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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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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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Stalin holds talks with Sonia, Rahul ahead of opposition meet

Ahead of the crucial meeting of opposition parties in their bid to forge an anti-BJP front, DMK President M. K. Stalin met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Sunday and discussed a range of issues.

DMK President M K Stalin with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on December 9, 2018.
DMK President M K Stalin with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on December 9, 2018.
Ahead of the crucial meeting of opposition parties in their bid to forge an anti-BJP front, DMK President M. K. Stalin met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Sunday and discussed a range of issues.
 
Informing about Stalin's visit on micro-blogging site Twitter, Rahul Gandhi said: "We had a warm and cordial meeting and discussed a range of issues. 
 
"I look forward to continuing our dialogue and to strengthening our alliance that has stood the test of time." 
 
Stalin met Sonia Gandhi on the day of her 72nd birthday along with former Union Minister D. Raja and Kanimozhi. 
 
The December 10 meeting in the national capital has been called by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu, aimed at brainstorming over a possible front to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
 
A host of opposition leaders are expected to participate in the meet that was earlier scheduled for November 22 but was postponed because of the Assembly polls to the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Mizoram and Rajasthan.
 
IANS
 

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C. P. Joshi apologises for remark, BJP demands his expulsion

Rebuked by his own party and facing backlash from the BJP, former Union Minister and Congress veteran C. P. Joshi on Friday apologised for his remarks that "only Brahmins can speak about Hindu religion, not Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Uma Bharti".

C. P. Joshi (File photo)
C. P. Joshi (File photo)
Rebuked by his own party and facing backlash from the BJP, former Union Minister and Congress veteran C. P. Joshi on Friday apologised for his remarks that "only Brahmins can speak about Hindu religion, not Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Uma Bharti".
 
In a video gone viral, Joshi is seen saying: "It is strange that Uma Bharti, who is of the Lodhi community is talking about Hindu religion, Narendra Modi is of some other religion and he talks about Hindu religion.
 
"In this country, if anyone knows about religion, it is the pandits and the Brahmins." The video has been shared by several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and Ministers on social media, condemning Joshi and the Congress. 
 
Strongly disapproving the comments, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said Joshi's remarks were against the ideology of the party and he should apologise for them.
 
"Respecting the principles of the party and sentiments of its workers, Joshi would definitely realise his mistake. He should express remorse for his statement," said Gandhi and warned party leaders to refrain from making any statements which may hurt sentiments of any section of the society.
 
Soon after Gandhi's rebuke, Joshi issued an apology. 
 
"Respecting the ideals of the Congress and the sentiments of the party workers, I express remorse for my statement if it caused any hurt to the sentiments of any section of the society," he said in a brief statement.
 
Taking strong offence to the remarks, the BJP accused the Congress of indulging in casteist and divisional politics and demanded Joshi's expulsion from the party. 
 
"Joshi's remarks reflect the Congress' casteist and communal politics. Joshi has mentioned Uma Bharti's caste, he has mentioned Modi's caste, don't people from the Lodh community deserve respect. The Congress' strategy of dividing people will not yield any results," said BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra. 
 
Describing Gandhi's admonition of Joshi as "merely a drama", Patra dared the Congress chief to expel him. 
 
"If Gandhi is really hurt by the comments as he says, then he should immediately expel Joshi from the Congress," added Patra. 
 
Sharing Joshi's video on Twitter, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan accused the Congress of pursuing the politics of "divide and rule". 
 
"The Congress which claims to have fought against the British is following their footsteps and pursuing the politics of divide and rule," said the Petroleum Minister. 
 
IANS
 

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SC takes exception to 'leak' of Verma's response, adjourns CBI hearing to Nov 29

Taking exception to a leak of CBI Director Alok Verma's response to the CVC's report submitted in a sealed cover before it a day ago, the Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned hearing of the case till November 29.

Taking exception to a leak of CBI Director Alok Verma's response to the CVC's report submitted in a sealed cover before it a day ago, the Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned hearing of the case till November 29.
 
A visibly unhappy Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, in a brief order, said "for reasons not to be recorded, we are not inclined to hear the matter today (Tuesday)" after a news portal carried extracts of Verma's response.
 
Gogoi also said one of the two judges on the bench -- Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice K. M. Joseph -- "will be away from tonight".
 
Venting its anguish over the manner in which applications mentioned before the court on Monday reached the media, CJI Gogoi said: "This court is not a platform. This is a place where adjudication of rights takes place. We intend to set it right." 
 
