Core Sector Shrinks 1.3% in December

Steep declines in the output of steel, fertiliser and cement made an index of India’s infrastructure sectors contract 1.3% in December, official data released on Friday showed, contradicting hopes of a recovery in line with other economic indicators. The output of eight key core sectors contracted for the third month in a row. The Index of Eight Core Industries had grown 3.1% a year earlier and shrank 1.4% in November.

Barring coal and electricity, all sectors contracted last month. Growth in coal production slowed to a five-month low of 2.2% from 3.3% in November. Electricity output rose 4.2% in December against 3.5% in the trailing month.

Both steel and cement recorded a deterioration in the pace of contraction against November, suggesting low demand from the automobile sector and high raw material costs, coupled with relatively muted construction activities. Data released by the commerce and industry ministry showed that the pace of contraction slowed in crude oil, natural gas and refinery products, at 3.6%, 7.2% and 2.8%, respectively.

Covid-19: India is the only country with a single peak so far

India completes one tumultuous year of Covid-19 on Saturday, with the virus outbreak appearing increasingly under control in most parts of the country with each passing day. It was on January 30 last year that India recorded its first case: a Kerala student who returned from Wuhan.

On Friday, India dropped to the fourth place in deaths as Mexico overtook India’s cumulative toll. With over 1,500 deaths in the past 24 hours, Mexico’s Covid toll topped 1,55,000, going past India (1,54,184).

India has been recording fewer than 200 deaths per day for over a fortnight, while fatalities have been over 500 in at least eight countries. Four of them have been reporting over 1,000 deaths over the past few days, with the daily toll in the US hovering around 4,000.

The US has registered the most deaths, with the toll of more than 4.4 lakh till Thursday, as per data from worldometer.info. Brazil has the second highest toll at over 2.2 lakh. The UK is the only other country, in addition to Mexico and India, where the toll has topped 1 lakh.

With the exception of India, all the other four countries with a Covid toll of over 1 lakh are currently witnessing over 1,000 daily fatalities.

While India led the world in daily Covid case counts from late August till October last year, it has since fallen to the eighth spot. The seven-day rolling average of daily cases in India is currently around 13,500, lower than the averages in the US, Brazil, Russia, the UK, France, Spain and Mexico. Two other countries, Indonesia and Portugal, both seeing a spike in infections, are likely to overtake India in the next few days.

In the last 24 hours, India recorded over 13,000 fresh cases and at least 133 deaths. While the pandemic has certainly receded in the country, it is not over yet, as several experts have repeatedly pointed out.

11% growth, ‘we-shaped’ recovery coming: Eco Survey

The Indian economy is likely to grow by 11% in 2021-22, the V-shaped recovery having been made possible by its strategy of Covid management that focused on protection of life at the expense of a short-term impact on livelihoods, the Economic Survey for 2020-21 has argued. The annual birds’ eye view of the economy strongly emphasized the need for the government to loosen its purse strings to aid the recovery without getting overly concerned about the fiscal deficit.

It estimated that the stringent lockdown had flattened the curve and shielded over 37 lakh from contracting coronavirus, apart from saving over one lakh lives.

Attacking credit rating agencies, it said India’s sovereign ratings had consistently been much lower than what the fundamentals and its debt situation would merit. “India’s fiscal policy, therefore, must not remain beholden to a noisy/biased measure and should instead reflect Gurudev Rabindranath Thakur’s sentiment of a mind without fear,” it said.

It argued that the primary focus at India’s stage of development must be on promoting economic growth rather than reducing inequality.

Not unexpectedly, the survey set out a passionate defence of the new farm laws, asserting that they seek to give farmers a freedom of choice that they have been denied thus far. It also set out a timeline of “consultations/recommendations” dating back to 2001 in an attempt to counter the charge that they had been passed in haste.

The survey called for regulation of healthcare to address the “market failure” in the sector. Urging governments, in particular states, to step up public spending on health to 2.5% of GDP to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure by patients’ families, it also called for a quality assessment framework, citing the UK’s Quality and Assessment Framework as a possible model. In a separate chapter specifically on the PMJAY (Ayushman Bharat) scheme, the survey, whose lead author is the finance ministry’s chief economic adviser, Krishnamurthy V Subramanian, said comparisons between states that had adopted the scheme and those that hadn’t showed clearly the scheme had led to improved health outcomes across a range of parameters.

While calling for regulation of the health sector, the survey maintained that overall the Indian economy had been adversely affected by too much regulation. Complex regulation that aimed to anticipate every possible situation rather than light supervision was the bane of India, it said.

The survey cautioned about the elevated stock prices. “While stock markets value the potential future growth, these elevated levels still raise concerns on the disconnect between the financial markets and real sector,” it said.

The two volumes of the nearly 900-page survey had a smattering of references from cricket (India’s 36 all out and the subsequent V shape recovery in Australia), Bollywood (Amitabh Bachhan starrer Main Azad Hoon), and ancient wisdom scattered over a wealth of charts and graphs that sought to drive home each point with data.

New Delhi: Blast near Israel embassy

A low-intensity blast took place near the Israel embassy in New Delhi around 5pm on Friday, coinciding with the anniversary of India and Israel establishing full diplomatic relations on January 29, 1992. No one was injured, but window panes of three cars were damaged.

The explosion occurred barely 2km away from the Beating Retreat ceremony.

With Israeli officials treating it as a suspected terror attack, Delhi Police handed over the probe to anti-terror unit. Mossad is assisting Indian agencies in the investigation. An FIR under the Explosives Act has been registered.

An envelope with “Israeli ambassador” written on it was found at the spot.

India eyeing better ties with key IOR nations

As China makes rapid inroads into the western Indian Ocean, India is hoping to shore up its own security and defence engagement with the strategically significant Madagascar and Comoros Islands in the region. Both countries have confirmed their participation in the Indian Ocean Region meeting of defence ministers which India will host next week.

While Madagascar delegation will be headed by its defence minister Richard Rakotonirina, Comoros will send a defence delegation under its foreign minister Dhoihir Dhoulkamal. This is the first time that a high-level defence delegation will visit India from the archipelago off the east coast of Africa.

India will host the IOR defence ministers’ conclave, themed Enhanced Peace, Security and Cooperation in the Indian Ocean, alongside Aero India 2021in Bengaluru on February 4. As Indian officials have been quoted as saying, the conclave is an attempt to promote dialogue in an “institutional and cooperative environment that can foster peace, stability and prosperity in the Indian Ocean region”. Recognising the geopolitical significance of Madagascar and Comoros, where China continues to ramp up its connectivity and security related activities, the foreign ministry had in 2019 included these countries in IOR division that also handles Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives , Sri Lanka.

Madagascar though is still awaiting appointment of a defence attache despite an approval in principle by the government in 2019. The defence ministry is expected to clear the proposal soon. India had signed a defence MoU with Madagascar in 2018 under which they are said to be discussing several projects for capacity building and training of Madagascar’s defence personnel.


Jaishankar lists steps China must take to repair ties

Even as the Indian and Chinese armies face off in eastern Ladakh, foreign minister S Jaishankar set out an eight-point framework for steps China needs to take to repair bilateral ties with India, which, he said, cannot carry on “undisturbed”.

Delivering the keynote address at the All India Conference of China Studies, Jaishankar said the fundamental principles governing India-China ties should be “mutuality.” “The three mutuals–mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests–are its determining factors. Any expectation that they can be brushed aside, and that life can carry on undisturbed despite the situation at the border, that is simply not realistic.”

Offering a way forward to repairing bilateral ties, Jaishankar proposed an eight-point set of markers that should be followed by both countries, but more specifically, China. Existing agreements, he said, “must be adhered to in their entirety, both in letter and spirit.” Unilateral change of status quo at the LAC should be unacceptable and “the LAC must be strictly observed and respected.” Also, an understanding that disturbing peace and tranquillity on the border would upset the rest of the relationship between the two countries.

Jaishankar confirmed that India and China were engaged in talks to work out a disengagement mechanism in the border areas.

He said, “It was explicitly agreed the two countries would refrain from massing troops on their common border”; the acceptance of a “multipolar Asia”; sensitivities to each other’s interests; making space for the other’s aspirations; management of differences and as civilisationals states, “taking the long view.” He placed the onus on the Chinese side for changing the status quo.

Curtain-free solution to Rajdhani coach windows

Eastern Railway has come up with a solution to prevent light and heat from entering through the windows of uncurtained airconditioned coaches of the special Rajdhani Express running between Howrah and New Delhi. This system, that also helps maintain privacy, has been introduced in First AC coaches and will be extended to other classes soon.

“Due to the pandemic, curtains were removed. This led to a problem. Passengers were unable to prevent light from entering the coach even when they wanted to take a nap. It also got warmer inside the coaches, making the ride uncomfortable. Passengers also felt a lack of privacy when the train stopped at stations and people on the platforms attempted to peep in. We have now found a solution to these problems. This will also reduce UV Rays from entering the coaches,” said Kamal Deo Das, CPRO, ER.

