Bachchan Receives Phalke Award

President Ram Nath Kovind presented megastar Amitabh Bachchan with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Indian cinema's highest honour, in a special ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Bachchan was earlier supposed to receive the honour at the National Film Awards ceremony last Monday, but the actor was unable to attend the event due to ill health.

Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar had announced at the awards that the Hindi cinema veteran will be bestowed with the honour in a special ceremony hosted by the President on Sunday.

The award, named after Dhundiraj Govind Phalke who is revered as the Father of Indian cinema, was instituted in 1969, the year Bachchan made his debut in Hindi film industry with “Saat Hindustani”.

The Dadasaheb Phalke Award comprises a Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus) medallion, a shawl, and a cash prize of ₹10,00,000.

“I would like to thank the government of India, Information & Broadcasting ministry and the jury members of the National Film Awards for finding me deserving enough for the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.

“God has been kind, there have been blessings of my parents, the support of the filmmakers, producers, co-actors from the industry, but I'm most indebted to the love and constant encouragement by the Indian audience. That's the reason I'm standing here. I accept this award with utmost humility and gratitude,” Bachchan said in his acceptance speech.

The 77-year-old actor attended the ceremony with his wife, and actor-MP Jaya Bachchan, and actor-son Abhishek Bachchan. Also present were the winners of the National Film Awards.

President Kovind hosted a high-tea for all the winners at his residence on Sunday.

Later in the evening Abhishek Bachchan took to Instagram to congratulate his father.

Opposition's show of unity as Hemant Soren takes oath

JMM leader Hemant Soren took oath as the Jharkhand chief minister for the second time on Sunday at a grand ceremony attended by a number of opposition leaders and regional satraps, in a show of unity—much like the oath of HD Kumaraswamy in Karnataka in May last year.

Many held the display of strength as a harbinger of a broadbased anti-BJP alliance amid the uproar over the new citizenship law.

Attired in white kurta-pyjama ensemble and a Nehru jacket, the 44-year-old tribal leader was sworn in as the 11th chief minister of the state by Governor Droupadi Murmu. Former assembly speaker and Congress leader Alamgir Alam, Jharkhand PCC president Rameshwar Oraon and RJD MLA Satyanand Bhokta took oath after him.

Among those in attendance were Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, TMC boss and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh counterparts Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, DMK leader MK Stalin, his sister Kanimozhi, and RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav.

Soren had been a deputy chief minister and chief minister between 2009 and 2013.

Alam and Oraon are first-time ministers, while Bhokta had been the agriculture minister in the BJP-led NDA governments between 2000 and 2005, before joining the RJD.

The JMM-Congress-RJD alliance has won 47 seats in the 81-member assembly.

Four other MLAs—three from the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and one from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) have extended support to the three-party coalition.

After being sworn in, Soren paid his respects to Sidhu-Kanhu, the legendary leaders of Santhal rebellion against the British colonial forces in 1855. “It is a part of our culture to pay respect to our elders on any auspicious day. I have come here after offering flowers to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi and will further pay my tributes to Bhagwan Birsa Munda too. This gives us strength and understanding to fulfil our duties in a better manner,” he told reporters in Ranchi.

He later announced that all cases registered during the Pathalgadi movement and protests against the amendments to Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Paragana Tenancy Act, 1949, will be withdrawn. According to a press release from the chief minister’s office, the cabinet also decided to recommend the name of JMM MLA Stephen Marandi for the post of protem Speaker of the assembly.

Indian economy to beat Germany by 2026

India is expected to overtake Germany to become fourth-largest economy in 2026, and Japan to become the third-largest in 2034, according a recent report by the UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research.

It further said India is also set to reach a gross domestic product of $5 trillion by 2026, two years later than the government’s target. Japan, Germany and India will battle for third position over the next 15 years, according to the CEBR. 

Aaditya inducted in Uddhav cabinet

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray expanded his over a month-old ministry by inducting 36 ministers, including his 29-year-old son Aaditya, while NCP leader Ajit Pawar was sworn in as deputy chief minister.

Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari administered oath to 14 ministers from NCP, 10 from Congress and 12 from Shiv Sena at Vidhan Bhavan in south Mumbai.

The expansion, which raised the strength of the state ministry to 43, came over a month after the Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government came to power.

The 36 ministers sworn in on Monday include 10 cabinet and four ministers of state of the NCP, eight cabinet and four MoS of Shiv Sena, and eight cabinet and two MoS of Congress. The NCP now has 12 cabinet ministers and four MoS, the Shiv Sena has 10 cabinet ministers and four MoS while Congress has 10 cabinet ministers and two MoS.

Pawar was sworn in to the post for the second time in just over a month. Pawar had taken oath as deputy CM on November 23 after he rebelled against the NCP and joined hands with the BJP. However, he resigned on November 26, leading to collapse of the three-day Devendra Fadnavis government.

Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan did not find place in Thackeray’s ministry. There is speculation that he may lead the state Congress unit.

The Shiv Sena kept its senior leaders Ramdas Kadam and Diwakar Raote, who were ministers in the previous Devendra Fadnavis-led government, out of the new council of ministers. Instead, it included allies Shankarrao Gadakh (of Krantikari Shetkari Paksh) as cabinet minister, and Rajendra Patil Yedravkar (Independent) and Bachchu Kadu (Prahar Janshakti Party) as ministers of state. Senior NCP leaders Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh, who were ministers in the previous Congress-NCP government, also found place in the ministry. The two leaders were defeated in the 2014 Assembly polls but emerged victorious in the state elections held in October this year.

NCP leader and former Assembly speaker Dilip Walse Patil, former leader of opposition in the Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde and former LoP in Assembly Vijay Wadettiwar were also sworn in. Balasaheb Thorat and Nitin Raut of Congress, Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai of the Shiv Sena and Jayant Patil and Chhagan Bhujbal of the NCP took oath along with Thackeray.

The size of council of ministers cannot exceed 15 per cent of the total number of MLAs, which is 288 in the state. As a result, Maharashtra can have a maximum 43 ministers.


Annual FPI inflows for India near $20bn mark this year

Inflows from foreign portfolio investors into India is nearing the $20-billion mark in 2019, with a majority of the funds — $14.2 billion — expected through the equity route. The debt segment may contribute around $3.5 billion. The total flows, however, still remain less than half of the all-time high annual inflow figure of $42.4 billion recorded in 2014.

During 2019, the biggest net inflows were seen in March and November, while August and January witnessed net outflows, official data showed. Also, the net equity inflow during the year crossed the Rs.1-lakh-crore mark.

The data further showed that FPIs were big sellers in the stock market in July and August, while they turned in large net buying figures in March, November and April. In the debt segment, FPIs net bought substantial amounts in March and August, while they were big sellers during April, December and November.

FPI flows in 2020 are expected to see a boost from the recent government directive under which the statutory foreign holding limit in a company was changed from 24% to the sectoral foreign investment limit effective April 1, 2020. “This implementation will lead to MSCI India’s weight in the MSCI EM (Emerging Market) to rise. Using the current list of constituents, we expect MSCI India’s weight to rise by about 70 basis points in the semi-annual index review of May 2020, implying passive inflows of $2.5 billion,” a report by foreign broking major Morgan Stanley noted.

The MSCI is one of the most followed indices among foreign fund managers and a large number of foreign funds are benchmarked to this. Currently, India has an 8.9% weight in MSCI’s EM index which is seen rising to 9.6% by next May.

A report by Kotak Institutional Equities that tracks foreign fund investments coming into India showed that, in 2019, foreign-origin mutual funds registered as FPIs here have maintained their total assets under management in the country at about $150 billion through the year, while assets management by pension funds showed a marginal rise.

The year also saw the government increasing the limit for foreign funds to invest in government debts. According to a report by IMF, this decision could help Indian bonds enter the global bond indices. At present, given the huge restrictions on FPIs to invest in gilts, Indian bonds are not eligible to be among the constituents of those indices.

An IMF report said that given the government’s decision to further increase FPI limits on non-resident holdings of government securities, “consideration could be given to entering global bond indexes, at least for some bonds, and facilitate clearance and settlement for non-resident investors”.

Red alert in Delhi as temperature drops to 2°C

The India Meteorological Department issued a ‘red’ warning after the national capital recorded its coldest day of the season as the minimum temperature plummeted to 2.4 degrees Celsius in the morning. Red denotes extreme weather condition.

Mercury even plunged to below two degrees Celsius in some areas with the Lodhi Road Observatory recording a low of 1.7 degrees Celsius.