The CJI also referred to the mentioning of the application by CBI DIG Manish Kumar Sinha who was supervising the probe into allegations of corruption against Special Director Rakesh Asthana. 
 
DIG Sinha, while questioning his dramatic transfer to Nagpur on the night of October 23, has pointed a finger at National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval for allegedly interfering in the investigation against Asthana. 
 
At the outset, the Chief Justice, disallowing the customary mentioning, asked senior counsel Fali Nariman to look at a report which was given to him.
 
"It is only for you (Nariman) to read yourself, it is not for the counsel for Alok Verma" (Nariman is appearing for Verma)," Gogoi told the senior counsel.
 
Addressing him as the "most respected senior member of the institution", Gogoi added: "If you wish to respond to this, we will adjourn the hearing from an hour or so." 
 
However, Nariman expressing his ignorance over the publication, said: "I was also disturbed on seeing it. I will request the court to summon the person who carried this report."
 
He also added while the "media is free, but at the same time it has to be responsible. It has to be both. It is my reading of the media. Responsible means responsible and not responsible to someone".
 
Referring to the media reports that a mentioning was made on Monday seeking more time to file Verma's response to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)'s report, Nariman clarified that the lawyer who made the request was totally unauthorised and he (Nariman) was not even informed about it.
 
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"It was not informed to me. I was not aware. Nobody asked him to make mentioning. We worked whole night to prepare (Verma's) response. It was totally unauthorised."
 
"I was as disturbed," Nariman said when he saw newspaper reports in the morning.
 
Later in the day, Nariman told the court the report that appeared in the news portal was of November 17, whereas we filed the response on November 19.
 
Refusing to moderate its position on papers meant for the court reaching the media even before it could be dealt with by them, CJI Gogoi said: "We expect high a degree of confidentiality." 
 
The court was apparently perturbed over the "integrity" of the investigating agency getting "compromised" due to wide media coverage of the DIG Sinha's application naming high and mighty in the matter relating to Special Direrctor Rakesh Asthana. 
 
Even as advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanan, who had sought accommodation of a few hours in filing the reply of Alok Verma to "not so complimentary" findings of the CVC, tried to explain the position, Nariman said that he had approached the court a day before without any authorisation. 
 
The CJI was so irked with the situation that had emerged by the alleged "leak" of Verma's response to court and the contents of DIG Sinha finding space in media columns that he refused to hear any one including Solicitor General till the issue before the court is sorted out.
 
IANS
 

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Sabarimala becomes a police fortress

With the Lord Ayyappa shrine opening for a day on Monday, Sabarimala town has been virtually taken over by some 2,300 Kerala Police personnel after protests marred the last pilgrimage season.

 
Security tightened ahead of reopening of Sabarimala Temple
With the Lord Ayyappa shrine opening for a day on Monday, this temple town has been virtually taken over by some 2,300 Kerala Police personnel after protests marred the last pilgrimage season.
 
The pilgrims will be allowed to go up the pathway only on Monday afternoon, an official said.
 
The temple opens its door at 5 p.m. and closes on Tuesday at 10 p.m.
 
Pathanamthitta District Collector P. B. Nooh has declared prohibitory orders in and around the temple town banning the gathering of four or more persons to foil street protests.
 
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous Hindu groups are up in arms against the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court that allowed women of all age groups to enter the temple.
 
The Kerala government has said it will implement the ruling, pitting it against the protesters.
 
All the roads leading from Nilackal to the base camp of the temple town Pamba are barricaded and have been declared out of bounds till Monday morning by the police.
 
The police are checking each and every vehicle that passes in and around the temple town. On Sunday, after protests, the police allowed the media to travel till Nilackal.
 
Kerala BJP spokesperson M. T. Ramesh warned the police against examining the holy kit (Irrumudi Kettu) that is carried on the head by the pilgrims.
 
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Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that there appeared to be some shady goings on as the media had never before been banned into the temple town.
 
"If the media is kept away, then the authorities want to hide something," he said.
 
State Congress President Mulapally Ramachandran said: "Parties like CPI, academics, intelligentsia and socio-cultural icons should prevail upon (Chief Minister Pinarayi) Vijayan to see that he handles this very sensitive issue in a more mature way." 
 
The Sabarimala Karma Samithi has written to media groups not to depute lady journalists to cover Monday's events at the temple that are generally out of bounds for women in the age group 10 to 50.
 
The Samithi is angry that when the temple opened for the monthly prayers last month, attempts by two women journalists to do their job from the temple top were thwarted by protesters. 
 
