Opposition fields Meira Kumar against NDA's Kovind in Presidential election

Opposition parties led by the Congress on Thursday chose former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as their candidate for the Presidential election against former Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, who is the nominee of the ruling BJP-led NDA for the august office.

Meira Kumar
Meira Kumar
Opposition parties led by the Congress today unanimously chose former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as their candidate for the Presidential election against former Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, who was named on June 19 as the nominee of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for the august office.
The decision was taken at a meeting of 17 Opposition parties here this afternoon, at the end of which Congress President Sonia Gandhi announced they had unanimously resolved to field Ms. Kumar as their candidate. With this, the Presidential contest slated for next month has become a battle between two Dalit leaders.
"We have 17 opposition leaders present here and all of us have decided to jointly field Meira Kumar as a candidate for the forthcoming election for the President of India," Ms. Gandhi said.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) had, on June 7, announced that polling, if necessary, in the 15th Presidential Election to elect a successor to President Pranab Mukherjee, whose five-year term will end on July 24, would be held on July 17 and the votes counted on July 20.
Ms. Kumar, 72, the daughter of late prominent Dalit leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram and a five-time member of Parliament, became the first woman to be elected as Speaker of the Lok Sabha on June 3, 2009 after emerging as the consensus candidate of the then ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by her party Congress as well as the then opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"She is the illustrious daughter of the illustrious Babu Jagjivan Ram, former Deputy Prime Minister," Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said after the meeting. All the 17 parties had supported her name, and there could not be a better candidate than her, he said.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said Ms. Kumar was the unanimous choice of all 17 parties present at today's meeting and appealed to other parties also to support her.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad said he would meet Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose Janata Dal (United) has announced its support for Mr. Kovind, to reconsider his position, saying that the JD(U) had made a "historic blunder".
Those present at the meeting included former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Azad and Malikarjun Kharge, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, RJD leader Prasad, CPM's Yechury, CPI leader D. Raja, DMK leader K. Kanimozi and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah. The Trinamool Congress was represented by Derek O'Brien, Samajwadi Party by Ramgopal Yadav and the BSP by Satish Misra. Other parties present at the meeting included the JD-S, RSP, JMM, Kerala Congress, IUML, RLD and the AIUDF of Assam.
The Janata Dal (United) had broken ranks with the Opposition on this issue yesterday and announced its support for Mr. Kovind, in view of his good record as Governor of Bihar, where JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar is Chief Minister.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati announced this evening that her party would support Ms. Kumar, describing her as a more popular and more capable Dalit leader than Mr. Kovind.
In a brief interaction with journalists after her candidature was announced, Ms. Kumar thanked the Opposition parties for nominating her for the august office. "I am delighted at this unity of the Opposition, which represents the coming together of forces which have a strong ideological basis," she said.
"I am going to contest this election on the basis of this strong ideological basis," she said, adding that she would, in the coming days, appeal to the electoral college to decide in the best interest of the country, based on  cherished values, principles and ideologies. 
Ms Kumar is a former officer of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) (1973 batch) and had served in Indian missions in Madrid and London as well as in the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi before resigning from the service in 1985 to join politics at the suggestion of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
She had served as the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment in the first term of the UPA Government from 2004-09. She was sworn in as a Cabinet Minister on May 22, 2009 in the UPA's second term and had taken over the portfolio of Water Resources on May 29 but on the following day, she became the Congress party's surprise choice for the Speaker's position. She resigned from the Union Council of Ministers on May 31, 2009.
She has a Master's degree in English and a degree in Law, as well as an advanced diploma in Spanish. She studied at Indraprastha College and Miranda House in the University of Delhi. She is also proficient in Hindi, Sanskrit and Bhojpuri languages.
Ms Kumar was born on March 31, 1945 in Patna, the capital of Bihar. She was married in November, 1968, to Mr Manjul Kumar, a lawyer. The couple has three children---a son, Anshul, and two daughters, Swati and Devangna---who are all married.
She was first elected to the eighth Lok Sabha in 1985 in a bye-election from Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh. In 1996, she was elected to the 11th Lok Sabha from Karol Bagh in Delhi, one of only two Congress candidates to win from the capital that year. In 1998, she was again elected from Karol Bagh, this time the only Congress nominee to win in Delhi. In 2004, she was elected from Sasaram in Bihar, which was held by her father for decades. She won that year with the highest margin in Bihar. She has retained Sasaram in the 2009  election. She is also one of the few persons to have been elected to Parliament from three different states.
She lists painting and poetry among her main interests. Some of her poems have, in fact, been published. She edited a monthly magazine, Pavan Prasad, from 1980 to 1992. She has a keen interest in old monuments, Indian textiles and crafts. She was also a keen sportswoman and has won prizes in rifle shooting and participated in equestrian events.
As things stand, the NDA candidate is expected to win the election with the support of some regional parties.

Several injured as huge fire breaks out in London high-rise

A huge fire engulfed a 27-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Tower, in North Kensington in West London in the early hours of Wednesday and several people were being treated for a range of injuries, official sources said.

Huge fire engulfs London high-rise
A huge fire engulfed a 27-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London in the early hours of today and several people were being treated for a range of injuries, official sources said.
London Fire Brigade sources said as many as 40 fire tenders and 200 firefighters were at the scene to fight the blaze and the entire area had been cordoned off by the police.
Emergency services received the first calls about the fire at around 0054 hours today, various sources said.
The fire had spread to almost the  entire building, from the second floor to the top floor of the 27-storeyed structure, the Fire Brigade said.
Police said residents continued to be evacuated from the tower block. "A number of people were being treated for a range of injuries," they said.
Apart from ambulances, numerous resources and specialist appliances were deployed at the spot, fire brigade sources said.
Fire crews from North Kensington, Kensington, Hammersmith and Paddington and from surrounding fire stations were also at the scene.
London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner Dan Daly said: "Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire. This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances.“
Eyewitnesses told television channels that they saw people waving flashlights from the windows on the upper floors of the building to draw attention to where they were stranded. Pieces of debris could be seen falling to the ground and questions were being raised about the integrity of the structure.
More than four hours after the fire was first reported, the entire building was still engulfed in flames and thick columns of black smoke rose into the skies. 
There was no estimate about the number of people who could have been trapped in the building. Most of them would have been asleep when the blaze started.
The cause of the fire could not be immediately ascertained, the Fire Brigade said.

India, Turkey agree to effectively counter terrorism

India and Turkey on Monday agreed to work together to strengthen their cooperation to effectively counter the menace of terrorism and underlined the need for nations of the world to work as one to disrupt the terrorist networks and their financing and put a stop to cross-border movement of terrorists.

India and Turkey today agreed to work together to strengthen their cooperation, both bi-laterally and multi-laterally, to effectively counter the menace of terrorism and underlined the need for nations of the world to work as one to disrupt the terrorist networks and their financing and put a stop to cross-border movement of terrorists.
"They also need to stand and act against those that conceive and create, support and sustain, shelter and spread these instruments and ideologies of violence," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction here with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after they held bilateral talks.
"We live in times where our societies face new threats and challenges every day. The context and contours of some of the existing and emerging security challenges globally is our common concern," he said.
"In particular, the constantly evolving threat from terrorism is our shared worry. I held an extensive conversation with the President on this subject. We agreed that no intent or goal no reason or rationale can validate terrorism," he said.
"The nations of the world, therefore, need to work as one to disrupt the terrorist networks and their financing and put a stop to cross border movement of terrorists," he said.
"President and I agreed to work together to strengthen our cooperation, both bi-laterally and multi-laterally, to effectively counter this menace," he added.
Mr. Modi began his remarks by pointing out that India and Turkey have nurtured deep and historical links.
"The people of India and Turkey have nurtured deep and historical links. Ties of culture and language connect our societies for hundreds of years. While Rumi found his home in Turkey, his legacy continues to enrich the Sufi traditions of India as well," he said.
Mr. Modi said Mr. Erdogan and he, in their comprehensive discussions today, had taken stock of the full range of bilateral relations, particularly their political, economic and cultural engagement. They also shared perspectives on developments in the region.
Stressing that India and Turkey were two large economies, Mr. Modi said Mr. Erdogan and he were clear that the strength of their economies presented an enormous opportunity to expand and deepen commercial linkages between the two countries. 
"I also feel that, at the level of the two governments, we need to approach the entire landscape of business opportunities in a strategic and long-term manner. Our bilateral trade turnover of around 6 billion dollars does not do full justice to convergences in our economies. Clearly, the business and industry on both sides can do much more," he said.
Mr. Modi said both Mr. Erdogan and he addressed the high-level business delegation accompanying the Turkish President and captains of the Indian industry here this morning.
"I am sure that Turkish businesses would be quick to tap the diverse and unique opportunities inherent in rapidly growing India. I also believe that India’s infrastructure requirements, and I listed some of them this morning at the business Summit, and our vision of developing Smart Cities match well with the Turkish capacities," he said.
He said India would like to encourage stronger partnership of Turkish companies with the country's flagship programmes and projects, either on their own or in collaboration with Indian companies. "I have no doubt that the agreements signed today and the substance of our conversation will further strengthen institutional cooperation between our two countries," he said.
The two leaders also discussed the need for comprehnsive United Nations reforms including the Security Council expansion to make the body more representative accountable and effective. "Both of us recognize the need for the UN Security Council to reflect the world of the twenty first century and not of the century gone by," he added.

Jaitley says SASEC initiative will help member-countries access trade gateways

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Monday the South Asia Sub-regonal Economic Cooperation (SASEC) initiative, supported by an Operational Plan and now guided by a vision, would help member-countries to optimally utilize their resources and facilitate access to trade gateways and linkages with global markets.

Arun Jaitley launches SASEC Vision Document
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said the South Asia Sub-regonal Economic Cooperation (SASEC) initiative, supported by an Operational Plan and now guided by a vision, would help member-countries to optimally utilize their resources and facilitate access to trade gateways and linkages with global markets.
"Improved connectivity and infrastructure development could substantially spur economic growth in the region," he said at a meeting of Finance Ministers of the SASEC countries here.
"Enhanced cooperation among the member countries would also give an impetus to small and medium enterprises in the region. Collaboration in knowledge sharing would facilitate innovation and research," he said.
Mr. Jaitley said that, in the last 16 years, the SASEC initiative had made a significant progress in developing regional cooperation and integration. 
"I am happy to know that the SASEC member countries have come forward to identify opportunities and synergies, which would help us better harness our immense potential in all fields. 
"Today, we welcome Myanmar, the newest member of the SASEC. With Myanmar joining this initiative, SASEC will facilitate a credible link between South Asia and South East Asia," he said.
Mr. Jaitley said that, following the Leaders' Retreat hosted by India in Goa in October 2016, BIMSTEC was pursuing a vigorous Agenda for Action to enhance connectivity, trade and commerce and people-to-people contacts in the region and promote socio-economic development which are their shared objectives. 
"We are also part of a number of other regional initiatives such as Indian Ocean Rim- Association of Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), BCIM, SAARC, Mekong-Ganga Initiative that have significance in South Asia. Our neighbours are also part of one or more such regional groupings," he said.
He said the SASEC vision, complemented by the Operational Plan, would help the member countries overcome the problems and challenges associated with unemployment, macroeconomic and structural vulnerabilities, access and integration, and limited investment and growth.
Mr. Jaitley said India was following a policy of ‘Act East’ to improve connectivity and relations with countries of South East Asia and East Asia. 
"Our policy will definitely receive a fillip with Myanmar’s participation in SASEC. Improved access to gateway ports particularly in Bangladesh and Myanmar may help unleash the latent potential of agro and forest based industries in India’s North East region," he said.
The Finance Minister said India’s “Sagar mala” initiative along the coastal States also aimed to promote port-led direct and indirect development and provide infrastructure to and from ports quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively. 
"The 'Bharat mala' programme of India aims at developing robust and credible road links in the border areas to provide last-mile connectivity to major border points and trade routes connecting our neighbours," he said.
Mr. Jaitley said power trade in the sub-region also presented a significant opportunity with gains and savings for the member countries, and may collectively help them move towards their energy security goals. "We have developed a power transmission link with Bangladesh through which we are supplying 500 MW of electricity to Bangladesh. We are also engaged with Bangladesh to develop transmission link to the eastern part of the country," he said.
He said power trade between India and Bhutan had a long history. "With Nepal, we are building new cross-border power transmission lines to help in the distribution of electricity from power projects being developed in Nepal. I am confident we will be able to fully harness the hydropower potentials of the region and act as a bridge connecting power surplus and power deficient regions," he said.
"We need to stand together in times of crisis. India has always played a pro-active role to support the neighbours. In the face of the recent earthquake in Nepal or tsunami in Sri Lanka or cyclone in Bangladesh in last decade, it has always a matter of great happiness for us to lend a helping hand to rebuild and rehabilitate affected people. Last year, during the visit of Hon’ble Prime Minister of Nepal to India, both countries signed a credit line agreement of USD 750 million for post-earthquake reconstruction.
"We have undertaken a number of initiatives bilaterally. India-Bangladesh standard operating procedure on coastal shipping, Bilateral Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT), India-Nepal MoU for project management consultancy services for upgradation/ improvement of road infrastructure in Terai of Nepal, India-Sri Lanka agreements on developing Trincomalee as a petroleum hub, on building and improving railway network in the island country are some of the recent examples of bilateral cooperation.
"The SASEC Vision has set the stage for an increased cooperation among us going forward. I am sure the combined strength of the Group would lead to a greater synergy and help us transform the economic landscape of the region. I wish the initiative a great success," he added.

