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Demonetisation: Rs 4,500 per day ATM limit is of little help when 2/3 machines run dry

ATMs will dispense a maximum Rs 4,500 per day per account holder beginning 1 January, said a circular from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Friday. Friday marked the end of the 50-day period Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised he will take to bring back normalcy after the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on 9 November. Earlier, daily limit was Rs 2,500 per day. An enhanced limit is a relief for citizens and will help to shorten queues further, but only in areas where ATMs are dispensing cash.

The problem is only a third of the total ATMs in the country (around 2 lakh) are dispensing cash and most of them are in urban centres with the periphery areas continuing to run dry, according to reports (read here and here). In other words, the enhanced ATM withdrawal limits would not help the people in non-metros much.

PTI file photoPTI file photo

PTI file photo

Banks are unable to fill their ATMs on account of an acute cash shortage, especially lower denomination notes that is persisting even after 50 days of demonetisation and the situation is unlikely to get better soon, said a few bankers this writer spoke to.

“We are looking at February-March before things become normal,” said one of the bankers. This is the reason banks have asked the government to extend the curbs on cash withdrawals beyond 30 December till the time there is adequate quantity of new currency infused in the banking system. Ultimately, it is the banker who has to face the angry customer.

The RBI has retained the weekly cash withdrawal limit of Rs 24,000. But, the problem is that banks are unable to honor even that amount and the customer is forced to often settle for what is available at the moment at the bank counter. Of course, this situation will ease further in the weeks ahead, but much depends on the ability of government mints to churn out sufficient units of new currency. Until 19 December, the RBI has infused Rs 5.92 lakh crore of currencies into the system, which is less than half of what the public has deposited in the form of invalidated notes (Rs 12.44 lakh crore as on 10 December).

On Friday, PM Modi launched a new payment app, BHIM, that allows anyone to transfer money to any bank accounts. The PM stressed on the need to embrace cashless payment modes at the earliest and elaborated on the incentives government planning to encourage individuals and merchants using electronic payment modes. A change into cashless economy is indeed good in an aspiring economy and government initiatives, such as UPI-supported BHIM app, are helpful to facilitate such a migration.

But, Modi’s immediate challenge remains to 1) normalise the cash situation in the economy; and 2) give a convincing cost-benefit analysis of the demonetisation exercise to 125 crore Indians. Modi has a major task of justifying his act that has pushed the economy into an economic standstill and has caused gross inconvenience to a large number of the population due to the lack of preparedness of the government to implement the currency swap.

When PM address the nation on the New Year Eve, there are questions he’ll need to answer on how did the note ban help the country to achieve the originally stated goals — black money, fake currency, corruption and terror funding. Also, most critically, the general public would expect clarity from the PM on when the cash crunch will end. The 50 days the PM sought has, for sure, eased the pain to an extent, but has not ended the cash crunch.

Another question the PM owes answer is clarity on the political funding. Though his government has repeatedly assured that rules will be same for all, there is lack of clarity on political funding since the government also says that provisions of existing laws will continue.

This would means that political parties will enjoy certain immunity from tax scrutiny since cash donations below Rs 20,000 do not require the source to be revealed. Can Modi score a point by stating that the government will work towards the necessary changes in laws to make all political donations through digital mode? If yes, that’ll be much bigger catalyst in the process of creating a cashless economy than announcing lucky draws.

For now, when the PM addresses the nation on the eve of new year, the big question common man probably would want to ask the PM is how long the current cash shortage will continue.

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 11:28 IST

PM Modi launches BHIM app, dedicated to Ambedkar, ahead of UP elections

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday launched the Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) app at the Digi Dhan mela in the Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi and stressed on the importance of technology and digital transactions.

He said the BHIM app had been named after Babasaheb Ambedkar. “Launch of BHIM app is significant. In addition to his role in making of the Constitution, Dr Ambedkar was also a great economist,” he said.

image: PIBimage: PIB

Image: PIB

The naming of the app may also be an attempt to placate the Dalits, a voter base which the Bharatiya Janata Party has been fast loosing hold on after Rohit Vemula’s suicide last year. The timing of the launch is also important as it comes just before the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Notably, the poor was the focus of the prime minister’s speech at the launch today.

“This is the treasury of the poor to digital payments,” the prime minister said adding “Technology is not the treasure of the wealthy, but power given to the poor.”

“The day is not far when the entire country’s trade will be done through this BHIM app,” said the prime minister. “BHIM app will be made so strong in the next two weeks that you won’t even need a mobile phone or smart phone, just your thumbprint.”

“Through Bhim, I’m giving the people the best view of the good times to come in 2017,” said the prime minister.

Modi also talked about the other initiatives launched by the government and said that the Lucky Grahak Yojana and DigiDhan Vyapar Yojana were “Christmas gifts” to the nation. He also said the government plans to reward those who used digi-payment options.

“There will be a mega draw on 14 April, the birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, where rewards will be given to several people,” he said.

Taking a dig at the Opposition leaders who had criticised Modi’s call for a ‘less-cash society’ after demonetisation, Modi said, “There are some people who begin their day with disappointment. There are no options available for such people…When I talk about e-payment, some people doubt me and think I’m trying to bring something new,” Modi said, adding that technology like that had existed for a long time.

Modi also took a dig at the previous UPA government and said that earlier, people used to talk about the money lost due to scams like the coal scam and 2G scam. “But now, people are talking about the money which the country gained.”

Modi also thanked the media for asking questions post demonetisation. “In the last 50 days, media also questioned the government on how the country will become digital when poor don’t have mobile. I am thankful to the media as this has helped government formulate schemes and take up initiatives to empower the poor,” ANI quoted the prime minister as saying.

First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 17:49 IST

Demonetisation broke the myth that the powerful cannot be harmed: Shivraj Singh Chouhan

Bhopal: Terming the demonetisation decision as “historic”, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his “courageous” call broke the myth that powerful people can’t be harmed in the country.

“India witnessed a historic decision on November 8, 2016. This day has given a meaningful reply to the queries raised by the people at large on the style of functioning of governments.”

File image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. AFP

File image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. AFP

“Often allegations are levelled against the governments that they can not take tough decisions under pressure. They fear to take decisions that could harm powerful people,” Chouhan said in his blog on the issue on Thursday evening.

“Our PM has broken the myth with his courageous decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes,” he said.

“The decision of demonetisation is historic in a way that it surprised everyone and this is the distinct feature of it. India has seen decision of demonetisation twice in the history of 100 years but those decisions gave ample time to the people having black money in the form of currency to change it.

“Thus the main objective of the decision was partially met. This time, however the decision did not give any time to people with black money,” the Chief Minister said.

Those criticising the decision say that it could have been taken with better planning and people should have been given ample time. It is beyond my comprehension as to whom these critics are referring to when they talk of giving time to people, he wrote in the blog.

“Who are those about whom critics say time should have been given to them. It is obvious that they are favouring those who had black money in the form of currency,” Chouhan said.

The decision of the Prime Minister to encourage cashless transaction is to transform the country from a developing nation to a developed one. All the aspects should be examined before criticising such a move, said Chouhan.

The Congress and other political parties say that demonetisation has wrought havoc on farmers and they could not sow on time.

In Madhya Pradesh, this year already sowing has been done on 105 lakh hectare so far as compared to a total of 108 lakh hectare last year. The sowing will further go up to 115 lakh hectare. It is clear that sowing has not been affected, he said.

“Those who opine that cashless transaction is not possible in this country, are challenging the wisdom and capacities of the 120 crore people of the nation without testing it. This is injustice to the people. The last two months have witnessed an impressive 77 percent increase through internet banking in the Central Bank of India in Madhya Pradesh alone,” said the chief minister.

Referring to VAT, he said “Another benefit of cashless transaction is also very clearly perceptible. In December the VAT revenue has increased 14 per cent whereas there was a fall in revenue from other taxes.

“This makes it amply clear that the tax evasion that took place in cash transaction has reduced in cashless transaction. This will improve tax collection and the state governments will be able to spend more on welfare schemes.”

“I have always believed that the people are wise enough to know what is in their interest. They are fully aware that the Prime Minister’s step of demonetisation is a masterstroke against those indulging in amassing black money, anti-national activities and circulating counterfeit currency in the market.

“The people very well understand that this is a step in the interest of the country and are extending wholehearted support to promoting cashless economy. This will definitely help India catch up with the most developed nations,” he added.

First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 15:17 IST

DMK seeks probe by sitting high court judge into Jayalalithaa’s death

Chennai: A day after a Madras High Court judge expressed doubts over the circumstances leading to the demise of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, DMK on Friday sought a comprehensive probe by a sitting HC judge into the death.

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa. AFP

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa. AFP

“A comprehensive probe must be done by a sitting judge of the High Court and people should be told the truth,” DMK Treasurer MK Stalin said.

Against the backdrop of the court raising questions, he said it was imperative for the government to come out comprehensively on the medical treatment provided to the former AIADMK chief.

In a statement in Chennai, he said complete medical bulletins, video footage and photos of her getting treatment at the hospital should be released.

Citing Justice Vaidyanathan’s observation on Thursday that he may consider ordering exhumation of the body of the departed leader, he said, “it is imperative for the government to release comprehensive information.”

Stalin, who had earlier sought a white paper on the treatment given to Jayalalithaa, said there was no statement from the government ever since she was admitted to the hospital on 22 September.

He said the Centre and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam had a duty to answer questions related to the treatment provided for the late leader. Doctors from Delhi’s AIIMS too had treated her, he said.

If the ruling regime had explained the “true (health) status” of Jayalalithaa and released pictures of her getting treatment, the issue could not have reached the doorsteps of court, he said.

He recalled a statement of his party chief Karunanidhi seeking release of pictures of Jayalalithaa being treated and said, “had the ruling side not viewed it from the prism of politics, the issue would not have come to such a pass”.

Only such activities has cast a “cloud, giving room for suspicion,” among the people, he said, adding it was the right of the people to know about the treatment given to her and the circumstances leading to her death.

First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 14:52 IST

Demonetisation Day 50: Pain from ‘Mahayagna’ eases in India, but not in Bharat; what have we gained?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called demonetisation a ‘Mahayagna’ in his speech on the evening of 8 November when he scrapped Rs 500, Rs 1,000 currency notes asking citizens to ‘stand up and participate’ in the exercise to make it a grand success.

The note ban was initially sold as a war on black money, fake currency and terror funding and later as a project to create a cashless economy. Everyone, including Modi’s political rivals, lauded his intention behind note ban — cleansing the economy from illegal cash and fake currency and make each rupee floating in the banking system accountable to tax scrutiny — but in the same breath criticised the way the government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) handled the implementation.

PM Modi asked for 50 days to end the common man’s pain. Post 50-days, let’s take a look at what has happened since the demonetisation announcement.

Prime minister Narendra Modi. PTI file photoPrime minister Narendra Modi. PTI file photo

Prime minister Narendra Modi. PTI file photo

To begin with, there were a series of flip-flops in rules that could have been avoided had there been a proper plan. More than 60 circulars were issued in just one month confusing both bankers and customers. Promises made by both the PM and RBI were broken adding to confusions.

Promises broken

Look at these statements: In his speech, Modi said “you will have 50 days to deposit your notes and there is no need for panic. Your money will remain yours. You need have no worry on this point. After depositing your money in your account, you can draw it when you need it. Keeping in mind the supply of new notes, in the first few days, there will be a limit of ten thousand rupees per day and twenty thousand rupees per week. This limit will be increased in the coming days.”

True, money in their bank accounts belonged to the citizens but Modi’s promise that people can withdraw as per their need wasn’t fulfilled since banks struggled to fill their ATMs and branches to meet the increasing customer demand. This was on account of three reasons: 1) the government mints couldn’t churn out enough new notes to meet the demand; it was beyond their capacity even after working in three shifts; 2) the fresh lot of new currencies that arrived were mostly Rs 2,000 notes; there were not enough change to go around; 3) people who managed to draw money started hoarding it as curbs on cash withdrawals created panic.

On Thursday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley refused to acknowledge even a single case of ‘unrest’ during the 50 days of demonetisation.

But, what about the ruckus at the banks and ATMs causing inconvenience to the public reported from across the country linked to demonetisation? Surely, all of it can’t be fake.

During his parivartan rally in Moradabad, UP, Modi asked Jan Dhan account holders not to withdraw the black money deposited in their accounts and promised that he will find a way for them to keep that money. This wasn’t in good taste because he was effectively offering a reward to the benami account holders for abetting a wrongdoing.

In his 8 November speech, Modi assured the citizens that they don’t need to panic and can exchange their old currency till 30 December. “From 10th November till 24th November the limit for such exchange will be 4,000 rupees. From 25th November till 30th December, the limit will be increased.”

But, the government, in fact, chose to advance the deadline much before the promised date. Lastly, there was a 19 December circular from RBI restricting deposits above Rs 5,000 only once, which was later withdrawn. Here again, a promise made initially was broken.

Lack of preparedness, transparency

The point here is both the government and the RBI were not prepared to face the rush for cash as evident from the frequent change in rules in the days following the demonetisation announcement. Even though the RBI promised a weekly withdrawal limits of Rs 24,000 (hiked from the initial Rs 20,000) and Rs 2,500 from recalibrated ATMs (from Rs 2000 initially), banks were unable to give even this amount to customers, often leading to altercations between staff and customers.

After 50 days, the cash situation has improved for sure, but only mildly. The situation has indeed turned better in metros, where ATM queues are now shorter. But, in rural areas the situation hasn’t improved much. As this Indian Express ground report states: since most farmers maintained accounts in cooperative banks, they continue to be in a spot. The informal economy, which offers employment to millions of workers, has been shattered. It will take a long time before small entrepreneurs recover from the shock. The cooperative banking sector, which plays a prominent role in rural India, is struggling to survive.

The RBI’s reluctance to communicate effectively and lack of transparency in updating information in public domain, added to confusion. An end to the cash-crunch isn’t in sight yet. Till 19 December, the RBI has infused Rs 5.92 lakh crore in the banking system as against the Rs 15.44 lakh crore demonetised. Given the physical constraints of four mints run by the RBI and government, it is unlikely that cash situation will return to normal before March 2017, according to bankers. This means, the cash curbs will stay longer.

Economy impact

Demonetisation is sure to have short-term impact on the economy which is predominantly dependendent on cash transactions the signs of which are already visible. The RBI has lowered the GDP forecast for the year to 7.1 percent, so have most private forecasters. The consumption story has taken a hit. The services sector PMI sharply fell to 46.7 in November from 54.5 in October — that is the biggest monthly drop since November 2008, just two months after the global financial crisis hit the economy following the US investment bank Lehman Brothers going bust in September.

Similarly, the manufacturing PMI too has fallen with the index shrinking to 52.3 in November from October’s 22-month high of 54.4. data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), unemployment rates fell to less than 5 percent in the week of 27 November, but has since risen to 6.1 percent in the week of 4 December to 6.6 percent in the week ended 11 December and then to 7 percent in the week ended 18 December. The impact comes with a lag and we need to wait for fresh numbers. The full impact of the demonetisation resulted cash crunch will only unfold in the next few months. If the cash crunch prolongs, things can get worse.

RBI fighting a trust deficit

Another highlight of the 50-day period was the fall of the RBI, which faced criticism for giving up its autonomy and credibility. The RBI appeared clueless how to take the demonetisation process ahead from the beginning and faced criticism from former central bankers including Usha Thorat and K C Chakrabarty. According to a Bloomberg report, the RBI board approved demonetisation less than three hours before Modi announced the decision in a televised address to the nation.

Information on how many members favored or opposed the move isn’t “on record,” the RBI said in response to queries from Bloomberg News under the Right to Information Act, the report said.

The report also cited Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s comment to lawmakers on 16 November that it was RBI’s 10-member board that came up with the idea of note ban. Was the RBI forced to approve the idea of demonetisation is something only time will tell.

Demonetisation gains

Will demonetisation deliver its originally stated long-term gains of demonetisation — winning black money, killing fake currency and terror? Long-term gains are hard to predict at this stage. The tangible gains of demonetisation will dependent up on how much illegal cash is unearthed at the end of this exercise. Demonetisation as a trigger for Indians to shift to a digital world of finance is a far-stretched idea since such a change can’t happen overnight and should be gradual. As of now, only pains are visible.

True, in the long term demonetisation may prove to be beneficial when more people come in the tax net. This coupled with the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rollout can reboot the economy. But, that point is still away. Adjusting to the loss to the economy and the pain suffered by common man that isn’t quantifiable, what will be the net gain to economy from demonetisation is a question PM Modi will have to answer with support of evidence when he once again face the electorate in 2019.

First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 12:01 IST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demonetisation: Prime minister Narendra Modi to address nation on 31 Dec evening

Prime minister Narendra Modi will address the nation on the New Year eve, said media reports. The address is likely to be at 7:30 in the evening.

Though it is not immediately known what the speech will be about, speculation is rife that it will be a stock taking of the demonetisation announced on 8 November.

The prime minister had announced the government’s surprise decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in a stated aim to curb the fake currency, black money generation and terror funding.

The decision has deeply impacted the economy and normal lives of millions as it resulted in a severe cash crunch, which still continues.

PM Narendra ModiPM Narendra Modi

PM Narendra Modi

As the impact of the decision to replace about 86 percent of the currency in circulation unfolded on various sectors of the economy, the prime minister in a speech sought 50-day time period to deal with the situation. The deadline ends on 30 December.

The lack of preparation of the RBI and the government to deal with the evolving situation was evident as the printing of replacement currencies was slow and failed to keep pace with the rising demand for cash. Also even as the requirement was of more smaller denomination notes, the government released Rs 2,000 notes which did little to ease the crunch situation.

Frequent changes in rules regarding the withdrawal of cash and deposit of banned old notes added to the confusion of the public.

Ever since the pains heightened, there has been wide speculation that the prime minister will announce some sops for the rural and urban poor who have been hit badly as jobs dried up due to the sudden economic slowdown.

First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 11:55 IST

Anil Baijal is next Delhi L-G: Will Arvind Kejriwal now steer away from collision course?