The system introduced is a Polymer Dispersed Liquid Crystal -based window pane that can be switched from transparent to opaque (from outside) by passengers as per their choice. These window panes will replace normal ones in other AC coaches of the Rajdhani Express soon. They will also be introduced in trains like Shatabdis and Durontos and will ultimately replace curtains that are difficult to maintain and have a tendency to gather dust.

“Ultimately, all AC coaches in all trains will have such windows,” another ER official said.

Maharashtra- No. 1 in justice delivery again: Report

Maharashtra ranks first in the second edition of the India Justice Report 2020, that judges states on delivery of justice to people. Released on Thursday, the report said Maharashtra retained its number one position among 18 large and mid -sized states—each with a population of over one crore —followed by Tamil Nadu, which improved its ranking from third position in 2019, and Telangana, reports Swati Deshpande.

The IJR tracked the rise and fall in each state’s structural and financial capacity to deliver justice using the latest available government figures from budgets, human resources, infrastructure, workload, and diversity across police, judiciary, prisons and legal aid in 25 states.

Telangana showed the highest improvement in justice delivery and ranking as it rose to the third position from 11th in 2019 while another southern state, Kerala, slipped from second position in 2019 to fifth in 2020.

Mumbai Metro: 1st indigenously-built Metro rake arrives

The first indigenously built rake to be deployed for Metro 2A (Dahisar-DN Nagar) and Metro 7 (Dahisar-Andheri via Western Express Highway) arrived in Mumbai from the Bengaluru facility of Bharat Earth Movers Ltd. 

The rake will be unveiled in the presence of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar at the Charkop depot on Friday.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority plans to commence services from May 2021. The indigenously designed “driverless” Metro cars will operate on 25 kV AC traction power and come equipped with CCTV surveillance cameras. They also have a provision for carrying passengers’ bicycles in the coaches.

The cars are made of a stainless-steel body, with a capacity of carrying 2,280 passengers in a six-car Metro trainset. BEML bagged a total order of 576 cars for MMRDA’s Metro project, the largest order ever, amidst stiff competition in the presence of international players. Supply is scheduled to be progressively done up to January 2024.

BITS Pilani to set up B-school in Mumbai metro region

Premier engineering university BITS Pilani will set up a business management school in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region for Rs.1,500 crore, said its chancellor and Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla. The business school will come up in Kalyan and will be the fifth campus of BITS Pilani.

With this, BITS Pilani will venture into offering business management programmes. So far, it offers engineering courses at its four campuses — Pilani, Hyderabad, Goa and Dubai. The B-school campus will be spread over 60 acres and will open its doors in 2023. However, its academic session starts this July with 120 students. It will operate out of a temporary campus in Powai until then.

To be named BITS School of Management (BITSoM), it will have faculty from global schools like Wharton, University of Texas and Singapore Management University. It will offer a two-year course, fees for which will be about Rs.24 lakh.

“...In a world marked by uncertainty, it is time to introduce a new way of thinking and prepare young leaders for this age of disruption,” said Birla, whose family set up BITS Pilani in 1964.

Swamps in Sindhudurg: A biodiversity heritage site

Bombarde Myristica swamps in Sindhdurg district has been notified as a biodiversity heritage site. The Maharashtra state revenue department has issued a notification under Biodiversity Act, 2002, considering its biological and historical value. It is the eighth site in Maharashtra to be given the tag. Others include Glory of Alapalli and Wardham park in Gadchiroli district, Anjarle and Velas beaches in Ratnagiri district, Landor Khori forest and Shivaji Park in Jalgaon district, Daldalkhui in Gondia district and Ganeshkhind garden in Pune district.

Spread over 6.5 acres of revenue land at Hevale village in Dodamarg taluka, Ben Clement, chief conservator of forests (Kolhapur region) said Myristica swamp formations are unique fresh water swamps of the western ghats. Myristica swamps having members of myristicaceae, a primitive family of flowering plants, are associated with rainforests of Asia, Africa, Madagascar and South America. These swamp patches have been found in south Kerala, north Karnataka and south Goa.

Hevale villagers protected the swamp as a sacred grove. Clement said a local management committee comprising villagers will be set up for protection of the swamp and a 10-year management plan will be prepared.

Char Dham road project to claim over 56,000 trees

The central government’s ambitious Char Dham road project — that will link the shrine towns of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri through widening and strengthening of an almost 900km-long stretch of Himalayan roads — is leading to the felling of over 56,000 trees in the ecologically-fragile mountain ranges. Of these, around 36,000 trees have already been felled while the rest are awaiting clearance data has revealed.

The maximum number of trees that are due for felling currently are on National Highway-125, between Tanakpur to Pithoragarh where 6,885 trees are to be felled. The stretch of NH-58 between Rudraprayag and Mana will see 6291 trees being felled. While these are official numbers, those in the know say that the deforestation on the ground may be much more.

Experts point out that the blatant tree felling and slope cutting has already started having a devastating impact on the Himalayan ranges. “Unabated, unaccounted felling of Himalayan trees, which cannot be compensated by planting any other tree at that height and drilling of the mountains without proper measures, are steps that are opening doors for endless new chronic landslide zones,” said geologist Navin Juyal, who is a member of the SC-appointed committee constituted to assess the environmental impact of the project.

Residents , too, since landslide-related accidents on or near the project sites last year alone have claimed around a dozen lives, mostly of workers. Some villagers have also lodged police complaints regarding work being undertaken on the project in an arbitrary manner.

PM Modi Invites Global CEOs to Invest in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday invited CEOs attending the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue to invest in India, saying the country’s infrastructure needs would be worth about $4.5 trillion by 2040 and the government and industry must come together to meet this requirement.

“There are ample opportunities on offer, which are even more convincing as they are in a vibrant democracy, business-friendly climate and in a big market like India,” Modi said, inviting CEOs to align their future prospects with such opportunities and promising to give any help that they would need.

India’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat mission is fully committed to global good and the global supply chain and India now has a predictable and friendly environment — from tax regime to the FDI norms — Modi said in his opening address at the WEF summit via video link.

The Prime Minister said India is sending its vaccine to several countries and helping in developing the infrastructure for successful vaccination, thus saving the lives of citizens of other countries.

“The WEF should be reassured that only two make-in-India vaccines have come so far and many more from India will come. India’s upcoming vaccines will help other countries at a swifter pace, bigger scale, and more speed to fight the pandemic,” he said.

Modi also highlighted that India has vaccinated over 2.3 million health workers within 12 days and would complete its target of vaccinating 300 million old people and people with co-morbidities in the next few months.

Interacting with the CEOs of Siemens and ABB, Modi said the Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign was launched to increase the capacity of India’s economy and its resilience and to make India an export hub for manufacturing.

Urging the CEOs to collaborate with India’s production-linked incentive scheme, he said, “Incremental production will bring incentives, which on average are almost 5% of production value. Hence, $520 billion worth of production will happen as a result of PLI.”

Modi said India will release a National Logistics Policy and that foreign direct investment in India had increased by 13% in 2020 despite Covid-19.

The PM stressed that India is now walking ahead to become “Aatmanirbhar”, which will strengthen globalisation. “I assure you that every success of India will help the world to succeed. We have the capacity and capability to strengthen the global supply chain and reliability. We have a big consumer base and its expansion will benefit the global economy,” Modi said at the WEF.

He said India has given emphasis to reforms and incentive-based stimulus. “Even during Covid, India has paced structural reforms in all sectors. These reforms are being supported by PLI schemes. We are also matching our growth with climate change targets,” the PM said, stressing that India is committed to “climate-sensitive development”.

Modi pointed out that in the midst of numerous doubts, India had a message of belief, positivity, and hope from over 1.3 billion Indians.

India slips 6 spots to 86th rank on corruption index

India’s ranking on the Corruption Perception Index–2020 slipped from 80 to 86 even as its score decreased only by one point to 40 from 41 in 2019. The index released annually by Transparency International ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero signifies the highest level of corruption and 100 is very clean.

Denmark and New Zealand topped the list with scores of 88, followed by Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland (85 each). Like in previous years, more than two-thirds of countries scored below 50, with a global average score of just 43. The data shows that despite some progress, most countries still fail to tackle corruption effectively, states Transparency International, a global civil society.

Syria with a score of 14, Somalia and South Sudan with scores of 12 each occupy the bottom slots on the CPI-2020.

The average score in the Asia-Pacific region, which encapsulates 31 countries, is 45. India’s score of 40 is below both the global average and the Asia-Pacific average. India’s score is also lower than that of China, which scored 42 with a rank of 78. However, Pakistan fared poorly with a score of 31 and a rank of 124.

In the Asia Pacific region, New Zealand was the top performer. Other top-scoring nations were Singapore (85), Australia (77) and Hong Kong (77).

In Asia, key economies such as India, Indonesia and Bangladesh with scores of 40, 37 and 36 respectively, experienced slow progress in anticorruption efforts, with several government commitments to reform not yet materialising, states the CPI-2020 report.

According to Transparency International, CPI-2020 shows that corruption is more pervasive in countries least equipped to handle Covid-19 and other crises. “Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International said. “The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption,” she added.

