India says Jadhav's meeting with wife, mother in Islamabad lacked credibility

India said on Tuesday that the manner in which the meeting between former Indian Naval officer Kulbhushan Yadav and his wife and mother was conducted in Islamabad on Monday was clearly an attempt to bolster a false and unsubstantiated narrative of his alleged activities.

Jadhav's family was harassed in Islamabad: MEA
India today said the manner in which the meeting between former Indian Naval officer Kulbhushan Yadav, who has been sentenced to death in Pakistan in an espionage case, and his wife and mother was conducted in Islamabad yesterday and its aftermath were clearly an attempt to bolster a false and unsubstantiated narrative of his alleged activities.
"You would all agree that this exercise lacked any credibility," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
Jadhav met his mother Avanti and wife Chetankul for about 40 minutes, separated by a glass screen, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad.
They had reached Islamabad yesterday morning and had stopped for some time at the Indian High Commission here before reaching the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After the meeting with Jadhav, the two women travelled back to India yesterday evening.
During the day today, Jadhav's wife and mother met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj here.
"The meeting took place after requests by India for family access. Prior to the meeting, the two Governments were in touch through diplomatic channels to work out its modalities and format. There were clear understandings between the two sides and the Indian side scrupulously abided by all its commitments," Mr. Raveesh Kumar said.
"However, we note with regret that the Pakistani side conducted the meeting in a manner which violated the letter and spirit of our understandings. This included:
"The Pakistani press was allowed on multiple occasions to approach family members closely, harass and hector them and hurl false and motivated accusations about Shri Jadhav. This was despite a clear agreement that the media would not be allowed close access.
"Under the pretext of security precautions, the cultural and religious sensibilities of family members were disregarded. This included removal of mangal sutra, bangles and bindi, as well as a change in attire that was not warranted by security," he said.
Mr. Raveesh Kumar said Jadhav's mother was prevented from talking to him in their mother tongue, although this was clearly the natural medium of communication. She was repeatedly interrupted while doing so and eventually prevented from proceeding further in this regard, he said.
He said Indian Deputy High Commissioner J. P. Singh was initially separated from the family members who were taken to the meeting without informing him. The meeting was started without his presence and he could join only after pressing the matter with concerned officials. Even then, he was kept behind an additional partition that did not allow him access to the meeting as agreed, he said.
"For some inexplicable reason, despite her repeated requests, the shoes of the wife of Shri Jadhav were not returned to her after the meeting. We would caution against any mischievous intent in this regard.
"From the feedback we have received of the meeting, it appears that Shri Jadhav was under considerable stress and speaking in an atmosphere of coercion. Most of his remarks were clearly tutored and designed to perpetuate the false narrative of his alleged activities in Pakistan. His appearance also raises questions of his health and well being.
"We also regret that contrary to assurances, the overall atmosphere of the meeting was intimidating insofar as family members were concerned. Family members, however, handled the situation with great courage and fortitude," Mr. Raveesh Kumar added.
In Islamabad yesterday, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal had told journalists that the Indian diplomat was present during the meeting and he could see Jadhav.
He said Pakistan wanted Jadhav's wife and mother to be present at the media briefing and speak to journalists, including those from India.
"We had formally proposed this to India. This was done in the spirit that Pakistan has nothing to hide and like all of you seeks answers to many questions that remain unanswered. However, the Indian side requested that they wanted to avoid media interaction. Hence, I speak today without the presence of the mother and wife in due deference to the Indian request," he said.
Jadhav was awarded the death sentence on April 10 this year by a Field General Court Martial (FGCM) in Pakistan, which tried him under the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) for his alleged involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against that country, drawing sharp reactions from India.
Two weeks after Jadhav was sentenced to death, India had sought visas for his parents to visit Pakistan and meet him. 
Pakistan has accused Jadhav of being an agent of India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and claimed that he was arrested on March 3, 2016 through a counter intelligence operation from Mashkel, Balochistan.
"He confessed before a Magistrate and the Court that he was tasked by RAW to plan, coordinate and organize espionage / sabotage activities aiming to destabilize and wage war against Pakistan by impeding the efforts of Law Enforcement Agencies for restoring peace in Balochistan and Karachi," a press release from Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had said at that time.
India had then warned Pakistan that, if the sentence were carried out, the Government and people of India would regard it as a case of premeditated murder.
"Shri Jadhav was kidnapped last year from Iran and his subsequent presence in Pakistan has never been explained credibly. The Government of India, through its High Commission in Islamabad, has repeatedly sought consular access to him, as provided for by international law. Requests to that effect were formally made 13 times between 25 March 2016 and 31 March 2017. This was not permitted by the Pakistani authorities.
"The proceedings that have led to the sentence against Shri Jadhav are farcical in the absence of any credible evidence against him. It is significant that our High Commission was not even informed that Shri Jadhav was being brought to trial. Senior Pakistani figures have themselves cast doubt about the adequacy of evidence. The claim in the ISPR release that Shri Jadhav was provided with a defending officer during the so-called trial is clearly absurd in the circumstances.
"If this sentence against an Indian citizen, awarded without observing basic norms of law and justice, is carried out, the Government and people of India will regard it as a case of premeditated murder," India had said at that time.
India had moved the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague in The Netherlands against the verdict and, on May 18 this year, the world court asked Pakistan to take all measures at its disposal to ensure that Jadhav was not executed, pending the final decision in the proceedings intiated by India in the matter.
The Government of India, through its High Commission in Islamabad, had repeatedly sought consular access to him, as provided for by international law. Requests to that effect were formally made 13 times between 25 March 2016 and 31 March 2017. This was not permitted by the Pakistani authorities, India has said.
India has also said that the proceedings that led to the sentence against Mr. Jadhav were farcical in the absence of any credible evidence against him. It said its High Commission had not even been informed that Mr. Jadhav was being brought to trial.
In its plea before the ICJ, India said it was not informed of Mr. Jadhav’s detention until long after his arrest and that Pakistan failed to inform the accused of his rights. It further alleges that, in violation of the Vienna Convention, the authorities of Pakistan are denying India its right of consular access to Mr. Jadhav, despite its repeated requests. 
India also pointed out that it learned about the death sentence against Mr. Jadhav from a press release. 
At yesterday's press briefing in Islamabad yesterday, Dr. Faisal repeated the charges against Jadhav and claimed that the former Naval officer had saidthat he had been tasked by India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to plan, coordinate and organize espionage, terrorism and sabotage to destabilize and wage war against Pakistan.
"In his mercy petition to the Chief of Army Staff on compassionate grounds, in June 2017, he again admitted his involvement in espionage, terrorist and subversive activities against Pakistan and expressed remorse at the resultant loss of precious innocent lives and damage to property. He has admitted of involvement in the assassination of SSP Aslam Chaudhry in Karachi. He has also confessed to targeting various workers of FWO, who were conducting different construction activities, in Balochistan and many IED attacks which were carried out in Quetta, Turbat and other cities, especially in Balochistan. He supported TTP and other groups, especially in the attacks on the Mehran Naval Base, various Radar installations and the Sui gas pipeline. All these were directly sponsored by RAW. Let us be very clear that Commander Jadhav is the face of Indian terrorism, especially in Pakistan. 
"India was provided with a copy of the passport that was in the possession of Commander Jadhav, when he was apprehended. The passport bears a Muslim name, Hussein Mubarak Patel which clearly is not Commander Jadhav. India has been unable and unwilling to provide an explanation abouthow and why an authentic Indian passport was used on a false ID, not once but at least 17 times, as Commander Jadhav travelled in and out of India. Indian silence is telling," Dr. Faisal said.
He said that, upon completion of investigations and the trial, Pakistan offered to India that the wife of Commander Jadhav may visit to meet him. "We received an Indian request that the mother of Commander Jadhav may also be permitted to meet him and a diplomat of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad to accompany the ladies. The request was considered in Pakistan and it was granted," he said.
"To reiterate, let me be very clear that Pakistan permitted the request by India purely on humanitarian grounds," he said.
"The visit was allowed in line with Islamic practices and teachings. Islam is the religion of peace and advocates mercy. It is a gesture of good faith and compassion. Commander Jadhav's actions at Indian behest have deprived many mothers of their sons and daughters. Pakistan upholds the Islamic morals and values which teach mercy, grace and compassion for all. 
"One good deed should beget another. Such decisions should serve as templates for others to follow, including in Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir where innocent blood continues to be spilled," Dr. Faisal added.
The Pakistan Foreign Office also released a pre-recorded video message in which Jadhav thanked the Pakistan Government for arranging the meeting. He said the Pakistani authorities had treated him in a dignified, respectful and professional manner, for which he is thankful.
Local media reports also said that Jadhav again confessed to working for RAW and that he had been arested in Balochistan while attempting to infiltrate into Pakistan from Iran.

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Day after BJP's Gujarat win, Rahul Gandhi says Modi has a "credibility problem"

A day after the ruling BJP retained power in Gujarat with reduced numbers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the results as a victory for development, Congress President Rahul Gandhi today hit out at him, saying that he has a "credibility problem".