Former Union home secretary Anil Baijal is all set become the new Lieutenant Governor of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. He is yet another high-profile appointee from New Delhi-based think tank Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) to get a top government position.

Baijal’s appointment as next LG of Delhi marks the closure of a weeklong suspense on the successor of Najeeb Jung who made a surprise announcement of his resignation on 22 December. Sources said it took some time for the Modi government to accept Jung’s resignation and name his successor because President Pranab Mukherjee was on his customary southern sojourn to Hyderabad.

Delhi L-G designate Anil Baijal. Image courtesy News18Delhi L-G designate Anil Baijal. Image courtesy News18

Delhi L-G designate Anil Baijal. Image courtesy News18

Another informed source told Firstpost that three things went in Baijal’s favour — first, he had been Union home secretary in the Vajpayee government, with LK Advani at the helm in home ministry; second, he had been 1969 batch IAS officer of AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory) cadre who had served in Delhi and outside in various capacities; third, he has good equations with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Given the contours of the present ruling establishment, his proximity with Doval is considered to be a big positive that went in his favour and that made him a frontrunner to take up this constitutional post in Delhi.

The founder director of VIF Ajit Doval is NSA, Nripendra Misra as principal secretary to the Prime Minister is another top notch person from VIF in government, distinguished fellow A Surya Prakash is Prasar Bharati chairman, and former DRDO chief VK Saraswat, who served in VIF is a full-time member of the Niti Aayog. KG Suresh now DG of Indian Institute of Mass Communication had been editor of VIF. Baijal is the latest high-profile Modi government appointee who had been associated with VIF and Doval.

Taking into account his experience in the North Block, Baijal’s tenure as Union home secretary will come handy in carrying out his responsibilities as the new L-G. The L-G designate is well conversant with Delhi’s constitutional and administrative position, as also of political nuances. More so given the kind of conflict situations that arose almost on a daily basis between Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Baijal’s predecessor Najeeb Jung, Baijal’s ability in maintaining the fine balance or managing potential conflict situations with incumbent AAP government will be closely watched.

Delhi has a unique position as a Union Territory or as a half state where most of the executive powers rest with the L-G and not with the elected government. In a judgment delivered in August this year, Delhi High Court settled the constitutionality of who is the boss in Delhi. The verdict had come as a body blow to the Kejriwal government. The high court ruled that Lieutenant Governor is the administrative head of Delhi. All decisions taken by elected government ministers must be communicated to him. Unlike governors in other states, the Lieutenant Governor in Delhi isn’t bound by the ministers’ advice. In the event of a dispute between the L-G and the Delhi chief minister, their decisions should be communicated to the Centre for a final call.

The Kejriwal government has yet not reacted to the appointment of Baijal as the L-G. It would perhaps wait for situations to unfold to make its first observation. Given the nature of strained relations between the Kejriwal government in Delhi and Modi government at the Centre, any restraint by AAP leaders from making sharp and quick reactions could be considered a healthy development, at least for now.

What had troubled AAP most during their two-year long business interaction with Jung as L-G was the latter’s abilities to read the fine prints on files. Like Jung, Baijal too is gentle, suave and articulate. The Aam Admi Party thus could take its time before making an assessment of the new L-G and make either kind of comments on him.

This writer had earlier noted that the manner in which Jung and Kejriwal parted ways would ever be heartening. Two men who had fought bitterly to protect their respective turf put on a rare display of civility buried the hatchet and walked away. Jung invited Kejriwal for breakfast, and the latter left his residence on a happy note. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia also met the outgoing lieutenant governor and spoke of happy memories, with no trace of the bitterness that marked their last two years.

The way Jung chose to voluntarily quit the coveted L-G post has made him distinct from the rest of his peers, present and past occupying Raj Bhawans and Raj Niwas. Governors or lieutenant governors usually make headlines only when they are sacked by an incoming regime, or when they commit some outlandish act in contravention to the constitutional protocol. Appointment of a governor is big news only for those concerned, not the public at large. Jung, however, is a different case. His appointment, tenure, and departure would all be discussed for a long time to come, and even be cited as a case study by students of Indian politics.

Baijal has a task cut out for him. Each of his moves would be closely scrutinised by the people of Delhi, media and political parties. His actions would naturally be compared and contrasted with his predecessor, Jung.

First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 20:11 IST

Day after Modi jibe, Rawat orders probe into misappropriation of Uttarakhand disaster fund

Dehradun: Uttarakhand government on Wednesday instituted a judicial probe into the alleged misappropriation of disaster relief funds in the state after the 2013 natural calamity which claimed thousands of lives, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue to lash out at the Harish Rawat dispensation for corruption.

Announcing the probe, Rawat also took a jibe at his predecessor Vijay Bahuguna, who is now with the BJP and was at the helm when disaster relief operations were carried out in the state. He said the saffron party should have conducted an in-house inquiry into the irregularities as the “entire family of executors of the alleged scam are now with them”.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat. PTIUttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat. PTI

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat. PTI

The Prime Minister had on Tuesday said at a rally in Dehradun that he was going to drag Uttarakhand out of the “bottomless pit of corruption in which it was languishing under the present regime”.

Rawat also took strong exception to Modi’s remarks that even a scooter with a capacity of five liters of oil could drink 35 liters of it, a reference to the alleged scam in relief funds.

The chief minister said though the alleged irregularities in the distribution of relief after 2013 tragedy had already been probed by a panel constituted by the state government, a judicial probe has been ordered into it after the Prime Minister’s remarks.

“Though a probe committee headed by the then chief secretary had found no veracity in the allegations and given a
clean chit to everyone involved in the massive relief operations, now that the PM has reiterated the charge we have asked retired justice MS Chauhan of Chandigarh High Court to conduct a probe into the alleged irregularities and find out if there was any negligence on part of officials or any misappropriation of disaster relief funds,” Rawat told reporters at a press conference.

Asked why he was not recommending a CBI probe into the allegations, Rawat said he had more faith in the judiciary and it was in his hands to order a judicial probe.

“It is now a general impression all over the country that the CBI is a tool in the hands of the Centre to settle scores with political adversaries. I have therefore more faith in our judicial institutions. Moreover ordering a judicial probe was in my hands whereas I would have had to look to central authorities for a CBI probe,” he said.

Rawat said calamities strike all of a sudden and quick decisions have to be taken to deal with the situation,
sometimes even at the cost of relaxing the rules and norms.

“However, we are ready for a judicial probe into any negligence on part of officials or misuse of funds,”  he said.

The chief minister also accused the BJP of trying to grab credit for the all-weather Chardham roads project inaugurated by the Prime Minister in Dehradun on Tuesday, saying the state government was very much part of the process of its launch.

“It is not BJP’s brainchild as the party is trying to make it appear. We had conceived the project and consistently worked towards its early launch,” he said.

However, he said he welcomed the launch of the project as the state stood to benefit from it in a big way “provided it is implemented in the manner promised”.

First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 16:15 IST

Demonetisation: PM Modi to discuss jobs, agri woes with NITI Aayog officials, experts

Prime minister Narendra Modi will meet NITI Aayog officials today to discuss the demonetisation impact on the economy and also to plan for the Union Budget to be presented on 1 February, according to media reports.

The government’s surprise decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on 8 November has impacted the consumption demand resulting in a cash crunch. A section of experts think the government or the RBI was not prepared to handle the situation effectively. The currency printing presses under the central bank and government had not printed enough cash of smaller denomination currencies even as the move sucked out about 86 percent of the currency in circulation.

Prime minister Narendra ModiPrime minister Narendra Modi

Prime minister Narendra Modi

The prime minister’s meeting with experts assumes significance as the cash crunch persists even as the deadline of 30 December, when Modi has promised the pain will end, is nearing.

The shortage has resulted in huge job losses in the informal sector, with construction workers being laid off in hordes.

Textile, tourism and jewellery sectors also have witnessed deep impact as slowing demand is pulling down the sales. Also, agriculture is another sector that has been crippled as farmers are holding back rabi sowing because of their inability to buy seeds and pay for the labour owing to the persisting cash shortage situation.

Many brokerage houses and economists have already reduced the GDP growth target for the current year, citing sluggish economic activity after the demonetisation announcement.

Meanwhile, the government’s efforts to push for transition into cashless economy has not paid off due to various issues including low internet penetration and speed.

According to a report in The Times of India, agriculture sector and jobs will be the focus area of the prime minister’s meeting today with NITI Aayog, which is expected to start at 11 am in the morning.

The meeting will be attended by 13 experts, including finance minister Arun Jaitley, NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya, secretaries and a few others from outside, said reports in ToI and the Business Standard. The theme of the meeting, the ToI report says, is ‘economic policy: the road ahead’.

Apart from those mentioned above, according to the CNN-News18 report, the experts include Vivek Dehejia, professor with Carleton University in Canada, economist Surjit Bhalla and NITI Aayog chief executive Amitabh Kant.

The BS report says the team will have an initial discussion in the morning and they will split into three groups, who will again deliberate on the issues. They will again present their discussion outcomes in front of the PM in evening.

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 10:24 IST

Modi graft charge: Rahul Gandhi warns of a quake but survey shows it might be a tremor never felt

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had warned last week, as Parliament was going for its winter recess, that he would drop a bombshell regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi if allowed to speak in the House. A survey of 1,235 people has revealed that his grandiose statements were a little too weak to cause an “earthquake”, as he threatened would happen.

According to a CVOTER survey, conducted on 19 and 20 December in 24 states, 57.7 percent of the total respondents believed that Gandhi’s allegations about Modi’s corruption were baseless. This group of respondents refused to trust Gandhi, the survey said.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTICongress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The survey was conducted to find out what the nation thinks about Gandhi’s claims that he would expose Modi’s graft.

Rahul Gandhi‘s charges came at the end of a stormy week in Parliament, which also saw many sharp and personal attacks from both sides. They were all reactions to the demonetisation exercise announced by the Modi government on 8 November. While the Centre attempted to weed out black money from the country, logistical bottlenecks and shortsightedness in implementing the scheme meant the country was pushed into an unprecedented cash flow situation, with banks running out of currency within a night. The ensuing confusion caused by a plethora of announcements, both written and verbal, and a slew of contingency measures came too little too late, and allowed Modi’s political opponents, particularly the Congress, to go out all guns blazing against the prime minister and his party for maximum political mileage.

CvoterCvoter

However, despite all the aggression from the Congress camp, it didn’t quite succeed in hurting the BJP or the prime minister’s image. The CVOTER survey said the advantage enjoyed by the BJP was quite clear, and cutting across demographics.

Among the 57.7 percent who did not believe Rahul Gandhi’s allegations, 62.8 percent respondents were in the age group of 45-60, while 56.5 percent were below 25 years of age and 57.9 percent were between the age group of 25-45. When looked from a locational break-up, 53.3 percent were from an urban background and 67.6 percent from a semi-urban set-up; 58.8 percent of respondents came from rural India, and refused to believe the Congress’ second-in-command’s claims on Modi.

Ironically, even among those who thought Rahul Gandhi to be trustworthy enough, a huge majority of respondents didn’t back his claims about Modi; just 7.6 percent of people thought there was substance to his claims. Finally, only a paltry 9.8 percent among Gandhi’s supporters thought that his claims on Modi’s alleged corruption are true, while another 3.9 percent backed these arguments though they don’t necessarily support the Congress party.

The survey, which covered 419 Lok Sabha and 897 Assembly constituencies respectively, also covered different income groups to get an impression of what they reckon about the Congress leader’s assertion.

In the higher income group, 81.9 percent respondents in the middle-income group, 78 percent and in the lower income group, and 86.2 percent respondents in the higher income group considered the corruption against Modi are baseless.

In contrast, the CVOTER survey said, 18.1 percent respondents in the higher income group and 22 percent among the middle-income group thought the corruption charges against the Prime Minister are serious. In the lower income group, 13.8 percent of the respondents believed that the charges against Modi are grave.

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 22:12 IST

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

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

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

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. AFP

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. AFP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With inputs from PTI

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

RSS makes debut at Jaipur Lit Fest: Using political clout to settle ideological scores is problematic

Organisers of Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) have always been a bit cowardly, vulnerable to both political blackmail and bad press.

The defining headline of their pusillanimity appeared in a Hindi daily in the winter of 2009: ‘Sahitya ke manch pe sharaab.’ The bout of hypocrisy was triggered by the moral Taliban in the media that was shocked by an innocuous sight: The great Vikram Seth sipping wine on the stage while answering questions.

Author Krishna Sobti once asked someone to show her one writer who wrote while sipping milk, underlining the relation between drinking and literature. Specifically, if press clubs across India were to ban alcohol, many media houses would be forced to hire special med staff to deal with an epidemic of post-withdrawal symptoms. So, the natural response of the JLF organisers to the unnecessary moralising would have been to raise the middle finger, double the supply of wine at the Festival and three loud cheers for Seth.

Curiously, wine disappeared from the venue the next morning. It was replaced by packaged water, still, not even sparkling. Seth, too, retreated into a shell, only to emerge two years later with a glass in hand, filled with clear liquid to come up with this gem: “Now I am careful. Nobody can tell if this is gin or water.”

The point is, if organisers of the JLF can be rattled by a few whining, er, whining journalists, what chance do they have when facing bigger, powerful adversaries — the sponsors, the government, the BJP and its ideological mentors, the RSS.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

So, this year, the RSS is making its debut at the JLF. And some of the regulars, the ones who led the award-wapsi campaign, are out. According to the Indian Express, among those taking centre-stage this year would be Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh Manmohan Vaidya and Sahsarkaryavah Dattatreya Hosabale. “It coincides with another development. Some of the most prominent writers of the award wapsi campaign that took place around the intolerance debate — including Ashok Vajpeyi, Uday Prakash and K Satchidanandan, who have been JLF regulars — have apparently not been invited this year,” the newspaper reported.

In principle, RSS “litterateurs” have every right to interact with an audience, if not for anything else, at least because a literature festival is meant to celebrate freedom of expression. But, Vaidya and Hosabale should be under no illusion that they are getting the opportunity to participate because of their contribution to literature or for authoring bestsellers that have set the Amazon on fire. In fact, the entire Sangh Parivar can’t claim to have contributed even a fraction of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s writings that are read across the world.

The RSS “litterateurs” have been invited only because of the traditional Indian system of reservation, of accommodating some people on the high table because of who they are, not because of the merit of their work. Had Hosabale and Vaidya been such great writers, the organisers wouldn’t have waited for almost a decade to recognise their contribution or invite them. So, obviously, this is more a case of bending, curtseying and genuflecting before the powers that be. And, when you have the Zee group, headed by Subhash Chandra, sponsoring the event, a bit of tail-wagging in front of the hand that feeds the bone is understandable.

This is not the first time politicians have invaded the JLF and its dictated its agenda. In the past, the organisers have invited Kapil Sibal, Kapil Mishra and even Shazia Ilmi pontificate over literature. Even local politicians, like Vasundhara Raje and Ashok Gehlot, have often used the stage to add a bit of literary gravitas to their public persona. (I remember the shocked expression on Gehlot’s face when the discussion turned a bit colorful and some participants started using their favourite Indian maa-behen words).

The problem, of course, is the use of political clout to settle ideological scores. It is indeed a shame if some writers and authors have been blacklisted because they stood up against the BJP government for promoting a culture of intolerance by returning their awards. This is deplorable, a form of fascism that would one day remove all independent voices, leaving literature to the mercy of yes-men like Anupam Kher.

But, then nobody expects JLF organisers to stand up to political bullying. Courage of conviction has never been one of their virtues. When asked to bend, they generally end up banning a writer. A few years ago, when asked by the Congress-led Rajasthan government not to invite Salman Rushdie, the self-proclaimed patrons of free speech and independent thought had banned the controversial author from interacting with the audience through a video link from London.

They say, alcohol infuses some courage into the veins of the poltroon. Unfortunately, for organisers of the JLF, even that would not be a suitable prescription. Vikram Seth would agree.

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 14:58 IST

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

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

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

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

Kerala Writer

Kamal C Chavara. Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition leaders after meeting President Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

Opposition leaders after meeting President Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black money hunt: Why protect political parties and harass the common man?

On a day the Narendra Modi government laid out the contours of new black money declaration scheme for tax cheats, it also left a big loophole that could potentially cause the entire exercise to fall apart— exempting deposits made by political parties from tax scrutiny and subsequent investigation.

This move is absurd, lacks logic and raises a big question on the very intent of the Modi government to unearth black money in the system at any cost.

Reason: The opaque political funding is the foundation of black money in any economy. It is that evil that feeds and nurtures all other forms of illegal cash in the system. Unless political funds are brought under tax scrutiny, everything else the government does in the name of black money hunt will be seen with suspicion.

PM ModiPM Modi

PM Modi

The government move also show how there is a clear double standard for the common man and political parties when it comes to black money hunt. The aaam aadmi is supposed to bare it all, answer questions, face harassment even if his money is legit but politician enjoys a God-given immunity.

Take a look at what the revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia told reporters.

“If it is a deposit in the account of a political party, they are exempt. But if it is deposited in individual’s account then that information will come into our radar. If the individual is putting money in his own account, then we will get information.”

The Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961 is what gives immunity for political parties in respect of their income from house property, other sources, capital gains and income by way of voluntary contributions received from any person.

Political parties will merrily use this opportunity to put their black money (money for which there is no real source or income that is not taxed) on the table and would say that they got it all from small donors (cash donations less than Rs 20,000 does not need any source). It is not difficult to make backdated donation receipts. This defeats the entire purpose of black money operation.

Analysis by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch in past few years shows that about 75 percent of the sources of funds to political parties remain unknown. Here is where the real problem lies.

When political parties arte party to accepting black money, how do one expect an honest action from them against the very same black money?

It is not a surprise that none of the opposition parties, including principal opposition party, Congress and its (occasionally) fiery leader Rahul Gandhi hasn’t uttered a word on political black money and hasn’t offered to give an example by daring to give own party’s financial details or declining any law-given immunity. That’s understood because all drinks from the same pot and it taste sweet.

But the larger question is why is it that always the common man suffer and the rich and powerful get away?

Why the double standard?

