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One little BHIM set to change India: Your thumb is your bank now, says PM Modi

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>More than 50 days after announcing his demonetization move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday launched the mobile app BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) which he said would enable easier digital transactions for the common man.The app—an updated version of UPI (Unified Payment Interface) and USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data)—can be downloaded from the Android app store.Dedicating the new app to Dr BR Ambedkar, the Prime Minister said that Ambedkar had always worked for the poor. “Very few people know that Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar who gave us the Constitution, was a great economist and had even wrote a thesis on the Indian rupee…RBI was born out of Ambedkar’s thesis,” said Modi, adding that the app will empower small traders, tribals, and farmers.Modi also felicitated winners of the Lucky Grahak Yojana at the DigiDhan Mela in Talkatora stadium. The event saw a crowd of more than 5,000 people and around 65 stalls of banks, e-wallets and private players.The PM said the BHIM app can be used on any phone. “There is no need for Internet connectivity, one only needs a thumb,” said Modi adding, “There was a time when an illiterate was called angutha chaap. Now, the times have changed. Your thumb is your bank now. It has become your identity now.”Taking a dig at the Opposition, Modi said, “Look at the newspapers or video clips from three years ago; the news was all about what we had lost in scams. However, today, it is about what has come back or what is the gain?””Over the 100-day period, several families will be given the prizes. These schemes were launched as a Christmas gift to benefit poor,” Modi said reiterating that the mega draw will take place on April 14, the birth anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.He said that India can once again bring back its past and become the sone ki chidiya (bird of gold) with an increased digital connectivity.”The day was not far off when the cash-based transaction will turn completely digital,” he emphasised. For the first time, India united to remove its own shortcomings, he said.Thanking the media for highlighting digital payment issues, he asked people to at least do five digital transactions from January 1, 2017.Meanwhile, several people attending the event said they are yet to open a bank account.”I don’t have an account. My children withdraw money for me whenever needed. I just wanted to meet Modi to highlight some of my problems,” said Malviya Nagar resident Gulab.The exhibitors, however, said the fair has given a common ground to the visitors to learn and operate on the different modes of digital payment.An exhibitor from the NPCI stall said they have received several enquiries from visitors, especially from the lower middle class strata, keen on operating the Aadhaar-enabled payment system and UPI as ways of digital transactions.”The best part is they could get an instant bank account here at the fair and get started with digital payments,” he said.

Centre shelves plan to set up world biggest solar power project in Leh

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Centre has dropped the plan to set up the world’s biggest solar power project in Leh owing to the huge transmission system cost.Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) had planned to set up 5,000 Mega Watt (MW) solar power project in Leh and 2,500 MW project in Kargil in 2013.The Leh administration had also identified the land for the project. But owing to the huge costs on the transmission system, the government decided to drop the project as of now.”The land too was identified where this project was to be established. But the transmission cost of the project was huge. So MNRE decided to drop it as of now,” T Gyalson, assistant director planning, Leh, told DNA.The solar power project was to be set up in the Leh district which is at the altitude of 11,562 feet and known as roof of the world. The project required at least 20,000 acre of the land in the cold desert. “We had identified the land at Chang Tha side for the project. But it did not take off because of the huge transmission cost”, said Gyalson.The ambitious project was supposed to not only meet the local energy demand but to make the restive Jammu and Kashmir a power surplus state.”India has 5,000 megawatt hydro power projects. It would have been the first solar power project with 5,000 megawatt capacity. It would have been world’s biggest in harnessing solar power,” said an officer.Cold desert of Ladakh has a huge potential in tapping the solar energy. Vast patches of barren land surrounded by gigantic mountains makes Leh a suitable place for setting up the solar power projects.However, the cold desert was left out from the scheme of things till 2013. It was after the experts realised the potential of Ladakh that the planners put their heads together and decided to harness the solar energy potential in a bid to make Jammu and Kashmir a power surplus state.”The evacuation for the transmission line is a big problem for executing the mega project. It is a very costly exercise. Therefore as of now, this project will not take off. However, we are working on smaller projects. There is a proposal for setting up small solar power plants. We are in the process of identifying the land for smaller projects,” said an official of MNRE.

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

Exclusive | After Modi took office, there are fewer communal clashes, focus on development: Venkaiah Naidu

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Has demonetization served its purpose of taking out black money from the system?Yes, it has done so. It is a vaccine against the scam and it has done the job.Critics say that a large amount of black money is abroad and not in India and all cash is not black.This is wrong to say that most of the black money is stashed abroad. You may recall that the first decision taken was constituting an SIT to find the black money stashed abroad. Secondly, we also came out with a bill in Parliament on the funds stashed abroad. Then we took initiative in G20 and followed it up by entering into the agreement on multiple avoidance tax treaty with Mauritius and Cyprus, which we then followed up with Switzerland and then with the US on FETA. PM has been consistent. PM also gave time to Indian people to declare the money. He has been doing things systematically. The black money is now in the open and this is the biggest achievement. Every rupee is being accounted for. There will be scrutiny.The scheme caused public inconvenience. Was it avoidable?It was not possible. It was like a cancer spread into the country. The entire system was affected. Serious action was required. In 1971, the former finance minister YB Chavan recommended demonetization. Justice Wanchoo committee also recommended it. The Congress didn’t act upon it. In the 1980s, the bill on benami transactions was passed but the government did not notify it. We did it. In 2012, the Supreme Court of India directed the government to form a mechanism to bring back black money. This government did it. UPA slept over it. One after another, there were reminders. This chemotherapy has been administered. Some people are complaining that it will lead to hair fall. So one has to choose whether you want hair fall or one wants to fall itself. People welcomed it as a gamechanger. People wanted drastic action and we have done it. We have 130 crore population. We had a parallel economy, drug mafia, a high number of fake notes and a neighbour that promotes terror etc. Everywhere black money was prevalent. We delivered a death blow and that is why there is so much hue and cry. I admit that there is an inconvenience. It might continue for few more days because people are used to cash. Arrangements could not be made because advance information could not be given. It is a temporary pain for long term gain.When will the caps go? When do we expect the liquidity to return to normal?PM has already assured that pain will be eased step by step.On this issue, the Opposition did not allow the Parliament to function. Do you expect demonetization to cast its shadow on the Budget Session as well?I hope it doesn’t happen. Parliament is to debate and discuss, which could not happen. At the end, the Opposition wanted a debate but early on they avoided the debate and disrupted (it). Then they went to the President. The government was willing and PM was ready to intervene and respond. In fact, the debate had started and Opposition had fielded Anand Sharma, Pramod Tiwari and Manmohan Singh. They fielded him as the third candidate but that is the choice of the party. Mayawati, Ram Gopal Yadav, Piyush Goel and others spoke, including me, but they changed the goal posts and asked for the Prime Minister. PM came but (they) didn’t allow the house to function. They lost a golden opportunity for a debate. It was a proper forum to highlight the issue, but they missed it.There is a perception that senior leaders of BJP and Congress don’t talk, unlike in the days when Vajpayee was Prime Minister?Everyone has a different style. Vajpayee’s style is different, Modi’s style is different and then Nehru, Indira and Rajiv had a different style. PM told the Opposition that we are ready for discussion but it didn’t happen. I know you have in mind what Advani ji said but I’m also sad and unhappy that Parliament wasn’t allowed to function. Then I always tell the Opposition, I propose, you oppose and let the House dispose.Rahul Gandhi has attacked PM on the issue of demonetization and Sahara papers. Your response?Rahul Gandhi is behaving in the most irresponsible and immature manner. My personal advice is that he should graduate himself, otherwise he would be failing himself and his party in the process. Personal criticism has been out of frustration. Congress has called Modi names. They called him maut ka saudagar, then Rahul Gandhi called him khoon ka dalali and then they called him Hitler, Mussolini, Gaddafi and former external affairs minister called him ‘impotent’. This has not helped them and their stature has gone down.The principal charge of the Opposition is that 50 odd families are being helped through the process of demonetization?Absurd and meaningless. They shouted these slogans in Parliament. Adani and Ambani. They said, “Modi hai hai”. I got up and told them, “Adani and Ambani, aapka meherbani”.Adani and Ambani were not born during Modi’s regime. They were born and brought up during Congress regime. Who are these 50 families and how did they prosper? 1.86 lakh crore of the bank money which has become NPA was all given during the Congress regime by these people. All the concession to Ambani and Adani was given during Congress regime. Now, in order to portray us as pro business and against poor people, they are shouting these slogans. We are different. We feel that both industry and agriculture is important to country’s interest. Each should be respected. (In) media, there is black sheep. Every sector has a black sheep. Take action against them. Vijay Mallya was given loans during Congress regime. The loans were restructured during Congress’ tenure. This will boomerang on them. These are cheap tactics.BJP in 2016 was able to make its presence felt in the Northeast by winning Assam. What are the prospects of the party in Uttar Pradesh?Absolutely. BJP is becoming a real all-India party. When I joined this party, people would make fun of me that I’m joining a Brahmin baniya, urban, North India party. Today, we have MPs throughout the country. We will win Karnataka. We have done well in Kerala. Our votes have gone up. In Tamil Nadu, we have prospects because of the vacuum and the demise of Amma. In UP, the stakes are high and we will come to Parliament. We got 71 seats in Lok Sabha. People have seen the performance of SP and BSP. The alternative is BJP.Doesn’t it worry you that demonetization might impact BJP adversely?That is what is being discussed by media. Going by the grassroots feedback, our appeal has increased. This is the feed back I’m getting from UP. Look at the result of Chandigarh. We got 20 seats. Chandigarh is a big city. People from UP and Bihar stay there. In Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan local body elections, we have done well. Even after demonetization.Prime Minister has invested his political capital in a scheme like demonetization. Do you think it was worth the risk?Yes, it was worth taking. We have not come to rule the country. We want to develop it. He is known for taking risks. He has taken it up as a challenge. He went for a surgical strike against our neighbour, who is interfering in our affairs. He is known for taking tough and bold decisions. He wants to improve the living condition of the people.Last year, the debate on nationalism and citizenship dominated universities and many areas of our society. In retrospect, how do you see it?What is wrong with discussing nationalism? Nation means people and people means all communities. It means all sections. It means Bharat Mata ki jai. It means Daliton ki jai, Christian ko jai, Jains ko jai, sabhi backwards ko jai. It encompasses every community. We should feel proud of it. Earlier, it was a curse to talk about nationalism. Now people feel proud and people talk about it. 122 countries have recognized yoga. There nothing wrong with it.Many scholars would say that there is a difference between ethnic and civic nationalism.Perverts. This because of 2000 years of foreign rule and Macaulay. This education system has gone into mind. The influence of socialist model has also affected us. People have change and the mandate has changed, but people in certain sections who were well entrenched, their minds have not changed. They have lost the battle but still holding key positions like media, also the so-called leftists and so-called progressives.There was a big clash in the Dhulagarh of West Bengal. Hundreds of shops were looted and people were thrown out of houses but so called secular media is neither reporting it nor discussing it. On the other hand, Zee TV has reported it prominently but an FIR has been launched against them. The so-called people sitting in the Lutyen’s Zone of Delhi, the big progressive people aren’t talking about it. Is talking about Hindus a crime in this country? This is perverted secularism and that is why people have rejected it. Secondly, the ultra-leftist people take up the issue of JNU and shout slogans about Hyderabad but society remains peaceful. Our image has improved. I don’t know why this perverted meaning is being given to Hindu. It is a way of life, not a religion. It is a way of living. We don’t want to discriminate against people on the basis of religion and race. After Modi’s coming in, there are less communal clashes and the focus is on development and good government. My opponents lost the elections badly and they have not been able to digest it. That is why they are attacking Modi personally and indulging in disinformation campaign.Lastly, did the surgical strike change the nature of play between Pakistan and India?I don’t think that Pakistan would understand but a message has gone. It was not for a political purpose but it became inevitable to show the world and to Pakistan that India is capable of retaliation. That has been done. It has raised the morale of the Indian armed forces and it has raised the morale of the Indian people living in India and also abroad.

Demonetization: Cash crunch making some in BJP & allies fear poll prospects in several states

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Cash shortages weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to abolish large currency notes is making allies and members of his ruling party anxious, with some distancing themselves from the move ahead of a series of state elections.Modi removed 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, worth around $7.50 and $15 respectively, on Nov. 8, billing it as an attempt to root out corruption, end terror financing and move the country into the age of digital payments.He promised to replace all old bills with enough new currency notes by the end of this month. But his government has struggled to do that, leading to long lines at banks and a slump in economy activity. Nearly 90 percent of transactions in India used to be in cash.
ALSO READ Demonetization broke the myth that powerful can’t be harmed: Shivraj Singh ChouhanInterviews with six lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a senior leader of the party’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), show his party cadre is starting to worry that the cash crunch could hurt their prospects in several states that go to the polls next year.Some parliamentarians said that while they thought Modi’s decision was good, its execution had been botched and they were faced with constituents who were increasingly upset.
ALSO READ Demonetization: Jaitley misleading people with his statements, says Congress”There is no doubt that it is difficult to convince voters that everything will be fine,” said Santosh Gangwar, the junior finance minister who is leading the BJP campaign in western Uttar Pradesh.”Every candidate who will be contesting polls is nervous because they feel people may not vote for the BJP … There is tension and we cannot deny it,” he said.
ALSO READ Demonetization: PM Modi criticises opposition for ‘openly protecting the dishonest’, slams Manmohan SinghOf the BJP’s 71 MPs from Uttar Pradesh, 28 have been to BJP President Amit Shah and the finance minister’s office to seek solutions for the cash crunch, said a senior finance ministry official.BJP EXPECTS “BIG VICTORY”BJP spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao said that despite temporary difficulties, the prime minister continued to enjoy overwhelming support.”Party cadres are highly enthused about a big victory in upcoming elections, and if a few are apprehensive, they will realise the reality soon,” Rao said.Disquiet within the BJP underscores how Modi’s unprecedented bet is turning into a test of popularity, and could go some way to determining his political future.It has become a central issue in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where the outcome of elections early next year will be key for Modi’s expected bid for a second term in 2019.The opposition, led by the Congress party, has joined forces, mocking the government for being ill-prepared for so-called “demonetization” and blaming it for hardships faced by the poor as a result. It has called for Modi’s resignation.The senior RSS official said they had counselled Modi days before the move to take time to prepare the ground for such a massive exercise, including setting up two new mints and expanding the banking network, and to roll it out in phases.But the prime minister decided to press ahead, and he alone would bear responsibility for its failure or success, the official added.Earlier this month, N. Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of the southern state Andhra Pradesh and a political ally of Modi, abruptly distanced himself from the move.Modi and senior members of his cabinet defend demonetization. In an interview with India Today magazine on Thursday, Modi said it would give the economy a boost and provide long-term benefits, including forcing the country’s vast shadow economy into the open.”GRIM SITUATION”Modi’s announcement enjoyed popular support at first, with many people prepared to endure hardship as long as others were forced to give up ill-gotten wealth or pay tax.But shortages of new 500 and 2,000 rupee notes have caused tempers to rise as millions queue at banks and ATMs to draw money.Last week, more than three dozen BJP lawmakers, many of whom came from states that go to polls next year, met with Shah to demand that the government sends more cash to their constituencies, and quickly.The MPs told Shah about severe cash shortages and hardship to local businesses and ordinary people, according to several lawmakers who attended the meeting.They told the BJP president that they did not have the courage to hold election rallies at a time when people still had to stand in line, sometimes for hours, to get money. Some said they had not started door-to-door campaigning.”The situation is grim, and we cannot ignore it,” Jagdambika Pal, a BJP lawmaker from Uttar Pradesh who attended the meeting, told Reuters. “It is a challenge for every BJP lawmaker to manage the situation, but we cannot do anything if there is no money in the banks.”

Pakistan says Indus Waters Treaty can’t be abolished unilaterally

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) has said that Indian cannot abolish the Indus Waters Treaty, 1960, (IWT) unilaterally.Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria told media on Thursday, “Pakistan was closely monitoring the situation and would duly respond when any such situation arose. However, Pakistan was actively pursuing the issue at all appropriate fora, asking for neutral arbitration of the issue.”The News further quoted him, as saying, “We will assess India’s activities within the framework of the Indus Waters Treaty. The Indus Basin Treaty cannot be altered or suspended unilaterally. No country can abrogate the treaty.”He pointed out, “There is an arbitration mechanism to resolve the dispute regarding implementation of the treaty. We resolved many IWT disputes amicably in the past.”He also made a mention of the Kashmir issue, and said that “Pakistan wants to amicably resolve all the outstanding issues, including Kashmir, with India.”

Demonetisation impact: Double-digit growth in India’s tax collection figures, says Arun Jaitley

New Delhi: Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday said that the impact of demonetisation is clearly visible with tax collection figures seeing double-digit growth.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. PTIFinance Minister Arun Jaitley. PTI

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. PTI

“The impact of demonetisation on tax revenue and collection is already visible. There has been a 26.2 percent increase in central indirect tax collection till November 30,” he said at a press conference here, adding till 19 December, direct tax collection increase has been to the extent of 14.4 percent against a growth rate of only 8.3 percent previous year.

Till 19 December, the net increase in direct taxes has been 13.6 percent after factoring in the refunds, he said.

“In the central indirect taxes there is an increase of 26.2 percent till 30 November. Excise duty is up by 43.5 percent, service tax by 25.7 percent and custom duties up by 5.6 percent,” Jaitley said.

“Notwithstanding the critics, it is a very significant increase in all indirect taxes till November 30,” he added.

Life insurance, tourism, petroleum consumption, flow of mutual fund investment have all increased during this period, the Finance Minister said.

Jaitley said demonetisation has brought a large part of money into the formal banking system which has increased the ability of the banks to lend.

On the liquidity situation in the markets, he said that a major part of the demonetised currency has been replaced with new notes and circulation of Rs 500 has increased.

