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BJP's Om Birla elected unopposed as Speaker of 17th Lok Sabha

BJP MP from Rajasthan Om Birla was on Wednesday unanimously elected the Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha.
Om Birla
Om Birla
BJP MP from Rajasthan Om Birla was on Wednesday unanimously elected the Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha.
 
Birla, 56, was elected after Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed his name on Day 3 of the Budget session.
 
All members of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as well the Congress and the Trinamool Congress supported the proposal to pick Birla as the Speaker.
 
Birla, a two-time MP from Kota and a three-time MLA, was personally escorted to the Speaker's chair by the Prime Minister after the formalities were over.
 
"It is a matter of pride that Om Birla has been elected the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Public service has been the focal point of the politics of Om Birla. He is a compassionate leader who will preside over the House," Modi said.
 
Modi told Parliament that Birla's "unanimous" election was a "matter of great pride".
 
"I personally remember working with Birlaji for a long time. He represents Kota, a place that is a mini India, a land associated with education and learning. He has been in public life for many years. He began as a student leader and has been serving the society since then without a break."
 
A total of 13 motions were moved in support of Birla.
 
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, named the Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, urged Birla that the House should abide by democratic practices.
 
"We believe in discussion, dissent and decision. And we expect our right to be respected. In parliamentary discussions, we must avoid the ordinance route because it is against democratic norms," the Congress leader said.
 
IANS
 

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Making India 5-trillion-dollar economy challenging but can be achieved: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday that the goal to make India a five-trillion-dollar economy is challenging but can be achieved and asked the states to recognise their core competence and work towards raising GDP targets.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairing the fifth meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog, in New Delhi on June 15, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairing the fifth meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog, in New Delhi on June 15, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday that the goal to make India a five-trillion-dollar economy is challenging but can be achieved and asked the states to recognise their core competence and work towards raising GDP targets.
 
In his opening remarks at the fifth meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog, the Prime Minister said that empowerment and ease of living have to be provided to each and every Indian.
 
"The goal to make India a five-trillion-dollar economy by 2024 is challenging but can surely be achieved. The states should recognise their core competence and work towards raising GDP targets right from the district level," he said.
 
He noted that the export sector was an important element in the progress of developing countries and said both the Centre and the states should work towards growth in exports, in order to raise per capita incomes.
 
"There is immense untapped export potential in several states, including the north eastern states. A thrust on export promotion at the state level will provide a boost to both income and employment," he said.
 
Describing Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana as illustrations of what the Centre and the states can accomplish together, the Prime Minister urged the states to focus on collective responsibility for achieving short-term and long-term goals.
 
"Empowerment and ease of living have to be provided to each and every Indian. Everyone at this platform has a common goal of achieving a New India by 2022," he said.
 
The meeting was attended by the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Ministers, Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and other delegates.
 
IANS
 

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Cyclone Vayu likely to cross Gujarat coast early Thursday morning

Cyclone Vayu over the Arabian Sea is very likely to intensify into a severe cyclonic storm and cross the Gujarat coast between Porbandar and Mahuva early in the morning of Thursday, June 13, the India Meteorological Department said on Tuesday.
(Image: IMD)
(Image: IMD)
Cyclone Vayu over the Arabian Sea is very likely to intensify into a severe cyclonic storm and cross the Gujarat coast between Porbandar and Mahuva early in the morning of Thursday, June 13, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said today.
 
A bulletin issued by IMD at 0410 hours today said the cyclonic storm over Eastcentral and adjoining Southeast Arabian Sea had moved north-northwestwards with a speed of about 11 kmph in the last six hours.
 
It lay centred at 0230 hrs IST of today near latitude 14.2°N and longitude 70.6°E, about 410 km north-northwest of Aminidivi (Lakshadweep), 600 km south-southwest of Mumbai (Maharashtra) and 740 km nearly south of Veraval (Gujarat). 
 
"It is very likely to intensify further into a Severe Cyclonic Storm during the next 24 hours. It is very likely to move nearly northward and cross Gujarat coast between Porbandar and Mahuva around Veraval & Diu region as a Severe Cyclonic Storm with wind speed 110-120 kmph gusting to 135 kmph during early morning of 13th June 2019," the bulletin said.
 
Under the influence of the system, widespread rainfall, with heavy falls at isolated places, was likely over Kerala, coastal Karnataka and Konkan & Goa in the next two or three days.
 
In Gujarat, the IMD forecast rainfall at isolated places today; fairly widespread rainfall with heavy falls at isolated places tomorrow; widespread rainfall with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places and extremely heavy falls at isolated places over Saurashtra and Kutch on June 13; and widespread rainfall with heavy to very heavy falls at isolated places on June 14.
 
In South Gujarat, there could be rainfall at isolated places today, fairly widespread rainfall with heavy to very heavy falls at isolated places tomorrow; fairly widespread with heavy falls at isolated places on June 13; and rainfall at a few places on June 14.
 
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The IMD said wind speed is very likely to increase gradually and become gale wind speed reaching 90-100 kmph, gusting to 115 kmph, over Eastcentral & adjoining Southeast Arabian Sea by today evening. It is very likely to be 40-50 kmph gusting to 60 kmph over Lakshadweep area, Kerala, Karnataka & south Maharashtra coasts.
 
Tomorrow, wind speed is very likely to increase further becoming gale wind speed reaching 110-120 kmph gusting to 135 kmph over eastcentral & adjoining northeast Arabian Sea by night. It is very likely to be 60-70 kmph gusting to 80 kmph over Gujarat coast from tomorrow morning and become gale wind speed reaching 110-120 kmph gusting to 135 kmph by 12th night. It is very likely to be 50-60 kmph gusting to 70 kmph over Maharashtra coast.
 
Wind speed is very likely to decrease and become 100-110 kmph gusting to 125 kmph over north Arabian Sea and Gujarat coast in morning hours of June 13 and decrease gradually thereafter. It is very likely to be 50-60 kmph gusting to 70 kmph over north Maharashtra coasts & northern parts of eastcentral Arabian Sea. 
 
The sea condition is very likely to be high to very high over eastcentral & adjoining southeast Arabian Sea today. It is very likely to become very high to phenomenal over eastcentral & adjoining northeast Arabian Sea & Gujarat coast from tomorrow evening and over north Arabian Sea on June 13.
 
"The sea condition is very likely to be rough over Lakshadweep area, along & off Kerala, Karnataka & south Maharashtra coasts today; rough to very rough along & off Maharashtra Coast on 12th; very rough to high along & off Gujarat, north Maharashtra coasts & northern parts of eastcentral Arabian Sea on 13th June.
 
Fishermen were advised not to venture into the sea in these areas and those out in deep sea were advised to return to the coast.
 
Storm surge of height of about 0.5 m above the astronomical tides was likely to inundate the low lying coastal areas of Porbandar, Junagadh, Gir Somnath and Amreli districts of Gujarat at the time of landfall, the bulletin said.
 
The IMD warned of possible major damage to thatched houses and huts in  Porbandar, Junagadh, Gir Somnath and Amreli districts, minor damage to power and communication lines, major damage to "Kutcha" and some damage to "Pucca roads", breaking of tree branches and uprooting of large avenue trees. 
 
Apart from total suspension of fishing operations, the bulletin said coastal hutment dwellers should be moved to safer places. People in affected areas should remain indoors, it added.
 
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Narendra Modi sworn in for second term as Prime Minister

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a second straight term in office at the head of a 58-member Council of Ministers at a ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Thursday evening.
President Ram Nath Kovind swearing in Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a second term in office at a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on May 30, 2019.
President Ram Nath Kovind swearing in Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a second term in office at a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on May 30, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a second straight term in office at the head of a 58-member Council of Ministers at a ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan here this evening.
 
Modi was administered the oaths of office and secrecy by President Ram Nath Kovind even as hundreds of supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cheered loudly.
 
Along with Modi, members of the new Council of Ministers were also sworn in, including Rajnath Singh and BJP President Amit Shah. 
 
Former Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is among the new Cabinet Ministers.
 
Apart from the Prime Minister, the Council has 34 Ministers of Cabinet rank, nine Ministers of State with independent charge and 24 Ministers of State.
 
Thousands of guests, including leaders of BIMSTEC member-countries, Kyrgyz Republic and Mauritius, were present on the occasion.
 
The invitees for the event included political leaders, including Congress President Rahul Gandhi, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chief Ministers of States, leading industrialists, film stars, sportsmen, top officials, foreign diplomats and other dignitaries.
 
The Cabinet Ministers sworn in today include Nitin Gadkari, D V Sadananda Gowda, Nirmala Sitharaman, Ram Vilas Paswan, Narendra Singh Tomar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank", Arjun Munda and Smriti Irani, who had defeated Congress President Rahul Gandhi in his family bastion of Amethi in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections.
 
Other Ministers with Cabinet rank are Harsh Vardhan, Prakash Javadekar, Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Pralhad Joshi, Mahendra Nath Pandey, Arvind Ganpat Sawant, Giriraj Singh and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
 
The Ministers of State with independent charge are Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Rao Inderjit Singh, Shripad Naik,  Jitendra Singh, Kiren Rijiju, Prahalad Singh Patel, Raj Kumar Singh, Hardeep Singh Puri and Mansukh L. Mandaviya.
 
The following are the Ministers of State: Faggan Singh Kulaste, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Arjun Ram Meghwal, General (Retd.) V. K. Singh,  Krishan Pal, Dadarao Danve, G. Kishan Reddy, Parshottam Rupala, Ramdas Athawale, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Babul Supriyo, Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, Sanjay Dhotre, Anurag Thakur, Suresh Angadi, Nityanand Rai, Rattan Lal Kataria, V. Muraleedharan, Renuka Singh Saruta, Som Parkash, Rameswar Teli, Pratap Chandra Sarangi, Kailash Choudhary and Debasree Chaudhuri.
 
The portfolios of the new Ministers are expected to be announced soon.
 