Dense fog enveloped the city reducing visibility and affecting air traffic and vehicular movement in the streets.

The IMD issued the warning for yesterday and today after the temperature in parts of Delhi on Saturday morning was 1.9 degrees Celsius. At 2.4 degrees Celsius, this is Safdarjung Enclave’s lowest minimum temperature since 1992. During the 1930s, the minimum temperature was recorded as low as 0.0 degrees Celsius.

Due to dense fog, flight operations and train services were affected. Several flights had to be diverted or cancelled, as trains ran behind schedule.

According to IMD, from December 31 onwards, rain is likely in the capital and its adjoining areas such as Noida, Gurugram, Ghaziabad and Faridabad. This weather phenomenon is likely to continue till January 3.

The Safdarjung Observatory, whose reading is considered the official marking for the city, recorded 2.4 degrees Celsius in the morning. The same temperature was recorded on December 30, 2013. Before that the coldest day in December was December 11, 1996 when minimum temperature recorded at the observatory was 2.3 degrees Celsius.

With chilling cold continuing to sweep Delhi-NCR, the region is expected to record its second-coldest December since 1901.

Temperatures in Nagpur also plunged to 5.1 degrees Celsius, the second-lowest of the century for the city. In 2018, it recorded 3.4 degrees Celsius on December 29, which was the lowest in 100 years.

Many parts of Himachal Pradesh recorded temperatures below the freezing point on Saturday, with the cold wave likely to intensify further if rain and snowfall occur next week as predicted by the Meteorological Department.

Kufri, Manali, Solan, Bhuntar, Sundernagar, Seobagh and Kalpa shivered at sub-zero temperatures in the state where Keylong was the coldest place recording minus 11.5 degrees Celsius.

Dense fog caused low visibility in parts of Una, Kangra and Mandi districts, Director of Shimla Meteorological centre Manmohan Singh said.


Good Governance Index

Tamil Nadu has come first in the ‘good governance index’ ranking of states released by the Union department of administrative reforms and grievances.

The state, which secured an overall score of 5.62 in the 10-sector index, was the top performer in creation of public infrastructure and delivery of justice and providing public security.

While TN stood second in healthcare and public welfare, it fared poorly in commerce and industry sector where it was placed 14th.

The index, which is a common tool to assess the status of governance and impact of various schemes implemented by state governments and Union territory authorities, rates performance in agriculture and allied sectors, commerce and industries, human resource development, public health, public infrastructure and utilities, economic governance, social welfare and development, judiciary and public security, environment, and citizen-centric governance.

The states and Union territories have been divided into three groups — big states, northeast and hill states, and union territories — for the rankings.

“Tamil Nadu’s strong infrastructure and maintenance of law and order helped it secure the top position,” said a senior official of the department of administrative reforms and grievances.

A strong bureaucracy has been a pillar of strength for the state, said the official.

Availability of round-the-clock power, connectivity to rural habitations, access to potable water and growth in power consumption have catapulted Tamil Nadu to the top position in public infrastructure. Better conviction rate, availability of police personnel and speedy disposal of cases by courts and consumer courts have helped it perform well in judiciary and public security category.

Despite being a manufacturing state, Tamil Nadu’s rank in commerce and industries was 14.

In the public health sector ranking,Kerala is at the top position followed by Tamil Nadu and Goa among the big states.

The state has been ranked first in the public infrastructure and utilities sector, followed by Gujarat and Punjab among the big states. Under the economic governance sector, Karnataka has got the first position followed by Maharashtra, Telangana, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu has received not less than 100 awards. It is a big achievement as many big states like Maharashtra are behind us.

The Union territory of Puducherry has topped the list of seven UTs in the country in the good governance index.

Puducherry scored 4.69 points in GGI, followed by Chandigarh (4.68), Delhi (4.39), Daman & Diu (4.33) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands (4.12). Lakshadweep (2.97) fared poorly and was placed at the bottom of the table. Dadra & Nagar Haveli scored 3.12 points.

The department evolved a uniform tool, GGI, to assess the status of governance and impact of various initiatives taken up by state governments and UTs. The index was based on the performance of the states and UTs in 10 broad sectors.

Puducherry finished first in four areas – human resource development, public health, judiciary and public security and environment. It came second in agriculture and allied sectors, third in public infrastructure and utilities and fourth in commerce and industries and economic governance and fifth in social welfare and development.

The index aims to furnish quantifiable data to compare the state of governance in the states and UTs and enable them to formulate and execute plans to improve governance. It also aims to encourage states and UTs to shift to result oriented approaches and administrative practices.

The ranking in agriculture and allied sectors was based on the growth rate of food grain production, horticulture produce, milk production, meat production and crop insurance, while ranking in commerce and industries was mainly based on ease of doing business. The human resource development ranking focused on quality of education, gender parity and retention rate at elementary level (grade one to eight).

Ranking in the public health sector was done primarily based on infant mortality and maternal mortality rates, while public infrastructure and utility ranking was done based on supply of potable water and growth in per capita power consumption.

Lieutenant governor Kiran Bedi, expressing happiness over Puducherry emerging as the best governed UT, thanked all who contributed to it. “But, we have a long way to go. We know the areas demanding attention,” she said.

The department grouped the states into three categories — big states, northeast and hill states and Union territories

MiG-27 will fly into the sunset today

The MiG-27, which proved to be an “ace attacker” during the 1999 Kargil conflict, will roar through the skies for one last time on Friday after serving the IAF for over three decades.

The swing-wing fighter has been the backbone of IAF’s ground-attack fleet for several decades and the force will bid adieu to its squadron of seven aircraft from Jodhpur Air Base, officials said.

“The upgraded variant of this last swing-wing fleet has been the pride of IAF strike fleet since 2006. All other variants, such as MiG-23 BN and MiG-23 MF and the pure MiG-27 have already retired from IAF,” the defence ministry said on Thursday. “The fleet earned its glory in the historic Kargil conflict when it delivered rockets and bombs with accuracy on enemy positions. The fleet took active part in Operation Parakram,” it said.

The lethal aircraft earned the moniker ‘Bahadur’ from IAF pilots for its role during the Kargil conflict. 


Cabinet OKs CDS

India’s first-ever chief of defence staff or tri-service chief will provide a “single-point military advice” to the government and inject synergy in planning, procurements and logistics in the armed forces apart from ensuring integration of land-air-sea operations through the setting up of theatre commands.

The CDS, a four-star general with the same pay as the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs—the three will retain full operational control—will be the “first among equals” as permanent chairman of chiefs of staff committee and head of a new department of military affairs in defence ministry. General Bipin Rawat is the front-runner for the post.

The cabinet’s approval of the post of CDS and its charter is a landmark reform, hanging fire since the 1999 Kargil conflict till PM Narendra Modi announced the decision in his August 15 speech this year.

The CDS will function as military adviser to the PM-led Nuclear Command Authority and defence minister, have direct command of tri-service organisations to handle new warfare domains of space and cyberspace. General Bipin Rawat is the front runner for the post after he completes his tenure as Army chief on December 31.

The charter of the CDS, if implemented properly, will prepare the 15-lakh strong armed forces for wars of the future. The CDS is mandated to ensure the Army, Navy and IAF, which often pull in different directions, truly integrate to slash wasteful expenditure amidst the severe fund crunch for military modernisation because of ballooning pay and pension bills. The armed forces, incidentally, have projected an additional requirement of Rs.80,000 crore for modernisation, plugging critical operational gaps and paying “committed liabilities” at the revised estimates stage in December-January in the ongoing fiscal.

Over 70 countries like the US, the UK, France and Germany, among others, have a CDS-like post for integration in military planning and operations. In the US, for instance, the chairman of joint chiefs of staff is the highest-ranking military officer and principal military advisor to the president. But chiefs of the combatant theatre commands, who handle different parts of the globe, also report directly to the political leadership. “The three chiefs will continue to advise the defence minister on matters concerning their respective services. The CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three service chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership,” an official statement said.

Crucially, the CDS will also “facilitate restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands”.

This is needed because India currently has 17 single-Service commands (Army 7, IAF 7 and Navy 3), while there are only two tri-Service commands in the shape of the Andaman & Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command to handle nuclear weapons. Theatre commands, where all assets and manpower of the Army, Navy and IAF are placed under one operational commander, are cost-effective, save resources and prepare forces for integrated operations. The new department of military affairs, with the CDS functioning as its secretary, will include the armed forces and an “appropriate mix of military and civilian officers at every level” in a bid to also bridge the festering civil-military divide. The MoD already has four departments — defence, defence production, ex-servicemen welfare and DRDO — which are headed by secretary-rank officers.