BJP's marketing of Gujarat model is good, but it is hollow: Rahul Gandhi
A day after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained power in Gujarat with reduced numbers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the results as a victory for development, Congress President Rahul Gandhi today hit out at him, saying that he has a "credibility problem".
"Mr. Modi said yesterday that casteism had lost and that it was a stamp of approval for GST. He said it was an election about development, a stamp of approval for GST. Strange, because in his election speeches, he did not talk about development or GST, or demonetisation," Mr. Gandhi told journalists here.
"The elections have raised a big question about Modiji's credibility. And frankly, Modiji has a credibility problem and he will find it very difficult, because what he says, his forces, his organisation, they repeat it. But the people of the country are not listening to them," he said.
"This was shown by the Gujarat elections and you will see it in the coming times very clearly. It is simple, I am talking about credibility. Modiji talks about corruption non-stop, but on the Rafale aircraft issue or on the Jay Shah  issue, he does not utter a word," he said.
Mr. Gandhi said the people wanted to know what the Prime Minister had to say about the allegations about the Rafale deal or the media reports about Mr. Jay Shah, the son of BJP President Amit Shah, whose company's reviews increased from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 80 crore in three months. "This is a credibility issue," he said.
Counting of votes was taken up in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh yesterday, and the BJP extended its 22-year reign in the former and wrested power from the Congress in the latter. In Gujarat, however, the BJP's tally of 99 was lower than the 115 it had won in the 2013 elections. The Congress, on the other hand, increased its tally from 61 in 2012 to 77 this time.
Mr. Gandhi, who took over as the new President of the Congress two days after polling ended in Gujarat, said that three or four months ago, when they first went to the state for campaigning, people said the party could not fight against the BJP.
"In three-four months, we did solid work, not just me, members of the AICC, the team in Gujarat. And the results you have seen, the BJP has suffered a big jolt, and it has happened in Gujarat," he said.
Mr. Gandhi said that he came to know during the campaign that the people of the state did not beleive in the so-called Gujarat model of development. "The propaganda is very good, the marketing is very good, but that model is hollow from inside. The questions we raised during the campaign, they could not answer. They talk about 'vikas', but the feality is that they could not answer questions we raised about it," he said.
"You must have seen that Modiji did not have anything to say before the elections. He talked about himself, he talked about the Congress. 
"It is a good result for us.  True, we have lost. We could have won. There was a shortcoming there," he said.
Mr. Gandhi said that, in the last three months, he had learnt from the people of Gujarat that "no matter who your opponent is, who you are fighting, no matter how much anger there is in him, no matter how much money they have, how much wealth, how force they have, you can with love, brotherhood, take them on. This is what Gandhiji taught the nation and it is deeply ingrained in the minds of Gujaratis," he said.
"This is the main message that Gujarat has given me, and I am grateful from my heart to the people of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and I congratulate the winners in the elections," he added.

Rahul Gandhi takes over as Congress President with scathing attack on Modi, BJP

Rahul Gandhi on Saturday formally assumed charge as the President of the Congress with a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP and pledged to defend the voice of every single Indian and to never back down from his party's commitment to India's past, present and future.

Congress guided by service of community: Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi today formally assumed charge as the President of the Indian National Congress with a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and pledged to defend the voice of every single Indian and to never back down from his party's commitment to India's past, present and future.
"The Congress took India into the 21st century while the Prime Minister today is taking us backwards, to a medieval past where people are butchered because of who they are, beaten for what they believe and killed for what they eat," Mr. Gandhi said after taking over as the 49th President of the 132-year-old party that had spearheaded the nation's freedom struggle.
"This ugly violence shames us in the world. Our country, whose philosophy and history is born out of love and compassion, is tarnished by such horror and no amount of hugs can repair the damage done to this great country of ours," he said
Mr. Gandhi has succeeded his mother Sonia Gandhi, who was the longest serving President of the Grand Old Party, having been first elected to the position in 1998, seven years after the assassination of her husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
His election unopposed as the party marks a generational shift in the organisation at a time when it has been reduced to its lowest ever strength in the Lok Sabha and finds itself out of power in most major states, in some cases for more than two decades.
At the ceremony, held at the Congress headquarters, Mr. Gandhi received the election certificate from Mr. Mullapally Ramachandran, chairman of the party's Central Election Authority.
Apart from Mrs. Gandhi, most other senior leaders of the party, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, were present at the ceremony. Members of the Gandhi family, including Mr. Gandhi's sister Priyanka Vadra, were also amongst those present.
Hundreds of party workers celebrated outside the Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road, as the ceremony was held, bursting loud firecrackers and breaking into song and dance.
Mr. Gandhi said the vision of the ruling dispensation "belonged to a time where people did not have the rights and freedoms that have made our country the profound entity it is – a time when people did not have voice, did not have the right to dissent, to disagree, to differ, to be."
"We are now being compelled to imagine that businesses can be built without harmony, that only one man, one man himself – is the voice of reason, that expertise, experience and knowledge can be cast aside for personal glory, that it is acceptable for our foreign policy to lie in tatters so that one man can feel strong, and that everything in fact is subservient to the leader’s personal image.
"These regressive forces don’t win because they are right, they do not win because they stand on the side of what is correct, they win because they are powerful. Their power is manipulative and distortive and it stains everything it touches," he said.
Mr. Gandhi, 47, began his address by saying that, like many Indians across the country, he was idealist.
"I joined politics 13 years ago because of my profound belief in this country, its people and its path ahead. I travelled constantly over the past years and have had the fortune to speak to many of you and like me you are also idealists," he said.
He said that many of them were disillusioned today by the politics of the present times. "Because what we see before us is a politics devoid of kindness and truth. Politics belongs to the people, it is their greatest weapon in dismantling the structures that oppress, silence and disempower them," he said.
Mr. Gandhi said that, today, politics was not being used in the service of the people. It is being used to crush them, not to lift them up, he said.
"When I joined politics as a 34 year old, I came into this world having watched the generation before me fight the structures of oppression, the structures whose very fuel is lies and silence. When I entered politics 13 years ago I wished to be a part of the awakening that would transform India at home, by ensuring dignity for all its people, and in the world, where we would step into a role that resonated globally," he said.
Mr. Gandhi said that, early on, he learned the moment that when people challenged the structures of power to stand with the weak, the moment they announced that they stood for the poor, they were attacked and hit on all fronts to defeat them.
"They lie and they distort. Those in power in India today are shaped by the very structures that keep India poor," he said.
He said he had realised over the last few years is that such forces attacked the Congress and tried to weaken it but they could defeat the party only if it back down. "Stand up to them - and their anger and hatred makes all of you and us stronger," he said.
"We, in the Congress, will never back down and away from our promise to our country and our beloved people: our commitment to India’s past, its present and its future will stand today and evermore. And our commitment is this: we will defend the voice of every single Indian. We will never allow the democratic dreams and longings of our people, not one of them, to ever be silenced," he said.
"In this, I and all Congressmen and women, those who stand before us today and those who will rise in the times to come, will always stand strong," he said.
Mr. Gandhi said he wanted the Congress party to become an instrument for dialogue between Indian people – all of them, from all corners of the  country, all religions, all ethnicities, all ages, genders and people – and for dialogue to always be led by love and affection.
Mr. Gandhi told the BJP that they must realise that a fire, once started, could not easily be put out. He said the ruling party was today stoking fires and violence all over the country. He said the only force which could combat such elements were the Congress workers and leaders.
"They break, we join; they set fire, we douse it; they become angry, we show love, that is the difference between them and us," he said.
"The Congress is an ancient idea. The BJP would have you believe that they are the oldest idea in the universe. As usual, that is not the truth. In India there are two ideas that have historically clashed: the idea of the self versus the idea of the other. The BJP are soldiers fighting for the self: How much can they have? How can they protect their power? And how can they stop others from taking what they think is theirs?
"We, the Congress, have always been guided in service of our community of brothers and sisters. We fight for everyone, for all those in the periphery, all those relegated to the fringes. We fight for those who cannot fight alone and our struggle has always been one of brotherhood and of love. This defence of our fellow man was the spirit of the freedom movement and it remains the lifeblood of our party today.
"We consider the BJP our brothers and sisters, even though we do not agree with them. They want an India free of Congress, they want to erase us but the Congress’s inclusion and respect for all Indians extends even to the BJP. We do not fight hate with hate," he said.
"The Congress has met and will always meet our challenges and struggles with love and affection. They crush voice, we allow the most vulnerable to sing. They defame, we respect and defend. They might control the structures of power, the machinery of silence and fear but, we in the Congress, we are the bastion of the people. It is in this service that my idealism, your idealism and our hope for politics always rests.
"In the 13 years that I have served in politics, I have had the honour of listening and learning from my elders, Dr. Manmohan Singh Ji, Congress President Sonia Gandhi Ji and others on the stage and my friends seated here who have shown India democracy with dignity. Thank you for your lessons and your guidance.
"I am humbled by all the people who have stood here before me, not only those in the position of Congress President, but all Congress workers and leaders who have fought and died for our beautiful country. It is with the utmost humility, the deepest humility that I accept this position, knowing that I will always be walking in the shadow of giants," he added.
Mr. Gandhi had been declared elected unopposed to the position on December 11 at the end of the deadline for withdrawal of candidatures in the election for the post. 
Congress leaders from across the country had filed 89 nominations proposing Mr. Gandhi for the post. He was the only candidate in the fray. The Election Commission had set a deadline of December 31 for the Congress to complete its organisational elections, after giving it an extension.
Mr. Gandhi is the sixth person from the Nehru-Gandhi family to hold the position after Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehu, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
Mr. Gandhi's assumption of the leadership of the party has taken place just two days ahead of the counting of votes in the crucial elections to the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, which had seen him leading from the front in a campaign that had stretched over the last three months and more.
Under his leadership, the party made a spirited bid to wrest power back in Gujarat from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been ruling the state for 22 years. For the first time in a long time, the Congress sees a chance for itself in Gujarat -- the home state of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah -- and Mr. Gandhi travelled extensively throughout the state, addressing several meetings.
Counting of votes in Gujarat as well as Himachal Pradesh, where polling was held on November 9, will be taken up on December 18 and all results are expected by that evening.
Mr. Gandhi was elevated as Vice-President and, therefore, the number two in the party  on January 19, 2013, ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, at the Chintan Shivir of the party in Jaipur. He has been virtually leading the party in recent times because Mrs. Gandhi has been unwell and has cut back on her public engagements.
Born on June 19, 1970, Mr. Gandhi is the son of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Mrs Sonia Gandhi. He represents Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2004 from Amethi and re-elected in 2009 and 2014.
He attended St. Stephen's College, Delhi, Harvard College and Rollins College, Florida, from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. He went on to receive an M. Phil. in Development Studies from Trinity College, Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.
Thereafter, he joined the Monitor Group, a strategy consulting group, in London, and worked there for three years.

