PM, Sonia receive body
Her funeral was conducted in near-secrecy and amid tight security, but all of India mourned as the mortal remains of the brave 23-year-old gang-rape victim were cremated at Dwarka early on Sunday morning.
The bubbly girl who was the pride and joy of her family could not live to fulfil her fond dreams. But as the protesters who congregated at Jantar Mantar a few hours later clearly demonstrated, the memory of her courage will never die.
The aircraft bearing her body reached Palam technical area of IGI airport from Singapore at 3.30 am. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi arrived immediately. They spent around 30 minutes at the airport consoling the girl’s parents. The body reached the family’s residence at around 4:30 am in an ambulance amid heavy security and a convoy of police vans.
After prayers by relatives, the girl's body was taken to the Dwarka crematorium at 6:45am in dense fog. The ground had no light and preparations for her funeral were made under torch and flashlights. The girl's emotionally drained mother collapsed and was rushed to hospital, where doctors later described her condition as stable.
Her father lit the pyre with chief minister Sheila Dikshit, Union minister RPN Singh and Delhi BJP chief Vijender Gupta among those in attendance.
Sonia was learnt to have expressed her wish to receive the body and meet the grief stricken family at a Congress core group meeting at the PM’s residence late on Saturday evening .
The meeting – also attended by home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and RPN Singh – agreed with Sonia’s decision and also advised the PM to be there at the airport. Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit and West Delhi MP Mahabal Mishra, too, were informed about the plan.
Of India & the Maldives....
India has tightened visas for Maldives in what is being seen as retaliation for the GMR fiasco in that country. New Delhi has stopped Maldivians from using their visa-free travel facilities to India for other activities like medical treatment, restricting it only to tourism.
India revised its earlier ` “liberal’’ interpretation of the 1979 bilateral visa agreement with Maldives this month which allowed thousands of Maldivians to use a 90-day visa-on-arrival facility — meant only for tourism — to travel for treatment in Indian hospitals.
The Indian government indulged in Maldivians’ liberal use of the facility. But that will no longer be allowed, said sources. Now, Maldivians will need valid medical visas for treatment in Indian hospitals or face deportation, New Delhi has warned.
Foreign minister Salman Khurshid suggested that a lack of reciprocity by Male had forced India to cut down on its largesse in doling out visas. “We know that people from the Maldives come here for treatment but as far as visas are concerned, we will go strictly by the rules,’’ said Khurshid. While India allowed Maldivians to seek treatment on tourist visas — as it never questioned the purpose of their visit —authorities in Male have admitted that there always was a “mutual understanding’’ that such travelers required medical visa.
Indications are that Maldives is already facing the heat. Calling for its nationals not to depend on any one country for treatment, Male has now approached Sri Lanka saying it wants to extend its healthcare scheme to some of the hospitals in Colombo. Now, Maldivians are queuing up outside the Indian High Commission to seek medical visas which are limited in number. The Maldivian home minister said they would approach Thailand for help in medical treatment for its citizens. According to the Indian government, Maldives’ interpretation of the visa agreement was always different and that until now it was more difficult for Indians to get into Maldives than the other way round. The fact that India workers’ passports are confiscated by their employers is something India has repeatedly taken up with authorities in Male but to no avail.
According to India, Maldives detains and deports about 50 Indian nationals every year.
Somewhere in Odisha....
A herd of five elephants and a foetus were killed after being hit by a speeding train near Subalaya in Ganjam district, about 50km from Bubhaneshwar, on Saturday night.
A 40-year-old man, engaged by a private contractor as a bedroll assistant in the train, was found dead, though it was unclear as to how he died during the accident, officials said.
The elephants—three females, a tusker, a calf besides a foetus—were killed after being hit by the Chennai-bound Coromondal Express around 1am, officials said. One of the female elephants was in the advanced stages of pregnancy and the impact of the hit forced the foetus to come out.
Berhampur divisional forest officer S S Mishra said the elephants were crossing the railway track when the train hit them one after the other, killing them on the spot. Before the accident, forest staff had driven out the herd, camping at Dumanagiri jungle, he said.
The DFO said around 20 elephants from the Chandaka elephant sanctuary near Bhubaneswar had migrated to the area some months ago.
Direct Cash Transfer snippets
Around 10 lakh kirana shops are going to become the backbone of UPA government’s direct cash transfer (DCT) for subsidy schemes. The government has decided to involve these stores across the country giving them micro ATMs and a commission of 3% on the value of cash transactions.
To be rolled out in more than 51 districts in 18 states from next month as a pilot, the cash distribution network will engage, besides the kirana shops, one lakh bank branches, post offices (1.5 lakh), fertilizer sale centres (1.5 lakh) and banking correspondents (1 lakh), sources said. Anganwadi and Asha workers will double up as banking correspondents, and will be given commission as applicable.
