be long before we can test the veracity of his claims.

Gadkari_quote4

Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Will give best medical attention to injured staff: Jet Airways

Jet Airways on Saturday said the airline would provide the best medical attention to its two staff members, who sustained injuries during the bomb attacks at the Brussels airport on March 22.The airline’s Chairman Naresh Goyal thanked the authorities for extending their support to help passengers and staff in the wake of the attacks at Brussels airport. “To our two colleagues injured in the blasts and their families, we send loving prayers of support and assure that no effort will be spared to provide the best medical attention available,” Goyal said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Two Jet Airways crew members — Nidhi Chaphekar and Amit Motwani — were injured in the deadly bomb blasts at the Brussels airport on March 22. In a message posted on his Twitter account, Goyal thanked the authorities for extending support.He also thanked “every member of the Jet Airways family across centres in Brussels, India, Amsterdam, Newark and Canada for working 24×7 to handle the crisis with their incomparable spirit of service excellence”. Brussels was the European hub of Jet Airways.

West Bengal: Man threatens to ‘eliminate’ minister Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury, arrested

One person was arrested for allegedly threatening to eliminate state minister Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury for being ‘responsible’ for the killing of two teenagers in December and for sending a Trinamool Congress leader in jail in Malda district, police said.Chowdhury, the minister for food processing and horticulture, lodged a complaint with the police that someone called him up at about 8 am and threatened him with “dire consequences”.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>When asked about his fault, the caller told Chowdhury that the minister was responsible for the loss of lives of two teenage boys of Kulipara locality of Englishbazar area in the district in December and subsequent jailing of local Trinamool Congress leader Pabitra Roy, police said.Roy, Sabhapati of English Bazar Panchayat Samiti, was arrested for allegedly firing from his vehicle on December 27 in Malda, which killed two teenagers, they said.The two were shot dead when some persons, fleeing in a car after fatally hitting a cyclist, allegedly fired on a mob chasing them at Kulipara in Malda district. Roy, who was using the vehicle, was arrested and is now in judicial custody.Following the FIR of the minister, the police arrested the caller, identified as Naresh Chowdhury, from his residence at Kulipara.

JNU row: Delhi Police to take cyber cell help over threat calls to Yechury

New Delhi: Delhi Police is likely to rope in cyber cell to trace the numbers from which CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury claimed to have received multiple threat calls and messages and will take strict action, a senior officer said on Sunday.

Sitaram Yechury. Firstpost/Naresh SharmaSitaram Yechury. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Sitaram Yechury. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

“We are investigating about all the numbers from which such calls are being made and will take strict action against such callers,” DCP (New Delhi) Jatin Narwal said.

A police official said Yechury filed a police complaint mentioning all numbers through which the threats were received from callers who alleged that the Left leader has spoken “wrong” thing about Goddess Durga in Parliament.

The district police is likely to rope in the cyber cell for probing the matter, the official added.

Yechury had on Saturday said that he received several threat calls and text messages.

“What they are saying is all non-sense as I did not say anything of that sort. There is not even one mention of Durga. My speech is on Youtube. This is a deliberate campaign against me,” Yechury had said without naming anyone.

Yechury had earlier received similar threats on 15 February in connection with JNU row and a police complaint was
lodged but none of the callers, who made the Internet generated calls, could be traced by the investigators.