First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 16:51 IST

Goa: Parrikar’s official car involved in minor mishap

Thu, 29 Dec 2016-12:10am , Panaji , PTI
<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s car was involved in a minor mishap on Wednesday when it scraped past another car here this evening, police said.”The incident took place near St Inez locality at around 9 PM, when Parrikar was travelling in his official car,” a police official said. “Both the cars were going in the same direction. There was no major damage to the two cars. No police complaint was filed. Before we reached the spot, both the cars had left,” said the official. Reportedly, Parrikar got down from the car and spoke to the owner of second car before resuming the journey.

Jet Airways mishap: Prompt Navy response in evacuating on-board passengers helps avert ‘catastrophe’

Panaji: On Tuesday, Navy said its prompt response in rescuing passengers on-board the Mumbai-bound flight that veered off the runway at Dabolim Airport in Goa early on Tuesday morning, has averted the incident from turning into a “catastrophe”.

“The Navy responded within 15-20 minutes and all the passengers were evacuated safely out of the aircraft. It would have turned into a catastrophe had the Navy not acted promptly,” a Naval spokesperson said.

The incident took place at around 5 am when Jet Airways flight 9W 2374 that had arrived from Dubai and was bound for Mumbai, skidded off the runway while aligning for the take off.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The Goa airport is located in Indian Navy’s facility, INS Hansa in Vasco town, nearly 25 km from Panaji.

As many as 15 passengers suffered “minor injuries and fractures” during the evacuation process, Navy sources said.

“Few guests have sustained minor injuries during the evacuation process and medical assistance is being coordinated by the Jet Airways team and the airport authorities,” the airlines said in a statement.

Beside 154 passengers, there were seven crew members on board.

Meanwhile, the runway was made available for flight operations at 9 am, hours before the initial deadline of 12.30 pm.

Soon after the incident, Navy officials had cordoned off the aircraft that had tilted towards its front end, while the passengers were being alighted.

“After the passengers were evacuated, the operation to rescue the aircraft started. The damage to the runway was also accessed by a team of Indian Navy and Airport Authority of India officials,” the spokesperson said.

“There was lot of muck on the runway as the flight was grounded on the sides of the runway,” he said.

During the rescue operation hours, a chartered flight was diverted to Bangalore, while an Oman Air flight that was scheduled to arrive in morning, was diverted to Mumbai, he said.

A total of seven scheduled flights that were to land at the airport were cancelled, while one scheduled flight and another chartered flight remained grounded. The two aircrafts will take off later during the day.

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 11:43 IST

Throwing Sheila under the bus? Congress demands probe into ‘Sahara Diaries’

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Congress demanded an independent probe into the “Sahara diaries” in which names of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and that of some other chief ministers also purportedly figure. “Whoever, whichever name is there should be investigated. There should be an independent probe into whosoever’s name is there. Why are you shying away from an impartial, independent probe?,” Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh told reporters.He said there should first be an investigation and in the course of which some names may prove to be wrong. Ramesh said action can be taken only after a probe. He also demanded an independent probe against all those BJP leaders who allegedly knew of the demonetization decision before the Prime minister announced it on November 8. He asked whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi would order an independent time-bound probe to ascertain whether there was any money laundering by certain BJP leaders and whether they were in the know of demonetization before it was announced.”Maximum Governance, Minimum Government”, “Maximum Drama, Minimum Governance” and “Maximum Publicity, Minimum Governance”, this is the motto of Narendra Modi,” he said, dubbing demonetization as a “complete failure” and an “unmitigated disaster”. He claimed that Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank, which had received Rs 500 crore deposits within two days of demonetization and asked why there was no probe into it.The Congress leader also asked who was Mahesh Shah, who had declared over Rs 13,860 crore under the income disclosure scheme, and asked whether some leaders were involved and whether any money laundering was being done at their behest.To a question on introduction of Benami Property Act and its implementation by the Government, Ramesh said the fight against corruption is a long drawn out fight.”It will require law; it will require tough executive action. Whatever steps the Government takes which we feel is going to be effective, will automatically get our support.”Any serious, well considered step and well thought out step to deal with corruption and black money will automatically be welcomed by us,” he said.”However, if Benami Property Act also becomes a gimmick like demonetization , then we are against it. demonetization has taught us, that economic policy is a serious business; these are serious issues which unfortunately the Prime Minister is unable to understand because his Governance philosophy is maximum headline minimum governance,” he said.The Congress leader said, “We are not North Korea, we are not Venezuela. We are not disintegrating Soviet Union. We are not a bankrupt Mynamar. We are an economy that is growing at 7-1/2 per cent per year and no economist in his right mind would ever recommend demonetization to an economy that is growing at that rate. demonetization has been an unmitigated disaster.”

Watch | Massive explosions as 2 LPG cylinder-laden trucks catch fire in Karnataka

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Two trucks carrying 900 LPG cyliders caught fire at Chinatamani near here in the wee hours triggering massive explosions but there was no casualty, police said.Deafening sounds of blasts and huge inferno were seen for quite some time as the cylinders, kept in the vehicles near a gas agency godown, exploded one after the other damaging at least one more car.”As many as 900 gas cylinders burst after two lorries laden with them, and a nearby car, accidentally caught fire near the godown of SNL Gas Agency in Chintamani, about 39 km from here. There was no loss of lives or injury as nobody was inside the parked vehicles,” Sub-Inspector Liaqat Ali said.The blasts occurred between 12.30 am to 1.00 am, he said, adding police and fire service personnel from Chikkaballapur, Sidalaghatta and Srinivasapura, reached the spot on being informed and doused the blaze within half an hour.No arrests has been made yet, he said, adding police are investigating the matter.

Ahead of Trupti Desai’s march, Kerala govt says women activists not allowed inside Sabarimala temple

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Kerala government said that the entry of Bhumata Brigade chief Trupti Desai on Monday will not be allowed in the Lord Ayyappa temple here, even as the activist plans to lead 100 odd women to the famous hill shrine in Sabarimala. There are restrictions for the entry of women between 10-50 years of age in the temple.”The Sabarimala temple is administered by Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and its traditions and rules are applicable to everyone,” Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran told reporters here.”The matter with regard to entry of women of all age groups is already before the Supreme Court. There will be no change in the tradition and customs,” until a decision is taken by the Supreme Court, he said.The CPI(M)-led LDF government’s stand comes after it had filed an affidavit in the supreme court last month informing that it favoured the entry of women of all age groups in the Sabarimala temple.Trupti Desai had recently stated that she would be visiting the Lord Ayyappa temple next month with 100 odd activists and there was no change in her plans.Desai had earlier campaigned for the entry of women at the Shani Shingnapur, Trimbakeshwar Shiva temple and Haji Ali Dargah.

Sabarimala: 31 injured in stampede; no lapse on part of police, says minister

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Thirty-one persons were injured in the stampede at the Lord Ayyappa temple here, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said on Monday and maintained that there was no lapse on the part of police.”Thirty-one persons were injured, two of them seriously.Eight of the injured have been admitted to Kottayam medical college hospital, three in Pathanamthitta Government hospital, two in Pamba and 18 at Sannidhanam hospital,” he told reporters.An action plan would also be formulated to ensure that such incidents do not recur, he said, adding there was no lapse on the part of police.”There was sufficient police at Sannidhanam. There were about 700 policemen on duty,” he said.The minister said that barricades would be strengthened in the coming three days when the shrine will remain closed.A joint inspection with police, Devaswom officials and the minister was held at the mishap site this morning.The temple had witnessed heavy rush yesterday, the penultimate day of the 41-day pilgrimage season, which concludes today with ‘Mandala Pooja’.A rope barricade gave way at Malaikappuram following which some of them fell down causing injuries to the pilgrims, who were mostly from Andhra Pradesh, TN and Telangana.One of the injured is from Kerala.Meanwhile, DGP Loknath Behara said a huge tragedy was averted at Sabarimala due to police intervention and denied reports that the stampede was due to ineffective police presence yesterday, despite a heavy rush of pilgrims.”Stampede was not due to the lapse of police,” he said.Behara said that IG D Sreejit, in charge of Sabarimala security, has been asked to file a report on the stampede today itself.”I have asked Sreejit to immediately enquire and download the CCTV visuals and file a report today itself,” Behara said.Sreejit said there were nine policemen at the spot and it was due to their presence that a calamity was averted.”It was due to their intervention that a big mishap was averted,” Sreejit told PTI.He said within 100 metres, there were 70 policemen, including NDRF.Following the incident, security has been strengthened and entry of pilgrims is being restricted.

Bollywood music composer duo Sajid-Wajid join BJP

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Bollywood music composer duo Sajid and Wajid Ali joined BJP in the presence of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The two musician brothers joined the saffron party at a programme organised by BJP’s youth wing on the occasion of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday. “There is only one promise we can make ourselves on Atal-ji’s birthday, to make India corruption-free. Atal-ji worked hard all his life to enhance the nation’s capabilities and (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi is only fulfilling Atal-ji’s dreams,” Fadnavis said at the event. “I ask every youth present here to teach ten people how to conduct trade in cashless way and help fulfil Atal-ji’s dream of corruption-free nation,” Fadnavis said. “During his tenure (as the PM) Atal-ji brought immense repute to the country in the international arena,” he said and added that whatever BJP is today is because of Vajpayee.

In less-cash mode, govt mulls tighter cheque bouncing law

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>After demonetization, the government is now trying to fight the ‘demons’ that could come in the way of ensuring a less-cash economy. As part of this exercise, the government is examining a proposal that could lead to sterner action in cheque bouncing cases.With more people using non-cash modes for transactions, the government is facing demands, particularly from traders’ bodies, for a legal system that makes payments made through cheques more secure, according to sources.If the proposal is accepted, the government could come out with a legislation to amend the law pertaining to cheque bounce cases. Among the measures that government is examining is that the defaulter will be given a month’s time, after which, if the matter is not settled, it would attract arrest even before the case is settled, the sources said.At present, dishonour of a cheque, in view of inadequate funds in account, is a criminal offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Act, 1881, and can be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine of twice the amount of the cheque or both.Sources said that despite the law, there were several instances when the payee was made to wait to get the money for years after a cheque bounced. There were 18 lakh cases of cheque dishonour pending in courts across the country till 2014 end, according to a reply in Lok Sabha. While Maharashtra topped the list of such pending cases, it was followed by Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal.The proposed amendments to deal with this issue, which are yet to get the final stamp of approval, could be brought in the budget session of Parliament in February. The objective is to cut down litigation and act as deterrent to defaulters.The traders, who traditionally have been BJP supporters, have expressed concerns about the problems of cheque bouncing, particularly at a time when more and more people were adopting non-cash mode of payments, the sources said.Ghanshyam Aggarwal, former co-convenor of the BJP’s traders cell, said traders’ apprehensions on various issues after demonetization, like the problems they faced due to the limit on cash withdrawal have been conveyed to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.Earlier this year, the government had notified the Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Bill, 2015, to allow filing of cheque bounce cases in a court at the place where it was presented for clearance and not the place of issue. Litigants had to sometimes travel long distances to different places from where cheques were issued and not honoured.

PM speak: Thorns for corrupt, roses for the rest

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that after the deadline of 50 days (from November 8 when demonetization was announced), inconvenience faced by honest people would mitigate and trouble would increase for the dishonest.The war against black money will not be called off until victory is achieved, he said. But he offered the dishonest a chance. “There is still some time left and they can still bring themselves into the mainstream of honest ones,” he said. Though the government does not want to destroy such people, it cannot spare them if they loot the common man’s money, Modi said. The Prime Minister was addressing a public rally at the MMRDA ground here after laying the foundation stone for the Arabian sea memorial of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The recent local body elections in Maharashtra, where BJP has emerged as the largest party, prove that people are with the demonetization drive, he said. He said 125 crore people backed his decision. “There are very powerful people, who have enjoyed many benefits in the last seven decades, trying to defeat the demonetization drive. But the country cannot be defeated by such people,” he said.“Some people thought that they can escape by convincing bankers, but those who tried this route not only endangered their future but also that of the bankers,” he said. These people will have to ultimately bow down before 125 crore Indians who would not tolerate dishonesty anymore, he said. He said that 125 crore Indians have now become the baton holders of the war against black money and that is the reason why this war will not stop, he said.

You can’t make foreign policy based on domestic political issues: Shivshankar Menon

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Your book talks about choices and a remarkable continuity of foreign policy during the tenure of three PMs – PV Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. In your assessment, does this continuity still exist? And how necessary is continuity for the country’s foreign policy?I think all these three PMs had a similar approach to foreign policy. Their goal was to transform India, to make it a modern state. Also because that was a particular period when globalisation, open international trade and economics dominated the scene. Now the context has changed. But in practice, fundamentals of policy have remained the same. If you look at what this government has been doing – towards US, China, Russia and Pakistan, it has tried similar policies. But because the context has changed, the results were different. Today when you see tensions in relations with China, stress in relations with Pakistan, it is partly due to the changed context. Their behaviour has changed. We are at a very delicate stage as far as our foreign policy is concerned. I don’t think we can go on doing what we had always done.You have a history of dealing with China in the Indian foreign policy setup. Since relations with China warmed up in 1988, there had ensued an era of peace and tranquillity. Is there a shift in India’s dealings with China now? Should we attribute it to Chinese resurgence or India’s confrontationist attitude? What has happened with China is that the modus vivendi which we had worked out and formalised at the highest level when Rajiv Gandhi visited and which lasted for 30 years has changed. Our understanding was that we would discuss our differences, the boundary question, etc but we would not allow them to impede normal relations. We did trade, we did exchanges. We now have $72 billion trade; we cooperated where we could externally at the WTO Doha round, climate change, etc. That modus vivendi has broken down. Both countries have also changed.For instance, when we started economic reforms, the share of external economy (merchandise trade) to the GDP was a mere 14% . By 2014, it was 49.3%. Now that means our dependence on the external world is more. Today we have a real interest in freedom of navigation in South China Sea. China also has real interest in South China Sea. But that is a new phenomena. Both are major trading nations and it is in the interest of both to keep the sea lanes free and open. China says they are our waters. So there is an issue. You need to recalibrate the relationship. Look at China’s relationship with Pakistan today. In 1996, President Jiang Zemin told the Pakistani National Assembly that you should do with India what we do. Discuss differences, but do not let it affect the rest. Today it is reverse. China is investing $46 billion in Gwadar and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). There is a problem today. Only thing we can do is sit together and discuss how we can respect each other’s core interests. And if they overlap or there are differences, how to manage them.Recently US President Elect Donald Trump announced that his administration would walk away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which means abandoning the Asian pivot as well, of which India was sheet anchor. How will it affect Indian interests?Trump has come to power on a pledge to disengage from the rest of the world, which we may call deglobalisation. On the TPP he always said he would not support it. But it is too early to say how it is going to work out. Trump has already surprised people by speaking to the Taiwanese leadership. He has the potential to be quite disruptive, but politicians don’t always implement what they promise during campaigns. Let us see.Why is India making an issue of the South China Sea when it is nowhere close to its neighbourhood? Especially as other East Asian countries bordering it are locked in security and economic partnership with China and brokering peace.I don’t think we are in confrontation. Some years ago, we had offered China a dialogue on maritime security, which would include all these issues such as our interests in the South China Sea and the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region. They are also interested in freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. Their oil also comes through Hormuz and Malacca Straits. We have new issues at hand. We need to discuss, obviously, the CPEC. Different countries have coped in different ways with the rise of China and with the change in balance of power they see around them. For us, Look East was a response to this, and now it has transformed into Act East.Can you bring some clarity to ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR), of which CPEC is also part. Does it make sense for India to stay out?My own personal view is that as long as the road is open for everybody to use and is in your interest to promote trade and commerce, there is no harm. If parts of OBOR work for you, use them. The parts which don’t work, and are actually offensive to your interests like CPEC, as it goes thorough Indian territory, you should oppose quite clearly. Other bits like ports, railways or pipelines that serve India’s interests , use them. But we must insist that the initiative is open to everybody and not exclusive; that no conditions are attached to it and is purely an economic initiative.The CPEC frankly doesn’t make economic sense. I read in Chinese newspapers that the pipeline along CPEC carrying oil will be 16.6 times more expensive than carrying oil by sea or by another road to China. It doesn’t make any economic sense, keeping in view the transport and railways passing through the world’s highest mountains and most insecure and difficult terrain. The port of Gwadar is next to Karachi. With all these factors, the immediate suspicion would be that it is for other purposes like military and strategic purposes, to project power in the Indian Ocean. So for me, CPEC is a problem. Indian government has made it clear why it has reservations about it.But if CPEC or OBOR aids development of the region, isn’t that in India’s interest?Again, if it works for the people, for development, we should use it. Look, we could run a bus between Srinagar and Muzaffarbad across the line, in the most heavily militarised territory with all the backlog of politics and whatever. You can find ways to make people’s lives easier. That is the responsibility of governments. But that doesn’t mean you give up your stand. Governments should not make people’s lives difficult.Coming back to the Sino-Indian border dispute, is there really a dispute? As per old census records, in 1891 the area of Jammu and Kashmir was 80,900 sq miles; in 1911 some 84,258 sq miles; in 1941, it came down to 82,258 sq miles and suddenly as the border dispute arose in 1961, the area was raised to 86,024 sq miles. Why these discrepancies and the logic behind the suddenly increased area?The fact is that until 1954, Survey of India maps used to show the border in the Western sector with Aksai Chin as an undefined border. At different stages people had different ideas. From our side there might have been a lack of precision. But let me tell you there was absolutely no Chinese presence in the region till 1950. By then they had come to Tibet and not to the border. We were consistent after that. Frankly, as I describe in the book, China manufactured a case. They didn’t say they had a problem until January 1959. I think you need to look at both sides. We were a new government; it took us time to figure out.But A. G. Noorani in his book, India-China Boundary Problem, has documented that under Jawaharlal Nehru, old maps were discarded and burned at the Ministry of External Affairs to create a case for a border dispute?You need to look at what happened in a context. This is why foreign policy is about choices. If you look at newly Independent India, there were plenty of problems – looking at refugee issues, the consequences of Partition, fighting a war in Kashmir with Pakistan, trying to integrate the states till 1958, etc. The settling of border issue was not number one priority in those conditions. The remarkable thing is that Nehru turned his attention to these problems and attended to them in the middle of all the things that were on his plate. I think it was remarkable. He showed the sense of history and the importance of these things. It is wrong to then say why they did this, why they didn’t do that. That would be unfair.The acid test of our foreign policy has been dealing with Pakistan. You seem too pessimistic that nothing can happen on that front. Frankly there are intuitional and structural issues in Pakistan that don’t allow it to have a normal , stable and predictable relationship with us. For me that is the root of the problem. We tried repeatedly and we had come quite close many times like in 2005. It is not that we don’t know solutions. We know how to move forward. But there are very strong forces, as I have mentioned in the book. We are actually dealing with many Pakistans. The ordinary Pakistan that includes civilians, businessmen, politicians have no animosity towards India. They are friendly. We spent three years there, made a lot of friends. As a family we were very happy there. But that is not all of Pakistan. There is the Pakistan of the establishment, of the ISI, jihadi organisations, religious right, etc. They have their own views. I don’t think they will permit a normal stable relationship. As long as they have power, as they have in the present chaos in Pakistan, they will not allow a relationship to grow. That is the source of my pessimism. I believe we should deal with different Pakistans differently.Is there a possibility of creating a constituency for peace?We cannot affect the balance of forces within Pakistan. We cannot structure Pakistan. Some world powers have tried , but failed. I am relatively pessimistic in the short term. In the long run, if one starts being rational towards your own interest, it will make peace. But there re are elements there which are very powerful, who will not permit it in today’s circumstances. That is why I am pessimistic.The peace process, you mention under your supervision which had reached a stage of breakthrough had devised a way to find a people centric rather a territory centric solution. Is there any way to pick up threads?Exactly, Dr. Manmohan Singh used to say make border irrelevant and minimise hardships to people. Yes, we did find ways. Whether it was bus, trade across the LoC. But resistance is there. It is a battle that has to be fought every time. I am sure we can reconnect threads. But the primary block is configuration of forces within Pakistan.You held the top security post in the country as NSA after a wealth of experience in foreign affairs, especially so in the neighbourhood. Does unpredictability in foreign policy help achieve goals?If you look at India as an actor, we have grown from the 10th largest economy to 3rd largest economy in the world from Vajpayee’s time. We have an interest in the way the world works. We did well out of globalisation. We are reformers. I cannot say that the present world order is perfect or ideal. But we have done well out of it recently. Now unpredictability is an insurgent tactic. It is a tactic for those who want to draw attention. India doesn’t have that problem. You have a challenge in running the system . For me unpredictability is a tactic, which captains and majors do. Yes deception, surprise, and shock at tactical level can work. But when it comes to strategy, unpredictability is not a good thing. People should know your red lines and core interests. You were the custodian of India’s nuclear arsenal as well. The element of unpredictability in our nuclear doctrine has not worked well. It has not even deterred or helped us change the security system to our advantage.What was our nuclear weapons designed for – it was to deter people from threatening us. That has worked. It was never designed to be used in wars or to stop terrorism. If you start saying nuclear weapon should do all these functions, then you say it has failed. But for me it has succeeded for its declared purpose. They are not war fighting weapons. You know the affect they can have. And with Pakistan, frankly in our case there is a three minute warning time. We are next door to each other. If you are bombing Pakistan, you are bombing yourself keeping in view the direction of winds etc. You have mentioned in the book, that when you went to meet Left leaders, they had congratulated you for the conclusion of Indo-US nuclear deal. But later they opposed it to the extent of attempting to bring down the Manmohan Singh government?We had met all the 12 conditions as laid down in public. They never expected it. They were surprised. Every party, not only the Left, later took position keeping in view their domestic constituencies and political calculations.Political argument was that you are becoming allies of the US. They took positions that suited them domestically . See the BJP, when they were in power previously, they started it. When they were in Opposition, they opposed it. And when they are back in power, they again started it.Increasingly foreign policy issues are being played in domestic politics. Is that tying the hands of governments to devise a long-term and an effective foreign policy?Let me put it in this way. Foreign policy has always been part of domestic politics in India. Pakistan policy has always been. If you look at China policy, Vajpayee made a reputation during his initial days by raising issues related to China. Through the 60s policy towards US has always been divisive . That is good. You must debate what is good for you. But today, foreign policy is being used for domestic proposes for the first time to an extent that it is worrying. You must determine foreign policy to India’s interest and not to a political party’s interest or a leader’s interest or a government’s interest. That is why I have mentioned that when we did the boundary agreement with China, Narasimha Rao insisted on going to talk to all Opposition leaders, right through the negotiations. You are doing India’s work, not Rao’s work or Congress party’s work. Discussion and dialogue are necessary, but I don’t think you make foreign policy on the basis of domestic political issues.You drafted much criticised Sharm ul Sheikh joint statement with Pakistan, which for the first time mentioned Baluchistan. Do you feel vindicated now, since this government has taken up the issue so vigorously?(Laughs) Well, I feel like laughing. But what can I say? I studied history in university. So I have taken the view that in the long run history will take a better view of these things. It was a moment, there was great optimism for a breakthrough. Criticism of this statement was aimed at addressing domestic politics. There was not a word about Kashmir in that statement. That was unprecedented. After the statement was issued, Pak PM Yusuf Raza Geelan came out of the room and on the stairs, the whole Pakistani media attacked him. And you should have seen his face, he was shaken. But when attacks started in India, then they thought it is Pakistan’s victory. Nobody had time for substance. As I said, everyone had their own agendas . It is interesting how history works. We were criticised for bringing the issue of Baluchistan in India-Pakistan discourse. But now they think, it is an important element in the discourse.