Modi says humanitarian forces must fight terrorism unitedly

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that terrorism and extremism were trying to weaken and destroy the social fabric and the need of the hour was for humanitarian forces to become more alert and cautious.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said terrorism and extremism were trying to weaken and destroy the social fabric and the need of the hour was for humanitarian forces to become more alert and cautious.
"Terrorism has threatened humanity across the globe. Terrorism has challenged humanity. It is bent upon destroying the humanitarian forces. So, not only India but all humanitarian forces will have to keep fighting unitedly to defeat the menace of terrorism," he said in the 38th edition of Mann  Ki Baat, his radio address to the nation.
"Lord Budha, Lord Mahavir, Guru Nanak, Mahatma Gandhi – this is the land which gave the message of love and non-violence to the world," he said.
Recalling the horrific November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, in which more than 160 people lost their lives, Mr. Modi said the nation could never forget this day.
"The country remembers and bows to those brave citizens, policemen, security men and each one who lost their lives then. This country can never forget their sacrifice. Terrorism has taken an ugly shape and has become a global threat almost as a daily routine. We, in India, are facing to lot for the last 40 years on account of terrorism. Thousands of our innocent people have lost their lives. But, a few years ago, when India used to talk about the severe threats of terrorism many people in the world were not ready to take it seriously.
"Now that, terrorism is knocking at their doors, every Government in the world, those who believe in humanity, Governments having faith in democracy are seeing this as one of the biggest challenges," he said.
Mr. Modi said November 26 was Constitution Day, marking the day in 1949 when the Constitution of India was adopted by the Constituent Assembly. 
"The Constitution of India is the spirit of our democracy. This is the day to remember the members of the Constituent Assembly. They all worked hard for about three years to draft the Constitution. And, whoever reads that debate will feel proud about what actually the vision of a life dedicated to the nation is. Can you imagine how hard their task would have been to frame the Constitution of our country which has such big diversities? They must have shown a great sense of understanding and farsightedness and that too at a juncture when the country was getting rid of the bondage of slavery. Now, this is the responsibility of all of us to make a New India in the light of the thinking of the makers of our Constitution. Our Constitution is all encompassing. There probably is no area, no aspect of nature which remained untouched," he said.
The Prime Minister said equality for all and sensitivity towards was a unique characteristic of the Constitution.
"It guarantees fundamental rights to each & every citizen, whether underprivileged or oppressed, backward or deprived, a tribal or a woman. It protects their fundamental rights and safeguards their interests. It is our duty that we abide by our Constitution in letter and spirit. Citizens and administrators alike must move ahead in accordance with the spirit of our Constitution. The message that our Constitution conveys is that no one should be harmed in any way. 
"It is but natural to remember Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar on the Constitution Day today. Seventeen separate committees were constituted by the Constituent Assembly on various important issues. One of the most significant of these was the drafting committee and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was the Chairman of this drafting committee. He was playing a pivotal role in it. The Constitution of India, which we feel so very proud of, bears an indelible stamp of his able leadership. He ensured the welfare of every section of society. We remember him and bow before him on his Mahaparinirvan Diwas on 6th of December. Babasaheb’s contribution in making the country prosperous and strong can never be forgotten. 15th of December is the death anniversary of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. Sardar Patel rose from being a farmer’s son to be known as the Iron Man of the country, undertaking the extraordinary task of uniting India into one nation. Sardar Saheb was also a member of the constituent Assembly. He was also the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on fundamental rights, minorities and tribals," he said.
Mr. Modi also pointed out that Navy Day would be observed on December 4.
"Indian Navy secures and protects our maritime boundaries. I congratulate all those who belong to the Navy. 
"All of you must be knowing that our civilization developed along river banks. Be it the Indus, the Ganges, the Yamuna or the Saraswati – our rivers and seas are both economically and strategically important. These are our gateway to the whole world. This country, our land has an unbreakable bond with oceans. And as we peep into our history, we come to know that about 800 to 900 (eight to nine hundred) years ago, during the rule of the Cholas, the Chola Navy was considered one of the strongest navies. This navy had a big role in the expansion of the Chola-rule and in making it an economic super power. Numerous references of voyages and expeditions of the Chola Navy are found even today in 'Sangam - literature'. 
"Very few people might be aware that most navies of the world allowed women on their warships pretty later. But in the Chola Navy, a large number of women played leading roles and that too about eight to nine hundred years ago; to the extent that women actively took part in battles. The Chola rulers possessed a very rich and sound knowledge of ship building. 
"When we talk of navy, who can ignore Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the capabilities and might of his navy. Konkan coast, where the sea has a significant role, was under Shivaji Maharaj’s realm. Many forts associated with Shivaji Maharaj like Sindhu Durg, Murud Janjira, Swarn Durg, etc were either situated on the sea coast or were encircled by sea. The security of these forts was the responsibility of the Maratha Navy. There was a combination of large ships and small boats in the Maratha Navy. His naval forces were very efficient and skilled in attacking the enemy and in defending their attacks. And how can we refer to the Maratha Navy and not remember Kanhoji Aangre! He took the Maratha Navy to newer heights and established Maratha Naval Bases at a number of places. After Independence, our Indian Navy showed its valour on various occasions; be it the liberation struggle of Goa or the Indo-Pak war. When we talk of the Navy, we see only war but the Indian Navy has come forward in humanitarian ventures as well. In June this year when Cyclone Mora hit Bangladesh and Myanmar, our naval ship INS Sumitra rendered a big help in rescue operations; many fishermen were rescued from the sea and handed over to Bangladesh. 
"In May-June this year when there was a severe flood in Sri Lanka, three ships of our navy reached there immediately and helped the government and the people there. In September, during the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh, our naval ship INS Ghadiyal delivered humanitarian assistance there. The Government of Papua New Guinea sent an SOS-message to us in June and our navy rendered help in saving the fishermen of a fishing boat. On 21st November, during an incident of piracy in a merchant vessel in the Western Gulf, our naval ship INS Trikand reached there to help them. Carrying medical services to Fiji, sending urgent relief, or delivering humanitarian aid during crisis to a neighbouring country – our navy has always rendered glorious service. We Indians, always nurture a feeling of pride and respect towards our security forces- be it the army, the navy or the air force and every countryman salutes the courage, bravery, valour, chivalry and sacrifice of our soldiers. They sacrifice their youth for the country so that 125 crore countrymen may live in peace. We observe Armed Forces Flag Day every year on 7th December. This is a day to feel proud of and show respect to our country’s armed forces," he said.
Mr. Modi said he was happy that the Ministry of Defence had decided to run a campaign from December 1 to December 7 during which they will reach out to the people of the country to disseminate information about our Armed Forces and to make them aware. 
"Throughout the week every one, old or young, should wear the flag. A movement to instill respect for our forces will come into being in the country. We can distribute Armed Forces flags on this occasion. Experiences and acts of valour of those from the armed forces who are our neighbours or acquaintances and related videos and pictures can be posted on hash-tag armed forces flag day (#armedforcesflagday). People from the forces could be invited to schools and colleges to share information about the forces. Our new generation can get a good opportunity to get information about the forces. This is also an occasion to collect funds for the welfare of the jawans of our armed forces. This amount is spent through the Sainik Kalyan Board on the dependents of those who lost their lives and also for those who got injured during wars, for their rehabilitation," he said.
"Come, let us do something on this occasion which may raise the morale of our armed forces. We should also contribute towards their welfare," he said.
Mr. Modi also spoke about World Soil Day, which is on December 5 and about the important role of soil in the food chain.
"Our farmers across the country have got more than 10 crore soil health cards made so that they may understand their soil better and accordingly sow the crop," he said.
"We worship mother Earth but have we ever thought as to how much damage is caused to the health of our mother- Earth because of the usage of fertilizers like Urea? This has been proved by all scientific methods that a serious damage is caused because of an excessive use of urea. The Farmer is the son of the soil, how can a farmer see the mother Earth falling sick? The need of the hour is to revive the mother-son relationship. Can our farmers, the sons of our soil make a resolve that by the year 2022, when we complete 75 year of our independence, they will cut down the urea usage to half of what is being used presently? If this son of the soil, my farmer brother once make this resolve then we will see the health of mother Earth improve and production will increase. A transformation shall start to usher into the life of the farmer," he said.
Mr. Modi also spoke about global warming and climate change as well as the national cleanliness campaign.
He also mentioned the disabled and their achievements in many spheres, including sports.
"These days special emphasis is being laid on accessibilities and opportunities for persons with disabilities, our Divyang brethren. Our endeavour is to ensure that each and every person in the country is empowered. Let the essence of ‘Sama’ and ‘Mama’, that is a confluence of collective and the individual, foster a sense of syncretic harmony in our society; let us move forward with each other, together," he said.
"A few days from now, the pious occasion of Id-e-milad-un-nabi will be observed. Paighambar Hazrat Mohammad Sahab was born on this day. I extend best wishes to all countrymen. And I hope that this holy occasion of Id gives us new inspiration, fresh energy and the strength to resolve anew, to foster peace and communal amity," he said.