IMF seeks reforms to offset slowdown

Reflecting the primarily cyclical slowdown, India’s growth is projected at 6.1% in 2019-20, lowest in seven years, and is expected to rebound to 7% in 2020-21, the International Monetary Fund has said. IMF’s growth estimate so far remains optimistic, given the sharp cut by other agencies including the Reserve Bank of India, which expects the economy to grow by 5% in 2019-20. IMF is expected to revise its estimate early next year.

IMF said in the near term, given the cyclical weakness of the economy, monetary policy should maintain an easing bias until the projected recovery takes hold. The economy grew 4.5% in the July-September quarter, its slowest pace in nearly six years.

The multilateral agency said fiscal stimulus should be avoided, considering fiscal space at risk and the requirement to offset revenue loss from the recent corporate tax rate cut. There have been calls to relax the fiscal deficit target of 3.3% of gross domestic product set for the current fiscal year to provide a boost to overall economic growth.

IMF said in the event of external pressures, India should continue to rely on exchange rate flexibility. Foreign exchange intervention should be two-way and limited to disorderly market conditions.

Stating that risks to the outlook are tilted to downside, IMF said key domestic risks include tax revenue shortfalls and delays in structural reforms. The main external risks pertain to higher oil prices, a sharp rise in risk premia in global financial markets, and rising protectionism.

“With its strong mandate, the new government has an opportunity to reinvigorate the reforms agenda, aimed at boosting inclusive and sustainable growth. A comprehensive reform package is needed to guide the economy on a path to the government’s goal of a $5-trillion economy in five years,” the report said.

It said for medium term, a credible fiscal consolidation path is needed to cut debt, free up financial resources for private investment, and reduce interest bill. To support adoption of a necessary medium-term fiscal consolidation, driven by subsidy-spending rationalisation and tax-base enhancing measures, revenue projections should be more realistic and fiscal transparency and Budget coverage should be enhanced.

Banks’ NPAs decline for first time in seven years

After rising for seven years, non-performing assets reported by banks are showing a decline, helped by a conducive policy environment and the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code, the Reserve Bank of India said in its report on trend and progress of banking in India, a development that brings some cheer for the financial sector and policymakers grappling with the problem of bad loans.

The report also pointed out that the credit growth remained muted while the health of cooperative banks continued to decline, marked by the crisis in city-based PMC Bank.

The gross NPAs declined to 9.1% in March 2019 from 11.2% in March 2018 as recognition of bad loans neared completion, the report noted. “Decline in the slippage ratio as well as a reduction in outstanding GNPAs helped in improving the GNPA ratio. While a part of the write-offs was due to aging of loans, recovery efforts received a boost from the IBC,” the report said.

The restructured standard advances to gross advances ratio began declining after the asset quality review in 2015 and reached 0.55% at end-March 2019,” the report said.

The report showed that all bank groups recorded an improvement in asset quality, with PSBs experiencing a drop both in the GNPA and in the net NPA ratios. However, the deteriorating asset quality of private banks in terms of the GNPA ratio is due to the reclassification of IDBI Bank as a private bank effective January 21, 2019. If IDBI Bank is excluded as a private bank, GNPA ratio of these banks showed a decline.

Recovery of stressed assets improved during 2018-19 mainly because of resolutions under the IBC, which contributed more than half of the total amount recovered. However, recovery rates yielded by major resolution mechanisms (except Lok Adalats) declined in 2018-19, especially through the SARFAESI mechanism.

“Cases referred for recovery under various mechanisms grew over 27% in volume and tripled in value during the year, leading to a pile-up of bankruptcy proceedings. This highlights the need to strengthen and expand the supportive infrastructure,” the report said. Experts said a turnaround in credit growth is unlikely soon.


BJP dented in Haryana, denied in Maharashtra, defeated in Jharkhand: PC

Former Union minister P Chidambaram gave a call to the opposition parties to rally around Congress to take on BJP, saying the Jharkhand results showed that the saffron party can be defeated.

“The overwhelming mandate and the resounding victory of Congress-JMM alliance in Jharkhand shows that BJP can be defeated if the opposition parties come together. Dented in Haryana, denied in Maharashtra and defeated in Jharkhand. That is the story of BJP in 2019,” he said.

Referring to the twin issues of CAA and NRC, Chidambaram said the challenge before the nation today is not an ordinary one. Referring to PM Narendra Modi’s statement that no rules were framed for an all-India NRC exercise, Chidambaram said: “It pains (me) when the PM speaks against the truth. Amit Shah has gone on record that they will implement NRC across the nation,” he said.

Jharkhand Slips Out Of BJP’s Control

The Jharkhand results delivered a morale-boosting victory to the opposition with the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance winning a comfortable majority of 47 seats in a House of 81, and another state slipping out of BJP’s hands after its big sweep in the Lok Sabha elections that returned Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a record second term.

Hemant Soren of JMM is set to take over as chief minister, returning to the job he held for a year before BJP won in 2015. The oath ceremony will take place on Thursday.

BJP slipped to 25 seats from 37 it held in 2014, its decision to contest alone after failed negotiations with regional ally AJSU Party backfiring and the party ceding the status of “single-largest party” for the first time. The contrast to the sweep in the LS elections — BJP won 11 and AJSU one of Jharkhand’s 14 seats — a little over six months ago was astonishing.

Till late in the evening, the JMM-led alliance had 47 out of 81 seats. While JMM had 30 seats, Congress had 16 and RJD one. JMM and Congress posted their best-ever shows. Soren, the working president of JMM, won from Dumka and Barhait seats in the tribal heartland of Santhal Pargana.

The saffron loss seems to be the fallout of several factors. The break with AJSU Party may have proved critical as the vote share of the two parties — BJP (33%) and AJSU (8%) — suggests that they could have made a fight of it if the alliance had held. Incumbency woes returned to haunt BJP with chief minister Raghubar Das losing his own Jamshedpur East seat to BJP rebel Saryu Roy by a margin of over 15,000 votes.

The nullification of Article 370, the Ayodhya verdict and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act could not give BJP an edge. Besides Das, BJP state president Laxman Gilua too lost his seat. If the CM suffered from an image problem, his upper hand in government and party also had a negative fallout. The sidelining of rivals led to a dependence on Das and though BJP did not totally lose the development narrative, the lack of a regional ally and the coalescing of tribal sentiment behind the JMM-led alliance proved too strong to overcome.

Jagan says no to NRC

Andhra Pradesh CM Y S Jaganmohan Reddy became the ninth CM in the country to say ‘no’ to National Register for Citizens when he categorically declared that the proposed nationwide exercise will not be implemented in the state.

Already, CMs of Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Bihar, Bengal, Odisha, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have said that they would not allow NRC in their respective states.

“I want to make it clear that we will oppose NRC. Andhra Pradesh will not support it. Our deputy CM Amzath Basha discussed the NRC issue with us and issued a categorical statement that AP will not support it at any cost. The state government backs his statement on the issue,” Jagan said during a tour of his home district Kadapa.

The announcement comes 10 days after his YSR Congress had backed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in both Houses of Parliament. Deputy CM Basha had said that the CM has assured him that his government will oppose any Bill which was detrimental to the interests of Muslims.

IIT-H developing bacterial systems to treat sewage

Researchers from Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad are developing algal-bacterial hybrid systems that help treat waste water while enabling bio-diesel production.

The immediate intended beneficiaries of the research are gated urban communities that have in-house plants for treating sewage. The team primarily focuses on treatment of domestic sewage and its components like those originating from kitchen and laundry.

Speaking about the research, Debraj Bhattacharyya, associate professor in the department of civil engineering, IIT-H, said, “Decentralised waste water treatment is essential in cities where the total waste water generated have exceeded 75 billion litres per day.”

Currently, sewage treatment facilities in the country can only treat about 26 billion litres per day. The unavailability of an extensive centralised system of waste water treatment has led to the discharge of untreated water into water bodies and land, resulting in pollution and contamination.

“One step in sewage treatment systems is aerobic biological treatment in which, microorganisms, dominated by heterotrophic bacteria, use oxygen to break down organic matter. For example, activated sludge process,” Bhattacharyya said.

While aerobic treatment converts organic matter into carbon dioxide and biomass, they have problems such as high energy use and production of too much sludge. Micro-algae have the ability to eliminate these problems.

The IIT-H team hopes its system would help rural communities in the long-run.