Assembly elections: Counting of votes to be taken up on Saturday

Counting of votes will begin on Saturday morning in the crucial elections to the State Legislative Assemblies of five States -- Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa -- and most of the results are expected to be out within a few hours after that.

Counting of votes will begin tomorrow morning in the crucial elections to the State Legislative Assemblies of five States -- Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa -- and the keenly-awaited results are expected to have far-reaching implications for national politics.
The elections in five States have taken place mid-way through the five-year term of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and just weeks after the sudden decision of the government on November 8 to demonetise Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 banknotes.
Polling in Uttar Pradesh -- India's most populous state -- was held in seven phases between February 11 and March 8, while Manipur had polling in two phases on March 4 and 8. Punjab and Goa had single-phase polling on February 4 and Uttarakhand had single-phase voting on February 15.
The terms of the Goa, Manipur and Punjab assemblies are due to normally expire on March 18, Uttarakhand on March 26 and Uttar Pradesh on May 27.
The Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly has 403 seats, including 84 reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and two for Scheduled Tribes. Punjab Assembly has 117 seats (34 SC), Goa 40 (1 SC), Uttarakhand 70 (13 SC, 2 ST) and Manipur 60 (1 SC, 19 ST).
The Election Commission will give out counting trends and results of the elections through its website from 8 am tomorrow.
Among other things, the website will give details such as the number of votes secured by the candidates round-wise and constituency-wise and political party-wise and candidate-wise trends.
The website can also be accessed through the main website of the Election Commission of India.
For the first time, the Commission will also provide analytics through interactive dashboard in the form of clickable infographics. Users can download data, crosstab, PDF and images for analysing the elections further at their end. It will include comparative analytics between 2012 and 2017. 
An official press release said users will get constituency analysis with respect to participation of electors (constituencies with more female electors, constituencies by slabs of voter turnout, turnout by poll days) and candidates (gender wise participants, winners and major competitors). To assess performance of political parties, analysis on seats won by them, the percentage vote-share in the State and the profile (age and social category)of candidates fielded by them have been included. Candidates have been mapped to their constituencies and the votes polled in their favour, it said.

Modi urges youth to lead fight against black money by pushing digital transactions

Stating that digital transactions in India are witnessing a very rapid surge, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday urged the youth to become ambassadors of schemes in this regard and lead the movement against corruption and black money.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Stating that digital transactions in India are witnessing a very rapid surge, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today urged the youth to become ambassadors of schemes in this regard and lead the movement against corruption and black money.
"Take it further as it has a very major and prominent role in the fight against corruption and black money. To me, each and every individual involved in this mission constitute a new anti-corruption cadre in the country. In a way you are a soldier in the cause of cleanliness and purity," he said in Mann Ki Baat, his radio address to thenation.
"You know that this scheme will complete its 100 days on 14th April, the birth anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, a truly memorable day. There is going to be a very big draw of prizes worth crores of rupees on 14th April. There are still about 40-45 days left for that. Can you do one thing in the memory of Babasaheb Ambedkar? We have recently celebrated 125th birth anniversary of Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Remembering him, you teach at least 125 persons about downloading the BHIM App. Also teach them about the procedure of making transactions through this App; teach this specially to small traders in your neighbourhood. 
"Give special importance to Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary this time and the BHIM App. For this, I would like to say that we have to strengthen the foundation laid by Dr. Baba Saheb. We have to go from door to door associating everybody in order to place the BHIM App in 125 crore hands. Since its beginning about two-three months ago, this movement has had a clear impact and has been a very big success in many townships, villages and cities," he said.
Mr. Modi spoke at length on the recent launch of 104 satellites in one mission by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and an interceptor missile by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
"Our scientists have brought laurels to the nation, witnessed by the whole world. And we know that over the last few years, ISRO has accomplished various unprecedented missions with flying colours. After the successful mission of sending Mangalyaan to planet Mars, recently ISRO scripted a world record in the arena of space. In a mega mission, ISRO has successfully launched 104 satellites simultaneously into space. These satellites belonged to various countries such as America, Israel, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Switzerland, UAE and, of course, India. India has created history by becoming the first country to launch successfully 104 satellites into space at one go.
"This is a historic achievement for not just ISRO but for all of India. This cost effective, efficient space programme of ISRO has become a marvel for the entire world; the world has admired this success of Indian scientists of India whole-heartedly," he said.
"In the field of defence also, India has successfully test fired the Ballistic Interceptor Missile. During its trial, this missile, based on interceptor technology, destroyed an enemy missile at an altitude of about 100 km above the surface of the earth and thus marked its success. This is a significant, cutting edge competency in the arena of security. And you will be happy to know that hardly four or five countries in the world possess this capability. India’s scientists have demonstrated this prowess. Its core strength lies in the fact that if, even from a distance of 2000 km, a missile is launched to attack India, our missile can pre-emptively destroy it in the space itself," he said.
Mr. Modi said the country needed more scientists who could become catalysts for enduring change.
Turning to agriculture, he said all indications were that farmers had helped achieve record foodgrains production this year. He also thanked the people for the support for the cleanliness drive and for the Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao movement.

Jayalalithaa's condition remains "grave" after suffering cardiac arrest on Sunday

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, who suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening, remained in a "grave situation" at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, where she has been undergoing treatment for a chronic lung infection and other medical problems since late September.

Jayalalithaa remains in critical condition at Apollo Hospital in Chennai
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, who suffered a cardiac arrest yesterday evening, remained in a "grave situation" at the Apollo Hospital here, where she has been undergoing treatment for a chronic lung infection and other medical problems since late September.
"Despite our best efforts, our beloved CM remains in a grave situation," a statement from the hospital said today.
"I can confirm that everything possible is being done to give her the best chance of surviving this shocking event," Professor Richard Beale of London, one of the doctors being consulted, said in a statement.
"She is being cared for by a highly expert multidisciplinary team, and is now on extra-corporeal life support.  This is the most advanced level of support available, and is an approach that best centres internationally would take in this situation. Madam has received exceptional care from the Apollo and AIIMS Teams, which are the equal of any in the world," he said.
"Our team of expert doctors continue to closely monitor and treat the Honourable Chief Minister. However her condition remains critical," Apollo Hospital said.
It said a large team of doctors from Apollo and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi continued to provide all life saving measures.
"Our prayers are with her and we hope she will recover soon. We request all of you to pray for her good health and well being. The Hon'ble CM is the beloved leader of the masses. Please join us in praying for her speedy recovery," the hospital had said in a series of posts on micro-blogging site Twitter yesterday after confirming that Ms. Jayalalithaa, who was believed to be on the road to recovery, had suffered a cardiac arrest.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Tamil Nadu Governor Chennamaneni Vidyasagar Rao, to inquire about Ms. Jayalalithaa's heath.
Mr. Rao, who is the Governor of Maharashtra and is holding additional charge of Tamil Nadu since August 31, flew in to Chennai late last night and drove straight to the hospital where he was briefed on Ms. Jayalalithaa's health situation by a team of doctors. He also held a meeting with senior Tamil Nadu officials.
Hundreds of workers of Ms. Jayalalithaa's party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have been camping outside the hospital after hearing about the deterioration in her health.
Police stepped up security arrangements outside the hospital as well as elsewhere in the city and the state as a precautionary measure.
Earlier in the day yesterday, the AIADMK had said that Ms. Jayalalithaa would soon decide when she would leave hospital and return home after doctors had declared that she had fully recovered.
The hospital has said several times in the past few weeks that the Chief Minister, called "Amma" by her supporters, was well enough to return home whenever she wanted. Her party said she was involved in taking government decisions and also speaking on occasion to those who were allowed to meet her.
Ms. Jayalalithaa was admitted to the hospital on September 27 for treatment of dehydration and fever. Later, there were reports that she was also being treated for a chronic lung infection and that she had been put on respiratory support. Specialist doctors from London and Delhi had been flown in to monitor her condition.

Parliament paralysed for seventh day as demonetization woes continue

Parliament remained paralysed for the seventh day on Friday and both Houses were adjourned without transacting any substantial business as the Opposition continued to create a ruckus over the Government's November 8 decision to demonetize Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 notes and related issues.

Their problem is they couldn't prepare before demonetisation: PM Modi on critics
Parliament remained paralysed for the seventh day today and both Houses were adjourned without transacting any substantial business as the Opposition continued to create a ruckus over the Government's November 8 decision to demonetize Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 notes and related issues.
Opposition parties continued to demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologise for remarks he made against them earlier in the day.
They alleged that Mr. Modi had accused them, while speaking at a function, of holding black money.
Congress, Trinamool Congress, SP, BSP and Left in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, took strong objection to Mr. Modi’s comments that “some people” were criticising demonetisation because “the government did not give any time to them to make any preparation (to convert black money into white).” 
In the Rajya Sabha, as soon as the House met for the day and mourned the death of its former member Dipen Ghosh, BSP leader Mayawati was on her feet saying the Prime Minister had this morning “wrongly accused opposition of holding black money” and demanded that he should apologize for his remarks.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad asked how Mr. Modi could allege when former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and others had clearly said that the Opposition was against black money. Opposition leaders said the Prime Minister was making allegations that the Opposition was against demonetization outside the house but did not have the courage to do so inside Parliament.
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan adjourned the House twice following noisy scenes with Opposition members trooping into the well. The same scene prevailed in the Rajya Sabha which saw repeated adjournments.
The Opposition has been demanding the Prime Minister's presence in Parliament, besides admission of adjournment motions with voting to discuss demonetization. The Government has rejected the demands.
Meanwhile, the Government stopped the exchange of old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes across the counter at banks. People will now have to deposit these notes in their bank accounts before the deadline of December 30.
There have also been reports that the Government was considering amendments to the Income Tax Act in Parliament to allow people to deposit their unaccounted money in their bank accounts and pay 50% tax and penalty on it. There may also be a provision for lock-in of the funds for about five years, the reports said.
Meanwhile, reputed rating agency Fitch said demonetisation would have a negative impact on India's GDP growth in the short run but, on the positive side, it may improve the fiscal position. 
Thomas Rookmaaker, Director in Fitch's Asia-Pacific Sovereigns Group, said macroeconomic effects of cash crunch due to demonetisation include a temporary delay of consumption and investment, disrupted supply chains, farmers being unable to buy inputs, and some loss in productivity due to time lost to deal with cash issues, according to media reports quoting him.
“There are many elements to demonetisation, which make it difficult to quantify the impact on real GDP growth and explains the wide range of forecasts by different analysts,“ he was quoted as saying. 
Fitch felt that the impact on GDP growth depended to a large extent on how long the cash crunch is going to take to ease. A significant decline in growth number for this quarter is highly likely, but for the fiscal year as a whole the decline may still be relatively moderate.
Despite demonetisation, Fitch still expects India’s GDP growth to trend higher than China’s in the medium term. In India it expects GDP growth to accelerate in FY2018 on the back of reform implementation, monetary easing of the past year and infrastructure spending, while in China a continued increase in leverage in the broader economy is more and more becoming a burden for growth.
The rating agency said beyond the immediate policy issues of managing the cash crunch as best as possible and trying to mitigate the worst side-effects, it would be interesting to see what further steps the government will take to formalize the economy and structurally generate higher government revenues, the reports added.

Demonetisation: Long queues continue at ATMs, govt. tries to ease farmers' woes

The Opposition continued to block proceedings in both Houses of Parliament for the fourth day on Monday, demanding a discussion under a rule that entails voting, even as long queues continued at ATMs, 13 days after the Government suddenly demonetized Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 notes on November 8 as part of its fight against black money.