Those from the previous Modi government who do not figure in the new Council of Ministers include Arun Jaitley, who opted out for health reasons, Sushma Swaraj, Suresh Prabhu, Jayant Sinha, Maneka Gandhi,  Manoj Sinha, J P Nadda, Uma Bharti, Mahesh Sharma, Radha Mohan Singh, Ananth Kumar Hegde, Birender Singh, K J Alphons, Vijay Goel, Ram Kripal Yadav, Anant Geete, Anupriya Patel and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Swaraj has also been suffering from ill-health for a long time and she did not contest the Lok Sabha elections this time.
 
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President appoints Narendra Modi to second term as Prime Minister

President Ram Nath Kovind on Saturday appointed Narendra Modi to a second consecutive term as Prime Minister after the BJP leader led the National Democratic Alliance to a stunning victory in the Lok Sabha elections held in seven phases between April 11 and May 19.
President Ram Nath Kovind at a meeting with Narendra Modi, when he appointed him to a second term as Prime Minister of India, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on May 25, 2019.
President Ram Nath Kovind at a meeting with Narendra Modi, when he appointed him to a second term as Prime Minister of India, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on May 25, 2019.
President Ram Nath Kovind today appointed Narendra Modi to a second consecutive term as Prime Minister after the BJP leader led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to a stunning victory in the Lok Sabha elections held in seven phases between April 11 and May 19.
 
While doing so, the President exercised powers vested in him Article 75 (1) of the Constitution of India.
 
A press communique from Rashtrapati Bhavan said the President requested Modi to advise him about the names of others to be appointed members of the Union Council of Ministers; and indicate the date and time of the swearing-in-ceremony.
 
Modi was formally intimated about this when he called on the President at Rashtrapati Bhavan today in his capacity as leader of the BJP Parliamentary Party, which has majority support in the House of the People following the general election to the 17th Lok Sabha.
 
Earlier in the day, a delegation of the National Democratic Alliance led by Amit Shah, President, BJP, and comprising Prakash Singh Badal, Rajnath Singh, Nitish Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sushma Swaraj, Uddhav Thakeray, Nitin Gadkari, K. Palaniswami, Conrad Sangma and Neiphiu Rio, called on the President at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
 
"A letter stating that Shri Narendra Modi has been elected leader of the BJP Parliamentary Party was handed over to the President. Letters of support from NDA constituent parties were also handed over to the President," the communique added.
 
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Earlier in the day, Modi was elected the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the NDA parliamentary party at a function in Central Hall of Parliament.
 
"I am happy to announce that the BJP parliamentary party has unanimously elected Narendra Modi as its leader," BJP President Amit Shah announced.
 
Veteran Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader and former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal moved the resolution to elect Modi as the leader of the NDA parliamentary party. 
 
The resolution was supported by Janata Dal-United (JD-U) President and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and other leaders of the NDA.
 
"Modiji has been unanimously elected leader by the 353 NDA members. I thank all the newly elected members and congratulate Narendra Modi for his election," Shah said.
 
After being elected leader of the NDA, Modi touched the feet of BJP veterans L.K. Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi and Parkash Singh Badal and sought their blessings.
 
Chief Ministers of various NDA-ruled states were present, among others.
 
(With inputs from IANS)
 
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Congress Working Committee meets to discuss LS rout

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) met in New Delhi on Saturday to discuss the reasons for the party's abysmal performance across the country in the 2019 general elections.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other party leaders at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee in New Delhi on May 25, 2019.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other party leaders at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee in New Delhi on May 25, 2019.
The Congress Working Committee (CWC) met here on Saturday to discuss the reasons for the party's abysmal performance across the country in the 2019 general elections.
 
Foremost on the table is the challenge to keep the flock together in states like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, where efforts were on to destabilise the government.
 
The party is also likely to discuss the coming Assembly elections in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, a source said.
 
Out of the 23 CWC members, only four won in the just concluded elections -- party chief Rahul Gandhi, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Gaurav Gogoi and A. Chella Kumar.
 
The 12 other CWC members, who lost the polls, include heavyweights like Mallikarjun Kharge, former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Raghuveer Singh Meena, Jitin Prasada, Deepender Hooda, Sushmita Dev, K.H. Muniyappa and Arun Yadav.
 
Seven CWC members did not participate in the Lok Sabha elections this year.
 
The party has also called the Chief Ministers of five Congress-ruled states and Union Territories to the CWC. 
 
Heads have already started rolling after the party managed to win only 52 seats in the lower house, only eight more than 2014. Congress Uttar Pradesh in-charge Raj Babbar resigned from the post on Friday, along with campaign committee chief H. K. Patil, Odisha party chief Niranjan Patnaik and Amethi District Congress President Yogendra Misra.
 
In Uttar Pradesh, the party failed to even retain the Gandhi bastion of Amethi, where Rahul Gandhi lost to Union Minister and BJP candidate Smriti Irani by a margin of over 55,000 votes.
 
In Karnataka, the party won only one seat with senior party leader Mallikarjun Kharge losing by a huge margin.
 
According to sources, a few other senior leaders and party in-charges from states where the party drew a blank, are expected to offer to step down. The final call will be taken at the CWC, the party's highest decision-making body.
 
Congress won only 3 seats in three states -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh -- where it formed governments in December 2018.
 
"The chief ministers and party incharges from these three states will answer for the debacle and issues that needs to be prioritised in their respective states," the source added.
 
IANS
 

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BJP-led NDA appears set to sweep Lok Sabha polls for second term in power

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance appeared set to retain power for a second consecutive term as it surged ahead in 329 of the 542 Lok Sabha constituencies where elections were held between April 11 and May 19.
BJP workers burst fire crackers as they celebrate after the counting trends for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections show that the party appeared set to retain power at the Centre, in New Delhi, on May 23, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
BJP workers burst fire crackers as they celebrate after the counting trends for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections show that the party appeared set to retain power at the Centre, in New Delhi, on May 23, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) appeared set to retain power for a second consecutive term as it surged ahead in 329 of the 542 Lok Sabha constituencies where elections were held between April 11 and May 19.
 
Counting of votes in the elections began at 0800 hours and early trends indicated that the BJP was leading in 290 constituencies, while its main rival Congress was ahead in 50.
 
Among its allies, the Shiv Sena was leading in 19, the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) in 15, the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) in six, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in two, the Asom Gana Parishad in two, the AIADMK in one, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in one and the AJSU in one.
 
Among the Congress allies, the DMK was leading in 22 seats, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in five, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in three, the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) in two, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in one, the National Conference in one and the Kerala Congress (Mani) in one.
 
Among other parties, the Trinamool Congress was leading in 25 seats, the YSRCP in 24, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-Samajwadi Party (SP) combine in 20, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in 12,  the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1, the Naga People's Party in one, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in two, and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in two and the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen in one.
 
The BJP appeared to be doing well in most parts of the Hindi heartland, including in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as well as in states like Gujarat.
 
Congress President Rahul Gandhi was involved in a tight contest with Union Minister Smriti Irani of the BJP in Amethi in Uttar Pradesh but he was far ahead of his Left rival in Wayanad in Kerala. His mother and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi was ahead in Rae Bareli.
 
BJP leaders who were ahead included Union Ministers Rajnath Singh and Maneka Gandhi.
 
Votes are also being counted in the Legislative Assembly elections which were held in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim along with the Lok Sabha polls.
 
Polling for 542 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha was held in seven phases on April 11, April 18, April 23,  April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19. The poll in one constituency, Vellore in Tamil Nadu, has been rescinded by the Election Commission of India (ECI). Two seats in the House of the People are filled up by nomination from the Anglo-Indian community.
 
This time, the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips will be counted from five randomly chosen polling stations in each Assembly segment in each Lok Sabha constituency, after the counting of the votes polled in electronic voting machines (EVMs), and this is expected to delay the final results by a few hours, sources said.
 
More than 8000 candidates were in the fray for the 542 seats, while 67.11 percent of the 90.99 crore electors exercised their franchise -- the highest ever turnout in Indian elections.
 
The Opposition parties had urged the Election Commission to tally the VVPAT slips with the EVM count in the five randomly chosen polling stations in each assembly segment first before counting the votes polled in the EVMs.
 
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The Election Commission said on Wednesday it had deliberated on the issue in detail and found that the suggestion was neither possible nor feasible to accede to in the overall context and especially in view of a judgement of the Supreme Court on April 8 which directed that the random selection of VVPATs shall be subjected to the process of slip verification as per the guidelines of 16.6 of the EVM Manual in force.
 
The Commission assured the Opposition parties and all the electors of the country that the entire counting, especially guarding the strong rooms and counting centres, was already being done in an absolutely fair and transparent manner.
 
The Commission has also set up a 24-hour EVM Control Room at its headquarters here to monitor complaints relating to polled EVMs. Complaints related to storage issues at strongrooms, the security of strongrooms, permissions to candidates to post their agents at strongrooms, CCTV monitoring, movement of any EVMs and any complaints during counting related to EVMs can be registered at the Control Room. The Control Room contact number is 011-23052123.
 
Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has alerted the Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Police of all States about the possibility of violence during the counting of votes.
 
It has asked the States and UTs  to  maintain  law  and order and peace  and   public tranquility. States and UTs have been further asked to take adequate measures for the security of strongrooms and venues  of counting of votes. 
 
"This is in the wake of calls given and statements made  in various quarters for inciting violence and causing disruption on the day of counting of votes," an official press release said.
 
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Modi, Shah to hold dinner meet with NDA leaders

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah will hold a dinner meeting on Tuesday with leaders of the National Democratic Alliance.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah at a press conference in New Delhi on May 17, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah at a press conference in New Delhi on May 17, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah will hold a dinner meeting on Tuesday with leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
 
The meeting, which comes two days ahead of the counting of votes of the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, is likely to chalk out a strategy for the post poll scenario.
 
Senior BJP leaders are also likely to meet at the party headquarters prior to the dinner meeting.
 
Party sources said Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United President Nitish Kumar and Lok Janshakti Party President Ram Vilas Paswan will attend the meeting.
 