The ongoing demonetisation exercise, originally launched to counter black money and fake currency, has inflicted maximum pain on the poor, not the rich and powerful. The layman waits for hours in ATM/bank queue, face unemployment and financial loss, commits suicide because he couldn’t find enough cash for his daughter’s wedding amid the black money fight of the government, while the rich smiles all the way to the backdoors of banks.

Even in the post-demonetisation era, they have lavish weddings and joy of seeing bundles of new currency notes in their backyards, while it is a miracle for the aam aadmi even if he get hold of a few pieces of new currency.

PM Modi certainly owes an answer to 125 crore Indians, of which a good number are hard working middle class, on the government’s double standard to the common man and the political parties when it comes to the issue of black money.

First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 12:53 IST

Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa: Power remains firmly in Poes Garden, for now

Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa: Power remains firmly in Poes Garden, for now

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J Jayalalithaa is dead and her party cadre is jostling to dive before Jaya’s aide V K Sasikala and touch her feet. What does this mean for party politics and does it matter all that much when the real test looms – elections? As political parties circle overhead, Sasikala rules from Poes Garden and O Panneerselvam does what he does best – keeping the peace and turning down the volume. The circumstances surrounding Jaya’s death remain shrouded in mystery, her super-fans are livid and the final word on the

Sasikala Natarajan rules from Poes Garden / PTISasikala Natarajan rules from Poes Garden / PTI

Sasikala Natarajan rules from Poes Garden / PTI

disproportionate assets case – the one in which Jaya and Sasikala were jailed – is still to come. Narayan Lakshman of The Hindu and Nikhila Natarajan catch up for a chat barely 500 mts from where Jayalalithaa lies buried, in a casket that’s been locked many times over with gold plated keys.

First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 17:00 IST

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Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Shasikala’ plan catches AIADMK, Sasikala off guard

Coming soon to a theatre near you will be Shasikala. That is if filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma’s planned cinematic venture on the life and times of VK Sasikala, the trusted confidante of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa does not get dragged to the courts. Given the AIADMK’s penchant for intimidating opponents through legal battles, chances of Varma’s venture landing up in court are quite high.

Varma hopes to get around that rather simplistically. His central character is called Shasikala, not Sasikala. The extra ‘H’ is RGV’s fig leaf to claim this is his own story and a fictional character.

Sasikala.Sasikala.

Sasikala.

On Thursday, the day the AIADMK spokesperson announced that Sasikala will be the next general secretary of the party, Varma registered the title of the film. Explaining the rationale for making the film on Sasikala, Varma tweeted saying he respected Jayalalithaa but he respected Sasikala much more. “Jayalalithaa ji respected Sasikala ji much more than she respected anybody else proves why I should call my film Shasikala,” he tweeted.

“I find it fascinating that just a close confidante of a person in power can create so much turbulence in so many ways,” says Varma. The filmmaker claims he is essentially interested in Sasikala, the person. Varma who has just started writing the script says the film will deal with the period from the time Sasikala first met Jayalalithaa, till the former CM’s death.

“It will be the biography of Sasikala’s journey with Amma,” explains Varma. “I think Amma seen from the point of view of someone so close to her will be much more interesting.” He plans to speak to people who have known the 59-year-old Sasikala over the past four decades.

“This will be an outside interpretation of happenings on a public domain mixed with personal information from sources close to her, who may not wish to be named,” says Varma. As of now, RGV does not plan to seek permissions from anyone before shooting the film. The AIADMK taken by surprise by Varma’s move has not formulated its stand on the filmmaker’s decision, as it is preoccupied with more pressing matters of succession.

Through his career, Varma has shown a fascination with making movies on real life characters. His Company in 2002 was a take on the underworld war between Dawood Ibrahim and Chotta Rajan. His Rakta Charitra in 2010 is one of the best movies to capture the politics of blood and gore in Andhra Pradesh’s Rayalaseema region.

More recently, Varma captured the life of forest brigand Veerappan. The movie received rave reviews for his lead character’s uncanny resemblance to the bandit and the stylish manner in which it was shot in the forests of Karnataka. Varma’s Telugu venture Vangaveeti which is based on the life of politician Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga and the violent gang warfare and politics of Vijayawada in the 70s and the 80s in Andhra Pradesh will release on 23 December. Varma who himself grew up in Vijayawada and has experienced the turbulence firsthand has said that making a film on the controversial politician was his dream project. Like Veerappan’s wife who went to court against the movie, Ranga’s family has also raised objections to Vangaveeti.

“Real life stories are fascinating because they deal with real emotions and hence the connect is much more,” says Varma, explaining his obsession with people rooted in present-day politics and conflicts.

Interestingly, both Sasikala and Ram Gopal Varma have one thing in common. Both have been video library owners, back in the era when video cassettes were a rage.

The last big budget movie made on the life and times of Dravidian politicians was Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar in 1997, in which Mohanlal played MGR. Jayalalithaa’s role was essayed by Aishwarya Rai while Prakash Raj played Karunanidhi. Varma is undecided if Shasikala will be only in Tamil or will have a Telugu and Hindi version as well.

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

Demonetisation: Rahul Gandhi urges Narendra Modi to waive off farmer loans, PM non-committal

New Delhi: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Friday met Prime minister Narendra Modi seeking a waiver of loans given to farmers.

A Gandhi-led Congress delegation also raised the issue of farmer suicides with Modi and urged him to write off the loans given to farmers like it has been done in the case of corporates.

File photo of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File photo of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

“Thousands of farmers are committing suicide across the country. Every single day a farmer is committing suicide in Punjab. We met the Prime Minister and apprised him about the plight of farmers across the country,” Gandhi told the media.

“This government has waived off loans of Rs 1.40 lakh crore to corporates. So we urged the government to waive off the loans of the farmers as well,” he said.

The delegation comprised senior Congress leaders including Punjab state unit chief Captain Amarinder Singh and Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.

Gandhi also said that the government decision to remove import duty on wheat was a “terrible blow” to the farmers.

“The Prime Minister too admitted the condition of the farmers to be grave. But he did not say anything about waiving off the loans to farmers,” he said.

Gandhi’s meeting with Modi comes days after he vowed to expose the Prime Minister’s “personal complicity in corruption”.

First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 15:59 IST

Mamata Banerjee meets RBI Governor Urjit Patel, expresses concern over note ban

Kolkata: Amid protests by Trinamool Congress against demonetisation, RBI Governor Urjit Patel on Thursday met Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during which she expressed concern over hardship faced by people and “political discrimination among states”.

“The meeting was good,” Patel told reporters at the state secretariat after meeting Banerjee.

Earlier, Patel attended a meeting of RBI central board at the apex bank’s office here where TMC and CPM staged demonstrations.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. File photo. PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. File photo. PTI

When asked about the meeting, Banerjee told reporters, “I am satisfied with the meeting (with Patel)”. “I availed the opportunity to express views of the common people of the country who are facing immense hardships (due to demonetisation)… The prime minister, Parliament, nothing is available. No one is responding. He (Patel) is a direct man,” she said.

“RBI is a big institution. We respect it. It should not be politically misused,” Banerjee said.

The TMC chief also handed over a letter to Patel in which she said, “As the governor of RBI, an autonomous institution with a great history, which issues currencies to the nation, we expect you to stand up against this demonetisation onslaught against the common people of the nation at this moment of crisis, rather than falling silent and remaining opaque”.

“We would also like to know from you the nature of allocation of new currency to each of the states in a spirit of transparency and accountability, since there are serious concerns of political discrimination among states,” the letter said.

The whole country, she said, is going through “unprecedented misery and suffering” due to the “cruel
misadventure” of demonetisation which has not been seen in any modern democracy.

“You are perhaps aware that already five crore workers across the country and across the sectors are facing
unemployment and hunger. Unorganised sector of the country which provides 2/3rd jobs in the country has literally collapsed,” Banerjee said in the letter.

“The small and medium enterprises are shutting down shops in lakhs. The massive trading sector of the economy has been brought down to its knees due to cash crunch, unable to conduct its business.”

The farmers of our nation are going through a trauma never seen before and that too not due to natural calamity but due to a man-made disaster of massive demonetisation. Even the middle and large industries have dropped their production by at least 50 per cent,” she added.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 19:45 IST

Demonetisation: Why PM Narendra Modi is India’s Lee Kuan Yew on adrenalin

Despite the political chatter, media natter and well-versed economic debate on demonetisation, one crucial question remains unanswered since 8 November.

The question is simple. What prompted Narendra Modi to usher in such a drastic change at a great risk to his career? Political leaders are codified genetically to be risk averse, even more so when it involves antagonizing their core support base. So to rephrase the question, why did Modi take such an insane risk?

If one discounts the larger conspiracy theory that this is all part of some elaborate scam — a theory that fails the first test of plausibility because scams are ploys that hoodwink the system to ensure maximum benefit at minimum risk — focusing on this key question may help decode the motive behind demonetisation that has confounded even the best of the economists.

A look at Modi’s trajectory of reform initiatives since he assumed the Prime Minister’s office reveals one clear pattern. Modi wants to initiate economic transformation of India through a top-down reformative approach. He is even willing, as a host of schemes and administrative steps would testify, to bulldoze his way to change which is always risky in such a large, culturally and economically diverse country such as ours.

He has so far found it hard to breeze through these systemic changes but that is more due to the rambunctious nature of our democracy and the structural challenges built within. The clear picture that emerges, however, that he is a man in a hurry. Modi is obsessed with the passion to trigger a positive change. He dreams of leaving an indelible mark in history. He is highly motivated to usher in sweeping, transformative adjustments and he wants to do it very, very quickly.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Social theorist and political psychologist Ashish Nandy, in an interview to The Wire, cites “developmental authoritarianism” to describe Modi’s move. Nandy says the PM believes in the Singapore model and is following the path of “every South East Asian leader who has tried to quicken development”.

While Nandy’s point is well taken, Modi differs from his South east Asian brethren in one key aspect. Unlike, for instance, Singapore, Indian Parliamentary democracy doesn’t allow Prime Ministers three decades of uninterrupted power. Modi must test his electoral fate at least by 2019 even as his party undergoes mini-referendums almost throughout his five-year tenure.

Therefore, Modi is India’s Lee Kuan Yew on adrenalin.

There’s one more aspect. The Prime Minister is mortally scared of the fate that befell Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Despite authoring deep-rooted, organic reforms and revolutionizing India’s market economy, Vajapyee failed to extend his mandate beyond one term. The root of Modi’s disruptive, almost brutal reformative step also lies in the lesson from Vajpayee’s defeat. It is imperative that we put demonetisation in this context, why Vajpayee India’s most underestimated reformer, failed to get reelected and how the government that followed first fed on the low-hanging growth fruit and then ravished the economy through a series of (if well-intentioned) missteps that left a scorched earth by 2014.

There is more than one metric to show that Indian economy really took off during the Vajpayee years as focus was laid on building the infrastructure, disinvestment goals were achieved, telecom revolution brought millions within mobile net and, as BBC apprises, “India became an emerging power in information technology, business processing outsourcing and biotechnology.”

The problem with structural reforms, as columnist Vivek Kaul put it in a 2014 column for Firstpost, that it takes a little time for the results to be evident and economy is not a “James Bond movie, where the storyline of one movie has very little connection with the next.” The author points out through a series of facts and figures that “the economic growth during the UPA rule fed on the economic growth during the NDA rule. The UPA has left the economy in shambles, and the government that takes over, will have a tough time turning it around.”

So the first lesson from Vajpayee defeat was, as Modi would have noted, that transformative reforms take more than a little time to deliver results and very often the regime that implements those are not the ones to reap the political benefits.

If ushering in quick changes was Modi’s first challenge, the second, equally difficult one was to reverse the almost negative growth and high inflation of UPA 2 years.

As columnist and author Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, while assessing UPA’s performance, wrote in a Livemint column in 2011, “the ruling alliance has not aggressively pushed economic reforms but seems to have decided to ride the growth wave unleashed by a higher savings rate, demographic power and the benefits of the reforms done by the Narasimha Rao, United Front and Atal Bihari Vajpayee governments since 1991. The inability to reform labour laws and build state capacity has meant that the UPA has taken the convenient way out —promising entitlements that cannot be sustained on our narrow tax base.”

One of the stated goals of demonetisation is to widen the narrow tax base by bringing in more of the informal sector into the banking net. In recent past, a lot of focus has been laid on how the Prime Minister has “shifted the narrative for demonetisation from black money eradication to cashless economy”. But the point is, one is intrinsically linked to the other. A more digitized economy will make it harder for unmonitored transactions to take place since cash typically leaves no trail. Economists in support of the move have pointed out how the transformative pain will be more than offset by long-term gains arising out of a more compliant and transparent tax base.

But Modi’s problem, as Harvard University professor Kenneth Rogoff points out in Financial Times, “is that there is just too much collateral damage… India did not have nearly sufficient stock of new currency on hand to replace the old, throwing the cash economy into seizure. But he also added that “in an economy profoundly crippled by tax evasion and corruption, India’s radical demonetisation may yet have positive long-run effects. In a sense, Mr Modi’s broader goal is to change the mindset of India.”

This, then, is the crux of Modi’s move. He wants to usher in a configurational change in the Indian economy that depends on a behavioral change. And as if that was in itself not mighty difficult to do, the Prime Minister just made it even more difficult for himself by settling a self-imposed goal that these changes must be initiated quickly enough so that at least some of the fruits are ripe enough to be plucked near the end of his term.

This may explain the insane risk that he has taken through demonetisation — a brute force that leaves in its wake huge amounts of collateral damage. And this may also explain the tearing hurry in inflicting a less-cash economy on an unprepared nation.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 18:35 IST

Dalit Christians face discrimination and untouchability, admits Indian Catholic Church

A policy document released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) contained admissions of the Indian Catholic Church accepting for the first time in history that Dalit Christians face discrimination and untouchability, reported The Indian Express.

Representational image. News 18

Representational image. News 18

The document released by the apex body sought a detailed report and plans from 171 dioceses on how to end these caste-based discriminations against the Dalit Christians, added the report. According to The Telegraph, of the 19 million Dalit population, 12 million are Catholics.

Fr. Z Devasagayaraj, executive secretary of the CBCI Office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes, was quoted as saying, “untouchability was prevalent in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh”. Not only are the Dalits forced to have separate graveyards, but also have separate feasts, added the report.

The policy documents stated that though there have been positive changes with more participation from the younger generation, but greater awareness and sensitivity is required to address the issues of discrimination and untouchability.

The document also claims that Dalit Christians are “sandwiched between the State and the Church”, reported The Indian Express.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 14:27 IST

Demonetisation: Yogendra Yadav slams govt for seeking to dilute corruption bill

New Delhi: Terming the decision to devalue high-denomination notes a “pseudo war” against black money, anti-corruption activist Yogendra Yadav criticised the government for seeking to dilute the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), saying this would weaken the actual battle against corruption and help the corrupt.

“The point we are trying to make is that it is pseudo war against black money. Not an actual war. It is a very small step in the larger picture of corruption issues in the country. The (amendment) bill will help the corrupt. We are going to pose 10 questions to the government,” Yadav told IANS ahead of a demonstration his Swaraj India Party is to hold on Sunday against black money and corruption — and the weakening of the anti-graft mechanism.

File image of Yogendra Yadav. PTI

File image of Yogendra Yadav. PTI

The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, was first brought in 2013 and the Cabinet has approved the changes proposed by a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha. The changes will dilute and defeat the whole purpose of the law, said Yadav, once a close aide of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal till he transformed into a full-time politician.

Various non-profit organisations and think-tanks are learnt to have made recommendations and suggestions to the government opposing the dilution of the Act.

The Bill has an new section that bars investigating agencies from initiating an inquiry or investigation against a public servant without the prior approval of the competent authority, which effectively means the political bosses, Yadav said, terming this the babu-neta nexus to protect the corrupt.

The existing law requires approval from a higher authority before prosecuting any public servant to protect honest officers from harassment, persecution and frivolous litigation.

The new Bill requires a court order to sanction prosecution against a corrupt public servant, which, Yadav said, would discourage victims of corruption and activists from prosecuting such individuals.

Priyanka Rao, a senior researcher with PRS Legislative Research, a not-for-profit outfit, termed the sanction before prosecution as “standard” but expressed concern over the proposed approval before inquiry or investigation.

“Is not the process of investigation (meant to establish) a prima facie case against someone? However, if at the start of an investigation you need approval, on what basis will you get this approval? It is a big challenge. How will we strike a balance between allowing honest officers to work smoothly and (ensuring) investigation and trial do not take a long time,” she wondered while speaking to IANS.

The amendment has done away with the protection cover to the bribe-giver against prosecution and makes both the bribe-giver and the bribe-taker equally punishable, which would deter the former — the victim — from speaking out in cases against public servants, Yadav contended.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 13:50 IST

Maratha morcha: Give quotas or face poll debacles, community warns Devendra Fadnavis

Nagpur: Maratha Kranti Muk Morcha met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday and warned him that if the state government fails to accommodate quotas for the community an electoral rout might be a possibility.

Shiv Sena MLAs and MLCs at the Maratha Morcha in Nagpur on Wednesday. Sanjay Sawant/FirstpostShiv Sena MLAs and MLCs at the Maratha Morcha in Nagpur on Wednesday. Sanjay Sawant/Firstpost

Shiv Sena MLAs and MLCs at the Maratha Morcha in Nagpur on Wednesday. Sanjay Sawant/Firstpost

This is for the first time that the morcha established a direct contact with the chief minister despite holding over 40 silent rallies all over Maharashtra since 9 August this year seeking reservations.

“The chief minister is the highest authority of the state. So please don’t send us back empty handed. If you fail to give reservation to Maratha Community then we will teach you a lesson but not through bullet but ballot in the next election,” a delegation member of the Maratha Kranti Muk Morcha apparently told Fadnavis during the meeting in Nagpur.

The delegation sought to know from the chief minister when Prime Minister Narendra Modi could implement a decision as big as demonetisation overnight why the state can’t give reservation to the Maratha community in a speedy manner. The delegation made it clear that it wants a resolution to the issue in a time-bound manner.