Hyderabad gets feel of 5G as Airtel to test tech in city

IT city Hyderabad got a 5G boost with telecom player Bharti Airtel successfully demonstrating live 5G service over a commercial network in the city.

As part of the demonstration, conducted over Airtel’s existing 4G spectrum in the 1800 MHz band, a 5G handset was able to download a full length movie (1GB file) in less than 30 seconds, something that would take around 8-10 minutes on an average 4G connection.

Avneet Singh Puri, CEO, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Bharti Airtel, said that Hyderabad was chosen as it is the IT capital of the country where a lot of work is happening around 5G use cases. In fact, the Hyderabad-based Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology has set up the country’s first 5G use case lab to explore the application of 5G in banking and financial services sector and handset manufacturers like OPPO already have 5G labs in the city.

Airtel said it was able to seamlessly operate 5G and 4G concurrently, within the same spectrum block, with the help of a spectrum sharing technology called NSA (Non Standalone Architecture) network technology. NSA is a 5G service which, as the name suggests, does not stand alone but is built over an existing 4G network, whereas SA (Standalone Architecture) enables independent 5G service operations without any interaction with an existing 4G core.

With this, Airtel has shown that it has the capability to operate 5G over its existing spectrum in the mid-band (1800/2100/2300 MHz) and sub-GHz bands (800/ 900 MHz) and can operate 5G and 4G within the same spectrum block if it is permitted.

While a low band (600-700 MHz) tower can cover a larger area of hundreds of square miles with 5G services at speeds in the range of 30-250 megabits per second (mbps), a mid-band (2.5/3.5 GHz) tower can cover a smaller radius of several miles with 5G service at speeds from 100-900 mbps. On the other hand, a high band (24-39GHz) tower can cover a radius of one-mile or lower while delivering roughly 1-3Gbps speeds. Pointing out that it is ready to deploy 5G in a matter of months, the company said that its existing technology capability along with future spectrum allocations (in 3.5 GHz) will enable it to deliver a full 5G experience.

According to Gopal Vittal, MD & CEO, Bharti Airtel, the demonstration validates the 5G readiness of Airtel’s network across all domains – radio, core and transport. However, he pointed out that the commercial 5G rollout will be possible only after government approvals and when adequate spectrum is available.

“Every one of our investments is future proofed as this game changing test in Hyderabad proves. With Airtel being the first to demonstrate this capability, we have shown again that we have always been the first in India to pioneer new technologies,” he said.

According to the telco, Airtel 5G would be capable of delivering 10x speeds, 10x latency and 100x concurrency as compared to existing technologies.


RRTS to be integrated with Meerut metro

With the proposed regional rapid transit system set to shorten the Delhi-Meerut transit time to less than 60 minutes, getting around Meerut will also be easier as the proposed Meerut Metro service will be integrated with RRTS.

According to UPMRC sources, at least six additional stations will be included along the RRTS proposed corridor between Modipuram to Partapur.

“The RRTS will integrate these stations for UPMRC and Metro train will operate along with semi-high speed aerodynamic trains of RRTS. While Metro trains will have nearly 18 stoppages on the corridor, RRTS will have six stoppages,” said a source.

Meerut Metro will operate on two corridors. The second corridor will be 14.15-km-long between Shardhapuri Phase 2 and Jagriti Vihar extension with 13 stations.

Simultaneously, Uttar Pradesh Metro Rail Corporation will work on Gorakhpur lite Metro system, which will also have two corridors: the 16.95km Shyamnagar-Sooba Bazar stretch and the 14.3km Gulariha-Nausad crossing stretch.

For Gorakhpur Metro, the corporation is expected to operate three-coach trains.

Rewarding squatters with free land only happens in Maharashtra: Bombay HC

Rewarding encroachers with free land at public cost is something that happens only in Maharashtra, Bombay high court observed on Wednesday.

“If they encroach upon forest land, the government will notify another land free of cost. It’s a bonus on illegality. A premium on it. Then they (encroachers) will sell it again. It is peculiar to Maharashtra and nowhere in the country,” said a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni.

The court heard a 2009 public interest litigation by NGO Janhit Manch on how allottees in various slum rehabilitation schemes illegally sell flats at a premium even though there is a lock-in period of 10 years. It states not only is the object of Slum Rehabilitation Scheme defeated but there is loss to the public exchequer. It cited the case of encroachers in Sanjay Gandhi National Park who were to rehabilitated in 225-square-foot carpet area flats in Chandivali, Andheri, in 30 seven-storey buildings.

The Manch’s founder Bhagwanji Raiyani argued the sale should not be regularised. The judges then also observed there are two categories of citizens—those who abide by the law and those who do not. “Those encroaching and doing illegalities are benefited. Those who abide will always be without a roof,” said Justice Kulkarni.

The judges noted in October 2015 the state was directed to conduct a survey of all slum rehabilitation schemes to ascertain if there were transfers by allottees within 10 years of allotment date and after expiry of 10 years with Slum Rehabilitation Authority’s permission. HC was told an agency was identified for the survey. “Five years have passed. Nothing is reported to the court,” said the CJ. The judges directed the state to inform about the survey and steps taken pursuant to it on March 10.

Freedom of speech not absolute: SC

The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to grant interim protection from arrest to makers of web series ‘Tandav’, who are seeking quashing of FIRs against them for hurting religious sentiments, while observing that “freedom of speech and expression is not absolute”.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah turned down the plea made by senior advocates Fali S Nariman, Mukul Rohatgi and Siddharth Luthra to stay the FIRs, but said the petitioners could approach other fora, including the trial court, for relief.

The court said a person cannot claim “an absolute right to freedom of speech and expression” and it is subject to restrictions.

The petitioners — director Ali Abbas Zafar, Amazon Prime India head Aparna Purohit, producer Himanshu Mehra and Actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub — contended that FIRs had been filed in different states and they would be harassed by their police for the same alleged offence.

Nariman said FIRs were being filed even after the alleged objectionable part had been removed and apology tendered. He said nothing remained in the case and no coercive action should be taken against the makers and cast of the web series. Rohatgi also cited that the apex court had granted similar relief in cases involving M F Hussain and Arnab Goswami.

He said the series is a political satire and if people become so sensitive that they cannot take satire in good spirit, there would be no freedom of speech in the country.

The bench was not convinced with the submission and refused to grant the protection. However, it agreed to examine whether FIRs could be clubbed together and issued notice to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar and Delhi where FIRs had been lodged against them.

“We issue notice in the writ petition limited to transfer and clubbing of the FIRs with first FIR. Let notice be issued, returnable within four weeks. We make it clear that the issue of notice in this petition shall not preclude the petitioners to approach the concerned courts for anticipatory bail/bail as per law,” the bench said. The bench has sought response from states such as UP, MP, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar and Delhi on the pleas.

Madhya Pradesh: Wire-trap chokes tigress to death in Kanha buffer

A two-year-old tigress has choked to death after getting trapped in a wire snare set up by poachers in the buffer area of Kanha National Park in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh.

The more it struggled, the tighter it got strangled. Blood flowed from its nostrils in the agonizingly slow death.

The carcass was seen by a beat guard of Bamhani village on Wednesday morning. He called forest officials to say he had spotted a tigress lying inert. A team sped to the spot and found that it was dead.

The foresters found a snare, made from two-wheeler clutch wires, around its neck and nasal bleed. All the organs were intact. Samples were collected for forensic investigation and the carcass disposed of according to NTCA rules.

Investigators say that poachers may have laid the trap for wild boars. A dog squad was used to pick up the poachers’ trail. Kanha wildlife doctor Sandeep Agrawal and National Tiger Conservation Authority representative Shravana Goswami are leading the probe. Six suspects from near the scene of the incident have been summoned for questioning.

Madhya Pradesh has lost around 30 of its tigers and an equal number of leopards to unnatural causes in the last 15 months, say sources. Environmentalist Ajay Dubey said that MP is No. 1 in terms of tiger deaths.

“Since the state has regained Tiger State status, they are taking casualties very lightly. I will definitely raise this matter with the Central government soon. One has to question these authorities about where they are spending the crores of rupees being sent for tiger conservation,” Dubey said.

Three more Rafale fighter jets arrive from France

Three more Rafale fighters touched down in India from France on Wednesday evening, to add to the eight such omni-role jets already inducted by the IAF.

The three Rafales were refuelled mid-air by Airbus MRTT tankers of the UAE Air Force, in yet another indication of close military ties with the Gulf country, during their over 7,000 km flight to the Jamnagar airbase.

The IAF has now inducted 11 of the 36 twin-engine Rafales, which are capable of delivering nuclear weapons, under the ₹59,000 crore deal inked with France in September 2016. All 36 will be delivered by 2022.

The 4.5-generation fighters have a combat range of 780km to 1,650km, without mid-air refuelling, depending on the nature of their mission. The IAF fighters are armed with long stand-off weapons like the over 300-km range ‘Scalp’ air-to-ground cruise missiles.