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal might give it a miss and are likely to send their representatives.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 

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62% polling for 59 seats in final phase of LS elections

More than 62 per cent of the voters turned out to exercise their franchise in 59 constituencies that went to the polls today in the seventh and final phase of polling in the crucial elections to choose 543 members of the new Lok Sabha.
Voters waiting in a queue outside a polling station in Madhya Pradesh, in the final phase of voting in the Lok Sabha elections, on May 19, 2019.
Voters waiting in a queue outside a polling station in Madhya Pradesh, in the final phase of voting in the Lok Sabha elections, on May 19, 2019.
More than 62 per cent of the voters turned out to exercise their franchise in 59 constituencies that went to the polls today in the seventh and final phase of polling in the crucial elections to choose 543 members of the new Lok Sabha.
 
The highest polling percentage, at 73.51%, was reported in West Bengal where stray incidents of violence marred voting in nine constituencies.
 
According to the Election Commission (EC) data at 8 p.m., Jharkhand registered 71.11 per cent voting, followed by Madhya Pradesh 70.33 per cent, Himachal Pradesh 68.46 per cent, Chandigarh 63.57 per cent, Punjab 61.81 per cent, Uttar Pradesh 57.30 per cent and Bihar 53.36 per cent.
 
Voting began at 7 am and ended at 6 pm in all 59 constituencies.
 
The 59 seats that went to the polls on Sunday were spread across seven states and a Union Territory. They had a total of 10.01 crore voters, who decided the fate of 918 candidates in the fray.
 
Prominent candidates in this phase included Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a second term from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Union Ministers - Manoj Sinha, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri. 
 
Others in the fray included actors-turned-politicians Shatrughan Sinha, Sunny Deol, Kirron Kher and Ravi Kishan as well as other leaders such as Sukhbir Badal of the SAD, Meira Kumar of the Congress and Shibu Soren of the JMM.
 
The ECI had set up more than 1.12 lakh polling stations and made elaborate security and other arrangements to ensure the smooth conduct of polls.
 
The first six phases of polling were held on April 11, April 18, April 23,  April 29, May 6 and May 12, covering 483 of the 543 constituencies. The poll in one constituency, Vellore in Tamil Nadu, has been rescinded by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
 
The final phase of polling covered 13 seats in Uttar Pradesh; all 13 in Punjab; nine in West Bengal; eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh; all four constituencies in Himachal Pradesh; three in Jharkhand and the lone seat of Chandigarh.
 
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Counting of votes will be taken up on May 23 and most of the results are expected to be in by late that evening or the next day.
 
Two seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha are filled by nomination from the Anglo-Indian community.
 
In this phase, the BJP was defending 30 seats -- 11 of the 12 it won in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 (it later lost Gorakhpur in a bye-election), seven in Madhya Pradesh, all four in Himachal Pradesh, five in Bihar, one each in Punjab, Jharkhand and Chandigarh.
 
Allies Apna Dal won one in Uttar Pradesh and the Akali Dal four in Punjab, while then ally Rashtriya Lok Samta Party of Upendra Kushwaha had won two in Bihar. The Janata Dal-United, which is now an ally, won one seat in Bihar. 
 
The Congress had won five seats -- one in Madhya Pradesh and four in Punjab. 
 
Four seats were won by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab and two by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in Jharkhand. One seat is currently held by the Samajwadi Party.
 
In West Bengal, all nine seats were won by the Trinamool Congress.
 
Re-polling was also held today in several booths in parliamentary constitutencies in six states and in Assembly constituencies in two. These seats include Kerala's Kannur and Kasargod, Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri, Theni, Thiruvallur, Cuddalore and Erode, Haryana's Faridabad, Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh, West Bengal's Bankura, Andhra Pradesh's Chittoor parliamentary and Chandgiri Assembly constituencies and 34 Assembly segments in 10 Odisha districts.
 
Voting was also held in bye-elections to four Assembly seats in Tamil Nadu, two in Karnataka and the Panaji Assembly seat, which fell vacant after the death of Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. 
 
According to election officials, angry voters ransacked the polling booth in Nalanda in Bihar and held the Block Development Officer hostage. The officer was freed after police intervention. No voting took place at the booth. 
 
Glitches in electronic voting machines (EVMs) were also reported from the eight constituencies, leading to delay in the poll process in a few booths.
 
West Bengal reported a few incidents of sporadic violence and reports of EVM failures in several booths leading to either delay or stalling of the poll process.
 
Anupam Hazra, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from West Bengal's Jadavpur seat, and a party leader accompanying him were attacked and the latter's car damaged after the two visited a booth on receiving reports of rigging.
 
Hazra alleged that he was pushed and shoved and accused the TMC of rigging all 52 polling booths under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation ward number 109 in Jadavpur.
 
"The BJP Mandal President was hit and one of his tooth was broken. A CISF officer posted at the booth was also injured in the attack by the Trinamool," Hazra told the media.
 
The Trinamool, however, denied the allegations. 
 
Modi is re-contesting from Varanasi seat in Uttar Pradesh. Besides Modi, 25 other candidates are in fray from Varanasi. Modi's main challengers are Congress' Ajay Rai and SP-BSP's joint candidate Shalini Yadav.
 
(With inputs from IANS)
 
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SC extends term of mediation panel on Ayodhya dispute till August 15

The Supreme Court on Friday extended the term of the mediation committee on the Ayodhya dispute till August 15.
The Supreme Court on Friday extended the term of the mediation committee on the Ayodhya dispute till August 15.
 
The court said the members of the committee were not experiencing any difficulty in the mediation process. 
 
It observed that the Chairman of the committee, former Supreme Court judge F. M. I. Kalifulla, had indicated progress in mediation so far and sought extension of time to complete the task. 
 
The court refused to divulge the details on the mediation efforts. 
 
"We will not tell you the progress made, that is confidential," replied the court to a counsel's query regarding the mediation. The court observed that the mediation process can be also extended, if required. 
 
The court's observation came after a report was submitted on the mediation efforts. 
 
Senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for one of the Muslim litigants, told the court that they have no objection to the mediation process taking time. 
 
Iqbal Ansari, the son of Muslim litigant Hashim Ansari in the Ayodhya case, said: "This matter is very old and the issue cannot be resolved in two months."
 
Iqbal Ansari said that an eventual decision should be such that brings peace in the country
 
Swami Satyendra Das, the main priest at the Ram temple in Ayodhya, said the mediation team had submitted its report in the Supreme Court which will decide on the matter.
 
Das told IANS: "The meditation team has spoken to all the parties and come to a conclusion and given it to the court. Now the court will decide on the matter." 
 
The top court had on March 8 set up a three-member committee headed by Kalifulla to mediate to find a possible settlement of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Ayodhya title dispute.
 
The Kalifulla panel has Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Shriram Panchu as its other members.
 
The mediating is taking place at Faizabad, close to Ayodhya. 
 
While ordering mediation, a five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had said: "We have considered the nature of the dispute arising. Notwithstanding the lack of consensus between the parties in the matter we are of the view that an attempt should be made to settle the dispute by mediation."
 
The other judges on the bench are Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer.
 
While those representing the litigants for the temple had resisted the move, the Muslim litigants agreed to mediation as it was not at the expanse of the regular hearing on the batch of petition challenging the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment.
 
While ordering mediation, the court barred both the print and visual media from reporting on the mediation proceedings.
 
IANS
 

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SC rejects plea on Rahul Gandhi citizenship

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea on Congress President Rahul Gandhi's citizenship.
Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi
The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea on Congress President Rahul Gandhi's citizenship.
 
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna rejected the petition.
 
"Some company in some form has mentioned Rahul Gandhi as a British citizen, so does he become a British citizen? Dismissed," CJI Gogoi said.
 
The court was hearing the petition moved by two activists seeking direction to the Home Ministry to decide on the matter and it also sought the disqualification of Gandhi from contesting the Lok Sabha polls.
 
The Home Ministry issued a notice to Gandhi on April 29 to clarify his nationality within a fortnight after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Subramanian Swamy alleged that he was a British national.
 
Swamy in his representation to the Home Ministry alleged that Gandhi served as one of the Directors and Secretary of the British firm Backops Ltd, which is registered in the UK since 2003, with address 51 Southgate Street, Winchester, Hampshire.
 
IANS
 

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Extremely severe cyclone Fani to hit Odisha coast on Friday afternoon

The extremely severe cyclonic storm, Fani, over westcentral Bay of Bengal, was very likely to cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, around Puri, on Friday afternoon, the India Meteorological Department said on Thursday.
The extremely severe cyclonic storm, Fani, over westcentral Bay of Bengal, was very likely to cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, around Puri, tomorrow afternoon, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said here today.
 
The IMD has already issued a cyclone warning for the coastal areas of Odisha and West Bengal and Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram and Visakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh.
 
In a bulletin issued at 1230 hours today, the IMD said Fani had moved further north-northeastwards with a speed of about 16 kmph in the previous six hours and lay centred at 1130 hours IST near latitude 16.7°N and longitude 84.8°E, about 360 km south-southwest of Puri (Odisha), 190 km south-southeast of Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and 550 km south-southwest of Digha (West Bengal). 
 
"It is very likely to move north-northeastwards and cross Odisha Coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, around Puri by the afternoon of 3rd May with maximum sustained wind speed of 170-180 kmph gusting to 200 kmph," the bulletin said.
 
The cyclone is being tracked by Doppler Weather Radars Vishakhapatnam & Machilipatnam.
 
The bulletin said light to moderate rainfall would occur over most places in North Andhra Pradesh with isolated heavy to very heavy falls over Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts and isolated heavy to extremely heavy falls (>20 cm) over Srikakulam district today.
 
There could be heavy to very heavy rainfall at isolated places over Srikakulam district tomorrow, it said.
 
In  south coastal and adjoining interior Odisha, the IMD said there could be light to moderate rainfall at most places today, with heavy to very heavy rainfall and extremely heavy falls over Ganjam & Gajapati districts at isolated places.
 
"It is likely to increase with moderate rainfall at most places and heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places and extremely heavy falls at isolated places over coastal Odisha and adjoining districts of interior Odisha on 3rd. Light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at isolated places over Balasore, Mayurbhanj districts of north Odisha on 4th May," it said.
 
The bulletin also forecast light to light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places and extremely heavy falls at isolated places very likely over coastal and adjoining districts of West Bengal tomorrow; and heavy to very falls at isolated places over Gangetic West Bengal on May 4.
 