“An additional benefit of using algal-bacterial systems is that the algae that are grown in sewage treatment plants can, in turn, be used to produce bio-diesel and other value-added byproducts. If all sewage is treated in microalgae-based systems, the total algae-derived bio-diesel production would cut our dependence on diesel,” Bhattacharyya said.


Somewhere in Srinagar....

Residents of Qamarwari in Srinagar’s Rampora area have agreed to the demolition of a 40-year-old mosque in the locality, paving the way for the construction of a long-awaited bridge over River Jhelum. The project had been pending since 2002 due to opposition against the demolition of the mosque, Masjid Abu Turab, and several other structures, including some residential and commercial spaces in the area, officials said.

The mosque and other structures needed to be removed for building the 166 m long two-lane bridge connecting Qamarwari with Noorbagh in the city, the officials said. The bottlenecks were cleared after a series of meetings between the mosque committee executives, Qamarwari residents and Srinagar district development commissioner Shahid Iqbal Chowdhary to resolve the land acquisition issue.

Demolition work began on Saturday, 24 hours after the signing of an agreement between the DC and the managing committee of Masjid Abu Turab. The agreement included, among others, the DC’s offer to allot a separate land for the reconstruction of the mosque within 12 months, all expenses of which will be borne by the district administration, said officials.

The resolution has enabled authorities to restart the Rs.10-crore bridge project. “Work will be resumed and completed at the earliest,” said the DC. He said a plan has also been finalised for the relocation of other bottlenecks, which includes a fire station and 16 residential and commercial structures. He said alongside the construction of the said bridge, the district administration would undertake flood protection and beautification works along Jhelum and repair adjacent roads and install smart lighting in the area.

This is the second time in a month that the DC’s efforts have paved the way for the resumption of stalled work on vital projects. Earlier this month, he had successfully negotiated with the management of the historic Damdama Sahib Gurdwara at Zainakote, enabling resumption of expansion work on the Srinagar-Baramulla NH.


Of India's Forex Reserves....

Uddhav announces loan waiver

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a loan waiver of up to Rs.2 lakh per farmer on the last day of the Winter Session of the legislature, as promised in the government’s Common Minimum Programme.

The government will waive loans outstanding up to September 30, 2019, the CM told the assembly, adding the upper ceiling for the amount is Rs.2 lakh. The administration will ensure that the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule loan waiver scheme is not affected, even if the state’s financial position is weak, he said. “The farmers will have the facility to reconstruct their loans taken after that [September 30],” Uddhav said. It is not known how many farmers will benefit from the waiver.

Later, congratulating the government, Finance Minister Jayant Patil said this would be the biggest loan waiver ever in the state. “There will be no form filling, conditions or long queues to collect the loan waiver. The money will be directly sent to farmers’ accounts. [The previous] BJP [government] declared loan waiver of Rs.35,000 crore, but farmers received only Rs.15,000 crore. This won’t happen now,” Patil said. He added that MPs, MLAs and government officials are excluded from the scheme.

An official from the Revenue Department said it will ensure that the waiver is implemented within three months. “We are working on the terms and conditions. The process will be transparent and will not be drawn out, as instructed by the CM. We are also talking with banks on the issue,” the official said.

The BJP government had given a loan waiver of Rs.1.5 lakh per farmer in 2018. However, it attached too many conditions and the online registration system did not work well. As a result, many farmers could not benefit.

Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis, meanwhile, said the BJP would hold an agitation over the scheme. Speaking to reporters outside the legislature, Fadnavis said: “The loan waiver announced by us [BJP-led government] in 2017 has already benefited farmers. We waived loans up to Rs.1.50 lakh. Between 2017 and 2019, there will be very few farmers with outstanding loans.”

“The real needy farmers are the ones who lost their crops due to untimely rain in October,” he said.

Twelve Ministries to Present 5-year Plan

At least 12 key economic ministries including key infrastructure ones such as aviation and railways will present their roadmap for the next five years to Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards the government’s plan to make India a $5 trillion economy.

The prime minister will review, in what is going to be a day-long exercise, the five year vision for different sectors on Saturday. Rural development and commerce and industry ministry are among other ministries that will make a presentation to the PM.

The meeting comes ahead of the budget and will firm up the road map for the long term.

There are around eight sectoral groups of various ministries which have been asked to frame the vision document.

The next such meeting with other ministries is likely in the first week of January.

Speaking at an Assocham event on Friday, PM Modi said that about ₹100 lakh crore will be spent in the coming years on building infrastructure and another ₹25 lakh crore on rural economy, and this in turn will help nearly double the size of the Indian economy to $5 trillion by 2024.


Mumbai: LTT to get airport-like lounges, two terminals

The Lokmanya Tilak Terminus,  one of the busiest termini in the city, will over the next decade get a complete makeover. It will sport executive lounges, a multi-level parking facility, a shopping plaza, five-star hotels, gyms, and separate arrival and departure terminals.

Amenities like escalators, lifts, verdant gardens, a concourse, walkways and travellators will also be offered.

An official from Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation, which has prepared a blueprint of the project, said the aim is to bring the terminus on a par with airports.

Encroaching slums bang opposite the terminus’ entrance will be removed to make way for two highrise commercial complexes that can accommodate 250 units each on a public-private partnership model. Several other commercial buildings will be developed on LTT’s 1-lakh sqm premises.

The railway colony abutting the tracks will be moved to the Vidyavihar station to create space for the commercial development. Train drivers’ lobby will also be moved there.

All passenger amenities, like waiting rooms, will be restricted to the arrival/departure terminals.

Three more platforms will be added; LTT currently has five.

A skywalk will be built connecting Vidyavihar and Kurla stations with LTT, and an exit ramp will be constructed that will connect the terminus directly with an arm of the JVLR.

Space will also be allocated for any future Metro line passing through the centre of the terminus.

The project will be implemented in four phases. The first will involve clearing encroachments for construction of the departure terminal and a win of the arrival terminal, platforms, ramps and commercial units. Phase 2 will see construction of the other wing of the arrival terminal and the road to the new railway colony. In the third phase, the skywalk and the shopping plaza will be developed. Resettlement of encroachers and connectivity with a proposed Metro station will be done under phase four.

The railway official said the blueprint has been sent for approval from the Central Railway. “Once permission is granted, we will start the process of issuing tenders. Once work begins, it should take around 10 years for completion. The cost has not been estimated yet.”

LTT sees a footfall of around 1.5 lakh and handles 70 trains daily on an average.

Mumbai: BMC plans two new ROBs at Mahalaxmi

The BMC plans to construct two road overbridges to ease traffic congestion around Mahalaxmi station and provide motorists direct connectivity to Haji Ali Junction and Worli Naka. On an average, 5,000 vehicles pass every hour through the existing century-old bridge, called the Mahalaxmi bridge. It is currently being repaired at the cost of Rs.6 crore.

One ROB, which will be constructed on the southern side of the station, will be a cable-stayed bridge, like the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. It will run from Keshavrao Khade Marg, near New Shirin Theatre, and lead to Racecourse Road, providing connectivity to Haji Ali Junction. The other will be on the northern side, to the right of Saat Rasta. It will link up Lower E Moses Road (Dhobi Ghat) with Upper E Moses Road, and run along the station, leading to Worli Naka. While the former will allow 2,500 vehicles to ply every hour, the second one will have an hourly carrying capacity of 3,500 vehicles.

The bridges will cost Rs.507 crore. The BMC has already given the contract to city-based Spectrum Consultants. Work will begin in two months and the deadline for completion is 2022.

“The proposed ROBs will reduce travel time for people who want to go from Saat Rasta to Worli Naka and Haji Ali intersection. Currently, to reach Worli Naka from Saat Rasta, one has to use the Mahalaxmi bridge and then turn right. The ROBs will provide a direct connection,” an official from the BMC’s Bridges Department said.

“There is an intersection at Haji Ali for the coastal road project’s east-west connectivity. People heading to the town – Byculla, Bhendi Bazaar or South Mumbai – will take the coastal road and land at the Haji Ali Juice Centre junction. From there they will take the new cable-stayed bridge, which will go over the railway tracks and culminate at New Shirin Theatre,” he added.

The official said it will take two years for that side of the coastal road to be built, and by then the ROB will be ready. However, the Mahalaxmi bridge won’t be demolished, the official said.


Kerala : Semi high-speed rail project snippets

The semi high-speed rail covering a length of 532 km beginning from the capital and ending at Kasaragod will have stops in 10 districts in the state, barring Pathanamthitta, Idukki, Palakkad and Wayanad.