ATMs out of cash, residents face tough time making ends meet
The Opposition continued to block proceedings in both Houses of Parliament for the fourth day today, demanding a discussion under a rule that entails voting, even as long queues continued at ATMs, 13 days after the Government suddenly demonetized Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 notes on November 8 as part of its fight against black money.
The Government, meanwhile, tried to address farmers' woes by allowing them to purchase seeds with the old Rs. 500 notes from Central or State Government outlets and agriculture universities as part of efforts to support them for the current Rabi crop.
An official press release said this was in addition to the decision taken earlier for making cash available with the farmers by permitting them to draw up to Rs.25,000 per week from their KYC-compliant accounts subject to the normal loan limits and conditions apart from the other facilities announced on 17.11.2016.
"The Government is committed to ensure that the farmers are suitably facilitated during the Rabi season," it added.
Farmers can now purchase seeds from the centres, units or outlets belonging to the Central or State governments, public sector undertakings, national or state seeds corporations, Central or State agricultural universities and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), on production of proof of identity.
In Parliament, a united Opposition led by the Congress and Trinamool Congress raised their level of attacks on the Government on the after-effects of demonetization, leading to adjournment of both Houses several times.  In the Lok Sabha, Congress and other parties insisted for a debate under rule 56 which provides for voting and suspension of all other business by allowing adjournment motions. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said the government was prepared for any discussion but under rule 193 that did not entail voting or passage of any resolution. 
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Rajya Sabha on Monday that the Opposition did not appear to be ready for any debate but was merely inventing newer techniques to disrupt the proceedings of the House. As the House assembled , Congress wanted to raise what it termed the alleged illegality in the introduction of new Rs 2,000 notes.
The Opposition was also unrelenting in its demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi reply to the discussion in Parliament and address the concerns of the members on the issue that had inconvenienced the general public and small merchants. If the Prime Minister can speak at rallies, why not in Parliament, the opposition asked. 
With commercial banks opening for the week after a day’s break for the first time since demonetization, people turned up in large numbers to  exchange old invalid notes and withdraw cash. Even after two weeks since demonetization, people still had to sweat it out in long queues for hours as most ATM machines either ran out of cash or were yet to be recalibrated for the new notes.
Media reports from different parts of the country suggested that people were frustrated with banks running out of cash, leading sometimes to arguments with the staff. Despite the Government's concession to families hosting weddings to withdraw about Rs 2.50 lakh, such people could not withdraw the money as the banks turned them away for lack of  operational guidelines from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in this regard.
To prevent exploitation of the situation by currency mules, depriving others of a chance to withdraw money, banks at many places have started using indelible ink to prevent them from queueing up again to exchange defunct notes.
India’s rural economy depends mainly on cash transactions, and a large percentage of the rural population is yet to be connected with the formal banking system. Glitches in the last mile delivery of new currency notes has left rural India virtually scrambling for cash. Farmers and rural folk have also suffered because because the RBI did not allow gramin banks or local cooperative banks to exchange or deposit the defunct notes by the farmers who had accounts in them. 
Taking into view the sufferings of the rural folk, the government has issued orders to ease the burden on the cash strapped agrarian economy. Apart from announcing the relaxation in buying seeds, the government had on Thursday increased the withdrawal limit for farmers to Rs. 25,000 apart from allowing them a 15-day grace to pay their crop insurance premia. 
The state governments have mobilized their efforts on a war-footing to ease the pressure on the agro economy, ahead of the sowing season. While the Uttar Pradesh government has asked the district magistrates to ensure cash availability in their respective regions, Punjab government decided to provide fertilizers and other farm inputs in kind to farmers for sowing of the Rabi crops, media reports trickling from different states suggest. 
The Himachal Pradesh government , according to reports , deployed helicopters for dispatching Rs 2,000, Rs 100, Rs 50 and other small denomination notes to far-flung, remote and tribal areas of the state to ensure adequate supply of valid currency.  

97 dead, more than 120 injured as Indore-Patna Express derails near Kanpur

At least 97 people died and more than 120 others suffered injuries when 14 coaches of the 19321 Indore-Patna Express derailed near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh in the early hours of Sunday in one of the worst rail disasters in the country in recent years, official sources said.

63 dead as Indore-Patna Express derails near Kanpur
At least 97 people died and more than 120 others suffered injuries when 14 coaches of the 19321 Indore-Patna Express derailed near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh in the early hours of today in one of the worst rail disasters in the country in recent years, official sources said.
Senior railway and police officials said the injured had been taken to hospitals in Kanpur.
They said the death toll could rise further as rescue teams cut through the mangled and twisted steel of the remaining one of the two worst affected coach.
Rescue and relief personnel had evacuated all the other affected coaches of the train, they said.
The two coaches and turned turtle and telescoped into each other and a crane and gas cutters had to be used to reach the victims trapped inside them. One of the coaches had climbed onto the other, crushing the coach below, they said.
The mishap occurred around 3.10 am between Pokhrayan and Malasa stations on the Jhansi-Kanpur section of North-Central Railway, about 60 km from here, at a time when most passengers were fast asleep, official sources said.
Accident relief trains and medical teams rushed to the spot and scores of ambulances were deployed to rush the injured to hospitals, the sources said.
Personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Army also reached the scene to help in the rescue and relief efforts, in which scores of local people joined.
Senior district administration, police and railway officials rushed to the scene to oversee the rescue and relief efforts. 
Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu and senior Railway officials also left for the spot.
"All rescue relief work on to deal with unfortunate accident. All medical and other help rushed. Enquiry ordered. Situation monitored closely," Mr. Prabhu said on micro-blogging Twitter said.
"Strictest possible action will be taken against those who could be responsible for accident. All possible mobilisation for relief initiated," He said.
"Enquiry team will start investigation for cause of accident immediately All necessary assistance provided to the  affected, We r taking care," he said.
The stranded passengers were moved in buses from the site to Malasa station, from where a special train was arranged to take them to their destinations.
The Ministry of Railways has announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 3.5 lakh to the next-of-kin of those who died in the accident, Rs. 50,000 to those with grievous injuries and Rs. 25,000 for those with simple injuries.
This is in addition to the compensation which will be available through the Railway Claims Tribunal.
In addition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced ex-gratia payment of Rs. 2 lakh for the next-of-kin of each of those killed, and Rs. 50,000 for those seriously injured from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF).
The Railways have also promised to provide the best possible medical treatment for the injured.
Mr. Modi expressed his shock and grief over the loss of lives in the acident. "Anguished beyond words on the loss of lives due to the derailing of the Patna-Indore express. My thoughts are with the bereaved families," he said on Twitter.
"Prayers with those injured in the tragic train accident. I've spoken to @sureshpprabhu, who is personally monitoring the situation closely," he added.
Traffic on the section, which has only a single line, has been affected and several trains have been cancelled or diverted. Efforts are being made to restore normal traffic at the earliest, sources said.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to the Director General of NDRF and instructed him to rush NDRF teams to the scene of the tragedy.
An official press release said five search and rescue teams of NDRF had been mobilized to Kanpur. One team, comprising 35 responders, rushed to the spot from the Regional Response Centre (RRC) of NDRF at Lucknow, reached the spot at 0810 hours. Two more teams, comprising 79 responders left the NDRF Base at Varanasi and two additional teams of 75 responders were airlifted from HIndan Airbase at Ghaziabad, near Delhi.
NDRF teams comprise trained responders equipped with state-of-the-art disaster management gadgets and medical components.
NDRF DG R. K. Pachnnda also left for the site from Delhi, the release said.
The Railways have set up the following helplines for the benefit of passengers and their relatives:
Indore- 0731 1072, Ujjain 0734 2560906, Ratlam 07412 1072, Jhansi 0510-1072, Orai 05162-1072, Kanpur 0512-1072, Pokhrayan 05113-270239, Patna 0612-220 2290, 220 2291, 2202292

Long queues continue outside banks, Govt. takes fresh steps to ease crisis

Thousands of people stood for hours in serpentine queues outside banks across India for the sixth day on Tuesday to withdraw cash, after the sudden demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes on November 8 even as the Government announced fresh measures to ease the crisis.

Indelible ink to be used to prevent cash exchange frauds
Thousands of people stood for hours in serpentine queues outside banks in cities and towns across India for the sixth day today to withdraw cash, after the sudden demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes on November 8 even as the Government announced fresh measures to ease the crisis and allay fears among the public.
People lined up outside banks and ATMs long before dawn and the lucky ones were able to exchange their old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes for the maximum permitted limit of Rs. 4500, while others were able to withdraw cash of upto Rs. 2500 from the ATMs before the cash ran out, leaving thousands of others in the lurch everywhere. 
The rush was more today because banks were closed in many parts of North India yesterday, but it appears that it will be several days, even weeks, before normalcy returns.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the situation about the supply and availabiity for the second consecutive day late yesterday.
The meeting decided, among other things, to continue give the highest importance to ensure convenience for the public.
A major decision taken was to use indelible ink, normally used in elections, to ensure that the same people did not turn up repeatedly to exchange their old currency notes.
The meeting, which went on till about midnight, was attended among others by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Minister of Coal and Power Piyush Goyal, Mr. Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Dr. P. K. Mishra, Additional Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Cabinet Secretary P.K.Sinha, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Urjit R Patel, Secretaries from the Finance Ministry and other officials from the Prime Minister's Office.
A detailed review was made with regard to the steps that have been taken for smooth distribution and dispensing of cash through various channels of disbursement, an official press release said.
The release said efforts would be made to avoid long queues in branch branches and at ATMs. Already, separate queues for senior citizens, divyang persons, and so on, have been announced. The drawing limits against bank accounts and from ATMs and over the cash disbursement have also been increased. 
The meeting noted that one of the primary reasons for long queues was that the same persons were visiting bank branches and ATMs repeatedly. It was also noted that certain unscrupulous elements are using the services of poor and innocent people to convert their black money into white. 
To prevent such misuse of the facility and enable larger number of persons to draw cash, indelible ink used during elections shall be used for over the counter exchange against old Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes. This is not applicable in the case of withdrawal from or deposit into accounts, the release said.
Cash disbursement points, especially bank branches, will be advised to put up notices outside their branches advising people to avoid exchange of old notes over the counter multiple times. 
Already instructions have been issued permitting District Central Cooperative Banks (DCCBs) for cash withdrawal from existing accounts, subject to limits applicable in the case of banks. Arrangements have been made to enhance the availability of cash with the DCCBs. 
Arrangements have been made to make available adequate cash to the Postal Department for their use including the branch Post Offices. There are 1.3 lakh branch Post Offices having wide coverage in the rural areas. Availability of adequate cash with the branch Post Offices will ensure wider coverage of the rural areas, it said.
The release noted that contributions are made in hundis and separate boxes in places of worship. Such establishments have their accounts with the bank branches. Bank branches have been advised to approach the concerned authorities in these establishments to obtain the currency notes, especially of lower denomination and put them back into circulation. This will help in improving the circulation of lower denomination currency notes. 
The Government has also received information of a sudden spurt in the quantum of deposits in several Jan Dhan accounts. There are also reports of unscrupulous elements using Jan Dhan Accounts of poor and innocent persons to convert their black money into white.
"Such spurt in deposits will be looked into closely. Jan Dhan Account holders are requested not to allow their accounts to be misused by anyone. Further, it is also clarified that Jan Dhan Account holders will not be put to any kind of inconvenience for carrying-out their legitimate activities," the release said.
Old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes are accumulating in Post Offices and Bank branches. Special efforts will be made to shift such notes and create space in the Post Offices and Bank branches to receive new notes, the release added.
A high level Task Force consisting of representatives from various agencies is being set up to monitor movement and receipt of fake notes in vulnerable areas. This Task Force will also make special efforts to monitor black money being deposited into Bank/Postal Accounts, especially under fictitious and other names. 
A technology team is being set up to popularize the use of e-wallets. Government is closely monitoring the supply of essential commodities. 
A coordination group chaired by the Cabinet Secretary and including representatives of various Departments and major banks is holding regular meetings to monitor the implementation of all the steps. 

Demonetisation: Cash crunch continues, Govt. moves to ease situation

As thousands of people queued up outside banks in cities and towns across India for the fifth day on Monday to withdraw cash, after the sudden demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes on November 8, the Government has announced a series of measures to ease the crisis and allay fears among the public.