The representatives of the Pandalam Royal family, the custodian of the jewellery of the Sabarimala temple, said the temple was passing through "tough times" as the temple town had been taken over by the police. 
 
"We will hold a special prayer and singing of hymns when the temple opens," said Sreekumar Varma.
 
Pathanamthitta district Superintendent of Police T. Narayanan said on Sunday that, as of now, there had been no request from women to enter the shrine.
 
As of Sunday , the police have registered 545 cases and arrested 3,731 persons who protested last month when the temple opened for six days. 
 
Only around 100 are still in jail, while the rest have secured bail.
 
IANS
 

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Modi won't survive if Rafale probed, says Rahul; Reliance rebuts charges

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday alleged that French defence major Dassault Aviation had paid "kickback" to Reliance to secure the Rafale deal, and claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not survive if the "huge corruption" in the purchase was probed.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on November 2, 2018.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on November 2, 2018.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday alleged that French defence major Dassault Aviation had paid "kickback" to Reliance to secure the Rafale deal, and claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not survive if the "huge corruption" in the purchase was probed.
 
Reliance has, however, rubbished the allegations as "blatant lies".
 
Rejecting Gandhi's allegations, Reliance accused the Congress of resorting to "blatant lies" and "distorted facts" to mount an "unwarranted campaign of calumny and falsehoods" against the Group and its Chairman Anil Ambani. 
 
"If an inquiry starts on this (Rafale deal), Modi is not going to survive it, guaranteed," Gandhi said here alleging the deal to procure 36 Rafale jets was "done by Modi to give Ambani Rs 30,000 crore".
 
Gandhi cited two reasons for his claims: "One, because of corruption. Two, because it is very clear who the decision maker was. 
 
"Nobody would be able to say that some General in the Air Force or the Defence Minister or some bureaucrat from the Defence Ministry (was the decision maker)."
 
Gandhi said that if there was nothing to hide, Modi would have ordered an inquiry into the decision to purchase the fighter jets from France.
 
"But Modi is silent. He has lost his sleep because of tension as he knows he will be caught."
 
Claiming Dassault Aviation "invested Rs 284 crore" in a "loss making" Indian company, Gandhi said it was the "first installment of kickback" that was paid by the French defence major to secure the deal.
 
He said that Dassault CEO Eric Trappier's claim that his company chose Reliance as its offsets partner because it had land available next to an airport, had been belied as it had been revealed that the land was bought by the money that was "invested by Dassault".
 
Gandhi alleged Trappier was "lying" to save Modi who in April 2015 had announced the inter-governmental deal to buy the jets in "complete violation" of defence procurement policies.
 
He also alleged that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Kumar Verma was "removed" because he was looking into the documents pertaining to the deal that could "nail" Modi.
 
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"It is obvious that there is enough material in public domain to nail Modi," he said alleging that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's recent visit to France was a part of a cover-up which the Modi government was indulging in to prevent the truth from coming out.
 
Gandhi also said that Modi was "terrified" and would never agree for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal. 
 
Strongly denying Gandhi's allegations, Reliance Infrastructure said it was "deeply unfortunate" that the group and its chairman were continuously being dragged into a political battle ahead of the state and general elections.
 
It said that Dassault's investment in Reliance Airport Developers Ltd (RADL) had no link with the Rafale contract.
 
"Congress attacks on Anil Ambani in his individual capacity are shameful and deplorable," the company said in a statement, adding that Anil Ambani had not entered into any transactions personally with Dassault nor had he derived any personal benefit from any transactions.
 
It said that RADL transaction was completed in full compliance with applicable FDI and all other regulations and that the information was in public domain since December 2017, nearly a year ago. 
 
"It is clear that the Congress' consistent allegation that Anil Ambani has received contracts worth Rs 30,000 crore is a blatant attempt to mislead the public for their own political gains and is a concoction of lies," it said rejecting Congress' allegation that "land at Mihan, Nagpur was bought from funds provided by Dassault". 
 
"Any suggestion of any payment to Anil Ambani is absolutely false and mischievous," it said, adding that payment for the land at Mihan was made from 2015 to 2017, much before the investment by Dassault in RADL. 
 
The company said the Indian and French governments, Dassault and Reliance have clarified on multiple occasions that there was no offset contract for Rs 30,000 crore to Reliance, related to purchase of 36 aircraft.
 
IANS

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Govt. mum on allegations against Akbar, Congress demands his resignation

The government on Wednesday continued to maintain silence on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Union Minister M.J. Akbar even as the Congress sought his resignation.