Dubbed as the “gamechanger” scheme, giving kirana shops and anganwadi workers an additional source of revenue will help the government counter the opposition’s onslaught on FDI where the latter had been arguing that allowing foreign retailers to open shops in India will lead to large-scale unemployment in neighbourhood mom and pop shops. The government banks have been asked to open at least one bank account for each household in the 18 states, where the scheme is being rolled out as a pilot. By 2016, the government hopes the entire country can be networked through the distribution system.
Finance minister P Chidambaram had earliersaid that initially the Aadhaar-based DCT into the beneficiaries’ accounts will be applicable only on 34 Centrally-sponsored schemes such as pension, rural employment guarantee scheme and scholarships, etc. However, this would not include cash transfer on food, fertilizer and petroleum/LPG subsidies.
The government has already instructed banks to rollout appropriate banking facilities in unbanked habitations.
Ratan Tata retires
Ratan Tata,who led the transformation of Tata Group from a conventional corporate house into a $100 billion global conglomerate with high-profile acquisitions abroad,will retire on Friday,ending a 50-year run in one of India's oldest business empires.
Marking a generational change, Tata, who turns 75 on Friday, will hand over the reins of the group to 44-year-old Cyrus Mistry, who was chosen his successor last year and formally appointed chairman this month.
Tata is hanging up his boots after steering the group for 21 years as its chairman, when he succeeded the legendary JRD Tata. “I have devoted my life,as best I could,to the welfare of the group,” Tata said. The media-shy mogul, who spent 50 years with the company,is likely to mark his last day at the helm in the unassuming manner in which he took over from JRD Tata.
Ratan Tata, who retired as the Chairman of Tata Group on Friday, kept away from the Bombay House headquarters of the USD 100 billion group on his farewell day to spend time with the employees of various manufacturing facilities of Tata Motors in Pune.
“At the request of the union, I spent the day - my last day prior to retirement, in the Tata Motors’ various manufacturing facilities at Pune to say farewell to my shop floor colleagues. We have been together in good times and bad and have gained closeness based on mutual trust,” tweeted Tata, who stepped down after a 50-year run.
He said in his twitter message that going to the plants and receiving greetings from so many colleagues is a great emotional experience.
“I have been deeply moved by the sincerity and spontaneity of their greetings.I will always carry memories of this day with me through the rest of my life,” Tata said.
Maharashtra's outlay in the XIIth Plan
Maharashtra plans to accelerate economic growth by implementing specially-designed growth-oriented policies in the 12th Five-Year Plan which will have a proposed plan outlay of Rs.2,75,000 crore to achieve the growth target, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said.
Chavan told reporters that Maharashtra has achieved a growth rate of 8.6% during the 11th Five-Year Plan period, despite the impact of economic slowdown and erratic monsoon that adversely impacted farm production. “We now propose a gross state domestic product (GSDP) growth of 10.5% for the 12th Plan. This growth will come from agriculture (4%), industry (11%), services (11%). We have proposed a plan outlay of Rs. 2,75,000 cröre in the plan,” Chavan said in his speech earlier at the NDC meeting. According to him, integrated watershed development programme in areas with relatively higher average rainfall would be crucial for developing protective irrigation. The state has set up a Dry Land Farming Mission in the state with a view to focus on these two programmes besides legislating a new Ground Water Act, which seeks to regulate the use of ground water and engage community in aquifer recharge measures. The bill is awaiting Presidential assent. Currently, only 12% of the gross-cropped area of the state is under surface irrigation compared to the national average of 40%.
Maharashtra needs huge investment in this sector to enhance area under assured irrigation and bring sustainability in agriculture growth, he said.
On industrial progress in the state, Chavan said that during the 11th Plan period, the state attracted 4,630 projects, with a total investment of over Rs.6.5 lakh crore and employment potential of above 22 lakh. Maharashtra received the highest FDI in the country. Under the Cluster Development Programme, the Centre has approved the state government’s proposals to set up 32 clusters of micro-and-small enterprises, which will provide direct employment to nearly one lakh people during the next three years, he said. In order to make more land available for industrial activities in the state, the government has also decided to allow development of de-notified SEZs as integrated industrial areas. The state, he said, is confident of meeting the industrial growth target of 11% during Twelfth Plan.
On the power sector front, Maharashtra has withdrawn load-shedding in 80% area of the state and has added 1,500-MW capacity projects in 2011-12. Thermal projects with a capacity of 3,230 MW are under execution, and further 1,570-MW capacity projects are under planning with total investment of Rs.23,530 crore. Of this, Rs.8,205 crore has already been spent.
Chavan said the state was facing a gas shortage at the gas-based plants of Mahagenco at Uran near Mumbai and Dhabhol in Ratnagiri and need immediate attention of the Centre.
India's longest Rail Tunnel opens
The first test run of a train through the country’s longest 11.21 km tunnel connecting Qazigund to Banihal was carried out by the railways.
The tunnel constructed by Hindustan Construction Corporation will reduce the travel distance between Qazigund and Banihal from 35 km (by road) to just 17.5 km (by train). Importantly, the Pir Panjal tunnel has attained the distinction of being the second longest railway tunnel in Asia, an HCC spokesman said.