The fighters are also being equipped with the top-notch ‘Meteor’ air-to-air missiles which, with a strike range of 120 to 150km, can outgun any missile that can currently be unleashed by Pakistani or Chinese jets.

The IAF has also ordered the ‘Hammer’ air-to-ground precision-guided munitions for the Rafales, in a deal that came last year amid the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.

Delhi link in 3 of 7 bullet train routes

The bullet train corridor from Delhi to Varanasi via Agra and Ayodhya will start from Sarai Kale Khan-Nizamuddin railway station, while the other two corridors to Amritsar and Ahmedabad from Sector-21, Dwarka Metro station and Bijwasan areas.

These are three of the seven new routes that the government has planned for which detailed studies are being conducted. Sources said the railway ministry would go for public-private partnership to implement some of these new corridors. Currently, work has started only on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai High Speed Rail or bullet train project with 100% government funding. National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd is implementing the project and has also been tasked to prepare a detailed project reports of the new seven lines.

An NHSRCL official said, the option of the HSR station in close proximity of Sarai Kale Khan and Nizamuddin railway station for the Delhi-Varanasi corridor was being explored as this would provide good road connectivity to users through Outer Ring Road, Metro Rail connectivity through Pink Line, interstate bus connectivity through ISBT and regional rail connectivity through RRTS. The official said the locations were being explored for Delhi-Ahmedabad and Delhi-Amritsar HSR corridors in close proximity of Sector-21, Dwarka Metro station and Bijwasan Railway station since this would provide connectivity to IGI Airport and central Delhi through Airport Express Metro line and west, central and east Delhi along with Noida through Metro Blue Line. This would also be close to the upcoming International Convention Centre at Sector-25 and Gurgaon, the official said.

“Indian Railways is moving towards 360 degree development for freight transport and providing best in class passenger amenities with safe and reliable travel. The introduction of HSR is a work in progress . We are working towards achieving this goal by implementing Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor and exploring options for other high speed rail corridors,” said NHSRCL spokesperson Sushma Gaur.

A railway ministry official said the national transporter was getting “future ready” with HSR, dedicated freight corridors, modern stations, better passenger conveniences and amenities. “There is strict monitoring at the highest levels and the high speed rails and networks will soon be reality,” the official said.

54,176 trees cut at Mopa site, 500 replanted: Goa CM

Goa Chief minister Pramod Sawant, in a written reply to a question tabled by independent MLA Rohan Khaunte on Wednesday, said 54,176 trees have been cut at the Mopa airport site and 500 trees have been replanted.

Sawant also informed the House that 1,500 jobs are expected to be available once Mopa airport becomes operational. Construction of the airport is in progress and the first phase is expected to be commissioned next year.

In two separate orders in August 2018, the forest department had granted conditional NOCs for felling trees for the construction of the greenfield Mopa international airport.

One of the conditions was that the user agency shall replant ten times the number of tree saplings against the actual number of trees felled, with tall saplings of local or indigenous species within the project area and in the vicinity of Mopa in blank areas identified in consultation with the forest department, the chief minister stated in his reply.

To the question of recruitment by the project proponent, Sawant replied that 26 Goans have been recruited directly under GMR Goa International Airport Limited while 479 Goans are working at the airport construction site.

“Clause 5.9 of the concession agreement envisages obligations relating to employment of people of Goa and displaced families. More than 1,500 jobs are expected to be available once the airport becomes operational. The government has already approved setting up an aviation skill development centre at the airport site to impart training to Goan unemployed youth to be eligible for such jobs,” he said.


Bengaluru: BMRCL clears the decks for ORR Metro corridor

The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd has started the work of shifting the gas pipeline from Outer Ring Road (ORR), where the company plans to build an elevated Metro corridor. On Friday, workers were seen barricading a portion of the road near Kadubeesanahalli for shifting a large underground gas pipeline.

Ajay Seth, Managing Director, BMRCL confirmed that the GAIL pipeline was being shifted to make way for Metro’s Phase II-A and Phase II-B work. “This is a major pipeline. Shifting of the 250-metre-long pipeline is needed at two locations, one at Marathahalli and another at Veerannapalya,” he said.

Other than shifting the pipeline, BMRCL has cleared almost all hurdles that are coming in the way of Metro work. Sources said that around 20-25 structures have been demolished and the work of shifting electrical lines has been nearly completed.

The BMRCL has also identified about 400 trees which will be affected due to the project. While it plans to save over 100 trees, the remaining ones might face the axe. Sources said the corporation has already applied for permission with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike authorities.

Simultaneously, the BMRCL is also awaiting approval from the Central government for the Phase II-A (Central Silk Board to KR Puram) and Phase II-B (KR Puram to Kempegowda International Airport) projects. The approval is a pre-requisite for the BMRCL to go ahead with the construction activities. Officials have already opened bids for the civil work for the Phase II-A project but the tenders have not been awarded yet.

Tenders have also been floated for the civil works pertaining to Phase II-B. Bids are scheduled for opening by end of January. Officials hope the approval will come in the first quarter of 2021-22.

Byappanahalli AC rly terminal to be ready in February

The country’s first centralised AC railway terminal is all set to come up in Bengaluru.

South Western Railway officials said Sir M Visvesvaraya Terminal Bengaluru (Byappanahalli Third Coaching Terminal) will be ready by the end of February. “At present, only a few spaces like retiring rooms at railway stations are air-conditioned, but this terminal will have centralised AC system. This will offer an airport-like experience for rail passengers,” said E Vijaya, chief public relations officer, SWR.

The Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation is planning centralised AC system in stations like Habibganj in Madhya Pradesh and Gandhinagar in Gujarat under the public-private partnership model.

The Byappanahalli terminal’s facade is designed on the lines of Bengaluru airport.

Currently, 164 pairs of express trains and 109 pairs of passenger trains are being operated from KSR Bengaluru City and Yeshwantpur terminals. The new terminal, which was sanctioned in 2015-16, is expected to help SWR operate more trains from Bengaluru. Work on the terminal, which was supposed to be completed in December 2018, missed several deadlines.

The Rs.314-crore station building of 4,200sqm will cater to a daily footfall of 50,000. The terminal has seven platforms apart from eight stabling lines and three pit lines. Every day, 50 trains can be operated from the terminal.

The terminal will have parking facilities for 250 cars, 900 two-wheelers, 50 autorickshaws, five BMTC buses and 20 cabs. “The terminal will have upper-class waiting hall, VIP lounge with digital real-time passenger information system and food court. The escalators and lifts will connect seven platforms to facilitate passenger movement. Foot over-bridge along with two subways will link all platforms,” said an official. A water recycling plant of 4 lakh litre capacity will be installed.

Delivered most planes to India in 2020: Airbus

India has seen among the fastest revival of domestic air travel globally, with only China ahead of it, after countries started allowing flights by following Covid protocol. Thanks to this, Airbus says it delivered the highest numbers of aircraft — 57 — to Indian carriers in pandemic 2020, the European aerospace major’s (India & south Asia) president and MD, Rémi Maillard, has said.

“Scheduled domestic flights here were suspended for two months from March 25 to May 25. Domestic air travel now back to 60% of pre-Covid level. No other region, except China, has seen that kind of swift recovery,” he said, while adding that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the industry which is “not yet out of the woods and is still bleeding cash.”

“A number of issues need to be taken care of (in India) like taxation and infrastructure. The pandemic will lead to people preferring to travel direct between India and rest of the world (something which was done largely by transiting via nearby mega hubs in the Gulf and southeast Asia). India has a huge domestic market that can re-configure the contours of international air travel to and from the country in favour of Indian carriers, if the required steps are taken in terms of taxation and infrastructure,” he said.

In pandemic 2020, Airbus had delivered 566 aircraft (wide plus narrow bodies) to 87 customers — 34% below its all time high of 863 in 2019.

India hits 2m vaccination landmark

India crossed a crucial milestone in its fight against Covid-19 on Monday with over 20 lakh beneficiaries vaccinated against SARSCoV2, even as daily new cases of infection as well as deaths were at their lowest in around eight months.

On Monday, 9,102 new cases were registered from across the country. Of this, Kerala and Maharashtra accounted for over 57% cases, with Kerala alone accounting for 37% of total cases.

Similarly, daily deaths on Monday dropped to 117, lowest in more than eight months. While five states — Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Utrar Pradesh and West Bengal — accounted for over 63% of the 117 fatalities, Maharashtra reported the highest 30 deaths, followed by Kerala and Chhattisgarh with 17 and 13 new deaths, respectively.

On Monday, 4,08,305 health workers were inoculated in 7,764 sessions across the country. However, only five states – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana — conducted vaccination sessions on Tuesday because of Republic Day celebrations. Only 5,615 beneficiaries received the jabs, of which Tamil Nadu alone vaccinated 4,926 beneficiaries.

Officials said declining cases of Covid are reassuring that India is on track and the vaccine hesitancy has also been addressed to a large extent with the massive awareness campaign launched by the health ministry last week.