India seeks to quell public anger by raising bank cash withdrawal
As thousands of people queued up outside banks in cities and towns across India for the fifth day today to withdraw cash, after the sudden demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes on November 8, the Government has announced a series of measures to ease the crisis and allay fears among the public.
Among other thing, the Government has increased the limit for exchange of the old notes at banks and post offices from Rs. 4000 to Rs. 4500.
With banks closed in parts of North India today and many ATMs still not functional yet because they are awaiting recalibration, people continued to face difficulties with regard to availability of cash in hand for daily necessities, leading to anger and frustration among those in the queues at several places.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the situation regarding the supply and availability of currency notes at a high-level meeting here late last night, following which the Government announced various decisions to  further activate the dispensing of cash through the networks of Banking Correspondents (BCs), Post Offices, ATMs, Banks and E-payment systems 
The meeting, which went on well past midnight, was attended by, among others, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Urban Development and Information & Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goyal.
The Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, all Secretaries of the Ministry of Finance and senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office were also present.
An official press release said banks would increase the cash holding limit of BCs to at least Rs.50,000 each.  Banks will also allow higher limits in appropriate cases. Banks will replenish the cash with BCs multiple times in a day as per requirement of the BCs. BCs have wide presence in the rural areas.  Totally there are 1.2 lakh BCs in the country. 
These decisions are expected to facilitate wider reach in the rural areas for exchange and withdrawal of cash from bank accounts.
The Government also decided to enhance the supply of cash to the 1.3 lakh Branch Post Offices in the country to facilitate cash withdrawals from Postal Accounts.
With 1.2 lakh BCs and 1.3 lakh branch Post Offices getting further activated, a total number of 2.5 lakh points in rural areas will be available to disburse cash and facilitate cash withdrawals from bank accounts, the release said.
To expedite the process of recalibration of ATMs, a Task Force is being set up under Deputy Governor, RBI consisting of representatives of banks and the Finance Ministry.  This Task Force will draw up an action plan and ensure its implementation for quick recalibration of the ATMs to enable them to dispense new bank notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 2000.
In the meantime, Micro ATMs will be deployed to dispense cash against Debit/Credit cards up to the cash limits applicable for ATMs.  The handheld Micro ATMs have the facility of mobility and deployment at the required places. 
The withdrawal limit of Rs. 20,000 per week has been enhanced to Rs. 24,000.  The withdrawal limit of Rs. 10,000 per day has been removed.
The limit of Rs.4000 for over the counter exchange against old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes has been increased to Rs. 4500.  This will enable the banks to give lower denomination notes for Rs. 500 while dispensing the remaining Rs. 4000 through Rs. 2000 notes.
The ATMs are progressively getting recalibrated.  As and when they are recalibrated, the cash limit of such ATMs will stand enhanced to Rs. 2500  per withdrawal.  This will enable dispensing of lower denomination currency notes for about Rs.500 per withdrawal.  Other ATMs which are yet to be recalibrated, will continue to dispense Rs. 2000 till they are recalibrated. 
Business entities having Current Accounts which are operational for last three months or more will be allowed to draw Rs. 50,000 per week.  This can be done in a single transaction or multiple transactions.  This will enable the small business entities to pay wages to their workers and make sundry payments.
Adequate cash will be made available with District Central Cooperative Banks (DCCBs) to facilitate withdrawal from existing accounts.  The cash withdrawal limits for Banks will apply in case of DCCBs also.
These measures would substantially enhance the reach of the banking system to exchange notes and facilitate cash withdrawal from bank accounts, the release said.
All Central Government Departments and Public Sector Enterprises are being instructed to use the method of e-payments to the maximum extent possible.
RBI has advised National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to waive its transaction charges on transactions settled through National Financial Switch(NFS) till 31st December, 2016. Banks are also being advised to waive similar charges currently levied by them.
The release said banks had been advised to arrange separate queues in their branches for senior citizens and divyang persons; customers for transactions against accounts held with the bank; and exchange of notes.  There will, therefore be, three or more separate queues in every branch.
Pensioners are required to submit Annual Life Certificate during the month of November.  This time limit has been extended up to 15th January, 2017.
The existing exemptions for acceptance of old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes for certain types of transactions are being extended beyond 14th November, 2016 midnight up to 24th November, 2016 mid night.
"There is enough cash in the system to meet the requirement.  Members of the public are, therefore, advised not to have any sense of panic," the release added.

India, New Zealand agree to strengthen cooperation against terrorism, radicalization

India and New Zealand on Wednesday agreed to strengthen their security and intelligence cooperation against terrorism and radicalization, including in the domain of cyber security.

Modi, New Zealand PM John Key hold talks in Delhi
India and New Zealand today agreed to strengthen their security and intelligence cooperation against terrorism and radicalization, including in the domain of cyber security.
"Terrorism remains one of the greatest challenges to global peace and security," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key after their bilateral talks.
"Today, the financial, logistical and information networks of terror span the entire globe. The barriers of geography do not safeguard against the threat of radicalization and terrorism. Nations who believe in humanity need to coordinate their actions and policies to counter this threat," he said.
Mr. Modi began by saying that it was a particular pleasure  to receive Mr. Key in India during the festive season. "I am told that it is now a regular feature for the New Zealand Parliament to celebrate the festival of Diwali and, you yourself have participated in several of these festivities. So, it is a particular pleasure to receive you in India during the festive season," he said.
He said Mr. Key and he had met several times on the sidelines of multilateral summits and it was an honour for India to welcome him on a bilteral visit.
"In a little while from now, our cricket teams will take the field in Ranchi for the fourth One Day International. In many ways some of the cricketing terminology reflects progress in our bilateral linkages. In our ties, we have moved from fielding at Long Off to taking a fresh guard at the batting pitch. Defensive play has given way to aggressive batting," he said.
Mr. Modi said Mr. Key and he had had "detailed and productive discussions" on all aspects of their bilateral engagement and multilateral cooperation.
He said trade and Investment ties had been one of the key areas of their conversation.
"We both recognized the need for greater economic engagement in order to effectively respond to the growing uncertainties in global economy and, agreed that expanding business and commercial ties should continue to be one of the priority items of our partnership. I am sure that the large business delegation accompanying Prime Minister Key will not only witness firsthand the investment opportunities on offer in India’s growth story. Their interactions will also build new commercial partnerships between our two countries. I would like to mention food processing, dairy and agriculture, and related areas in their supply chain as some of the areas of particular potential for bilateral cooperation. New Zealand’s strength and capacity in these sectors can combine with India’s vast technology needs to build partnerships that can benefit both our societies," he said.
Mr. Modi said they also agreed that actions by both governments should also promote greater business connectivity, including through movement of skilled professionals, between their two economies and societies. In this regard, they agreed to continue to work closely towards an early conclusion of a balanced and mutually beneficial Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.
He said that, alongside extensive bilateral engagement, their close cooperation also extends to the global arena. 
"On regional issues, we have agreed to enhance our cooperation, including in the East Asia Summit process. The reform of international governance institutions is a shared priority for us both. We are thankful for New Zealand’s support to India joining a reformed UN Security Council as a permanent member. As we make our own contribution to the developmental efforts of the Pacific Island countries, we will continue to consult closely with New Zealand to complement and supplement each other’s efforts.
"I am also thankful to Prime Minister Key for New Zealand’s constructive approach to the consideration of India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group," he said.
"The people of New Zealand have expressed their confidence in your leadership time and again and, I can see why. I thank you for your personal commitment to take our bilateral partnership forward, and to strengthen the bonds of friendship and people to people relations between our countries," he added.

Modi underlines need for vibrant ecosystem for international arbitration

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday creation of a “vibrant ecosystem” for international arbitration was one of the foremost priorities of the government and major amendments had been made recently in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.

India is experiencing a digital revolution: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said creation of a “vibrant ecosystem” for international arbitration was one of the foremost priorities of the government and major amendments had been made recently in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.
Delivering the valedictory address at the international conference on National Initiative towards Strengthening Arbitration and Enforcement in India, Mr Modi said this had made the arbitration process easy, timely and hassle-free.
“Our law is based on the UNCITRAL model law. The objective is to ensure tha,t in normal circumstances, arbitral tribunal makes its award within 12 months. In case of a fast track procedure, such award can be given in 6 months.
“Even the appointment of the arbitrator has to be decided by the court within a period of 60 days. The impediments encountered earlier in the grant and process of award have been removed,” he added.
Further, as per the new law, any application challenging the award is to be disposed of by the court within one year. The enforcement of award can be refused by the courts only as per international practices, the Prime Minister said.
“These amendments have brought our arbitration process in tune with global best practices. This has given us an opportunity to emerge as a leading arbitration jurisdiction,” he added.
However, great opportunities pose great challenges. These challenges include: Availability of excellent quality and globally recognized arbitrators; Observance of professional conduct, ensuring neutrality, and timely completion of proceedings; and, Cost effective arbitration proceedings, Mr Modi said.
 “Our Government has been working on a strategy for convergence of existing tribunals. This will help transform the existing complicated tribunal system into a simpler structure,” the Prime Minister said.
“We need to simultaneously facilitate a vibrant ecosystem for alternate dispute resolution, including arbitration, mediation and conciliation. This will provide additional comfort to investors and businesses. More importantly, it will also ease the case-load on Indian courts,” he added.
Today, corporates and financial institutions want legal experts who can help close business deals and transactions without any disputes and litigations.
If a dispute arises, corporates want to resolve them quickly through arbitration, without going to courts. For this, they require specialized arbitration lawyers. Alternative dispute resolution processes also preserve personal and business relationships that might otherwise be damaged by the adversarial process.
“Recent trends indicate that Asian centres like Hong Kong and Singapore have emerged as preferred arbitration destinations. As popular business hubs, they also rank high in the levels of ease of doing business,” Mr Modi said.
“Thus, availability of quality arbitration mechanisms is an integral component of Ease of Doing Business, to which our Government is committed,” he added.

P V Sindhu loses to Carolina Marin in final, ends up with silver

World number one Carolina Marin of Spain overcame a first game loss to outplay India's P. V. Sindhu 19-21, 21-12, 21-15 in the final and win the gold medal in the badminton women's singles at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.

P. V. Sindhu
P. V. Sindhu
World number one Carolina Marin of Spain overcame a first game loss to outplay India's P. V. Sindhu 19-21, 21-12, 21-15 in the final and win the gold medal in the badminton women's singles at the Olympic Games here today.
It was Marin almost all the way in the match, barring the later stages of the first game, when Sindhu came from behind at 12-16 to first come up on level and then reel off five points in a row to win at 21-16.
But, overall, the 21-year-old was up against a much better player today as the Spaniard played aggressively almost throughout and controlled the proceedings.
This was the first time that an Indian had made it to the badminton singles final and the silver that Sindhu won today is an improvement on the bronze won by her teammate Saina Nehwal at the London Olympics in 2012.
Sindhu, appearing in her first Olympics, managed to stay level with Marin in the opening minutes but was soon behind at 2-5, 5-9 and then 6-12 as the Spaniard attacked well, both from the baseline and the net, and kept her rival moving all over court.
The Indian, however, fought back to narrow the gap at 16-17 but Marin then moved ahead to 19-16 with a powerful shot to Sindhu's backhand. A series of unforced errors by Marin helped Sindhu pull up at 19-19 and the Indian quickly picked up two more points to win at 21-19 before the Spaniard quite realised what had happened. Sindhu had scored five points in a row at that stage, reminding spectators of the manner in which she had reeled off 11 points in a row in the second game of yesterday's semi-final against Nozomi Okuhara of Japan, which she had won 21-19, 21-10.
Marin, an amazingly fast mover on the court, appeared more determined in the second game as she quickly jumped to a 4-0 lead, which she widened to 10-2 and then 11-4 before Sindhu could settle down.
Sindhu fought back briefly, defending wll and come up some good shots at the net, to make it 7-14 but Marin, with superb angled shots, beautiful wrist work and deft placements, ensured that she stayed ahead, moving to 18-10 and then sealing the game at 21-12.
Marin began the decider on an aggressive note, grabbing a 7-4 lead. Again, Sindhu clawed her way back into the game by equalising at 10-10. The two players crossed over with Marin having a slender 11-10 advantage.
Sindhu kept up the fight but could not quite catch up and was behind at 14-16 from where Marin managed six points in a row to end up with six match points and prevailed finally at 21-15 to win the gold -- the first European woman to achieve the distinction in badminton at the Olympics. Sindhu is the first Indian woman to win a silver at the Olympics.
Sindhu has, in the process, become the fourth Indian to win an Olympic siver. The first was shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in 2004, followed by shooter Vijay Kumkar and wrestler Sushil Kumar, both in 2008.
The silver helped India to move up to the 57th place in the medals tally table.
“I played well. I wanted to win, but I could not," Sindhu said after the match. “I am proud of what I have achieved.  Silver is no  mean achievement in  the Olympics."
“It was a tough encounter  and I gave my best," Sindhu said. “Marin is a very good player she played well. I tried to stop her in the third, but could not but I am not complaining.
“Every player wants to win and, in my heart of hearts, I was also thinking that only one match is left for the gld but that  turned out to be elusive.
“Never mind, it was a good match. I never thought I will ever play in the Olympic final. I am happy with the silver I got," she added.