"Light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy falls at isolated places over sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim on 4th May," it said.
 
The bulletin said Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya would experience light to moderate rainfall at most places, with isolated heavy to very heavy falls on May 4 and 5. There could be isolated extremely heavy falls over Assam and Meghalaya on May 4.
 
There could also light to moderate rainfall at many places over Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura on May 4, with isolated heavy falls.
 
The bulletin said gale winds, with speed reaching 180-190 kmph, gusting to 210 kmph, were very likely to prevail over westcentral Bay of Bengal around the system centre during the next 24 hours and decrease thereafter.
 
It said squally winds, with speed reaching 40-50 kmph, gusting to 60 kmph, were very likely to prevail along and off north Andhra Pradesh and Odisha Coasts and become gale wind, speed reaching 60-70 kmph gusting to 85 kmph, from tonight. It is very likely to become 170-180 kmph, gusting to 200 kmph, along and off south Odisha and adjoining north Andhra Pradesh (Srikakulam district) coasts; and 90-100 kmph gusting to 115 kmph along and off remaining districts of coastal Odisha and north Andhra Pradesh (Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram Districts) by tomorrow forenoon for the subsequent 12 hours and decrease thereafter.
 
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"Squally wind speed reaching 40-50 kmph gusting to 60 kmph is very likely along & off West Bengal coast from 2nd May evening. It is very likely become gale wind speed reaching 60-70 kmph gusting to 85 kmph from 3rd May afternoon and become 90-100 kmph gusting to 115 kmph from 4th May early morning for subsequent 12 hours and decrease thereafter," it said.
 
The sea condition will be phenomenal over westcentral Bay of Bengal, off north Andhra Pradesh coasts, till tomorrow and over northwest Bay of Bengal off Odisha and West Bengal till May 4.
 
Sea conditions are very likely to be very rough to high off north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, along and off south Andhra Pradesh coasts till May 3.
 
The bulletin warned that storm surge of 1.5 metre height above astronomical tide was very likely to inundate low-lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha at the time of landfall.
 
Fishermen were advised not to venture into deep sea areas and those out in deep sea in the above aeas were advised to return to the coasts.
 
The bulletin said the cyclone could cause extensive damage to kutcha houses and old pucca and badly managed pucca structures in Ganjam, Gajapati, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha.
 
It said there could be extensive uprooting of communication and  power poles. There could also be disruption of rail and road links and extensive damage to standing crops, plantations and orchards. Large boats and ships may get torn from their moorings.
 
The IMD suggested total suspension of fishing operations, extensive evacuation of people from coastal areas, and diversion or suspension of rail and road traffic. People in affected areas have been advised to remain indoors.
 
The cyclone could also cause damage, on a lesser scale, in Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Balasore districts of Odisha and east and west Medinipur, south and north 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hoogli, Kolkata districts of West Bengal and Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts of Andhra Pradesh, the bulletin added.
 
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Congress says will deliver on Nyay, jobs, farmers welfare, education and healthcare

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday released his party's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with five main themes -- Nyay, a minimum income guarantee scheme, jobs and an expanded MGNREGA, steps to address the farm crisis, education and healthcare.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, A K Antony and P Chidambaram unveiling the party's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in New Delhi on April 2, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, A K Antony and P Chidambaram unveiling the party's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in New Delhi on April 2, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Congress President Rahul Gandhi today released his party's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with five main themes -- Nyay, a minimum income guarantee scheme, jobs and an expanded MGNREGA, steps to address the farm crisis, education and healthcare.
 
The manifesto, titled "Congress will Deliver" in English and "Hum Nibhayenege" in Hindi,was unveiled by Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and senior Congress leaders A. K. Antony and P. Chidambaram at a function at the party's headquarters here this morning.
 
Gandhi told the gathering, including journalists, that he had urged Antony, Chidambaram and other leaders such as Rajeev Gowda, who had worked on the manifesto, that it must reflect the voice of the people across the country and not contain even one lie or false promise.
 
He said Manmohan Singh had assessed and vetted the manifesto and given his expertise to the drafting committee, while Sonia Gandhi had also provided her inputs.
 
Gandhi said that, under Nyay (Nyunatam Aay Yojana), the Congress, if voted to power at the Centre in the April-May elections, would guarantee a minimum income of Rs. 6,000 every month (Rs. 72,000 each year and Rs. 3,60,000 during the next five years) to the 20 percent poorest families in the country.
 
He said that the amounts, which will be directly transferred to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries, would create increased demand for goods and services, especially in the rural areas, and help kickstart the stalled economy.
 
Gandhi said the Congress, if voted to power, would fill up the 22 lakh vacancies in government jobs and also provide jobs to 10 lakh people through the gram panchayats across the country.
 
He also said that no permissions from government would be required for new businesses for three years, a move aimed at giving a boost to entrepreneurs.
 
He announced that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGA), which now guarantees 100 days of employment in a year for those who seek work in rural areas, would be expanded to guarantee 150 days of employment.
 
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Gandhi said the Congress, if it forms the next government, would introduce a separate "Kisan Budget" so that farmers would have a clear idea about the allocations made for various schemes aimed at their welfare.
 
He also said that non-repayment of loans by farmers would not be treated as criminal offences, as at presence, but only as civil offences. He said that while rich industrialists fled the country after defaulting on bank loans worth thousands of crores of rupees, poor farmers were jailed for defaulting on small loans.
 
Gandhi said the Congress would allocate 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for education in an effort to make quality education in institutions such as IITs, IIMs and other such institutions accessible to all.
 
In the area of healthcare, he said the Congress would upgrade and modernise government  hospitals and other institutions across the country to make the best medical facilities available to the poorest people.
 
He said the Congress did not have much faith in healthcare schemes based on private sector health insurance providers which, he said, was the case in the  Ayushman programme launched by the Narendra Modi government.
 
Gandhi also said that the Congress would accord the highest priority to national and internal security, stating that the party's record in this regard was known to all. He said the BJP-led NDA government was dividing the people and spreading hatred and pointed out that the consequences could be seen in Jammu and Kashmir.
 
"We will unite the people and bring the nation together," he said.
 
Responding to questions from the media, Gandhi said the lack of jobs and the farm crisis were the main issues in the coming elections and argued that all surveys and polls had pointed to this.
 
He said that people across the country felt the economy had stalled as a result of demonetisation and the hasty implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) and declared that his party would take steps to revive the economy.
 
Gandhi said the Nyay scheme, GST, corruption, the Rafale fighter jet deal, the "lies" of Prime Minister Modi and the BJP's "false promises were among the issues uppermost in people's minds across the country.
 
In reply to a question, he said MGNREGA had contributed in a major way to India's dramatic growth in the ten years of the Congress-led UPA government and had helped to kickstart the economy.
 
On Modi's attempts to keep the focus on issues such as nationalism, national security and so on, Gandhi said the Prime Minister was in a state of shock after the Congress unveiled Nyay and other such schemes and was now trying to hide behind "some issue or the other".
 
He said the truth was that there was a lack of enough jobs, farmers were committing suicide, the promised "Achhe Din" (good days) had not come and that the "Chowkidar" (watchman), as Modi describes himself, had "facilitated thefts".
 
"The  chowkidar can hide, but he cannot escape," he said.
 
To a question, Gandhi said the Congress, if voted to power, would reform the "Gabbar Singh Tax" and introduce a single tax at the lowest possible rate, instead of the multiple tax slabs at present, and simplify forms and all other compliance requirements.
 
Asked about the BJP's criticism that the Nyay and such other schemes were not doable, he said, "It is not doable for the BJP, but for the  Congress it is doable. Trust us, I don't make false promises."
 
Gandhi said the Congress would reach out to millions of people, especially those in the lower strata, with schemes like Nyay, MGNREGA and those in education, healthcare, employment and other such segments.
 
About his decision to contest from a second constituency, Wayanad in Kerala, apart from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, from where he has been elected for three consecutive terms, Gandhi said there was a "feeling in South India that they are not being carried by the current government and that there is hostility from Narendra Modi."
 
"There is a feeling that they are not included in decision-making in the country. We want to send a message to them that we are with you," he said.
 
To another question about a possible electoral alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, Gandhi said the Congress had tied up electoral alliances in many states and was open to such arrangements in general. "We are open to alliances," he said, without going into the specifics of Delhi.
 
Asked about Modi's attacks on the Congress on issues such as nationalism, Gandhi challenged the Prime Minister to have a one-to-one debate with him on national security, foreign policy, corruption or such issues.
 
He said Modi was running away from facing questions on such issues and that is why he had not addressed a single press conference. He wondered why Modi was scared of facing journalists. He said the media grilled him on all kinds of issues at every opportunity but was afraid of posing any question to the Prime Minister.
 
The Lok Sabha elections will be held in seven phases between April 11 and May 19.
 
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Extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani likely to cross Odisha coast on May 3

The extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani, over westcentral and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal is very likely to intensify further and cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, to the south of Puri, around May 3, the India Meteorological Department said.
 
The extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani, over westcentral and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal is very likely to intensify further and cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, to the south of Puri, around May 3, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
 
In a bulletin issued at 2230 hours today, the IMD issued a cyclone alert for the coastal areas of Odisha and West Bengal and the districts of Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram and Visakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh.
 
The bulletin said Fani, pronounced as Foni, had moved west-northwestwards with a speed of about 16 kmph in the previous six hours and lay centred at 2030 hrs IST of today near latitude 13.4°N and longitude 84.5°E, about 720 km southsouthwest of Puri (Odisha) and 490 km south-southeast of Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh). 
 
"It is very likely to intensify further and move northwestwards till 01st May noon and thereafter recurve north-northeastwards and cross Odisha Coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, to the south of Puri around 3rd May afternoon with maximum sustained wind of speed 175-185 kmph gusting to 205 kmph," it said.
 
The bulletin said light to moderate rainfall was very likely at many places over north coastal Andhra Pradesh (Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts) on May 2, with heavy to very heavy rainfall at isolated places.
 
Rainfall was likely at most places in the area on May 3, with heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places.
 
In Odisha, light to moderate rainfall was very likely at many places over south coastal Odisha on May 2, with heavy to very heavy rainfall at isolated places.
 