According to a transport department’s note, the southernmost stop is Kochuveli, where the stop will be adjacent to the existing Kochuveli railway station. The next stop for the train will be in Kollam that will be close to national highway bypass, followed by Chengannur and Kottayam, where the stops will be on the eastern side of the towns. At Ernakulam, the stop will be situated near Infopark in Kakkanad, while the next three stations — Thrissur, Tirur and Kozhikode — the stops will be adjacent to the existing railway stations.

While in Kannur, the station will be around 1 km away from the existing railway station, in Kasargod, the station will be adjacent to the existing railway station. Once rolling, the project is expected to be completed by 2024, when the ridership, as estimated by Systra that had conducted the feasibility study, will be 67,740 persons per day. The ridership figure has been projected to 1,47,120 persons per day in 2051, steadily increasing over years.

The semi high-speed rail will run on a new alignment that will have nothing to do with the existing alignment from Thiruvananthapuram to Tirur, as high speed is impossible in this segment because of 353 curves in the existing rail route. The passenger fare (rates per passenger/ km) for semi high-speed rail project is half of the earlier high-speed rail project that has been scrapped because of high cost of execution. While it was Rs.6/km for high-speed rail project, it is Rs.2.75/km for semi high-speed project (the rates of existing railways for 2017-18 has been calculated at 41.30 paise/km).

The project is expected to cost Rs.56,000 crore, for which the government has launched discussions with multiple agencies. Discussions are progressing with KfW (German Bank) for $1 billion (around Rs.7,100 crore), with Asian Infrastucture Investment Bank for another $1billion,with Japan International Cooperation Agency for $3 billion and other agencies. In addition, the government is also planning to launch green bonds for raising money and discussions have been held with IIM, Ahmedabad, for devising green bonds. The money raised through green bonds will be earmarked for financing projects that are environment-friendly.

The government is also looking for value-capture financing method which is being pushed by the ministry of urban development as a resource-mobilising method. Under VCF, the property owners who are in the vicinity of the public infrastructure projects and would benefit from the increased property value due to the project will have to pay additional taxes to the government.

Cyrus Mistry back as Tata Sons Chairman

In a major setback for Ratan Tata, the National Company Law Appealte Tribunal ruled yesterday that the sudden removal of Cyrus Mistry as executive chairman of Tata Sons in 2016 was illegal and restored Mistry to his former position. Tata Sons is the holding company for Tata group companies that make everything from salt to software.

The NCLAT also held that the appointment of N Chandrasekaran, the current chairman of Tata Sons, was illegal. Chandrasekaran was named chairman in February 2017. Tata Sons has four weeks to challenge the order in the Supreme Court.

The two-member NCLAT bench headed by Justice S J Mukhopadhaya had reserved the order on an appeal filed by Mistry in July. Mistry had appealed against NCLT’s order, which upheld Tata Sons’ decision to first remove him as a chairman and then as director of Tata Sons.

Mistry said in a statement, “Today’s judgment is not a personal victory for me but is a victory for the principles of good governance and minority shareholder rights. For over 50 years, the Mistry family, as the significant minority shareholder of Tata Sons, has always endeavoured to play the role of a responsible guardian of an institution that the entire nation is proud of. The outcome of the appeal is a vindication of my stand taken when the then board of Tata Sons, without warning or reason, removed me, first as the executive chairman, and subsequently as a director of Tata Sons.”

Meanwhile, Tata Sons said in its statement, “Tata Sons has received and is analysing the order of the NCLAT. It is not clear as to how the NCLAT Order seeks to overrule the decisions taken by shareholders of Tata Sons and listed Tata operating companies at validly constituted shareholder meetings. The NCLAT order appears to even go beyond the specific reliefs sought by the Appellant. Tata Sons strongly believes in the strength of its case and will take appropriate legal recourse.”

The bench also reversed Tata Sons’ decision to turn itself from a public limited firm into private limited one. The judgement read, “Tata Sons turned into a private limited company in a marked departure of being a public limited company even as the matter was sub judice. Moreover, Articles 121 and 121A were introduced in 2000 and 2014 to safeguard the interests of the company, but they were blatantly misused and became ‘Articles of Oppression’ to further the ends of majoritarianism.”

The bench also observed that, despite stepping down from the position of executive chairman, Ratan Tata was interfering in company affairs. It said the level and scale of interference on a wide range of topics which extended well beyond legacy hotspots. Over 550 emails were exchanged between Tata and Mistry.

The judgement also came down heavily on the way Mistry was removed and observed, “No committee was formed for removal of the incumbent chairman as required under Article 118.”

Somewhere in Srinagar....

The Anjumane-Auqaf (masjid management committee) opened the doors of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, two days ahead of the main Friday prayers, and allowed people to offer namaz there for the first time since the nullification of Article 370 — a gap of 136 days.

Although the civil and police authorities had been asking the committee for the last one month to open the masjid for prayers, the committee, headed by Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, had avoided opening it.

The minarets of the historic Jamia Masjid reverberated with the afternoon prayer calls on Wednesday as the Anjuman-e-Auqaf started cleaning the mosque as it was closed for 136 days. Around 100 people offered prayers in the mosque.

“I was surprised to hear the azaan (prayer call). I was so delighted and rushed towards the masjid,” said Bilal Ahmed Phaboo, a Nowhatta resident.

“We were demanding the moving out of the security forces from near the main gates of the mosque, to which the authorities agreed. We are hopeful that Friday congregational prayers will also be offered,” said a senior Auqaf member. Emotional scenes were also witnessed with elderly men and women kissing the pillars and walls of the mosque.


Many states yet to implement RERA

Only three states — Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana — have implemented the Real Estate Regulatory Act in its entirety after three years of its inception.

The Real Estate Regulatory Act is functional in many other states, but its orders have not been executed in letter and spirit yet. Worse, around 15 states and Union territories, including Goa and West Bengal, have not bothered to introduce it.

Only 24 states have real estate appellate tribunals and their websites are operational. Four north-eastern states — Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Sikkim — are in the process of notifying the rules.

According to the latest data, around 46,695 projects and 36,823 real estate agents are registered under RERA across India. Maharashtra leads in the registration of projects (22,930) under RERA, while Uttar Pradesh is in pole position in disposal of cases (13,019).

The data of the ministry of housing and urban affairs revealed that 30,739 cases under RERA were disposed of in the country. But there are several states that have not been able to dispose of a single case.

Chandigarh has a permanent real estate regulatory authority, but it has been able to register only three projects and 12 real estate agents. There has been no case disposal in the state yet. Ditto in Daman and Diu. Only 22 projects have been registered there with no case disposal. In Kerala, no project has been registered under RERA.

Hyderabad Metro Corridor II: Trial runs done

The stage is set for Hyderabad Metro Rail Limited and L&T Metro Rail to begin commercial operations on Corridor II (green corridor) of the metro rail project between Jubilee Bus Station and Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station.

Following the trial runs which started on November 24 this year, metro rail officials confirmed that passenger services on the route would commence by the end of January. “Inspections by technical experts and engineers who have been conducting trial runs and tests to observe various critical parameters and performance have been going on for now and the operations will start by the end of January,” said HMRL managing director NVS Reddy.

The 11 km stretch via interchange station of Parade Grounds will provide better connectivity between JBS and Secunderabad stations and with the main stop at MGBS, it will make travelling easy for long distance commuters as well.

The entire stretch will be covered in 16 minutes as against the 38 to 40 minute-journey by road to cover the same distance. Officials inspecting the stretch during the ongoing trial runs are testing technical specifications and safety standards such as degraded mode operation tests and dummy passenger evacuation tests etc. Emphasis is also being laid on safe train separation tests, signalling and train control system. “Passenger operations will commence after the Commissioner of Metro Rail Safety gives a final safety clearance which is the CMRS safety certification of the corridor,” said Reddy. 

Uttar Pradesh pushes expressways

The UP state government has given infrastructure development a boost by allocating nearly Rs.1,600 crore for expressways in the second supplementary budget in the financial year tabled in the assembly.

The second supplementary budget of Rs.4,210.85 crore was tabled by finance minister Suresh Khanna.

Of the total supplementary budget, the state government has sanctioned Rs.500 crore for Poorvanchal Expressway, Rs.200 crore for Bundelkhand Expressway and Rs.960.94 crore for loan repayment of Poorvanchal Expressway, thus earmarking more than 25 per cent of the budget for expressways.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath has already announced that the Poorvanchal Expressway would be completed by next year and the work on the Bundelkhand Expressway would start soon. The sanction of fresh budgets would speed up the expressway projects being executed by UPIEDA.