Demonetisation deadline: Does govt has no plan to get back crores of NRI ‘white money’?

Despite all the love sprayed on NRIs and those multiple Pravasi Divas conventions held in various parts of the country for various ministers to iterate their love for Indians abroad the week of good cheer is a bit soured.

With good reason. As airlines hike up the cost of tickets by nearly 250 percent (from the Gulf for sure) and families largely opt to stay home there is also a tangible sense of loss from the enormous vat of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes lying around the diaspora.

Awash in cash? PTIAwash in cash? PTI

Awash in cash? PTI

Assessed officially at 30 million people but probably higher by another five million with about Rs 5,000 being taken as the modest average lying with each person it comes to a sizeable Rs 15,000 crore and running.

Most of us keep a reasonable amount in high denomination notes with Rs 25,000 being the outer limit as per law to avoid delays at Indian airports in making foreign exchange and simply pull out the wads that have been lying under shirts and saris or used biscuit and chocolate tins to take a cab home and, in case banks are closed, have enough for Day One and Two.

The stories of long queues and no money and cards not working have made for a change in touching the base.

Relatives in the home country already stretched to breaking point are also not too keen to having us descend upon them en masse.

Rumours and half-truths that the government is listening to last moment pleas from community representatives for a delay in the 30 December deadline for these notes to be vacuumed in don’t seem to have much grounds and the odds are the Not Required Indian will stay not required. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things the sum from NRIs is not astronomical but why lose it.

The Customs form allows us to bring in Rs 25,000 though most of us carry less on each visit. And we do not take back much, just the leftover financial debris of the holiday.

This year the stress level has a different texture to it. For one, there is this fear that carrying banned notes might cause hassles at points of entry. No one wants to be taken aside because they are carrying six or seven crumpled notes. There is no logic in the fear but it exists anyway…there have been enough scare stories on the social platforms to make everyone a little concerned…and hugely confused.

And it does not make sense spending Rs 30,000 per passenger and more for a Y class ticket to make the end of the year deadline when such a low cast carrier ticket usually goes for Rs 10,000 or thereabouts. The situation as it stands is that these Rs 150 billion will be consumed by the clock. Come to think of it, the total is probably much more.

That these crores are going to be largely lost to the exchequer seems to be of no concern to the authorities. Even blue-collar labour has a note or two, often placed in their wallets for good luck by tearful parents sending their sons and daughters to foreign shores when they leave home…a kind of ‘shagun’ that has now lost its meaning.

You would think that one of the mandarins in the Ministry of Overseas Affairs would say, uh oh, that is a lot of money let’s create a blueprint for getting it back and instruct all banks to allow these monies to be sent by courier to the accounts up to Rs 25,000 and let it be accepted.

After all, look at the delicious irony. It is not black money. it is bright, shiny, pristine white money that people want to return.

Allowed to be in our possession by law. So why are NRIs being penalised indirectly for not breaking the law. Echo answers who?

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 19:37 IST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UN Chief Ban Ki-moon asks India, Pakistan to resolve differences through dialogue

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Outgoing UN chief Ban Ki-moon has asked India and Pakistan to resolve their differences through dialogue and exercise restraint as he maintained his concern over the increase in tensions between the two neighbours along the Line of Control in recent months.The Secretary-General, whose 10-year tenure at the world organisation’s helm will end this month, has had a “very consistent position” on the situation in Kashmir, his deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters on Wednesday in response to a question on tensions between India and Pakistan.”All I can say is the Secretary-General has had a very consistent position. One fact we expressed even just last month, which is to say that he is following with concern the increase in tensions along the Line of Control and that he urges the Governments of India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and encourages them to continue their efforts to resolve their differences peacefully and through dialogue,” Haq said.When asked by a Pakistani reporter that the Secretary- General has been “very reluctant” throughout his term to talk about the Indian-Pakistan conflict, Haq said he disagrees with such assessment. “I would disagree with you on that. We’ve had statements, including on the situations between India and Pakistan and on specifically on Kashmir. There have been statements and notes to correspondents. The last one was just a few weeks back, so I would just refer you back to those,” Haq said.In a statement issued last month, Ban had expressed deep concern about the “deterioration” of the situation along the Line of Control in Kashmir and called on all involved to prioritise the restoration of calm and stability in order to prevent any further escalation and loss of life.Ban has said that his good offices are available to India and Pakistan if “accepted by both sides”.Throughout the year, Pakistan brought up the Kashmir issue at various UN fora but its attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue did not find resonance among the rest of the 191 member states of the UN.

Rahul Gandhi claims PM Modi got Rs 40 crore from Sahara in 2013, BJP claims Agusta diversion

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Rahul Gandhi alleged that Narendra Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister had taken money from Sahara and Birla groups and demanded an independent inquiry into it, a charge BJP rejected as an attempt to divert attention from the AgustaWestland probe in which the names of Congress leaders and the “family” were coming up. Addressing a rally here in the prime Minister’s home state, he alleged that in the I-T records there are notings of Sahara officials’ claims that they had paid 9 times to Modi between October, 2013 and February, 2014.Gandhi said the documents in this regard were with IT department which had raided the company when Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister.Similarly, as per documents with Income Tax department, the Birla group also paid Rs 12 crore to Modi when he was Chief Minister.Wondering as to why there has been no probe in the matter so far, Gandhi demanded an independent inquiry. Last week, Gandhi claimed that he had evidence of “personal corruption” of Prime Minister but he was being prevented from speaking in the Lok Sabha because it would cause an earthquake.Reacting to Gandhi’s allegations, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in New Delhi that the charges are “baseless, false, shameful and mala fide” and an attempt to divert attention from the AgustaWestland probe as names of Congress leaders and the “family” are coming up.Party spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said Gandhi was immature and was just indulging in bluff and bluster because people are not taking him seriously.”People of India have stopped taking him seriously. Rahul Gandhi is just bluff and bluster. There is no substance in what he says. He is just showing his and his party’s incompetence,” he said.Gandhi said he was raising the issue on behalf of the country which needs answers over the questions raised against the Prime Minister.”PM Modi takes bribes and then shamelessly foists Demonetisation on Indians under the garb of ‘fighting Black Money,” Congress tweeted after the rally quoting its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi.”Rahulji asks if Modiji received this money from Sahara or not? If this document is with Income Tax, will Modi now investigate it?,” tweeted party chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala. He was quoted saying by ANI that according to these records, Rs 2.5 crore was given to PM Modi on 30 October 2013, Rs 5 crore on 12 November 2013, Rs 2.5 crore on 27 Nov 2013, and Rs 5 crore on 29 November 2013. Entries showed Rs 5cr given to PM Modi on 6 Dec ’13; Rs 5cr on 19 Dec ’13; Rs 5cr on 13 Jan ’14;Rs 5cr on 28 Jan ’14;Rs 5cr 22 Feb ’14.” NGO Common Cause had filed a PIL on the issue in the Supreme Court and a bench headed by CJI-designate Justice J S Khehar last week had refused to take up the matter saying there was no evidence but only allegations against the Prime Minister. The bench then asked lawyer Prashant Bhushan to provide evidence before it could decide on whether it could admit the petition.Gandhi alleged that the I-T records show Sahara officials’ claims of having paid Rs 40 crore to Modi on various dates between October, 2013 and February, 2014.”You (Modi) did not allow me to speak in Parliament. I did not know why you did not wanted to face me in the House. I tell you the reason. Any business entity keeps record of its transactions. On November 2014, Income Tax department conducted raids on Sahara, a very large corporate house,” he said.”During that raid, I-T department found some documents, which are on record. I want to share with you the contents of those documents. There were several entries in those documents, which I am reading out before you,” he said.He then alleged that another record suggests that Birla Group gave Rs 12 crore to ‘Gujarat Chief Minister’.”This record is with I-T department since last 2.5 years.I-T even recommended to conduct an inquiry in this issue. I want to ask you why no such inquiry was done? We want to know whether it is true that money was given to you nine times by Sahara?” Rahul asked.”You doubted the honesty of citizens, their hard-earned income, and made them stand in the queues. Now, on behalf of citizens, I am asking you whether the information is true or not. And if it is true, then when you will set up an inquiry,” said Gandhi. With inputs from PTI

Government to check misuse of tax exemptions by political parties: Arun Jaitley

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Government plans to set a threshold criteria for political parties to enjoy tax exemptions to check money laundering by outfits that do not contest elections, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Tuesday.He said the Revenue Secretary has been asked to look into the issue in the wake of Election Commission’s recommendations in this regard. Jaitley’s remarks at a Times Now event assume significance in the context of the Election Commission’s recommendations to the Government to amend laws to bar tax exemption to parties that do not contest elections and win seats in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls and to ban anonymous donations above Rs 2,000 to political parties.”I can point out one is invisible donation which Election Commission says is anonymous and the second is when political parties got exemptions. There are about 40/50/60 political parties which effectively contest elections in Centre and the states, (but) you have a large number of political parties which got registered not for contesting election but for availing tax exemption. “Now this part is easier to tackle. I have already asked the Revenue Secretary to look into this and therefore we will have to put a threshold criteria so that we are able to eliminate those which are not real political parties but only for money conversion which have come in,” Jaitley said.He said many political parties do not contest elections but only accept donations and convert money. “I have already told the Revenue Department to look at them and therefore some threshold criteria could be fixed and number of these could be eliminated,” Jaitley added. Jaitley underlined the need for making political funding as transparent as possible, saying donations must be smaller in size but huge in number. “Political funding is necessary, it should be smaller in terms of denomination but larger in its spread. And therefore not creating a quid pro quo and it should be absolutely transparent,” he said.And eventually it may be worthwhile to try and make efforts only for genuine political parties to get those benefits then start moving towards donations predominantly in the manner, he said regretting that electoral reform initiated during Vajpayee Government were not followed up by the UPA. He further said that once the country transforms into a less cash economy, the donors of the political party won’t have the kind of money in future to donate. “And they are going to straight away tell the political parties you are the ones who brought this change and therefore don’t expect us to give any invisible funding. We will fund you but we will fund you by cheque. And that’s how it should be,” he said.

Govt will impose limits on tax exemption for political parties, says Arun Jaitley

New Delhi: The central government plans to set a threshold criteria for political parties to enjoy tax exemptions to check money laundering by outfits that do not contest elections, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Reuters file imageFinance Minister Arun Jaitley. Reuters file image

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Reuters file image

Jaitley said the revenue secretary has been asked to look into the issue in the wake of Election Commission’s recommendations
in this regard. Jaitley’s remarks at a Times Now event assume significance in the context of the Election Commission’s recommendations to the government to amend laws to bar tax exemption to parties that do not contest elections and win seats in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls and to ban anonymous donations above Rs 2,000 to political parties.

“I can point out one is invisible donation which Election Commission says is anonymous and the second is when political parties got exemptions. There are about 40/50/60 political parties which effectively contest elections in Centre and the states, (but) you have a large number of political parties which got registered not for contesting election but for availing tax exemption,” he said.

“Now this part is easier to tackle. I have already asked the revenue secretary to look into this and therefore we will have to put a threshold criteria so that we are able to eliminate those which are not real political parties but only for money conversion which have come in,” Jaitley said.

He said many political parties do not contest elections but only accept donations and convert money. “I have already told the Revenue Department to look at them and therefore some threshold criteria could be fixed and number of these could be eliminated,” Jaitley added.