Upon suggestion from state Education Minister Vinod Tawde, Fadnavis assured the delegation that a panel would be formed with experts as members from different fields to discuss the Maratha reservation issue threadbare.

The Nagpur edition of the Maratha Morcha started by 12 noon from Yashwant Stadium and ended at Moris T point at 3 pm on Wednesday in which over 1.50 lakh people from all age groups and varied professions participated. More than 150 all-party MLAs, MLCs and ministers were part of the rally.

Three senior ministers of the state government Chandrakant Patil, Vinod Tawde and Deepak Sawant personally took Morcha delegates — Rutuja Mohite, Ankita Bhandwalkar, Himani Bhaltilak, Sanjana Wanapur, Jayashree Bhuiwar and Vaishnavi Daph — to the chief minister.

Apart from reservations, other major demands of the Morcha included the amendment in Atrocities act, capital punishment to the accused in the Kopardi rape case and the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations.

Among the political participants in the rally Maratha leader from BJP Chandrakant Patil, minister Vinod Tawde, MLC and opposition party leader Radhakrishna Patil, MLA Nitesh Rane, NCP MLA Shashikant Shinde, MLC Narendra Patil, MLC Vidya Chavan, BJP MLA Aashish Shelar and MLC Pravin Darekar were prominent. From the Shiv Sena, Cabinet Minister Eknath Shinde, Minister of State Dada Bhuse, Ravindra Waikar, Sanjay Rathod and MP Sambhaji Raje Bhosle were persent.

Several schools and colleges and business establishment remained shut in Nagpur although no incidents of violence were reported.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 20:11 IST

Maratha reservation: Silent morcha held in Nagpur with 50,000 participants

Nagpur: Marathas on Wednesday organised a ‘mook’ morcha in the state’s second capital in Nagpur for reservation and other demands, corresponding with the winter session of the state legislature which is underway at present.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

However, the number of participants stood at around 50,000 in contrast to massive rallies held earlier at various locations across state.

The march started at Yashwant Stadium in south Nagpur in noon and terminated near Vidhan Bhawan (legislature complex) after passing the main streets in Sitabuldi area.

A string of politicians across party lines, including legislators, participated in the march that culminated into a rally at T-Point near Assembly Hall where the winter session is in progress.

Apart from seeking 16 percent reservation in government jobs and educational institutes, Marathas want capital punishment for rapists of a teenage girl in Ahmednagar district and the amendments to the SC/ST Atrocity (Prevention) Act, which they allege is being misused to target the community.

From the government, Revenue Minister Chandrakantdada Patil and Parliament Affairs Minister Vinod Tawde reached the venue, where they were apprised of the demands raised by Maratha community by the morcha organiser Madhukar Meherkar.

The prominent legislators who participated include Ashish Shelar, Ashish Deshmukh (both BJP), Bharat Gogavale (Shiv Sena), Bhai Jagtap (Congress) and Vidya Chavan (NCP).

BJP Rajya Sabha MP and a descendant of Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji, Sambhaji Raje Bhosale, also joined the march.

The Maratha protests were low-profile for quite some time after demonetisation and first phase of local municipal bodies polls.

Marathas are politically and numerically strong community in the state, whose votes can swing the political fortunes of parties.

The decision of the previous Congress-NCP government to provide 16 percent quota in government jobs and education to Marathas was put on hold by the Bombay High Court. The blame-game is on between the ruling and opposition parties over the responsibility of the same.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 17:37 IST

Read my lips…have proof that PM Modi is corrupt, will expose him: Rahul Gandhi

For live updates follow the Parliament live blog here.

After accusing the government of not allowing him to speak in Parliament on demonetisation, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said he wanted to speak on a lot of issues and it was to be seen if the government allows it. In a joint media briefing of the Opposition parties on Wednesday, Rahul said that he had some “personal information” about the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi‘s involvement in a scam.

File photo of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File photo of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Addressing the media, Rahul Gandhi said, “Modi is very scared because I have personal information on the prime minister. We have told the Speaker that please let us speak in Parliament and it is our political right to speak in Parliament but this government is opposing. Members of ruling government is up in arms and they are not letting the Opposition speak.”

The Congress leader had said that when he gets a chance to speak about demonetisation in the House, “the Prime Minister will not be able to even sit there…Demonetisation is the biggest scam in the history of India… I want to speak in Lok Sabha. I will tell everything there.”

Gandhi also said, “If he lets me speak then his balloon will burst…Since the last one month, the entire Opposition is discussing in the Lok Sabha and wants to discuss with the prime minister but they don’t want to.”

“I have come here to speak. Let’s see if the government allows me to speak,” Gandhi told reporters outside the Parliament earlier on Wednesday.

Gandhi said the entire Opposition wants a debate in Parliament and have discussed with the Speaker to allow it while dispensing all rules.

“Pretty much unconditionally we are ready to have a discussion, but the government is not interested in having a discussion. I have already said it before, the prime minister is personally terrified of me being allowed to open my mouth inside the Lok Sabha,” he said.

He claimed Modi has taken a decision against the poor people of this country and has “destroyed” millions of lives and thus is answerable. He said he has personally taken this decision and he cannot keep running away from the House. Gandhi said the prime minister cannot keep “running away” to pop concerts to public meetings. This is a democracy, he owes this country an explanation and he owes the entire Opposition a space in the discussion in the Lok Sabha, he said.

“The prime minister is worried. He goes to pop concerts and public meetings. Why does he not come to the House. For the first time in history, the treasury benches and the government is stalling Parliament. Normally, the Opposition stalls the House. The prime minister should stop taking alibis and he should come to the House and give all of us an opportunity to speak. Then the country should take a decision on whether the Opposition or the prime minister is speaking the truth,” he said.

TMC leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, who was accompanied by Gandhi, said the entire Parliamentary system is facing a “threat” as government is not allowing the House to function smoothly and allow the Opposition to speak.

“We cannot understand why so much arrogance on the part of the government. The voice of the Opposition is going to be gagged. Parliamentary democratic system is now under threat only to resist that Rahul will not be allowed to speak,” he said.

He said the government is spreading rumours that after Rahul speaks, the Opposition will not allow the House to function. “It is totally incorrect,” he said. Bandyopadhyay charged the government is not allowing the Opposition to speak in Lok Sabha and this was “unfortunate and disgraceful”.

P Karunakaran (CPM) said all 16 parties came together on the issue of demonetisation and wanted a discussion on the issue, but the government is now allowing this.

“Government is not willing to answer questions. The prime minister is accountable to Parliament but has not come to the Lok Sabha. It is very clear that they are not ready to answer the questions raised. The prime minister is running away from Parliament which means he is running away from people,” he said.

NCP leader Tariq Anwer said this is the first time that such an atmosphere has been created where the Opposition is not allowed to speak. “It is a conspiracy by the government. The entire Opposition is united. What is the government fearing from. We are all united. Let us be allowed to speak,” he said.

Rahul was accompanied by a few other party leaders besides his own leaders in Lok Sabha, including Mallikarjun Kharge and Jyotiraditya Scindia.

Earlier leaders of 16 Opposition parties on Wednesday met in the chamber of Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad’s and decided to launch a united offensive against the government on demonetisation. They also decided to launch a united offensive against Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, who is under opposition fire over his alleged role in the “Arunachal power scam”.

Meanwhile, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar rejected Gandhi’s allegation as “false and baseless” and “very unfortunate”. “The allegation was made out of desperation and he (Gandhi) should apologise to the nation,” he told reporters. He added that from Day One, the BJP has been ready for a debate, but it is the Opposition that has not allowed the House to function.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju tweeted that Modi is very scared of Rahul’s ‘oratory skill’.

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said that they are ready for a debate or any revelation.

Gandhi had on Friday last said his party wants debate on demonetisation so that the truth can come to the fore, but the government is running away from it.

The Winter Session of Parliament resumed on Wednesday after a four-day hiatus. It has seen little transaction of any substantial business due to ruckus over demonetisation and other issues.

With inputs PTI

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 14:36 IST

Goboi isn’t my relative: Kiren Rijiju dismisses nepotism allegations in Arunachal hydro project scam

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, his cousin, who also is a contractor in Arunachal Pradesh, Goboi Rijiju, and several top officials of the state-run North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO), have been accused of corruption in the construction of two dams in the Arunachal Pradesh hydro-electric projects scheme.

The reports claimed that Kiren, Goboi, and several top officials of the state-run NEEPCO, including its chairman and managing director, have been named in a 129-page report by the PSU’s Chief Vigilance Officer Satish Verma that alleges corruption in construction of two dams for 600 MW Kameng Hydro Electric Project, one of the biggest hydro-electric projects in Arunachal Pradesh. NEEPCO comes under the Union Power Ministry.

Verma’s report was sent to the CBI, CVC and the Ministry of Power in July this year. It alleges an “elaborate conspiracy” involving contractors, NEEPCO officials and the West Kameng district administration to defraud NEEPCO and the government of funds that “may extend up to Rs 450 crore”.

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju. Image courtesy PIBMinister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju. Image courtesy PIB

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju. Image courtesy PIB

West Kameng, the site of the project, comes under the parliamentary constituency of Kiren Rijiju. After Kiren Rijiju came under attack for his alleged involvement, he not only rejected allegations of wrongdoing but also said that those who have “planted” the story against him “will be beaten up with shoes”. The Congress, meanwhile, alleged that it was a Rs 450 crore scam and demanded his resignation.

Who is Goboi Rijiju?

The 129-page report described Goboi as Kiren Rijiju’s cousin, according to The Telegraph.

Kiren then distanced himself from Goboi. His statement was echoed by BJP National Secretary Shrikant Sharma, who also insisted that the contractor was not Rijiju’s cousin as alleged.

Further, in an interview to NDTV‘s Barkha Dutt, Kiren Rijiju said that the entire contract work was awarded during Congress’ time and that the scam was simply not worth mentioning. He added that his intervention was because of the local people from his village who asked him to get them their money and that he forwarded their memo verbatim to the power minister.

Barkha Dutt then asked Kiren, “Who is Goboi Rijiju,” to which the Union Minister replied, “everybody is related to me that way. Goboi is not a contractor there; he’s not on the list.”

Dutt then brought up an old piece in The Hindu where Kiren Rijiju mentioned that Goboi was his distant cousin and that he would not tolerate if his name is used to get work done. Kiren Rijiju defended himself saying, “In the tribal community, in our local community, everybody is somehow related in name-calling. He is not blood relative to me; we belong to the same village, the same place. That’s all.”

Kiren Rijiju also told PTI that both his elder and younger brothers have expired.

With inputs from PTI

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

Demonetisation impact: Arun Jaitley hints at tax rate cuts “at some stage”

New Delhi – Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday hinted at lower direct and indirect tax rates in the future as demonetisation results in higher tax revenues from unaccounted wealth coming into system.

He also warned of a “very heavy price” that unscrupulous elements will have to pay for amassing large amounts of cash unlawfully, saying agencies are keeping a close eye on cash accumulations.

The 8 November announcement by the government to demonetise high value notes has in one stroke junked 86 percent of the currency in circulation and holders of the discontinued notes can deposit them in banks before the end of the year and withdraw money in new currency.

Arun Jaitley. PTI file photoArun Jaitley. PTI file photo

Arun Jaitley. PTI file photo

The money being deposited has to be accounted for and taxes paid – 50 percent on voluntary disclosures of unaccounted money and 85 percent for any failures.

“So much money…operating as loose cash in the system has today come into the banking system,” he said. “It has to be accounted for. Where taxes have not been paid will now be recovered.”

Jaitley said future transactions would be substantially digital as India moves towards a less-cash society.

“Once they are substantially digital they get caught in tax net,” he said. “Therefore the future taxation level would be much higher than what is currently being collected. This would also enable the government at some stage to make taxes more reasonable which will apply to both direct and indirect taxes.”

Demonetisation together with other reforms, particularly the GST and the restrictions on cash spending subjected to PAN declaration, will bring down the levels of corruption in
society, he said.

“It is going to bring down cash transaction in society and it’s going to bring down levels of evasion as far as taxation is concerned,” he said.

Jaitley said it has come to the notice of the government that some unscrupulous people, including some in the banking system and others, have been trying to subvert the system once again and have accumulated large amounts of cash unlawfully.

“Obviously there is a breach of law in this and this is a step which hurts the economy. And therefore all agencies have an eye on this. They will investigate this matter and all those who are indulging in this malpractices will have to pay a very heavy price for what they are doing,” he added.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 08:43 IST

Between Rijiju, SP Tyagi and demonetisation, Winter Session likely to be a washout

From 16 November to 14 December, we have finally reached the last three working days of Winter Session which, as I had mentioned in an earlier article (Parliament logjam eroding the basic tenets of India’s representative democracy), has witnessed near-total disruption causing the wastage of almost Rs 400 crore of taxpayers’ money.

Unfortunately, the unfolding of recent events inspire no confidence that the remaining 72 hours will see any proceedings being held, leave alone the passing of any of the pending 23 bills or even a meaningful debate on demonetisation.

If the decommissioning of notes brought about a hostile stasis in India’s supreme legislative body, the mood has been exacerbated by a game of chess that started with CBI’s arrest of former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi in AgustaWestland case. As soon as BJP got political ammo with the IAF chief’s lawyer dragging Manmohan Singh-led PMO into the scam, the Congress on Tuesday hit back with gusto, unleashing a charge of its own by targeting Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju in what is being called Arunachal power project ‘scam’.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Whether or not former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s office was involved in the procurement of VVIP choppers or Rijiju misused his office for nepotism is a moot point. What matters is Congress’s bishop trying to counter BJP’s rook in a complicated opening gambit. The Congress believes in the “scam” charge against Rijiju it finally has a deterrent against BJP stirring the political pot too much over AgustaWestland, a case which it finds distinctly uncomfortable to deal with.

Beset by consistent claims that all scams can be traced at its door, the Congress sees a golden chance in overturning the narrative. It has already demanded the removal of Rijiju, with spokesperson Randeep Surjewala saying, “The role of Kiren Rijiju in this issue is under cloud. He has no right to stay in office. He should either be dismissed by the prime minister or asked to resign till an independent probe is complete.”

Rijiju, however, has denied all charges. The minister told The Times of India that instead of leveling charges against him, the Congress should apologise to the nation and to him because “all the contract works were allotted during Congress’s time. All payments were (also) made during Congress’s time. We were not in the government. I was not even an MP at the time.”

The Grand Old Party, however, has taken an aggressive stance vowing to raise the issue both inside and outside the Parliament, an euphemism for more disruptive tactics. Congress’s belligerence is in contrast with its earlier ambivalence over demonetisation when it was unsure about openly criticising a move that had eradication of black money as one of its stated goals. But 35 days into the move, shoddy implementation, collusion of bank officials with the corrupt, an economy grinding to a halt and never-ending queues for elusive cash have slowly turned an euphoric electorate into a restive one.

Narendra Modi, who earlier looked to be running away with all plaudits for implementing a bold move, now has to spend considerable amount of time persuading the populace not to lose patience. In this fast altering economic and political scenario, the Opposition believes it has hit upon the right formula. It has forged a unity out of divergent views and goals and wants a debate in the Lower House with provision for voting. In Rajya Sabha, after many shifting of goal posts, it now wants the Prime Minister to sit through the entire debate and even apologise for his earlier remarks linking some political parties to black money.

Though the government has indicated that Modi will be present in the Parliament over the next three days (a key Opposition demand), it certainly won’t concede easy ground. It, therefore, remains to be seen how rest of the Winter Session pans out. Only a brave punter will bet against more disruptions.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 07:57 IST

Demonetisation: ATMs run out of money, but people get ladoos for standing in lines

Long queues outside banks in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) were a common sight on Tuesday, as they opened after a three-day gap; after banks were shut for the second Saturday of the month on 10 December, it was followed by a Sunday and Milad-un-Nabi on Monday.

Once they opened, most banks ran out of cash within a couple of hours of opening, causing great disappointment for those gathered there since hours.

Ironicaly, it was also the day Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley descended on the streets to interact with the people standing in lines. As reported by India TodayJaitley went to Cannaught Place (Rajiv Chowk) in the national capital to take stock of ATMs.

The NDA government has remained confident that demonetisation will be good for the Indian economy. As this is coming while people have been complaining about the prospect of standing in long lines, the frustration has only increased.

Arun Jaitley. PTIArun Jaitley. PTI

Arun Jaitley. PTI

“Why there is no cash for people in the banks?” an agitated Ram Krishna Mahto, who failed to withdraw cash after waiting in the line since 10 am asked.

Pointing a finger at the bank personnel, he alleged, “They must be passing on money from the back door.”

An ICICI Bank ATM at Connaught Place was one of the many in the nation’s capital which went cashless within hours of opening.

Disappointed, some people started questioning the very rationale of the demonetisation decision, saying they were also feeling that banks were colluding with businessmen to change money, leaving the banks “dry”.

People were also seen arguing with bank guards and other staff members after they were told that the cash was over.

Meanwhile, BJP leaders took to distributing sweets to people standing in lines as a reward for participating in this government scheme.

“Despite facing some inconvenience, people supported the move. Now, it is our turn to thank them and show our appreciation and respect for their patience,” Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari told The Indian Express, while praising Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi‘s move.

With inputs from IANS

First Published On : Dec 13, 2016 20:10 IST

PM Modi’s note ban forces thousands of construction workers to abandon building sites for want of cash

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

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

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

ReutersReuters

Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

No bank account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowing economy

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

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

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

Indian cement and steel makers are feeling the pinch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demonetisation: Construction workers return home as cash crunch heightens

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

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

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

ReutersReuters

Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

No bank account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowing economy

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

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

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

Indian cement and steel makers are feeling the pinch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Estate: Demonetisation may not weed out corruption; attacking its underlying sources can

Real estate sector is susceptible to black money because of its own flaws. For commoners, the demonetisation shaker has been enough to make them want to blend their black into whites and no more accepting in black’s attitude!

In real estate, while demonetisation has handcuffed a lot many illegal deals because of the absence of lubricating cash, demonetisation by itself is powerless to arrest the corruption that grips the sector, and keeping it flowing with black money.