The tunnel section of the track was built at a cost of Rs 1691 crore, and took almost seven years to complete.
The tunnel has been equipped with the state of the art air quality monitoring, ventilation, communication, and fire fighting systems, Ballast less track system has been provided which is pollution and maintenance free. “Opening of Banihal-Qazigund section will be a turning point not only in the history of Jammu & Kashmir, but for the India as well,” said a Railway spokesman.
Kolkata misses digital deadline again
Kolkata missed yet another digitization deadline with the state government warning multi-service operators (MSOs) against towing the Centre’s analog signal switch-off diktat. Though all English general entertainment, English and Hindi news, sports, music, devotional and kids’ channels went off the air at more than 90% of cable homes in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area, Bengali channels—both entertainment and news—and Hindi entertainment channels that serve the daily doze of entertainment in 4 million cable homes, continued to be beamed in the city and its suburbs. Cable operators are also beaming the Indo-Pak matches in a local channel by converting the digital signal to analog.
MSOs in Delhi and Mumbai have already switched off analog transmission and are on board the digitization drive. But in Kolkata and Chennai, the switchover has hit a hurdle with chief ministers Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalitha refusing to switch off analog transmission and cause inconvenience to lakhs of low-income households that cannot afford the hike in charges once the switchover takes place. The current low pricing in analog connections is based on under-declaration of subscriber base by operators. While Jayalalithaa went to court and got a stay order on the digitization rollout in Chennai, Mamata decided to use pressure tactics and warned MSOs that going against the state’s will would incur the government’s wrath.
Though the I&B ministry had earlier threatened to cancel the licence of MSOs in Kolkata if they did not switch off all analog channels on Thursday, sources said officials had softened their stand following a letter from the MSOs last week, explaining how it was sandwiched between divergent orders from two ends.
While law and order may pose a challenge, nowhere has conversion from one platform to another happened without a section of the population taking the hit.
Himachal goes the Congress way
Riding an anti-incumbency wave and staving off corruption charges against its veteran leader Virbhadra Singh, Congress wrested power from BJP in Himachal Pradesh with a wafer-thin majority of 36 in the 68-member Assembly.
Disproving predictions of a close contest, the state lived to its reputation of voting out the party in power,giving the ruling BJP, which suffered from severe infighting and rebel candidates, only 26 seats.
The Independents, mostly BJP and Congress rebels,won five seats while Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) floated by BJP dissidents won one seat.In the last elections in 2007, the BJP had bagged 41 seats and Congress 23.
78-year-old Virbhadra Singh, a five-time chief minister who was given the reins of the party on the eve of elections and who ran a spirited campaign, won from Shimla (Rural).
Singh, against whom BJP had levelled allegations of corruption during his tenure as Steel Minister in Delhi in the campaign appears to have emerged unscathed from the CD case filed by the Dhumal government in which charges were framed against him leading to his resignation from the Union Government.
While chief minister P K Dhumal won from Hamirpur constituency,his four cabinet colleagues Narinder Bragata, Khimi Ram,Krishan Kumar and Romesh Dhawala lost the elections.
The BJP could win only five out of 23 seats in Kangra and Shimla districts and Mohan Lal of Congress won by highest margin of 28,415 votes from Rohroo, which was represented by former chief minister V B Singh but was reserved during delimitation.
HLP wrested three seats each from BJP and Congress. The Congress wrested the Banjjar, Ani, Sundernagar, Dalhousie, Churah, Bharmaur, Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti, Badsar, Sri Renukaji, Bilaspur, Chintpurni, Jubbal and Kotkhai, Rohroo, Doon, Solan,Sulah,Dharamsala,Jwalamukhi,Palampur and Jaisingpur seats from BJP and seats from BJP and Karsog, Theog and Nurpur seats from Independents.
More sops for Exporters
The government has announced more sops to stem the slide in exports that has led to alarming widening of the trade deficit and depreciation of the rupee.
The incentives include extension of the 2% interest subsidy available to certain sectors by one more financial year, until the end of March 2014, and expanding coverage to a few engineering sub-sectors to make exports more competitive.
Besides, all small and medium enterprises, irrespective of sectors, will get this subsidy, an incentive that the government hopes will help push exports by the end of the current fiscal.
Commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma admitted that the target of $360 billion for exports in the current fiscal is likely to be missed.
India’s exports contracted 5.95% to $189.2 billion during April-November, contributing significantly to the high trade deficit of nearly $130 billion.
The sectors covered under the interest subsidy scheme include handicrafts, carpets, handloom, readymade garments, processed agriculture products, sports goods and toys.
The government also announced additional incentives for incremental exports to the US, European Union and Asian countries, besides adding New Zealand, Cayman Islands, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria to its ‘focus market scheme’. The scheme aims to make exports more competitive in certain overseas markets by offsetting high freight costs. Sharma also announced a pilot scheme of 2% interest subsidy for project exports through Exim Bank for countries in the SAARC region, Africa and Myanmar to spur exports to new markets. These incentives are in addition to the annual supplement of the foreign trade policy announced in June.
