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Massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, tremors felt across north India

A massive earthquake, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, hit Nepal on SAturday and powerful tremors were felt across north, east, north-east and western India India, including Delhi, Lucknow, Assam and Meghalaya.

 
Massive earthquake hits Nepal, causes widespread devastation
A massive earthquake, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, hit Nepal today and powerful tremors were felt across north, east, north-east and western India India, including Delhi, Lucknow, Assam and Meghalaya.
 
People in their offices and offices ran outdoors in panic in many parts of Delhi and other places even as they experienced a series of aftershocks.
 
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the temblor, which had its epicentre at latitude 28.1°N and longitude 84.6°E, occurred at 1141 hours at a focal depth of 10 km.
 
IMD officials said the earthquake was followed by an aftershock of 6.6 magnitude. The magnitude of the quake felt in Delhi was around 5, they said.
 
The quake also shook several parts of Himalayan and sub-Himalayan West Bengal as well as Sikkim.
 
Reports reaching here said the tremors were also felt in several parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
 
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Modi says solution must be found to agrarian crisis, farmers' woes

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday political parties must collectively find a solution to the deep-rooted problems in the agricultural sector leading to suicides by farmers across the country and promised to consider all suggestions made by the Opposition in this regard.

 
We must find a solution to farmers' woes: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said political parties must collectively find a solution to the deep-rooted problems in the agricultural sector leading to suicides by farmers across the country and promised to consider all suggestions made by the Opposition in this regard.
 
"Farmer suicides have been a matter of concern for many years," he said in a brief intervention in the Lok Sabha, where the Congress and other opposition parties raised the issue of the suicide by a farmer from Rajasthan in full public view during a rally organised by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at Jantar Mantar here yesterday.
 
As the political blame game over the incident continued both inside and outside Parliament, Mr Modi said successive governments had tried to solve the problem in different ways over the decades.
 
Joining the members in expressing deep pain over the death of the farmer, Gajendra Singh, Mr Modi said the House must resolve to find a solution to the issue.
 
"It is a huge problem, it is an old, deep-rooted and widespread problem. It has to be addressed in that context," he said.
 
"Nothing is more important than farmers' lives. nothing is more important than a human being's life. We have to identify flaws in the system, we have to identify shortcomings in the system," he said.
 
"We cannot leave the farmers to fend for themselves in a helpless condition. We will have to be a part of his pain and sorrow. We have to be a part of his future," he said.
 
"I appeal to the House to resolve to ensure that farmers would not be allowed to die like this," he added.
 
“There should be a collective resolve in this regard. We have an open mind to consider any suggestion that is made... We cannot let the farmers die,” he said.
 
The Congress and other parties raised the issue in the Lok Sabha as soon as the House assembled but Speaker Sumitra Mahajan agreed to allow them to speak on it in zero hour, even as the government said it was prepared to discuss the matter.
 
Congress leader Mallikarjun Mansur urged the government to order a judicial inquiry into the incident, saying that the probe by the Delhi Police could not be regarded as unbiased in view of the allegations of inaction made against the police.
 
Responding to the concern expressed by the Members, Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a statement on the incident and said that the crowd at the AAP rally had clapped their hands and raised slogans as Gajendra Singh climbed the tree.
 
He said that individuals who threaten to commit extreme acts in such manner need to be handled with great care and engaged in a discussion so that he could be calmed down and what the crowd did had the exactly opposite effect of provoking him further.
 
Mr Singh said the policemen on the spot had informed the police control room of the man climbing the tree and asked for help from the fire brigade in the form of tall ladders so that he could be brought down safely. The police officers also tried to dissuade the crowd from raising slogans or egging him on.
 
The Minister gave details of how the man tied a cloth around his neck and to a branch of the tree and hanged himself. Some people reached him and tried to untie the cloth, but he fell down to the ground in the process, he said.
 
AAP leaders denied the Minister's allegations and accused him of "spreading lies". They said volunteers of the party had, in fact, climbed the tree to try and rescue the farmer, even as the police remained mute spectators.
 
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Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers staged a demonstration against the AAP rally outside Police Headquarters this morning, while members of the Youth Congress held a protest outside Delhi Chief Miniser and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal's residence.
 