First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 22:25 IST

After Pathankot, JeM chief Masood Azhar owns up Nagrota attack

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Even as India names Jaish-e-Mohammad chief in the charge sheet for master-minding attack on an Indian Airforce base in Pathankot earlier this year, Maulana Masood Azhar continues to freely run the terror group’s online publication and brazenly claim responsibility for last month’s attack on another military camp in Nagrota from Pakistan.Following an 11-month investigation, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has named Azhar and his brother JeM’s deputy chief Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar both resident of Bahawalpur, Pakistan along with six other members of the terrorist group for planning and carrying an attack in Pathankot on January 2. This is the first time India has charge-sheeted Azhar on terror offence, following his release in exchange of victims of Kandahar hijack.Since the Pathankot attack, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz claimed that Azhar was under ‘protective custody’ since January 2014. But this has not restricted the head of the proscribed terror group to propagate jihad against India or own credit for the attacks by its cadres. Earlier this month, writing in the December 6 issue of al Qalam weekly—an online media arm of the JeM— Azhar talks about significance of Babri Masjid demolition and hanging of Afzal Guru in the continuance of jihad, demonetization not impacting funding of militancy and the Nagrota attack.”This week’s publication was delayed as the attack in Nagrota was still in action at the time of writing and communication failure (on details of the attack) from Kashmir,” Azhar wrote under his pen name Saadi. On November 29, three militants entered the army camp in Nagrota killing seven personnel. The militants left behind posters claiming the attack as a revenge for hanging of Afzal Guru.Elaborating on the attack in the ‘heart of the Northern Command of the Indian Army’, Azhar says the attack was carried by the Afzal Guru squad involving five militants and two of them managed to escape to safety. “There were three security cordons around the camp… it is not easy and inexpensive to gain entry and set the stage for the attack.” He indicates that the squad was helped by people with close knowledge on the geography of the camp and who are its frequent visitors, as any strange man walking a few steps could be caught and killed by the Army.Addressing an important aspect, on where did the money to buy equipment or prepare for the attack come from, Azhar says the demonetization of high currency denomination has not deterred the Kashmiri mujaheeds nor has impacted the funding for militancy. The money changers and industrialists, Azhar says were aware of demonetization before its public announcement by PM Narendra Modi. “The Kashmiri Mujahideen, Maoists and Khalistan fighters will not suffer any financial hardship. We are able to get the small currency by exchanging dollars, pounds and euro easily. The Nagrota attack is an evidence for this.”Invoking the demolition of Babri Masjid and Afzal Guru’s death, Azhar says these two events have shaped the narrative of `Ghazwa-e-Hind’ or the jihad against India. “India could’ve stopped the demolition of Babri Masjid, but it did not. It could have stopped the hanging of Guru, but it did not. There is now no power in India that can stop their revenge.”The Indian government is desperately trying to include Azhar on the UN Security Council’s 1267 sanctions list and subject him to an assets freeze and travel ban. JeM is already proscribed by the UNSC in 2001 for its terror activities and links to the al-Qaeda. China has so far vetoed India’s appeal to that would declare him as an international terrorist.THE JAISH HAND IN 2016January 2: 4 JeM militants attack Pathankot Air Force baseMay 20: 5 JeM militants killed in an encounter, KupwaraMay 23: 2 JeM cadres killed in Lal Chowk, SrinagarAugust 17: Three JeM militants ambush an Army convoy in Baramulla killing 2 army menSeptember 18: DGMO announces JeM militants attack Army camp in Uri (though NIA and other agencies claim Lashar-e-Taiba for the attack)November 29: Three militants entered Army camp in Nagrota dressed in Army fatigues.Posters claiming revenge for Afzal Guru recovered. Five army personnel killed.

Demonetization: Number of depositors, deposits reduce by 80-85% across Maharashtra, Goa

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Cash crunch continued to hit the people in Mumbai over 40 days after the demonetization move, even as the queues for depositing the old scrapped notes at the banks eased. However, the people are irked as ATMs at many places continue to run out of cash. “There is a short queue for withdrawal and almost no queue for the deposits. You can see it here,” said a senior executive of a leading private bank in Fort area.A senior officer at Department of Post, Maharashtra and Goa Circle, said, “The numbers of depositors as well the amount of deposits across the five regions in the circle have reduced by over 80 to 85% and so is the case with opening new accounts.” However, some people in the city complained that the note ban has increased their difficulties.Sheetala Prasad, a grocery owner from suburban Kandivili, said, “These days have been the worst days for my business. We are facing a lot of problems for want of cash.” He expressed unhappiness over the Rs 50,000 withdrawal limits for current account and Rs 24,000 for savings account.Expressing his anguish over the ATMs running out of cash, Ramesh Tripathi, a trainer at a gym in South Mumbai, said, “The ATMs have virtually become defunct. The ‘ATM Closed’ boards are now a permanent feature.” “But, we are able to withdraw money from banks. I got Rs 10,000 from a bank in Worli today in less than 5 minutes,” he added.A real state broker from suburban Mulund, on condition of anonymity, said, “The deals in real estate sector have dropped drastically. Even the deals which were made before the demonetisation move, have got cancelled now.” He also said that the note ban is expected to cause a dip in real estate prices in the coming months.

Arun Jaitley clarifies that political parties enjoy no exemptions from demonetisation rule

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has clarified that the government has not made any changes to the laws, and there aren’t any exemptions granted to political parties post demonetisation. A statement released by Jaitley’s office said there was no change made to the taxation laws (Second Amendment) Act, 2016, which came into force on 15 December, 2016.

Arun Jaitley. PTI file imageArun Jaitley. PTI file image

Arun Jaitley. PTI file image

On the controversy regarding tax scrutiny of political parties, Jaitley said, “This is a complete media creation and there are no changes made in the law in that regard. Has a single change made in the last two months or so or in the last two-and-a-half years with regard to taxation of political parties? The answer is ‘No’.”

“Nothing has been done, whatever was the existing system which has been existed for the last 15 years is continuing and if somebody creates a political party for the purposes channelising funds, then obviously the law will step in,” he said.

“I implore all journalist friends to be fully outraged against any step of the government, if it is not against corruption. But in equal measure, I would also implore them to do adequate research before jumping the gun. Under Section 13A of the IT Act, 1961, political parties have to submit audited accounts, income and expenditure details and balance sheets,” he said.

“Post demonetisation, no political party can accept donations in Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes since they were rendered illegal tenders. Any party doing so would be in violation of law. Just like anyone else, political parties can also deposit their cash held in the old currency in banks till the 30 December deadline provided they can satisfactorily explain the source of income and their books of accounts reflect the entries prior to 8 November,” he added.

“And if there is any discrepancy in the books or records of political parties, they are as liable to be questioned by the Income Tax authorities as is anyone else. They enjoy no immunity whatsoever. There is no question of sparing anyone, and the political class is no exception. In fact, PM Modi is setting a new example of propriety in public life, by asking all MPs and MLAs to submit their bank account details post demonetisation. We would like to urge the other parties to do the same and prove their intentions against corruption,” Jaitley said.

With inputs from PTI

First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 22:14 IST

Need to concentrate on some states lagging behind in education: Prakash Javadekar

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> There is a need to concentrate on states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, MP and Rajasthan which are lagging behind in the education sector when compared to the other states, Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar said on Saturday. Inaugurating the 29th All India Urdu Book Fair at the powerloom town of Bhiwandi in the district, the Minister said “As far as education is concerned, statistics reveals that Muslim, Hindu and other community members progressed in states of Kerala, TN, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat while it was not so in other states. There is a dire need to pay attention to this.” He said that the present government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken up several measures to promote Urdu language and various steps have been taken in this direction.The minister, who praised Urdu as a lovely language and the script as nothing but an example of calligraphy, said the Urdu Academy and Council have come out with several publications. Even the Wikipedia has an assistance in Urdu which was not there previously. On standard of education in government schools and on issue of dropouts, the Minister said, “The government has decided to take several measures to ensure that the standard of education in the government schools in the country improves and the issue of dropouts is addressed.”He appreciated role played by various educational institutions, universities, research centres in addition to the NGOs in promoting Urdu language. He said plans are afoot to go in for online teaching of Urdu where every one can take education in their spare time. The Minister said the World Urdu Conference will be held in Delhi in March 2017. On the occasion, Javdekar gave slogan — ‘Sabko Siksha, Aachi Siksha’. “If the ‘Talim’ (teaching) improves everything improves and the country makes progress,” said Javdekar.

Sonia Gandhi prefers ‘non-polluted’ Goa over Delhi: Rahul Gandhi

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said on Saturday that his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi preferred Goa over Delhi, as she felt that there was “no pollution” in the state and the people were “very good”.”Goa me akar mujhe bahot khushi hui hai…kuchh hi din pehle Congress president bhi yahan aayi thi. (I feel happy being in Goa. Few days back Congress president had also come here),” Gandhi said while addressing an election rally last evening at Fatorda village, around 30 kms from here.”Jab Delhi wapas aayi to maine unse puchha ki kaisi hain aap, to kehti hai mai Goa wapas jana chahti hu. (When she returned to Delhi, I asked her how she was and she said she wants to go back to Goa),” Rahul said at the beginning of his speech.”Unhone kaha, mujhe Goa ki hawa achhi lagi, Goa me koi pollution nahi hai…Goa ke log bahot achhe hai. (I like Goa’s air. There is no pollution there and people of Goa are very good),” he said.Mid-November, Sonia Gandhi visited the coastal state, where she lived in a starred resort in South Goa. During the stay, she has paid a visit to private museum without any security hassles. The Congress president had also visited a temple at Fatorpa village, 30 kms away from Margao.

Jaitley hints not all scrapped notes will be remonetised, digital currency will fill gaps

New Delhi: On SaturdayFinance Minister Arun Jaitley hinted that not all of the Rs 15.44 lakh crore worth of currency junked will be remonetised through issuance of new notes as he said digital currency will fill the gap.

Calling the scrapping of old 500 and 1,000 rupee notes as “a courageous step”, he said the government could do it as India today has the capacity to take such decisions and experiment boldly.

The move will create a new Indian normal as the one that existed for the past seven decades is “unacceptable”, he said, adding that demonetisation will help rid the economy of high cash circulation that had led to tax evasion, blackmoney and currency being used for crime.

Arun Jaitley. PTIArun Jaitley. PTI

Arun Jaitley. PTI

“One of the efforts of this exercise has to be that even though a reduced cash currency could remain, our conscious effort… (is) to supplement the rest with a digital currency,” he said while addressing annual general meeting of industry chamber FICCI.

As many as 17,165 million pieces of Rs 500 denomination and 6,858 million pieces of Rs 1,000 banknotes were in circulation on 8 November when the government made the surprise announcement.

Jaitley further said: “The whole process of remonetisation is not going to take very long time and I’m sure very soon the Reserve Bank by injecting currency daily into the banking and postal system will be able to complete that.”

Also, the push to use the digital mode to make payments has been gaining ground. “The manner it has taken place in the last five weeks is indeed commendable. Only a section of Parliament seems unaware of what is happening,” he said.

Once the remonetisation process is complete, it will mark “the creation of a new Indian normal because the normal that existed for 70 years is an unacceptable normal,” he added.

“The 70-year normal had become a way of life for almost every Indian. It was not merely a fact that you had a lot more cash currency, far larger cash currency as part of your GDP… the economic and social consequences of that are extremely adverse.”

He made a point that dealing in that cash currency had led to a lot of aberrations in terms of tax non-compliance, currency being used for collateral purposes like crime, escaping the tax net and not getting into the banking system.

The government took “a somewhat courageous step” of withdrawing high demonetisation currency and went in for a large currency swap.

“The fact that India today has the capacity to take these decisions and capacity to enforce them, to experiment boldly even when at a time when the world is looking more inwards, marks an exception as far as India is concerned,” the finance minister asserted.

Jaitley also spoke of the country’s “stamina” to sustain a decision like demonetisation, which has “clear long-term gains even at the cost of short-term inconveniences”.

“Therefore, once we have that stamina notwithstanding fringe positions taken by national parties, one would always be able to implement these extremely successfully. Long-term benefits of these are going to be absolutely clear even if we bear the short-term pains,” he said.

He seemed confident that the existing almost 75 crore debit and credit cards in the market, besides e-wallets, will help increase digital transactions. He also made a pitch that these transformations will have to be carried to their logical conclusion.

“There are, of course, even as we reform, domestic trends which are being visible on digitization of payments,” Jaitley said, adding that the government has clarity of direction as well as a broad shoulder and stamina to sustain these decisions.

First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 12:31 IST

Tamil Nadu: Opposition parties demand ‘white paper’ on treatment given to Jayalalalithaa

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>As controversy surrounds over the death of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalalithaa, opposition DMK and PMK demanded a ‘white paper’ on the medical treatment given to the leader on Thursday as they said “there were apprehensions among the public and party supporters on the matter.”DMK Treasurer and Opposition Leader MK Stalin and PMK founder S Ramadoss made demands in this regard. “The Tamil Nadu government should release a white paper on the treatment given to former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. Since AIIMS doctors had also treated her, the treatment details should be informed to public by the Centre,” Stalin said.He added that neither he nor his party wanted to “politicise” the matter. “Jayalalithaa was not on an ordinary person but the Chief Minister. Even during her hospitalisation, parties including DMK sought publicising of information on her treatment,” he told reporters.Stalin recalled that in the past when former chief ministers like late CN Annadurai and MG Ramachandran, were hospitalised, the then Health ministers in the respective cabinets used to come up with periodic updates on their health status. However, no statement was released by the government or the Tamil Nadu Health minister when Jayalalithaa was hospitalised. Only Apollo Hospitals, where she was admitted, issued medical bulletins, he stated.Expressing grief over the AIADMK leader’s death, Stalin said, “There are various reports about the treatment given to the former chief minister,” and referred to the demand by PMK founder S Ramadoss, who also sought a white paper on the matter. “There are doubts among many people about the death of the (former) chief minister. To completely dispel them, a white paper should be published as demanded by Ramadoss,” he said.Ramadoss, on his part, said there were “apprehensions” among the public and AIADMK workers over the treatment given to Jayalalithaa as well as her death. “To dispel them, the state government should immediately release a white paper detailing the medical treatment given to Jayalalithaa,” he said.

Demonetisation to less cash: Economists can do without moral compass, not politicians

One has to be cruel to ignore this.

In Delhi, a newspaper report says the cash-starved poor have been living on charity and doles, and students have been going to langars because they have no money to pay for food in hotels. All cash-dependent economic activity has come to a standstill in the weeks after demonetisation. Factories and smaller business establishments cannot pay cash to labourers, so they are headed back home with nothing in hand. People still waste productive hours standing in long queues at banks. The grim scenario looks grimmer if you consider that around 90 people have reportedly died while waiting to get their own money.

The misery of people is visible to the naked eye. One has to be morally blind to argue that everything is fine. The contention that the present suffering of the masses would give way to a bright future is specious too. As the apologists of the government, especially a section of the economists, keep arguing in favour of demonetisation despite the apparent social and economic dislocation it has caused around, one wonders whether that feeling called compassion is dead now.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Economists in ivory towers can do without the moral compass, not politicians. They can suggest ideas that are cynical to the core, even criminal, but politicians cannot be that callous. The core value of their vocation is supposed to be built around empathy. What we notice post-demonetisation is callous disregard for it. A good gesture from the government after the first two weeks of demonetisation would have been the frank admission: “Yes, we botched up. We could have planned better. Sorry for the inconvenience.” But no, what we have is adamant defence of the move, backed vociferously by the fervent drum-beaters of the ruling dispensation.

Was less cash transaction part of the original deal? When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced trashing of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, the buzz was black money. People were ready to undergo some pain so that tainted money could get purged from the system. There was more appreciation than anger for the prime minister in the long queues outside banks. Now that the talk has suddenly shifted to electronic transactions, the ordinary people have reason to feel that they have been conned.

The questions come thick and fast: What was the need to go for demonetisation if the aim was to promote less cash transactions? What’s the logic behind clubbing one with the other? A good idea it might be but shouldn’t less cash be a gradual process? What right does the government have to force people to shun cash habit this way? Was the real intent behind demonetisation something else? The poor are obviously suffering but who’s having a good time at their cost?

These are not questions that would have been raised had the government stuck to what it claimed while announcing demonetisation. Now people have the right to ask: Was it necessary to go for it? Which economic common sense drove you to go for it? How come you failed to anticipate it was going to be this messy?

It is being alleged by the political opposition that the government has shifted the goal post. It indeed has, perhaps as a face-saver, because it grossly misunderstood the dynamics of black money and sought to take the populist route, as in every other matter, including diplomacy, to fight it. A couple of weeks into demonetisation, it was clear to all concerned that things were not going right. The government had the option of admitting to people that it went wrong but it decided to be clever.

It could be either arrogance or fool-hardiness. The strong advocacy of less cash is certainly not doing the government any good. Worse is the claim that everything alright and the poor are happy.

It is cruel. Someone out there ought to start thinking with some compassion.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 21:13 IST

Meet the brains behind Hult Prize India, a Clinton global initiative

The Hult Prize India last few years have been an interesting journey. The seed was sown with formation of Aravindam Foundation for education of slum children and rural women in 2008. Ewelina Janus, management consultant from Poland, visiting India, joined hands with Lokesh Abrol, Specialist Physician in Gurgaon to establish the Aravindam Foundation Gurukul for slum children in Kamdhenudham Gaushala, established by Dr. Abrol and awarded as a model in the country. Abhimanyu Abrol, then an Architecture student at IIT Kharagpur, created the design. They were soon joined by a regular stream of volunteers, both Indian and foreigners. Ewelina applied social enterprise techniques to minimise expenses and develop revenue generation plans. Within two years, the India faction we had two centres and several courses running.

Hult is the family name of Swedish born entrepreneur and billionaire, Bertil Hult, one of Europe’s leading entrepreneurs who founded EF Education First, the largest private education company in the world.

Excerpts from an email interaction with Lokesh Abrol

How did you get involved with the Hult Prize Foundation?

Abhimanyu and his team at IIT Kharagpur prepared for The Hult Prize in 2015. They turned to Aravindam for inspiration and mentoring. It was exciting to work with bright youngsters full of energy, confidence and ideas. The team represented India at the San Francisco Regional finals. Abhimanyu got a special invite to The Hult Prize Retreat at London, where he met Ahmad Ashkar, the Hult Prize founder CEO and proposed an India chapter. One year later, we got a call and Hult Prize India was born in August 2016 with Ewelina (Aravindam Managing Director) as the India National Director and Aravindam Directors, Abhimanyu and me as the Hult Prize India Directors.

What does your job entail?

The Hult Prize India was born when the 2016 action was already on. We had to play catch up, running literally round the clock, against time. There was the first task of reaching out to campuses to enhance participation. We managed a 400 percent growth. The campus director applications had to be screened, appointments made, webinars organised, questions answered, volunteers and mentors gathered and motivated, website and Facebook presence and content created, agreements prepared, discussed and signed. While this was still happening, the next round of guiding campus directors to create teams, run seminars and organise jury and campus level events, started. We sought out students with past experience, for assistance. There was the additional challenge of each one of us investing full time in addition to our existing full time occupations. It became double full time for each one of us.

How has it been working with the Hult Foundation?