“With a sustained, pro-active and calibrated strategy of the Centre based on ‘whole of government’ and ‘whole of society’ approach, the daily new cases have seen a consistent decline. This has ensured a steady fall in daily fatalities too, “ the ministry said.

Active cases per million population in India is also lowest in the world at 128. Germany (3,309), Russia (3,549), Brazil(4,431), Italy (8,138), UK (28,241) and US (29,547) have much higher cases per million population.

Indian economy to contract at slower pace: IMF

The Indian economy is estimated to post a narrower contraction of 8% in the current financial year but is projected to report double-digit expansion next year as well as in 2022-23, the International Monetary Fund said.

IMF, which released its update to the World Economic Outlook report, projected the Indian economy to grow by 11.5% in 2021-22 and 6.8% in 2022-23 as the economy gathers momentum after arrival of the vaccine and pick-up in economic activity. For the next two years, India is projected to be the fastest growing major economy, displacing China, which is estimated to grow by 8.1% and 5.6% in the next two years.

The IMF update forecast a narrower contraction for the Indian economy in 2020-21from the previous estimate of a decline of 10.3%. China is estimated to grow by 2.3% in the current fiscal year, the only major economy to post expansion. IMF’s estimate of contraction for 2020-21 is higher than the 7.7% decline estimated by the country’s statistics office and 7.5% fall projected by RBI.

The Indian economy was hit hard by the strictest lockdown in the world to stem spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is estimated to post the sharpest contraction since data began to be published in 1952.

Since lifting of the lockdown, the economy has posted a sharp recovery, propped up by pent-up and festival demand. After posting a record contraction of 23.9% in the June quarter, the economy scripted a recovery to post a narrower contraction in the September quarter. Various agencies estimate growth to return in the third and fourth quarters as several sectors of the economy touch pre-Covid levels.

IMF said although recent vaccine approvals have raised hopes of a turnaround in the pandemic later this year, renewed waves and new variants of the virus pose concerns for the outlook.

Rampage on R-Day

A tractor march meant to highlight farmers' demands dissolved into anarchy on the streets of the national capital on Tuesday, as hordes of rampaging protesters broke through barriers, fought with police, overturned vehicles and delivered a national insult --hoisting a religious flag from the rampart of Red Fort, a privilege reserved for India's tricolour.

Tens of thousands of protesters clashed with police in multiple places, leading to chaos in well known landmarks of Delhi and suburbs, amid waves of violence through the day, leaving the farmers' two-month peaceful movement in tatters.

In a Republic Day like no other, farmers atop tractors, on motorcycles and some on horses, broke barricades to enter the city at least two hours before they were supposed to start the tractor march at noon sanctioned by authorities. Steel and concrete barriers were broken and trailer trucks overturned as pitched battles broke out in parts of the city.

Eclipsing the traditional show of military might at Rajpath, the farmers' tractor parade that was supposed to be peaceful led to virtual anarchy on the streets and unprecedented scenes – the most perhaps being the sight of protesters clambering up the flagpole at the Red Fort, the centrepiece of India's Independence Day celebrations, to hoist the ‘Nishaan Sahib', the Sikh religious flag.

Farmer leaders, who have been spearheading the protest at the national capital's border points to demand a repeal of the farm laws, distanced themselves from the protests that had taken such an unseemly turn.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 41 farmer unions, alleged that some 'antisocial elements' infiltrated their otherwise peaceful movement.

The union also condemned and regretted the "undesirable" and "unacceptable" events as the parade turned violent after several groups of farmers deviated from the pre-decided route for the march.

"We have always held that peace is our biggest strength, and that any violation would hurt the movement … "We dissociate ourselves from all such elements that have violated our discipline. We appeal strongly to everyone to stick to the route and norms of the parade, and not indulge in any violent action or anything that taints national symbols and dignity. We appeal to everyone to desist from any such acts,” it added. "We are trying to get a full picture of all the events with regard to the several parades that were planned today and will share a full statement soon. Our information is that apart from some regrettable violations, the parades are underway peacefully as per plan," it said in a statement.

As the sun set, sporadic incidents of violence continued and restless crowds roamed the streets in many places. Some groups of farmers began the journey to their respective sit-in sites at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur, but thousands stayed on.

Union Minister of Tourism and Culture Prahlad Patel condemned the actions of a section of farmers who entered the Red Fort as part of their tractor rally and said it violated the symbol of dignity of India's democracy.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said violence is not the solution to any problem.

Taking up cudgels on behalf of the farmers, the CPI(M) lashed out at the Centre over the treatment meted out to protesting farmers during their tractor rally, and said tear gassing and lathicharging them is "unacceptable".

R-Day parade: Bangladesh contingent, Rafale, Ladakh tableau

A 122-member Bangladesh contingent, two IAF women pilots, newly acquired multi-role fighter aircraft Rafales, troops deployed in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and a tableau of newly constituted UT of Ladakh were among the novelties at the 72nd Republic Day parade on Rajpath on Tuesday.

However, for the first time in over five decades, the parade had no foreign dignitary as chief guest as British PM Boris Johnson cancelled his visit due to the Covid situation in his country. Also, there was no participation of military veterans and motorcycle-borne daredevils who used to be one of the parade’s main attractions in past years. Due to Covid restrictions, even the route of the marching contingents was curtailed till National Stadium instead of Red Fort. Even the size of the marching contingents was reduced from regular 144 to 96 so as to keep social distancing among personnel while masks was made mandatory for them.

Despite Covid restrictions, enthusiasm among the spectators was not missing. The armed forces showcased their latest weaponry like T-90 tanks, Brahmos missile system, Pinaka multiple launch rocket system, bridge -laying T-72 tank, integrated communication electronic warfare system and one upgraded Schilka weapon system. Some of these systems are currently deployed in Ladakh to prevent any Chinese incursion.

Two Param Vir Chakra and one Ashok Chakra awardees participated in this parade, which was led by parade commander Lt Gen Vijay Kumar Mishra, general officer commanding Delhi Area, and his second-in-command Major General Alok Kacker, chief of staff, Delhi Area.

The 122-member Bangladesh military personnel marched in two groups— one marching contingent and a military band. The marching contingent comprised personnel from three services and was led by a flight lieutenant, navy lieutenant, one Major and 3 Lt Colonels. This was the third time India hosted a foreign contingent to participate in the parade after the French troops in 2016 and UAE personnel in 2017.

Seventeen marching contingents from the armed forces, paramilitary, Delhi Police, NSG, NCC and NSS along with 15 military bands participated in the parade. The Indian Army was represented by a mounted column of 61 Cavalry, seven mechanised columns and six marching contingents.

The 172 Madras contingent from the Andamans also participated in the parade for the first time. “For the first time, any contingent from the (A&N) islands is participating in such a big event on the mainland and therefore boys are very excited. Over 95% personnel are locals who are from different tribes. Our unit, which is part of Madras Regiment, was raised for the sons of the soil and its objective is to create a robust intelligence in the area.” The contingent comprised 96 personnel, 2 JCOs and one officer, said Major Verma.

The Indian Navy’s tableau showcased models of Indian naval ship Vikrant and naval operations that were conducted during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. The DRDO showed two tableaux, one showcasing Tejas' successful take-off from aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, and another displaying full complement of the anti-tank guided missile systems.

A total of 28 tableaux from different states and departments rolled down Rajpath. Among them was the tableau of Ladakh that made its debut in the parade, depicting the iconic Thikse Monastery.

The centre of attraction of the 90-minute parade was IAF's display of the country’s air prowess. A total of 42 aircraft flew in different formations but all eyes were on the Rafale fighter when it performed a “vertical charlie” at the end of the flypast.


India bans TikTok, 58 other Chinese apps permanently

In a sweeping move that may lead to legal challenges and further acrimony between India and China in digital space, the government has permanently banned 59 Chinese apps. These are believed to include top apps such as ByteDance’s TikTok, Baidu, We Chat, Alibaba’s UC Browser, shopping app Club Factory, Mi Video Call, and BIGO Live.

All the permanently banned apps had already been censured as part of the Centre’s unprecedented action against 267 apps (in various batches) since June-end last year.

The Centre had originally initiated action against these apps under Section 69A of the IT Act, accusing them of engaging in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.

IT ministry not satisfied with cos’ response to govt’s queries

The permanent ban comes in after officials in the IT ministry expressed dissatisfaction with the response of the companies to various queries raised by the government, including their data collection and data processing methods as well as those around data security and privacy.

Others believed to have been permanently banned include SHAREit, Likee, Weibo, and Xiaomi's Mi Community.

The government had started to squeeze the influence and sway of Chinese apps in India in view of the growing tensions (including on the border) between the two countries, especially as they were accused of misusing the data of Indian citizens and businesses, surveillance and engaging in anti-India activities.

Those ordered blocked in the previous rounds had been served notice by the IT ministry, and were asked to provide details with regard to their operations in India, their subscribers, their data collection and information processing practices, among other things.

The long list of questions also sought details about “unauthorised data access” by the Chinese companies to having weak security features leading to espionage/ surveillance through unauthorised data access Official sources said that the companies were served notice around the permanent ban last week on an individual basis.