Modi says India poised for swift take-off, hits out at critics of reforms

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday the jump in India’s global ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report meant that the country was poised for a “swift take-off” and lashed out as those questioning the achievement, saying that they never did anything themselves and were now questioning those who are trying to do something.

Prime Minister  Narendra Modi with World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva at an event on India's Business Reforms, in New Delhi on November 4, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva at an event on India's Business Reforms, in New Delhi on November 4, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said the jump in India’s global ranking in  the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report meant that the country was poised for a “swift take-off” and lashed out as those questioning the achievement, saying that they never did anything themselves and were now questioning those who are trying to do something.
He was speaking at a conference on “India’s Business Reforms” organised here by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotions (DIPP), four days after the World Bank released its report which showed that India had moved into the top 100 in the global rankings on the back of sustained business reforms over the past several years.
In an obvious reference to the Congress, Mr. Modi said that if the party had carried out many of the reforms during its tenure in government, it could have claimed credit for the improvement in the rankings, which were launched by the World Bank in 2004, the year the Congress-led UPA government’s ten-year reign began.
“I am a Prime Minister who has not even seen the building of the World Bank, while earlier people who used to run the World Bank were sitting here,” he said.
“Instead of raising questions about the rankings, they should cooperate with us so that the country can be taken to higher levels. They should resolve to work together with us to build a New India,” he said.
Mr. Modi said India had been identified in the report as one of the top performers and reached a position from where it would now be easier to improve further. “Our efforts have gathered momentum. In management terms, we have achieved critical mass for a swift takeoff,” he said 
Last year, the  report had ranked India at 130, from which it has moved up 30 places this year to 100. India is the only large country this year to have achieved such a significant shift. The report also recognized India as one of the top 10 improvers in this year’s assessment, having implemented reforms in 8 of the 10 Doing Business indicators. 
“I am very happy to be here today. I sense a well-deserved mood of celebration here. The World Bank has recognized the stupendous work done by us towards improving Ease of Doing Business. We are now among the top hundred countries in the Doing Business rankings. In a short time of three years we have improved forty-two ranks,” Mr. Modi said.
He also expressed happiness at the presence of World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva at the event, saying that it showed the bank’s commitment to encourage nations to undertake reforms which benefit society and economy. 
“Over the last three years, I have been constantly telling the domestic and foreign investor community that we in India are making sincere efforts to improve ‘ease of doing business’. And Friends! India has Walked the Talk,” he said.
“This improvement is important: because it is an indicator of Good Governance in the Country; because it is a measure of the quality of our public policies; because it is a benchmark of transparency of processes; because, ease of doing business, also leads to ease of life; and, ultimately, it reflects the way people live, work and transact in a society,” he said.
“But all this is for the benefit of concerned stakeholders. For me, the World Bank report shows that quantum change is possible through commitment and hard work. Continued efforts can help us improve even further,” he said. He said there was more work to be done. “I want to bring some change in in the lives of the 100 crore people of my country. I assure you that we will not leave any stone unturned in meeting the expectations of the world from India,” he said.
Mr. Modi noted, for example, that the World Bank report had not taken into account the implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) which, he said, was the biggest tax reform in the Indian economy and impacts many aspects of doing business. “With GST, we are moving towards a modern tax regime, which is transparent, stable and predictable,” he said.
He recalled that the Government would study the working of the new system for three months and that the GST Council was addressing the various issues that had cropped in the implementation of the new regime. He said many issues would be sorted out the coming meeting of the GST Council and all necessary improvements made even after that.
“There are many other reforms which have already happened, but need gestation and stabilization time, before they are taken into account by the World Bank. There are a few other reforms where our team and the World Bank team need to find common ground. All this, combined with our conviction to do even better, gives me the confidence that India will occupy a place of pride in the World Bank report next year and in the years thereafter. 
“I compliment the World Bank for engaging with countries to improve ease of doing business across the world. I also compliment them for the theme of this year’s report – ‘Reforming to create jobs’. There can be no denying that business is a major force in our lives. It is an engine for growth, employment generation, wealth creation and delivery of goods and services that make our lives comfortable,” he said.
Mr. Modi said India was a young country and job creation was an opportunity as well as a challenge. “Therefore, to leverage the energy of our youth, we are positioning India as a Start-up nation and a global manufacturing hub. For this purpose, we have launched various initiatives, such as Make in India and Start-up India,” he said.
He said that, through these initiatives, combined with the new eco-system of a formal economy and a unified tax regime, the Government was trying to create a New India. “An India where opportunities are created and harnessed to the advantage of the needy. We are particularly keen to develop India into a knowledge based, skill supported and technology driven society. A good beginning has been made through the Digital India and Skill India initiatives,” he said..
Mr. Modi said India was swiftly changing for the better and went on to list some more global recognitions which indicate this.
“We have moved up thirty two places in the last two years in the Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum. This is highest for any country. We have also moved up 21 places on the Global Innovation Index of WIPO in two years. We have moved 19 places on the Logistics Performance Index of 2016 of World Bank. We are among the top FDI destinations listed by UNCTAD,” he said.
“Our mantra is reform, perform and transform. We want to do better and better. I am happy to note that for the first time, the World Bank is helping us in this exercise at the sub-National level too. In a federal democracy like India, it is often not easy to take on board every stakeholder while undertaking reforms. However, over the last three years, there has been a sea change in the response of Governments, both at Central and State level. State Governments are finding innovative ways to create a business friendly environment. While often competing with each other in implementing business reforms, they are also helping each other in implementing them. This is an exciting universe in which competitiveness and cooperation co-exist,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the agenda for boosting growth and employment required many structural changes, many tough decisions and many new regulations. Besides this, the mind-set of the bureaucracy required change to enable them to work fearlessly and honestly. He said that, over the last three years, his Government had done a lot on these fronts and resolved a number of regulatory and policy issues facing businesses and companies. 
“Alongwith manufacturing, we are also pushing for faster progress in infrastructure sectors. Therefore, we are continuously working to improve our investment climate. In the last three and a half years we have undertaken bold Foreign Direct Investment reforms in twenty one sectors, covering eighty seven areas of policy,” he said.
He said these reforms had touched significant sectors like Defence, Railways, Construction Development, Insurance, Pension, Civil Aviation and Pharmaceuticals. More than ninety percent of the FDI approvals have been put on the automatic route. “We are now among the most open economies for FDI,” he said.
Mr. Modi said this had resulted in increased FDI inflow, which year after year is making new records. “The FDI inflows of 55.6 billion US dollars for the year ending March, 2016 were an all-time high. The following year, India registered an FDI inflow of 60.08 billion US dollars, thereby scaling an even higher peak. As a result, the total FDI received in the country has gone up by 67% in a short span of three years,” he said. “During the current financial year till August, total FDI of 30.38 billion US dollars has been received, which represents an increase of 30% as compared to the corresponding period last year. In August, 2017, India received a total FDI of 9.64 billion US dollars, which is the highest ever FDI received in any month,” he said.
“Over the last three years, we have systemically and critically evaluated business regulations. We have tried to understand the pain points of businesses with regard to interface with government. We engaged with businesses on a regular basis, understood their concerns and sought to modify regulation to address their concerns. 
“I have often emphasized that technology must be used to transform governance. Use of technology should minimize physical interface and assist time bound decision-making. I am glad to see that a number of Government Departments and State Governments are deploying technology to improve governance and deliver services. 
“Alongwith the tools of technology we also need a complete change of mind-set while dealing with business. Total re-engineering is required both at the level of Mind and Machine. The past mindset of excessive control has to be replaced by the concept of minimum government, maximum governance. This is our goal and my Government is determined to achieve this objective. 
“With this objective, an extensive exercise was undertaken to redesign laws and re-engineer government processes to make business environment simpler and more conducive. An attempt has been made to align the Indian regulatory environment to international best practices. Though, we were putting in efforts to improve India’s rank in the Doing Business Report, reforms undertaken by the Government are far more extensive. To give you one example; we have abolished more than 1200 archaic laws and Acts which were only complicating Governance. They have been deleted from the statute book. Similarly, thousands of important reforms have been carried out by the states as well. These additional efforts are not part of the World Bank’s requirement,” he said.
Mr. Modi said all Ministries of the Central Government, Public Sector Undertakings, State Governments as well as regulators should identify international best practices, consult their stakeholders and align their regulations and processes with international best practices. “I have no doubt that people working in these agencies are second to none in the world in respect of their capability and commitment to public service,” he said.
He said the Ease of Doing Business rankings were also rankings of Ease of Living Life. The improvement in India’s rankings means that life had become easier for the common man, the middle class, he said. He said India had managed to improve its ranking because the Government had, over the last three years, undertaken various reforms to reduce the difficulties being faced by people on various fronts.
“I must make a special mention of the fact that while Ease of Doing Business is important for all businesses, it is critical for small businesses including small manufacturers. This sector provides the bulk of employment in the country and to make them more competitive, we have to reduce the cost of doing business. The work on Ease of Doing Business must address the issues of these small businesses and manufacturers. 
“Once again, let me congratulate the team working on various aspects of ease of doing business for their commitment and dedication. I am sure that together we will write a new chapter in India’s history and transform India so that the dreams and aspirations of our people take wing. 
“I would like to thank the World Bank again for their guidance in our efforts to improve ease of Doing Business. I am told that the experience of bringing about decisive changes in a large country like India without affecting the growth process may become an example for many other nations. There is always scope to learn from others. If required, we will be happy to share our experience with other countries,” he added.