Meanwhile, the body of the 42-year-old Gajendra Singh was taken to his village in Dausa district of Rajasthan, where it was cremated. A large number of political leaders reached the village to offer their condolences to the bereaved family.
 
Congress leader Ajay Maken said at a press conference here that only a judicial inquiry headed by a judge of the High Court could establish the truth in the matter.
 
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Farmer commits suicide at AAP rally in Delhi, sets off political blame game

A farmer from Rajasthan committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree in dramatic circumstances, as hundreds of people watched, at a rally organized by the Aam Aadmi Party against the Narendra Modi government's contentious land acquisition bill at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Wednesday.

 
Farmer commmits suicide during AAP rally in Delhi
A farmer from Rajasthan committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree in dramatic circumstances, as hundreds of people watched, at a rally organized by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) against the Narendra Modi government's contentious land acquisition bill at Jantar Mantar here today.
 
The man was identified as Gajendra Singh, 42, a father of three, from Dausa in Rajasthan, who left a note at the scene saying that he was in deep distress because of the loss of his crops and his inability to look after his family.
 
The man climbed the tree and put his "gamcha" (towel around his neck and tied the other end to a branch of the tree. He kept shouting slogans from there in an apparent bid to draw the attention of the crowd to the plight of farmers. Many people urged him to come down, but he stayed put. 
 
As some people climbed the tall tree to reach him and try and bring him down, the man hanged himself and soon his body became still. When the other men reached him and tried to untie the knot from the branch, it fell to the ground.
 
He was rushed to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, and the rally went ahead, with AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal stepping up to address the gathering. At the end of his address, he announced he would go to the hospital to see the farmer.
 
The body was later sent to Lady Hardinge Hospital for post-mortem examination. 
 
AAP leaders blamed the Delhi Police for remaining mute spectators and not acting in time to bring the man down and save him.
 
They also said the alleged anti-farmer and anti-poor polices of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre was leading to such tragedies.
 
They said that it was normal for people to climb onto trees to get a better view during meetings at Jantar Mantar and they could never imagine that the man would kill himself in this manner.
 
The BJP ridiculed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and other AAP leaders for continuing to make speeches even though they were aware that the man had died.
 
Doctors at the hospital said the man was brought dead. AAP leaders they came to know of the man's death only much later. They also said that a sudden dispersal of the crowd could have led to law and order problems.
 
Delhi Police said they had transferred the case to the Crime Branch, which has set up a team to establish the sequence of events.
 
As news of the tragedy spread, political leaders, including Mr Kejriwal, made a beeline to the hospital.
 
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Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who has been attacking the Modi government on the Land Acquisition Bill and related issues for the past few days, told journalists at the hospital that it was a very sad moment.
 
"We want to assure farmers and farm labourers that they should not worry, we are with them. We will help them fully," he said.
 
He also said that members of the Indian Youth Congress would provide all possible assistance to the farmer's family in the matter of transporting the body to his village.
 
"The Modi government is fuly focused on heping the corporates of the country, not all corporates, but three or four of their cronies. This is causing tremendous pain and damage to farmers and labourers.
 
"The foundation of this country has been built by farmers. The government is saying that suicides are not taking place. It is sad," he said.
 
"We are going to fight the new ordinance of theirs," he said, referring to the Congress' opposition to the government's Bill to replace the ordinance on land acquisition issued by it.
 
"We are not going to let the BJP government to take away the land of the poor farmers," he added.
 
Mr Modi condoled the death of Gajendra, saying it had saddened the nation.
 
"We are all deeply shattered and disappointed. Condolences to his family. At no point must the hardworking farmer think he is alone. We are all together in creating a better tomorrow for the farmers of India," he said.
 
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Canada to supply uranium for civilian nuclear power plants in India

India on Wednesay signed an agreement in Ottawa on procurement of uranium from Canada for its civilian nuclear power plants, launching a new ero of bilateral cooperation.

 
Modi meets Canadian PM Stephen Harper in Ottawa
India today signed an agreement on procurement of uranium from Canada for its civilian nuclear power plants, launching a new ero of bilateral cooperation.
 
"It also reflects a new level of mutual trust and confidence. Further,it will contribute to India's efforts to power its growth with clean energy," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper after their talks in Ottawa.
 