FDI inflows into India jump by 13% to $57bn in 2020

India witnessed a 13% rise in foreign direct investment to $57 billion in 2020 compared to the previous year. The domestic figure was boosted by investments in the digital economy, while China overtook the US as the largest recipient of FDI globally, according to an UNCTAD report.

India and China were the only two countries which saw FDI rising in 2020, while the rest of the world, including developed economies such as the UK and the US, saw sharp declines. This was revealed by the UNCTAD’s investment trends monitor’s findings.

India’s FDI inflows were propped up by acquisitions in the digital economy. The report said cross-border M&A sales grew 83% to $27 billion, a notable deal being the acquisition of nearly 10% of Jio Platforms by Jaadhu — owned by Facebook — for $5.7 billion. It also said that infrastructure and energy propped up M&A deal values in the country.

The Indian economy is staging a sharp recovery after plunging to record levels due to the impact of the strictest lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the deadly Covid.

The report said China became the largest recipient of FDI, attracting an estimated $163 billion in inflows, followed by the US with $134 billion. It said that in relative terms, flows declined most strongly in the UK, Italy, Russia, Germany, Brazil and the US. FDI inflows to China increased by 4% compared to the previous year.

The pandemic triggered havoc across global economies and the report said global FDI collapsed in 2020, falling by 42% to an estimated $859 billion from $1.5 trillion in 2019. It said that FDI finished 2020 more than 30% below the trough after the global financial crisis. Flows to developed countries fell drastically by 69% to values last seen 25 years ago.

FDI in Asean — an engine of FDI growth throughout the last decade — was down by 31%.

UNCTAD said global FDI flows will remain weak in 2021. “The uncharacteristic immediacy of the FDI reaction to the crisis caused by the pandemic was due to physical lockdowns and other mitigation measures making the implementation of ongoing projects more difficult but the effects of the recession will linger and an FDI recovery is not expected to start before 2022. Investor uncertainty related to further waves of the pandemic and to developments in the global policy environment for investment will also continue to affect FDI,” the report cautioned.

Indian and Chinese troops had ‘minor’ face-off at Naku La

Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in a "minor face-off" at Naku La area in North Sikkim on January 20 and it was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols, the Indian Army said on Monday.

The incident in Sikkim came amid the prolonged military standoff between the two sides in eastern Ladakh that erupted on May 5.

"It is clarified that there was a minor face-off at Naku La area of North Sikkim on January 20 and the same was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols. Media is requested to refrain from overplaying or exaggerating reports which are factually incorrect," the Army said in a brief statement.

People familiar with the developments along the Line of Actual Control in North Sikkim said the Chinese troops attempted to transgress into the Indian side of the frontier but were stopped by the Indian military personnel.

They also said a brawl had broken out between the troops of the two armies. Naku La was the same site where the Indian and Chinese troops had engaged in a fierce clash on May 9 last year following a violent face-off between the two sides in Pangong lake area that triggered the military standoff in eastern Ladakh.


Ayodhya mosque to be dedicated to 1857 fighter Ahmadullah Shah

The mosque in Ayodhya district which will be built on the land in lieu of Babri Masjid as mandated by the Supreme Court could be dedicated to Ahmadullah Shah, who had earned the epithet of ‘Awadh’s Lighthouse of Rebellion’ during the first war of independence against the British in 1857.

This was confirmed by Indo Islamic Cultural Foundation, the trust constituted by UP Sunni Waqf Board to build the mosque. “The trust is seriously contemplating on the proposal to dedicate the Ayodhya mosque project to the great freedom fighter Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah. We have received suggestions from different platforms and will officially make an announcement soon after deliberation,” Athar Hussain, secretary of IICF said.

Earlier, the trust had taken an in principle decision not to attach the name of any Mughal emperor with the mosque. IICF, which is entrusted with the task of building the mosque on five acres of land at Dhannipur village in the district, had reiterated at the launch of the mosque blueprint in December last year that the project will imbibe modernity, break away from the past and mirror the future in true spirit of Islam.

“While we have been deliberating on the name of the mosque for several months, the trust finally zeroed in on the name of Ahmadullah Shah, who was fondly called Moulvi Faizabadi,” said a source.

Ahmadullah Shah, believed to be born in 1787, was killed on June 5, 1858, after spearheading an armed rebellion against the English army. British officer George Bruce Malleson has particularly mentioned Shah’s valour and organisational capabilities in ‘History of Indian Mutiny’, a book written in six volumes on the 1857 revolt.

Shah had turned Ayodhya into a crucible of armed resistance against the British and triggered mutinies across the Awadh region. He turned Masjid Sarai in Faizabad’s Chowk area into his headquarters and held meetings with freedom fighters. He had liberated Faizabad and large parts of Awadh region.

Noted researcher and historian of Awadh, Ram Shankar Tripathi, said, “While being a practising Muslim, he was also the epitome of religious unity and Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb of Ayodhya. During the 1857 revolt, royals like Nana Sahib of Kanpur and Kunwar Singh of Arrah fought alongside Ahmadullah Shah. His 22nd Infantry Regiment was commanded by Subedar Ghamandi Singh and Subedar Umrao Singh in the famous Battle of Chinhat.”

Download PDFs of voter ID cards from today

On National Voters’ Day, the Election Commission will roll out the e-EPIC, a non-editable and secure PDF version of the electoral photo identity card that can be downloaded on the mobile phone or in a self-printable form on the computer.

The e-EPIC facility—to be launched by law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad—will eliminate the wait for delivery of the physical EPIC after it is approved. Now, immediately upon approval, EPIC will be downloadable. Electors can print the card, self-laminate it or store it digitally, as per their convenience. The e-EPIC shall be in addition to the plastic voter EPIC card being issued upon fresh registration.

The e-EPIC can be uploaded by the voter on digilocker and stored securely with other documents. All new electors registered during special summary revision 2021—those who applied during November-December 2020—and whose mobile number provided while applying is unique, will get an SMS and may download e-EPIC between January 25 and 31, 2021.

All other general electors will be able to download their e-EPIC, beginning February 1, in case they have a unique mobile number in the e-roll. Alternatively, they will have to undergo the KYC process before downloading the e-EPIC.

Ladakh standoff: Indian, Chinese armies hold 9th round of military talks

After a gap of 4over 2.5 months, the Indian and Chinese armies on Sunday held another round of Corps Commander-level talks with an aim to move forward on disengagement of troops from all friction points in eastern Ladakh.

The ninth round of high-level military talks began at around 10 am at Moldo border point on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.

The eighth and last round of military talks had taken place on November 6 during which both sides broadly discussed disengagement of troops from specific friction points.

The Indian delegation at talks is being led by Lt Gen PGK Menon, the Commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps.

India has all along been maintaining that the onus is on China to carry forward the process of disengagement and de-escalation at the friction points in the mountainous region.

The seventh round of Corps Commander-level talks had taken place on October 12 during which China was pressing for withdrawal of Indian troops from a number of strategic heights around the Southern bank of Pangong lake.

However, India insisted that the disengagement process has to start simultaneously at all the friction points.

Nearly 50,000 Indian Army troops are currently deployed in a high state of combat readiness in various mountainous locations in eastern Ladakh in sub-zero conditions as multiple rounds of talks between the two sides have not yielded concrete outcome to resolve the standoff. China has also deployed an equal number of troops, according to officials.

Last month, India and China held another round of diplomatic talks under the framework of Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs. However, no concrete outcome emerged from the talks.


Bihar unleashes storm with social media gag

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar faced taunts of “Hitler” after the administration issued an order to initiate proceedings against any individual or organisation making “objectionable, inappropriate or misleading” comments on social media against the state government, ministers or government officers.

The directive, which came through the police’s economic offences unit on Thursday, unleashed a political storm reminiscent of the one that had forced Kerala to backtrack on an amendment to the police act that would have made online criticism of the state government punishable under law.

RJD’s Tejashwi Prasad Yadav led the explosion of outrage over the move, calling it a violation of the right to free speech. “CM Nitish Kumar has forgotten that democracy started from Bihar and freedom of expression is a fundamental right. If the government, ministers or officials are indulging in corruption, why shouldn’t people raise it? Why is he scared of a democratic exercise? If anyone criticises the state government, its schemes or fault in their execution, what is wrong in it? Why is Nitish Kumar Ji scared so much?” he said, demanding that the order be revoked immediately.

Tejashwi, who alleged that Nitish was following in the footsteps of the Führer, went on to dare the CM to arrest him as he had accused the BJP-led government of protecting liquor smugglers.

On Thursday, the EOU’s additional director-general Nayyar Hasnain Khan had issued a circular to all departments, asking them to report “cybercrime” as defined in the order so that necessary legal action could be taken against such people or entities.

According to the circular, “continuous information” was arriving about some people and organisations making derogatory and misleading comments on social media against the government, ministers, MPs, MLAs and officers. “For such acts, it seems proper to take legal action...EOU is the nodal agency for cybercrime in the state,” it states.