Switzerland backs India's bid for membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group

In a significant development, India on Monday won Switzerland's support for its bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the 48-member group of nuclear supplier countries that seeks to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Economic links between India, Switzerland are strong, vibrant: Modi
In a significant development, India today won Switzerland's support for its bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the 48-member group of nuclear supplier countries that seeks to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
"We have promised India support in its efforts to become a member of NSG," Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann said at a joint media interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after they met for talks in Geneva.
The Swiss President also said that India and Switzerland were making considerable progress in fighting tax fraud and evasion.
"I am also thankful to the President for Switzerland's understanding and support for India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group," Mr. Modi said.
"Combating the menace of 'black money' and tax evasion is also our shared priority. We discussed the need for an early and expeditious exchange of information to bring to justice the tax offenders. An early start to negotiations on the Agreement on Automatic Exchange of Information would be important in this respect," he said.
India has been trying to join the NSG for the last few years and moved a formal application on May 12. The application is expected to come up at NSG's plenary meetings on June 9 in Vienna and June 24 in Seoul.
Mr. Modi said India and Switzerland also shared a commitment to reform international institutions in line with current global realities. "We have both agreed to support each other for our respective bids for the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council," he said.
Mr. Modi began by saying, "I feel the weight of history, standing here with you in this truly international city-Geneva. And, not just international, but a city with a humanitarian soul. After all, it is home to the Red Cross, and headquarters of several international organizations devoted to serving mankind."
He said India and Switzerland had both been the voices of peace, understanding and humanitarian values in the world. 
"In the last seven decades, our friendship has consistently seen an upward trajectory. Today, President and I reviewed our multifaceted bilateral ties. We also held detailed discussions with Swiss CEOs," he said.
Mr. Modi said the economic links between the two countries were strong and vibrant.
"Many Swiss companies are household names in India. Ties of collaboration in trade, investment, science and technology and skill development benefit both our societies. India has affirmed its readiness to resume FTA talks with EFTA. We are all aware of the strengths of the Swiss economy. But, India too is undergoing profound transformations. We are today the fastest growing economy in the world. 
"But, that alone is not enough. I want the Indian economy to be driven by smart and sustainable cities, robust farm sector, vibrant manufacturing and dynamic service sector. And, its engines to run on world class network of rail, roads, airports and digital connectivity. Where a home for everyone, and electricity in every home is a reality. And, its 500 million plus youth is skilled and ready to meet the global needs of manpower. President and I agreed to build on the Swiss Vocational and Educational Training system suited to India's needsYesterday we observed World Environment Day. In tune with its objectives and India's civilizational ethos an economically prosperous India will also be friendly to the planet and our environment. Reliance on renewable energy, rather than on fossil fuels would be our guiding motto," he said.
Pointing out that there was a perfect connect between India's development needs and Swiss strengths, Mr. Modi invited Swiss companies to avail of the great opportunity to be a key partner in India's economic growth. "Ultimately, the economic prosperity of 1.25 billion plus would also benefit the entire world," he said.
Mr. Modi said strong ties between the people of their two countries were an important base and benchmark of their linkages. 
"Thanks to the Indian film industry, we are very familiar with the enchanting beauty of the Swiss landscapes. But, we are also keen to welcome larger number of Swiss visitors to India. For this, we have opened the facility of e-Tourist Visa for Swiss nationals earlier this year," he said.
"There are many success stories of our relationship. One that has been making waves in the Grand Slams of the tennis world is the partnership of famous Swiss player Martina Hingis with Sania Mirza and Leander Paes of India. I am confident that our common commitments and values, people to people links and a strong and growing economic partnership will take our relations to new heights," he added.
Mr. Modi, who reached Geneva last night on the third leg of a five-nation tour that first took him to Afghanistan and Qatar and will now take him to the United States and Mexico also met Swiss CEOs there today.
The focus at the meeting was on deepening the economic ties between the two countries. Those present at the meeting includedthe CEOs, including ABB, Lafarge, Novartis, Nestl, Rieter and Roche.
Mr. Modi said India's economy was growing rapidly and the coming together of India's development needs and Swiss strengths could be beneficial for both countries.
Expressing happiness that the economic linkages between the two nations were strong, he said India was not just a market of 1.25 billion, but it also had skills and a government which is open to business. He added that India wanted to have manufacturing of global standards and hence the Swiss model of skill development was very relevant to it.
A group of Indian scientists and students at CERN also met the Prime Minister in Geneva today. 
Mr. Modi later left for Washington on a two-day bilateral visit to the United States at the invitation of US President Barack Obama.

Swamy writes to Modi seeking removal of Raghuram Rajan as RBI Governor

Senior BJP leader and nominted Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday seeking the immediate removal of Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan from his position for various reasons, including that he was "mentally not fully Indian".

Raghuram G. Rajan
Raghuram G. Rajan
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and nominted Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday seeking the immediate removal of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan from his position for various reasons, including that he was "mentally not fully Indian".
"I write this letter to strongly recommend that you consider terminating the appointment of the Governor, Reserve Bank of India, Dr. Raghuram Rajan, effective immediately or in any case when his term ends in September, 2016," Dr. Swamy said in his letter, dated May 16.
"The reason why I recommend this is that I am shocked by the wilful and apparently deliberate attempt by Dr. Rajan to wreck the Indian economy. For example, the concept of containing inflation by rising interest rates is disastrous. When the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) started to decline due to induced recession in the small and medium industry, he shifted the target from WPI to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which has not however declined because of retail prices. On the contrary it has risen. Had Dr. Raghuram Rajan stuck to WPI, interest rates would have been much lower today, and given huge relief to small and medium industries. Instead they are squeezed futher and consequent increasing unemployment," he wrote.
Dr. Swamy said that, as a result, the estimated non-performing assets (NPA) in public sector banks had doubled to Rs. 3.5 lakh crore.
"These actions of Dr. Rajan lead me to believe that he is acting more as a disrupter of the Indian economy than the person who wants the Indian economy to improve. Moreover, he is in this country on a Green Card provided by the US Government and therefore mentally not fully Indian. Otherwise, why would he renew his Green Card as RBI Governor by making the mandatory annual visit to the US to keep the Green Card current?" he asked.
Subramanian Swamy
Subramanian Swamy
Dr. Swamy said the BJP had come to power under Mr. Modi's "inspiring leadership" in which thousands and thousands of educated persons contributed.
"I cannot see why someone appointed by the UPA Government who is apparently working against Indian economic interests should be kept in this post when we have so many nationalist minded experts available in this country for the RBI Governorship.
"I therefore urge you to terminate the appointment of Dr. Raghuram Rajan in the national interest," he added.
Dr. Rajan, 53, a well-known economist, was appointed on August 22, 2013 as the Governor of RBI for a three-year term. He assumed office on September 4, 2013, succeeding Dr. D. Subbarao on his retirement.
He had earlier served as Chief Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance and as Honorary Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister with the rank and status of Secretary to the Government of India.
Dr Rajan had earlier served as the Eric J. Gleacher Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Before that, between 2003 and 2007, Dr. Rajan was the Economic Counselor and Director of Research at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 
Later, he chaired the Indian government’s Committee on Financial Sector Reforms, which submitted its report in September 2008.
His papers have been published in all the top economics and finance journals, and he has served on the editorial boards of the American Economic Review and the Journal of Finance. 
Dr Rajan had earlier served as a senior advisor to BDT Capital, Booz and Co, and on the international advisory board of Bank Itau-Unibanco. 
In January 2003, the American Finance Association awarded Dr. Rajan the inaugural Fischer Black Prize, given every two years to the financial economist under age 40 who has made the most significant contribution to the theory and practice of finance.

Proclamation on President's Rule in Uttarakhand revoked, Rawat to return as CM

President Pranab Mukherjee has revoked the proclamation imposing President's Rule in Uttarakhand, paving the way for Congress leader Harish Rawat to assume office again as Chief Minister of the hill state after a gap of more than six weeks.

File photo of Harish Rawat
File photo of Harish Rawat
President Pranab Mukherjee has revoked the proclamation imposing President's Rule in Uttarakhand, paving the way for Congress leader Harish Rawat to assume office again as Chief Minister of the hill state after a gap of more than six weeks.
"The President of India on 11th May, 2016 revoked the Proclamation issued under the Article 356 of the Constitution on 27th March, 2016 in relation to the State of Uttarakhand," a press release from the Ministry of Home Affairs said here today.
Earlier yesterday, the Supreme Court had announced that Mr. Rawat had won the floor test conducted in the state legislative assembly on May 10, more than six weeks after the Centre imposed President's rule in the hill state on March 27.
The floor test in the assembly was held on Tuesday on the direction of the Supreme Court though the official result of the exercise to determine the legislative strength of the various parties in the house was declared only yesterday by the apex court.
The outcome is a major setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government at the Centre, which had imposed President's Rule in the hill state, stating that the Congress government headed by Mr. Rawat had lost its majority and was continuing in office illegally.
The Union Government's role in the entire affair was seen as an effort by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre to topple the Congress government in the state and try and replace it with a BJP-led government.
The Supreme Court had allowed Mr. Rawat to seek a trust vote in the Assembly on Tuesday after lifting President's Rule for a few hours to enable the exercise to be conducted as the latest chapter in a high-stakes political drama which began in early March when nine members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) belonging to the Congress rebelled against Mr. Rawat's leadership.
The nine MLAs were later disqualified by the Speaker of the Assembly and the Uttarakhand High Court on Monday made it clear that they could not vote in the floor test. The nine MLAs approached the Supreme Court within hours on Monday itself but failed to get any relief from the apex court, too.
The Supreme Court formally announced the result of the floor test after perusing the papers related to the proceedings in the assembly.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi urged the court to modify its order of April 22 to enable to the Union Government to take steps for revocation of the proclamation of President's Rule in the state. The court had earlier restrained the Centre from revoking President's Rule until the next date of hearing.
The court also said that, after President's Rule is revoked, Mr. Rawat could assume the office of the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand.
"Keeping in view the prayer made by the learned Attorney General, we vary the order by granting liberty to the Union of India to revoke the proclamation of President's Rule in the State of Uttarakhand in course of the day. Needless to say, after the Presidential Rule is revoked, the 1st respondent can assume the office of the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand," the court had said yesterday.
"Two aspects we intend to clarify. One, the issue of justifiability of the proclamation of President's Rule that was made on 27.03.2016 which has been annulled by the impugned order passed by the High Court will remain alive, for the High Court has ascribed many a reasons to arrive at the conclusion that the said proclamation was not tenable in law. It required to be scrutinized whether within the scope of judicial review, such a finding could have been arrived at or for that matter whether the opinion arrived at by the President of India to proclaim the President's Rule at the relevant point of time was justified or not. 
"We may hasten to add, we have directed for floor test on concession of the parties and we had varied the order today on a prayer being made by the Union of India.
"The second aspect that deserves mention is that nine members of the Legislative Assembly have been disqualified. Their disqualification which has been upheld by the High Court is under assail before this Court in the special leave petition no.14140 of 2016. This Court has declined to grant interim prayer for stay of the impugned order against the disqualified MLAs in the special leave petition on 09.05.2016. The said matter has been adjourned to 12.07.2016. What will be the effect, if in the ultimate eventuate case the disqualification is set at naught would be a matter of debate. We say nothing on that score at present. For the purpose of production of the order of revocation, let the matter be listed on 13.05.2016. On that date, a day shall be fixed for hearing of the special leave petitions on merits," the order added.
After the disqualification of the nine MLAs, the Uttarakhand assemby had an effective strength of 62. While the Congress has 27 members in the House, the BJP has 28. The PDF has six members, including two belonging to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The UKD has one member and three are independents.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had, on April 27, kept in abeyance an order of the Uttarakhand High Court quashing the imposition of President's Rule in the hill state and restoring the government headed by Congress leader Harish Rawat back in office.
The Uttarakhand High Court order, which was seen as a major embarassment for the Modi government, was delivered on April 26 by a division bench headed by Chief Justice K. M. Joseph, which also asked Chief Minister Rawat to prove his majority in the state legislative assembly by taking a floor test on or before April 29.
President's Rule was imposed in the state on Sunday, March 27, just a day ahead of a trust vote that Mr. Rawat was scheduled to seek in the assembly on Monday on the direction of Uttarakhand Governor K. K. Paul.
The Centre had justified the imposition of President's Rule in the state, saying the state government was functioning in violation of Constitutional principles.
The Rawat government was pushed into a crisis when nine legislators of the ruling Congress rebelled against his leadership in early March.
The Union Cabinet had discussed the situation in the hill state at a meeting in Delhi late on March 26 night and decided to recommend the imposition of Central rule in the state to the President.
Briefing newspersons in New Delhi on March 27, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Cabinet had taken into account the developments in Uttarakhand during the past nine days and come to the conclusion that Constitutional principles were being violated by the state government and that the state government could not be run in accordance with the Constitution.
He said the Assembly had "passed" an Appropriation Bill through a voice vote on March 18, even though as many as 35 of the 67 members present (not counting the Speaker) had sought a division. They had written to the Speaker and the Governor ahead of the sitting of the Assembly on that day and had also informed them later that the Bill could not be considered to have been passed in the circumstances.
Mr. Jaitley said video recordings of the day's proceedings in the Assembly showed that the Appropriation Bill had actually "failed", which implied that the State Government was not authorised to incur any expenditure from April 1 onwards.
He said Mr. Rawat should have resigned on March 18 itself on the "failure" of the Bill and the continuance of his government after that date was "unconstitutional".
Mr. Jaitley said the state Governor had, in his reports on the situation in the state, said there were serious doubts about the proceedings of the Assembly on March 18.
He also said the Governor had advised Mr. Rawat to seek a vote of confidence in the House without much delay, but the latter had decided to convene the Assembly only on March 28 for the purpose. He alleged that the time in between had been used for "allurement and horse-trading". He said the video of an alleged sting operation, released on March 26, had provided evidence of this.