"Prime Minister Harper and I are absolutely committed to establish a new framework for economic partnership.I am pleased that we have made rapid progress on long pending agreements," he said.
 
Mr Modi said he was confident that the two countries could conclude the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement very soon. They will also implement the road map to conclude the Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement (CECA) by September 2015, he said.
 
Mr Modi said he attached the highest importance to India's relatins with Canada, which had been reinforced by his excellent experience with that country as Chief Minister of Gujarat.
 
"Our relationship had drifted in the past. In recent years, Prime Minister Harper's vision and leadership changed the course of our relations. I am consciousof the significance of this visit in the history of our relations," he said, referring to the fact that his was the first standalone Prime Ministerial visit to Canada in 42 years since the last such visit in 1973.
 
"I have come at a time when the importance of this relationship for our two countries has never been stronger. We are two major democracies with deeply shared values. Few countries in the world can match Canada's potential to be a partner in India's economic transformation. And, it exists in a new environment in India, which is open, predictable, stable and easy to do business in," he said.
 
"Equally, the vast scale of India's transformation, and our rapid economic growth, offers immense opportunities for Canada," he said.
 
Mr Modi sought Canada's cooperation and investment in every area of India's national development priority -- energy and infrastructure, manufacturing and skills, smart cities and agro-industry, and research and education.
 
He said the agreements on skill development signed today reflected his commitment to empower the youth of India with world class skills for India and the global economy.
 
He said that, as the agreement today on space highlighted, the two countries had strong synergy for cooperation in areas of advanced technologies.
 
He said that, to support greater engagement and people-to-people contacts, his government had  liberalised its visa policy for Canada. He said India would issue Electronic Visa Authorisation for tourist visa for Canadian nationals. They will also be eligible for ten-year visas now.
 
Mr Modi said Mr Harper and he agreed that a strong bilateral relationship would provide a solid foundation to pursue their common international interests. They also agreed that, in the troubled world of today, their cooperation would help advance their shared values and peace in the world.
 
"We in India felt Canada's pain when this city was struck by a senseless act of terrorism. The threat of terrorism is growing; its shadow extends over cities and lives across the world," he said.
 
He said the two countries would deepen their cooperation to combat terrorism and extremism. They would also promote a comprehensive global strategy, and consistent policy and action against all sources of terrorism and its support.
 
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"We also agree on the need to enhance our defence and security cooperation. I welcome our recent agreement on cyber security," he said.
 
Mr Modi said both countries recognised that peace and stability would make them safer at home, so would Afghanistan's successful transition.
 
"I believe that Canada is a major Asia Pacific power and should play a more active role, including in regional institutions, in promoting a stable and prosperous future for the region. I look forward to our continued partnership in G 20.
 
'In conclusion, let me say that ours is a natural partnership of shared values. It is an economic partnership of immense mutual benefit. It is a strategic partnershipthat can help address many of our shared global challenges. And, it is a relationship nurtured by the emotional bonds of a vibrant Indian community of 1.2 million," he said.
 
"I am confident that this visit will be a springboard for a new strategic partnership between our two democracies," he added.
 
Mr Harper said the initiatives taken today would help to further advance bilateral relatins between the two countries.
 
"The initiatives announced today will promote greater collaboration in the areas of civil aviation, railway transportation, education and skills development, space, social security and maternal, newborn and child health," he said.
 
“The historic visit by Prime Minister Modi to Canada combined with the number and scope of agreements signed today between our governments clearly demonstrate the commitment of both countries to taking bilateral relations to new heights," he added.
 
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Modi invites German companies to take advantage of "historic opportunity" in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday invited German companies to take advantage of the "historic opportunity" presented for them by his Government's Make in India campaign and said he was committed to creating and improving the business environment in India.

 
Modi invites German investment, assures all support
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today invited German companies to take advantage of the "historic opportunity" presented for them by his Government's Make in India campaign and said he was committed to creating and improving the business environment in India.
 
"I can assure you that once you decide to be in India, we are confident to make you comfortable," he said in his address at the Indo-German Business Summit in Hannover today, which was jointly inaugurated by him and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
 
Earlier, the two leaders had jointly opened the India Pavilion at Hannover Messe, at which India is the partner country this year. They also walked around the pavilion and met the various participants there. Ms Merkel had hosted a working dinner for him last night, over which they had a "very good interaction".
 