M J Akbar (File photo: IANS)
M J Akbar (File photo: IANS)
The government on Wednesday continued to maintain silence on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Union Minister M.J. Akbar even as the Congress sought his resignation.
 
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who briefed reporters about cabinet decisions, refused to answer any question other than those pertaining to cabinet decisions, including that on Akbar and the #MeToo campaign. 
 
"Today the issue is cabinet decisions, please concentrate on that," he said in response to a question about allegations against Akbar. 
 
"The issue is cabinet decisions," Prasad again said when reporters pressed for an answer from him on the issue.
 
On Tuesday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj did not answer media queries about allegations concerning Akbar. As reporters persisted with their questions and asked if there will be a probe, she walked past them without giving an answer. 
 
At least six women journalists have accused Akbar, a former editor, of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour.
 
Meanwhile, the Congress on Wednesday asked Akbar to either come clean about the charges against him or resign. It also sought an independent probe into the charges against Akbar.
 
"Akbar has a stature as a journalist, apart from being a Minister. He should offer a satisfactory explanation either through a statement or personally, or resign forthwith," Congress spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy told the media here. 
 
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"How can he be in the Ministry with such serious allegations levelled by responsible journalists who have worked with him. Let there be an inquiry. We demand an inquiry against Akbar," said Reddy.
 
The Congress also targeted the Modi government, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, for keeping mum on the issue. 
 
"We had hoped that women cutting across political lines will come out in support of these brave women who have now come out and revealed their ordeal and tragic stories. Unfortunately, Sushma Swaraj, to whom many look up to for inspiration, has chosen to stay quiet," said Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi.
 
"It also raises a finger at the government that talks of women empowerment and safety but maintains a dubious silence on the matter," she said.
 
Chaturvedi also demanded an apology from BJP MP Udit Raj, who on Tuesday sought to question why women were coming out with their stories 10 years after the alleged incidents and dubbed it as the "beginning of wrong practice".
 
"We strongly condemn Udit Raj's shameless comments. But considering the fact that his party (BJP) has refused to take cognisance of the remarks, it can be taken as an endorsement... Udit Raj should be made to apologise," added Chaturvedi. 
 
IANS
 

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SC opens Sabarimala gates to women of all ages

The Supreme Court on Friday opened the gates of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa to women of all ages, lifting the prohibition on women in the age group of 10-50 saying it was violative of their fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees.

The Supreme Court on Friday opened the gates of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa to women of all ages, lifting the prohibition on women in the age group of 10-50 saying it was violative of their fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees.
 
In a majority 4:1 judgment, the top court also read down the provision of Kerala laws that protected the prohibition and said it could not be covered under practices essential and integral to religious practice. 
 
Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge in the five-judges bench, gave a dissenting judgment.
 
Chief Justice Dipak Misra reading out the judgment, also on behalf of Justice A. M. Khanwilkar, said that subversion of women's rights under the garb of physiological phenomenon cannot be allowed.
 
"All devotees are equal and there cannot be any discrimination on the basis of gender," Misra said.
 
Justice Rohinton F. Nariman in a separate but concurring judgment said that people of all faiths visit the temples -- worshipers are not of separate denomination.
 
"Religion cannot become a cover to exclude and deny women their right to worship," Justice D.Y. Chandrachud also said in a separate but concurring judgment.
 
Holding that the Sabarimala temple is not a denominational temple peculiar to any sect, the court said that the Ayyappa temple belongs to Hindus and does not constitute a separate entity. 
 
The apex court also read down the provision of Kerala laws that protected the practice of prohibiting the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 years.
 
Justice Indu Malhotra said: "What constitutes essential practices of religion is to be decided by worshippers and it is not for the judiciary to adjudicate.
 
"It is not for courts to decide if such practices should be struck down. Rationality cannot be used to judge faith. All followers must be allowed to follow their own faith as per their own beliefs in a secular polity."
 
IANS
 

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SC upholds Aadhaar but with modifications

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar document but with modifications. It ruled it will not be required for opening bank accounts, admission in schools or to get mobile phone connections.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar document but with modifications. It ruled it will not be required for opening bank accounts, admission in schools or to get mobile phone connections.
 
The court said this in a majority judgment given by Justice A.K. Sikri, also speaking for Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar as they upheld the tabling of Aadhaar as a money bill.
 
Uniqueness was the fundamental difference between Aadhaar and other identity proof, the bench said.
 
Aadhaar cannot be duplicated and it was a unique identification, the judges said.
 
"We are of the view that there are sufficient safeguards to protect data collected under Aadhaar scheme."
 