Congress wrests Gurdaspur in Punjab from BJP, its ally IUML retains Vengara in Kerala

In a morale booster for the party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat from the BJP by a huge margin and its ally, the IUML, retained the Vengara Assembly seat in Kerala in bye-elections held on October 11.

Congress' Sunil Jakhar wins Gurdaspur LS bye-election
In a morale booster ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha  seat from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by a huge margin and its ally, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), retained the Vengara Assembly seat in Kerala in bye-elections held on October 11.
Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar drubbed Mr. Swaran Singh Salaria of the BJP by a record margin of 1,93,219 votes in Gurdaspur.
In Vengara, Mr. K. N. A. Khader, the candidate of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), who is a member of the IUML, won from Vengara, defeating his nearest rival, P. P. Basheer of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), by a margin of 23,310 votes in the October 11 bye-election.
Counting of votes was taken up in both constituencies this morning, and the results were out by noon.
Gurdaspur had fallen vacant following the death on April 27 of well-known Hindi film actor Vinod Khanna, who represented the constituency in the Lok Sabha as a candidate of the ruling BJP.
Mr. Jakhar polled 4,99,752 votes against the 3,06,553 votes secured by Mr. Salaria. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Suresh Khajuria got just 23,579 votes.
Considering the fact that Mr. Khanna had won the seat by an impressive margin of 1.35 lakh votes in 2014, the bye-election ended up being a cakewalk for Mr. Jakhar, 63, the Congress Punjab unit chief and son of late Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar.
In between, in March this year, the Congress won a resounding victory in the elections to the Punjab Legislative Assembly and its leader Amarinder Singh returned as Chief Minister of the state. The bye-election had turned into a battle of prestige for both sides.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had ended up on the losing side in all the nine Assembly segments in Gurdaspur. Mr. Jakhar has managed to turn this around, winning from all the nine segments this time.
Gurdaspur was considered a Congress stronghold for long years, with its candidate Sukhbuns Kaur Bhinder winning the seat five times in a row from 1980 to 1996 before the BJP brought in Khanna, a top Bollywood actor, as its candidate in 1998. The actor-turned politician was re-elected from the seat in 1999, 2004 and then in 2014. In 2009, former Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa by a thin margin of 8,359 votes.
Mr. Jakhar described the bye-election result as a "referendum" on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance's government at the Centre and said the people of the constituency had sent a "strong message of resentment" over its policies.
"Congratulations to @sunilkjakhar ji for his impressive win in #Gurdaspur bypoll, it's a victory for @INCPunjab policies & development agenda," Mr. Amarinder Singh on microblogging site Twitter.
"Assure people of #Gurdaspur that every single promise made by @sunilkjakhar will be fulfilled and all development works will be fast-tracked," he added.
Congress leader and Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu said, "This is a beautiful Diwali gift, packed with a red ribbon, for our would-be party president Rahul Gandhi."
In Vengara, Mr. Khader polled 65,227 votes against 41,917 secured by Mr. Basheer, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the main constituent of the ruling LDF in the state.
Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) candidadte K. C. Naseer ended up third with 8,648 votes while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee K. Janachandran  Master, finished fourth with 5,728 votes in the results announced today.
The bye-election in Vengara was necessitated by the resignation of IUML leader P. K. Kunhalikutty, who was elected to the Lok Sabha on April 12 from the Malappuram seat that fell vacant following the death of former Union Minister E. Ahamed.
While the UDF celebrated the victory, the LDF drew satisfaction from the fact that they had reduced the IUML candidate's victory margin from 38,057 votes in the 2016 Assembly elections, when Mr. Kunhalikutty had won, to 23,310 votes in this bye-election.
Today's results have come just three days after the Congress swept the municipal elections in Nanded-Waghala in Maharashtra, considered a stronghold of the party. The party won 67 of the 81 seats, while the BJP won four and its ally Shiv Sena got just one.

SC says sex with minor wife is rape as it aligns anti-rape, child protection laws

In a significant judgement, the Supreme Court today held that sexual intervourse with a girl below 18 years of age is rape, regardless of whether she is married or not, as it aligned the country's anti-rape and child protection laws with each other.

In a significant judgement, the Supreme Court today held that sexual intervourse with a girl below 18 years of age is rape, regardless of whether she is married or not, as it aligned the country's anti-rape and child protection laws with each other.
In their judgement on a writ petition filed by Independent Thought, a two-judge bench, consisting of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, said Exception 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, under which sexual intercourse between a man and his wife, being a girl between 15 and 18 years, was not rape, had created "an unnecessary and artificial distinction between a married girl child and an unmarried girl child and has no rational nexus with any unclear objective sought to be achieved."
"The artificial distinction is arbitrary and discriminatory and is definitely not in the best interest of the girl child. The artificial distinction is contrary to the philosophy and ethos of Article 15(3) of the Constitution as well as contrary to Article 21 of the Constitution and our commitments in international conventions. It is also contrary to the philosophy behind some statutes, the bodily integrity of the girl child and her reproductive choice," Mr. Justice Lokur said in his judgement.
"What is equally dreadful, the artificial distinction turns a blind eye to trafficking of the girl child and surely each one of us must discourage trafficking which is such a horrible social evil," he said.
The judges made it clear that they had efrained from making any observation with regard to the marital rape of a woman who is 18 years of age and above since that issue was not before them at all. "Therefore we should not be understood to advert to that issue even collaterally," the judgement said.
Mr. Justice Lokur said: "On a complete assessment of the law and the documentary material, it appears that there are really five options before us: (i) To let the incongruity remain as it is – this does not seem a viable option to us, given that the lives of thousands of young girls are at stake; (ii) To strike down as unconstitutional Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC – in the present case this is also not a viable option since this relief was given up and no such issue was raised; (iii) To reduce the age of consent from 18 years to 15 years – this too is not a viable option and would ultimately be for Parliament to decide; (iv) To bring the POCSO Act in consonance with Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC – this is also not a viable option since it would require not only a retrograde amendment to the POCSO Act but also to several other pro-child statutes; (v) To read Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC in a purposive manner to make it in consonance with the POCSO Act, the spirit of other pro-child legislations and the human rights of a married girl child.
"Being purposive and harmonious constructionists, we are of opinion that this is the only pragmatic option available. Therefore, we are left with absolutely no other option but to harmonize the system of laws relating to children and require Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC to now be meaningfully read as: 'Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under eighteen years of age, is not rape.'
"It is only through this reading that the intent of social justice to the married girl child and the constitutional vision of the framers of our Constitution can be preserved and protected and perhaps given impetus," Mr. Justice Lokur added.
Mr. Justice Gupta, while fully agreeing with the both reasoning given by Mr. Justice Lokur and the conclusions arrived at, expressed his own views in a separate concurring judgement in which  he gave some other reasons while reaching the same conclusion.
"I am clearly of the opinion that Exception 2 to Section 375 IPC in so far as it relates to a girl child below 18 years is liable to be struck down on the following grounds:–
(i) it is arbitrary, capricious, whimsical and violative of the rights of the girl child and not fair, just and reasonable and, therefore, violative of Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India;
(ii) it is discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India and;
(iii) it is inconsistent with the provisions of POCSO, which must prevail.
"Therefore, Exception 2 to Section 375 IPC is read down as follows:
'Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being 18 years, is not rape'. It is, however, made clear that this judgment will have prospective effect.
He also clarified that Section 198(6) of the Code will apply to cases of rape of “wives” below 18 years, and cognizance can be taken only in accordance with the provisions of Section 198(6) of the Code.
The petitioner is a society working in the area of child rights. The society had filed the petition under Article 32 of the Constitution in public interest with a view to draw attention to the violation of the rights of girls who are married between the ages of 15 and 18 years.
According to the petitioner, Section 375 of the IPC prescribes the age of consent for sexual intercourse as 18 years meaning thereby that any person having sexual intercourse with a girl child below 18 years of age would be statutorily guilty of rape even if the sexual activity was with her consent. Almost every statute in India recognizes that a girl below 18 years of age is a child and it is for this reason that the law penalizes sexual intercourse with a girl who is below 18 years of age. 
"Unfortunately, by virtue of Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC, if a girl child between 15 and 18 years of age is married, her husband can have non-consensual sexual intercourse with her, without being penalized under the IPC, only because she is married to him and for no other reason. The right of such a girl child to bodily integrity and to decline to have sexual intercourse with her husband has been statutorily taken away and non-consensual sexual intercourse with her husband is not an offence under the IPC," the petition had said.