In his address, Mr Modi dwelt at length on the direction and the steps being taken by his Government for the development of India.
 
He said the visitors to the fair could see for themselves the winds of change blowing in India.
 
"We are very keen to develop the sectors where you are strong. We need your involvement. The scope and potential, the breadth and length of infrastructure and related developments is very huge in India," he said.
 
He went on to give the examples of some of the programmes, such as the plan to build 50 millin houses by 2022 and to develop smart cities and mega industrial corridors.
 
"For this purpose, we have refined our FDI Policy in construction. We have also come up with a regulatory framework for this sector," he said.
 
He said the Government had targeted 175 giga watt of renewable energy in the next few years. In addition to generation, the issues of transmission and distribution of electricity are equally important, he said.
 
He said plans had been drawn up to modernize the Railway systems, including signals, and railway stations. He said metro rail networks were planned in 50 cities and high speed trains in various corridors. Similar plans are being drawn up for highways, he said.
 
He said new ports were being built and old ones modernized through the ambitious Sagarmala scheme. He said similar focus was being given for upgrading existing airports and putting up regional airports to enhance connectivity to places of economic and tourist importance.
 
"In financial services too, we are moving towards a more inclusive and faster delivery of financial products including bank loans and insurance. For this purpose, we opened 140 million bank accounts; increased FDI in insurance upto 49% and have set up MUDRA Bank. 
 
"We also announced innovative schemes for insurance and pension to enhance social security for our citizens. 
 
"We also want to promote manufacturing in a big way particularly to create jobs for our youth," he said.
 
He said Germany ranked eighth among foreign investor countries in India. About 600 Indo-German Joint ventures are presently operating in India. 
 
"The purpose of my being here and participating in the Hannover Fair is to highlight that there is more potential in Indo-German economic collaboration. Though we have a vibrant relationship, our economic partnership is not as much as both countries would like to have. The flow of investments from Germany is well below the potential and less than Indian investments in Germany. 
 
"Many more German companies have the possibility of investing in India to take advantage of India’s potentials. The potential lies in manufacturing as well as infrastructure and in skill development for that purpose. I know that the reason for this situation may not be from German side. It is from the Indian side also," he said.
 
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Mr Modi assured German companies that India was now a changed country. "Our regulatory regime is much more transparent, responsive and stable. We are taking a long-term and futuristic view on the issues. Lot of efforts have been made and are still underway to improve the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in the country," he said.
 
"Reducing the complicated procedures, making them available at one platform, preferably online, simplifying the forms and formats has been taken up on war footing. Definite mechanisms for hand holding have been set up in the form of hub and spoke. Invest India is the nodal agency for this purpose," he said.
 
"We do believe that FDI is important and it will not come in the country without a globally competitive business environment. Therefore, in this year's budget we have rationalized a number of issues which were bothering you," he sid.
 
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Mr Modi said that the Government had, in particular, removed lot of regressive taxation regimes. 
 
"In our very first Budget, we said we will not resort to retrospective taxation. And if such issues do arise, they will have to be reviewed at the highest level. We have taken bold steps of not dragging the litigation in a few cases where we felt that the steps of the previous government were not on right lines. 
 
"In this budget, we allowed Tax pass through for AIFs, rationalization of capital gains of REITs, modification in PE norms and deferring the implementation of GAAR for two years. We are constantly working to improve the business environment further," he said.
 
He said the Government was trying to introduce an element of transparency and predictability in taxation system. He said it had fast tracked approvals in industry and infrastructure. This includes environmental clearances, extending the industrial licences, delicencing of defence items, and simplification of cross-border trade. 
 
"Within a very short time, we introduced GST Bill in Parliament. Such measures have helped in building up an enhanced investor confidence. The sentiments for private investment and inflow of foreign investments are positive. FDI inflows have gone up by 36% during April-2014 and January-2015 against the same period in previous year," he said.
 
Mr Modi said India's growth rate was about 7%-plus. "Most of the international financial institutions including the World Bank, IMF, UNCTAD, OECD and others are predicting even faster growth and even better in the coming years. Moody’s have recently upgraded the rating of India as 'positive' on account of our concrete steps in various economic segments," he said.
 