Of inclusive growth....
India’s growth story over the last five years has been far more inclusive than in the past, with the bottom five states growing faster than the national average, according to government data released ahead of the National Development Council meeting to approve the XIIth Five Year Plan. The government’s assertion assumes significance as several states have been seeking special treatment citing their backwardness and financial constraints.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, for instance, wants the Centre to accord special status to the state to get financial benefits granted currently to Jammu and Kashmir and North-eastern states. Mamata Banerjee has also persistently sought special consideration to help shore up West Bengal’s fragile finances.
“The country’s average GDP growth in the Eleventh Five Year Plan period was 7.90%. But the bottom five states grew faster at 8.58%, just about half a percent slower than the top five states who recorded 9.1% growth,” said a senior government official on Wednesday.
“Historically, the Bimaru states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) grew the slowest. But this trend has reversed and these states are now growing close to or even higher than the national average,” the official said. “Bihar, which was for quite some time a cause of worry for planners, has been able to record growth rate of 12.11% in the Eleventh Plan. Similarly, MP, UP and Rajasthan have all recorded growth rates of 7% or more. This is an encouraging and positive trend,” the XIIth Plan notes, acknowledging that human development indices have also improved in these states.
Pointing to a reversal in fortunes for the states of Gujarat and Bihar in the last decade, an official said that between 2001 and 2005, Gujarat was the fastest growing state and Bihar the slowest. “But Bihar became the fastest growing state from 2006 to 2010, while five other states grew faster than Gujarat,” he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had recently summoned a special meeting of the Planning Commission to discuss issues that may be flagged by backward and financially weak states like Bihar and West Bengal.
“The PM wanted to understand how the Plan addresses the concerns of regional disparity and its treatment of states that lag behind,” said a senior government official who attended the meeting in the third week of December.
The XIIth Five Year Plan aims to double the Plan assistance to states for special area programmes such as the Backward Region Grants Fund (BRGF), the Hill Areas Development Programme (HADP) and the Border Areas Development Programme (BADP).
Funding for the state component of BRGF, which includes funds earmarked for Bihar, West Bengal and Bundelkhand, will go up from Rs 11, 568 crore in the Eleventh Plan to Rs 33,332 crore in the Twelfth Plan period of 2012-2017. The Plan has called for restructuring the BRGF with a special focus on the sub-district level for effective realization of outcomes. “Even states with high per capita incomes have backward areas such as Kutch, North Karnataka and Vidarbha. Such intra-state disparity is high in Haryana, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, but low in Punjab,” an official said to illustrate that the challenge has now shifted to fixing intra-state inequality that occurs when growth and development gets concentrated in a few pockets.
Kalyan to lead UP BJP in ’14 LS polls
Former chief minister Kalyan Singh will head the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Singh is set to return to the party on January 21. Though a formal announcement in this regard is awaited, sources say the party has decided to hand over the state BJP’s charge to Kalyan.
State BJP chief Laxmikant Bajpayi said that Kalyan Singh would undoubtedly play a major role - from selection of candidates to formulate strategy for the party’s success – in the LS polls.
8 Years on....
Montek's take on special status for Bihar
The Planning Commission ruled out special category status for Bihar, arguing that doing so would require changes in guidelines, even as CM Nitish Kumar met finance minister P Chidambaram and reiterated the demand.
“Bihar does not meet the existing criteria according to which a state is deemed eligible for special category status,” Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said.
The comment comes at a time when Kumar has made special category status his main election plank for 2014 and has planned a rally in Delhi in March to pressurize the Centre.
There is view that granting special category status to Bihar by revising the guidelines can help Congress in weaning Kumar from the NDA to the UPA. The thinking goes that with no let up in Kumar’s popularity, his switchover would be gamechanger for the 2014 general elections.
Kumar had even said at a public rally earlier this year that he would support anyone in formation of government at the Centre if they granted special category status to Bihar.
Ahluwalia’s comment came on the eve of the National Development Council (NDC) meeting where Kumar is expected to restate his flagship demand.
“The commission cannot see such demands by states in isolation,” Ahluwalia said, arguing the criteria needs to be revised to accommodate the demand. “Either we have to reopen the whole question or respond (to) the demand of one state. Many states have problems,” he added.
Ahluwalia argued that if Bihar demanded special category status saying it was subject to floods, Rajasthan would make a similar demand saying it faced drought.
Special category states have some distinct characteristics. They have international boundaries, hilly terrain and have distinctly different socio-economic developmental parameters, according to a study undertaken for the 13th Finance Commission. The study said these states also have geographical disadvantages in their effort for infrastructural development.
Public expenditure plays a significant role in the gross State Domestic Product of the states. The north-eastern states are also late starters in development. Hence, the Centre sanctions 90% in the form of grants in plan assistance to states in special category.
Special category states are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand.