The state government has earmarked Rs.1,106 crore for power sector which is bringing in a number of reforms and Rs.200 crore for forest department which recently undertook a large scale forestation drive in the state by planting over 22 crore saplings and creating a world record.

Concerned over the rising pollution in the state and to combat this, the government has sanctioned Rs.25 crore for measures to check stubble burning in the state.

For the mega show -- Defence Expo – to be held in February next year, the state government has budgeted Rs.86.81 crore. This was the second supplementary budget as the state had already presented its first supplementary of Rs.13,594.87 crore in July, apart from the main budget of Rs.4,79,701.10 crore for the FY 2019-20.

In the second budget the state government has budgeted Rs.280 crore for the medical education.

Kerala: Semi high-speed railway plan gets Centre’s nod

The central government has in-principle given its nod for the proposed 532-km semi high-speed rail corridor between Kochuveli in the state capital and Kasaragod.

In a Facebook post, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the central clearance would strengthen the state’s development initiatives.

He said the Kerala Rail Development Corporation —a joint initiative of the state government and Indian Railways— would implement the project. The project, Silverline, would allow trains to touch 200 kmph.

Vijayan said the environment-friendly project would generate 50,000 employment opportunities. Once completed, it would employ 11,000, he said.

While the proposed railroad between Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur would be a new alignment, it would run along the existing route from Thrissur to Kasaragod. Underground passages would be constructed every 500 metres.

Preliminary studies had revealed that the project would be feasible. Once cleared by the cabinet, it would be submitted to the Centre for its approval.

The government has been in talks with multiple agencies, including Japan International Cooperation Agency, for financing the approximately Rs.56,000-crore project.

The United States Trade and Development Agency, an independent body of the United States government, targeting priority developing projects in emerging economies, had also evinced interest.

To mobilize resources, the government was also looking at value-capture financing method, being promoted by the ministry of urban development.

Under VCF, the property owners near public infrastructure projects, who would benefit from the increased property value due to the project, would have to pay additional taxes to the government.

Ten smart stations en route Kasaragod from Kochuveli were also planned, and they would not be in the same location as of the existing stations or towns.

No minority tag for Hindus: SC

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a PIL seeking minority status for Hindus in several states where Muslims or Christians are in the majority and said religious minority tag could be given only on the basis of pan-India population.

A bench of CJI S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant was told by attorney general K K Venugopal that Hindu population was in minority in seven states and Union Territories and the court had sought his assistance in adjudicating a PIL by Ashwini Upadhyay, who had sought changing the criteria for grant of minority status to the community’s population in a state, and not in the entire country.

Upadhyay’s counsel Mohan Parasaran said Section 2(c) of National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, “arbitrarily” notified Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis as minority communities on October 23, 1993, based on their national population. He said some of these communities, despite being in majority in some states, were cornering government sponsored benefits meant for minority communities of those states.

As per the Census, Hindus were in minority in Punjab (Sikh majority), Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland (all with Christian majority), Jammu and Kashmir and Lakshadweep (Muslim majority). The majority community here were enjoying ‘minority’ status and communities which were the real minorities were not getting legitimate share because of non-identification of minorities, Upadhyay said.

The bench asked the AG to explain the criteria by which a minority community was being identified and notified. However, it changed tack and asked Parasaran why the petitioner was taking state as a unit for determining minority community.

When Parasaran said constitution benches of the SC had so determined in two cases — T M A Pai and P A Inamdar — for determining linguistic minority as far as establishment of educational institutions were concerned, the bench said, “States were formed on linguistic basis. That is not the case with religion. It has to be pan-India. What is the problem if a community is majority in J&K but minority in all other states?”

CAA: Violence in Delhi as students, Opposition step up protests

Angry protesters demanding scrapping of the amended Citizenship Act pelted stones at police personnel, torched several motor bikes and vandalised two police booths as well as three buses in Northeast Delhi’s Seelampur on Tuesday, leaving 21 people injured in fresh violence in the city.

The national capital continued to reel under swirling agitation against the alleged ‘divisive’ law with thousands of students hitting streets near the Jamia Millia Islamia, where a violent protest had occurred on Sunday, and elsewhere for what they called ‘protecting the soul of India’.

Twenty-one people, including 12 policemen and six civilians, were injured in the clashes in Seelampur which continued for one-and-half hours, while five persons have been detained, according to police.

Police said they used tear gas shells to disperse the mob but denied that there was any baton charge on protesters.

Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik briefed Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and other senior officials of the ministry on the violence at Jamia Milia University and Seelampur during anti-CAA protests and the prevailing situation in the national capital, officials said.

The home ministry officials are said to have expressed their unhappiness over the two incidents happening within just three days, an official said, adding they asked the Delhi Police brass to strengthen intelligence gathering mechanism so that such incidents do not occur in future.

The protest at Northeast Delhi’s Seelampur turned violent when police stopped them from moving ahead. The crowd clashed with the police, pelted stones at them and damaged vehicles, including a school bus which had a driver and student. Two bikes of traffic police were allegedly burnt by the demonstrators, two police booths in the area vandalised and CCTV cameras taken away.

Police said two FIRs have been registered at Seelampur and Jafrabad police stations in connection with the incident. The clashes erupted two days after violence broke out during a protest in the New Friends area in South Delhi near Jamia Millia Islamia.

Gates of seven Metro stations were closed in the wake of the protest, and five of them were reopened after some time. Traffic was also diverted from the area.

Meanwhile, 10 people with criminal background have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the violence near Jamia Millia Islamia University on Sunday, police said, adding none of them were students.

In Uttar Pradesh, 18 FIRs were lodged and 113 persons detained for trying to vitiate atmosphere “by their posts through different mediums of social media”.

Two University of Madras students who protested allegedly were taken in police custody. The students alleged that police demanded protests be stopped for their release. Over 60 students are resisting police demand inside the University campus.

Nine students were detained in Bengaluru for protesting against CAA and were released hours later. “We were forced by the police to sign a bond that we would not take part in any protest henceforth but we denied doing so,” said a student who was released after she was detained for three-and-ahalf hours at SJ Park police station in Bengaluru.

Students from Osmania University and Maulana Azad National Urdu University squatted in front of the Arts College and raised slogans like ‘We want Justice’, ‘Want Democracy, Not Dictatorship’, among others.

In Gujarat, several people including a large number of students staged a silent protest at Gandhi Ashram in Gandhinagar, in solidarity with Jamia students.

The dawn-to-dusk hartal in Kerala saw stone-pelting on state buses and road blockades were reported from across the state. Over 350 people were arrested as a precautionary measure.

Shops were forced shut. A three year-old child travelling with her family was injured when activists hurled stones at their car in Kannur.

Mumbai Coastal Road: SC lifts stay

In a major relief to the state government and the BMC, the Supreme Court lifted the stay on reclamation of land for the coastal road project. The Bombay High Court on July 16 had quashed the coastal regulation zone clearances granted to the project, citing lack of a proper scientific study and lacuna in the decision-making process. In response, the BMC had petitioned to the SC, which had said it would hear the pleas after Diwali.

A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant said, “We are of the considered opinion that the order of the Bombay High Court dated July 16 should be stayed till further orders”. The bench said the respondents, including the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can reclaim and secure the land meant for the road project but cannot develop it till further orders. The bench was hearing appeals filed by the MCGM and construction firms Larsen and Toubro Ltd and HCC HDC JV. The reclamation for the project was halted at Priyadarshani Park, Amarsons Garden, Haji Ali and Worli Seaface.

The 29.2-km coastal road project will cost the BMC Rs.15,000 crore and will connect the Marine Drive area in south Mumbai to the suburban Borivali in north Mumbai. In 2017, it got a go-ahead from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority, the Expert Appraisal Committee and the Ministry of Environment and Forest.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state, said the HC had stayed the order due to want of environmental clearances. He said there is no space in Mumbai and this project was started to ease the traffic situation. Appearing for the BMC, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi argued that they had CRZ clearances but did not have the environmental clearances as it was not a national highway.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners (activists and citizens opposing the road project) before the High Court, opposed the state government and said it is a serious matter and the court should fix it for final hearing after the winter vacation. “We have to protect the coastal areas of the country. Its degradation cannot be allowed. They have been reclaiming land and pouring concrete into the ocean. This court had earlier even refused to grant interim stay of the judgement of the high court,” he said. Gonsalves said that heavy machines were removed from the site after the HC order but they will return and start work if the court grants interim stay. The Supreme Court bench, however, said it would stay the HC verdict and hear the matter in the month of March.