He also spoke of his Government's efforts to encourage innovation, research & development and entrepreneurship in the country.
 
On infrastructure development, he outlined the steps taken, including an all-time high allocaiton for roads and railways.
 
In addition, we are setting up India Infrastructure Investment Fund. We have also allowed Tax free Bonds in the Infrastructure sector including roads and railways," he added.
 
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Modi reaches Hannover, invites German CEOs to invest in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached Hannover in Germany on Sunday on the second leg of his three-nation tour and went straight into meetings with CEOs of major German companies to invite them to participate in his government's Make in India initiative.

 
Indian expats greet Modi at Maritim Grand Hotel in Hannover
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached Hannover in Germany on Sunday on the second leg of his three-nation tour and went straight into meetings with CEOs of major German companies to invite them to participate in his government's Make in India initiative.
 
Mr Modi was received on arrival at the Langenhagen Airport in Hannover by Mr Michael Steiner, German Ambassador to India, and other senior officials from both countries.
 
Later, large numbers of members of the Indian community greeted Mr Modi on his arrval at the Maritim Grand Hotel in the city.
 
With business high on his agenda, Mr Modi went into the meeting with CEOs soon after his arrival. Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was also present at the meeting.
 
"Business is 1st in order of priority. PM @narendramodi assisted by @CimGOI engages with German business leaders," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
"Movers & shakers of German economy/industry meet with PM @narendramodi," he said.
 
"Thank you France! Substantial ground was covered during my visit. Thankful to French Govt & people. Will always cherish the enthusiasm," Mr Modi had said earlier on Twitter as he left France after a two-day visit during which he had held talks with French President Francois Hollande.
 
Mr Modi will leave from Germany on April 14 for a two-day visit to Canada on the third and final leg of his eight-day, three-nation tour.
 
India is the partner country at the Hannover Messe, the Hannover Fair, this year and there is a large presence of Indian companies there this time.
 
India has taken about 7000 square metres of space at the fair, including a central pavilion of 1200 sq m and about 400 Indian companies are displaying their products and services at the event. About 120 Indian CEOs are expected to be present.
 
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Later today, Mr Modi will visit the City Hall and thereafter unveil a bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Hannover.
 
He will be present at the opening of the Hannover Fair this evening by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will later host a working dinner for him.
 
Tomorrow morning, Mr Modi and Ms Merkel will jointly inaugurate the Indian pavilion at the fair, after which they will walk about the Central Pavilion and then inaugurate and address an India-Germany Business Summit.
 
Later tomorrow, Mr Modi will leave for Berlin, where he will visit the Siemens Technical Academy, a leader in vocational education. Later, he will meet Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of Germany who is also the Minister of Economics and Energy. That will be followed by a community reception in the evening.
 
On April 14, Mr Modi will have a call on him by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Following this, there will be a ceremonial welcome by Chancellor Merkel at the Federal Chancellery. Ms Merkel will host a working lunch for him, over which they will have their talks, followed by their formal statements.
 
Before leaving for Ottawa, Mr Modi will visit a German railway station.
 
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Modi says judiciary has "divine role" in ensuring rule of law, delivering justice

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that the judiciary should be both empowered and capable to play its "divine role" in ensuring the rule of law and delivering justice to the common man.


 
Judiciary must be powerful, perfect: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said the judiciary should be both empowered and capable to play its "divine role" in ensuring the rule of law and delivering justice to the common man.
 
Addressing the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of States and Chief Justices of High Courts, he said that while the executive was under constant assessment and scrutiny in public life, through various institutions, the judiciary normally did not face any such scrutiny.
 
Mr Modi said judiciary had built up an enormous faith and reputation among the people of India, and should evolve its own in-built systems for self-assessment, so that it could live up to the high expectations placed on it by the people. 
 
He said good infrastructure for the judiciary was a priority for the Government, and an amount of Rs. 9749 crore had been earmarked for strengthening the judiciary under the 14th Finance Commission. 
 
Mr Modi said that under the Digital India Programme, technology should be deployed to bring about a qualititative change in the judiciary. He stressed that quality manpower was required for the judiciary and said the government was as concerned about human resources as it was about physical infrastructure.
 