The plan panel deputy chief, however, recognized that Bihar needed the Centre’s attention. “We do recognize that some parts of Bihar do have a special problem and as part of BGRF (Backward Regions Grant Fund) we have a Bihar package,” he said.
Demand for Bodoland
A conglomerate of 52 organizations has threatened an indefinite blockade of key highways in Assam from January 1, to press for their demand for a separate Bodoland state.
People’s Joint Action Committee for Bodoland Movement (PJACBM) chief convener Jebra Ram Muchahary said their activists will stage demonstrations at different places on national highways 31, 37 and 52 that connect the state with West Bengal and prevent the movement of goods.
The organization is yet to decide whether to stop goods trains as well.
But it has kept passenger buses, private cars, rickshaws, bikes and essential services like health, postal and media vehicles outside the purview of the agitation.
“We learnt that the central government will hold an all-party meeting on December 28 to discuss the Telangana issue. This is sidelining our 46 year movement for separate Bodoland, which is discriminatory and intolerable design to isolate our legitimate demand,” said Muchahary.
Of the XIIth Plan....
The Government has decided to slash its annual economic growth target for the next five years to eight per cent from 8.2 per cent earlier.
The planning commission has mooted the lowering of GDP growth target given the sluggish performance last year and less than six per cent expected this financial year.
A final call on the 12th Plan growth targets would, however, be taken by the national development council (NDC), a body headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh that also has chief ministers and cabinet ministers as members.
Plan panel deputy chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, will move the eight per cent growth target before the NDC. He cited finance minister P Chidambaram's latest announcement lowering the target for this financial year to 5.7-5.9 per cent. The Reserve Bank o India (RBI) had earlier projected a target of 6.5 per cent, while prime minister's economic advisory council (PMEAC), headed by former RBI governor C Rangarajan, had put the growth figure for this financial year at about six per cent.
Ahluwalia cited the negative growth story in the euro zone, Japan and less than two per cent growth in the US as contributing factors for lowering growth targets for the 12th Plan period that began on April 1, 2012. He also cited the latest United Nations report that lowered the global growth projections by 0.5 per cent. In this context, it was also stated that China has revised its growth projections for this financial year to about 7.5 per cent against 11.7 per cent GDP growth clocked last year.
The approach paper to 12th Plan, approved by the government, had projected nine per cent growth that was subsequently lowered to 8.2 per cent.
While the approach paper was being put together, the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee pushed for 9.5 per cent growth target. But, he settled for nine per cent on the advice of Rangarajan. This is the second time that the planning commission will be scaling down the growth projection for the 12 Plan (2012-17). In the 11th Plan, the annual growth rate was 7.9 per cent.
Ahluwalia added that unless there is significant slippage or policy logjam, eight per cent annual growth was a distinct possibility. He did not agree with the suggestion that even eight per cent GDP growth in 12th Plan was a wee bit `overtly optimistic.' The plan panel chief also stated that the committee headed by Rangarajan on estimating poverty would shortly submit its report.
NDA 2.0 in the making?
Cries of Dekho dekho kaun aya, Bharat ka sher aaya rented the air at the Sardar Patel Stadium, Ahmedabad as an array of national leaders appeared on the stage where Narendra Modi was sworn in for the fourth time as Gujarat chief minister. But, conspicuous with their absence were chief ministers Nitish Kumar of Bihar and Naveen Patnaik of Odisha; none from their parties were present either.
The star-studded show, therefore, gave a sneak preview of a possible new NDA, one which Modi hopes to lead into the 2014 parliamentary elections. While Nitish and the entire JD(U) skipped the ceremony, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray was present along with his estranged cousin and new Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray. Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa was perched on a chair which seemed higher than everybody else’s.
Shiromani Akali Dal and Haryana Vikas Party were represented, but Telugu Desam Party’s Chandrababu Naidu was absent. The political galaxy watched 16 of Modi’s ministers administered the oath of office by governor Kamla Beniwal, who has long been at odds with Modi.
“Took oath as Gujarat’s CM for the 4th time! A memorable day. I assure we will live up to the faith people have reposed in us,” Modi tweeted after the ceremony. “My thanks to people, senior leaders & spiritual leaders who graced the occasion & to all who watched the event live,” Modi said on the microblogging site, referring to Hindu saints, maulvis and a Christian priest who shared the stage with him. “Narendrabhai has proved that if you govern well then people trust you and reward you handsomely. Caste and community take aback seat. It’s the emergence of a new democratic India,” said BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Modi’s ministry has eight Patels, one dalit, one Scheduled Caste, two Kshatriyas, one Anjana Patel and three OBCs. Five ministers each are from Saurashtra and north Gujarat, four from Ahmedabad district, two from central Gujarat and one from south Gujarat.
Other notables were Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, INLD boss Om Prakash Chautala, chief ministers Jagdish Shettar (Karnataka), Manohar Parrikar (Goa), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh), Arjun Munda (Jharkhand), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (MP), Vasundhara Raje, and Bihar deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi. Party president Nitin Gadkari was there along with LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu.