The apex court struck down Section 57 of Aadhaar Act which allows private entities to demand Aadhaar to access services.
 
However, no person will be denied benefits under social welfare scheme because of the failure of authentication through Aadhaar, the judges said.
 
"We direct the government to ensure that illegal migrants are not issued Aadhaar," they said, adding that as of today they did not find anything in Aadhaar Act which violated the right to privacy of individual citizen.
 

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Modi, Hasina jointly launch work on oil pipeline, rail projects

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday jointly launched the construction works of a cross-border oil pipeline and two rail projects, with the former describing the two countries as members of the same family.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina jointly unveiling e-plaques for the ground-breaking ceremony of two projects -- India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline and Dhaka-Tongi-Joydebpur Railway Project -- via video conference, in New Delhi on September 18, 2018.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina jointly unveiling e-plaques for the ground-breaking ceremony of two projects -- India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline and Dhaka-Tongi-Joydebpur Railway Project -- via video conference, in New Delhi on September 18, 2018.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday jointly launched the construction works of a cross-border oil pipeline and two rail projects, with the former describing the two countries as members of the same family.
 
Hasina and Modi joined the event in the evening via video-conferencing from Dhaka and New Delhi, respectively.
 
The 130-km India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline connecting Siliguri in India with Parbatipur in Bangladesh will transport petroleum products from Numaligarh Refinery in Assam. Of the total length, 125 km will be constructed in Bangladesh and 5 km in India.
 
"Geographically we may be neighbours, but in our hearts we are members of the same family," Modi said while addressing the programme.
 
"We have shown the world, what can be achieved when neighbours work together," he said, adding that there had been unprecedented progress in cooperation between the two sides in the last few years.
 
At the same event, the ground-breaking ceremony of two rail projects to improve Dhaka's connectivity with Tongi and Joydebpur, two towns on the outskirts of the capital city, was also held.
 
Officials said 48.80 km of the two new dual gauge rail lines would be constructed on the Dhaka-Tongi route while a 12.28 km new dual gauge railway double line would be built on the Tongi-Joydevpur route. 
 
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The launch of the projects came a little over a week after both the Prime Ministers inaugurated two railway projects and an electricity project connecting the two countries on September 10.
 
Stating that the pipeline will further boost bilateral cooperation, Modi said that energy was the cornerstone of any country's development.
 
"The pipeline will help in the development of the northern Bangladesh. Though it is being done with grant-financing from India, the project will be dedicated to the people and government of Bangladesh once completed," he said.
 
Modi said the railway project will bring relief to road traffic in Bangladesh.
 
Speaking from Dhaka, Hasina said that ever since she formed her government in Bangladesh in 2009, she has been working relentlessly to deepen ties with India.
 
She thanked Modi for the new projects which she said will help in Bangladesh's development.
 
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan joined the video conference from Delhi and Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali from Dhaka. 
 
iANS
 

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India's PSLV-C42 launches two British satellites into orbit

India's workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C42) took off from the First Launch Pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota on Sunday night with two earth observation satellites from the United Kingdom and successfully placed them in their intended orbits.

 
ISRO's PSLV-C42launches British satellites NovaSAR and S1-4 into orbit
 
 
India's workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C42) took off from the First Launch Pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota tonight with two earth observation satellites from the United Kingdom and successfully placed them in their intended orbits.
 
The satellites, NovaSAR and S1-4, together weighing nearly 889 kg, of Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited (SSTL), United Kingdom were launched under commercial arrangement with Antrix Corporation Limited, the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  
NovaSAR is an S-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite intended for forest mapping, land use and ice cover monitoring, and flood and disaster monitoring. It will be operated from SSTL’s Spacecraft Operations Centre in Guildford, UK.
 
S1-4 is a high resolution Optical Earth Observation Satellite that will be used for surveying resources, environment monitoring, urban management and for the disaster monitoring.
 
PSLV-C42 lifted off at 10.08 pm (IST). Both satellites were injected into the Sun Synchronous Orbit, about 17 minutes later, at an altitude of 583 km.
 
This was the 44th flight of PSLV and the 12th flight of the Core Alone version of the vehicle. Core Alone is its lightest version without the six strap-on motors. It is used for launching smaller payloads.
 
The PSLV launch vehicle consists of four stages, each of which is a self-contained vehicle capable of functioning independently with own propulsion systems.
 
During the previous launch (PSLV-C41, 12 April 2018), the ‘XL’ version of PSLV with six strap-on motors was used. The vehicle successfully launched the IRNSS-1I navigation satellite to a Sub-Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit.
 