Parliament to meet from April 25 to complete financial business

Parliament will meet from April 25 to address the financial business related to the General and Railway Budgets for the financial year 2016-17.

Parliament will meet from April 25 to address the financial business related to the General and Railway Budgets for the financial year 2016-17.
An official press release said the session was scheduled to last till May 13, subject to the exigencies of Government business.
The ensuing session of the Lower House  will be the 8th Session of the 16th Lok Sabha  and that of the Upper House the 239th Session of Rajya Sabha since the previous sessions of the Parliament were prorogued in March this year, after both the Houses were adjourned on March 16 for meetings of Department Related Standing Committtees.
Financial business including discussion on demands for grants of various ministries in the Lok Sabha and working of some ministries in the Rajya Sabha, consideration and passing of the Railways Appropriation Bill, 2016 and Finance Bill, 2016 constitute the main agenda of this session of Parliament, the release said.
The release said the Lok Sabha would take up discussion on Demands for Grants of the Ministry of Railways and the related Appropriation Bill for 2016-17 on April 26. This will be followed by discussion on Demands for Grants of the Ministries of Development of North-Eastern Region, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Social Justice and Empowerment and Civil Aviation.
The Rajya Sabha will discuss working of the Ministries of Health & Family Welfare, Human Resource Development, Finance, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and External Affairs. 
Thereafter, Finance Bill, 2016 and application of guillotine will be taken up, the release said.
According to it, other legislative agenda likely  to be taken up in Lok Sabha include:
1. Consideration and Passing of the Sikh Gurudwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2016 as passed by Rajya Sabha (listed for April 25);
2. Consideration and Passing of the Regional Centre for Bio-technology Bill,2016 (listed for April 25);
3. The Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2014 (Standing Committee submitted its Report);
4. The Electricity Amendment Bill, 2014 (Standing Committee submitted its Report);
5. The Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas and other related laws (Amendment) Bill,2014 (Standing Committee submitted its report);
6. The Merchant Shipping Bill, 2015 (Standing Committee submitted its Report);
7. The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development (Amendment) Bill,2015 (Standing Committee submitted its Report);
8. The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015 (Standing Committee submitted its Report);
9. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code,2015 (Report of Joint Committee awaited);
10. The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Bill, 2015 (Report of Standing Committee awaited);
11. The Consumer Protection Bill, 2015 (Report of the Standing Committee awaited);
12. The Companies (Amendment) Bill,2016 (Report of the Standing Committee awaited); and
13. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Second Bill, 2015 (Report of Joint Committee awaited).
The legislative business likely to be taken up in  Rajya Sabha include:
1. The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill,2016 as passed by Lok Sabha;
2. The Appropriation Acts (Repeal) Bill,2016 as passed by Lok Sabha;
3. The Repealing and Amending (Third) Bill,2016 as passed by Lok Sabha;
4. The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill,2016 as passed by Lok Sabha;
(The above four Bills listed for April 25)
5. The Constitution (One twenty second) Amendment Bill relating to introduction of GSG as passed by Lok Sabha and reported by the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha;
6. The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill,2016 as passed by Lok Sabha and referred to Select Committee of the House;
7. The Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill,2015 as passed by Lok Sabha;
8. The Indian Trusts (Amendment) Bill,2015 as passed by Lok Sabha;
9. The Industries (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill,2015 as passed by Lok Sabha;
10. The Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill, 1987 as reported by Joint Committee; and
11. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 as passed by Lok Sabha and referred to Joint Committee.
During the 15 sittings of the session, besides ratification of Presidential Proclamation in Uttarkhand under Article 356 of the Constitution, two Ordinances -- The Uttarakhand Appropriation (Vote on Account) Ordinance,2016 and The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Second Ordinance, 2016 -- are also on the agenda.

Modi urges global business community to invest in India's maritime sector

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday that it was his Government's endeavour to revive and restore India's position of eminence in the maritime sector in the world and called upon the global business community to partner with it to give shape to its process of port-led development.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing at the Maritime India Summit, in Mumbai on April 14, 2016.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing at the Maritime India Summit, in Mumbai on April 14, 2016.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said it was his Government's endeavour to revive and restore India's position of eminence in the maritime sector in the world and called upon the global business community to partner with it to give shape to its process of port-led development. 
"Building upon our glorious maritime tradition, we are working hard to achieve new heights in this area," he said in his inaugural address at the Maritime India Summit, 2016 here.
Mr. Modi said that, since his Government took over, among other things, it had laid emphasis on building futuristic infrastructure. This included building next generation infrastructure in many sectors with ports, shipping and maritime infrastructure being prominent among them, he said.
"In the very early days of our Government, we announced the Sagarmala programme. This is aimed at leveraging our long coastline and natural maritime advantages. It also focuses on promoting port-led development, energizing the coastal economy and infrastructure development in these areas. We particularly want to modernize our ports and integrate them with Special Economic Zones, Port based Smart Cities, Industrial Parks, Warehouses, Logistics Parks and Transport Corridors," he said.
Mr. Modi told the gathering that India's vast coastline of 7500 kilometres offered a huge investment opportunity.
"Apart from the length of the coastline, India's maritime potential also lies in its strategic location on all major shipping highways. In addition, we have an expansive and productive hinterland, through which flows a network of mighty rivers. Our maritime agenda will complement this ambitious infrastructure plan for the hinterland which is going on in parallel," he said.
"I am sure, the long coastline of India along with diverse coastal regions and hard working coastal communities can become an engine of growth of India," he said.
Mr. Modi listed the various initiatives taken by the Government to enable the growth of the port and related sectors, including steps to make India a global manufacturing hub and improve the ease of doing business.
"We have greatly liberalized the licensing regimes. This also includes the defence sector and ship building therein. We have taken almost sixty per cent of the defence items out of the licensing process. Most of the FDI sectors are now put on automatic approval route," he said.
Mr. Modi said shipyards were being given infrastructure status, at par with the ports. Rebate of service tax on coastal shipping has been increased to seventy per cent and customs duty and central excise exemption has been granted on inputs used in shipbuilding, he said.
He said a scheme of financial assistance to promote ship building had been approved; customs and central excise duties had been exempted on bunker fuel for Indian flagged container ships; and tax issues of sea farers had been resolved.
He said a new company by the name of Indian Port Rail Corporation had been established to focus on the last mile connectivity to ports. The Government had enacted a legislation for declaring 111 waterways as National Waterways. It had also taken up skill development activities aggressively.
"The results of our initial efforts are clearly visible: FDI inflows have gone up by 44 per cent since this government took over. In fact, the year 2015-16 has seen the highest ever FDI inflow into India. India’s highest ever quantity of cargo handled by major ports was in 2015. The port efficiency parameters have shown very good improvement. India’s fastest average turnaround time in ports was in 2015," he said.
Mr. Modi said that, in the last two years, India's major ports had  added 165 million tonne capacity with record additions each year. He said 94 million tonne capacity was added by these ports in 2015-16 alone which is the highest ever. The traffic in major ports had shown a healthy growth of more than four per cent in the last two years, despite global slowdown, he said.
He said the performance of the major ports in the last two years had been remarkable. Operating profit margins, which were declining, have increased, he said.
"In 2015-16 alone, the operating profit of the twelve major ports has increased by nearly 6.7 billion rupees. During 2015-16, Kandla Port in Gujarat breached the one hundred million traffic landmark and displayed twenty per cent improvement in efficiency.        Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust registered a net profit of ten billion rupees helped by a twelve per cent increase in efficiency. 
"Our flagship companies like the Shipping Corporation, Dredging Corporation and the Cochin Shipyard have registered higher profits as compared to the previous year. However, this is just the beginning. We want to do more. We are enhancing our own capacities of execution and implementation. The National Perspective Plan of the Sagarmala Programme has been released today.  
"During the last two years, major ports have awarded 56 new projects involving an investment of more than 250 billion rupees. This will create an additional port capacity of 317 million tonnes per annum.  Our vision is to increase port capacity from 1400 million tonnes to 3000 million tonnes by 2025. We want to mobilize an investment of one lakh crore, or one trillion rupees, in the port sector to enable this growth. Five new ports are planned to meet the increasing demand of the Exim trade which will rise in proportion with the fast-growing Indian economy. New ports are also being developed by several coastal States of India," he said.
Mr. Modi said the multiple measures to promote coastal shipping, coupled with the anticipated rise in domestic production of coal, were expected to enhance coastal transportation of coal by at least four fold by 2025. 
"We are engaging with our immediate and regional neighbours to promote shipping and maritime security. Recently India has signed a Coastal Shipping Agreement with Bangladesh which will be mutually beneficial. India is also engaged in the development of Chahbahar Port in Iran. A special purpose vehicle by the name India Ports Global Limited has been established to take up Maritime Projects overseas," he said.
He noed that the Ministry of Shipping was showcasing about 250 projects with investment opportunity in the Maritime Sector. These projects include various infrastructure development opportunities in 12 major ports, projects in eight maritime states and other agencies. Of these, over 100 projects have been identified under the Sagarmala Programme. 
"With more than 14,000 kilometers of navigable inland waterways in the country, there is tremendous potential for development in this sector. My Government is committed to integration in infrastructure. We are also committed to creating an enabling environment for investors and to facilitate investments with an open mind," he said.
The Prime Minister said all this was being done to benefit the common man and provide employment to the youth. This was particularly being done to empower coastal communities, he said.
"Approximately eighteen percent of India’s population lives in 72 coastal districts. It comprises twelve percent of India’s landmass. Therefore, there is a need for holistic and sustainable development of coastal regions and communities. Development of coastal communities especially fishermen requires an integrated approach. As part of the Sagarmala programme, we will adopt a comprehensive approach with focus on capacity building and training, upgrading of technology and for improving physical and social infrastructure. This will be done in collaboration with the coastal states," he said.
Mr. Modi said these initiatives would create employment opportunities of approximately ten million jobs over the next ten years. This includes four million direct and six million indirect jobs. 
"To broaden livelihood opportunities further, we are planning to deploy modern and sophisticated fishing vessels. This would enable them to harness resources in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone. In addition, we are also focusing on value addition in fisheries, aquaculture and cold chain development.
"The Port Sector in India is a good mix of Private and Public Ports, with both contributing to the growth of the sector. The PPP model of development has been quite successful in this sector and has helped in bringing latest technology and best practices. Private Ports have been growing at a very healthy pace and have nearly doubled their capacity in the last 5 years. They handle around 45 per cent of the total cargo. Most of these ports are new, with modern facilities and can match the best international ports in terms of performance and infrastructure," he said.
"India has had a glorious maritime history. We are on the path of shaping an even better maritime future. The maritime sector not only creates and facilitates economic activities; it also connects countries and civilizations. Moreover, it is the cleanest and cheapest carrier of global trade. Investing in maritime sector is not only investing in one’s own future; but in the future of the planet and that of coming generations. However, in this sector, no country can achieve the desired results in isolation. Nations have to collaborate to realize this potential and to overcome challenges in this sector. The objective of this Summit is to provide a platform and forum for such cooperation.
"To conclude, I would like to say that: This is the right time to come to India. It is even better to come through the sea route. The Indian ship is well equipped for a long haul. Don’t miss it. Missing it means missing a pleasant journey and a great destination.
"Once you are here, I assure you that I will personally hold your hands to see that your berthing is safe, secure and satisfactory,"he added.

Mukherjee says pluralism is hallmark of India's civilization

President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday stressed that pluralism and tolerance had been the hallmark of India's civilization and that it was a core philosophy that must continue undeterred, because the country's strength lay in her diversity.