Khan said that the communication had been misinterpreted as an attempt to curb freedom of speech. “Of late, misuse of social media has increased. It is being used with impunity to harm dignitaries and government officials by posting abusive or misleading contents which might even affect tranquillity and peace. Common people approach police but government authorities either ignore such incidents or don’t have knowledge that EOU handles such issues categorised as cybercrime,” he said.

The ADG claimed the circular was meant to merely make various departments aware of the need to approach EOU in the event of social media misuse.

CLP leader Ajit Sharma said, “This letter would not have been issued without the instruction of the CM. He wants to snatch the fundamental rights of the people.”

AIMIM state president and MLA Akhtarul Iman said any such step taken by a wing of the government was a threat and affront to democracy. “Anyone can criticise the government for its failure. But that does not mean action should be taken against them. Media of any kind, print, electronic or social media should have the freedom,” he said.

BJP state president Dr Sanjay Jaiswal said those writing “correct news or information” had nothing to worry about. “Why should anyone be afraid if one is not posting anything wrong?” he said.


RBI sees V-shaped recovery

Forecasting a V-shaped recovery, the Reserve Bank of India has said that if growth momentum continues and inflation stays benign, there would room for policy action to support growth. The observation was made in the central bank’s ‘State of the Economy’ report. It comes at a time when the central bank has started “normalising” the liquidity in the money markets by draining out the surplus it had pumped in to stave off an economic crisis in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

“Recent shifts in the macroeconomic landscape have brightened the outlook, with GDP in striking distance of attaining positive territory and inflation easing closer to the target. If these movements sustain, policy space could open up to further support the recovery,” the RBI said in the report.

Stating that the worst of the Covid crisis is now behind, the RBI — quoting William Shakespeare — wrote, “Recent high-frequency indicators suggest that the recovery is getting stronger in its traction and soon the winter of our discontent will be made glorious summer.”

The report stated that consumer confidence is expected to improve from January 2021, peak in July 2021 and continue till September ahead of the next festival season. “Going forward, two positive features are going to shape up the fiscal landscape in H2. First, the general government gross fiscal deficit to GDP ratio is likely to moderate to 10.4%. This development will be revenue-driven as the war effort of H2 bears fruit and receipts return to positive territory. Second, the quality of the fiscal deficit is also likely to be better in H2,” the report said.

The RBI also sees a revival in non-oil exports due to rise in shipments of drugs and pharmaceuticals, agricultural items and iron ore. “India is already manufacturing 60% of the vaccines sold globally. Furthermore, the production-linked incentive scheme introduced for bulk drugs and medical devices has received a positive response and is expected to support pharmaceutical and medical exports going forward,” RBI said.

Vaccine Diplomacy: Jabs reach Bangladesh, Nepal & Myanmar

As vaccines gifted by India reached Kathmandu and Dhaka on Thursday, it was the culmination of a series of steps by the government to keep the focus on the immediate neighbourhood as the world struggled with a pandemic.

On Friday, a consignment containing 1.5 million doses of Covishield vaccines will reach Yangon. On Thursday, one million doses of vaccines landed in Nepal and 2 million doses landed in Dhaka. Except for Sri Lanka and Afghanistan (which have not yet given regulatory clearances), India has supplied the first doses of vaccines to almost all its immediate neighbours. Interestingly, Pakistan gave emergency authorisation to the AstraZeneca vaccine last week, but it’s not yet clear where it would source the vaccine from.

Beyond the immediate neighbourhood, India is also looking to provide Covid-19 vaccine to important defence and security partners in the Indian Ocean with a consignment of 100,000 doses likely to reach Mauritius, and another 50,000 doses to Seychelles, on Friday. India has already donated Covishield vaccine to Sri Lanka and Maldives.


India’s daily power demand surges to record 186 GW

India’s power demand hit a record at 185.8 GW on Wednesday, rising 1.6% over the previous record of 182.9 GW on December 30 and marking a 9% increase over the highest single-day supply of 171 GW in January 2020.

According to power secretary S N Sahai, the demand peaked at 9.35am. Government officials said the surge in demand indicated a rebound in industrial and commercial activities in January after a 0.3% dip in factory output in December. The country’s factory output had shown a growth of 1.8% in November. Others said the prolonged cold spell across the northern region also contributed to the surge in demand.

In another indicator of rising consumption, the NTPC group, the country’s largest generation utility, recorded highest-ever generation in a day at 1,009 million units on January 18. The group achieved gross cumulative generation of 222.4 billion units in the April-December period of 2020, marking an increase of 3.8% over the previous corresponding period.

Karnataka tops Innovation Index

Karnataka has retained its top position among the major states, while Maharashtra has leapfrogged Tamil Nadu to occupy the second place in the second edition of the Innovation Index unveiled by government think tank NITI Aayog on Wednesday.

Telangana, Kerala, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab complete the top 10 states. Among UTs and northeast & hill states, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh occupy the top spots, respectively.

Among major states, the average innovation score is 25.4. Karnataka tops at 42.5, which is attributable to its strong number of venture capital deals, registered GIs (geographical indications) and ICT (information & communication technology) exports. Karnataka’s high FDI inflow has also enhanced the innovation capabilities of the state. Maharashtra follows second at 38, while Bihar finishes last at 14.5. The case for the southern states as the top performers has also become stronger as four of them occupy the top five spots within major states.

The northeast & hill states achieve an average innovation score of 17.9, with Himachal Pradesh as the best performer with a score of 25, followed by Manipur (22.8) and Sikkim (22.3), respectively. With 31.9% of its employment generated being knowledge-intensive, Himachal Pradesh benefits from a high number of knowledge workers, the report said.

The innovation score of UTs & city states averages at 26. Delhi, the best performer among all groups, tops the ranking. Chandigarh follows second with a score of 38.6, whereas Lakshadweep and J&K occupy the last two positions in the group, respectively. Having recorded the highest number of trademark and patent applications, along with the establishment of new startups and companies in the last fiscal, Delhi has managed to deliver superior results in the domain of knowledge output. Delhi’s performance is attributable to its conducive business environment, especially in terms of internet penetration, which is the highest in the country. Delhi has 202.7 internet subscribers per 100 population, according to the report.

The innovation index measures innovation through human capital, investment, knowledge workers, business environment, safety and legal environment, knowledge output and diffusion.

SC dismisses Aadhaar review plea in 4:1 verdict

A five-judge Supreme Court bench has, by a 4:1 majority, dismissed a petition seeking re-examination of its 2018 verdict by which the Aadhaar Act was declared valid and constitutional.

The review petitions were considered by a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, S Abdul Nazeer and B R Gavai on January 11 and the order was uploaded on the SC website on Wednesday. While Justices Khanwilkar, Bhushan, Nazeer and Gavai favoured dismissal of the plea, Chandrachud disagreed and said it should be kept pending till the validity of certification of Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill was settled by a larger bench.

Interestingly, it was Justice Chandrachud who had given a dissent verdict in 2018 by declaring the Aadhaar Act unconstitutional when the other four judges had upheld the law.

Justice Chandrachud, in his 12-page verdict, pointed out that the majority opinion in the Aadhaar case in relation to the question on whether the Aadhaar Act was a money bill has been doubted by a coordinate bench and the matter had been referred to a larger bench. “The correctness of Puttaswamy (Aadhaar case) on issues pertaining to, and arising from, the certification of a bill as a ‘money bill’ by the Speaker of the House of People has been doubted by a coordinate Constitution bench in the Rojer Mathew case. With the doubt expressed by another Constitution bench on the correctness of the very decision, which is the subject matter of these review petitions, it is a constitutional error to hold at this stage that no ground exists to review the judgment. The larger bench’s determination would have an undeniable impact on the validity of the reasons expressed in Puttaswamy on the constitutional issues pertaining to and arising out of the certification by the Speaker of the House of People,” Justice Chandrachud said.

He added, “If these review petitions are to be dismissed and the larger bench reference in Rojer Mathew were to disagree with the analysis of the majority opinion in Puttaswamy, it would have serious consequences—not just for judicial discipline, but also for the ends of justice. As such, the present batch of review petitions should be kept pending until the larger bench decides the questions referred to it in Rojer Mathew... I conclude that the constitutional principles of consistency and the rule of law would require that a decision on the review petitions should await the reference to the larger bench.”

The majority of four judges, however, said no case was made out to review the verdict. “We hasten to add that change in the law or subsequent decision/judgment of a coordinate or larger bench by itself cannot be regarded as a ground for review. The review petitions are accordingly dismissed,” they said.

Justice Chandrachud disagreed with others and said the review plea should be kept pending till the validity of certification of Aadhaar Bill as Money Bill is settled. In 2018, too, he had given a dissent verdict by declaring Aadhaar Act unconstitutional.


India, France, Japan to set new trilateral group

India, France and Japan are setting the pace for a new trilateral grouping to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Kicking off a workshop on maritime security and digital connectivity in the Indo-Pacific, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said, “India, France and Japan are leading stakeholders in the region and with other like-minded countries, it is upon us to ensure that the Indo-Pacific remains peaceful and open, taking into account needs and concerns of all its inhabitants.”