Preparations began at Sriharikota in mid-July with the process of vehicle integration setting the tone for the launch. Many centres of ISRO contributed to this mission with the vehicle being designed and developed by Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.
 
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The second and fourth stage liquid engines came from Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, Thiruvananthapuram and ISRO Propulsion Complex, Mahendragiri (TN).
 
The vehicle’s guidance system is from ISRO’s Inertial Systems Unit, Thiruvananthapuram, while SDSC SHAR was responsible for solid motor preparation, vehicle integration and launch infrastructure. ISRO’s Telemetry Tracking and Command Network provided tracking support.
 
ISRO Chairman Dr K Sivan congratulated the team soon after the successful mission.
 
“I am extremely happy that the PSLV-C42 precisely launched two of our customer satellites at 583 km orbit.  This was a unique night mission executed for the first time by us. The PSLV has proven yet again as a user-friendly vehicle in all aspects. The credit goes to the entire ISRO team and industries. This success will give added energy for industries to make PSLV by themselves. We are going to have 18 missions in the next six months, virtually one launch every two weeks,” Dr Sivan said.
 
Thousands of skilled personnel from ISRO and industries, including many youngsters, played a crucial role in this mission. The Project Director of PSLV is R Hutton, who was also the Mission Director.
 
 “The PSLV-C42 marks the latest technology and commercial collaboration between India and the UK with the launch of the combination of high resolution optical and radar (SAR) satellites from us,” says Sir Martin Sweeting, Group Executive Chairman, SSTL
 
As on date, ISRO has launched 239 foreign satellites of 28 countries.
 
NNN
 

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Government to stick to expenditure, fiscal deficit targets

Virtually ruling out any immediate cut in fuel prices, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after a review meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the government would stick to its capital expenditure targets for achieving a higher trajectory of growth while maintaining the budgeted 3.3 per cent fiscal deficit target in the current year.

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Virtually ruling out any immediate cut in fuel prices, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after a review meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the government would stick to its capital expenditure targets for achieving a higher trajectory of growth while maintaining the budgeted 3.3 per cent fiscal deficit target in the current year.
 
"The government is confident and committed to strictly maintaining the 3.3 per cent fiscal deficit target. As far as capital expenditure is concerned for maintaining the high trajectory growth, we will end the year without any cuts and will maintain 100 per cent capital expenditure, necessary for high trajectory growth," he told reporters after a three-hour meeting at the Prime Minister's official residence.
 
The Finance Minister parried reporters' questions whether the issue of petroleum prices, which have hit the roof, and whether the possibility of a cut in prices were discussed, saying it was essentially an internal discussion relating to the departments of the Finance Ministry. 
 
The government has been maintaining that it was difficult to cut the excise duty on imported crude because it has to maintain expenditure on various social welfare schemes announced in the budget.
 
Saturday's meeting came a day after the Prime Minister discussed with Jaitley and Finance Ministry officials the current economic situation after which the Finance Minister announced five measures to curb the widening current account deficit besides a policy to limit non-essential imports and to encourage exports.
 
Jaitley said the primary focus of Friday's meeting was the current account deficit and how to narrow it down.
 
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"Today, the Economic Affair Department, Revenue Department, Expenditure Department and Department of Investment and Public Asset Management made detailed presentations before the Prime Minister. After the presentations, the Prime Minister expressed satisfaction with respect to broad parameters in relation to the economy and macroeconomic data so far emerging this year.
 
"We are confident of achieving higher growth rate than was projected in the budget. Inflation is broadly under control and in direct tax collections, we are moving ahead of schedule. Despite the stiff target, we are now seeing the impact of anti-black money measures we have taken: demonetisation and GST. There is a phenomenal increase in the base of the number of people filing tax returns," he said. 
 
The Finance Minister said the CBDT is clear that it would be able to collect in excess of the budgeted tax. 
 
"In regard to GST and indirect taxes, the GST is settling down and with the pickup in consumption, it will show on the GST collections in future months. Between the indirect and direct taxes, we will comfortably meet the target, if not surpass it. As far as non-tax revenue is concerned, the entire programme of divestment and strategic sales for this year, just as we exceeded the target last year, we are confident of not only meeting the disinvestment target, but exceeding it.
 
"On the basis of all these analyses, we are optimistic of our growth and tax collections. As far as the fiscal deficit is concerned, we will be able to stick to 3.3 per cent," Jaitley said.
 