Before we could catch our breath, the responsibility of organising the national event came up. We started shortlisting and approaching prospective sponsors, partners and judges while planning logistics and event format. Simultaneously, regular meetings, brainstorming and discussions had to be on with the central team across time zones, almost always squeezing in hours taken from our regular jobs, meal times or the ever scarce sleep hours, to ensure that Delhi, London, Boston, San Francisco and Mexico members could be on video call at the same time. There were situations when Cesar would be at a Mexican airport, Ewelina at Krakow city centre, Abhimanyu pacing outside his office in London, Amanda waking up in San Francisco and me trying to keep awake in Gurgaon! It has never been short of an exciting roller coaster with barely a minute to spare ever since the Hult Prize swept us like a tsunami. Do we love it? Of course, we love surfing the great waves. We love being at the heart of action, creating the next wave of social entrepreneurs.

How are the India directors and judges selected for this prize?

The Hult Prize Foundation has partnered with the Aravindam Foundation to establish the Hult Prize India. The India Directors are Ahmad Ashkar and Cesar Delvalle from the parent body in USA and Ewelina Janus, Abhimanyu Abrol and me from the Aravindam in India. There is provision for two directors from sponsors of Hult Prize India.

The campus directors in universities are students selected after a process of online applications, screening and finally interviews in person or tele and video conferencing. Judges are academia, entrepreneurs, Impact investors, financial experts, corporate leaders and social activists invited on the basis of credentials.

How many colleges are participating for Hult Prize 2017?

Around 50+ colleges are participating. The number of colleges was 4 in 2014 and 12 in 2015.

What has been the reaction of colleges and students?

The premier Indian colleges are the most enthusiastic about the Hult Prize. The Hult prize participations are led by students. As the word spreads, we are approached by students from other campuses asking about participation. We do not have to approach college administrations in most situations. The students take it upon themselves to involve their professors and directors. They, in turn, are more than willing to get their students the great international connect, outlook, network, learning and real life experience of Social and entrepreneurship that comes with the Hult Prize.

We have nearly all the IITs, IIMs, all campuses of ISB and BITS, XLRI, SRCC, MDI, IIFT, Jadhavpur University, Christ University, VIVA college, Manipal University, Welingkar, NMIMS, Somaiya institute, Symbiosis and more on our roll.

How many Indians have won the Hult Prize in the past?

Several Indians representing colleges in India and abroad. Manish Rajan, representing an Indian College – ISB Hyderabad won the nanohealth in 2014. Nanohealth from ISB Hyderabad in 2014 led by Manish Ranjan

Akanksha Hazari from M.Paani won it in 2011.
M.Paani 2011. Akanksha Hazari

Sonia Kabra from Earlham College, Team magic Bus, won it in 2016.

What does it take to be a Hult prize winner?
The ability to build as opposed to identify great social ventures is what differentiates the Hult Prize from any other platform in the world. The Hult Prize winners bring entrepreneurship skills to social objectives. They make ‘Purpose’ with ‘Profit’ their objective. It is not charity. It is doing good while enhancing dignity. The winners understand and believe that ‘doing good is good business’. Those motivated by bottom lines while being concerned about those at the bottom, have it in them, to be Hult Prize winners.

Hult Prize winners have gone onto create the largest alternative protein industry in micro-livestock, the world’s largest distributor of solar lights, health access to all and India’s fastest growing loyalty and rewards program targeting the world’s poorest.

What has surprised you about Indian students participation?
Participation is on a scale far beyond anywhere else. There is remarkable awareness of social issues, a great motivation to do good and innovative ideas to achieve the objectives. The ideas are close to ground reality and practicality.
The next step of packaging the ideas into salable and scalable models will happen effortlessly as the students open up to mentors and peers around the world. Indian students quickly adapt to the international environment of the Hult Prize and leverage their knowledge and experience of ground realities of deprivation.

Which innovation/s, even though it did not win the prize, stood out or resonated with you? Why?
A few them were interesting. Tembo (Elephant in Swahili) from University of Tampa, USA proposed using cellphone air time as currency to motivate parents in Africa to learn lessons sent by text messages and teach them to their kids. The parents get free air time if they pass a quiz each week.

The Kajoli model of self learning by Prof. Shamsul Bari coupled with mother’s skills and loyalty program proposed by Team Veditum of IIT Kharagpur where kids learn by the Kajoli at a centre while the mother’s learn, produce and sell traditional crafts through an e-commerce platform while they wait for their children.

The Hult Prize is about ‘empowering business minds to pursue purpose’ says Ahmad Ashkar, the Founder CEO. We empower brilliant minds to invest in doing good and to have healthy bottom lines so that the doing good is scalable and sustainable. That is the way to bring the benefits to many more people in under-served communities. There is greater dignity in empowerment than in charity. This is what the millennial generation understands. These are the generation of achievers who are in their finest when helping others while enhancing themselves. The ‘larger good’ and the ‘bottom lines’ become mutually complementary rather than ‘mutually excluding’.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 17:05 IST

Mukul Sangma accuses PM Modi of being ‘brand ambassador’ of corporate houses

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being a “brand ambassador” of corporate houses promoting their businesses through the demonetization exercise.”I have analysed it (demonetization) and I have seen that the main agenda of this government and the Prime Minister is not to fight corruption or black money or so-called funding of terrorist organisation. The whole agenda now seems to be in promoting some particular business benefiting some limited corporate houses,” Sangma told reporters here.”I have not seen anybody in the world where a Prime Minister starts acting as a brand ambassador for products monopolised by a few corporate houses,” he said, referring to Modi for being part of advertisements of some private companies, which he did not name.
ALSO READ CISF has seized Rs 70 cr cash, 170 kg gold from airports post demonetization”This is something which is not in sync with the rhetoric.What you see today is he (Modi) was in a hurry to please those business houses and this is how I can interpret,” Sangma said.The Chief Minister criticised the demonetization move saying it had “completely dislocated the whole momentum of economic activities at all levels. This (demonetization) has been done without due diligence and the worst hit are the marginalised farmers.””They (farmers) are not finding buyers because cash is not there. There is a short circulation of cash. With the Rs 2,000 notes, both the buyer and seller are equally helpless,” he added.

Cyclone Vardah killed Chennai’s internet, so our writer sent us a handwritten story

As over 8,500 trees lay uprooted on 12 December, the Tamil Nadu civic authorities and the rescue team were in high gear. The uprooted trees have bee removed, the arterial roads have been cleared, and work is on full swing two days after cyclone Vardah tore into Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts before heading to Andhra Pradesh.

The 5,000 electricity polls have been destroyed by the cyclone in Kanchipuram and another 4,000 in Tiruvallur. Close to 500 electricity transformers have been crushed in Chennai by fallen trees.

This has meant no power to a large part of the city. Officials at the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (Tangedco) told Firstpost that the priority was to give power to residential areas and later to commercial and industrial zones. “By tonight, most of Chennai will have power,” said state electricity minister P Thangamani.

What authorities are not able to do much about, though is the lack of mobile connectivity in cyclone-hit areas. This has thrown ATMs, banks and POS machines out of gear.

With Cyclone Vardah keeping Chennai offline and frequent power cuts not helping either, the good old notebook came to the author’s rescue. She sent images of the pages of her story on WhatsApp.

Vardha Cyclone by Firstpost on Scribd

Upscale supermarkets in the posh Boat Club area of Chennai too are unable to allow customers use their debit/credit cards. “Tower ille” was the constant refrain of restaurants and supermarkets in the city.

Residents looking at uprooted trees in an area in Chennai. PTI

Residents looking at uprooted trees in an area in Chennai. PTI

Two days after the cyclone, mobile connectivity is yet to be restored. Police, Tangedco and Chennai corporation officials continue to use walkie-talkies to communicate as the mobile network is down. R Shanmugam, 43, a resident of Mylapore, said that he had gone to almost all the ATMs in his area but they were either shut or had no cash in them.

“We had to call in some people to remove the fallen trees from our house,” he said. “We have to pay in cash. There is absolutely no cash anywhere. Even bank branches don’t have cash. What do I do?”

Those in poorer areas of the city like 44-year-old B Perumal says power is yet to be restored and water has become a big problem. Pointing at his empty wallet, “There is not a paisa in my hand. Due to power cut there is no water. I am not even able to buy water cans,” he said.

Perumal said he walked for two kilometres with buckets to find a public water supply point. “I have walked to work because I have no money for petrol and they are not accepting cards. They say their machines are not working,” he said.

With demonetisation hitting especially hard, in the aftermath of cyclone Vardah, Chennai is reeling under the double whammy. While Chief Minister O Panneerselvam asking for relief of Rs 1,000 crores, what Chennaiites really need is a quick infusion of cash into their banks and a speedy restoration of mobile services.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 07:33 IST

Indo-US military logistics pact is ‘mundane’: Richard Verma

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> US Ambassador to India Richard Verma on Wednesday said the military logistics memorandum agreement signed with India was mundane in nature and was only limited to logistics.”The logistics memorandum agreement between India and the US is only limited to logistics and mundane in nature. There is no question of India compromising on its security by signing the pact,” Verma told reporters at thePress Club here. He said the agreement would enable both countries to share bases, fuel and food and was a good recognition of where the bilateral ties stood today. CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury had earlier demanded the contents of the military logistics pact between India and the US be made public. Verma, who had been in office in India for the last two years, said the defence ties with India “stand on its own.” “Defence relations with India stand on its own and is not a buyer-seller relation,” the Ambassador said.He said both countries had important defence deals in the past as well. “We have a special cell in the Pentagon that looks only after these matters and the US does not have this kind of arrangement with any other country,” he said. “US and India are the world’s largest two democracies with 1.6 billion people. If the two countries are close friends, then the world will be a safer and a prosperous place. There is a ripple effect,” Verma said. To a query on the US’ position on Pakistan as an “exporter of terrorism”, Verma said there has been condemnation of cross-border terrorism from their side. “The US has been speaking about condemnation of cross-border terrorism which has to end. We want to see that kind of unity in our relations with India. With Pakistan, it is complex, based on cross-border terrorism. With India it is on a different plane,” he said.Asked about the future of Indo-US relations under the new dispensation, he said, “In the coming years, US and India relations will continue as it is today.” “Relations between India and US is on an upward trajectory and irreversible. Indians settled in the US will continue be the natural bridge between the two countries,” Verma said. “We believe it is the strategic interest of the US to see a stronger India. We strongly believe in that,” he said.On the economic front, he said US was the largest trading partner of India with two-way trade hovering at USD 100 billion. There were 500 US companies in India and 100 Indian companies in the US, he said. Verma was in the city to attend a seminar on regional connectivity where participants from Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Thailand were present, besides USA and India. He also said US was ready to share its best practices on dealing with border security to help countries in protecting their citizens.

Provide jobs to youth to prevent unrest and disturbances: President

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>President Pranab Mukherjee said on Wednesday that government and industry should work together to provide jobs to youth to avoid unrest and disturbances.”India’s population is 130 crore. Half of this population is below 25 years of age, and in working age group of 15-59 years, this population is 62 per cent. If you keep these numbers in mind and think for a while what would happen if such magnitude of people do not have their vocation and opportunity of maintaining their livelihood in a decent way,” Mukherjee said. The President was speaking at annual day celebration of CII’s skill training centre here.He said that the agriculture sector is over saturated now and it can support very low number of people. “These workforce is going to be an asset to us … but if we cannot provide job to them what will happen. There will be unrest, there will be frustration. There will be difficulties, disturbances,” Mukherjee said. He said that there are 36,000 colleges producing graduates but a large number of passouts are unemployable. It is estimated by the World Economic Forum that two-thirds of children who now enter a school will work in jobs that cannot be imagined right now.Mukherjee said India will have the scope for employment generation but lacks skilled workforce. The President said that a Skills Development Council was created in 2010 and target was fixed by 2020 to create large number of skilled workforce. “Unfortunately not much progress was made in that direction. As a result in 2014 with change of government, when new Prime Minister came he established to focus on this issue with Department of Skill Development. “A minister was entrusted with the job to focus and a programme was created over a larger period of time that by 2030 at least 500 million people are provided appropriate skill so that they get job anywhere in the world,” he said.The President said more than 60 lakh people are working in West Asia and Gulf countries alone which are sending large number of remittances back home which is helping India build foreign exchange reserves.He said that the average age in Europe and North America is increasing and India has the opportunity with its young population. “That (skill development) is the reason I have come to Chhindwara for fifth time and why I am participating in the programme of CII to celebrate their annual day of skill development. This is the programme that country needs the most,” Mukherjee said.He lauded efforts of local MP Kamalnath for setting up skill development centres in his constituency. CII President Naushad Forbes said that the industry body has not been able to set up skill development centres in any part of the country like the ones set up here. He said that CII in coming days will make effort to set up such centres in all districts of the country.

CBSE Class 10 exams will be mandatory from 2017-18: Prakash Javadekar

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> The CBSE Board would meet at the end of this month and a resolution is set to be passed to make class X board exams compulsory for all its students from next academic session, HRD minister Prakash Javadekar has said.The minister also said the Human Resource Development Ministry (HRD) is working on an amendment to the Right to Education Act (RTE), and a proposal has been approved by the Law Ministry that would come to the Cabinet in a week or two. “This month there will be a CBSE Board meeting, in which there will be a resolution (for compulsory class X board exams). “So, I am very sure, from academic session 2017-18, Board examination will be mandatory for all students,” Javadekar told PTI.The minister also asserted that it was “unfair” that 23 million students in the country were taking various examinations -state boards and CBSE- and yet two million were not. Under the present norms, CBSE students can choose between the Board exam or a school based examination. On RTE amendment, he said once it is approved by the Cabinet, it will go to Parliament. “Even if it is referred to a Standing Committee, I hope by April, we will have an amendment which will allow states to take a call on whether to have detention or no detention,” Javadekar said.Presently, the ‘No Detention’ provision under the RTE Act does not allow students to be failed or detained till class VIII. The states will be given freedom to choose between having examination for classes V and VIII, Javadekar said. “But we are also simultaneously saying that if you take it and somebody’s detained, he should not lose one year. There should be a supplementary exam two months after and then he again joins the next batch. So that he does not lose a year but there is accountability for the student also,” the HRD minister said. “We don’t want to create exam oriented pressure on students but there has to be a challenge mode,” he said.

The drug mayhem: Is Mumbai next?

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The film Udta Punjab, which received mixed reactions, exposed the extent of drug abuse in Punjab. According to research conducted by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCB) in 2014, there were 14,274 cases reported in Mumbai, as compared to 14,483 cases in Punjab. There are more than 500 de-addiction centres in India nursing users back to health is one thing, but speak to a few others and they will tell you how deep this problem is and why it may never go away.Afiz* is 28-years old and works in a call centre in Mumbai. He gave up studying in class 11 and was introduced to drugs by a group of girls at a party. “At 16, I was introduced to weed, soon I explored chemical drugs and began to score for myself. Having done ganja, cocaine and acid (LSD), charas (cannabis) is my favourite and I do it every day.”Drug addiction is not gender relative. Jane* is an 18-year-old, who in school was introduced to chemical drugs, says, “I was 14 then and peddlers were easily available. I do meth (Methamphetamine) regularly. It’s in a crystal form and one has to crush it into a powder and snort it. I have never regretted doing drugs and hope to never visit a de-addiction centre,” she says.Just as one cannot do business without understanding its network, Ashok*, a 24-year-old former drug peddler, claims to have a thorough understanding of the peddling network in Mumbai. Having started with chemical drugs at the age of 13, he has tried most of the varieties. “I have done LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), Hash (MD5), OMG (a form of weed), MCAT (meow-meow), crystal meth, opium, and charas. I peddled for a few years where I would buy maal (meth and charas) for Rs 7,000 a tola (ten grams) and sell it for over Rs 25,000 in one day. My customers ranged from young teenagers to married men of 50 and 60 years. Today every age group is hooked.”Describing it as the perfect business until he was caught, he adds, “Five years ago no one knew what meth was, and a few of us were selling it. At the time people were jealous of the money I made and alerted the police. I was thrashed for three days and paid two and a half lakhs to get out.”The drug routeColleges and bars where the young hang out are vantage point for peddlers, who find Mumbai’s youth a vulnerable and easy target. Groups of users we spoke to told us that each drug is treated and smuggled differently.Meth is sourced from Gujarat and charas from Manali and Kashmir. A minimum of three middlemen are involved before the drug is passed on to small peddlers. “You can get these drugs everywhere, from street children to selected paan shops, one just needs to have a contact number. Call and fix up a meeting place for exchange,” says Ashok, holding out a black substance in his palm. “This is some of the best charas you will get around here,” he says confidently, to a largely startled group that wasn’t expecting any ‘substance’ during the interview. The education continues. “If it smells sweet and fresh, then it’s a good buy. There are college students peddling for the extra money, but fail to choose their stuff (drugs) wisely, nevertheless it gets sold.”Drug abuse in MaharashtraThough an earnest attempt has been made to curtail peddling in the city, the numbers are not very impressive. Mumbai Police along with the Anti-Narcotics Cell have caught 191 persons in the possession of illegal drugs, 159 cases have been registered and 13,297 persons have been caught consuming these drugs in Maharastra in 2016. Also, records with the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment show 43,180 persons have checked in for de-addiction treatment in Maharashtra since 2007. “Drug addiction is definitely rising,”’ says Yusuf Merchant, one of India’s leading anti-drug crusaders who has been in the field for over two decades. This year, he says, 700 teenagers enrolled for de-addiction at his centre. “Hooked on to new party drugs such as MCAT also known as “meow-meow” along with many others, 90% of my patients are from the age group of 16-21 years,” he says.Fr Joseph H. Pereira, founder of Kripa, a well-known de-addiction centre in Maharashtra, with branches in other parts of India as well, expresses discontent with the success rate of de-addiction. “We used to have a success rate of 60%, however owing to different forms of drugs today, a patient is unable to resist, and gets hooked to alcoholism or cannabis known as soft drugs.” Our society is not ready to deal with the reality of drug abuse, says Dr. Merchant. A drug addict is looked at as a criminal rather than a patient who is in need of treatment. There is a stigma attached to seeking help for de-addiction. Today one does not need to be a smoker, he can just snort the drug, he says. “But whatever method one chooses, the disconnect with the family and influence from peers are the prime reasons of why a person becomes an addict,” he adds. Failed by our disciplinary systemsIn the deep suburbs of Mumbai is Deepak*, a student from Mira Road who earlier used drugs and then peddled for a while. He talks about the unholy nexus between the police and peddlers. “When a peddler is caught, the police are aware of how the business is doing, accordingly they take their cut,” he says. Another tactic employed is to round up the users and extort money from them rather than from the peddlers. A user recounts the time when he was caught doing weed and was caught by the cops. “The peddler was right there with us, but I was the only one arrested. He demanded Rs 5,000 from me. I didn’t have it on me, but had to call my friend to release me on this bail.” The next morning, the same cop and the peddler who sold it to me were seen hanging out together,’’ he adds. Authorities point out that this is very common, and attacking the symptom rather than the malaise itself will make little headway in correcting the problem.Not all is lostDe-addiction centres now say that the chances of relapse have moved as high as 60%. For the few who have managed to stay in the 40 %, it is like walking on thin ice. “When I look at life, I consider myself fortunate to be given a second chance,” says 23-year-old Mahesh*. He was addicted to chemical drugs at the age of 18 and spent seven months in a de-addiction centre. Today, he is a writer and director with prominent shows like Savdhan India, Crime Patrol and Gumrah. “Although my experience with drugs has helped me write better and bring out true characters, I would not wish it for anybody.” Having been off drugs, he is one of the many examples of a success story as to what may seem like an indefinite problem. Looking aheadThe problem is not the lack of recreational spaces, but the misuse of these very spaces for illegal activities. Fr Joe says that religion as a whole has failed to impart moral values among youth and there is a need for the right kind of awareness. While numerous organizations engage in the awareness of drug abuse, just this won’t suffice. “After a person is made aware of drugs and addiction, instead of resisting it, s/he may be tempted to try it out. I have put together a group of ‘stars’, the ones free from alcohol and drugs for a period of one year and over, from well-lived sober lives. We ask them to testify and be examples while conducting any kind of awareness program,” he says. This not only makes a person aware of drug abuse as a problem but works as an example of how not to get it wrong. *Names changed on request of anonymity