President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the Arjun Singh Memorial Lecture in New Delhi on April 9, 2016.
President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the Arjun Singh Memorial Lecture in New Delhi on April 9, 2016.
President Pranab Mukherjee today stressed that pluralism and tolerance had been the hallmark of India's civilization and that it was a core philosophy  that must continue undeterred, because the country's strength lay in her diversity.
"In a pluralistic democracy, it is important that the values of tolerance, respect for contrary views and patience are inculcated amongst the citizens particularly the youth," he said in the Arjun Singh Memorial Lecture at the Nehru Memorial Museum here.
Mr. Mukherjee pointed out that India was a multi-faceted nation of 1.3 billion people, 122 languages, 1600 dialects and 7 religions.
"Diversity of our country is a fact. This cannot be turned into fiction due to the whims and caprices of few individuals. Plurality of our society has come about through assimilation of ideas over centuries. The multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special. We derive our strength from tolerance. It has been part of our collective consciousness for centuries. It has worked well for us and it is the only way it will work for us. There are divergent strands in public discourse. We may argue. We may not agree. But we cannot deny the essential prevalence of multiplicity of opinion. Otherwise, a fundamental character of our thought process will wither away," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee said the harmony of faiths in India stood out as an important moral example in a world where several regions had been torn apart by sectarian conflicts.
"We must continue to lead by example. We must work towards maintaining the continuing goodwill amongst different communities. At times, communal harmony will be put to test by vested interests. We must therefore remain alert to communal tensions rearing its ugly head anywhere. Rule of Law must form the sole basis for dealing with any challenging situation. It is our democratic underpinning that must prevail at all times," he said.
The President underlined that democracy was not all about numbers but also called for consensus building.
"A phenomenon seen in recent times is the way the common man is engaged with affairs of the nation. While we must wield no space to anarchy, efficient democratic machinery must have the means and wherewithal to absorb public opinion for formulation of sound policies," he said.
He said the late Arjun Singh, a former Union Minister, was one leader whose heart and mind were rooted to the ground. 
"He never lost his simplicity to power, nor did he lose his concern for the common man. He dedicated himself to the building of a strong nation based on the values of secularism and democracy which he dearly cherished. He held important positions in the Congress Party and was an able political organizer. He had a deep understanding of political issues and their undercurrents, which was an asset while dealing with any political situation," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee spoke at length about Mr. Singh's long and distinguished career as a political leader, starting with his days as a legislator, Minister and then Chief Minister in Madhya Pradesh and about his stints as Union Minister and as Governor of Punjab.
"On his demise in March 2011, Arjun Singhji left behind a rich legacy of administrative acumen, political statesmanship and a lifetime spent in championing the cause of weaker sections," he said.
He said that Mr. Singh had had the longest tenure as Human Resource Development Minister after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He said this peiod was marked by rapid expansion in the higher education sector.
Mr. Mukherjee stressed the need for Indian institututes of higher learning to improve the quality of education and emerge as world-class institutions.
"The role of educational institutions goes beyond mere pedagogy and classrooms. It is incumbent on them to mould students into responsible human beings. They have to instill in the students the civilizational values of love for motherland; performance of duty; compassion for all; tolerance for pluralism; respect for women; honesty in life; self-restraint in conduct; responsibility in action; and discipline," he added.

India is haven of macro-economic stability, beacon of hope: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday that India was a haven of macro-economic stability and a beacon of hope, dynamism and opportunity and asserted that it could contribute to Asian prosperity and development by being economically strong.

Asia a ray of hope for global economic recovery: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said that India was a haven of macro-economic stability and a beacon of hope, dynamism and opportunity and asserted that it could contribute to Asian prosperity and development by being economically strong.
"We all want Asia to succeed," he said in his inaugural address at the conference on "Advancing Asia: Investing for the Future" organised here by the Ministry of Finance and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) here.
He noted that IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde had referred to India as the "bright spot" in the global economy and said he viewed this as a great privilege and, at the same time, a major responsibility.
Outlining India's achievements in the last few months and its priorities for the period ahead, Mr. Modi said the country had recorded major gains in macro-economic stability. "A durable reduction in inflation, steady fiscal consolidation, a comfortable balance of payments position and build-up of foreign exchange reserves are the highlights," he said.
The Prime Minister said that, in a difficult external environment and despite a second successive year of weak rainfall, India had increased its growth rate to 7.6 per cent, the highest among major economies in the world. 
"We have improved our economic governance. Corruption and interference in the decisions of banks and regulators are now behind us," he said.
He said the Government had undertaken a highly successful financial inclusion programme, bringing over two hundred million unbanked people into the banking system within a span of a few months. Thanks to this, it now had the world’s largest and most successful programme of direct benefit transfers, in cooking gas. The Government planned to extend it to other sectors such as food, kerosene, and fertilizers. This has improved targeting and the quality of public expenditure, he said.
Mr. Modi said the Government had opened up nearly all sectors of the economy to foreign direct investment (FDI). He said India achieved the highest ever rank in the World Bank Doing Business indicators and reached an all-time high in many physical indicators in 2015, including the production of coal, electricity, urea, fertilizer and motor vehicles. He said these indicators also included cargo handled at major ports and the fastest turnaround time in ports; and award of new highway kilometers; software export.
He said entrepreneurship is booming, following a series of steps we have taken. India is now fourth in the world in the number of technical start-ups, after USA, Britain and Israel. The Economist magazine has called India the new frontier for E-Commerce, he said.
Mr. Modi said the Government did not intend to rest on these  achievements because his agenda of “reform-to-transform” still needsed to be finished. 
"Our recent budget provides a roadmap for our future plans and ambitions. Our underlying philosophy is clear: To create the climate for wealth generation and for that wealth to be spread to all Indians, especially the poor, vulnerable, farmers, and disadvantaged communities," he said.
He said the Government had increased investment in the rural and agriculture sector, because that was where a majority of India still lived. 
"But our help to the farmers is not based on giving hand-outs. We aim to double farmer incomes by increasing irrigation, better water management, creating rural assets, boosting productivity, improving marketing, reducing margins of middlemen, and avoiding income shocks. 
"We are introducing reforms in agricultural marketing and have launched a major crop insurance programme," he said.
Mr. Modi said that, in addition to agriculture, the Government had increased public investment in roads and railways, which would improve the productivity of the economy and the connectivity of  people. Public investment is also essential at a time when private investment remains weak, he said.
He said the Government had also made other reforms that would help create wealth and economic opportunity. "Given the enormous entrepreneurial potential in the country, my motto is Start Up India and Stand Up India. The budget has provided a further boost to the ecosystem for start-ups,' he said.
He said ensuring employability of the youth was essential for the success of the Government's Make-in-India campaign. 
"The Government of India has an ambitious agenda for skilling our labour force. Skill creation of the magnitude that we have envisaged, involves institution building, which we have undertaken. Now, we have a skill development programme that cuts across twenty-nine sectors and with a nation-wide coverage," he said.
Mr. Modi also provided details of India's plans to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP by 33 percent between now and 2030.
"India has moved from a regime of significant carbon subsidy to one of carbon taxes. India is one of the few countries to have a carbon tax in the form of a cess on coal. The coal cess has been doubled in the Budget of 2016-17," he said.
Mr. Modi expressed happiness that the long pending quota revisions agreed in 2010 have finally come into effect in the IMF. 
"The quotas of emerging countries will now better reflect their weight in the world economy. This will give them more say in collective decisions in the IMF," he said.
"I am sure, the IMF will be able to build on this success. Reform of global institutions has to be an on-going process. It must reflect changes in the global economy, and the rising share of emerging economies. Even now, IMF quotas do not reflect the global economic realities. Change in quotas is not an issue of increasing the ‘power’ of certain countries. It is an issue of fairness and legitimacy. The belief that quotas can be changed, is essential for the fairness of the system. For poor nations to respect the legitimacy of such institutions, they must be able to aspire and to hope. I am, therefore, very happy that the IMF has decided to finalize the next round of quota changes by October 2017," he said.
Mr. Modi stressed that India had always had great faith in multilateralism and that it believe that, as the world became more complex, the role of multilateral institutions would increase.
He recalled that India was represented at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, which gave birth to the IMF. India’s delegate was Mr. R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, who later became independent India’s first Finance Minister. 
"Our ties, therefore, are more than seventy years old. We are a Founding Member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank. We are confident that these banks will play an important role in the development of Asia. The Fund has built up an immense stock of economic expertise. All its members should take advantage of this. All of us need to pursue policies that provide a stable macro economy, enhance growth and further inclusion. The Fund can be of great assistance in this," he said.
He said that, apart from advice, the IMF could help in building capacity for policy making.
"I am happy to announce a new partnership with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and the IMF. We have agreed to set up the South Asia Regional Training and Technical Assistance Centre. The centre will provide training to government and public sector employees. It will enhance their skills and improve the quality of their policy inputs. It will also provide technical assistance to governments and public institutions," he said.
On the theme of the conference, Mr. Modi touched on two issues:  firstly, “Why Asia?” And secondly, “How India”? 
"Why is Asia so important, and how can India contribute?" he asked.
Mr. Modi pointed out that three out of every five people in the world lived in Asia and its share in global output and trade was now close to one-third. Its share in global foreign direct investment is about forty percent. It has also been one of the world’s most dynamic regions. 
"Although Asia has slowed down, it is still growing at a rate three times greater than that of the advanced countries. It is, therefore, the ray of hope for global economic recovery," he said.
He said many Asian countries had relied more on developmental financial institutions and banks than on capital markets. This provides an alternative model for the financial sector, he said.
"Social stability built on strong family values is another feature of Asia’s development. Asians tend to leave things behind for the next generation," he pointed out.
Mr. Modi spoke of India's special place in Asia and underlined that it had dispelled the myth that democracy and rapid economic growth could not go together. 
"India has also shown that a large, diverse country can be managed in a way that can promote economic growth and maintain social stability. One way in which we are doing this is through cooperative and competitive federalism. The states and the Centre come together to pursue common objectives. States which pursue good policies and deliver essential services for the poor, induce others to follow. 
"Our rapid economic growth is also very distinct in Asia. We have never tried to gain in trade at the expense of our partners. We do not follow 'beggar thy neighbour' macro-economic policies. We have never undervalued our exchange rate. We add to world and Asian demand by running current account deficits. We are therefore good Asian and good global economic citizens, and a source of demand to our trading partners," he said.
Mr. Modi listed the various cooperative initiatives taken by India in Asia and dwelt at length on its "Act East Policy".
"Our approach to cooperation is based on flexible geometry. We have integrated in different ways and at different speeds with our neighbours in South Asia, our partners in ASEAN, and our partners in Singapore, Japan, and Korea. We intend to continue doing so. 
"My dream is of a Transformed India. I lay this dream alongside our common dream of an Advanced Asia – an Asia where more than half of the global population can live with happiness and fulfillment. Our joint heritage and mutual respect, our common goals and similar policies, can and must create sustainable growth and shared prosperity," he added.

Kerala: Court orders probe against CM Oommen Chandy, Minister Aryadan Mohammad

A Vigilance Court in Thrissur on Thursday ordered registering of an FIR and initiating a probe against Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his cabinet colleague Aryadan Mohammad on the bribery allegations raised against them by Saritha S Nair, main accused in the "solar scam".

Kerala solar scam: FIR ordered against CM; protestors lathicharged
A Vigilance Court here today ordered registering of a first information report (FIR) and initiating a probe against Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his cabinet colleague, Electricity and Transport Minister Aryadan Mohammad, on the bribery allegations raised against them by Saritha S Nair, main accused in the "solar scam".
Saritha and her associate Biju Radhakrishnan are accused of having cheated several businessmen and non-resident Indians (NRIs) of large sums of money promising them partnership in a company floated by them, Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions Pvt Limited, which offered solar energy solutions to institutions and households. 
They had also boasted of close connections with Mr Chandy and other ministers and even produced letters on official letterheads to support their claims. The scam came into light when an NRI, Sajad, filed a police complaint accusing them of having defrauded him of Rs 40 lakh. Subsequently, 33 cases were registered against them on various complaints.
Saritha, while deposing before the Justice Sivarajan Commission in Kochi yesterday, had alleged that she had paid a bribe totalling Rs 1.90 crore to an aide of the Chief Minister and Rs 40 lakh to Mr Mohammad. Both have denied the charges.
However, Inquiry Commissioner and Special Judge S S Vasan, taking cognisance of a private complaint, asked the Vigilance Director to file an FIR and complete the probe as early as possible. The court rejected the contention of the government counsel seeking a quick probe into the allegations before initiating proceedings against the Chief Minister. Justice should be equal for all, for the common man as well as Chief Minister, the court observed.
The judge said he was not looking into the merits of the complaint against the Chief Minister which is to be considered by the investigating officer. The report is to be submitted to the court on April 14. The court also rejected the submission of the state counsel regarding jurisdiction of the court since the alleged bribery took place in Thiruvananthapuram. However, the court upheld the contention of the complainant P D Joseph, a social activist, that it had also occurred in Kochi, which fell within the purview of the court.
Reacting to the court order, Mr Chandy told reporters in Kozhikode that he was prepared to face any inquiry and rejected the opposition demand for his resignation. “My conscience is clear and both of us have done nothing wrong,” he said, speaking on behalf of his ministerial colleague, too.
In a related development the Kerala High Court stayed the Thrissur Vigilance Court order of registering an FIR against Mr K Babu, who had resigned his post as Minister following the court order. 
Passing the order, High Court Judge P Ubaid observed that the vigilance court had acted in unnecessary haste without waiting for the order of the division bench of the High Court. The stay will be applicable for two months. In the meantime, the court directed the Vigilance Director to conduct a quick probe and submit a report within ten days.
Earlier, on January 25, Mr Chandy had deposed before the judicial commission. The deposition, that went on into the night, was completed only in the early hours the next day. He reportedly told the commission that he had met Saritha only three times and came to know about the financial dealings only after her arrest. He had acknowledged receipt of a contribution of Rs 2 lakh to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund in a letter drafted by his office under his letterhead. The letterhead was later found to be misused. He also denied that he had met Saritha in his office along with Sreedharan Nair, a quarry owner and one of the complainants in the scam, as stated by Intelligence ADGP A Hemachandran.
The Chief Minister later told reporters that he had refused to undergo a lie-detector test as he had not lied or acted against his conscience. Neither has the state exchequer incurred any loss nor the accused obtained any monetary advantage, he added. 