IANS
 

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Jaitley helped Mallya to flee, must quit: Rahul

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday demanded Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's resignation after accusing him of colluding with fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya "and giving him a free passage" to flee the country.

 
Jaitley-Mallya meet: Rahul demands FM's resignation
 
 
Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday demanded Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's resignation after accusing him of colluding with fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya "and giving him a free passage" to flee the country.
 
Addressing the media at the Congress headquarters here, Gandhi asked why the Minister did not inform the investigating agencies about Mallya's plans to leave India.
 
"There is a clear-cut collusion. He (Jaitley) should have confessed (about the meeting) and he should resign," said Gandhi. 
 
At the media conference, party MP P. L. Punia claimed to give an eyewitness account of the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya in the Central Hall of Parliament before the businessman fled the country on March 2, 2016. 
 
"The Finance Minister talks to an absconder (Mallya) and the absconder tells the Finance Minister that I am going to London. The Finance Minister neither told the CBI, the ED or the police, why? 
 
"He was given a free passage to leave the country by the Finance Minister," said Gandhi and alleged that the logistics of Mallya going out of the country were discussed at the meeting. 
 
"The Finance Minister has colluded with a criminal." 
 
Punia claimed the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya lasted 15-20 minutes and alleged that Mallya took Jaitley's permission after holding consultations with him about his planned flight abroad. 
 
"The meeting happened on March 1, 2016, a day after the Union Budget was presented. In the Central Hall, initially Mallya and Jaitley were standing and were talking intently. Then they moved to the benches in the Central Hall and were seated and talking," said Punia. 
 
"Later, on March 3 morning, news appeared that Mallya left the country on March 2. My first reaction was that I had seen them together in Central Hall a day earlier," said Punia.
 
The MP said he had referred about the meeting in his interactions with the media.
 
"I am surprised that for last two and a half years, the Finance Minister never referred to this meeting. It was not a short meeting but a formal meeting. There is CCTV facility in Parliament and their meeting can be verified from the footages. 
 
"It is very clear that Mallya took his (Jaitley's) permission after holding consultations. It is our charge and inference that he (Mallya) went with his (Jaitley's) concurrence. 
 
"It is a serious issue. Either he (Jaitley) quits politics or I will quit," said Punia. 
 
Ridiculing Jaitley, Gandhi said: "Yesterday Jaitley said Mallya had approached him informally. He writes long blogs, but forgot to write about this in any of his blogs." 
 
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He also questioned why Jaitley did not inform the CBI, ED or the police that Mallya had told him about his plans to go to London. 
 
"Our first question is an absconder tells the Finance Minister that I am going to London and the Finance Minister doesn't refer it to CBI, ED or the police. 
 
"Our second question is there was a lookout notice against Mallya which was diluted to an inform notice. Who changed it? This can be done only by one who controls the CBI," he alleged. 
 
He also demanded to know if the decision was taken by Jaitley himself or the "order came from the top".
 
Referring to Jaitley claiming that his meeting with Mallya was in the corridor of the Central Hall of Parliament, Gandhi demanded to know why Jaitley did not tell the CBI about this.
 
"The Prime Minister takes the decisions and Jaitley listens to him. Did he (Jaitley) allow him to flee or the order was from the top?"
 
On a question if the meeting was a coincidence, Gandhi replied: "How can it be a coincidence? The Finance Minister is responsible for taking action against economic offenders. 
 
"It is clear-cut collusion, the Finance Minister has colluded with a criminal running away from the country. He was told by the criminal that he is going to run away but the Finance Minister did nothing. He has colluded with the criminal. whatever we can do we will do," said Gandhi, adding that the "government is lying on Rafale, they are lying on Mallya".
 
IANS

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After years of battle by activists, SC decriminalises homosexuality

In a historic verdict that the gay community rejoiced, the Supreme Court on Thursday decriminalised homosexuality between consenting adults by declaring as "manifestly arbitrary" Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the penal provision which criminalised gay sex.

LGBTIQ supporters celebrate after the Supreme Court in Delhi, in a landmark decision, decriminalised homosexuality by declaring Section 377, the penal provision which criminalised gay sex, as
LGBTIQ supporters celebrate after the Supreme Court in Delhi, in a landmark decision, decriminalised homosexuality by declaring Section 377, the penal provision which criminalised gay sex, as "manifestly arbitrary"; in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
In a historic verdict that the gay community rejoiced, the Supreme Court on Thursday decriminalised homosexuality between consenting adults by declaring as "manifestly arbitrary" Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the penal provision which criminalised gay sex.
 