Demonetization is ‘vasectomy’ of black money hoarders: Rajnath Singh

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘notebandi’ decision has resulted in ‘nasbandi’ for anti-national elements and hoarders of black money.”To control the menace of terrorism, separatism and Naxalism, the Prime Minister took the demonetisation decision.”However, some people are making fun of it by terming it as ‘nasbandi’ (vasectomy). If we have cut anyone’s ‘nas’, it is that of terrorists, Naxalites and people who hoard black money,” Rajnath said.He said the decision had been taken in the larger interest of the country, and appealed to people to cooperate with the move.”Prime Minister has stated that he needs 50 days and after that the situation would improve,” Rajnath said.The Home Minister also stressed that the nation would always stand united, in the face of any external adversity, leaving behind caste and religion.”There is no dearth of people in India who want to sacrifice their life for the country. No power in the world can think of harming the integrity of the nation,” he said.On the occasion, Singh also remembered the sacrifice of freedom fighters who laid down their lives in service of the country.

Case against Dayanidhi Maran was filed before BJP govt came to power: Pon Radhakrishnan

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A day after CBI chargesheeted former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran for alleged misuse of high speed data lines, Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan said on Saturday that the case was not a new one or filed during the BJP regime, and insisted that it was the DMK leader’s duty to prove his innocence. There was no point criticising the ruling BJP at the Centre on the matter “as this was a pending case”, he said.”This case was filed before BJP government came to power. It was a pending case. That being the case, there is no point criticising the government,” he told reporters at the airport here.Maran, who claimed on Friday that he had done no wrong, had said “an FIR that was filed 4 years ago and had been gathering dust has suddenly been revived now. I don’t know the true background behind this. I have full faith in judiciary and I am ready to face the case legally … whatever the motive behind it,” he had said.
ALSO READ CBI files charge sheet against Dayanidhi, Kalanithi Maran for forgeryMaran was chargesheeted by the CBI for using high-speed data lines provided by state-run companies for the benefit of a TV channel run by his brother. Radhakrishnan also said that if Dayanidhi Maran felt he was innocent, “then it is his duty” to prove so, in a court.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIADMK defends Sasikala, party to choose new general secretary soon

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Strongly defending former Chief Minister and party supremo Jayalalithaa’s aide VK Sasikala, ruling AIADMK said on Saturday there is nothing wrong in its leaders calling on her as she is a key member and asserted a person would soon be elected to the top post of General Secretary.The party also dismissed as rumours and falsehood, claims in a section of the media about who would be the next General Secretary. AIADMK Organisational Secretary C Ponnaiyan answering a question related to state ministers’ recent meetings with Sasikala, said “even if somebody (belonging to the party) met Sasikala Amma, what is wrong in it?, Is she not an important member of the party? What you say is wrong.”Drawing a distinction between government-led by AIADMK and the party organisation, he told reporters at the party headquarters here that while the government was led by O Panneerselvam, the party was steered by elected party bodies. “AIADMK is steered by party bodies, including general and executive committees and functionaries at multiple levels and Sasikala is a key member,” Ponnaiyan, who is also the party spokesperson, said.”Sasikala Amma lived with Puratchi Thalaivi Amma’s (revolutionary leader Jayalalithaa’s) last breath. Such questions are unnecessary.”Asked who the chief minister, ministers and other top officials are consulting by visiting the Poes Garden residence of the departed AIADMK supremo and if it was Sasikala, he said, “they are having a meeting with the Chief Minister there.” “It (Veda Nilayam at Poes Garden) is Amma’s house where Amma’s portrait is there… We are in mourning and it is still not over… They are going there (also) to pay homage… It is not good to invent imaginative reasons for everything.”The party will soon elect a General Secretary who will guard the party and cadres who follow the footsteps of Amma with godly devotion and Tamil Nadu people,” he added.The party high command has taken a decision to elect a General Secretary and the election will happen soon, he said.Asked about anger among some cadres against Sasikala as access was not provided to anyone to visit Jayalalithaa during her hospitalisation, he said “it is a planned rumour and spread wantonly… blaming this or that person is a deliberate rumour.” Ponnaiyan said some people were propagating several “rumours” and “falsehoods” through a section of the media about who will be the next General Secretary of the party. “News being spread that this or that person may become the General Secretary are all only rumours. There is no truth in it,” he said, adding there is no “jealousy” or “competition” in AIADMK, which is like a fortress and stayed united.Asked about the role of Sasikala’s husband Natarajan and other family members in the party, he said “this is an unnecessary question. The party is led and guarded by over 1.5 crore members.” To another question on reported competition for AIADMK’s top post of General Secretary, Ponnaiyan said he had already clarified that such reports are just rumours. “There is no such thing like competition or problems… There is nothing like this or that person competing (for the top post),” he said, adding AIADMK was a united party which has been built like a fortress by ‘Amma’.Ponnaiyan said AIADMK is an ideological fort with a boundless sense of unity and there was no room for questions like which person would be the General Secretary. “Only rumours are being spread and I am making this clear to you,” he said. He said though Jayalalithaa was no more, Amma (mother, as she was fondly referred to by party cadres) continued to “live as God” for them. She had built the AIADMK as a “big banyan tree” infusing discipline and a sense of unity, he said. Asked if there was a void in AIADMK in view of Jayalalithaa’s demise, he said “till such time the ‘atma’ (soul) of MGR and that of Puratchi Thalaivi guard this party, there is no scope for saying that there is a void.” On the claim that the absence of a second rung leadership was responsible for the present void, he said, “why should you imagine this? There is no such thing like an atmosphere of void… In this party, each and every cadre is a leader. Amma made ordinary workers as MLAs and Ministers. This is a party of workers, built by them and this is the philosophy of Amma and that is being followed.” On alleged interference of BJP in the election of AIADMK General Secretary, Ponnaiyan said “these are rumours being spread for political reasons… ours is an independent party with independent views on matters.” He said such a line of taking independent views on all matters was established by Amma, adding that her working style and approach would be continued. Asked on whose command the party was being led now, he said “AIADMK is a party with duly elected functionaries. Hence the the question does not arise. ours is a united party.” He further said,”there is no problem. Claiming that there is a problem is an imaginative one.”

Why import duty waived on wheat, opposition asks government

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Side-stepping from the everyday ruckus on demonetization in the Rajya Sabha, the opposition attacked the government on Fridayfor completely waiving off import duty on wheat, the main Rabi crop that currently is being sown.CPM leader Sitaram Yechury raised the matter in zero hour and said, he had given a notice under rule 267 to suspend business of the day to discuss the decision that will “ruin Indian farmers” while MNCs will rake in super-profits.Calling it a shameful act, Yechury said, it will lead to food riots. “This is against the interest of the nation and its farmers. It is an anti-national act,” Yechury added.Joined in by Congress, BSP, SP, JDU and other Left members, he said the move to slash import duty on wheat from 10 per cent to zero at a time when the country has enough buffer stock will hit the farmers’ hard.The move ahead of the winter wheat crop will help MNCs to dump cheap wheat from US, France and Ukraine, opposition members alleged.Allay allegations, union minister for food and public distribution Ram Vilas Paswan responded by claiming there was no shortage of wheat in the country and the decision has been taken to care of the domestic prices which have shown an upward trend in recent weeks.“There is no shortage of wheat, our buffer stocks are full….This is a temporary decision which the government has taken because there are indicators of rise in wheat prices due to hoarding,” Paswan said. The government has assured the farmers that it will buy all the wheat they want to sell are raised MSP price of Rs. 1625 per quintal, added Paswan.However, sources in the agriculture ministry said, the import duty has been waived off to create enough buffer stocks as there are indicators that wheat sowing has taken a hit because of demonetization and the hoarders may create further scarcity to reap benefits.

Demonetisation one month: Gains of PM Modi’s currency crackdown will be known only in the long term

It’s been a month now since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation socked almost every Indian in the guts and once again polarised opinion like never before.

The sudden demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes turned out to be one big leveller – people with a few hundreds and a few thousands in cash were in the same plight as those with a few lakhs and a few hundred crores. Overnight the money in their hands (or lockers) was rendered useless.

Commentaries in newspaper columns, news websites and social media platforms took up either of two extreme positions – the demonetisation advocates (DAs) insisted this was the best thing to happen to the country and the demonetisation detractors (DDs) outraged that this was the worst thing to happen. At least the DAs agreed that the demonetisation exercise could have been better managed; the DDs set refused to concede anything at all (let’s not even get into the hysterical hyperbole that this group resorted to).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTIPrime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

One month on, how has demonetisation played out? What has it achieved?

The latter question is a bit tricky, since we don’t exactly know what prompted the move. And that’s because the government itself keeps talking about different goals.

Initially, it was supposed to be about getting out black money. Modi’s speech and the government’s initial defence of the move only talked about attacking black money. Then it was about tackling the problem of fake notes and terror funding. And soon it was about readying the country to move to cashless transactions.

The DDs were quick to challenge the black money narrative. Only a small amount of black money is held in cash; the rest is in real estate and gold; why not go after that, they said. The first point is factually correct (even the DAs concede this); the second question betrays churlishness. To say that it is pointless going after black money held in cash until all black money held in physical assets is confiscated deliberately obfuscates the point that it is the former that facilitates the acquisition of the latter. The overnight strike on black money held in cash will render other transactions more difficult.

That said, it is not clear how much of black money held in cash has come into the system. Latest figures indicate that as much as Rs 11.5 lakh crore has been deposited in banks since November 8. But all of this will not be concealed income; it could well be cash held by honest individuals and institutions for perfectly valid reasons. Besides, the State Bank of India economic research team has pointed out that this could include some double counting as well as deposit of legal tender (valid notes of lower denominations). The real picture of how much of the old currency has been brought back (cash in circulation as of 8 November is estimated at Rs 15,441 billion) will be known only in January; how much of this was black money will perhaps never be known.

A lot of the black money could well have been laundered in the past month. There was, for example, a huge surge in gold purchases on 8 and 9 November. Zero balance Jan Dhan accounts are now flush with cash – according to this report, Rs 21,000 crore has been deposited in these accounts after 8 November. The deposits have been waning after the government issued warnings.

The demonetisation exercise also spawned a black market in new notes. People exchanged their old notes for new and put it right back into their lockers. The exchange rate for old notes was in the range of 30-45 per cent and is reported to have come down to 25 per cent after the second Income Declaration Scheme of 30 November. The response to this second IDS will give some sense about how successful the demonetisation exercise has been in unearthing black money.

What will also be difficult to estimate is how much the exercise has helped in curbing terror funding. There has been some success — extremist groups in Kashmir, the Naxal belt and the north-east were suddenly left with no legal tender – but there are also reports about Naxal groups forcing people to deposit old currency in their own accounts and of new currency finding its way to the north-east.

If the purpose of demonetisation was to push cashless transactions, that seems to have met with a fair degree of success. Debit and credit card payments, use of e-wallets and mobile wallets as well as prepaid cards have all surged. Whether this is because of the temporary cash crunch or will result in behavioural change will be clear only later.

Never mind the rationale for it, how has demonetisation played out on the ground? Even the most ardent of DAs finds it hard to deny that the implementation has been messed up. Modi asked people to put up with 50 days of inconvenience, but there are enough indications that the inconvenience could last longer.

Despite the Reserve Bank of India asserting that 196 billion pieces of currency have been put into the system – equivalent to three full years of supply – banks and ATMs do not have adequate cash. Individual bank branches are setting their own limits on cash withdrawals. Salary payments in cash have been affected. At his press conference after the quarterly review of monetary policy, RBI governor Urjit Patel asked people not to hoard new currency. But given how rules on exchange of old currency and withdrawal of cash have been changed almost whimsically, people are holding on to whatever little cash they have till the situation eases.

As a result, spending has been compressed and economic activity has been disrupted. The small and medium sector has been affected the most. The fear of job losses is a real one, though the extent may not be as high as the guesstimate of many DDs. One set of DAs pooh-poohed initial estimates of how much of a hit the economy would take, but have quietened down with the RBI lowering its growth estimates for this year to 7.1 percent. NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya has admitted in this interview that 8 percent growth will perhaps now not be possible before the end of 2017-18.

Will the pain of the demonetisation exercise be worth the benefits it will bring? That will depend on a lot of things. The fight against black money will be fruitful only if the government starts acting against benami transactions and properties, reduces tax rates and eliminates scope for corruption (the market buzz is that the majority of those who went on a gold shopping spree after Modi’s shock announcement on 8 November were either tax officials or policemen!) Cashless transactions will get going only if the digital divide is truly bridged and connectivity issues addressed.

All this will be known only in the long-term.  No, we may not all be dead by then.

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 07:27 IST

Demonetization: Congress likens PM Modi to Roman Emperor Nero

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In the wake of demonetization that has put the nation through “great hardships”, Congress on likened Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Roman Emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome burned.”There is a saying, Nero fiddled while Rome burned. As the story goes, in the time of a crisis, the Roman Emperor was busy playing the violin. He was both whimsical and ineffectual when Rome needed him the most. “It has been a month since that fateful day when Modi decided that 86 per cent of the cash in the economy was illegal. Since then, the entire nation has been put through great hardships, whose cost in terms of human lives has been significant”, the main opposition party said.In a commentary on the party website on a day marking one month to the demonetization announcement, the AICC noted that people were told that the Government was prepared to face the situation. “We were told that we would have to bear with the Government for only a few days. But, as the extent of the pain across the nation became apparent, Modi began to change the rules around demonetization. It has been a month and there is still not enough money in the banks. Rules have been changed more than 120 times”, it said.The party suggested that in this backdrop Rahul Gandhi said, “This is not a bold decision, it is a foolish decision which has been taken without any due consideration. It has devastated the poor, farmers and daily wage workers. We want to have a discussion (in Parliament). We want a vote (in Parliament). The government doesn’t.”Highlighting how the Prime Minister has been constantly changing the goal posts, the Congress Vice President said, “PM started off by saying, I am against black money. After black money he went to terrorists. Then he moved to counterfeit money and then to cashless economy. So he is running and we will catch him inside the House. He won’t be able to run inside the house.”

IndiGo takes off duty 2 pilots of Mamata Banerjee’s flight

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Budget carrier IndiGo has taken off duty the two pilots of its Kolkata flight, carrying West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, over which a row had erupted following Trinamool Congress’ allegations that the aircraft was not accorded priority in landing despite fuel shortage.Pilots operating flight 6E 342 have been kept off flying duties till investigations and discussions with DGCA are complete, an IndiGo spokesperson said. The two pilots would not be rostered as long as the investigation by the aviation regulator DGCA is completed, the airline said.Following the uproar by the TMC members in Parliament, the government had said the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had launched its probe into the issue.The inquiry was conducted by the regulator, supported by IndiGo safety department, the airline said, adding that as an airline it always complies with the DGCA guidelines.IndiGo captain had followed all SOPs as laid by the regulator and at no stage the captain declared a fuel priority or an emergency, it said. “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,” the spokesperson added.