As per syndicated reports, black money constitutes 25-30 percent of India’s GDP indicating that the size of the parallel economy could be about Rs 28 lakh crore.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

Now the demonetisation shake has made the black visible, as the corrupting layer making the going forward task somewhat easy in real estate. Some noteworthy observations from across the society on tackling black money in real estate.

“Demonetisation will not stop the corruption that creates black money. For this you have to attack its underlying sources.” Prominent commentator Gurcharan Das said so in an article “Ten ways to save demonetisation and stop the economy from choking” published in Times of India, suggesting to PM Narendra Modi that one way is to focus on real estate. Das said, “In real estate, every step is mired in corruption – from buying land to getting approvals.”

Black money in real estate is also the result of excessive stamp duty. NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya has spoken about the possibility of easing off the stamp duty rates, “Stamp duties vary widely across the states and there is need to look at that. If you keep the stamp duties too high, that encourages under the table real estate transactions. Tax reforms like reduction in stamp duty are necessary to stop generation of black money in the system and that this should be done at the earliest following the demonetisation of high value banknotes. The government is beefing up enforcement against tax cheats in the real estate sector.”

“Property can be sorted out easily and cleaning up property transactions is not tough,” sociologist and public intellectual Dipankar Gupta pointed out in his article “Making a Quick Black Buck” in TOI. “Just equalise the circle rate with the market rate and watch how it impacts real estate like an instant whitener. Bleaches will be bleaches and will cause some corrosion, but the net result is worth it. Add a twist to it by merging GST with stamp duty and you can dry your clean linen in public,” he says.

The global real estate services and investment management firm Jones Lang LaSalle’s (JLL) Chairman & Country Head Anuj Puri too feels the same: “Circle rates – the minimum value at which the sale or transfer of a plot, built-up house, apartment or a commercial property can occur – usually set by the state government’s revenue department or the local development authorities – need to be made dynamic so that they are marked to the market price. This will reduce the difference between reported rates and transacted rates. The Benami Act will make it difficult to park unaccounted wealth into real estate.”

“The way to tackle real estate corruption and black money is to make all processes — building and environmental permissions, floor-space index (FSI) rules — transparent and time-bound. If you attack benami real estate aggressively, property prices will crash, and banks will have to force home buyers to either pay more EMIs or shorten their tenures or bring in more margin money. Moreover, their bad loan problem will get worse. And let’s not forget, the entire core sector — from cement to steel and power — is linked to real estate and construction. So real estate black money will have to be defanged in stages.

When these decisions are made rule-based and non-discretionary, netas and babus will lose their ability to demand bribes, most of which comes in the form of benami property ownership. Unfortunately, as these reforms depend on states, they have to move faster on this front,” explained R Jagannathan, an economic commentator and editorial director Swarajya, in an article in HT.

“There are several ways to minimise, if not eliminate the possibility of future generation of unaccounted money in the sector” says Sachin Sandhir, Global Managing Director – Emerging Business, RICS – “notably by instituting regulatory controls that can change the dynamics of demand in favour of real users as opposed to investors looking for capital gains, and taking steps to rationalise supply and make real estate a generally accessible market. And by replacing a regressive tax regime with something that is more equitable and is not as such hurting in terms of its overall impact on pricing or money flows.”

Sandhir says that the game plan should be to remove the conditions that foster the need for black money in real estate. Real estate development is linked very closely to local economic development – a mandate that local governments are empowered (and supposed) to foster, but do not address in the first place! So – the only place where monies are meant to be made is within the production of real estate itself. In a way, this is also ‘rent seeking behaviour’ legitimised by law. The second step should be to foster spatial planning and development in such a manner that the need for seeking so many different kinds of permissions is minimised, if not eliminated (though elimination is actually possible – many countries have done this).

Steps like controlling benaami transactions is good – Sandhir points out provided it allows for lands to be brought into the development market faster. “We are still struggling with several aspects of land reforms, notably property title certification, which is what makes benaami holdings easier to hold, and there is thus far no safeguards against real estate which is ‘donated’ or assigned to another on a ‘general power of attorney’ (which is not regarded as a ‘transfer’ per se). The core idea should be to discourage people from holding land or property for capital gains only, i.e. hoarding it without developing or using it, not being a ‘dead asset’ like gold, which has intrinsic value only.”

Hopefully, the rooting out of black money from real estate will rid the sector of its corrupt image. But the buyers and sellers should see to it that they do not overlook small transgressions. According to Puri, the dynamic circle rates and the Benami Act will help, as will making it mandatory for the entire payments to be made in white. However, regarding eradication of black money he says, “Just like in any other industry, this depends on the intent of all stakeholders in the real estate industry to eliminate black money.”

Panagariya has rightly commented, “On real estate, we need to begin to enforce it better”.

First Published On : Dec 11, 2016 09:40 IST

Maratha reservation: Can Devendra Fadnavis maintain his hard stance on Atrocities Act?

The Maratha rallies, demanding reservations for the community, which literally swamped each and every town and city with unprecedented attendance without a slogan being shouted and without an untoward incident so far, is yet to storm Mumbai. Though promised and planned, it has been on hold because of demonetisation.

The rally is now scheduled for Tuesday in Mumbai.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. PTIMaharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

However, the issue was taken to the state legislature by elected representatives in its winter session of the state Assembly at Nagpur to hear assurances from Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis that the community would get its due, and that the issue would be tackled efficiently at every level. On one demand, however, he held firm: no dilution of the Atrocities Act.

This as unambiguous a stance as it was in October when he had ruled out its abolition. This time, he also ruled out any dilution either. The Act, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is an enactment of the Parliament, and if Maharashtra were to seek any softening of provisions, it is unlikely to be agreed to by the rest of the country.

The Act of 1989 had been amended, but only to strengthen it, and came into force only recently. The Centre had communicated to all states that complaints and allegation of atrocities “despite provisions of an enabling Act” was a “matter of concern”. The strengthening of the Act by a bill of 2014 was to make provisions “more effective”. New crimes were added which leaves Fadnavis no room to plead with the Centre.

Known popularly as the Atrocities Act, the Maratha community has been insisting, that the Dalits use it to harass them, including by threatening its use. He appears to have taken a middle course by assuring that in consultation with all parties, he would set up a committee of legislators to find ways to ensure that the Act was not misused. He has referred to the fears of the SCs and STs about the consequences of tinkering with the Act.

Also Read: Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis woos Marathas, promises them reservation, hostels

Ramdas Athavale, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, himself a Dalit leader, had spoken of a “relook” around the same time. If the state government succeeds in pointing out “some shortcomings (in the Act) which need a re-look (at) to stop its misuse, it can be considered by the Centre”. Ramdas too had underscored the “unanimity” of the opinion that the Act should remain and serve its stated objective to protect the rights of Dalits and tribals”.

It can be now clearly understood that Maharashtra may not seek any softening, but it is quite likely that the committee Fadnavis is intending to set up would necessarily take a while before it comes up with the ways to ensure that the Act was not misused. In the meanwhile, because the Opposition walked out, implying that the political pot on the issue of Maratha reservations and other demands would be kept simmering.

Fadnavis did concede that between 1,400 t0 2,000 cases using the Atrocities Act are filed in Maharashtra but compared to other states, they were on the lower side. On the other hand, there have been other voices with differing views, which pointed to the decline in the number of cases registered, from 4,756 in 2010 to 2,206 in 2014, and till August 2016, 1,554 cases were filed. If they were barely used, how could anyone say they were used? A top official who heads a cell collating date on crimes against SCs and STs had told The Wire, “We can’t say if misuse of the Act exists or no.”

Though the Dalit leaders have often said that unless in the gravest of cases, the machinery avoids even registering cases, leave alone investigate and bring to book alleged perpetrators of such crimes despite complaints taken to police stations. Obviously, statistics are one thing, and a perception is another. Fadnavis has tried to keep both sides calms, but the issue is not going to be so easily settled unless the reservations are announced for the Marathas.

First Published On : Dec 10, 2016 21:44 IST

SP Tyagi arrested in AgustaWestland scam: Here’s a timeline of events in the Rs 3,600 cr scam

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), on Friday, arrested the former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi for allegedly accepting bribe in the AgustaWestland chopper deal. Tyagi was arrested along with his cousin Sanjiv Tyagi and lawyer Gautam Khaitan. The deal dates back to February 2010 when the UPA government signed a contract with UK-based AgustaWestland to purchase 12 AW101 helicopters for the Air Force for an estimated Rs 3,600 crore The purpose of this deal was to have choppers fly VVIPs like the president, prime minister and others. However, in 2013, the deal was put on hold by the government after Bruno Spagnolin, CEO of AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of the Italian parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested on charges of bribing middlemen to acquire the deal with IAF.

The following day, then defence minister AK Antony ordered a probe into the matter.

Early in 2014, the Italian court investigating the chopper scam names former chief of the IAF, SP Tyagi in the scam, stating that he was bribed by Finmeccanica to sign the deal with AgustaWestland.

Here is a timeline of the AgustaWestland scam.

August 1999: The Indian Air force proposes to replace MI-8 helicopters which are used to carry VVIPs. A global search for the replacement begins.

November 2003: The then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee raises concerns over the deal citing ‘single vendor’ situation.

March 2005: The Ministry of Defence allegedly dilutes requirements for the chopper deal, enabling AgustaWestland to compete after recommendations from IAF.

September 2006: Manmohan Singh-led PMO raises the requirement of choppers from eight to 12.

January 2010: After years of deliberations and changes in a number of requirements, the Cabinet Committee on Security clears the deal for acquiring 12 VVIP choppers.

February 2010: The Ministry of Defence signs the deal with UK’s AgustaWestland.

February 2012: Allegations of corruption while finalising the deal first surfaces in the Italian media. The Indian Embassy in Rome is told to submit a report on the allegations.

February 2013: Giuseppe Orsi, CEO of Finmeccanica, the parent firm of AgustaWestland gets arrested by the Italian police. This marks the first arrest in the case.

February 2013: The Ministry of Defence begins the process of cancelling the deal, also examines holding back the payment to AgustaWestland. It issues a show cause notice to AgustaWestland for breach of contract and integrity pact. CBI takes over case formally.

February 2013: CBI begins preliminary enquiry against ex-IAF chief SP Tyagi and 11 others.

March 2013: CBI files FIR against Tyagi and 12 others on charges of cheating and alleged criminal conspiracy in the VVIP chopper deal.

November 2013: The deadline for answering the show cause notice for AgustaWestland was 26 November. The company officials meet Ministry of Defence officials to give their side of the story. Justice BN Srikrishna is roped in as the arbitrator by AgustaWestland.

January 2014: UPA government formally scraps the deal with AgustaWestland.

September 2014: Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrests Gautam Khaitan on allegations of kickbacks in the 3,600 crore deal.

October 2014: An Italian lower court acquits Orsi and former AgustaWestland chairman Bruno Spagnolini.

April 2016: A Milan Court of Appeals sentences Orsi to four and half years and Spagnolini to four years in jail on charges of false accounting and bribing Indian officials including Tyagi.

April 2016: Christian James Michel, the middleman in the deal says he is willing to face Indian authorities for investigation. Michel writes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention. In his letter to Modi, the middleman also offers evidence related to the case with Indian investigating agencies. Michel, however, denies reports of him and his father being close to the Gandhi family.

May 2016: Former IAF chief SP Tyagi interrogated for his links with the middleman.

December 2016: CBI arrests SP Tyagi for alleged bribery charges and criminal conspiracy, marking the first-ever arrest of a former IAF chief.

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 19:17 IST

Anantnag: Security forces kill two militants after 36-hour gun battle

Srinagar: Two militants have been killed by security forces in the 36-hour gun battle in Bijebhara area of Anantnag district of Kashmir which ended on Friday.

The bodies of the two militants were recovered from the debris of the house at Arwani in Bijbehara area on Friday morning after security forces blew up the building using explosives, a police official said.

He said one of the bodies was severely burnt.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

However, an army official said they were still sifting through the debris and a final statement on the incident will be issued once the operation was called off.

One army jawan was injured in the gunfight that began in the early hours on Thursday.

Security forces had cordoned off the area on Wednesday evening following information about presence of Lashkar-e-Toiba militants there.

A 24-year-old youth died allegedly after being wounded by a “stray bullet” near the site of encounter.

Arif Shah, a resident of Sangam area of Anantnag district, was hit when security forces were dealing with a group which was indulging in stone-pelting near the encounter site, the official said.

However, locals alleged that Shah was killed in security forces action against protesters.

The police official said the slain militants were both locals and identified them as Majid Mohiuddin Zargar of Qoimoh in neighbouring Kulgam district and Ruhul Amin Dar of Vessu in Anantnag district.

“The bodies have been handed over to their kin for last rites,” he added.

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 16:52 IST

National anthem debate: Differently-abled exempted, halls won’t be bolted, clarifies SC

Ten days after its 30 November order directing cinema halls across India to play the National Anthem before the start of a film and made it mandatory for every one present to stand while it is being played, the Supreme Court on Friday clarified on the controversial order, saying differently-abled persons are exempted. It also said the halls will not be bolted during the duration of the Anthem.

In its 30 November order, a bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Amitava Roy said that playing the anthem would instill a feeling of constitutional patriotism and nationalism. “It is the duty of every citizen to abide by the ideals ingrained in the Constitution, and as such, show respect to the National Anthem and the national flag,” the bench had said.

“People must feel this is my country and this is my motherland,” the bench said. “At the root of protocol for national anthem, is respect for national identity, integrity and constitutional patriotism,” the bench said.

According to ANI, the order came with additional caveats such as everyone present in the hall must rise and “pay respect” to the National Anthem.

The court’s order came on a public interest litigation (PIL) by Shayam Narayan Chouksey seeking framing of guidelines on the playing of the National Anthem.

The verdict was welcomed by both BJP as well as Congress. However, while the latter supported the decision, it raised questions over the implementation. “The 130-year-old party has seen the bigger independence movement. Therefore, we have strongly supported all aspects of genuine nationalism. We support, in principle, everything that enhances the respect and dignity of this nation. Therefore, we support this in principle,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

Echoing the Supreme Court ruling, a happy Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu said that the decision will “inculcate a sense of patriotism among people, particularly the younger generation”. BJP also welcomed the order, saying that it will strengthen the spirit of nationalism and the idea of ‘Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat’.

With inputs from PTI

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 16:39 IST

Demonetisation: SC seeks govt stand on co-operative banks exchanging old notes

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday sought response of the Centre on the issues including whether the district cooperative banks can be allowed to accept deposits with certain conditions and can there be a minimum assured withdrawal from banks.

A bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to seek instruction and apprise it about the stand of the government on issues including the bar on district cooperative banks from accepting deposits in demonetised currency notes.

The bench also comprising justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud said that when the minimum weekly withdrawal limit has been fixed, then why people are not able to get that amount.

Supreme Court of India. Reuters

Supreme Court of India. Reuters

“Can we say that this will be the minimum assured weekly withrawal amount that a person can get from the bank,” the bench asked and while fixing the batch of petitions for further hearing on 14 December.

The bench, meanwhile, proposed to frame various legal questions to be deliberated upon in the future hearing.

Rohatgi sought a direction that cases in various high courts on the demonetisation issue be stayed. The bench said that it would take up this issue on next date of hearing.

The top court had on 2 December asked the Centre to spell out the measures taken to ease suffering of and inconvenience to the people in rural areas.

While hearing a batch of pleas challenging various aspects of demonetisation, the court had said that all parties should sit together and prepare a list of categories of cases which could be referred to high courts and those that could be heard by the apex court.

The AG had said that the government was aware of the situation in cooperative banks which lack proper infrastructure and mechanism as compared to scheduled banks.

The Centre had on 24 November filed an affidavit in the apex court on demonetisation and had said that the “bold move” would eradicate black money and slush funds operating since independence which cast a “parallel economy” hitting the poor and the middle class.

On 29 November, the apex court had agreed to hear pleas of 14 cooperative banks of Kerala seeking its nod to transact business like banks and others seeking demonetisation of any currency note higher than Rs 100 denomination.

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 15:41 IST

Demonetisation ‘biggest scam’ of Narendra Modi government, claims Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Friday accused the government of not allowing him to speak in Parliament on demonetisation, which he dubbed as the “biggest scam”, and said he would reveal in the House what was behind the move to scrap high denomination notes.

Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Gandhi said that his party wants debate on demonetisation so that the truth can come to the fore, but the government is running away from it.

The Congress Vice President said that when he gets a chance to speak about demonetisation in the House, “the Prime Minister will not be able to even sit there”.

File photo of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File photo of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

“The Prime Minister is giving speeches across the country but is afraid of coming to the Lok Sabha and is not willing to sit there,” Gandhi said and asked what could be the reason for this “nervousness”.

“Demonetisation is the biggest scam in the history of India. I want to speak in Lok Sabha. I will tell everything there,” Gandhi said and accused the government of not allowing him to speak in the House on the issue.Demonetisation ‘biggest scam’ of Narendra Modi government, claims Rahul Gandhi

The Congress leader was speaking after his party said in Lok Sabha that it was ready to debate the issue but the government demanded that it should first apologise to the people of the country for stalling Parliament proceedings for 16 days, leading to uproar and adjournment of the House.

Gandhi said initially the Government spoke about black-money, then moved to counterfeit currency and then again to a cashless society campaign.

He said, “I want to tell about the the biggest scam committed by Narendra Modi single handedly” and present the “voice of people, specially poor, who have suffered due to this move”.

He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should come to the House so that it can be discussed “what demonetization is, who has benefited from this decision is and what it means for whom”.

He added that the government had initially proposed debate on demonetisation to which his party agreed but then the government backtracked.

“If they allow me to speak in Parliament, you will see an earthquake will happen,” Gandhi told reporters.

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 14:00 IST

For God’s sake, do you job: President Pranab Mukherjee slams Opposition for ‘gagging majority’ in Parliament

New Delhi: In a stinging attack on the opposition over Parliamentary paralysis, President Pranab Mukherjee today said the House is not a place for dharna and disruption which amounts to “gagging of majority” by the minority.

He told Parliamentarians that they are meant to discuss and transact business and not to disrupt.