India, Russia lay foundation of future character of strategic partnership

India and Russia on Thursday agreed on several steps to lay the foundation of the future character of their strategic relationship, including in areas such as defence manufacturing, civil nuclear energy and hydrocarbons.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 16th Annual India-Russia Summit, at the Kremlin in Moscow on December 24, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 16th Annual India-Russia Summit, at the Kremlin in Moscow on December 24, 2015.
India and Russia today agreed on several steps to lay the foundation of the future character of their strategic relationship, including in areas such as defence manufacturing, civil nuclear energy and hydrocarbons.
"As I look to the future, I see Russia as a significant partner in India’s economic transformation and in shaping a balanced, stable, inclusive and a multi-polar world," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the 16th Annual India-Russia Summit at the Kremlin.
Mr. Modi first met Mr. Putin in the restricted format for some time before the two sides held delegation-level talks over a working lunch, official sources said. Mr. Putin had hosted Mr. Modi for a tete-e-tete at the Kremlin here yesterday evening.
"We have had excellent conversations over the past two days and very productive outcomes. It has deepened my conviction that this relationship truly meets the test of a special and privileged strategic partnership," he said.
Mr. Modi said the Inter-Governmental Agreement on manufacture of Kamov 226 helicopter in India signed today was the first project for a major defence platform under the Make in India mission. 
"It is rightly with our most important defence partner. We have made progress on a number of other defence proposals. These would boost defence manufacturing in India and India's defence readiness with next generation equipment," he said.
"The pace of our cooperation in nuclear energy is increasing. We are making progress on our plans for twelve Russian nuclear reactors at two sites. The agreement today will increase Indian manufacturing content in these reactors. It supports my mission of Make in India. I thank President Putin for his support," he said.
The Prime Minister said that, with one of the world’s largest reserves of hydrocarbons, Russia could be a critical source of energy security for India, especially because of their strategic partnership. 
"With President Putin's support, we are enlarging Indian investments in Russian hydrocarbon sector. 
"President Putin and I are moving creatively in expanding our economic relations. Following our last Summit, India has created a special notified zone to facilitate direct trade between the world’s largest uncut diamond exporter, Russia, and India, which processes 90% of the world’s uncut diamond," he said.
Mr. Modi said the two sides were working on logistics, and their Green Corridor project had taken off. He said the International North South Transit Corridor through Iran would significantly reduce transportation time and cost.
"Third, we are moving forward on the India-Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement. This will also benefit us in Central Asia.
"Fourth, we are encouraging our private sector to connect with each other more. We have just had an excellent meeting of CEO Forum. The agreements and the announcements today give me confidence that we will see huge increase in investments and trade in both directions," he said.
Mr. Modi began his statement by expressing his deepest condolences on the lives in the terrorist attack on a civilian Russian aircraft and in the downing of a military jet in Syria.
"In this moment of grief and challenge, we stand in solidarity with the people of Russia," he said.
He said Mr. Putin was the architect of the India-Russia strategic partnership and, in a changing world, his leadership had kept bilateral relations on a steady course of progress and growth.
"Mr. President, I have always had great respect and appreciation for our strategic partnership. It has been a source of strength and success for India in defence, development and diplomacy. And, there is genuine goodwill and mutual respect between our people.
"President Putin and I have a high degree of convergence in our positions on global issues and a strong commitment to deepen our international cooperation," he said.
Mr. Modi said the two sides had strong collaboration in the United Nations. 
"Our membership of BRICS, East Asia Summit, G20 and now Shanghai Cooperation Organisation gives our partnership a global character. It is particularly important in the arc from Eurasia to Asia Pacific, including in Central Asia and Afghanistan. 
"We are one in our belief that the world must unite and take concerted action on combating terrorism, without distinction and discrimination between terrorist groups and target countries," he said.
He said both sides agreed that an early political settlement through dialogue in West Asia was essential for restoring stability and containing extremism in the region.
"Indeed, all nations must come together, with sensitivity to each other, to address the challenges of our times.
"I am very pleased to have deepened my association with President Putin. Together, we have also given new direction and added more momentum and content to our strategic partnership.
"Just as I have had the pleasure of visiting Russia twice this year, I look forward to welcoming President Putin in India next year for the BRICS Summit as well as the Annual Summit," he added.
A joint statement issued by the two sides said Mr. Modi and Mr. Putin had held extensive and substantive discussions to review progress in bilateral relations since the last Annual Summit and their meeting on the margins of the BRICS Summit in Ufa in July 2015. 
"The interactions between the two Leaders were marked by deep warmth and mutual trust that characterize the special and privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India," it said.
The two sides signed several agreements in diverse fields of bilateral cooperation, including several commercial agreements between Russian and Indian companies.
The reconfirmed their commitment to realize the target set at the last annual summit to increase annual bilateral trade and investment.
Both sides reiterated their assessment that Mr. Modi's "Make in India” initiative provided a new and durable framework for engagement by Russian corporate entities in the fast growing Indian economy as well as noted the efforts made by the Indian Government to improve ease of doing business.
They welcomed recent announcement of several major bilateral investment proposals and called on companies in both countries to finalize new and ambitious investment proposals in promising sectors such as oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, chemical industry, mining, machine building, implementation of infrastructure projects, cooperation in railway sector, fertilizer production, automobiles and aircraft construction as well as collaborative ventures in modernizing each other's industrial facilities.
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Defence Secretary G. Mohan Kumar are among those who are part of Mr. Modi's delegation.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Modi, who arrived here yesterday on his first bilateral visit to Russia, visited the National Crisis Management Centre (NCMC) here, where officials briefed him on its functioning.
Mr. Modi also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier here today.

National Herald case: Congress, BJP slug it out in full-scale war

A full-scale war of words broke out Tuesday between the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, hours after a Delhi Court asked the main opposition party's president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi to appear before it on December 19.

National Herald case: Absolute case of 'political vendetta' by Govt., says Rahul
A full-scale war of words broke out today between the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hours after a Delhi Court asked the main opposition party's president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi to appear before it on December 19.
Ms. Gandhi, her son and four others will have to answer charges that they illegally acquired control of property worth Rs 2000 crore belonging to the now-defunct National Herald newspaper through a Section 25 company in which they hold a majority of the shares.
The Congress alleged that the case, based on a criminal complaint filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, was an instance of political vendetta.
"I am the daughter-in-law of (former Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi. I am not scared of anythng or anyone," Ms Gandhi told journalists in Parliament House.
Asked if she thought it was a case of political vendetta, Ms Gandhi told journalists in Parliament House that she would leave it to the media to judge.
Mr. Gandhi, who was on a visit to flood-affected areas of Puducherry, told reporters that it was a case of political vendetta. "This is the way the Central government tries to silence me and stop me from asking questions. It will not happen and I will continue to ask questions and put pressure on the government."
"They will do what they have to do. I will do what I have to do. They can make any allegation against me. Let them do whatever they want to do.
"My job is to to act as the opposition. I am not going to run away, I am not going to step back even one inch. Let them do what they want to do," he said.
Congress members raised slogans and stalled proceedings in both Houses of Parliament, forcing repeated adjournments and finally for the day.
The BJP denied any political motives and said Dr. Swamy had filed a private complaint on the basis of which the court had issued summons against the accused.
"The government had nothing to do with it. The High Court has dismissed their case and asked them to go and face trial. Nobody in this country has immunity from law," Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.
The Gandhis and the other four accused were supposed to appear before the trial court today after the Delhi High Court yesterday refused to cancel the summons issued by the lower court to them as well as other accused persons in the case.
Congress leader and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented them, told the court that all the accused persons were "extremely keen, ready and willing" to appear before it at the earliest possible date.
He said he was seeking exemption for their appearance today because the High Court's orders were  received only yesterday evening and that they had not had the time to study the judgement because Parliament is in session and for other reasons, including prior engagements.
The court directed the Gandhis and the others to appear before it at 3 pm on December 19.
"All the accused persons, barring one who is in the United States, will certainly be present on the 19th," Mr Singhvi told journalists outside the court later. He said the person in the US would also make every effort to remain present, subject to logistics and exigencies.
Mr Singhvi said that, while each of the accused had the highest regard for the court, the accused would appeal against the Delhi High Court order.
He said the case was an example of "political vendetta at its worst", pointing out that Dr. Swamy was a senior member of the central committee of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He cited the cases against other Congress leaders such as Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and said these were all born out of political malice.
"The ruling party is using proxy litigation to target Congress leaders," Mr. Singhvi said.
Apart from the Gandhis, the other accused in the case are Congress leaders Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes, journalist Suman Dubey, a family friend of the Gandhis, and technocrat Sam Pitroda.
Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Vora, Mr. Fernandes, Mr. Dubey and Mr Pitroda are directors of AJL, while all six are directors of YIL.
The National Herald was set up in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru, who went on to become India's first Prime Minister.
The trial court had issued summons against the Gandhis and other accused on a criminal complaint filed by Dr. Swamy.
The crux of the complaint is that the Congress had given a loan of Rs. 90 crore to Associated Journals Limited (AJL), the publishers of National Herald. On December 28, 2010, AJL had assigned this debt to Young Indian Ltd (YIL), a section 25 charitable company, for Rs. 50 lakh. The newspaper ceased publication in 2008 but has buildings in prime locations in Delhi and other cities.
The fresh round of allegations between the Congress and the BJP has raised doubts about the chances of important legislation like the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, seen as one of the important measures of economic reform, being passed in the current session of Parliament.
The Government does not have the numbers to get the legislation through the Rajya Sabha and needs the support of the Congress to get the constitutional amendment passed in it.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal told journalists at the party's headquarters that the BJP had, in the last year, been targeting the party's leaders.
"Since they have no idea how to govern the country they want to distract the attention of people from their promise of good governance," he said.
"They have targeted Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and our leaders Virbhadra Singh, who was accosted during his daughter’s wedding, Shankarsinh Vaghela, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. They have filed sedition cases against young people in Gujarat and are targeting West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar," he said.
Mr Sibal said the Congress' decision to give a loan to Associated Journals Ltd cannot be described as a criminal act. 
"Can I ask the BJP how it spends its money? Or, how a political party spends its money? Is it a legal matter? Does it have anything to do with criminality? BJP invested in mutual funds and got dividends from it and claimed it as a business expense in their IT returns. The BJP ran a newspaper and sought a business loss expense on its returns, can we question it?" he asked, asserting that no provision in law had been breached. Similarly, he said that 
assigning of a loan was not a criminal offence.
"Young India is a Section 25 Company. It is a charitable company. If any assets are sold, then the proceeds will not go to any shareholder of Young India. They can’t get any money. No one has yet leveled an accusation that Ms. Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi took even one paisa from AJL. No part of the income has come to Young India. What is the criminality?" he said.
Mr. Singhvi, who was also present, said the party had nothing to fear, and nothing to hide.
"The National Herald is the symbol of Congress thinking. It is owned by AJL, whose senior office bearers are Congress members. The new company to whom the debt is assigned, has Congress office-bearers. The control of National Herald is in the hands of the same Congress members, and they control Young India. How can that become criminal?" he said.
"The fact of the matter is that there is fear in the government. When they can’t tackle the Congress in a straight way, then you come at us this way...It is unfortunate that this type of politics is being played in our country," he said.
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