NaMo's hat trick
Narendra Modi swept back to power in Gujarat for the third time in a row but the 115 seats he won in the State — two less than the Bharatiya Janata Party’s tally in the current 182-member Assembly — has put the sangh parivar at the national level in a dilemma.
The “below expected” score allows his opponents within to resist the clamour to make Mr. Modi the BJP's prime ministerial candidate for 2014; but the fact that he has registered his third decisive win is enough to get all the party's national leaders to brace themselves for a challenge.
Belying predictions of an improvement in its electoral fortunes, the Congress party was routed yet again, managing just 61 seats, while the Gujarat Parivartan Party’s Keshubhai Patel could get only two of its candidates elected.
Savouring his victory at a public meeting,, the Chief Minister, who spoke in campaign mode in Hindi with an eye on a national audience, thanked the people of Gujarat for “voting for development in the State and country.”
Some of his supporters kept chanting “PM, PM” but Mr. Modi took care to reiterate his desire to work for the State for the “next five years.”
Though Mr. Modi’s supporters are taking the hat-trick he has delivered as a bugle call for a march to Delhi, the first sign that this would be no plain sailing was provided on Thursday itself by a key BJP ally, the Janata Dal (United).
Its Gujarat state leader Vashist Narayan Singh declared that though the victory would strengthen the BJP as a party at the national level, the JD(U) was clear that the candidate for Prime Minister should have a secular image.
The BJP managed to get as many as 35 seats in the 54-member Saurashtra-Kutch region that had got some 38 seats to the ruling party in the region in 2007 polls. The result in this region is a reason to rejoice for the BJP given that former BJP patriarch and Gujarat Parivartan Party leader Keshubhai Patel belongs to Saurashtra and had given a tough fight here with his Leuva Patel caste base.
Similarly, the ruling party got 28 out of 35 seats in South Gujarat, which also has tribal seats, while it managed 20 out of 40 seats in central Gujarat.
The outcome of the elections is clearly a mandate for Narendra Modi, who had created a debate around “Modi versus Who” and the Congress had no answer to this. But the outcome took a heavy toll of some sitting ministers like Jay Narayan Vyas, Fakir Vaghela as well as State BJP president R.C. Faldu who lost the elections.
Chief Minister Narendra Modi beat his nearest rival Shweta Bhatt by a margin of over 86,000 votes in Maninagar.
Shankersinh Vaghela, a former chief minister and BJP stalwart-turned Congress leader in Gujarat, won from Kapadwaj seat in central Gujarat. He defeated the BJP.
Government withdraws VK Singh's security cover
The government has stripped former army chief General V K Singh of his Z-plus security cover. Singh had waged a messy battle with the defence ministry over his age while in office and is now actively taking part in protests over corruption, the Delhi gangrape and other issues .
Government sources said the decision to withdraw all security provided to Gen Singh, who retired on May 31, from December 1, was taken after a home ministry review last month held there was “no threat perception’’ against the former army chief.
“Normally, all retiring army chiefs get Z-plus security for six months. It continues after that only if the threat perception is high. Gen Singh will, however,continue to stay in his government accommodation in Delhi Cantonment for six more months since he had earlier sought and obtained permission for it from defence minister A K Antony,’’ a source said.
As a Z-plus protectee, Gen Singh had around 30-35 army personnel providing him “proximate security’’ round-the-clock in shifts as well as six to seven vehicles, including the main bulletproof one. While these have now been withdrawn, as also the Delhi police outer cover, he will continue to get a “few sahayaks and secretarial staff’’ as a former army chief. Ever since he retired earlier this year, Gen Singh has been participating in several street campaigns and rallies against the government, particularly those led by Anna Hazare, and has even called for the dissolution of Parliament.
This had provoked some to question Gen Singh’s actions as a “political activist’’ while continuing to stay in government accommodation with a heavy-duty security cover. His supporters, however, contend that opposition leaders also get government accommodation and security cover.
Gen Singh and yoga guru Baba Ramdev were also among the seven named in an FIR by Delhi police for allegedly inciting a crowd to march from Jantar Mantar to India Gate to protest against the gangrape in Delhi despite police restrictions.
Shivaji statue snippets
The Maharashtra state government is expediting the process to construct the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Arabian Sea. Guardian minister for island city Jayant Patil, along with other senior government officials and principal architects, is slated to inspect the site for installation of the Maratha warrior’s memorial, on the lines of the Statue of Liberty in the US, on December 28.
“At a meeting held by Patil, it was decided that the site inspection should be done by a committee. Accordingly, the visit has been planned on December 28,” an official close to Patil said.
Patil will be accompanied by chief secretary Jayant Kumar Banthia, chief architect of PWD department and principal architect of a private firm Bharat Yamsanwar.
The ambitious project requires several nods from the Centre, including the ministry of environment and the defence (navy).
In its 2004 election manifesto, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had promised the statue. Subsequently, the DF government in 2008 decided to construct a 300-ft Shivaji statue, 1.5 km into the Arabian sea near Marine Drive. However, the project ran into several hurdles, including opposition from several sections of the society.