A file photo of Pranab Mukherjee. PTIA file photo of Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

A file photo of Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

“Disruption is totally unacceptable in Parliamentary system. People send representatives to speak and not to sit on dharna and not to create any trouble on the floor,” he said speaking on “Electoral reforms for a stronger democracy” on the occasion of Defence Estates Day Lecture in New Delhi.

Himself a veteran Parliamentarian before he became the President, Mukherjee said, “Disruption means you are hurt, you are gagging majority. Majority never participates in this disruption. Only minority comes to the well, shouts slogans, stops the proceedings and creates a situation in which the Chair has no option but to adjourn the House. This is totally unacceptable”.

Mukherjee’s sharp attack on Parliamentary disruption comes in the midst of paralysis of Parliament for over a fortnight over the issue of demonetisation.

The President noted that Parliament is in session for only a few weeks in a year.

“For demonstration, you can choose any other places. But for God’s sake, do your job. You are meant to transact business. You are meant to devote your time for exercising the authority of members, particularly Lok Sabha members over money and finance,” he said.

Maintaining that he is not targeting any single party or individuals, he said the responsibility is of everyone.

“Fact remains that this (disruption) has become a practice which should not be acceptable at all. Whatever be the differences, we have the opportunity, to speak our mind, to speak freely and no court can interfere in what I say on the floor of the House,” he said.

Mukherjee said that even if a member is levelling an allegation against someone, no court can prosecute him because he has said so on the floor of the House.

“This type of freedom should not be misused by causing disruption,” he said.

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 17:22 IST

Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee and women leaders: Linguistic sexism pollutes our political vocabulary

Indira Gandhi was once ‘lauded’ as “the only man in cabinet of old women.” The sexist description – supposedly a tribute to Gandhi – was, simultaneously, a slight to women in general. This, unfortunately, is the kind of linguistic sexism that has peppered our political vocabulary, particularly in the way we tend to describe women leaders. The analytical frameworks within which these women leaders are studied are more often than not layered with sexism.

Unlike their male counterparts, women leaders are usually described with gendered and negative adjectives like ‘mercurial,’ ‘emotional,’ ‘unpredictable,’ and ‘moody.’ Such terms were frequently used in reference to J Jayalalithaa during her long and eventful political tenure.

They are also routinely used in conversations surrounding two other significant women leaders – Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati. These women’s personalities and their political modes of functioning are always commented on using an inherently patriarchal vocabulary.

Though dictatorial tendencies among male leaders are often taken for granted (or even celebrated,) the very same tendencies in women meet with greater flak or acidic criticisms. Jayalalithaa, for instance, was perhaps no more dictatorial than any other male political leader of significance (all political parties are ruled by a supreme leader who rules with an iron hand). Yet, the AIADMK leader’s authoritarian ways arguably attracted more flak than has, say, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s autocratic way of functioning. And this is just one among many examples of male leaders who are known for brooking little or no dissidence within their parties, and for expecting unwavering and uncritical loyalty from colleagues.

(Clockwise from top) J Jayalalithaa, Indira Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Mamata Banerjee, Mehbooba Mufti, Mayawati.(Clockwise from top) J Jayalalithaa, Indira Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Mamata Banerjee, Mehbooba Mufti, Mayawati.

(Clockwise from top) J Jayalalithaa, Indira Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Mamata Banerjee, Mehbooba Mufti, Mayawati.

Jayalalithaa was not very different in this respect – dictatorial and imperious in her style of functioning. She walled herself up behind a screen of inaccessibility. That image deified her, striking fear and admiration in the hearts of her colleagues, as well as the people at large. It’s interesting to note in this context that admirers of both Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee have admiringly depicted these leaders as Goddess Durga; a symbol of divine, feminine power.

In many ways, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee share some parts of their political trajectory. If the AIADMK chief was the ‘other woman’ (MGR introduced her to politics but she never was the outsider within in his life,) Banerjee had no mentor when she entered politics. Like Jayalalithaa, Banerjee was subjected to personal and political humiliation, to physical attacks by the CPI–M. Both women survived and went to on to become leaders occupying centerstage of regional and national politics.

In her obituary of Jayalalithaa in The Indian Express, Vaasanthi (author of Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen,) writes: “She realised that the leader had to be projected as an exalted being with rare or superhuman qualities and the followers necessarily were mere mortals, upon whom she showered her grace.” The AIADMK chief knew that all over the world, creating a powerful aura has been an effective strategy used by powerful leaders to control their respective party organisations. “It was more of a necessity for her, having to survive in a male-dominated chauvinistic political arena,” Vaasanthi opines.

Herein lies the essence of Jayalalithaa’s personal and political narrative. It would be impossible to undermine the impact of her early years – when she was mentored and dominated by political patron MG Ramachandran – on the personality that she evolved for the public. After breaking free of MGR’s influence she evolved into an independent political power house.

The death of MGR left her vulnerable to attacks within her own party, as well as from her opponents outside. MGR, as Jayalalithaa had on occasions mentioned, did not facilitate her emergence within the party. She faced a tough and lonely challenge, which she did successfully overcome. Once she held the reins of her party in a tight grasp, she became deified as Amma. But the journey to that ultimate position of power was traumatic and tough. Jayalalithaa suffered a great deal of humiliation – both physical and mental – at the hands of her male party colleagues. Not surprisingly, these experiences left an indelible impression on her.

In 1989, in the presence of then DMK Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, she was viciously, physically attacked on the floor of the Tamil Nadu assembly. Jayalalithaa left the assembly precincts, and the next time that she entered that same building was when she was elected chief minister two years later. Similar to Mamata Banerjee who, years after being dragged from Writers’ Buildings by her hair during a protest, eventually took control of that building.

Scandals, corruption, and criticism aside, no remembrance of leaders like Jayalalithaa can overlook these symbolically powerful moments of reversal and triumph, and the battles of sexism that she had to fight.

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 08:34 IST

IndiGo to contest diktat on pilots in Mamata incident: Did politics force DGCA’s hand?

New Delhi: Six pilots flying three separate aircrafts to Kolkata last Wednesday have become scapegoats in the controversy over West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s flight and its delayed landing amid emergency procedures. From all available accounts, it is clear that her life was never under threat on that balmy November evening and these three aircraft were delayed at Kolkata due to normal congestion issues. No emergency was declared by the pilots of any of the three aircraft, none reported being low on fuel – so where is the question of a threat to the CM’s life? She was not alone, there were hundreds of other passengers too on board these aircraft, waiting for a safe landing just like her. It is obvious then that politics, not aviation safety procedures, has dictated the subsequent strict action by air safety regulator DGCA. The regulator has de-rostered six pilots – two each from IndiGo, SpiceJet and Air India – for allegedly being low on fuel that day.

Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal. AFPMamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal. AFP

Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal. AFP

A source said that a senior DGCA officer confessed to ‘immense political pressure’ before issuing the diktat about these pilots. Director General B S Bhullar was not available for comments for this story.

IndiGo has protested against strictures on its pilots by the DGCA. An airline spokesperson said, “the inquiry was conducted by the regulator supported by IndiGo safety department. Pilots operating flight 6E 342 have been kept off flying duties till investigations and discussions with DGCA are complete. As an airline we always comply with the DGCA guidelines. IndiGo captain had followed all SOPs as laid down by the regulator and at no stage did the captain declare a fuel priority or an emergency. There has been no violation or breach of any regulatory requirement in the above-mentioned matter. We are taking up the matter in greater detail with the DGCA.”

In fact, each of three airlines which have been asked by DGCA to de-roster pilots has stoutly denied the ‘low-on-fuel’ charge. Besides IndiGo, Air India also plans to contest the DGCA order further. An airline spokesperson declined to offer any comments for this story. But since they have been de-rostered, the pilots of all these flights will now have to undergo corrective training before they can resume duties. A SpiceJet spokesperson did not comment on whether her airline will appeal against the DGCA decision but confirmed that the flight was not low on fuel at any time.

Crying wolf is an old trick which Banerjee uses frequently. Her party’s paranoia over the delayed landing of her IndiGo flight came just around the time the CM also imagined that army deployment at some toll plazas in her state was a conspiracy against her.

The army later clarified that this was routine exercise, done after following laid down procedures which include informing local authorities. In the flight instance too, Trinamool Congress (TMC) MPs made several allegations about a threat to Banerjee’s life. “Is there more to this than meets the eye?” asked TMC’s Derek O’Brien. “There is a school of thought that this is a conspiracy,” he said in the Rajya Sabha.

On the evening of 30 November, IndiGo flight 6E 342 carrying the CM was made to hover at Kolkata airport for about an hour. Though the airline subsequently said that at no time did its pilots either seek priority landing or report low fuel, full emergency procedures were put in place by the ATC when the flight landed. IndiGo had then said that the ATC got it wrong – the pilots said they had enough fuel for diversion (to Bhubaneshwar, which is about 20 minutes away) and another eight minutes of fuel for hovering. They did not say there was any fuel shortage.

The IndiGO statement after the incident said: “The flight was kept on hold for landing due to air traffic congestion at Kolkata. The pilot operating 6E 342 had informed the ATC that he has eight minutes of extra holding fuel over Kolkata (destination) before commencing diversion to the planned alternate. However, this information was misunderstood by the ATC who assumed that the aircraft had only eight minutes of total fuel left. The misinterpretation of the information by the ATC led ATC to instruct fire engines and ambulances to be stationed at Kolkata airport. We would like to clarify – IndiGo captain at no stage declared a fuel priority or an emergency. Subsequently, the air plane made a normal landing at Kolkata airport at 8.40 pm, delayed by an hour due to congestion”.

An industry source said an Air India flight was ahead of the IndiGo aircraft in landing queue and the SpiceJet aircraft was third. But Air India’s AI 020 Delhi-Kolkata flight was asked to ‘go around’ at the airport and the ATC gave priority to the IndiGo aircraft carrying Banerjee to land.

First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 15:14 IST

Jayalalithaa passes away: Corporate India condoles demise of former Tamil Nadu chief minister

New Delhi: Condoling the demise of Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, Corporate India on Tuesday said the country has lost a visionary, dynamic and inspiring leader.

CII president Naushad Forbes said that during her tenure, industry in Tamil Nadu had progressed remarkably well and the Vision 2023 launched by her was a landmark initiative towards ensuring inclusive and equitable growth in the state.

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa. AFPFormer Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa. AFP

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa. AFP

Ficci said the Indian industry is deeply saddened by the demise of the Tamil Nadu chief minister, who will be
remembered for making “relentless efforts” for the state’s economic progress.

“Jayalalithaa was an extraordinary political leader who made relentless efforts for the economic progress of the Tamil Nadu and single-handedly conceptualised the vision document Vision 2023 Tamil Nadu, setting the plan for infrastructure development for the state,” the chamber said in a statement.

Her connect with the people, concern for wellbeing of the poor, the women and marginalised will always be a source of inspiration and be cherished for years, it said.

“We share our deepest condolences with her family and the people of Tamil Nadu. Selvi Jayalalithaa was a visionary leader and will continue to inspire us in Indian industry. Her absence in the Indian Polity will create a void that would be very difficult to fill,” said Ficci president Harshavardhan Neotia.

“During her tenure as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the state has transformed and retained its leadership position as the most favoured investment destination in India with the presence of diverse industries,” said Ramesh Kymal, chairman, CII Tamil Nadu State Council.

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 21:25 IST

Jayalalithaa passes away: Funeral with full state honours and other key developments

Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, one of India’s most charismatic political leaders, died in Chennai’s Apollo Hospital on Monday night after a bitter 74-day battle for life, ending an era in Tamil Nadu politics and plunging the state in immense grief. She was 68. Jayalalithaa, a spinster, breathed her last at Apollo just before midnight, over 24 hours 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 p.m.,” 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.

Here are the key developments which took place over the past few days in the run up to the fateful night of 5 December:

-Just days ago, Jayalalithaa, who was treated at Apollo hospital for acute lung infection, was moved from the critical care unit of the hospital to a private room fitted with state-of-the-art equipment. All clinical attempts were made to save the CM’s life but she passed away at 11.30 pm, the Apollo Hospital press release said.

-Her body will be kept at the Rajaji Hall for people to pay their respects, said AIADMK, which the actor-turned-politician headed for nearly three decades after the death of her mentor and Chief Minister MG Ramachandran or MGR.

-A seven-day mourning has been declared in Tamil Nadu. Schools and colleges will be closed for three days. Her funeral is likely to be on Wednesday, next to her mentor MGR’s memorial on Marina Beach.

-After the cardiac arrest, Jayalalithaa had been put on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) device, a life support system.

-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. Shortly after 1 am on Tuesday, Panneerselvam took the oath of office and secrecy. Thirty-one ministers were also sworn-in with him.

-On Monday morning, all 135 MLAs of the AIADMK were called to the party headquarters where they signed a deal to back Finance minister O Paneerselvam as the next CM. OPS is expected to take oath as the State’s next CM soon. Governor Vidya Sagar Rao had recently allocated all her portfolios to O Panneerselvam when Jayalalithaa was hospitalised.

-Panneerselvam had stepped into her shoes twice earlier when she was convicted in corruption cases. As Finance Minister, he was given charge of the portfolios held by Jayalalithaa after her admission to Apollo Hospitals on 22 September. A veteran actor, the self-made Jayalalithaa, who was five times Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was admitted to the Apollo hospital on September 22 with fever and dehydration, just four months after she led the AIADMK to triumphantly retain power in assembly elections.

-Leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Pranab Mukherjee, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and actors from Rajinikanth to Amitabh Bachchan tweeted out paying their last respect to Amma. Defining her as a mass leader, Modi said: “Jayalalithaaji’s connect with citizens, concern for welfare of the poor, the women and marginalised will always be a source of inspiration.” Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who too had counted the AIADMK leader as an ally for years, said Jayalalithaa lived the entire life with the same “indomitable courage with which she battled her last illness”.

-A minor scuffle outisde Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence was reported. Some supporters of Jayalalithaa stormed the barricades outside her residence, prompting the police to push them back using lathis. However, the situation was quickly brought under control. Reports further said that police had locked down Chennai and the city has extremely tight security.

With inputs from agencies

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 05:17 IST

Jayalalithaa is dead: O Panneerselvam, Amma’s Man Friday, is new Tamil Nadu CM

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on 12 October, 2016, when the then Finance Minister of Tamil Nadu O Panneerselvam took over the late Jayalalithaa’s portfolios. This is being updated and republished in light of her death.

On late Monday night, Apollo Hospitals and AIADMK announced the passing away of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who suffered a massive cardiac arrest on Sunday evening. She passed away at 11:30 pm on Monday, after battling for life for 75 days, Apollo Hospitals said in a statement. 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.

The announcement of 65-year-old O Panneerselvam comes as no surprise for those keenly following Tamil Nadu politics: he is, after all, her permanent understudy.

O Panneerselvam. PTIO Panneerselvam. PTI

O Panneerselvam. PTI

This is the fourth time in his career that the ‘Amma’ loyalist has stepped up for his leader: first, in September 2001, where he was the interim chief minister for six months, when Jayalalithaa was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the Tansi land deal case, second in September 2014, after a Bangalore court sentenced Jayalalithaa to four years in jail and fined Rs 100 crore in a corruption case, and third when Jayalalithaa was admitted to Apollo Hospital since 22 September, after she complained of fever and dehydration, and continued to remain there. But then she continued to serve as the Chief Minister.

For those in the know, Panneerselvam has been repeatedly chosen as a caretaker of the TN government as he was seen as the “most loyal”, writes The Hindu. But that might have changed, opines The News Minute although he did find a place in the 2016 cabinet. The piece said that the first sign of cracks between Panneerselvam and Jayalalithaa appeared when the former was not included in seat sharing talks and electoral committee meetings — all because of an alleged hashtag (#OPS4CM) that made the rounds on Twitter; AIADMK supporters claimed that it was the work of DMK’s IT wing to start a rift between the two. But soon it looked like the rift was forgiven.

So, who is Panneerselvam?

In her biography of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen, Vaasanthi writes that Panneerselvam, who belongs to the Thevar community, was a son of a “poor farmer” and a “humble man, known for his modesty”. She writes about the first time that Panneerselvam was asked to step in her shoes.

He and all the ministers who were sworn in afresh fell at Jayalalithaa’s feet and sought her blessings. Amma looked amazingly calm as she accepted their obeisance. For all practical purposes, it was she who was still the chief minister. It was said that Panneerselvam had moved into the compound of Poes Garden and all the files went for her scrutiny before he signed. In the corridors of government offices, they waited for Amma to come back.

Panneerselvam, along with his friend Vijayan, set up a tea stall, PV Canteen (now named Rosie Canteen), in the 1970s, writes Scroll. A decade later, the canteen was handed over to his younger brother and mild-mannered Panneerselvam subsequently entered politics in 1996, reports News18, and became the chairperson of the Periyakulam municipality in Theni district.

After Jayalalithaa was acquitted in the Tansi case in mid December, Vaasanthi writes that “poor Panneerselvam” was the most relieved…

… who, like Bharata waiting for Rama’s return from his exile in the forest, was waiting for Amma’s return. 

Discounting the fact that he was only an interim CM, Panneerselvam, who disclosed his personal assets, revealed that they were worth only Rs 8.6 lakh, taking into account his liabilities, according to a report in The Hindu. It also adds that the Bodi constituency candidate does no own any immovable properties, but that his wife has properties worth over one crore.

Panneerselvam sworn in

A grim-faced Panneerselvam was sworn in as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu at around 1.15 am by Governor Ch Vidyasagar
Rao at the Raj Bhavan amidst a scene of gloom. Panneerselvam took oath as CM with a photo of Jayalalithaa in his pocket.

As Chief Minister, Panneerselvam will hold all portfolios held by Jayalalithaa including Home, besides Finance. Panneerselvam retained all members of the Jayalalithaa cabinet

With inputs from PTI

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 03:36 IST

Jayalalithaa’s death will leave void in politics: PM Narendra Modi

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday condoled the death of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, saying that her death had left a huge void in Indian politics.

“Deeply saddened at the passing away of Selvi Jayalalithaa. Her demise has left a huge void in Indian politics,” Modi tweeted.