"It is likely to increase with rainfall at most places and heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places with extremely heavy falls (>20 cm) at isolated places over coastal Odisha and its adjoining districts of interior Odisha on 3rd and over north Odisha on 4th May," it said.
 
In West Bengal, light to moderate rainfall was very like at most places in  the coastal districts, with heavy falls at isolated places, on May 3 and  heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places with extremely heavy falls at isolated places over Gangetic West Bengal on May 4.
 
The bulletin said gale winds, with speed reaching 170-180 kmph, gusting to 200 kmph, were prevailing over westcentral and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal. 
 
"It is very likely to increase gradually becoming 180-190 kmph gusting to 210 kmph over westcentral and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal off north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and south Andhra Pradesh coast from 1st May evening onwards.
 
"Strong wind speed reaching 30-40 kmph gusting to 50 kmph very likely along and off Tamilnadu coast, Comorin area, Gulf of Mannar and Kerala during next 12 hours.
 
"Squally wind speed reaching 40-50 kmph gusting to 60 kmph is very likely to commence along and off north Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coasts from 2nd May and very likely to become gale wind speed reaching 60-70 kmph gusting to 85 kmph from 3rd May morning and become 175-185 kmph gusting 205 kmph over Odisha Coast and 90-100 kmph gusting to 115 kmph over adjoining districts of north Andhra Pradesh (Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts) by 3rd May evening," it said.
 
"Squally wind speed reaching 40-50 kmph gusting to 60 kmph is very likely along and off West Bengal coast on 2nd May. It would become gale wind speed reaching 60-70 kmph gusting to 85 kmph from 3rd May evening and become 90-100 kmph gusting to 115 kmph from 4th May morning," it said.
 
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The bulletin  said the sea condition is phenomenal over southwest Bay and adjoining southeast and westcentral Bay of Bengal, off north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and south Andhra Pradesh coasts. It is very likely to be phenomenal over westcentral Bay of Bengal during May 1-3 and over northwest Bay of Bengal during May 2-4.
 
The bulletin said sea conditions were very likely to be very rough to high along and off north Andhra Pradesh coasts during May 1-3 and high to phenomenal along and off Odisha and West Bengal coasts during May 2-4.
 
The bulletin said storm surge of about 1.5 metre height above astronomical tide was very likely to inundate low-lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha at the time of landfall.
 
Fishermen were advised not to venture into deep sea areas of southwest and adjoining southeast Bay of Bengal during the next 12 hours; southwest and adjoining westcentral Bay of Bengal, along and off Puducherry, north Tamil Nadu and south Andhra Pradesh coasts till May 1; westcentral Bay of Bengal, along and off north Andhra Pradesh coast during May 1-3.
 
Those, who are out in deep sea above areas are advised to return to the coasts.
 
The bulletin said the cyclone could cause extensive damage to kutcha houses and old pucca and badly managed pucca structures in Ganjam, Gajapati, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha.
 
It said there could be extensive uprooting of communication and  power poles. There could also be disruption of rail and road links and extensive damage to standing crops, plantations and orchards. Large boats and ships may get torn from their moorings.
 
The IMD suggested total suspension of fishing operations, extensive evacuation of people from coastal areas, and diversion or suspension of rail and road traffic. People in affected areas have been advised to remain indoors.
 
The cyclone could also cause damage, on a lesser scale, in Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Balasore districts of Odisha and east and west Medinipur, south and north 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hoogli, Kolkata districts of West Bengal and Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts of Andhra Pradesh, the bulletin added.
 

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Rahul promises Rs 72K minimum income to 25 crore poor

Congress President Rahul Gandhi said on Monday that nearly 25 crore poor people in the country will get financial assistance of Rs 72,000 per annum if the party is voted to power under the ambitious minimum income guarantee scheme which the party has named "Nyay".
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on March 25, 2019
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on March 25, 2019
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said on Monday that nearly 25 crore poor people in the country will get financial assistance of Rs 72,000 per annum if the party is voted to power under the ambitious minimum income guarantee scheme which the party has named "Nyay".
 
Announcing the details of the party's promised scheme at a media briefing here, Gandhi said the Congress will provide Rs 72,000 per annum to 20 per cent of the poorest families in the country. The scheme will benefit 5 crore families and 25 crore individuals directly, according to Gandhi. 
 
He said the scheme was "unprecedented in the world". "Nyay" (the minimum income scheme) will be the Congress' major poll promise ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and Gandhi termed it as "a final assault on poverty". 
 
He said the "minimum income line" is Rs 12,000 per annum and the scheme will benefit individuals earning less than that. 
 
"Congress guarantees that 20 per cent of the most poor families will be given Rs 72,000 crore every year. The amount will be transferred directly to the accounts of 20 per cent of the poorest families," Gandhi said at the beginning of his press conference. 
 
However, he subsequently clarified that the scheme will supplement the income of the poor if it is less than Rs 12,000 per month. 
 
"The minimum income line is Rs 12,000 per month. Whatever the difference -- say the income is Rs 6,000 -- we will top it up. Those who earn less than Rs 12,000, we will take their earnings to Rs 12,000," Gandhi said.
 
Gandhi said the scheme will be implemented in phases and there will be a pilot project. 
 
He said the scheme was "fiscally perfectly possible" and the entire calculations have been already done. The Congress also held detailed analysis with leading economists on the matter.
 
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"It is doable and we are going to do it," the Congress President said. 
 
Gandhi also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the PM-KISAN scheme launched last month, saying that it hardly provides any assistance to the farmers. 
 
"You are being misled. If Modi can provide money to the rich, the Congress can give it to the most poor. Our pockets are being cut daily," he said. 
 
"We have kept our promise of farm loan waiver in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh," he added.
 
Gandhi also referred to the MGNREGA, the rural employment guarantee scheme introduced by the UPA government, and said that it had taken 14 crore people out of poverty in its first phase.
 
"This is the second and final operation. We will bring 25 crore people out of poverty. This ground-breaking idea is the final assault on poverty," he said. 
 
Gandhi, who addressed the media after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), refused to take questions on other political issues.
 
Sources in the Congress said that party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was among the leaders who had suggested giving a Hindi name to the ambitious scheme to have better connect with the voters.
 
IANS
 

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Yeddyurappa paid Rs 1,800 crore to BJP leaders: Report

Former Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa made payouts of Rs 1,800 crore to senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, judges and lawyers, reported The Caravan on Friday.

File photo of B S Yeddyurappa (Photo: IANS)
File photo of B S Yeddyurappa (Photo: IANS)
Former Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa made payouts of Rs 1,800 crore to senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, judges and lawyers, reported The Caravan on Friday.
 
The report said the news magazine accessed copies of diary entries in the handwriting of Yeddyurappa that note payoffs amounting to over Rs 1,800 crore to the BJP leaders such as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, the BJP stalwart L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, among others. 
 
"The copies of the diary pages note that Yeddyurappa paid the BJP Central Committee Rs 1,000 crore; that he paid the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari Rs 150 crore each; that he gave the Home Minister Rajnath Singh Rs 100 crore; and that he paid the BJP stalwart LK Advani and the senior party leader Murli Manohar Joshi Rs 50 crore each," reads the report.
 
"Besides this, the entry notes, Yeddyurappa paid Rs 10 crore for 'Gadkari's son's marriage'. The diary entries also state that Yeddyurappa paid Rs 250 crore to 'judges'; and Rs 50 crore to 'advocates (fee paid for cases)', but does not mention any names."
 
The alleged payouts were recorded by Yeddyurappa in a Karnataka state assembly legislator's 2009 diary, in Kannada, in his own hand, the report said.
 
Copies of these entries have been with the Income Tax Department since 2017. 
 
The entries regarding payments to the BJP leaders, judges and advocates were written against rows dated January 17, 2009, while the entry regarding the BJP central committee was written against rows dated January 18, 2009, said the report, adding it was unclear whether the entries were made on these dates or written in the diary on a later date.
 
Yeddyurappa served as the Chief Minister in Karnataka from May 2008 to July 2011. 
 
IANS
 

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Modi to fight from Varanasi again, Shah from Gandhinagar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will fight to retain his Varanasi seat while BJP President Amit Shah will contest his first Lok Sabha polls from Gandhinagar in the 2019 polls, BJP leader J.P. Nadda announced on Thursday.
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will fight to retain his Varanasi seat while BJP President Amit Shah will contest his first Lok Sabha polls from Gandhinagar in the 2019 polls, BJP leader J.P. Nadda announced on Thursday.
 
Among the prominent leaders announced in BJP's first list, which had 182 names, were Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, who will contest again from Lucknow, Nitin Gadkari from Nagpur, Gen. V. K. Singh (retd) from Ghaziabad, Satyapal Singh (Baghpat), Sakshi Maharaj (Unnao) and Kiren Rijiju (Arunanchal East). All are sitting MPs.
 
Union Minister Smriti Irani will again contest against Congress President Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. 
 
Film actress-turned politician Hema Malini will again contest from her Mathura seat.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 

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Modi says focus on social and physical infrastructure to shape future of gen-next

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday the engine of growth for his government was running on two parallel tracks -- one providing social infrastructure to all and the other providing physical infrastructure for all and particularly for generation-next to shape their future as per their dreams.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at The Economic Times Global Business Summit in New Delhi on February 24, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at The Economic Times Global Business Summit in New Delhi on February 24, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said the engine of growth for his government was running on two parallel tracks -- one providing social infrastructure to all particularly for those who were left out and the other providing physical infrastructure for all and particularly for generation-next to shape their future as per their dreams.
 
"What happened in the past is not in our hands, but what will happen in the future is firmly in our hands," he said in his inaugural address at The Economic Times Global Business Summit.
 
"We often lament at missing the industrial revolutions in the past, but today it is a matter of pride that India is an active contributor to the fourth Industrial Revolution. The extent and magnitude of our contribution will surprise the world.
 
"I am also confident that India may have missed the bus during the first three industrial revolutions, but this time, it is a bus India has not only boarded but will also drive. Innovation and Technology will form the bed-rock of this resurgence," he said.
 