In separate but unanimous verdicts, a five-judge Constitution Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Rohinton Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra struck down the British era law insofar as it criminalised consensual sexual acts of adults in private.
 
Chief Justice Misra began reading out the eagerly awaited verdict, quoting German thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who had said: "I am what I am, so take me as I am."
 
Misra said attitudes and mentality have to change to accept others' identity and accept what they are, and not what they should be. 
 
"It is the constitutional and not social morality which will prevail. An individual has full liberty over his or her body and his or her sexual orientation is a matter of one's choice.
 
"Time to bid adieu to prejudicial perceptions deeply ingrained in social mindset. Time to empower LGBTIQ community against discrimination," said the Chief Justice, giving a final ruling on an issue that has been embroiled in legal battles since 1994.
 
Section 377 will not apply to consensual same-sex acts between homosexuals, heterosexuals, lesbians, the court said, clarifying that sexual act without consent and bestiality will continue to be an offence.
 
The bench said it was no longer an offence for LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, intersex and queer/questioning) community to engage in consensual sex between two adults in private. 
 
Justice Indu Malhotra said history owed an apology to the LGBTIQ community for all that they have suffered on account of the ignorance of the majority about homosexuality. "LGBTIQ people have a right to live unshackled from the shadow."
 
In a concurring judgement, Justice Nariman said homosexuality was "not a mental disorder or disease".
 
He said the LGBTIQ community had an equal right to live with dignity and were entitled to equal protection of law. He directed the Centre to give wide publicity to the judgment to remove the stigma attached to homosexuality.
 
Justice Chandrachud said to deny the LGBTIQ community their right to sexual orientation was a denial of their citizenship and a violation of their privacy.
 
"Sexual minorities in India have lived in fear, hiding as second class citizens," he said. "The state has no business to intrude on such matters".
 
The verdict assumes significance as in an earlier round of litigation in 2013, the top court had reversed a Delhi High Court ruling decriminalising homosexuality.
 
The Delhi High Court in July 2009 legalised homosexual acts between consenting adults. 
 
But in December 2013, the Supreme Court set aside High Court ruling saying that it was for the legislature to look into desirability of deleting Section 377 of IPC. 
 
The matter was resurrected in July 2016 when a fresh petition was filed by members of the LGBTIQ community -- dancer N.S. Johar, journalist Sunil Mehra, chef Ritu Dalmia, hotelier Aman Nath and business executive Ayesha Kapur. It was marked to a Constitution Bench.
 
Thursday's verdict sparked street celebrations in the LGBTIQ community across the country. The film world and activists too expressed their joy. 
 
An overwhelmed Ritu Dalmia told IANS: "Today, for the first time, I feel we are living in a functional democracy. It is a good day for human rights, for the country and for the Constitution."
 
West Bengal's Manabi Bandopadhyay, India's first transgender college principal, said the ruling will be "helpful for the next generation of LGBTIQ (community)".
 
 
India decriminalizes gay sex
 
 
The verdict was, however, greeted in silence by most political parties barring the Congress. 
 
"We join the people of India and LGBTIQ community in their victory over prejudice. We welcome the progressive and decisive verdict from the Supreme Court and hope this is the beginning of a more equal and inclusive society," the Congress tweeted. 
 
Congress Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor said the "government has no space in bedrooms".
 
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is yet to react, its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), said it agreed with the court's view but does not endorse homosexuality.
 
"Like Supreme Court, we also do not consider this to be a crime. The same sex marriages and relations are not compatible with norms of nature. So, we do not support such relations. Indian society also does not have the tradition to recognise such relations," the RSS said in a statement.
 
Bollywood stars like Aamir Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham and Karan Johar expressed their joy.
 
Filmmaker Hansal Mehta, whose film "Aligarh" made a crucial statement on a gay professor, wrote: "The verdict is clear. Two consenting adults irrespective of sex, religion, cast and gender cannot be rendered criminals by the law."
 
National award-winning film editor Apoorva Asrani, a prominent voice against Section 377, told IANS: "Seventy-one years after a majority of Indians achieved complete independence, the LGBTIQ community is finally free. It's been a lifetime of suppressing true desires and then living in fear of criminal prosecution."
 
The UN also welcomed the verdict, saying it will help eliminate stigma and discrimination against the LGBTIQ community.
 
"LGBTIQ persons across the world continue to be the targets of violent attacks and are affected by multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination based on age, gender, ethnicity, disability and social status," the UN said in a statement.
 
IANS

(Our News Desk can be contacted at desk@netindian.in)

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