Defining Jayalalithaa as a mass leader, Modi in another tweet wrote: “Jayalalithaaji’s connect with citizens, concern for welfare of the poor, the women and marginalized will always be a source of inspiration.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Tamil Nadu in this hour of grief,” he said.

“May the Almighty grant them the strength to bear this irreparable loss with courage and fortitude,” the Prime Minister said, adding, “I will always cherish the innumerable occasions when I had the opportunity to interact with Jayalalithaaji. May her soul rest in peace.”

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa died at Apollo hospital here on Monday night, a day after she suffered a cardiac arrest. She was 68.

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 01:24 IST

Jayalalithaa’s health: London specialist Dr Richard Beale says CM’s condition ‘extremely grave’

Chennai: The condition of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa is “extremely grave”, the London doctor who is being consulted for her treatment said on Monday.

File photo of Jayalalithaa. AFP

File photo of Jayalalithaa. AFP

“Unfortunately, and in spite of the progress she had made, her underlying health conditions inevitably meant that the risk of further problems always remained,” Dr Richard Beale said in a statement.

“The situation is extremely grave, but I can confirm that everything possible is being done to give her the best chance of surviving this shocking event. She is being cared for by a highly multi-disciplinary team and is now on extra corporeal life support.

“This is the most advanced level of support available and is the approach the best centres internationally would take in this situation. That this technology is available in Apollo Chennai reflects the high degree of expertise of this centre and, that at all times, Madam has received exceptional care from Apollo and AIIMS care team, which are equal of any in the world,” he said.

He said his prayers and thoughts were with the Chief Minister, her family, her carers and the people of Tamil Nadu “at this very difficult time”.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 16:48 IST

Jayalalithaa’s health: US Consulate sends out ’emergency message’ for American citizens

Chennai: With Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said to be critical, the US Consulate in Chennai on Monday issued an “emergency message” for American citizens, asking them to review their personal security plans and remain aware of the local events.

“US citizens are reminded that even gatherings intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations,” the Consulate said in a message on its official website without any reference to any particular development.

“Review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security,” the message said.

Further, the Consulate General will operate with reduced staffing on Monday, it announced, adding, it has “temporarily suspended appointments for routine services to US citizens and visa applicants.”

“Applicants will be informed by email. The Consulate will provide updates when routine services are restored,” it added.

Jayalalithaa, hospitalised since 22 September, suffered a cardiac arrest last evening, prompting scores of party workers to throng Apollo Hospital where she has been admitted.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 16:00 IST

AIADMK MLAs summoned to Apollo hospital to decide on successor, Panneerselvam front runner

AIADMK MLAs summoned to Apollo hospital to decide on successor, Panneerselvam front runner

Chennai: AIADMK legislators gathered at the Apollo Hospitals here amid speculation that the party was looking at a successor to Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.

“We have been asked to wait till further information,” an AIADMK lawmaker who did not want to be identified by name told IANS from the hospital.

The legislators have assembled inside a hall in the Apollo complex.

The hospital said on Monday that Jayalalithaa, who suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening, was in very critical condition and was on life support system.

Meanwhile, CNN-News18 has reported that MLAs have been asked to sign a declaration supporting TN Finance Minister O Panneerselvam as Jayalalithaa’s successor. India Today too echoed the same reporting that senior AIADMK leaders at the hospital.

With inputs from IANS

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 15:32 IST

Jayalalithaa’s health: It’s time AIADMK takes charge and gets the state back on track

If you truly love her, then do the right thing by her.

The world looking at Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s fight for life in Chennai’s Apollo Hospital may be bemused to see the mass hysteria.

It is very difficult to explain her pervading presence in the lives of the people of Tamil Nadu and the cult-like affection and adoration for her to people who cannot fathom the extent and depth of the vigil.

They talk of such mass hysteria when John F Kennedy was shot, when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and when Indira Gandhi was gunned down.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. File photo. PTI

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. File photo. PTI

Those were all victims of violence and hence the outpouring of grief to the tragedy.

In Jayalalithaa’s case, it is an ongoing medical situation and the quantum leap to the fear that things are not getting better is tragic in every sense of the word and only underscores the AIADMK leader’s overwhelming influence and the almost demigod like status bestowed upon her.

It is for this reason that in the 75 days that she has been unwell, even governance has taken a back seat and no one has dared to be a pretender to the throne. The Cabinet meetings were conducted with her photograph in front of her empty chair and even her closest confidante Sasikala wouldn’t dare to presume.

These circumstances have been compounded by the deafening silence from the state government about her health and the bulletins from the hospital. The cloak of secrecy has allowed for rumours, for speculation and uncertainty that goes against the democratic grain.

People have a right to know their elected leader’s state of health, especially one held in such esteem. The concept of secrecy and the hush hush veil that was thrown on the medical condition is something that can be questioned and should be questioned. For the whole state, Cabinet to be camped at the hospital is not a sign of loyalty. Loyalty would be better served if, for the past two months and more, they had gone about their tasks with more diligence.

Jayalalithaa is an icon of the people and earned this sobriquet over for decades of selfless service and caring for her people. It is a moot point if her frontline had maintained that nexus instead of leaving itself vulnerable to being indicted for dereliction of duty.

In these circumstances, the Centre seems to have acted decisively and the presence of enough police and paramilitary forces in position to ensure that no untoward incidents occur is commendable.

We can all hope that a fighter like her keeps the solitary reaper at bay and cheats him once again. But it will be a long road to recovery and the gap has to be bridged by lesser mortals maybe, but whether collectively or otherwise, the party has to grasp the nettle and should honour her by getting the state back on track.

That the Centre has ended its own 75-day distancing of the political impasse by dispatching the governor back to Chennai to oversee any fallout is indicative that it has finally taken cognisance of the situation.

One would imagine that a lady of grace and dignity and possessing a certain sense of elan and generosity would be appalled that people, especially her team, are simply not doing their job. By that token, she would not want her city or her state to be bruised or its populace intimidated by a wave of emotion.

Even as her supporters and strangers pray for her recovery, the time has come to find a replacement, rally round and bring an end to political instability.

This peculiar belief that Jayalalithaa would be annoyed that there was a surrogate in her place is so wrong. She would be proud that her chariot of fire is moving up and onwards.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 14:31 IST

Nagrota attack as shameful as 26/11, proves that surgical strikes can’t end cross-border terrorism: Chidambaram

New Delhi: Former Home Minister P Chidambaram has said the recent Nagrota attack is as “shameful” as the 2008 Mumbai carnage and has “disproved” the belief that surgical strikes can end cross-border terrorism.

Speaking at the launch of former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon’s book, titled “Choices:Inside the making of India’s foreign policy’, Chidambaram said there was no “unified command” at the level of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

“What happened at Nagrota is just as shameful as what happened in Mumbai. The cross-border, cross-LoC action will not prevent Pakistan-based terrorist groups from attacking Indian installations and camps,” he said last night.

“The strikes restore balance at the border. It sends a signal to Pakistan that if you can do it we can do it. But to imagine that surgical strike will put an end to cross-border action, that has been disproved by what has happened in Nagrota,” he said.

Former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. PTI

Former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. PTI

He claimed that there was “no coherence” at the level of MHA and attributed it to discontinuation of a “good practice”.

“I think the practice of having a Home Minister, home secretary, the special secretary, the DIB, the director RAW and NSA meet every day was a good practice. The practice has stopped. That is why there is no coherence, no coordination, no unified command at the level of home affairs,” he said.

Noting that engaging Pakistan is the “only answer” that India has, Chidambaram said the present government started at one extreme and has now swung to another extreme.

“The first extreme was over-enthusiasm and the second is their own making. Eventually you have to live with your neighbours. The only answer is to engage Pakistan through trade, cultural exchanges or people to people exchanges,” he said.

About surgical strikes, Chidambaram said the ownership should have been left to the army.

“First, the ownership should have been left to the army like we have in the past. Second, we should not make statements like ‘Pakistan called us yesterday and begged us to stop’ or make statements like ‘I will gouge their eyes’. These statements make us a laughing stock.

“Our cross-border strikes do not deter Pakistan sufficiently. There are other options that can be explored. Going public about surgical strikes limits your options,” he said at the launch which was also attended by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He said though India’s response to 26/11 attacks was “extremely poor”, it gained “enormously” by choosing not to retaliate militarily.

“Our capacity to respond was extremely poor. It took us three to four days to clear three to four terrorists holed up in a hotel. Retaliation was not an option. Neither desirable nor feasible at that point of time.

“India gained enormously by not retaliating. By the time the UPA stepped down, Pakistan had been virtually isolated… What we now witness are daring attacks on Army camps… One must measure the efficacy of a policy by its outcomes. The ceasefire along the LoC did produce an outcome,” Chidambaram said.

About the deteriorating security situation in Kashmir, he said his government’s policies brought several years of “relative peace and tranquillity” in the Valley, but “all that lie shattered today”.

“Origin of this decline is the completely unethical, unacceptable coalition between two parties that were bitterly opposed to each other. That is the greatest provocation in the Valley. As long as that unethical combination remains, I can’t see any way forward in Kashmir,” he said.

First Published On : Dec 3, 2016 15:35 IST

Income Tax dept charges Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh in foreign assets case

Chandigarh: The Income Tax department has filed a chargesheet against Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh in connection with its probe against him and his son in a case of alleged untaxed foreign assets.

Official sources said the department filed the prosecution complaint (equivalent to a police charge sheet) in a competent court in Ludhiana in Punjab yesterday and the former chief minister has been charged under section 277 of the I-T Act (false statement in verification) and IPC sections 176 (omission to give notice or information to public servant by person legally bound to give it), 177 (furnishing false information), 193 (punishment for false evidence) and 199 (false statement made in declaration which is by law receivable as evidence).

Amarinder took to Twitter to accuse Finance Minister Arun Jaitley of complicity.

Congress Party State President, Captain Amarinder Singh, flashes the victory sign after his party claimed victory in the state assembly elections in the northern city of Chandigarh February 24, 2002. India's opposition Congress party captured northern Punjab state in a regional election on Sunday, dealing a setback to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). REUTERS/Str JSG/CP

Congress Punjab chief Captain Amarinder Singh. Reuters

According to the complaint, a copy of which was accessed by PTI, the I-T department said during its investigations Singh was “found to be the beneficiary” of a trust and other properties owned and created by his son Raninder in a foreign territory and when questioned about these, the Congress chief ministerial candidate for the state gave a “false statement on oath” about the ownership of these assets.

It said Singh was “actively involved” in the creation of these trusts and foreign properties which were not disclosed to the department for tax purposes. The department has already filed a similar complaint against Raninder and has charged him under section 276C of the I-T Act in the case (wilful attempt to evade tax) and the same charges would now apply on the senior Singh.

The case came to light when the Income Tax department received information about Raninder allegedly holding the offshore account in Switzerland as part of details received by the Central Board of Direct Taxes from its French counterparts in 2011.

The department had also detected movement of funds to Switzerland and creation of a trust and a few subsidiaries in the tax haven of British Virgin Islands allegedly by Raninder.

Both Amarinder and Raninder have denied any wrongdoing and termed as “false” the charges. Based on the earlier I-T department charge sheet, the Enforcement Directorate too had registered a case against Raninder under the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) sometime back and has also questioned him.

Jaitley had lost the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2014 to Amarinder Singh. Only yesterday Amarinder had dared Jaitley to contest the Amritsar bypoll again, saying let it be a referendum on the Narendra Modi government’s demonetisation move.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 20:44 IST

Maharashtra civic polls: Those linking BJP’s win to demonetisation are ‘fools’, says Shiv Sena

Mumbai: Taking a dig at the BJP over its impressive performance in the first round of civic polls in Maharashtra, ally Shiv Sena on Wednesday said those who link the saffron party’s victory to demonetisation are “fools”.

“Those who say that people have voted the BJP to power due to the decision of demonetisation are fools. If that was the case, at least 100 candidates from that party would have been elected as council chiefs, which did not happen,” the Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamana.

The NDA partner also took a swipe at the BJP for having its campaign spearheaded by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, saying, in contrast, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray or any of the party leaders did not engage in poll campaign.

Representational image. News18Representational image. News18

Representational image. News18

“We wanted to instill confidence in our workers that they can fight against the pressures of money-based campaign, which we succeeded in proving. Our win assumes significance as we, in a bid to get the required numbers, did not engage in any unholy alliance,” it said, adding this makes the party’s win “pure”.

“We did not adopt the approach of dampening the morale of our party workers by allying with parties against whom we levelled charges of large scale corruption,” the Sena said.

Had the Shiv Sena entered into “backdoor alliances” with parties like the Congress, NCP and the AIMIM, it too could have notched up larger numbers, Sena said.

With the government introducing direct elections for the post of heads of municipal councils, the BJP emerged as the single largest gainer with 52 seats followed by Shiv Sena 23, Congress 19, NCP 16 and others 28.

First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 14:41 IST

Gujarat civic polls: BJP wins 107 seats out of 123, Congress bags 16

Ahmedabad: In a shot in the arm for BJP after Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s demonetisation move and ahead of Gujarat elections next year, the party swept local bodies elections by capturing 107 seats out of total 123 seats which went for polls in different parts of the state.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani hailed the victory as people’s endorsement of Modi’s two recent steps – surgical strikes across the LoC and demonetisation.

The party won in two municipalities and one taluka panchayat along with majority seats of various other local bodies on which voting was held on Sunday. The result were declared on Tuesday.

BJP captured 107 out of total 123 seats which went for polls in different parts of the state.

Putting a dismal performance ahead of the Assembly polls due next year, the Congress manged to capture only 16 seats in this election.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

As per the final result declared by the Gujarat State Election Commission, BJP has registered victory in Vapi municipality of Valsad district by capturing 41 out of total 44 seats. Only three seats went to Congress. Vapi municipality was earlier held by BJP.

Similarly, BJP made a near clean sweep in the polls to Kanakpur-Kansad municipality of Surat, where it captured 27 out of 28 seats, leaving only one to Congress. It was also held by BJP earlier.

In Rajkot, BJP snatched Gondal taluka panchayat, which went for mid-term poll, from Congress by winning 18 out of total 22 seats. Congress settled for only four. Earlier, Congress was ruling Gondal taluka panchayat.

The results of the local bodies elections assume significance for the BJP in the run up to the state polls next year, and that they were held just after the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes by the Centre.

Apart from these three elections, Gujarat SEC conducted by-elections on 29 seats of various municipalities, taluka panchayats and district panchayats across the state. The bypolls were necessitated as these seats fell vacant due to various reasons.

Out of total 16 seats of different municipalities, BJP bagged 14 while Congress has to settle for only two. Out of the total four seats of district panchayats, both the parties bagged two each. In the taluka panchayat by-polls, BJP won on five out of total nine while Congress captured four seats.

First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 17:52 IST

Demonetisation: Modi flips strategy and asks BJP MPs to submit bank account statements

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday asked BJP MPs and MLAs to submit their bank account statements of transaction between 8 November, the day he announced demonetisation, and 31 December to party chief Amit Shah on 1 January, 2017.

Modi’s direction at the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting came following allegations by opposition parties that the BJP had tipped off some of its own leaders ahead of the demonetisation announcement. In an apparent response to the charge that the bill to amend I-T Act will help turn black money into white, the Prime Minister said the amended Act will channel the money looted from the poor for their welfare.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. AFP

The amended Act, he said, is a programme for the poor’s welfare from Lok Kalyan Marg, the new name of the road where the Prime Minister’s residence is located. “The amendment is not for turning black money into white but to spend the money looted from the poor on their welfare,” he said.

Quoting Modi, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar told reporters that the bill is part of his government’s fight against blackmoney. A part of the tax collected on the money deposited under this scheme will be spent on electricity, roads, toilets and education among other welfare measures, he said.

Modi also sought everybody’s support in his effort to usher in digital/mobile economy and push the society towards cashless transactions. At the meeting, Amit Shah told party MPs to motivate traders in panchayats, municipalities and other local bodies falling in their constituency to shift to cashless transactions.

Asked about impasse in Parliament over demonetisation, Kumar said the government has been ready for discussion from the day one of the Winter session and Modi will also intervene in both the House if the opposition wanted.

The opposition wants discussion under Rule 56 which entails voting, a condition unacceptable to the government.

First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 12:37 IST

Demonetisation protest: JD(U) to abstain from agitation and Mamata Banerjee’s dharna

Patna: In pursuance of party chief Nitish Kumar support to demonetisation, JD(U) has decided to keep off
from the nationwide protest by Opposition on Monday against the scrapping of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes as well the dharna to be held by TMC chief Mamata Banerjee here on 30 November.

“We have supported and welcomed the Centre’s demonetisation move. Then how can we oppose or be the part of activity like bandh which is meant to protest the issue which our party has strongly supported,” Bihar unit JD(U) President Bashishtha Narayan Singh told PTI.

Singh attended a high-level party meeting held by party president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar last evening to take a decision on Monday’s stir called by Opposition parties to corner the Narendra Modi government over the ban on denomination currencies to fight black money.

Nitish Kumar. File photo. Reuters

Nitish Kumar. File photo. Reuters

The meeting chaired by Kumar was attended by senior party functionaries KC Tyagi, RCP Singh, Harivansh, Bashishtha Narayan Singh, Pawan Verma, Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh and others.

In addition to keeping away from the 28 November agitation, JD(U) would not participate in Banerjee’s dharna in Patna on Wednesday to demand roll back of demonetisation.

“JD(U) will not be part of any agitation against demonetisation including the dharna of Mamata on 30 November in Patna,” party Secretary General KC Tyagi said.

“We have taken an ideological position in favour of demonetisation so how can we be part of any agitation seeking its roll back,” Tyagi said while stating his party’s stand on the proposed agitation as well as the sit-in by TMC chief, who is on the forefront of agitation against demonetisation.

Kumar on Friday had said that he had a talk with Mamata only before her visit to Rashtrapati Bhawan to meet President Pranab Mukherjee against the demonetisation. “She had spoken to me before going to Rashtrapati Bhawan and I had pointed to her that even the President has supported demonetisation,” Kumar had said about parleys with Banerjee.