Spinning the wheels of change

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took an extremely bold step. He banned Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, and replaced them with new notes. There was a huge uproar, some celebratory, some not. Nevertheless, it affected the entire country. A step like this is why I really respect our Prime Minister.Narendra Modi’s humble beginnings are not unknown to us. But what nobody understands is that this is the reason he is so capable of being the prime minister of a developing country like India. Our past leaders (a majority of them, at least) come from educated, wealthy backgrounds. Even if they attempted to think for the poorer sections of society, it would be difficult as they have never personally experienced poverty. Modi, on the other hand, understands the larger problems our country is facing, because he has risen above all the challenges that came his way. The Swachh Bharat mission to make India clean is so important to our development. The underprivileged parts of India live in filthy conditions. Cleanliness will improve health standards, which will in turn lead to eradication of diseases, and will improve the standard of living. We might have to pay a little extra on our bills right now, but it will all hopefully lead to a much cleaner and healthier country. People keep saying that they don’t see any change, but they don’t realise that a million years’ mess can’t be cleaned up in a day.His efforts to make India a digital country are also commendable. Our PM is trying to ensure banking services are available to every strata of society. Yesterday, something significant happened—for the first time—my father paid our domestic help by cheque instead of regular cash. Switching to digital methods means the government is able to track almost everything, which decreases the chances of corruption and crime. This brings us to his most recent decision—demonetization. This was a revolutionary step to fight black money, corruption and terrorism. There are several arguments—it would cost the RBI a huge amount, it would not eliminate black money in the form of gold and foreign currency, etc. Yet, the point is that it has cost people with black money a serious amount. Finally, people might learn to start paying taxes like a regular working person instead of cheating their way through.If everyone started paying taxes, it would mean that the government could finally earn enough to help poverty-stricken India.It could earn enough to then, as Modi promised, reduce taxes for everyone, so there could be higher income levels. It could reduce interest rates as well. In the long run, this is a feasible plan, only if everyone actually cooperates.If we cooperate with Modi and work with him, and understand the motives behind his decisions instead of protesting against him, life would definitely become much easier for everyone. I think it has been a long while since India had such a revolutionary leader. Aviva Mehta is an 18-year-old writer, who is currently taking a gap year, and is constantly looking for free WiFi.NaMo’s humble beginnings NaMo’s humble beginnings are the reason he is capable of being India’s PM. Our past leaders (most of them) come from educated, wealthy backgrounds. Even if they attempted to think for the poor, they couldn’t as they have never personally experienced povertyCommendable effortsThe Swachh Bharat mission to make India clean is important to improve health standards. Modi’s efforts to make India a digital country are commendable. Switching to digital methods means the government is able to track almost everything

Jaya funeral: Politicians, not relatives, paid last respects

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>All political roads led to Chennai on December 6, as a sea of humanity, challenging the adjacent Bay of Bengal, paid their last respects to the departed leader Jayalalithaa Jayaram. President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Modi, Cong VP Rahul Gandhi, several chief ministers and celebrities from all walks of life led the nation’s mourners of different hues and shades. She was accorded a State funeral with full military honours on the Marina, the world’s second largest beach. The Madras Regiment performed the 60-gun salute.The last rites were performed – the body of the 68-year-old ‘Iron Lady’ was buried — at a spot which was part of the MGR Memorial complex, where a Jayalalithaa memorial would come up later. The body was placed in a sandalwood casket, just as for MGR. The letters Selvi J Jayalalithaa were engraved in Tamil and English. In accordance with Vaishnavite traditions to which her parents’ family belonged, it would normally be a cremation. However, Jaya chose to be buried next to her mentor, MGR, in Dravidian style.Waves and waves of mourners filed past the body, matching the waves off the Marina Beach.Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav (SP),Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik of the BJD, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan(BJP), Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal of AAP, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan (CPM), were among the chief ministers who came in person to express their condolences.The Kerala delegation included its Governor P Sathasaivam and former chief minister Oomen Chandy. TMC MPs Derek O’Brien and Kalyan Banerjee represented West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee at the funeral. A delegation of the Telangana government also attended the funeral.Thousands and thousands of people, from commoners to politicians, sportsmen and exponents of fine arts, gathered at Rajaji Hall where the body was kept throughout the day for people to have a last glimpse.Jayalalithaa’s aide, Sasikala Natarajan, who shared the same roof as Jayalalithaa for nearly three decades, stood by the side of the body right from 5 a.m., at the Rajaji Hall. There was a poignant moment when PM Modi patted a weeping Sasikala on the head and shoulder, while the newly-elected Chief Minister O Panneerselvam broke down and Modi had to comfort him.The BJP made an impressive show, with Union minister Venkaiah Naidu seated next to the body and giving directions now and then, with Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan and party MP La Ganesan making several appearances, while accompanying BJP leaders to the body.The Congress, not to be outdone, had Rahul Gandhi paying his last respects at the Rajaji Hall and also participating in the funeral, while its chief minister from Karnataka, Siddaramaiah too paid his respects there. Congress leaders from Kerala and Karnataka toocame to Rajaji Hall to condole the death and on the national front senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad accompanied Rahul Gandhi.Film celebrities too thronged the venue, with Rajinikanth and his son-in-law Dhanush paying homage, as also Sivaji Ganesan’s sons Ramkumar and Prabhu, along with the letter’s son Vikram Prabhu, Prabhu Deva, Parthiban, Director Bharatiraja and lyricist Vairamuthu among others.The world of fine arts was represented by Vyjayantimala Bali, danseuse and actress, Carnatic vocalist Sudha Ragunathan and Veena Gayatri, Vice Chancellor of the Fine Arts and Music University.Former Test cricketer Krishnamachari Srikanth was there, while a large number of serving and former IAS and IPS officers, paid their last respects.Leaders of various parties too paid homage to the body at Rajaji Hall like leader of the rival DMK — MK Stalin, the Leader of Opposition in the TN Assembly and son of DMK president M Karunanidhi, Kanimozhi, party MP and Karunanidhi’s daughter, Dr Krishnasamy of Pudhiya Tamizhagam, GK Vasan, president of Tamil Maanila Congress, besides MDMK leader Vaiko and DMDK leader Vijayakanth.Women, especially from the poor and weaker sections, filed past the body in large numbers, wailing, amidst cries of Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary Leader) and Amma (Mother). Many mourners carried pictures of Jaya, and gave the V sign, which represents the party’s Two-Leaves symbol.The body was taken from Rajaji Hall to the Marina in a gun carriage on which was also seated Sasikala and CM Panneerselvam. The gun carriage made a slight detour, moving across arterial Anna Salai (Mount Road) before reaching the Marina.The Jayalalithaa Memorial would come up at the spot where the funeral took place on the Marina. Thus, this section of the Marina would have three Samadhis, that of CN Annadurai, DMK founder and former chief minister, MG Ramachandran (MGR), AIADMK founder and former chief minister, and that of Jayalalithaa. It is appropriate that the Jayalalithaa Memorial would come up next to her mentor, MGR. It appears that she had confided in her aide Sasikala that she wanted her memorial next to that of her political guru and former co-star MGR.Thus, ended the last journey of Jayalalithaa, who served four terms as Chief Minister of one of India’s biggest States for four terms.At the funeral, it was Governor Vidyasagar Rao who was present, along with defence personnel, as a gun salute was accorded to Jayalalithaa. Venkaiah Naidu, Panneerselvam and the chief secretary offered flowers before the lowering of the casket. Rahul Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Akhilesh Yadav and Natarajan (Sasikala’s husband) too offered flowers.Panneerselvam maintained a low profile, with Jaya aide Sasikala and her family members clearly calling the shots in a quiet yet forthright manner. They were assisted by Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai of the AIADMK. Tamil Nadu Governor Rao was also seen co-ordinating arrangements for the State funeral.Just like Jaya projected herself as MGR’s political heir when his body was kept at Rajaji Hall and during the gun carriage procession in 1987, Sasikala subtly projected herself at Rajaji Hall this morning and during the gun carriage procession.Sasikala, in fact, performed the last rites with the assistance of a Vaishnavite priest. Her message thus was that she alone could be taken to be Jayalalithaa’s heir or legacy, whichever way one wants to look at it. At one time, Jaya called Sasikala “my sister”. She was assisted by a nephew of Jayalalithaa, Deepak Kumar.The question that always would crop up in the last 24 hours would be who will perform the last rites? Relatives brought Jaya into this world. However, 30 years ago, Jayalalithaa distanced herself from all relatives, although once or twice she did experiment by having a relative to take care of her. But she would pack them off and ultimately depended only on Sasikala to take care of her needs. A niece of Jaya was turned away from the hospital last week.Some psychologists would point out that this was one weakness for Jaya. There was no family bond, no relative to whom she could relate to, no attachment or show of affection from near and dear ones. This also could have possibly led to the deterioration of health as she missed monitoring by a relative. There was no relative at her funeral too, barring a young nephew. Perhaps, he too would have been brought in merely to satisfy a traditional requirement as Jaya was a strong believer in religious and orthodox practices, despite her modern outlook.However, unlike many politicians and rulers in the country who suffer from damage caused by relatives, Jaya carried no such baggage. In fact, she turned this to her advantage saying she did not have to work for relatives. As she would say I have no relatives — “All I have is you people”.

Fashion show under fire for Kashmir pellet makeup

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Rash driving: SC for amending laws to provide harsh punishment

Tue, 6 Dec 2016-03:55pm , New Delhi , ANI
<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Central Government to amend laws to provide harsh punishment for rash and negligent driving.An apex court bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra asserted that people are dying in road accidents, adding stringent law is the need of the hour. “There has to be fear of law among the people indulging in rash and reckless driving on roads at cost of others life,” the apex court bench said. “People were losing their lives and limbs in road accidents. There should be a fear of law,” the court added.Concerned about the menace of rash and negligent driving which claims nearly 400 lives on Indian roads every day, the Supreme Court had earlier this year said that the existing two-year imprisonment for the offence was grossly inadequate.

Goa: CM Laxmikant Parsekar allays fears of traders amid push for cashless society

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Bowing down to public sentiments, Goa government has clarified on Tuesday that those businesses not going cashless by December 31 this year will not be penalised or punished per say.Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar was allaying fears that traders, hawkers and vendors who are not able to shift to cashless options in their businesses need not worry if they fail to do so by year-end. “To go cashless is an appeal. I am clarifying again. We have said that we are not going to be cent per cent cashless,” he said. Goa can do it as the state is having high literacy rate and also percolation of Information Technology is higher, Parsekar said. “But that does not mean that the state will become cashless by December 31. We will not be acting against the shopkeepers or hawkers who fail to implement the cashless concept,” the Chief Minister clarified.”But we appeal to the people that there should be maximum use of point of sale machines and also use of mobile software. We should try. There will be no compulsion from government side,” he said.”No one should misunderstand the concept,” the chief minister said pointing out that some people were trying to earn political mileage from the issue. “Central government has high expectation from a state like Goa. Goa can do it but that does not mean we will be troubling people to go cashless,” he added.

J Jayalalithaa passes away

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalihaa on Monday passed away at 11:30 pm, Apollo Hospitals announced in a late night statement.At an AIADMK MLAs’ meeting, O Paneerselvam. the No. 2 in the Cabinet and a Jayalalithaa loyalist, was selected as the leader of the legislative party, effectively paving the way for him to take over as the next CM. The passing of Jayalalithaa, one of the state’s tallest leaders — affectionately known as ‘Amma’ (mother) to the people of her state and beyond, and as Puratchi Thalaivi, or Revolutionary Leader, to her party workers — is almost certain to upend normal life in the state for the next few days, and political dynamics at the state as well as national level for some time to come.Jayalalithaa, who had been in hospital for almost 75 days, was said to be recovering from a pulmonary infection but suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday, drawing hordes of supporters and party members outside the gates of the Apollo Hospitals in Chennai.Matters were complicated through Monday, when rumours circulated — in local news channels that got picked up by some national media outlets, as well as on social media —that she had passed on, even as her party moved discreetly to find a successor. Schools closed early, shops downed shutters, and offices released their staff before time so that they could reach their homes before there was an announcement of her death. Thus, at around 5:45 pm, when several Tamil channels, competing with one another, flashed the news of Jayalalithaa’s death, there seemed to be an air of inevitability about it. After all, social media was agog with reports of the death, reactions and more. All of this occurred while a section of AIADMK supporters, especially women, looking strategically at TV cameras; wailing, they said they would not believe that she was no more. The ruling AIADMK headquarters added to the confusion with the party flag flying at half-mast. Within a few minutes, Apollo Hospitals acted with alacrity to deny the death, and said that life-saving treatment was very much on. This time, cadres danced with joy, and the party tried to undo the damage by raising the flag again, amidst cheers. There was widespread speculation that party MLAs would elect a new leader, perhaps the number two in the cabinet, O Panneerselvam. There was also speculation that Jayalalithaa’s close friend, Sasikala Natarajan, would be forced to accept a crucial party post in the post-Jaya scenario.Both meetings ended up looking a bit silly as Jayalalithaa, virtually written off late Monday afternoon, was showing some signs of recovery in the evening, hospital sources said.The hospital said in a bulletin that TV channels should not be believed, that reports of her death were baseless. Jayalalithaa, who was admitted to the hospital on September 22 with fever and dehydration—it was far more serious than that—was later said to be on ventilator, receiving treatment from a specialist, Dr Rchard Beale from UK, besides the AIIMS team, and physiotherapy specialists from Singapore. Yet, the Sunday development of a heart attack at the hospital even as an AIADMK spokesman said she had fully recovered from the infection, side-effects and so on, and that she would soon return home, caused confusion.The hospital bulletin, for the first time in the last three months, admitted that she was in a critical condition. Dr Beale’s statement too that her condition was very grave added to the general scenario that she was rapidly sinking.A hospital tweet in the afternoon described her condition as very grave. This was enough for offices and shops to close early across the State, fearing an outbreak of rioting, once a formal announcement was made. The timing of the death reports was also ominous—at 5:45 pm., when the AIADMK legislature party was to begin its meeting at the party headquarters. This was when the party flew the party flag at half-mast.

Demonetization: Saibaba Temple in Mumbai gets Rs 3 cr in scrapped notes post Nov 8

Mon, 5 Dec 2016-05:36pm , Mumbai , PTI
<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Shri Sai Baba Shirdi Sansthan, managing one of the most revered temples in the country, received Rs 3 crore in the scrapped notes of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 denominations after the government’s demonetization move, the temple trust said on Monday.Following demonetization, temples have been asked to submit a report of the donated currency notes for the duration of November 8 to 24.Sai Baba Sansthan Trust chairman Suresh Haware told reporters here that, “The Union government has asked the temples to declare the details of scrapped notes donated in the donation box. The trust received Rs 1.27 crore in the denomination of Rs 1,000 while it received Rs 1.57 crore in the denomination of Rs 500 currency notes.” There are 47 donation boxes inside the temple that are opened daily in front of the devotees and trust, Haware said.

Demonetisation seals RBI rate cut deal, but that will not reboot a battered economy

Most of the originally stated results of the demonetisation exercise—killing black money, corruption and terror, are disputed now by experts. It is too early to assess these outcomes. But, if there is one result for certainty with regard to the massive currency crackdown, then that is a rate cut from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday (7 December)—which, perhaps, wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances, when the rupee is struggling to recover and global factors are at play.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

Most economists forecast a quarter percentage point rate cut decision by the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) that will be read out by governor Urjit Patel, but even a 50 basis points cut in the key lending rate of RBI repo, at which the central bank lends short-term funds to banks, cannot be ruled out now given the deep slowdown fears in the economy after the government sucked out 86 percent currency in circulation overnight on 8 November while executing the demonetisation plan.

What this means is that the MPC and the RBI are left with no option but to take a growth supportive stance sooner than it thought, said Radhika Rao, economist at Singapore-based DBS Bank. “Ahead of the looming US rate hike at the mid of this month and ongoing volatility in domestic financial markets, especially the weak rupee, the MPC would have ideally preferred to wait-and-watch before easing rates,” Rao said.

“However, the government’s recent banknote ban has raised downside risks to growth for at least two quarters, starting 4Q16. Scope of food inflation dragging headline inflation lower also keeps the door open for an easy policy bias. These are likely to prod the MPC to consider a 25bp rate cut on Wednesday, followed by another cut in 1Q17,” Rao said.

It is indeed true that demonetisation has resulted in a cash crunch that has caused considerable pain on the ground. It is difficult to assess the actual impact yet. Small traders, construction workers, services sector, perishable goods market are all hit due to the ongoing cash-crunch. The activities in the informal sector have come to a standstill considering, even on conservative estimates, close to 70 percent of India lives on cash economy. There isn’t any consensus yet on the resultant impact on the GDP.

According to former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the hit that the GDP growth will take will be as much as 2 percent. Many others predict 1 to 1.5 percent and some state that it could be less than one percent. But, almost everyone, like Rao of DBS, agree that the dragging effect on the economy will continue for at least two quarters.

The growth scene is not looking good if one goes by the latest GDP growth print. The July-September growth, despite a marginal improvement in the overall numbers to 7.3 percent in Q2 from 7.1 percent in the April-June quarter, has been disappointing since the only bright spot in the GDP graph is a minor improvement in the agriculture sector. Also, there is no sign of investment activity picking up yet.

Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF), which portrays the actual investment activity on the ground, dropped by close to 6 percent at constant prices. Now remember, this parameter has been contracting for the last three quarters at least. That is not a healthy sign for an aspiring, ambitious economy. When investments don’t support a growth-revival, typically, a consumption-led recovery should come to the rescue. Now, what has been happening here is the government spending, which picked up from the last quarter in a major way, has actually dropped in the second quarter, from 18.8 percent in Q1 to 15.2 percent in Q2, in terms of constant prices. As against this, private spending has shown a marginal increase during the period — from 6.7 percent in Q1 to 7.6 percent in Q2.

In terms of current prices, the government expenditure has fallen to 20.8 percent on year-basis in Q2 from 24.3 percent in Q1. The corresponding numbers for private spending is 11.7 percent in Q1 to 12.4 percent in Q2, showing a minor rise. If one looks at sectors, except the growth shown in agriculture, all other segments —mining, manufacturing, electricity, construction and services such as hotel industry— have shown a decline. This means it is consumption that has been holding the growth story and remains the main growth driver. But, this is where the challenge lies ahead in the aftermath of the demonetisation exercise. The recent PMI data, the first set of economic indicators after the demonetisation exercise, shows a decline to 52.3 in November compared with 54.4 in October. Though, theoretically, a number above 50 is growth-positive, what it indicates is a slowing trend ahead. Services PMI fell even more sharply to 46.7 in November from October’s 54.5, the first time since June 2015 that the index has gone below the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction. It was also the biggest one-month drop since November 2008, just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered the global financial crisis.

Will an RBI rate cut make any major difference at this stage to aid growth? It is doubtful for a few reasons.