At the recently concluded state legislature session in Nagpur, the ruling Congress-NCP announced that it will not change the venue for setting up the memorial. The DF government appointed a committee, under the leadership of senior NCP minister Jayant Patil, to coordinate with the departments concerned and sort out issues related to construction of the memorial. The committee has to submit its report to the state cabinet within two months.
Ajit Pawar takes charge of Finance & Energy
Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar took charge of finance and energy portfolios. The NCP leader reviewed the financial demands of the home department at a high-level meeting in Mantralaya.
The meeting, chaired by Pawar, was attended by home minister R R Patil, additional chief secretary Amitabh Rajan and senior police officials.
Pawar was sworn in as deputy CM on December 7, before the winter session of the state legislature in Nagpur, after he quit in September over allegations of irregularities in irrigation projects.
Bhendi Bazaar makeover update
Work on the ambitious Bhendi Bazaar cluster redevelopment project has come to a halt with shopkeepers and residents obtaining stay orders against the project, claiming that there is no clarity on which new buildings they would be allotted space in and how big it would be.
Work on the project started only three months ago, with the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust, which is developing the Rs 2,900-crore project spread over 16.5 acres,marking six buildings for demolition. However, only two buildings were partially pulled down while work on the other buildings has now been stopped. Shopkeepers and residents have formed a Project Affected Committee, objecting to the demolitions. The locals had earlier given their consent to the project.
They approached the Mumbai Building Repairs and Reconstruction Board (MBRRB) that had sanctioned the project and opposed the demolition.
The SBUT has been able to bring down only two building, Mohamedi and Tankiwala, where the upper floors have been demolished while shops continue to operate from the ground floors. Dissenting residents have now stalled the demolition of at least three buildings — Phoolwala, Tajbhai Moon Manzil, and Ebrahim Nuruddin Chawl.
Shopkeepers are protesting on the grounds that while residents have been promised 350 square feet apartments in lieu of their 300 sq ft houses, shopkeepers have not been promised any extra space in the new project. And while residents have been accommodated in transit camps in Mazgaon, shop owners are only being given a nominal rent to compensate for the disruption.
“To begin with, it does not look like the project will get done in the next three years,” said a committee member speaking on behalf of the shopkeepers. “The SBUT has offered us Rs 140 per sq ft per month as rent. This is too little for us to rent a shop in the locality. We are unable to carry on with our business and have asked for higher rents so that we are at least able to make ends meet till the development is complete.”
Abbas Master, CEO, SBUT admitted that work has been stalled. “Before beginning the demolition we had called all the shopkeepers and given a detailed presentation about the project, so the question of lack of clarity should not arise. We have categorically stated that new shops would be allotted in the same cluster. Residents would get houses either in the same cluster or a neighbouring one,” he said.
Master added that a handful of shopkeepers were trying to arm-twist the SBUT. “Our studies had revealed that rents for shops are around Rs 75-90 per square feet per month. We are offering much more than that. But a handful of shopkeepers want more.If we allow unfair hikes and give in to their demands,the project’s viability will suffer.” Master added that even though no stay order has come from any authority they have voluntarily stopped the project. “This is a project for the people. We want the issues to be sorted out before we resume work. Meanwhile, we are getting permissions from various government agencies,” he concluded.
The project, which was announced in 2009 with the aim of decongesting the area, involves the construction of 249 buildings that will have 3,200 houses and 1,200 shops.
India - Russia Summit snippets
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh circumvented differences over contentious issues to come up with a 13th India-Russia Annual Summit meeting described even by the Russian side as “very successful”.
In a restricted 75-minute meeting— longer than the delegation level talks — Putin told Singh that Russia wanted its concerns over the Sistema issue to be taken care of.
While reiterating that the issue was pending in court, Singh assured the Russian president that India will work for an amicable solution. Russian sources said Putin was satisfied with the assurance given by Singh, with the two sides reaching a “complete understanding”.
Russia did not raise it in the delegation-level talks, during which Putin told the Indian side that New Delhi’s decision to bring the third and fourth units of Kudankulam nuclear reactors under India’s nuclear liability law would have implications for the techno-commercial agreement that the two countries are negotiating. Russia is now expected to quote a fresh price for the reactors, Indian sources said.
In a statement later, Singh said negotiations for the third and fourth units had made good progress. “We intend to continue implementing the roadmap for cooperation in the nuclear energy sector that was signed during President Putin’s visit in 2010 as the then prime minister of Russia,” Singh said, describing Putin as the architect of India’s strategic partnership with Russia.
The two sides signed around 10 deals. The two sides discussed a range of international issues like the situation in Afghanistan and the scourge of terrorism.
Somewhere in Allahabad....