Modi began by speaking about the challenges facing the country during the second half of 2013 and early 2015 on parameteres such as inflation, current account deficit and fiscal deficit which, according to him, were threatening the macro-economic stability of the country and indicating a gloomy future.
 
"The country was facing total policy paralysis. This was preventing the economy from reaching the level which it was worthy of; the global fraternity was worried about the health of this member of fragile five club. There was a perception of surrender to existing circumstances," he said.
 
"It was in this background that our government came to serve the people and today change is clearly visible," he said.
 
"After 2014, hesitations have been replaced by hope. Obstacles have been replaced by optimism. And issues have been replaced by initiatives.
 
"Since 2014, India has made significant improvements in almost all international rankings and indices. This not only shows how India is changing but also represents how the world’s perception about India is changing," he said.
 
He went on to speak about the improvement in India's rankings in the Ease of Doing Business and World Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index and the Global Innovation Index.
 
"The change is due to a new style of governance and is often visible in interesting ways.
 
"We are now witnessing various forms of competition. A competition between ministries, a competition between states, a competition on development, a competition on achieving targets.
 
"Today, there is a competition as to whether India will get 100% sanitation first or 100% electrification first. There is competition as to whether all habitations will be connected by road first or all homes will get gas connection first. There is competition as to which state will attract more investment. There is competition as to which states will build houses  for the poor fastest. There is competition as to which aspirational district will progress fastest.
 
"Before 2014 also, we heard of about a competition, although of a different kind. A competition between ministries, a competition between individuals, a competition on corruption, a competition on delays.
 
"There was competition on who can do maximum corruption, there was competition on who can do fastest corruption, there was competition on who can do most innovation in corruption.
 
"There was competition as to whether coal will get more money or spectrum. There was competition as to whether CWG would get more money or defence deals. We all saw that and we also know who were the main players involved in this competition. I will leave it to you to decide which form of competition you would prefer," he said.
 
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Modi said that, for decades, a narrative was made that certain thiiings were just impossible in India. "The progress our nation has achieved since 2014 gives me confidence that nothing is impossible for 130 crore Indians," he said.
 
He went on to list the government's achievements in areas such as sanitation, fighting corruption, use of technology and  removing discretion and arbitrariness in policy making.
 
"It was said that economic  reforms in India were impossible, but people of India are making it possible. It was said that governments cannot be pro-growth and pro-poor at the same time, but people of India are making it possible. I have also been told, that there is a perception or theory that a developing economy cannot grow at higher rate for a longer period, without facing the problem of inflation.
 
"Post liberalisation, that is after 1991, almost all governments formed in our country had to face this problem – what many experts call 'over-heating' of economy after a short period of growth. As a result of this we never had sustainable higher rate of growth. You may recall, that we had a government, between 1991 and 1996  where the average growth was about five percent, but the average inflation was more than ten percent.
 
"The government just before us between 2009 to 2014 had an average growth of about six and half percent with an average inflation again in double digit. During 2014 to 2019, the country would register average growth of seven point four percent and the average inflation would be less than four and half percent. Post liberalisation of Indian economy, this will be the highest rate of average growth and lowest rate of average inflation witnessed during the period of any government," he said. 
 
Modi said that, with these changes and reforms, transformation is happening in the way the economy has moved. He said not just domestic investors but also investors from all across the world were showing confidence in the Indian economy.
 
"In the last four years, the amount of Foreign Direct Investment received in the country was almost equal to what was received in seven years before 2014. 
 
"To achieve all this, India needed reforms to transform. And by having the Bankruptcy Code, GST, Real Estate Act to name a few, – a solid foundation for decades of higher growth has been laid," he said.
 
"Four years ago, who would have believed that rupees three lakh crore or about forty billion dollars would be returned by defaulting borrowers to financial and operational creditors. This is the impact of Bankruptcy and Insolvency Code. This  will help the country in allocating financial resources more efficiently," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said all these reforms were implemented without halting work for the well-being of the larger sections of society.
 
"India is a country of 130 crore aspirations and there can never be a singular vision for development and progress. Our vision of new India caters to all sections of the society, irrespective of their economic profile, their caste, creed, language and religion. We are working hard to create a New India which fulfils the aspirations and dreams of 130 crore Indians.
 
"Our vision of new India includes addressing the challenges of the future while also solving problems of the past," he said.
 
"So today, while India has made its fastest train, it has also eliminated all un-manned railway crossings. Today, while India is building IITs & AIIMS at a rapid pace, it has also built toilets in all schools across the country. Today, while India is building a 100 smart cities across the country, it is also ensuring rapid progress in over 100 aspirational districts.
 
"Today, while India has become a net exporter of electricity, it has also ensured that crores of households which were in darkness since independence have got electricity. Today, while India aims to land on Mars, it is also ensuring that every Indian has a roof over his head. Today, while India is the fastest growing world economy, it is also removing poverty at the fastest speed," he said.
 
"We are reaching out to twelve crore small and marginal farmers by providing them a comfort of rupees six thousand every year. This will transfer 7.5 lakh crore rupees or about one hundred billion dollars to our farmers over the next ten years.
 
"We are rolling out a pension scheme for crores of our informal sector workers. The outcomes of our focus on Digital India, Start-up India, Make In India and Innovate India are converging and reaping rich dividends," he said.
 
"You would be happy to know that today 44 percent of the startups registered in India are from tier 2 and tier3 cities. A network of hundreds of Atal Tinkering Labs is coming up across the country and helping foster an atmosphere of innovation. This will give a solid foundation for our students to help them become innovators of tomorrow.
 
"It is equally heartening to see how youth in villages are leveraging Wi-Fi and digital tools to help in clearing competitive exams. It is technology which is bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots in our country.
 
"With the support and partnership of the people, India has made rapid strides since 2014. This could not have been possible without Jan Bhagidaari. It is this experience that gives us confidence that our country can provide adequate opportunities to all its citizens, to grow, prosper and excel. 
 
"We look forward to making India a ten trillion dollar economy. We look forward to making India the third largest economy. We want to make an India of countless startups. We want to lead the global drive towards renewable sources of energy. We want to give our people energy security. We want to cut down on import dependence.
 
We want to make India a world leader in electric vehicles and energy storage devices. 
 
"With these goals in mind, let us re-dedicate ourselves to create a New India of our dreams," he added.
 
NNN
 

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Delhi Police file chargesheet against Kanhaiya Kumar, others in 2016 sedition case

The Delhi Police filed a chargesheet on Monday against former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar and others in a 2016 sedition case for allegedly raising anti-India slogans during an event on the campus.
Kanhaiya Kumar
Kanhaiya Kumar
The Delhi Police filed a chargesheet on Monday against former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar and others in a 2016 sedition case for allegedly raising anti-India slogans during an event on the campus.
 
The event was held on February 9, 2016 to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru, the mastermind of the December 13, 2001 terror attack on Parliament.
 
Others chargesheeted in the case include former JNU students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya and Kashmiri students Aquib Hussain, Mujeeb Hussain, Muneeb Hussain, Umar Gul, Rayeea Rassol, Bashir Bhat and Basharat.
 
Thirty-six others, including then JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid,  Aprajita, daughter of veteran Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D Raja, Rama Naga, Ashutosh Kumar and Banojyotsna Lahiri have been mentioned in column 12 of the chargesheet due to insufficient evidence against them.
 
The chargesheet was put up by Metropolitan Magistrate Sumit Anand for consideration before a competent court on Tuesday.
 
The accused have been charged with offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 124A (sedition), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 465 (forgery), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record), 149 (being a member of an unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
 
The police have also attached CCTV footage, mobile video footage and other documentary evidence.
 
According to the police, Kanhaiya Kumar had incited the mob to raise anti-India slogans.
 
The police had, on February 11, 2016, filed a case under Sections 124 A (sedition) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC against "unknown persons" at Vasant Kunj (North) police station here on the basis of complaints made by BJP MP Maheish Girri and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
 
Kanhaiya Kumar said the case was "politically motivated" and wondered why the chargesheet, which should have been filed within 90 days, was being filed now, just three months ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
 
He, however, welcomed the move, saying it would provide a chance for the truth to come out and hoped the trial would be conducted in an expeditious manner.
 
In a statement, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya took a dig at the Delhi Police, the Home Ministry and the Government for "waking up from their deep slumber three years after 9 February 2016 and barely three months before the general elections 2019 and filing a charge sheet against us."
 
"We are yet to see the chargesheet, but if what is being reported in the media is true, then we want to say categorically that we reject the charges and will contest them legally. In a way, it is good that the matter will finally move to the actual court room after almost three years of media trials. We are convinced about our innocence, and have full faith in the court," the statement said.
 
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Cabinet approves 10 per cent quota for economically backward upper castes

With an eye on the upper caste vote in the coming Lok Sabha elections, the Union Cabinet on Monday approved 10 per cent reservation for economically backward people in general category in jobs and educational institutions.
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
With an eye on the upper caste vote in the coming Lok Sabha elections, the Union Cabinet on Monday approved 10 per cent reservation for economically backward people in general category in jobs and educational institutions.
 
The Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took the decision to provide for 10 per cent quota for people belonging to "unreserved categories", including Christians and Muslims, in jobs and education with an annual income limit of Rs 8 lakh and land holding ceiling of about five acres, highly-placed sources said.
 
A Constitution amendment bill for the purpose is likely to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
 
The sources said the proposed move will not disturb the existing 50 per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
 
"The quota will include sections not falling under any provision of reservation such as Brahmins, Banias, Thakurs, Jats, Gujjars, Muslims and Christians," a source privy to the decision told IANS. 
 
He said that rules will be framed in due course to implement the Cabinet decision. 
 
The decision comes four months before the Lok Sabha polls and after the reverses suffered by BJP in the Assembly polls in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. 
 
The BJP was said to have faced the wrath of the upper castes, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, over the amendment brought by the Central government to nullify the Supreme Court judgement in the SC-ST Act last year.
 
Reacting to the decision, BJP MP Udit Raj said it was a "bold" decision. 
 
However, former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha said the proposal was "nothing more than a jumla" which bristles with legal complications and there was no time for getting it passed in both the Houses of Parliament.
 