Congress uses Sinha's criticism to mount fresh attacks on Modi's economic policies

The opposition Congress on Wednesday gleefully latched on to senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha's scathing criticism of the government's handling of the economy to mount fresh attacks on the Narendra Modi regime even as Ministers came out to rebut the allegations made by one of their own.

Yashwant Sinha
Yashwant Sinha
The opposition Congress  today gleefully latched on to senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Yashwant Sinha's scathing criticism of the government's handling of the economy in a newspaper article to mount fresh attacks on the Narendra Modi regime on the issue even as Ministers came out to rebut the allegations made by one of their own.
"Ladies & Gentlemen, this is your copilot & FM speaking. Plz fasten your seat belts & take brace position. The wings have fallen off our plane," Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi said on micro-blogging site Twitter, sharing the link of an article by Mr. Sinha in today's edition of Indian Express.
Mr. Gandhi, who was on the last day of a three-day tour of poll-bound Gujarat, also referred to Mr. Sinha's lacerating criticism of the BJP government's performance at various meetings here addressed in the state. "We are not saying it, it is one of their own leaders," he said.
"I shall be failing in my national duty if I did not speak up even now against the mess the finance minister has made of the economy. I am also convinced that what I am going to say reflects the sentiments of a large number of people in the BJP and elsewhere who are not speaking up out of fear," Mr. Sinha, 79, who was Finance Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and now finds himself sidelined within the party, said in his article.
He wrote about how Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at one stage handled as many as three different portfolios, including Defence and Corporate Affairs. "I have handled the ministry of finance and know how much hard work there is in that ministry alone. Finance ministry, in the best of times, calls for the undivided attention of its boss if the job has to be properly done. In challenging times it becomes more than a 24/7 job. Naturally, even a superman like Jaitley could not do justice to the task," he said.
"Jaitley was, to begin with, a lucky finance minister, luckier than any in the post-liberalisation era. Depressed global crude oil prices placed at his disposal lakhs of crores of rupees. This unprecedented bonanza was waiting to be used imaginatively. The legacy problems like stalled projects and bank NPAs were no doubt there and should have been managed better like the crude oil bonanza. But the oil bonanza has been wasted and the legacy problems have not only been allowed to persist, they have become worse.
"So, what is the picture of the Indian economy today? Private investment has shrunk as never before in two decades, industrial production has all but collapsed, agriculture is in distress, construction industry, a big employer of the work force, is in the doldrums, the rest of the service sector is also in the slow lane, exports have dwindled, sector after sector of the economy is in distress, demonetisation has proved to be an unmitigated economic disaster, a badly conceived and poorly implemented GST has played havoc with businesses and sunk many of them and countless millions have lost their jobs with hardly any new opportunities coming the way of the new entrants to the labour market. For quarter after quarter, the growth rate of the economy has been declining until it reached the low of 5.7 per cent in the first quarter of the current fiscal, the lowest in three years. The spokespersons of the government say that demonetisation is not responsible for this deceleration. They are right. The deceleration had started much earlier. Demonetisation only added fuel to fire," Mr. Sinha said.
He pointed that the methodology for calculation of the GDP was changed by the present government in 2015 as a result of which the growth rate recorded earlier increased statistically by over 200 basis points on an annual basis. "So, according to the old method of calculation, the growth rate of 5.7 per cent is actually 3.7 per cent or less," he said.
"The reasons for this decline are not far to seek nor have they appeared suddenly. They have been allowed to accumulate over time to cause the present crisis. It was not difficult to anticipate them and take counter measures to deal with them. But that called for devoting time to the task, serious application of mind, understanding of the issues and then working out a game plan to tackle them. It was perhaps too much to expect from a person who was carrying the heavy burden of so many extra responsibilities. The results are there for all of us to see," Mr. Sinha said.
"The prime minister is worried. A meeting convened by the prime minister with the finance minister and his officials appears to have been postponed indefinitely. The finance minister has promised a package to revive growth. We are all waiting with bated breath for this package. It has not come so far. The only new thing is the reconstituted Economic Advisory Council of the prime minister. Like the five Pandavas they are expected to win the new Mahabharat war for us.
"The performance of the monsoon this year has not been flattering. This will further intensify rural distress. The farmers have received 'massive' loan waivers from some state governments varying from one paise to a few rupees in some cases. Forty leading companies of the country are already facing bankruptcy proceedings. Many more are likely to follow suit. The SME sector is suffering from an unprecedented existential crisis. The input tax credit demand under the GST is a whopping Rs 65,000 crore against a collection of Rs 95,000 crore. The government has asked the income tax department to chase those who have made large claims. Cash flow problems have already arisen for many companies specially in the SME sector. 
"But this is the style of functioning of the finance ministry now. We protested against raid raj when we were in opposition. Today it has become the order of the day. Post demonetisation, the income tax department has been charged with the responsibility of investigating lakhs of cases involving the fate of millions of people. The Enforcement Directorate and the CBI also have their plates full. Instilling fear in the minds of the people is the name of the new game.
"Economies are destroyed more easily than they are built.  It took almost four years of painstaking and hard work in the late nineties and early 2000 to revive a sagging economy we had inherited in 1998. Nobody has a magic wand to revive the economy overnight. Steps taken now will take their own time to produce results. So, a revival by the time of the next Lok Sabha election appears highly unlikely. A hard landing appears inevitable. Bluff and bluster is fine for the hustings, it evaporates in the face of reality.
"The prime minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters. His finance minister is working over-time to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters," Mr. Sinha added.
The article came in handy for Mr. Gandhi, who had for the past two days relentlessly attacked Mr. Modi and the BJP for their handling of the economy and especially on demonetisation and GST.
His party colleague and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said on Twitter: " Yashwant Sinha  speaks Truth to Power. Will Power now admit the Truth that economy is sinking?"
"No matter what Power does, ultimately Truth will prevail," he added.
Later, Mr. Chidambaram addressed mediapersons at the Congress headquarters, where he said that he had been writing about the "same weaknesses in the economy" and that his party had been pointing them out regularly over the past several months.
"We are happy Yashwant Sinha has spoken the truth, echoed our views about economy...he has spoken truth to the power," he said.
“The government is completely clueless about what is causing the economic decline. How long will it hide behind the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the slogans of the party?” he asked. 
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal defended the government, asserting that the Indian economy was the fastest growing in the world. They said measures such  as demonetisation and GST were bound to create some "uncertainty".
“The whole world acknowledges that India is the fastest growing economy in the world. No one should forget this fact. In the matter of economy, in the international arena, India’s credibility has been established,” Mr. Rajnath Singh said.
Mr. Goyal said the government would not be affected by the criticism and would stay the course as far as reforms were concerned.
“There is bound to be some uncertainty when some transformative changes are made. It may take some amount of time to absorb these changes but this will pass. Challenges come but we will stay the course. The government is steadfast in its resolve to end black money and corruption. It won’t flinch due to some criticism,” he said.