First, if banks wanted to lend more to industries, they would have done so already. There is liquidity surplus already in the banking system. More than the availability of cash to lend, poor demand has been hurting loan growth, especially to industries. If one looks at numbers till October (just before the demonetisation happened), bank credit to industry contracted by 1.7 per cent in October 2016 in contrast with an increase of 4.6 per cent in October 2015, with all major sub-sectors witnessing deceleration, contraction in credit include infrastructure, food processing, gems and jewellery and basic metal and metal products.

Second, the problem of NPAs (non-performing assets) continues. Till the time the bad loan stock is cleaned up and bank balance sheets turn healthier, banks are unlikely to take more risks.

Third, the demonetisation and resultant chaos on the ground would mean that consumer spending will go through a dull phase in the near-term. Bankers do not expect any major pickup in consumer lending when the economy is looking at a prolonged downturn.

Nevertheless, a rate cut must happen on Wednesday’s RBI bi-monthly monetary policy review and the full credit for that should go to demonetisation. What most economists agree is that the solution to revert to the growth path lies in the following steps — 1) resolve the cash crunch at the earliest before it does more damage and get economic activities going, 2) boost public spending and work on ways to bring in more private capital to get the economic engine going, and, 3) make sure farm output doesn’t suffer on account of the currency shortage since a crop failure could stoke inflation further and erase the inflation gains. A rate cut from RBI would be of least help at this stage to reboot the economy.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 12:02 IST

How many more holes in Modi’s Income Declaration Scheme?: Chidambaram

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Congress leader P Chidambaram on Sunday raised questions about the Modi government’s Income Declaration Scheme, saying there could be “more holes” in the amnesty scheme after a Gujarati realtor claimed that Rs 13,860 crore black money he had announced did not belong to him. “There is a Rs 13,860 crore hole in the Rs 65,000 crore IDS ! How many more holes?,” Chidambaram tweeted.The former Union finance minister’s comment came after Ahmedabad-based realtor Mahesh Shah, who, a few days ago, had declared unaccounted income of Rs 13,860 crore, on Saturday appeared on a television show claiming that he was just a face for the money belonging to others. Shah on Saturday told the TV channel that he did not have any black money and the declared amount belongs to “some Indians” and he would contact Income Tax department and give the names of those who had convinced him to declare their unaccounted income as his own.No sooner did Shah appear on the channel making the dramatic claim, he was taken away for questioning by I-T sleuths from the office of the local channel for questioning. He was allowed to go home this morning after night-long interrogation by senior I-T personnel.

Kashmir unrest: Private schools remain open on weekends after shutdown

Srinagar: With educational activities in Kashmir picking up after remaining suspended for over four months due to the unrest, private schools in the valley are following separatist-issued ‘protest calendar’ by remaining open only during the relaxation period over the weekend.

Students are happy to resume their class-work, which was affected by the continuous shutdown following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces on 8 July. The schools went on a two-week summer holiday on 1 July but could not resume functioning due to the unrest.

The separatists, spearheading the agitation since Wani’s killing, have been issuing weekly protest programmes against the civilian killings in the unrest and in support of their demand for right to self-determination. They have also announced periodic 15-hour relaxation in the strike on few days of the week, with two full days of relaxation on Saturdays and Sundays.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Since the 16 November announcement of weekend relaxation by the separatists, private schools in the valley decided to resume class-work on these two days, as education in Kashmir was hit hard by the unrest, with schools and colleges, including government-run institutions, remaining closed for over four months with no or minimal activity.

“It feels good to be back at school. I was getting tired sitting idle at home without any class-work or studies. It has affected us but we should remain focused now,” Zia-ul-Islam, a student at a private school, said.

Kashmir remains abuzz with activity on the weekends as shops, business establishments and fuel stations open in the early hours while public transport plies on all roads from the morning on these two days. Most of the private educational institutions have also been functioning over the weekend since the announcement of relaxation in the strike, though government-run schools have not followed the separatists’ announcements.

Private Schools Association of Kashmir (PSAK) has asked the schools to ensure 100 percent attendance of students and teachers during the relaxation period.

“Students are going through a hard phase. We have decided to help them in every possible way. Our entire staff will work overtime during the relaxation period to help the students,” PSAK chairman GN Var said. He said the association would ensure that schools remain open on Saturdays as well as Sundays.

There is no hesitation among the parents as well to send their children to schools on the weekend. “As the schools remain open only on weekends, I do not see any reason not to send my children to their schools.
Saturday and Sunday are full relaxation days. Public transport remains available, private cars can ply without any fear of stone-pelting, so students can reach their school without any hassles,” Javaid Ahmad, a resident of old city, said.

“There are still some problems in sending children to schools on weekdays. There is no transport, less activity in markets, chances of tension on the roads, so as a parent, I hesitate in sending my children to school on non-relaxation days,” he added.

However, government-run schools do not follow the separatist announcements. While teachers remain present in their respective schools on the weekdays, students do not attend the institutions.

The government-run schools are closed on Sundays.

The educational activity in the valley is limping back to normal after the government started conducting the annual board examinations.

The examinations for Std 12 began on 14 November, while those of Std 10 started a day later. Till then, since 1 July, there was no education-related activity in the valley schools.

As many as 86 people, including two cops, have been killed and several thousand others injured in the clashes between protesters and security forces in the valley in the unrest triggered by Wani’s killing. Around 5,000 security forces personnel have also been injured in those clashes.

First Published On : Dec 4, 2016 15:58 IST

Same brazenness and daring in Nagrota attack as in 26/11 Mumbai terror attack: Chidambaram

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The situation that the BJP government finds itself in after the brazen terror attack on Army Corps headquarters in Nagrota is of its own making, said P Chidambaram. The ownership of surgical strikes should have been left to the Army, the former Union home minister said.He was responding to queries at a panel discussion at the launch function of former NSA Shivshankar Menon’s book Choices – Inside the making of India’s Foreign Policy that was released by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at New Delhi’s India International Centre on Friday.In an apparent reference to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s recent remarks, Chidambaram said, “The government should not make statements like, ‘We’ll gouge out their eyes’ or ‘Pakistan is pleading at the world forums after surgical strikes’. It limits your options.”In agreement with Chidambaram, former NSA Shivshankar Menon said, “When you go public, you lose control on the escalation levels as you tend to play to the domestic galleries.”“You should not do it beyond a certain level. Going public is a political call and you should know the risks,” said Menon.”The terror attack on Army headquarters in Nagrota belies the assumption that surgical strikes will prevent Pakistan from attacking Indian Army camps,” said Chidambaram.In a scathing attack on the prevailing state of affairs where brazen terror attacks have become the norm, Chidambaram said, “It appears to me that at the level the union home ministry there is no unified command. I think the practice of having a meeting between Home Minister, Home Secretary, NSA, Special Secretary (Internal Security), Intelligence Bureau Director and R&AW Director every day without fail at 10 or 10:30 has stopped. There is no coherence, no coordination among agencies.”Comparing the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and the Nagrota attack, Chidambaram said that even though the scale is different, the brazenness and the daring is the same.“What happened in Nagrota is as shameful as Mumbai. Between 2008 and 2012-13 there was no terrorist attack in India which could have been clearly attributed to have source in Pakistan. There were three major attacks — Delhi High Court, Pune Best bakery and in Mumbai — all were done by homegrown terrorists. What we are now witnessing are daring attacks from cross the border— first in Pathankot, then in Uri and now at Nagrota. Each one bears such similarity that we can almost predict when the next attack will be,” said Chidambaram.To a question on what India gained by not responding to 26/11 attack through a surgical strike that was being contemplated, Chidambaram said, “India gained more in the esteem of the eyes of the world by not retaliating.””By the time UPA stepped down, Pakistan was virtually isolated. I think we in the meantime ensured that there will be no Pakistan inspired attack and we built our capacities to detect such moves and respond if such an attack took place. Many Pakistan inspired attacks were prevented during 2008-2013,” he said.Chidambaram said that though he was not privy to the discussions in the immediate aftermath of the 26/11 till November 30 about retribution, it became clear to him that retaliation was not an option at that time. “To ensure there was no Pakistan inspired attack and we build capacity to detect such moves and respond effectively if such a move took place. Many terrorist incidents were prevented during 2008-2013. It is not public but well document,” said Chidambaram.

Demonetisation: 5 hurdles to Narendra Modi’s push for cashless economy

By Devanik Saha

On 27 November, 2016, during an election rally in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed that all Indians get familiar and make other familiar with cashless transactions.

The same day, during his radio programme Mann Ki Baat (What’s on my mind), he said: “Learn how this digital economy works. Learn the different ways you can use your bank accounts and internet banking. Learn how to effectively use the apps of various banks on your phones. Learn how to run your business without cash. Learn about card payments and other electronic modes of payment. Look at the malls and see how they function. A cashless economy is secure, it is clean. You have a leadership role to play in taking India towards an increasingly digital economy.” Modi and his cabinet ministers have now launched a major social-media effort to promote cashless transactions, which include e-banking (or banking over computers or mobile phones), debit and credit cards, card-swipe or “point-of-sales (PoS)” machines and digital wallets.

These are some of the tweets his cabinet ministers and their ministries issued in the four days after Modi’s first cashless-economy push:

India’s internet users surpass the US, but smartphone, internet penetration remain low

As many as 68 percent of transactions in India are done in cash, according to this analysis by Business Standard, while other estimates say 90 percent of all transactions are in cash. There are five hurdles to Modi’s ambition of converting India to a cashless economy:

1. 342 million internet users, 27 percent of Indians: Earlier this year, India surpassed the US to become the country with the second-largest number of Internet users, according to this June 2016 report by investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. There are 342 million internet subscribers (an Internet “penetration rate” of 27 percent) in India, data from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) reveal.

The global median is 67 percent, IndiaSpend reported in March 2016. India lags most major economies and performs worse than Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Indonesia, among other countries, the data reveal.

Put another way, 73 percent of Indians, or 912 million, do not have Internet access.

Of those who use the Internet, no more than 13 percent live in rural India (or 108 million of 833 million who live in rural areas), which has been worst hit by the November 8, 2016, invalidation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that made up 86 percent of notes in circulation.

In urban India, 58 percent of people access the Internet.

2. Smartphone usage rate among adults 17 percent: For a majority of banking applications, a smartphone is a prerequisite. India is Asia-Pacific’s fastest-growing smartphone market, but no more than 17 percent of Indian adults own a smartphone, according to this 2016 survey by Pew Research. Only 7 percent of adults in low-income families own a smartphone; the figure for wealthier families is 22 percent.

3. 1.02 billion mobile subscriptions, but only 15 percent have broadband internet: India had 1.02 billion wireless subscriptions, but after scrubbing the data of inactive and duplicate connections, India has 930 million (90%) active subscribers, according to this November 2016 TRAI report. Of these, 154 million subscribers (15 percent) have broadband connections (3G + 4G).

4. Average page load time on mobile 5.5 seconds, China 2.6 seconds: The average time to load a page on a mobile phone is 5.5 seconds in India, compared to 2.6 seconds in China, 4.5 in Sri Lanka, 4.9 in Bangladesh and 5.8 in Pakistan, according to the “State of the internet Q1 2016” report by Akamai Technologies, a global content delivery network services provider. Israel has the fastest load time at 1.3 seconds.

Mobile Internet speeds will make users less likely to use their phones for banking transactions, with Oracle Maxymiser, a website optimisation tool by Oracle, a US multinational, reporting a two-second threshold before users stop an online transaction–although 68 percent of respondents reported they would not wait six seconds for pages or images to load on a bank’s website or mobile site.

5. 856 PoS machines per million Indians: There were 1.46 million PoS machines in use in India–that is, 856 machines per million people–according to this August 2016 Reserve Bank of India report. In 2015, Brazil–with a population 84 percent lower than India–had nearly 39 times as many machines (32,995), according to this 2015 report from Ernst & Young, a consultancy. The PoS machine rate was 4,000 per million people in China and Russia.

More than 70 percent of the PoS terminals are installed in India’s 15 largest cities, which contribute to more than 75 percent of transactions, says the Ernst and Young report. This has not changed after #notebandi, as the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes is called colloquially.

Most requests for more PoS machines are still from “tier 1”, or metropolitan, cities, a banker with a leading private sector bank told the Indian Express on 29 November, 2016. “In tier 2 cities, customers are now slowly making the shift from using their debit cards to withdraw cash to using them for payments. The demand is progressing slowly,” he said.

As an incentive to banks and manufacturers of PoS terminals, the government has waived 12.5 percent excise duty and 4 percent special excise duty on these machines, as it hopes to install an additional 1 million PoS machines by March 2017.

Saha is an MA Gender and Development student at Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.

First Published On : Dec 3, 2016 10:22 IST

Bhopal gas disaster: 32 years later, wounds still fester in Bhopal

Bhopal: Thirty two years after Bhopal gas tragedy — one of the worst industrial disaster mankind has known and which resulted in death of 15,278 persons (official figure), people are still suffering due to the after-effects of the tragedy.

Nearly 40 tonnes of lethal methyl isocyanate gas had leaked out of the Union Carbide plant on the night of December 2-3, 1984. Several thousands died after inhaling the gas, many of them in their sleep. Lakhs suffered serious ailments for the rest of their lives.

Toxic waste contaminates soil, ground water; contamination spreading

Hundreds of tonnes of toxic waste that is lying in the premises of the Union Carbide factory is causing soil and water contamination. Also, when the factory was functioning, the waste was dumped for years at a pond near the factory.

This highly toxic waste is causing water contamination through seepage. “The hazardous chemical waste has not been removed. With every passing year, especially, after rains, it seeps into underground water,”says Abdul Jabbar, convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS), a non-governmental organisation that works among victims of gas tragedy.

Besides this, contamination is spreading to underground water in many adjoining localities. Groundwater contamination is spreading and over a dozen localities around the Union Carbide plant are now facing it, says a latest study conducted by Sambhavna Trust, which provides medical aid to gas victims apart from conducting research.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Cancer prevalence higher among gas victims

Bhopal Group for Information and Action’s Rachna Dhingra says that relief and rehabilitation have been a major cause of concern. “The victims are unable to afford cost of treatment, especially, in case of renal failure”, she further said. Dhingra says that the prevalence of cancer is ten times higher among gas victims. Rashida Bi, a gas victim, who now works for welfare of survivors, says that Dow is responsible for the clean-up around the factory, but the company doesn’t even respond to the court’s notices.

Survivors suffer from health issues, hospitals lack infrastructure

Lack of proper treatment for gas victims is another major issue. Most of the victims belong to poorer sections of society. The hospitals set up for the purpose of treating the gas victims, today, lack infrastructure and victims don’t get the care and treatment that is needed. The super-specialty Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) perpetually remains mired in controversies — either due to lack of adequate doctors and facilities or because of tug-of-war over its control.

No high-level research on affects of gas on victims

Activists say that the medical issues ranging from pulmonary problems to throat and kidney ailments or particular women’s ailments (and disorders that have passed to next generation) need dedicated treatment and high-level of research and monitoring but this wasn’t done. Even after so many years the proper protocol for treatment of each gas-related ailment has not been evolved. The symptomatic treatment, over-medication and lack of proper monitoring apart from sub-standard drugs led to increased number of renal failures among the gas victims.

Children born to the survivors too suffer from ailments. “There was no high-level research in this regard. Most hospitals are running with skeletal staff,” Jabbar says. “Even the line of treatment is not correct. Take for example Shakir Ali Khan hospital, which lacks equipment and even emergency facility. Even BMHRC is functioning without a proper system,” he adds.

Inadequate compensation to gas victims

The victims say that the settlement between government of India and union carbide over compensation was a sham and the victims didn’t get adequate compensation. There are multiple issues that need to be addressed — from rehabilitation of victims to prosecution of the culprits. The survivors who were widowed by the gas tragedy find tough to make both ends meet.

Many gas victims were not classified under permanent injury category and hence denied proper compensation and treatment. The cases regarding this issue as well as lack of adequate compensation are in the court.

The gas had leaked from the Union Carbide due to poor safety standards in the Bhopal-based plant that manufactured pesticide. It had resulted in instant deaths of thousands. The official figure was later revised to 15,278 deaths though unofficially it was believed that the figure was much higher.

Nearly 5 lakh suffered the affects for the rest of their lives after inhaling the gas. Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was then under control of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), a US-based multi-national which was later taken over by Dow Chemical.

A petition with over 1 lakh signatures was made earlier this year, urging US Department of Justice to uphold international law and make Dow accountable for the suffering in Bhopal.

First Published On : Dec 3, 2016 08:53 IST

TMC hits back at govt, says show us documents proving WB govt invited army

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Hitting back at BJP for its claim that army presence at toll plazas in West Bengal was routine exercise conducted in full knowledge of local authorities, TMC leader Derek O’Brien has asked the Centre to “show the document” which proves that the state had “invited” or given “permission” for it.Kolkata Police had in fact written a letter stating that Army should “not be sent” to the state, O’Brein said, adding that he would place that letter before Parliament on Monday.”The central government should show us a single letter which proves that the West Bengal government had invited army to the state. There is no such letter. There is only one letter written by Kolkata Police Additional Commissioner…I will table that letter on Monday morning (in Parliament)…it says that the army should not be sent there. Show us a letter or document which says the army was given permission,” he said outside Parliament.O’Brein claimed he had also spoken to some of the former chief ministers to know if state government’s permission was required for army deployment in a state. “They all said, yes”.”Without the permission of the state, the army cannot go in. Where is the letter? I challenge…show us the letter,” he said.Earlier, the row over Army taking over road toll plazas in West Bengal echoed in Parliament with TMC seeing “sinister” designs behind the move and the government vehemently denying the charge, saying it was a routine exercise conducted in full knowledge of the local authorities.BJP claimed that Army’s presence at toll plazas was an “annual exercise” which was projected in a “wrong way” and charged Banerjee with “stalling” Parliament proceedings by such “diversionary” tactics.Banerjee, yesterday, decided to stay at the state secretariat ‘Nabanna’ for the night, even after the force was removed from a toll plaza near it as per her demand.

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