The party’s stand has been clear on the issue of demonetisation from day one, Singh said adding the Centre’s move had actually strengthened conviction of JD(U) which had been fighting against black money and corruption since the days of socialist leaders.

The party, however, believes that the hardship caused by cash-crunch to the common people could have been avoided with efficient and effective management, he said adding, “we’ll certainly raise the issue of inconvenience and hardship being faced by the people at an appropriate forum including Parliament”.

While the JD(U) has decided to keep distance from any agitation of its allies in Bihar, coalition Congress and RJD have decided to support it.

The state JD(U) chief Bashishtha Narayan Singh said that Nitish Kumar had also conveyed party’s decision to the leaders of alliance partners i.e. RJD chief Lalu Prasad and state Congress chief Ashok Choudhary on the issue of demonetisation.

“This is a coalition govenrment which is confined to Bihar only…But parties are free to take their own stand,” Singh said.

Kumar had dismissed report of “confusion or fissures” in the grand alliance in Bihar over demonetisation due to divergent views of Congress and RJD on the issue of scrapping of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes.

“The grand alliance is only in Bihar and on issues concerning Bihar. On issues outside the state, every party is privy to its own viewpoint…there is no confusion or fissures in coalition,” Kumar had told reporters in his state Assembly room on Friday.

Asked whether JD(U) and BJP are coming together, Singh rubbished it as “baseless” and said that “the issues on which JD(U) had differences with BJP is still there…We are opposing the Central government as it has failed to provide any relief to the common people”.

First Published On : Nov 27, 2016 16:01 IST

Mann Ki Baat: PM Modi pitches for cashless economy even as job loss, subdued growth fear looms

Stressing upon the need to imbibe cashless economy in the system, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today urged people at large to embrace e-banking, mobile banking and other useful technologies for their daily transactions.

Addressing the nation through his monthly radio programme show “Mann ki Baat”, Modi urged the youth of India to take a pledge to become part of a ‘çashless society’ for a corruption less, black money-free India.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

“Poor started using Rupay card, which was not used that frequent, after 8 November decision and nearly 300 percent development happened,” Modi said in his radio programme.

For small traders, who have been facing the hardships due to the prevailing cash crunch in the system, Modi urged them to adopt cashless method. “I urge my trader brothers and sisters…this is an opportunity for them to enter the digital world,” said Modi, adding that adopting cashless economy will bring about a huge transformation in the country.

Modi has been more vocal about the usage of less cash and more digital technology-related transactions in the economy, given his decision earlier in the month (8 November) to demonetise high denomination currrencies of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from the system to keep a check on the black money generation.

It has been estimated that people have exchanged and deposited over Rs 5.44 lakh crore worth of scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes at different banks till 18 November following demonetisation of the higher denomination currency.

Although the government’s demonetisation decision was welcomed by majority of the poeple across the country, the Centre, however, came under severe criticism from various political parties for not taking evasive measures to ease common man’s concerns.

Specifically, the decision led to severe cash shortage in the economy, with bank branches and ATMs frequently running out of cash in just few minutes time, thereby, leaving people hassled. With several ATMs for better period post the demonetisation announcement were not calibrated to dispense new cash denominations, people standing in long queues were forced to leave with little or no cash at times.

Reports of several people losing their lives standing in long queues to withdraw money triggered angry reactions from the masses with some even calling for the government to roll back the decision.

The government’s constant flip-flop on exchanging and depositing old cash notes in the bank branches, besides changing the limits on cash withdrawals created lot of confusion amongst the people.

Immidiately after the demonetisation announcement, the government first permitted people to exchange banned notes of up to Rs 4,000, with the exchange limit later being increased to Rs 4,500. The government also asked banks to start using indelible inks on customers exchanging old notes on fears that same people were going to different banks to exchange old notes.

A week later, the government reduced the exchange limit from Rs 4,500 to Rs 2,000. On cash withdrawal front, the government first allowed Rs 2,000 to be withdrawn before increasing it to Rs 4,000 per card. The government also kept changing the daily and weekly withdrawal cash limits at banks leading to lot of confusion among the people.

While the government has been hell bent on flushing out fake currencies and black money from the system, traders, vegetable, fruit and flower vendors across the country have already witnessed a major slowdown in their businesses in past few weeks.

With the business being hit hard, especially, in the country’s unorganised and MSME (medium and small enterprises) sectors, there have been reports of massive job losses across the country. Last week, CPI leader Sitaram Yechury said over four lakh people have lost their jobs due to the demonetisation exercise.

Finally, the demonetisation move has forced several economists, rating agencies and brokerages to slash the country’s GDP growth estimates for the next few quarters citing subdued consumer spending and likely slowdown in economy. Not just that, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too, last week cautioned that GDP could fall by about 2 percent in the aftermath of demonetisation.

First Published On : Nov 27, 2016 14:20 IST

Demonetisation: Congress scored a self-goal by fielding Manmohan Singh to take on PM Modi

A man under whose watch India’s biggest scams took place and whose role in at least one of those at best was one of plausible deniability, described Narendra Modi government’s move to demonetise old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 as “organised loot” and “legalised plunder”, daring the government’s effort (however shoddy, mismanaged, badly implemented) to root out endemic corruption from public life.

Let the irony sink in for a while.

Erudite, sagacious and humble, Manmohan Singh might be one of the greatest economists India has ever produced but his erudition does not bestow upon him the moral authority to take the high ground on corruption. He lost that precious power when he, as the Prime Minister of India, remained blind to the nefarious designs of some members of his Cabinet even as they were ripping-off the exchequer and deceiving the public.

A file photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with present Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

A file photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with present Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

To jog the memory, in the 10 years of UPA rule we were “presented” with — to name a few — coal scam, 2G spectrum scam, chopper scam, Commonwealth Games scam, cash-for-vote scam, Adarsh Housing Society scam, banking sector scam among other notable con jobs. And these were just the ones to have received wide publicity.

In a report published in February this year, The Indian Express revealed that 29 state-owned banks wrote off a total of Rs 1.14 lakh crore of bad debts between fiscal 2013 and 2015, way more than they had done in the preceding nine years. The report was based on RBI’s response to an RTI application filed by the newspaper. The apex bank revealed that while bad debts stood at Rs 15,551 crore for fiscal ending March 2012, they had shot up by over three times to Rs 52,542 crore by the end of March 2015. The central bank said they had “no information” when the paper sought details of the biggest defaulters.

Therefore, when Manmohan Singh on Thursday claimed to take up the cudgels for the poor while delivering a rare intervention on the floor of the House, he should have been reminded that it is the poor and the marginalised who took the gravest hit when the entire laundry list of UPA scams unfolded before our eyes.

Yes, the poor have been inconvenienced by NDA government’s move to demonetise the high-value currency notes and face a period of hardship, but unlike during the Manmohan Singh regime, here they didn’t have to cope with double-digit inflation that halved their meagre income and were not cheated of their hard-earned money through elaborate scams.

While wax eloquent about the 50 days of disaster that demonetisation has ushered in, Singh probably forgot about his own tenure.

As columnist and financial consultant V Anantha Nageswaran writes in his blog, The Gold Standard: “He (Singh) is right that even 50 days is too long for the poor to suffer. But, in that case, was it right to let them suffer for 1,830 days between 22 May 2009 and 26 May 2014? The annual average consumer price inflation was 10.1 percent in that period (based on CPI-IW) and food inflation was 10.5 percent per annum. The poor suffered enormously. The rupee plunged 50 percent. Businesses collapsed. Telecom licenses were handed out to cronies. Supreme Court cancelled them. Mining licenses were allotted arbitrarily. Supreme Court banned mining. Economic growth, which was flying high due to the global boom pre-2008 collapsed to 5-6 percent, thanks to UPA missteps, loot and plunder. The 50-days that the current Prime Minister is talking about must be seen in this perspective.”

Congress think tank may have banked upon the transitory nature of public memory but the truth is, they have weakened their case by fielding Singh to counter Narendra Modi. The incumbent PM was elected for the job on a promise of better future and a cleaner system. It points at Congress’ lack of understanding of the role probity plays in public life that they decided Singh would be the correct symbol of integrity to take on the charisma of Modi.

In an interview to Times Now in 2014, former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai had opined that Singh could have prevented high-profile scandals like 2G scam, Coalgate and the CWG scam had he used his stamp of authority. Rai also revealed that he faced pressure from Congress MPs, who were part of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probing the scam, to keep PM Manmohan Singh’s name out of the report. The full text of the interview is available here.

In his speech, the former PM quoted John Maynard Keynes — “In the long run all of us are dead” — to hit out at Modi’s demand for 50 days of hardship. As Anilesh S Mahajan points out in Business Today “… ironically, India requires demonetisation because Singh as PM failed to implement the Keynes theory. And neither could he control the side-effects of corruption, nepotism and misuse of public spending.”

On the fallout in GDP numbers, the other key aspect of Singh’s brief but scathing critique of demonetisation, it should be pointed out that while the former PM’s views as a noted economist carry a lot of weight, experts in the field have been at odds with his claims.

In his column for Firstpost, R Jagannathan finds that “the best estimates of professional forecasters are far below what Manmohan Singh’s crystal-ball has indicated. Goldman Sachs sees a 1.1 percent fall, Care Ratings 0.5-0.3 percent, Emkay Global 0.9 percent, Icra 0.4 percent, and ICICI Securities by 0.4 percent. Barring Ambit Capital, which adopted a faulty methodology to come up with an unbelievable GDP drop of 3.3 percent from earlier estimates, there’s not a single projection that comes anywhere near what Singh has claimed.

Let us also take a look at how international rating agencies Moody’s Investor Service and Standard and Poor’s have interpreted the move. According to a report in Hindu Business Line, Moody’s sees a “disruption of economic activity” and dampening of economic growth in the near term, but predicts that demonetisation would boost tax revenue and hasten fiscal consolidation in the longer run. It added that that in the medium term, higher income declarations will boost tax revenues and the government could receive a one-off transfer of RBI’s gain. A report by S&P, according to the newspaper, said that “bank deposits would benefit due to demonetisation, though not all inflows will remain in the banking system on a permanent basis.”

Singh has questioned the “monumental mismanagement” in the implementation of the scheme and rightly so. But he appeared to vacillate between his views as a distinguished economist and his role as the representative of a political party opposed to the current regime. Therefore, his valid critiques were often followed by observations of a political nature that served to weaken the weight of his words.

Gita Gopinath, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, put it best in her column for Project Syndicate: “Modi’s policy intervention is bold, and the economic principles motivating it are beyond reproach. But a gradualist approach that includes the permanent withdrawal of large notes would have served the cause better, even if it did not generate the same “shock and awe” as the current policy.”

It is here that Singh failed. His political compulsions interfered with the objectivity of his assessment as an economist and he was never in a position to claim a seat on the high horse of morality. His intervention was badly timed.

First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 17:30 IST

RSS slams Manmohan, says Modi looking at next generation, not next election

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has slammed former prime minister Manmohan Singh for his sharp criticism of the Narendra Modi government on the demonetisation move, saying that he should have kept his own house in order as prime minister in the UPA government.

File image of Manmohan Singh. PTI

File image of Manmohan Singh. PTI

Manmohan Singh is considered one of the top economists, but what did he do in the two terms of the UPA government as prime minister? Most of the black wealth was generated during this period, with a series of high-profile scams, and he was at the helm of affairs. Wasn’t that an organised loot of the nation’s wealth?” asked J Nandkumar, Akhil Bharatiya Sah Prachar Pramukh of the RSS.

Breaking his silence after a long period, Manmohan, during the debate on demonetisation move in Rajya Sabha on Thursday, alleged that the NDA government’s plan of scrapping high-value currency notes had led to “organised loot and legalised plunder”.

“There’s no politics behind the action taken by the Modi government against counterfeit currency and black money through this demonetisation move. Modi took this courageous decision not as a politician but as a reformist, who’s looking at the next generation, and not at the next election,” Nandkumar told Firstpost.

The Sangh Parivar has already given its thumbs-up to Modi’s demonetisation move both in its internal meetings and on public platforms.

In an official statement issued by the RSS Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh Manmohan Vaidya (a copy of which is reproduced below) mentions, “The decision taken by the government of India to demonetise high-value currency notes is in national interest and with the honest intention of setting in motion cleaner and transparent monetary transactions and practices in the country. Its impact is being felt everywhere.”

Hailing Modi’s decision of scrapping high-value legal tenders to combat counterfeit currency and black money menace, the RSS has simultaneously appealed to the public to cooperate and support the government in the demonetisation move.

LetterRSSappealonDemonetisation by Firstpost on Scribd

However, the Sangh has also admitted that the move has caused inconvenience to the people across the country.

“I had been with (Mohan Bhagwat) for over a week after the move was announced. He appreciated the demonetisation move, but showed his concern about the problem people have been facing due to the implementation bottlenecks. But, let’s not forget that the magnitude of the move is so big and it’s a first-of-its-kind initiative by the government. So, it becomes very difficult to have fool-proof implementation,” a senior Sangh pracharak closely monitoring the move told Firstpost.

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

Even Vaidya in his statement said, “We appeal to the people to cooperate and support the government in this noble endeavour, irrespective of the temporary but unavoidable inconvenience being caused.”

Sharply criticising the voices of dissent and without naming anyone in particular, Nandkumar said, “These ivory tower intellectuals, the so-called liberals, who have no connection with the common man have opposed the move. Like in 2014, after Modi became the prime minister, they spread canards against him saying, ‘Bharat is not Gujarat’. Despite facing problems and cash crunches, the ordinary people are ready to suffer temporarily and have supported the decision, unlike those who live in ivory towers.”

Following demonetisation, the nation has witnessed a major hullabaloo over the move both in the public domain and in the Parliament. A single move united the Opposition parties across the spectrum — even forcing die-hard opponents Trinamool Congress (TMC) and CPM to join hands in an unprecedented move to launch a scathing attack against the Modi government.

Interestingly, a day before the prime minister’s monumental announcement (8 November), the Congress-led UDF in Kerala had opposed the ruling CPM-led LDF, when the latter had initiated a move in the state Assembly to audit the accounts in the cooperative banks due to charges of rampant corruption. But the tables turned the very next day and the foes of Kerala found themselves joining hands against Modi.

“LDF and UDF joined hands to protest demonetisation, exposing their hypocrisy,” the RSS deputy chief of publicity and communication added.

However, the RSS has also made it clear that it doesn’t interfere in government policies and decision-making, but supported demonetisation as it’s in the interest of the nation.

First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 10:08 IST

Note ban: Manmohan Singh made polemical points, but his criticism won’t carry weight

When Manmohan Singh speaks, which he seldom does, it is worth listening. But his speech in Rajya Sabha on Thursday on the demonetisation issue was a let-down. Not because he is known for great speeches, but because what he said made only partial sense.

If his purpose was to highlight the government’s failure in handling the fallout of demonetisation, that is par for the course. It is possible to accept his criticism (with some qualifications) that there has been “monumental mismanagement” of the process of demonetisation. The persistent queues before some bank counters seems to justify his hyperbole, if nothing else.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. PTIFormer Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. PTI

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. PTI

So far, so good. But after calling on the Prime Minister to “find practical, pragmatic ways and means to provide relief to the suffering people of this country”, he goes overboard by calling demonetisation “organised loot and legalised plunder.”

This is bunkum, and pure politics. If there was “organised loot and legalised plunder”, that happened right under Manmohan Singh’s nose, with the 2G, Coalgate and Commonwealth Games scams being exactly that. The former PM was directly linked to those instances of “organised loot” since A Raja pulled off the scam by forcing Singh to look the other way, and Coalgate happened in a ministry Singh was himself in charge of for a while.

Another point he made was that demonetisation would reduce the GDP by two percentage points, but we won’t know if this is right till the year is over. But the best estimates of professional forecasters are far below what Manmohan Singh’s crystal-ball has indicated. Goldman Sachs sees a 1.1 percent fall, Care Ratings 0.5-0.3 percent, Emkay Global 0.9 percent, Icra 0.4 percent, and ICICI Securities by 0.4 percent. Barring Ambit Capital, which adopted a faulty methodology to come up with an unbelievable GDP drop of 3.3 percent from earlier estimates, not one projection comes anywhere near what Manmohan Singh’s claims.

The third point Singh made was that demonetisation would “erode our people’s confidence in the currency system and in the banking system.” For good measure, he added: “I would like to know from the prime minister the names of any countries he may think of where people have deposited their money in the banks but they are not allowed to withdraw their money. This alone, I think, is enough to condemn what has been done in the name of (demonetisation…”.

Whether demonetisation and the replacement of old notes with new ones are enough to damage confidence in the banking system is questionable. One would have thought that prolonged inflationary policies through unabated money printing — which was what happened during UPA 2, when the fiscal deficit crossed 6 percent — would have done more to debase the currency than a demonetisation to replace currency notes. And just to refresh his memory, the first major bank scam happened during his watch in 1992, when Harshad Mehta actually looted bank cash to make hay in the stock markets. And as for restrictions on people drawing their own cash, any banking system can — at times — place such restrictions. Banks even now place restrictions on daily cash withdrawals from ATMs. When banks fail, then too restrictions happen.

Singh also seems to have forgotten the Indira Gandhi emergency, when the government froze a big chunk of citizens’ earnings in compulsory deposits in order to contain inflation. If that did not bother Singh, one wonders why the orderly withdrawal of deposits is a great curtailment of citizens’ rights.

While Singh is right to say that such restrictions do not happen except at times of crises or bank failures, surely temporary restrictions at a time of policy change can be justified?

Perhaps the best point Singh made was the one where he pointed out that while 50 days to restore normalcy is reasonable, for the poor 50 days of financial denial could be “torture”. For good effect, he quoted Keynes to say that in the long run, we are all dead. So the short-term does matter – at least in politics.

The former prime minister had some good lines to offer in a polemical sense, but one doubts if this was a former Reserve Bank Governor and finance minister talking. He did not make the kind of heavy-duty points that one expected from him. He delivered some below-the-belt punches without realising his own midriff is vulnerable.

First Published On : Nov 24, 2016 17:31 IST

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