PTI

60% of rail deaths due to trespassing, Bombay High Court told

The growing number of fatalities on Mumbai’s suburban rail lines has more to do with the conduct, awareness and self-discipline of the public, than due to overcrowding or other such reasons.The Railways, on Thursday, told the Bombay High Court that of the total deaths that on the central line, 60% are due to trespassing or illegal crossing of tracks. Only 35% account for falling off from trains, for reasons like overcrowding or travelling on footboard.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>It also identified six stations – Kurla, Ghatkopar, Thane, Mulund, Diva and Kalyan – where majority of such accidents happen. Further, fatalities due to trespassing, for reasons such as urination, or crossing over by those going to school, market or temple on the opposite side, are reported from all stations.A division bench of Justice Naresh Patil and Justice Dr Shalini Phansalkar Joshi was told by advocate Suresh Kumar, appearing for the Railways, that the reason for accidents between stations is because of lack of subways or foot overbridges. He stated that such facilities will have to be provided by the state government.The court was also informed that deaths due to trespassing are predominantly of male persons between the age group of 18 to 35 years.The Railways also told the court that though every station has a foot overbridge, more are under construction and would be completed by September 30. The bench inquired with the state government as to whether it was considering elevated rail corridor, proposed by the Railways six years ago.The government said it was positively considering it and a decision is expected soon. The court then observed that it should have tried to get investors for he plan during the ongoing Make in India week. “The government is likely to get lakhs of crores in investment; why not build infrastructure for citizens?” the court asked.The bench also asked the Railways to look into the problems of Mumbai suburban commuters on priority basis. It said, “Such problems arise as no planning happened during the last 25 years.” Directing the Railways to inform on the next date of hearing steps taken to reduce track-crossing deaths and steps taken for women safety, the court posted the next hearing in March.The court made the observations while hearing a public interest litigation filed by AB Thakkar seeking separate seating arrangements for senior citizens in suburban railways.

Odd-even: Delhi govt to assess over 11 lakh responses to road rationing scheme

New Delhi: Delhi government has received over 11 lakh responses on the future of its car-rationing scheme, as the deadline for public to give their opinion on the issue ended on Monday. The government received the public opinion through emails, missed calls, online forms and suggestions of people whom it reached out to through interactive voice response system.

A challan is being issued to a car with a number plate ending with an odd digit. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost.A challan is being issued to a car with a number plate ending with an odd digit. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost.

A challan is being issued to a car with a number plate ending with an odd digit. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost.

“Around 28,300 suggestions have been received through online forms while another 9,000 and 1,82,808 have come through emails and missed called respectively.
The government, on its part, has made more than 9,00,000 calls to gather public opinion,” a senior government official said. Now we will analyse the responses, he added.

An email-id ‘[email protected]’ was opened on January 26 to invite public opinion on the scheme, while a dedicated website and a phone line was launched on February 1.

Also people’s response was gathered through automated calls through IVR (Interactive Voice Response) where they were given a number of options on the proposed second phase of the odd-even scheme. Apart from these, ‘jan sabhas’ (public meetings) were held across the city on two days to get more feedback.

AAP MLAs, who organised the meetings, have claimed that public opinion was “overwhelmingly” in favour of re-introduction of the scheme which was rolled out on January 1 for a fortnight in the first phase.

Structured questionnaire was put forth by the government on whether the scheme should be implemented again, if yes, when it should be done and for what duration among others. Four probable launching dates for the second phase were given – February 14, March 1, April 1 and May 1.

It had also asked people whether the President, the Vice-President, the Prime Minister and Union ministers should be exempted in the second phase. The status of women drivers, who were exempted in the first phase, will also be decided based on the responses.

The government is likely to implement the next phase of scheme after it seeks to first address two major concerns related to commuting by school children and the possibility of people purchasing another car to circumvent the restrictions.

PTI

Consider increasing compensation to family of farmers who commit suicide: High Court to Maharashtra govt

The Bombay High Court on Thursday suggested to the State government to consider increasing compensation given to heirs of farmers who commit suicide. High court says increase compensation from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, keeping in mind the relevant increase in the cost of living over a period of time.A division bench of Justice Naresh Patil and Justice GS Kulkarni were informed by the state that last year, 1,000 farmers committed suicide and compensation to family members was released. Then the bench cited a 2006 order of the high court which had suggested the government to increase the compensation amount. The bench said, “Its been over 10 years since the passing of the order and still there is no reply from the state. While other neighbouring states have increased the compensation government of Maharashtra should also consider.”<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The bench also suggested to the government to promote collective farming among group of farmers so that they get a good price for their produce. Further it has told the government to seriously consider using labourers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme for agriculture purpose. At the movement the labour is used for building infrastructure purpose. The bench said, “There is always a shortfall for labourers to work on fields because of which farmers face problems if the state government pays for the labourers then the farmers can get their output and the labourers can also earn their living.”The bench also suggested that a nodal officer should be appointed at the district and state level to ensure interdepartmental coordination and to ensure that schemes introduced for the welfare of farmers is properly implemented.The suggestion was made during the hearing of a suo-moto PIL based on newspaper report highlighting that 32 farmers in Marathwada region committed suicide within a week in September, last year. The bench has now asked the state to respond to the suggestions made by next month.