29 killed, 250 injured in violence after Panchkula court convicts Dera Sacha Sauda chief in rape case

At least 29 people were killed and more than 250 others suffered injuries as thousands of followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on the rampage after he was convicted in a rape case by a special CBI court in Panchkula, Haryana on Friday.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
At least 29 people were killed and more than 250 others suffered injuries as thousands of followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on the rampage after he was convicted in a rape case by a special CBI court in Panchkula, Haryana today.
The quantum of punishment for the 50-year-old self-styled godman will be pronounced on August 28. Meanwhile, he was taken into judicial custody and flown in a helicopter from Panchkula to Rohtak, where he was lodged in a special jail.
Police officials said 28 people had died in Panchkula, which bore the brunt of today's violence, several of them in police firing. There were clashes between Ram Rahim's supporters and the police in Sirsa, where the Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters are located.
One person died and four people suffered injuries in police firing in Sirsa, where the situation remained tense, with large numbers of Ram Rahim's followers gathered inside the Dera headquarters.
The officials said the police had been able to clear the mobs off the streets in all other towns in Haryana.
About 60 policemen also suffered injuries in today's incidents, including two senior superintendents of police and one deputy superintendent of police, they said.
In Delhi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who returned during the day from a visit to Kyrgyz Republic, spoke to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and discussed the situation with them. Mr. Rajnath Singh assured them of all necessary assistance from the Centre.
Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said he had talked to the Chief Secretary of Haryana who had told him that the situation was being brought under control. "The situation is tense but under control," he said, adding that the Centre was monitoring the situation continuously.
Thousands of Singh's supporters had gathered at different points in Panchkula and other parts of Haryana and Punjab and violence erupted shortly after news of his conviction came.
29 dead as Dera followers bring Panchkula to its knees
In Panchkula, scores of vehicles, including fire tenders, outdoor broadcast vans of television news channels and two-wheelers were set ablaze. The mobs also attacked some government property. Police used teargas, lathi-charges, pellet guns and finally resorted to firing to disperse the mobs.
A former follower of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had accused him of repeatedly raping her inside the Dera campus near Sirsa in Haryana in 1999. The first information report in the case had been filed in 2002.
The mobs targetted media vehicles and attacked some journalists reporting from the scene.
Incidents of violence were also reported from various other places in Haryana as well as Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi.
In Delhi, some buses in Jahangirpuri and other localities and two coaches of a train parked in the railway yard at Anand Vihar were partially burnt after they were set on fire by miscreants. Police said reinforcements had been rushed to all affected and patrolling had been stepped up all across the city. The situation was under control, they added.
Though thousands of policemen had been deployed in Panchkula and elsewhere in Haryana to prevent any untoward incident, they were unable cope with the wave of violence that started after the verdict was pronounced. Police used teargas shells to try and disperse the mobs. Curfew was imposed in some towns of Punjab.
Television pictures showed ambulances bringing scores of injured persons to the government hospital there.
The Railways had, as a precautionary measure, cancelled some 300 mail, express and passenger trains passing through  Haryana in the past few days.
The Centre had sent several companies of central armed police forces to Haryana at the request of the state government and the Army's assistance had been sought at some places.
Mr. Khattar urged people to stay calm and maintain peace. He said strict action would be taken against those who disturb the peace and took law into their own hands.
In Gurgaon, near here, the police staged a flag march which passed through Kherki Daula, IMT Manesar, Bilaspur, sohna, Bhondsi and Badshapur as a precautionary measure.
"A close watch is being kept on the anti-social elements and miscreants who try to take advantages of such situation," a press release from Gurgaon Police said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the "instances of violences" were "deeply distressing". He said he strongly condemned the violence and urged everyone to maintain peace.
"The instances of violence today are deeply distressing. I strongly condemn the violence & urge everyone to maintain peace," he said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
"The law & order situation is being closely monitored. I reviewed the situation with the NSA & Home Secretary," he said.
"Urged officials to work round the clock to restore normalcy and provide all possible assistance that is required," he added.
In Delhi, the police has imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, banning the assembly of five or more persons, as a precautionary measure in 11 districts, including New Delhi.
"Adequate police arrangements in place & Law & Order situation under control. Officers with reserve force on rounds to maintain peace," the Commissioner of Police said on Twitter.
"Appeal to all to maintain peace & order. #DelhiPolice on full alert. Strict legal action will be taken against miscreants for any violation," he added.
Meanwhile, the Congress has demanded the resignation of Mr. Khattar and urged the Prime Minister to put the interests and safety of Indians before his party's interests.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed grave concern and shock at the violence.
Ms. Gandhi spoke to Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh about the situation. She urged the Governments of Punjab and Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh to ensure the safety and security of citizens. She also appealed to the people to maintain peace and harmony.
"Violence & brutality have no place in our society. Condemn the rampage and lawlessness in Haryana & appeal to restore peace and tranquility," Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter.
Mr. Amarinder Singh appealed to the people of Punjab to maintain peace and harmony. "We won't allow anyone to disturb the peace and tranquility of our state," he added.

Modi interacts with young entrepreneurs at NITI Aayog's Champions of Change initiative

Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with young entrepreneurs at the "Champions of Change" event organized by the NITI Aayog in New Delhi on Thursday and said the initiative would be taken forward and institutionalised in the best way possible.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing young entrepreneurs at the Champions of Change programme, organised by NITI Aayog, in New Delhi on August 17, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing young entrepreneurs at the Champions of Change programme, organised by NITI Aayog, in New Delhi on August 17, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with young entrepreneurs at the "Champions of Change" event organized by the NITI Aayog here today and said the initiative would be taken forward and institutionalised in the best way possible.
Addressing the gathering, he said one possibility in this regard could be to associate the groups that made presentations today with the respective Departments and Ministries in the Union Government.
Mr. Modi described the "Champions of Change" initiative as one effort to bring together diverse strengths for the benefit of the nation and society.
Six groups of Young Entrepreneurs made presentations before the Prime Minister on themes such as: Soft Power: Incredible India 2.0; Education and Skill Development; Health and Nutrition; Energizing a sustainable tomorrow; and Digital India; New India by 2022.
Appreciating the new ideas and innovations envisaged in the presentations made by the entrepreneurs, Mr. Modi said that, in times past, social initiatives had catered to the requirements of people at large, and these movements were spearheaded by eminent people in society.
Mr. Modi cited the example of Padma Awards to point out how processes could be transformed to recognise hitherto unknown heroes of society.
The Prime Minister said senior officers in Union Government are keen to explore new avenues and ways for the betterment of people. He encouraged the entrepreneurs to continue their ideation in their respective groups.  He said that if they did so, they could go a long way in furthering the cause of governance.
Mr. Modi said a lot of small changes have been brought in by the Union Government, which have brought significant results. He said trusting the common man, through self attestation of documents is one such initiative. He also mentioned the abolition of interviews for Group C and D positions in the Union Government.
He said that today there is an "app" for filling every gap. He said technology and innovation should be harnessed to transform governance. He said decentralised structures are important to nurture the rural economy. In this context, he mentioned the role of startups in catalysing transformation.
The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of good teachers in society. He said technology can provide a big boost to the quality of education.
Mr. Modi encouraged the entrepreneurs to work towards promoting the social welfare schemes of the Government among their employees.
He emphasized that New India could only be built through the efforts of crores of ordinary citizens. He invited the entrepreneurs to join in this effort.
Several Union Ministers, NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya, and senior Union Government officers were present on the occasion. The event was coordinated by NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant.

Polling begins to elect new Vice-President, Naidu has edge over Gandhi

Polling began on Saturday morning to elect a new Vice-President of India from two candidates: former Union Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, who has been fielded by the ruling BJP-led NDA and former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the Opposition nominee.