Speaking at the workshop organised by think tank ORF, French ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said, “We are building piece by piece a strategic triangle between Paris, Tokyo and Delhi committed to a rules-based Indo-Pacific order. We should now explore synergies among us.” Japan was represented by its ambassador Satoshi Suzuki, who said, “India is the indispensable partner in Japan’s endeavor to achieve our vision. A free and open Indo-Pacific is a natural shared goal for the two Asian maritime powers: Japan in the Pacific and India in the Indian Ocean.”

Shringla said the Indo-Pacific, for India, is the “vast maritime space stretching from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa.” He added that India was a net security provider in the region, as in peacekeeping and anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden. Describing the trilateral’s strategy as cooperative, Lenain said, “We have seen a rapid change in the balance of power, including unilateral policies by some countries.”

Maharashtra: Soon, ₹10,000 fine likely for drunk driving, ₹5,000 for no licence

Motorists may soon have to cough up hefty penalties in the range of Rs.1,000 to Rs.10,000 and even face jail time for violations like driving without a licence or in an inebriated state.

State transport minister Anil Parab on Monday said that the government is likely to soon announce “increased fines” as per the Central Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2019.

The state will also procure 75 interceptor vehicles with speed guns that will be used by the RTO or police flying squads to nab speedsters in the act, he added.

“We also plan to stop new permits for taxis and autorickshaws in the state. Also a decision will soon be taken on fare hikes for autos and taxis in Mumbai region,” the minister said, adding that he has already corresponded with the Centre on the proposed amended penalties. “We have agreed to most of them; I will be travelling to Delhi to discuss some of the proposed penalties that may inconvenience the common man,” Parab said.

Sources said that those under discussion were Rs.1,000 fine for not wearing a helmet or seat belt.

Parab emphasised that hefty penalties related to serious violations like speeding and drunk driving (see graphic) were justified and may be implemented soon. The state government will take a call after his return from Delhi and notify the revised penalties, sources said.

The state government had put on hold the implementation of the Central Motor Vehicle Amendment Act for more than a year and did not notify the new fines in Maharashtra.

The amended Act has increased the penalty for drunken driving to up to six months in jail and/or fine up to Rs.10,000 for first-time offenders, and up to two years in jail and/or fine of Rs.15,000 for repeat offenders.

Penalty for speeding has been hiked to up to Rs.2,000 for light motor vehicles and Rs.2,000-Rs.4,000 for goods vehicles and impounding of driving licence for second/subsequent offence. Those driving without licence can face up to six months in jail and/ or fine up to Rs.10,000.

The amended Act also imposes fine on agents acting without proper authority from the RTO.

The state government will also set up 50 driver-training institutes in rural areas, Parab said. “The transport department will also make medical tests compulsory for commercial drivers. We are also setting up computerised driving-test tracks at RTOs across the state and automated fitness testing centres for commercial vehicles,” the minister said.

Mumbai: Metro 2A & 7 to roll out services starting May

The first indigenously built rake to be deployed for Metro 2A (Dahisar to DN Nagar) and Metro 7 (Dahisar-Andheri via Western Express Highway) will leave from Bharat Earth Movers Ltd facility in Bengaluru on January 22 as Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority plans to commence services from May. The rake is expected to arrive at Charkop Metro car shed by January 27.

State urban development minister Eknath Shinde on Tuesday visited the BEML facility in Bengaluru and inspected the Metro train and its manufacturing process. “After seven years, Mumbai is ready to welcome the new Metro and Mumbaikars are curious about its ‘first look’. This train will undergo various trials once it arrives. We plan to begin services from May 2021.”

Construction of Metro lines and stations, which are being carried out through MMRDA, is in the final stages. Trial runs will commence in the next two months.


Mumbai: Petrol rises to all-time high of ₹91.56

Petrol price in Mumbai hit an all-time high on Monday, with the city’s 11 lakh motorists and 23 lakh bikers bound to feel the pinch. Retail rate at over 200 city pumps rose to Rs.91.56 per litre—breaching the last highest of Rs.91.34 on October 4, 2018.

Diesel, too, set a new record with a hike of 27 paise taking the price from Rs.81.60 to Rs.81.87 a litre. The price of petrol in Parbhani district continues to be the highest in the country at a revised rate of Rs.93.97. Since March 2020, petrol price in Mumbai has increased by over Rs.16 a litre.

Transporters say this is the highest rate so far and an increase in cost of essential goods, fruits and vegetables is an inevitable fallout. “It is actually diesel cost that has hit our industry, which is on the brink of collapse, especially small transporters,” said a Chembur transport firm owner. As on date, 65% trucks are lying idle due to transportation costs—65% of which comprises fuel and 20% is toll.

India, France Rafale joint drill this week

India is going to deploy its new Rafale fighters against French Rafales for a joint exercise called “Desert Knight” at Jodhpur this week, in the first such high-voltage combat manoeuvers for the omni-role jets since they were inducted by the IAF last year.

The Rafales will also make their debut at the Republic Day parade this year. Two of the 4.5-generation fighters will be among the 15 fighters, five transport aircraft, 21 helicopters and a vintage Dakota that will take part in the flypast on January 26. The showstopper will be a Rafale that will undertake the “Vertical Charlie” manoeuver by tearing into the sky directly over the Rajpath.

Till now, IAF has inducted eight of the 36 Rafales, which are also capable of delivering nuclear weapons, under the Rs.59,000 crore deal inked with France in 2016. Another three are slated to touch down in India by the end of this month. All 36 will be delivered by end-2022.

The aim of the Desert Knight exercise, in which India and France will deploy fighters, transport planes and mid-air refueling aircraft from January 20 to 24, “is to provide operational exposure and share best practices towards enhancing combat capabilities”, officials said on Monday.

Total Acquires 20% in Adani Green Energy

French energy company Total SE has invested $2.5 billion (₹18,314 crore) for 20% in Adani Green Energy and 50% in a joint venture with it. The companies on Monday said Total picked up stake in AGEL by buying shares held by the Gautam Adani-led promoter group.

In February last year, Total committed to invest $500 million in 2.35-gigawatt of operating AGEL solar assets to form the joint venture. “We have a shared vision of developing renewable power at affordable prices to enable sustainable energy transformation in India,” said Adani, chairman, Adani Group, in a release. “We look forward to working together towards delivering India’s vision for 450 GW renewable energy by 2030.”

Total has invested in other Adani Group entities as well. It owns a 37.4% stake in Adani Gas and 50% of the Dhamra LNG project.

“Our entry into AGEL is a major milestone in our strategy in the renewable energy business in India, put in place by both parties, which began with our first joint venture — 2.3 GW of renewable capacity,” said Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné. “Given the size of the market, India is the right place to put into action our energy transition strategy based on two pillars — renewables and natural gas.”

Adani has set a target to make his group world’s largest solar power company by 2025, and the biggest renewable energy firm by 2030.


Record 76 km of highways built per day last week

The pace of highway construction clocked a record 76 km per day during the last week commencing January 8, the road transport and highways ministry said on Sunday. The ministry also recorded the highest 534 km NH being built or widened during the week. Highway construction usually peaks during these months because of conducive weather.

As per an official statement, the cumulative construction of NHs was 8,169 km between April 2020 and 15 January 2021. During the same period in the previous financial year, 7,573 km NH was constructed, with a speed of 26.11 km per day.

“The ministry is hopeful that with such pace it should be able to cross the construction target of 11,000 km by 31 March,” it said.

The overall award of projects was increased by more than 200% during the current financial year, While 7,597 km during April 2020 to 15 January 2021 has been awarded, in 2019-20, projects of 3,474 km were awarded during the same period.

The ministry said the achievement assumes much significance given the fact that the first two months of the current fiscal were lost due to a nationwide lockdown in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.


PM Modi launches ₹1,000 cr seed fund for start-ups

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a Rs.1,000 crore seed fund for the start-up sector assuring there would be no shortage of funds for the sector and said the Centre will help them raise equity through guarantees.

“This will help in starting and growing new start-ups. Fund of funds scheme is already helping start-ups raise equity capital. India is working for a start-up ecosystem based on the mantra ‘Of the Youth, By the Youth, For the Youth’, We have to fix our goals for the next five years and these goals should be that our start-ups, our unicorns should emerge as global giants and lead in the futuristic technologies,” Modi told the virtual Start-Up India International Summit.

The PM also said future technologies and entrepreneurs should come together in Asia as it is also the century of Asia. He urged Asian countries to join hands, collaborate and take responsibility for leading this effort.

Modi said every state is supporting and incubating start-ups as per local possibilities and 80% of districts of the country are now part of the Start-Up India mission. Youth from all types of background are able to realise their potential in this ecosystem.

The PM said this helped change mindsets and attitudes. “From ‘Why don’t you do a job? Why a start-up?’ to ‘Job is alright, but why not create your own start-up!’. In 2014, only 4 Indian start-ups were in the ‘unicorn club’ now, more than 30 start-ups have crossed the $1 billion mark,” the PM said.