Delhi feels coldest December day in 16 years

Delhi froze to the bone as a once in-16-years December chill swept the city. Gloomy overcast conditions, a persistent fog and icy northwesterly winds combined to make it the coldest December day since 2003 with the mercury touching a maximum of 12.9 degrees Celsius – a gaping 10.3 degrees below normal.

The met office described it as a ‘severe cold day’, when the maximum temperature was way below the normal level. The last time Delhi saw day temperatures lower than on Monday was on December 25, 2003, when a maximum of 12.6 degrees C was recorded.

Brace for similar weather over the next two days, the met office said. The minimum temperature on Monday was 10.2 degrees C, which meant the mercury moved just 2.7 notches through the day. Met officials said very low cloud cover across the northern plains blocked sunlight and strong winds raised the wind-chill factor, turning the city into a virtual icebox.

“The dense fog in the plains has not lifted completely and got trapped in the cloud cover. What made it really chilly was extremely cold winds from Himachal Pradesh and J&K,” said Kuldeep Srivastava, scientist at IMD.

2 floods wiped out several medieval Indian dynasties

Two major floods caused by monsoon pattern anomalies, which inundated large parts of the subcontinent approximately 800 and 700 years ago, might have wiped out powerful dynasties across what is now known as India. Startling evidence of this has been unearthed by a group of geology experts from IIT Kharagpur.

The group’s findings, published in Elsevier, a reputable Dutch journal specialising in scientific, technical and medical content, has stunned historians and archaeologists.

The findings are based on years of study of oxygen isotopes on ancient stalagmites of Meghalaya’s Wah Shikar caves. Oxygen isotopes are pointers to the traces that are left behind by precipitation or rainfall over a time-period, called time slide by scientists.

The stalagmites are thousands of years old but the group studied the history of precipitation for a little over 900 years — between 1100 AD and 2012 AD — considering the fact that three major climatic events took place in the subcontinent during this phase.

The three major climatic changes that took place during this time are: Medieval Climate Anomaly that took place between 1100 AD-1300 AD; the Little Ice Age that is roughly between 1300 AD-1750 AD; and the current warm period between 1750 AD to the present.

The two major floods that have been indicated by the geologists occurred roughly around 1210 AD and 1320 AD respectively, going by the intensity of precipitation marks on the stalagmites.

“It rained heavily for months, inundating large parts of what we know as India today. The floods were so high and severe that they not only wiped out dynasties, killing common people and forcing them to leave their homes and turn into nomads in search of high ground but also ruined the agrarian economy of the era,” said Anil Gupta, the group’s lead scientist.

Among the dynasties that were finished around this time were Sena in Bengal, Solanki in the west, and Paramar, Yadav and Pandyan in the south. “We are working in close connect with historians and archaeologists so that we can corroborate our period details with theirs,” Gupta said.

The stalagmites were drilled at an interval of every half millimetre, following a process of dating where every half millimetre stands for two years of real time experience of the rock. The drilled portions have rainfall traces etched on them and these were then made to pass through the uranium-thorium time series dating to arrive at the right conclusion about the time of the precipitation.

“The two floods were never recorded in history and hence the uniqueness of the finding,” Gupta said. “There is little documented history during the 13th and 14th centuries that have come down to us. Most of the time, wars were considered to be the reasons for downfall, but the discovery of the two mega floods will now add better value to earlier explanations. One can allude to the flood theory that perhaps ended the Indus Valley civilisation.”

The group has also indicated that the floods might have occurred in China as well, and might have been the cause of the downfall of the Ming dynasty there.

The Elsevier article points out that from 1750 AD onwards, the subcontinent has experienced severe precipitation and monsoon vagaries have seen the worst extremes during this time. “The stalagmites have indicated 12 floods and 12 droughts during this phase. This phase of history, however, is relatively better documented, thanks to the arrival of the British and we are easily able to corroborate our findings with what has come down to us in history,” Gupta said.

Scholars who deal with ancient Indian history feel that these findings will be of immense use in pinpointing antiquities of known events.

“Gradually, the divide between humanities and technology is slimming. We have very little documentation as far as the pre-British era goes. Naturally, it is difficult to arrive at scientific conclusions about a lot of events in Indian history. Antiquities that historians have tried to establish have often been challenged, too, for want of proof. Happily, IIT Kharagpur has been consistently helping with this. Its findings have recently helped push back the beginning of the Indus civilisation by at least 2,000 years. The flood theory will similarly help put certain endings and migrations in perspective,” said historian Ramkrishna Chatterjee, the publications secretary of Asiatic Society.

Historian Arun Bandyopadhyay, too, sounded excited. He felt such geological study of Indian history was necessary for a long time. In the past, similar climatological study of famines were done in the European context. “It is heartening to know geologists of IIT Kharagpur are applying similar scientific methods to uncover major geological events that will add new perspective to Indian history,” he said.

Kashmir Likely to be Key Issue of Malaysia Summit

The situation in Kashmir could figure among the key issues on the agenda of Malaysia-led Kuala Lumpur Summit of Muslim majority nations. The gathering could be seen as a mini-Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meet sans key Islamic states — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

Host Malaysia has invited Pakistan, Turkey, Qatar and Indonesia for the summit as part of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s efforts to emerge as a leader of the Islamic world. Some reports said that Iran has also been invited to the summit, but there has been no confirmation regarding this. Both Malaysia and Turkey have backed Pakistan on Kashmir issue since the Centre, on August 5, withdrew the special status given to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated it into two Union territories.

Pakistan has banked heavily on Turkey and Malaysia following Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s neutral stance on India’s move on Kashmir. Most OIC members have been lukewarm over Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise Kashmir issue.

The plan for the summit was finalised during a trilateral meeting involving Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia in September in New York City on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

Pakistan will attempt to bring Kashmir issue at the forefront of the summit, according to people aware of the matter. However, Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population and is a country that prides on its syncretic culture, may not back any move that focuses on Kashmir. In the past few years, Indonesia has opposed moves by the OIC to adopt strong statements on Kashmir. Indonesia’s ties with India have improved vastly in the past few years as part of partnership in the Indo-Pacific region.

While this summit may not split the OIC in near future, it is a clear attempt by Malaysia backed by Turkey to challenge Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the Islamic world, according to experts who follow developments in the OIC. The Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019 will be an important platform to bring the true message of Islam to the world, more so to resolve issues on radicalism and Islamophobia, minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister's Department Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa said recently.

FASTag: Toll collection across NHs up 15%, wait time by 2 mins

The toll collection across national highways has increased by nearly 15% since the government pushed mandatory use of FASTags for paying toll. Sources said the average daily NHAI toll revenue has crossed Rs.80 crore against earlier average of Rs.65-68 crore per day in July and August. The revenue may increase further as the share of toll collection through FASTags increase since it is expected to completely plug revenue leakage.

While officials admitted that there were reports of congestion at nearly 40-45 toll plazas out of the total 530 plazas, ‘Tolltimezero’, an IT firm which has been tracking the live traffic situation across 488 toll plazas, claimed that the average waiting time on Sunday was 12 minutes. A year ago, the average waiting time was 10.04 minutes and just a month ago, vehicles had to wait for 10.57 minutes.

Some of the commuters said that there was confusion at plazas with non-tagged vehicles entering tag lanes and many refusing to pay the double amount for violating rules, resulting in long queues. “There were reports of technical glitches at some toll plazas. We have notified that in such cases, the commuters will be allowed to travel free, if their tags have sufficient balance. We hope the situation will improve over the next few days,” said an official.

Meanwhile, considering that FASTag vehicles are still facing congestion at toll plazas since non-tagged vehicles or the ones that have low balance in the tags block the way of others, now there is a proposal to collect double the user fee from such vehicles.

“Drivers of such vehicles enter the tag lane and stop at the toll gate. They refuse to pay double charge citing that their vehicles have a FASTag and cause congestion. We just need to tweak the notification to discipline such drivers and vehicle owners to bring greater clarity,” said a source.

Highway ministry officials said the traffic situation was satisfactory at 245 toll plazas where only one lane on each side has been kept for cash transaction. At another 242 toll plazas where cash transaction is allowed at 25% of the lanes the situation is also fairly good. But there is a need to improve the condition at the rest 40-42 toll plazas where things are not up to the mark despite 25% lanes being kept for cash transaction.

SC : RTI queries by anyone and everyone paralysing administration

The apex court said incessant queries under the RTI Act had spooked officials into becoming reluctant to put views on file, which had a paralysing effect on the administration, and sought suggestions on whether RTI pleas to public authorities be filed only by those having a connect with the issue.