Aftermath of the brutal gangrape
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has, without spelling out the details, promised speedy action after protests against the gangrape of a young woman led to violent clashes between students and the police in the heart of Delhi over the past two days. In a televised address to the nation, Singh appealed for calm and said, “I assure you we will make all possible efforts to ensure security and safety of women in this country. As a father of three daughters myself, I feel as strongly about this as each one of you. My wife, my family and I are all joined in our concern for the young woman who was the survivor of this heinous crime.” But Singh’s address, coming as it did eight days after the gruesome incident on December 16, appeared to do little to assuage the protestors. Even as the police barricaded roads leading to India Gate, public outrage over the incident showed little signs of ebbing as protestors, mostly students, continued to congregate at Jantar Mantar, though the crowds were thinner. Security personnel kept Rajpath, the stretch linking India Gate and Raisina Hill leading to Rashtrapati Bhavan, locked down with barricades and heavy deployment of personnel with riot gear.
No traffic was allowed around India Gate and nine Delhi Metro stations were closed down. This led to massive traffic jams, especially in central Delhi. Many meetings had to be cancelled and even government officials and ministers found it difficult to reach their offices. The chaos in the city overshadowed an official visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The government was forced to shift the venue of the meeting between Singh and Putin from Hyderabad House to the high-security residential complex of the prime minister at 7, Race Course Road. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde met the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and requested him to set up fast-track courts to deal with crime against women, particularly the recent gangrape.
However,Shinde appeared to complicate matters for the beleaguered government when he bracketed the protestors with armed Maoists and ruled out negotiations. “It is very easy to ask the home minister to go to India Gate and talk. Tomorrow, if any other party’s demonstration goes on, why should not the home minister go there? Tomorrow Congress and BJP will demonstrate, tomorrow Maoists will come here to demonstrate with weapons,” Shinde said in several interviews.
The initiative to set up fast-track courts to deal with crimes against women may be extended to the whole country, minister of state in charge of information and broadcasting Manish Tiwari said.
The PM added that the safety of women and children was a high priority for his government. “We will examine without delay not only the responses to this terrible crime but also all aspects concerning the safety of women and children and punishment to those who commit these monstrous crimes. Our government will keep you informed of the steps we are taking and the processes we are following.” “I also feel deeply sad at the turn of events leading to clashes between protestors and police forces. Anger at this crime is justified but violence will serve no purpose. I appeal to all concerned citizens to maintain peace and calm,” the prime minister added.
The Opposition stepped up its attack on the government, demanding an all-party meeting and a special session of Parliament to discuss harsher punishment for sexual assault. However, the government ruled out an all-party meeting or a special session, announcing instead a three member committee headed by retired Justice JS Verma to suggest amendments in law for quicker trials and enhanced punishment for criminals in such cases. Leila Seth, former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh, and Gopal Subramaniam, former Solicitor General of India, are the other members of the committee.
“In the light of the recent incident, the government has given anxious consideration to the need for reviewing the present laws to provide for speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault,” a statement from the home ministry said. The committee will submit its report within 30 days.
Even as the government scrambled for damage control, the condition of the victim deteriorated and she remained in a critical condition at Safdarjung Hospital. “She is still in a critical condition and not out of danger,” doctors said. “She showed some tendency for internal bleeding last night. In simple terms, she has reduced capacity for coagulation (the process by which blood forms clots)... She is not as good as yesterday. She continues to be on ventilator support,” said Medical Superintendent Dr BD Athani.
Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna, who cut short his vacation in the US and returned on Sunday night, met the police commissioner and issued suspension orders against two assistant commissioners of police. “We have suspended two ACPs — Mohan Singh Dabas (Traffic) and Yagram (PCR). I have instructed the police commissioner to seek explanation from DCPs Premnath (Traffic) and Satbir Kataria (PCR) and will decide on further action after that,” Khanna said.
As the protest at India Gate turned violent, father of the 23-year-old victim appealed for calm. Though he wants protests to continue till the government comes up with a stricter law against rape, he wants it to be a peaceful one. He also demanded death penalty for the accused.
“I appeal to the people supporting her to not indulge in violence. I want them to support us peacefully and pray for my daughter's recovery. I appeal to all to refrain from vandalism and help the police, so that the process of capturing and sentencing the culprits is successful,’’ said the victim’s father, who works as a loader with a private firm at IGI airport, in a television interview.
With her condition fluctuating, her family is praying that she makes it. “My daughter is conscious. She is a fighter. She has overcome many obstacles, be it poverty or in her studies, and she will keep fighting,’’ said her father. But he wants her daughter’s tormentors to get death penalty. “They should be given capital punishment. If they remain alive and are later freed, they will again commit such crimes. It will be injustice if they get a lesser punishment,’’ he said. The massive public support has given the family hope that things will change. “We don’t want anybody else to go through the same thing. The law should be so tough and punishment so harsh that men don’t dare to do this with any other girl. We support the protest, but it should be peaceful. We don’t want anybody to get hurt,’’ her younger brother said.
The last one week has been really tough for the family. While her condition is deteriorating by the day, the family is hoping that she will survive and are worried about the future. “We want the best doctors to treat her. If there is a need, she should be taken abroad for treatment. We want her to live,’’ said her younger brother.
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