IANS
 

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Rafale will bring Modi back to power: Nirmala Sitharaman

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday dismissed all allegations of corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal and said it was "far better on every count" on pricing, processes and other factors and hit back at the Congress saying that, while the Bofors deal was a scam, the Rafale deal would bring Narendra Modi back to power in the coming elections.
Rafale fighter jet: Photo: Dassault Aviation
Rafale fighter jet: Photo: Dassault Aviation
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday dismissed all allegations of corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal and said it was "far better on every count" on pricing, processes and other factors and hit back at the Congress saying while the Bofors deal was a scam, the Rafale deal would bring Narendra Modi back to power in the coming elections.
 
In a spirited two-and-half hour reply in the Lok Saba to a debate on the deal in which she gave as much as she received from the opposition, she said Congress dilly-dallied on the deal and did not conclude it for over 10 years, putting national security to jeopardy while the BJP government finalised the deal in 14 months.
 
The reply came on a day when Congress claimed "fresh revelations" that Modi increased the benchmark price from euro 5.2 billion to euro 8.2 billion, which Sitharaman rejected as false. 
 
Getting emotional over Congress President Rahul Gandhi's attack on her and the Prime Minister, she said he had called them liars. 
 
"I come from a middle-class family and have my honour intact and the Prime Minister comes from a poor background and has come up the hard way. Being 'naamdar' does not give the right to make baseless allegations. Family name does not give right to call anyone a 'chor' (thief). 
 
"It is not a prerogative of 'khaandan' (family) to protect themselves," she asked, referring to Gandhi's demand that he needed a chance to protect himself. My honour, PM's honour have been insulted. Have you apologised? Nobody has the right to call this. Who gives him the right to call us like that?" she said. 
 
"Bofors was a scam but Rafale is a decision taken in national interest. Congress lost its government due to Bofors. The Rafale deal will bring back Modi to have a new India, transforming India and to remove corruption" the minister said in a reply to a debate on the deal that was acrimonious and marked often by interruptions from the Opposition benches.
 
After the Defence Minister's reply, Gandhi said he did not accuse her of being involved in the deal. "I had only accused the Prime Minister of direct involvement in the Rafale deal." He also wanted to know a "'yes or no' to his question whether defence ministry had said that the PM should not be bypassing the defence establishment".
 
Attacking the Congress for its failure to clinch the deal, she said there was a difference between defence dealings and dealing in defence, in veiled jibe at the Opposition party, suggesting it was looking for kickbacks. 
 
"There was a reason that the previous UPA government did not do anything required for the deal between 2006 and 2014. They (UPA) were dealing for 18 flyaway aircrafts. Why there was no agreement? You did not even buy a single aircraft. They did not intend buying. There is a difference between defence dealings and dealing in defence. We deal in defence as national security with priority," she said.
 
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Targeting UPA's Defence Minister A. K. Antony, Sitharaman said he had stated in Februray, 2014 that there was "no money" to go ahead with the deal for buying Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) under which 18 were to be procured in a flyaway condition from Dassault Aviation and the rest 108 to be manufactured by public sector undertaking HAL under transfer of technology.
 
She said the commercial bid of MMRCA "non-deal" was opened in 2011 and Dassault Aviation, which manufactures Rafale, became L1 but Antony directed independent monitoring to examine how the lowest bidder emerged. 
 
She said the independent monitor cleared the process but they did not buy the aircraft even after that and an order was passed to re-examine the approach and methodology of the contract negotiating committee. 
 
"This is the kind of 'khilwad' (tampering). This was interference because somebody did not receive something from somewhere. The deal did not suit you. It did not give money. Their 'treasury security' was important not the national security," she said.
 
Sitharaman said the first Rafale fighter jet will be delivered in September this year and the last aircraft will be delivered by 2022.
 
"We did not run for 10 years like you and we did it in 14 months," she said.
 
Sitharaman also accused the Congress of shedding crocodile tears for HAL and accused the UPA for not doing anything to empower the public sector undertaking.
 
"Congress government gave 53 waivers to HAL while we have given contracts worth Rs 1 lakh crore," she said referring to parliamentary standing committee reports on HAL which had criticised the company for non-performence.
 
Responding to the opposition questions on why only 36 aircrafts was finalised and not 126 as was proposed by the UPA govenment, the Minister said that the government followed the traditions of buying two squadrons aS it was urgently required given the fragile security environment. 
 
"In emergency purchases, the IAF normally advises for two squadrons," she said adding that in 1982, 1985 and 1987 when defence deals were done with France and Russia, two squadrons each were purchased.
 
She said that the entire campaign on Rafale by the Congress has been based on falsehood and the grand old party was repeatedly lying and misleading the people.
 
"Even unparliamentary words were used against the Prime Minister. Lies were spoken about foreign heads of governments," she said apparently referring to the jibe at the Prime Minister by Congress President Rahul Gandhi that "Chowkidar chor hai".
 
She said India wants peace but that cannot be at the cost of operational preparedness of the armed forces. She said India's western and northern borders were highly sensitive and it was important to purchase the ammunition and platforms required. 
 
She said between 2004 and 2015, China added 400 aircraft, including fourth generation J-10, J-11, J-16, SU-27 and even stealth fifth generation fighters. Pakistan, she said, had doubled the number of its main fighter aircraft.
 
The minister said that between 2002 and 2015, India's squadron strength had gone down from 42 to 33, while that of the neighbour increased during most of the UPA government's period and India kept moving at a snail's pace. 
 
She said that even in 2014, a "deadlock situation was created" over the MMRCA deal. "You leave the government without anything bought. There was no sense of urgency."
 
Repeatedly terming the deal negotiated by the UPA government as a "non-deal", she said it was not concluded. "I want to ask you why there was no deal. Today you are asking what was sense of urgency?"
 
"I allege, challenge they did not intend buying. National security was a wish list, it did not matter. For every AA, there is RV, there is Q also. Abbreviations may be easy, it is a double-edged sword. RV is not damad of PM, he is damad of the country, Q is somebody in whose lap none of us grew, somebody else grew."
 
She accused Rahul Gandhi of shedding crocodile tears for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, asking if he had visited HAL facility in his Amethi constituency. 
 
She said the contract to procure 126 aircraft could not be concluded as Dassault was not giving guarantee for the aircraft to be made by HAL and it required more time to produce them. 
 
She said there was no confirmation about Rs 526 crore, often cited by Rahul Gandhi, in official documents and asked "where they are getting it from". She said it existed as a quote in a 2007 document. 
 
The minister said Rs 670 crore was the basic price and even taking Rs 526 crore as base price, the deal done by NDA was 9 per cent cheaper than that by UPA government as the price under unfulfilled MMRCA deal would come to Rs 737 crore taking into account inflation and currency exchange fluctuation. 
 
IANS
 

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Congress ready for debate on Rafale, Centre rejects allegations

The Congress, which has been demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe on the Rafale fighter jet deal since the beginning of the Winter Session of Parliament, on Monday said that it was ready for a debate on Wednesday over the controversial deal.
Mallikarjun Kharge. (File Photo: IANS)
Mallikarjun Kharge. (File Photo: IANS)
The Congress, which has been demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe on the Rafale fighter jet deal since the beginning of the Winter Session of Parliament, on Monday said that it was ready for a debate on Wednesday over the controversial deal.
 
"Jaitley ji has thrown a challenge ... we accept it... we are ready for a debate on January 2. Please decide a time," Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said in the Lok Sabha just as it was about to adjourn for the day.
 
He was responding to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who said that the Congress should begin the discussion on the issue immediately.
 
The minister had alleged that the Congress was "running away" from a discussion and was spreading "lies" over the deal.
 
"If you have the courage, begin the debate immediately," Jaitley said soon after the House voted the Supplementary Demands for Grants amid din and slogan shouting by the Congress demanding a JPC probe on the Rafale deal.
 
During the debate, BJP's Nishikant Dubey too accused the Congress of making a hue and cry over the issue and charged that the Congress was running away from a discussion.
 
As Speaker Sumitra Mahahjan was about to adjourn the House for the day, Kharge reminded her about Jaitley's challenge and asked her to fix the time for a discussion on January 2.
 
"I am not saying no...why should I say no...In fact the House was prepared for a debate but something happened and you (Congress) started demanding JPC probe...you keep your challenges to yourself... don't challenge me. When the debate will take place, I will decide...you will decide," Mahajan remarked and then adjourned the House for the day. 
 
The government has been saying that it was ready for a discussion on the issue.
 
Earlier in the day, Home Minister Rajnath Singh rejected allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal while asserting that a lie repeated again and again will not become a truth.
 
"The Congress should understand that a lie spoken many a time cannot turn into truth. We have been ready for a discussion from the very first day. But why is the opposition party running away (from a discussion)," Singh said.
 
He was responding to Kharge's accusations on the issue during Zero Hour amid protests and slogan-shouting by opposition members including those of Congress, AIADMK and the TDP on different issues.
 
Raising the issue, Kharge reiterated his party's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal alleging that it was one of the biggest "scams" of the country.
 
"We are demanding a JPC probe for three weeks. Allow it," he said, questioning the government for not disclosing the price of the aircraft.
 
He claimed that the Rafale fighter jets have been purchased at a price three times higher than the UPA government's deal.
 
"Why the government is not disclosing the prices even as the French President has said it can be disclosed," he said.
 
Not satisfied with the government's response, the Congress members continued with their protest.
 
IANS
 

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Movies, monitors, video games to cost less; GST Council leaves cement at 28%

Computer monitors, TV screens, video games, lithium-ion power banks, retreaded tyres, wheelchairs and cinema tickets are among products and services set to get cheaper as they have been removed from the highest 28 per cent bracket under the GST regime, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced on Saturday.
 
GST on monitors, TV Screens & movie tickets reduced
Computer monitors, TV screens, video games, lithium-ion power banks, retreaded tyres, wheelchairs and cinema tickets are among products and services set to get cheaper as they have been removed from the highest 28 per cent bracket under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced on Saturday.
 
Among the items consumed by the common man, only cement continues to remain, along with luxury and 'sin' goods, in the 28 per cent bracket as the GST Council brought down the rates of all other categories of goods in a further rationalisation of rates that left only 28 items in the highest tax slab.
 