“There is a pervasive fear of RTI. We are informed that Mantralaya in Mumbai is getting paralysed because of incessant RTI applications,” said a bench of CJI S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant. The bench gave an unexpected turn to a hearing on a simple application by advocate Prashant Bhushan seeking implementation of the SC’s February 15 judgment directing the Centre and state governments to expeditiously appoint information commissioners under the RTI Act.

Bhushan said restricting the RTI Act to relevant parties may harm the transparency law. For example, a person who lost out on a contract due to corruption will never seek information fearing blacklisting. “It has to be a public spirited person who on gathering information could seek details of the contract from authorities,” he said. The bench remained sceptical and said, “There are innumerable instances of blackmail through RTI.” Bhushan said if someone got information through an RTI application and used it for blackmail, it was “just a side effect” and asked how this could harm anyone.

He said only those officials who wanted to indulge in illegal acts would be afraid of RTI pleas and narrated the famous Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain case where the SC had directed that details of the ‘blue book on prime minister’s security” be made public. The intention was that people were the real masters and should know what their representatives were doing, he added.

CJI Bobde said, “Anyone who has a grievance can always come to the court, we do not have a problem with it. Nowadays, some people describe themselves as RTI activists. Is that a profession? Or is it something under Section 506 (criminal intimidation, including blackmail). We are not telling this to you lightly. We are saying so from experience as judges.”

He further said, “We are not against RTI. We have upheld it and its application several times. We are asking you to suggest how to stop its abuse. We feel unbridled right to anyone and everyone to ask for any information is putting a strain on officials. On electoral matters, anyone can ask anything. But if it is a tender for a contract in specialised work, how can anyone not even remotely connected to the subject ask questions about it under RTI?”

Bhushan said all contracts involved expenditure of public money which should be put under public scrutiny through RTI queries. “If the RTI application is restricted only to those having nexus with the issue, then corruption in public offices will never be exposed. In a tender process, those who fail to bag contract will know about corruption but will never raise an RTI query fearing blacklisting by officials for future tenders,” he added.

When Bhushan said he had been associated with drafting of the RTI legislation right from the beginning and was well aware of its public interest benefits, the bench said, “That is why we are asking your views. When someone raises some RTI queries, we find you are behind it. So, we are seeking your suggestion in filtering persons who can file RTI applications.

November 2019: WPI food inflation is at a 6-year high

Food inflation jumped to a 71-month high in November, pushing wholesale price inflation to a higher trajectory, and breaking a 3-month trend of deceleration.

Inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, rose an annual 0.6% in November, higher than the 0.2% in October, but lower than the 4.5% recorded in the year-ago period.

The increase in inflation during November was largely led by a sharp surge in food items that shot up an annual 11.1% during the month, rising from the 9.8% posted in the previous month. Earlier data showed that food inflation under retail inflation had shot up to double digits in November after nearly six years, led by a surge in vegetable prices. Onion price inflation rose 172.3%, rising from 119.8% in October. Vegetables rose an annual 45.3% during the month, up from 38.91% in October.

Inflation in manufactured goods continued to witness deflation for the third straight month at (-) 0.8%, unchanged from a month ago and lower than the 4.2% recorded in November 2018, which economists said indicated a lack of pricing power for manufacturers.

Economists expect the RBI to hold rates given the uptick in inflation.


Imports decline for six months in a row

India’s trade deficit widened to the highest in three months as imports registered the sixth straight monthly decline, falling nearly 13% to $38 billion, while exports dipped 0.3% to $26 billion, which was the fourth consecutive month of decline.

Although the pace of decline has moderated, trade remains a key worry for policymakers, with exports seen to be crucial for the revival of industry. On the other hand, imports are seen to be symptomatic of overall economic activity, which has resulted in a decline in demand for raw material, inputs and capital goods.

Only eight of the 30 major project segments saw higher imports, while 13 out of the 30 major product groups were in positive territory during November 2019.

Crude oil imports were a key factor in shrinking of imports, as it fell over 18% to $11 billion. While demand for oil products has come down due to economic downturn, the commerce department pointed to a 3.7% fall in Brent prices to suggest this may have been behind the decline. Non-oil imports fell over 10% to $27 billion, led by a 12% decline in gold shipments. But the numbers suggested that slowdown had an all-pervasive impact, with transport equipment imports falling almost 50%, while iron and steel, metals, chemicals saw a sharp decline too.

Japan PM scraps India visit

The violent protests in Assam put paid to the India-Japan annual summit with the government announcing that PM Narendra Modi’s meeting with counterpart Shinzo Abe in Guwahati had been deferred to a “mutually convenient date in the near future”.

This is the second major fallout of developments in the past few days related to the citizenship legislation after two senior Bangladeshi ministers called off their visit to India.

There was speculation that the summit could be shifted to Delhi, official sources said there was never any plan for a shift. “The simple reason for that is that it would have been impossible to work out the logistics for a summit of this nature at any other place, including Delhi, at such short notice,” said a government source.

A Japanese delegation had to call off its visit to Guwahati on Thursday and Indian officials who had arrived in Guwahati early for the summit remained holed up in a hotel as protesters resorted to violence.

The Centre was left with no choice but to defer the summit after Japan conveyed to Indian authorities that it wouldn’t be possible for Abe to travel to Guwahati in these circumstances. While the summit had been postponed, it’s not clear when it will happen. The 2020 summit, sources said, will take place late next year in Japan. If the two PMs do have another bilateral summit meeting before that, they would ideally want a considerable gap between the two meetings.


SC rejects all review petitions against its Ayodhya judgment

The Supreme Court dismissed all 18 petitions seeking a review of its November 9 Ayodhya land dispute verdict, all but casting in stone its 1,045-page judgment awarding the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site for a Ram temple and five acres of land at an alternative location to the Sunni Wakf Board for a mosque.

All the petitions were placed before a bench of CJI S A Bobde and Justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna (who filled the vacant slot in the Constitution bench after the retirement of former CJI Ranjan Gogoi). The SC bench divided the petitions into two categories—those filed by people who were parties to one of the four title suits and others who were not but still had sought permission to file review petitions.

Petitions by entities who were parties to any of the title suits—Gopal Singh Visharad (1950), Nirmohi Akhara (1959), Sunni Wakf Board (1961) and Ram Lalla Virajman (1989)—were discussed in detail by the five judges in chamber without the presence of lawyers representing any party, as is the norm for preliminary hearing on review petitions.

After deliberating on the petitions filed by some of the parties to the title suits, the SC bench said, “Applications for listing of review petitions in open court are dismissed. We have carefully gone through the review petitions and connected papers filed therewith. We do not find any ground, whatsoever, to entertain the same. The petitions are, accordingly, dismissed.”

This leaves litigants who were parties to any of the title suits with a small window in ‘curative petitions’ to seek reversal of the November 9 judgment. However, given the general trend of dismissal of curative petitions, there is a very bleak chance of the SC reopening the 70-year-old litigation for a fresh hearing.

On the second category of petitions, which included petitioners like a “group of 40 intellectuals” who are not party to any of the title suits, the bench declined permission to even file a review petition. The fear expressed by the judges was that permitting non-parties would open flood-gates of litigation as it would allow any citizen to file pleas seeking a review of the Ayodhya ruling, and for that matter any order. Those who filed the non-party review petition included historian Irfan Habib, economist Prabhat Patnaik and activists Harsh Mander and Nandini Sundar.

Filing of petition by M Siddiq, through advocate Ijaz Maqbool, seeking review of the Ayodhya verdict had led to an unpleasant controversy as senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who had argued for the Muslim parties, claimed he had been sacked from the case. The Sunni Wakf Board had dramatically agreed for a settlement by agreeing to give up its claim on the disputed land. Later, it refused to file a review petition.

However, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board decided to seek a review while retaining Dhavan as its counsel. But Dhavan’s expertise could not be utilised as SC rejected the plea for open court hearing and dismissed review petitions.

On November 9, the SC settled the centuries-old Hindu-Muslim conflict that had lingered in courts for 70 years by handing over the land in Ayodhya for construction of a Ram temple and said the Sunni Wakf Board was to be allocated five acres of land at a prominent place in the temple town for a mosque. The unanimous verdict, with unmistakable pen-prints of Justice Chandrachud, weighed in favour of deity Ram Lalla getting the disputed land in Ayodhya because Hindu parties could produce better evidence to substantiate their rights. However, the bench was also unanimous that Muslims too established a competitive right over the disputed land, and, hence, used its inherent powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to direct the Centre and UP government to allot five acres for a mosque.