M. Venkaiah Naidu
M. Venkaiah Naidu
Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Polling began here this morning to elect a new Vice-President of India to succeed Mr. Mohammad Hamid Ansari, whose term of office will end on August 10, from two candidates: former Union Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, who has been fielded by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the Opposition nominee.
Voting, which  began at 10 am, will end at 5 pm. Counting of votes will be taken up this evening, and the result is expected to be announced in a few hours after that.
Mr. Ansari, 80, who was the candidate of the then ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was elected for a second five-year term in office on August 7, 2012. Earlier, he had served a five-year term as Vice-President from August 11, 2007.
An election to fill the vacancy to be caused by the expiration of the term of office of the outgoing Vice-President needs to be completed before the expiration of the term of the present incunbent. 
Article 324 of the Constitution read with the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952 and the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Rules, 1974, vests the superintendence, direction and control of the conduct of election to the office of the Vice-President of India in the Election Commission of India. 
The Vice-President is elected by the members of the Electoral College consisting of the members of both Houses of Parliament in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. The nominated Members of Rajya Sabha  as well as  of Lok Sabha are also eligible to be included in the Electoral College and, therefore, are entitled to participate in the election.
In today's election, the electoral college consists of 233 elected and 12 nominated members of the Rajya Sabha and 543 elected members and two nominated members of the Lok Sabha, adding up to a total of 790.
The Election Commission of India has, in consultation with the Central Government, appointed the Secretary-General of the Rajya Sabha as the Returning Officer for the election. 
Mr. Naidu, 68, who was Union Minister for Urban Development, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, and Information and Broadcasting until his nomination for the post, clearly has the numbers on his side in this contest, given the strength of the BJP and its allies in both Houses of Parliament.
He began his career in politics as a student leader and made his way through the ranks to the top of the BJP leadership. He had served as the President of the BJP from July 2002 to October 2004.
Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu was born on July 1, 1949 at Chavatapalem in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. He has a B. A. degree from V. R. College, Nellore and a B. L. from the Law College, Andhra University at Visakhapatnam.
Plunging into student politics in 1971, Mr. Naidu was also associated with the Jayaprakash Narayan movement in 1974. He became the president of the youth wing of the Janata Party in Andhra Pradesh in 1977-80 and was elected for the first time as a member of the Legislative Assembly in Andhra Pradesh in 1978 and re-elected in 1983.
He served as president of the Andhra Pradesh unit of the BJP in 1988-93 and as General Secretary of the BJP in 1993-2000. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha in April 1998 from Karnataka. 
Mr. Naidu served as Minister of Rural Development from September 2000 to June 2002 in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government before becoming president of the party in July 2002.
He was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha for a second term from Karnataka in June 2004 and for a third term in June 2010.
He was appointed Minister for Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Parliamentary Affairs in the Narendra Modi government from May 26, 2014. In June last year, he was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan for his fourth term. 
Mr. Gandhi, 72, the joint candidate of 18 Opposition parties led by the Congress, is a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and has had a long career as a bureaucrat and diplomat and later as a writer and commentator on contemporary matters.
Among the parties supporting his candidature is the Janata Dal (United), which had since announcing its backing for him broken off its alliance with the Congress and the RJD in Bihar and aligned once again with the NDA.
Born on April 22, 1945, Mr. Gandhi is the son of Devadas Gandhi, son of Mahatma Gandhi, and Lakshmi Gandhi. His maternal grandfather was C. Rajagopalachari, the last Governor General of India. He is the younger brother of Rajmohan Gandhi, the late Ramchandra Gandhi and Tara Bhattacharjee, all distinguished in their own right.
A former officer of the 1968 batch of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) , he served as Secretary to the President of India and as High Commissioner to South Africa and Sri Lanka. He had also served as Secretary to Vice-President of India and as Ambassador to Norway and Iceland. He was appointed as Governor of West Bengal in 2004.
Mr. Gandhi has a Master's degree in Literature from St. Stephen's College, University of Delhi. He has authored one novel (Saranam, ­ "Refuge" in English) and a play in verse (Dara Shukoh). His other books are­ "Gandhi and South Africa", "Koi Acchha Sa Ladka" (translation into Hindustani of Vikram Seth's novel 'A Suitable Boy', "Gandhi and Sri Lanka", "Nehru and Sri Lanka", "India House, Colombo­ Portrait of a Residence", "Gandhi Is Gone. Who Will Guide Us Now? (edited), "A Frank Friendship/ Gandhi and Bengal: A Descriptive Chronology" (compiled and edited).
Mr. Gandhi has also served as Chairman of Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai and as Chairman of the governing body of Indian Institute of Advanced Study. He has also been associated with the Ashoka University as a Professor of History and Politics.
Mr. Gandhi and his wife Tara Gandhi have two daughters.

Modi says BRICS, G-20 must lead fight against terrorism, strengthen global economy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday that BRICS needed to show leadership on combating terrorism and strengthening the global economy and felt that the G-20 should collectively oppose terrorism funding, franchises, safe havens, support and sponsors.

Prime Minister  Narendra Modi at the informal meeting of leaders of the BRICS countries, on the sidelines of the 12th G-20 Summit, at Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the informal meeting of leaders of the BRICS countries, on the sidelines of the 12th G-20 Summit, at Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said BRICS needed to show leadership on combating terrorism and strengthening the global economy and felt that the G-20 should collectively oppose terrorism funding, franchises, safe havens, support and sponsors.
At an informal meeting of BRICS leaders, ahead of the G-20 Summit here, he also spoke about process of economic reforms in India, including the recent roll-out of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) across the country.
He said it was necessary for them to work together for sustained global economic recovery.
He advocated a collective voice against the practices of protectionism, especially in the spheres of trade and movement of knowledge and professionals. 
Mr. Modi He reiterated India's commitment to implementing the Paris Agreement in letter and spirit and described its implementation globally as essential to fighting climate change. 
He called for expeditious action to establish a BRICS rating agency and stated that cooperation on development of Africa should be a priority. He also called for greater people-to-people exchanges. 
The informal meeting of the leaders of the five BRICS countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- came in the run-up to the 9th BRICS Summit slated for September in Xiamen, China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said he looked forward to welcoming the BRICS leaders in Xiamen.
In their interventions, the leaders discussed preparations and priorities for the forthcoming Xiamen Summit. 
Mr. Modi appreciated the momentum in BRICS under the chairmanship of President Xi and extended full cooperation and best wishes for the Xiamen Summit. 
Concluding the meeting immediately after PM's remarks, President Xi appreciated India's strong resolve against terrorism and the momentum in BRICS introduced under India's Chairmanship and through the outcomes of the Goa Summit in 2016. 
He also appreciated India's success in economic and social development and wished India even bigger success. 

Modi promises direct flights, OCI cards for Indian community in Israel

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Indian community in Israel on Wednesday that Overseas Citizen of India cards would be given to them, even if they had done compulsory army service in the country, and that direct flights would soon be introduced between Tel Aviv and Mumbai and Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Indian community reception in Tel Aviv, on July 5, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Indian community reception in Tel Aviv, on July 5, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Indian community in Israel yesterday that Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards would be given to them, even if they had done compulsory army service in the country, and that direct flights would soon be introduced between Tel Aviv and Mumbai and Delhi.
Addressing members of the Indian community here this evening, Mr. Modi also said that an Indian Cultural Centre would be set up in Israel. 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also present at the event. Mr. Modi had arrived here on July 4 on a three-day visit to Israel, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister.
Mr. Modi began his address by remarking that it had taken very long, all of 70 years since India attained independence, for this visit to take place. He thanked Mr. Netanyahu for the warm welcome and respect accorded to him throughout his visit.
He said that though diplomatic relations between the two countries are only 25 years old, ties between India and Israel go back several centuries. He said that he has been told that, in the 13th century, the Indian Sufi saint Baba Farid had come to Jerusalem, and meditated in a cave.
The Prime Minister described the relationship between India and Israel as one of traditions, culture, trust and friendship. He noted the similarity in festivals between India and Israel. In this context, he mentioned Holi and Purim; and Diwali and Hanukkah.
Mr. Modi was all praise for the technological progress achieved by Israel, and its long traditions of bravery and martyrdom. He recalled that Indian soldiers had played a key role in the liberation of Haifa during the first world war. He noted the great contributions of the Indian Jewish community, both in India and Israel.
The Prime Minister praised the spirit of innovation in Israel, and noted that Israel had made great progress in areas such as geo-thermal power, solar panels, agro-biotechnology and security.
He provided an overview of economic reforms undertaken in India in the recent past. He mentioned the roll-out of GST, auctioning of natural resources, insurance and banking sector reforms, and skill development, among others. He said the Government aims to double income of farmers by 2022. He said the partnership with Israel is key to ushering in the second green revolution in India. He said science, innovation and research would be the foundation of ties between India and Israel in the future.
He also recalled his meeting with Moshe Holtzberg, survivor of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, earlier in the day.
Modi addresses Indian community in Israel
Mr. Netanyahu said, "Prime Minister, these are the Jews of India. They love India, they love Israel. They love our friendship. We are in a historic meeting, your visit, of two ancient peoples seizing the future.
"There was a time, a few decades ago and a few years ago, when this natural partnership was somehow frozen. There was a young woman, her name was Tzipora Meir, a young Jewish woman in Cochin. She wrote an essay 50 years ago, just before the Six-Day War, and the essay was the deep desire she had to see the partnership between India and Israel.
"She won a prize for that composition but it didn't happen. Tzipora Meir, like so many of you, came to Israel, built her home here, contributed to her life, maintained the love of Indian Jewish customs, prayers and continued to hope that one day Israel and India will form this partnership and this friendship.
"Tzipora and her husband Sasson, who are here - that day has come. That day is today," he said.
Mr. Netanyahu said Mr. Modi and he had, at their bilateral talks earlier in the day, decided on a vast program to take their partnership and friendship to new heights. "But we always remember that there's a human bridge between us - you. We admire you, we respect you, we love you."
"Seventy years ago, our countries achieved independence. Israel achieved independence, India achieved independence and our countries rise and rise and rise and rise and now they meet.
"We have decided to cooperate in so many areas but there's one area that really guarantees the future, and Prime Minister Modi speaks of it all the time – it's the young people: the young people of India, the young people of Israel.
"So, Indian students are coming here, we're very flattered. Israeli young people are going there but there is something that we want to achieve: today when Israelis go to India, they go backpacking, they go on what is called, the 'Hummus Trail', there are signs in Hebrew, you hear Hebrew spoken, 'The Hummus Trail'. I want to see young Indians come here backpacking on the 'Curry Trail'. I don’t want many, just an equal proportion.
"We are building this future today between us, between our two great democracies, between our two ancient peoples, who believe in the future. It's a partnership made in heaven but it's happening right now here on earth today," he added.

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.
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