A total of 17 items and six services have been reduced which will result in a revenue impact of Rs 5,500 crore for the full fiscal, Jaitley said, briefing reporters here after the 31st meeting of the Council. 
 
"There are 28 items left in the 28 per cent bracket if we include 'luxury and sin items', and items used by economically well-off sections of the society, only one item of common man's usage - cement - remains in the bracket," Jaitley said.
 
Second-hand tyres, video games, monitors and television screens up to 32 inches, and lithium battery power banks will now attract 18 per cent GST.
 
The GST on wheelchair accessories has been brought down to 5 per cent from the existing 28, which will also allow the payment of input tax credit that is not possible with zero tax," Jaitley said. 
 
Airconditioners and dishwashers have been left untouched at the highest rate because these are not items of common use in India, he said. 
 
Nearly 1,250 goods and services have been categorised under the four tax slabs of 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent under the GST regime.
 
Cutting the rates on cement and automobile parts would mean a combined revenue loss of Rs 33,000 crore, which the Council felt is "too steep" to be considered at this juncture, Jaitley said. 
 
While the GST on third party motor vehicle insurance has been cut from 18 to 12 oer cent, cinema tickets up to Rs 100 have also been granted a similar reduction. Movie tickets costing more that Rs 100 have been brought down from 28 to 18 per cent. 
 
"It's a mass entertainment medium and its revenue impact is about Rs 900 crore," the Finance Minister said on the reduced tax on movie tickets. 
 
GST on solar power generating plants and renewable energy items have also been reduced, he added.
 
This major tax rationalisation ahead of the 2019 general elections comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently promised to bring 99 per cent the goods under the 18 percent or lower GST slab.
 
IANS
 

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Sajjan gets life term in 1984 riots, HC calls it 'crime against humanity'

The Delhi High Court on Monday convicted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in an anti-Sikh riot case of 1984 and sentenced him to imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life, holding that the violence was a "crime against humanity" engineered by politicians with assistance from police.
Sajjan Kumar (File photo: IANS)
Sajjan Kumar (File photo: IANS)
Thirty-four years after the gruesome killings, the Delhi High Court on Monday convicted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in an anti-Sikh riot case of 1984 here and sentenced him to imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life, holding that the violence was a "crime against humanity" engineered by politicians with assistance from police.
 
Setting aside the acquittal of Sajjan Kumar and five others by a trial court, the court convicted them saying that the "criminals" had escaped prosecution and punishment for over two decades. 
 
"This court is of the view that the mass killings of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in November 1984 were in fact 'crimes against humanity'. They will continue to shock the collective conscience of society for a long time to come," a bench of Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Vinod Goel said. 
 
"The mass killings of Sikhs between 1st and 4th November, 1984 in Delhi and the rest of the country, engineered by political actors with the assistance of the law enforcement agencies, answer the description of 'crimes against humanity' that was acknowledged for the first time in a joint declaration by the governments of Britain, Russia and France on May 28, 1915 against the government of Turkey following the large-scale killing of Armenians by the Kurds and Turks with the assistance and connivance of the Ottoman administration," the court said. 
 
Recalling the summer of 1947, the court said that "during partition, this country witnessed horrific mass crimes where several lakhs of civilians, including Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, were massacred". 
 
Thirty-seven years later, the country was again witness to another enormous human tragedy. Following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, on October 31 1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards, a communal frenzy was unleashed, the court observed. 
 
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For four days all over Delhi, 2,733 Sikhs were brutally murdered, their houses were destroyed. In the rest of the country too thousands of Sikhs were killed, the court noted. 
 
"A majority of the perpetrators of these horrific mass crimes enjoyed political patronage and were aided by an indifferent law enforcement agency. The criminals escaped prosecution and punishment for over two decades," the court said. 
 
The case against Sajjan Kumar and others was registered in 2005 on a recommendation by the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission.
 
"While it is undeniable that it has taken over three decades to bring the accused in this case to justice, and that our criminal justice system stands severely tested in that process, it is essential in a democracy governed by the rule of law to be able to call out those responsible for such mass crimes. 
 
"It is important to assure those countless victims waiting patiently that despite the challenges, truth will prevail and justice will be done."
 
Sajjan Kumar and five others were tried in the case involving the killing of five Sikhs -- Kehar Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Raghuvender Singh, Narender Pal Singh and Kuldeep Singh, who were from the same family -- by a mob in Delhi Cantonment's Raj Nagar area. The trial court had acquitted him. 
 
IANS
 

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Congress pips BJP in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, MP; TRS retains Telangana

Delivering a severe blow to the BJP in the Hindi heartland months ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress on Tuesday dislodged it from power in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and was just two seats short of majority in Madhya Pradesh as counting of votes progressed in Assembly elections in five states.
Celebrations at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi as results of the Assembly elections in five states come in, on December 11, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
Celebrations at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi as results of the Assembly elections in five states come in, on December 11, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
Delivering a severe blow to the BJP in the Hindi heartland just months  ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress on Tuesday dislodged it from power in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and was just two seats short of majority in Madhya Pradesh as counting of votes progressed in Assembly elections in five states held between November 12 and December 7.
 
In a bid to outsmart the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after its experience in Goa and Manipur, the Congress moved in late on Tuesday writing to Madhya Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel seeking an appointment to stake claim to form the next government. State Congress Chief Kamal Nath wrote to Patel claiming the Congress has emerged as the single-largest party with "majority support".
 
In Telangana, the ruling Telangana Rashtriya Samithi's (TRS) gamble of early elections paid off with the party scoring a landslide 4win getting 88 seats out of 119 at stake, thrashing the Congress-led People's Front. 
 
The Congress also lost its last bastion in the Northeast -- Mizoram -- when it was defeated convincingly by the Mizo National Front (MNF) ending the party's decade-long hold over power in the state.
 
As the BJP suffered its worst defeat since coming to power at the Centre in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- the main campaigner for the party -- tweeted late in the night that he accepted the verdict with humility and would work with greater vigour for the people. 
 
The highlight of the day was the ding-dong battle between the ruling BJP and the Congress in Madhya Pradesh where leads alternated between the two sides, with Congress getting a slight edge by winning 87 seats and leading in 26 in the 230-member House. The Congress was ahead in 113 including those won and the BJP in 109 which included 83 wins.
 
The Congress had won 58 seats in the last election. A nearly 3 per cent swing in votes against BJP hit the party hard in the elections where agrarian unrest, unemployment and the ill effects of demonetisation dominated the campaign.
 
The Congress, which may be falling short of the magic figure of 116, could look to get backing from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which is leading in 2 seats, and the Samajwadi Party (SP), which has won one seat, besides Independents, most of whom are Congress rebels and have won three seats while leading in one. The SP said it will back the Congress, and the BSP may follow suit.
 
Facing a stiff anti-incumbency, the BJP under Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, which had won 165 seats in 2013, was pushed down to 109 seats with 82 wins and leading in 28 seats. The party has been in power for the last 15 years in the state. 
 
In the neighbouring Chhattisgarh, where also the BJP had been in power for three terms, the Congress took a sweet revenge by sweeping back to power with a three-fourths majority of 68 seats out of 90. The BJP won 15 seats. The alliance of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi-led Janta Congress Chhattisgarh and Mayawati-led BSP fared poorly winning six and was leading in one seat. 
 
In the 2013 elections, the BJP had won 49 seats against the Congress' 39. The saffron party saw a huge negative swing of 8 per cent from 41 per cent it had secured in the last elections, while Congress' fortunes improved drastically when it got 3 per cent more votes at 42 per cent.
 
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Rajasthan proved true to the 20-year-old tradition of voting out the ruling party. The battle was won by the Congress which has bagged 99 seats, while the ruling BJP won 73 seats. The Congress, which is just short of the halfway mark of 100 of the 199 seats where election was held, saw its ally Rashtriya Lok Dal winning one seat. The BSP won six seats and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) won 2 seats. The two parties had fought against both Congress and BJP. 
 
In the final analysis, the BJP put up a better-than-expected fight as opinion polls had written off the party even before the contest had started.
 
The Bharatiya Tribal Party won two seats and the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party bagged 3. Independents, comprising mostly Congress and BJP rebels, had a field day when 12 of them won and another was leading.
 
The Congress, which had a disastrous performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and suffered successive defeats in various Assembly elections, smiled for the first time defeating the BJP in a direct contest in three crucial states in north India. 
 
Party president Rahul Gandhi, who campaigned vigorously, said the Assembly election results were a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's non-performance on issues of unemployment, agrarian distress, corruption and negating the ill effects of demonetisation. 
 
This was countered by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who said issues in state elections are entirely different. The BJP won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2003 but lost the Lok sabha elections the next year, he said. 
 
The general elections in 2019 would be fought around the performance of Modi where people will vote for the tried and tested leadership against a non-ideological opposition coalition, which is bound to collapse sooner than later, he added.
 
Riding a pro-incumbency wave, the TRS headed by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, scored a scintilating victory in Telangana making mincemeat of the Congress-led "Praja Kutami" that included the TDP, CPI and the Telangana Jana Samithi. The inclusion of the TDP apparently backfired as the TRS made a bogey of the presence of "outsider" from Andhra Pradesh in Telangana politics. 
 
In the 119-member Assembly, the TRS won 88 seats while the Congress managed to win only 19. TRS ally AIMIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi won seven of eight seats it contested. The TDP secured two seats, while the All India Forward Bloc bagged one. An Independent managed to win a seat, while TJS and CPI -- part of the Congress alliance -- drew a blank. 
 
In the Northeast, the Congress lost its last state Mizoram where the MNF decimated the ruling party winning 26 of the 40 seats at stake. The Congress won five, while Independents won in 8 seats. The BJP, which is in power in six of the northeastern states either directly or through allies, opened its account in the Christian-dominated Mizoram by winning a lone seat. 
 
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh resigned taking moral responsibility for the BJP's stunning defeat in Assembly election, while his Rajasthan counterpart Vasundhara Raje also conceded defeat.
 
Mizoram's Congress Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla also resigned after the humiliating defeat.
 
TRS chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao said he would play a crucial role in national politics.
 
IANS
 

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