Without going into the details of pendency in litigation and corruption in the Judiciary, the Prime Minister hoped that the forum would suggest some fresh approaches to deal with such issues. He said Lok Adalats were an effective way of dispensing justice for the common man, and this mechanism should be strengthened further. Similarly, he stressed the importance of "Family Courts." 
 
He also called for a comprehensive review of the system of Government-appointed tribunals, to assess their efficacy and effectiveness. 
 
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Mr Modi said laws were sometimes not drafted well, and therefore lead to multiple interpretations. He said there should be minimum grey areas, and therefore, drafting of laws required special attention. He said he was committed to removal of obsolete laws. 
 
He stressed the need to prepare for emerging areas of litigation such as maritime law and cyber crime. He said acquaintance with forensic science was now a must for those associated with the legal profession. 
 
Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu, and Union Minister for Law and Justice D.V. Sadananda Gowda were amongst those present on the occasion.
 
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Coal blocks allocation: SC stays summons for Manmohan Singh, others

The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the order issued by a special court here on March 11 summoning former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an accused in a case related to allocation of coal blocks to Hindalco, a part of the Aditya Birla Group of companies.

File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
The Supreme Court today stayed the order issued by a special court here on March 11 summoning former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an accused in a case related to allocation of coal blocks to Hindalco, a part of the Aditya Birla Group of companies.
 
Along with him, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, former Coal Secretary P C Parakh and three other officials were also summoned as accused in the case for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
 
All of them were asked by Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar to appear in court on April 8. While doing so, the court rejected the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) finding in its final report that there was "no prosecutable evidence against anyone".
 
A bench headed by Justice V Gopala Gowda also stayed the summons issued against Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and the others.
 
Senior Congress leader and advocate Ashwani Kumar told newspersons that the court felt that there were some important and substantive questions of law and processes that had been raised and it would like to decide on them.
 
He said that, in the meantime, the apex court had stayed the orders summoning Dr Singh and the others as well as the proceedings in the trial court.
 
Acting on six petitions filed by Dr Singh and the others in the case, seeking quashing of the summons, the court also issued notices in this regard to the CBI and others and gave them three weeks to file their replies.
 
Dr Singh was Prime Minister from May 2004 to May 2014 at the head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government.
 
He was reportedly questioned by a team of CBI officials in January this year at his Motilal Nehru Marg residence here in connection with the allocation of the Talabira II block to Hindalco when he was also holding the portfolio of Coal.
 
The former Prime Minister is understood to have defended the decision and stressed that it was made after due deliberations.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio between 2006 and 2009, which is part of the period that is being probed by the CBI.
 
Dr Singh's tenure in office was marred by the finding of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that the delay in introduction of the process of competitive bidding in the allocation of coal blocks to private companies for captive mining had led to likely financial gains of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to them.
 
The CAG had, in his report tabled in Parliament on August 17, 2012 said that a part of this financial gain could have accrued to the national exchequer by operationalising the decision taken years earlier to introduce competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks.
 
The CAG estimated the financial gains to the private coal block allottees on the basis of the average cost of production and average sale price of opencast mines of the public sector Coal India Limited (CIL) in 2010-11.
 
The CBI had earlier sought closure of the case, in which Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and others were named as accused. The court directed it to carry out further investigations and submit a report on January 27. It also said that it would be appropriate if the then Coal Minister were examined first.
 
 
SC stays summons issued to Manmohan Singh in coal blocks case
The CBI had registered the case in October 2013, following which the Prime Minister's Office had, on October 18, 2013, issued a detailed statement saying that Dr Singh was satisfied that the final decision taken in the matter relating to the allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and Hindalco was entirely correct and based on the merits of the case placed before him.
 
On September 24, 2014, the Supreme Court had scrapped 214 of the 218 coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2010, sparing only four  -- two allocated to an ultra mega power project (UMPP) and two to public sector companies, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and NTPC.
 
The Government put up more than 30 of those blocks for auction recently.
 
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AAP removes Bhushan from disciplinary panel, replaces Ramdas as Lokpal

In its continuing drive against dissidence, the Aam Aadmi Party on Sunday removed its founding leader Prashant Bhushan from its disciplinary committee even as it named a new internal Lokpal in place of former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (Retd.) L Ramdas.

 
AAP removes Bhushan from disciplinary panel
In its continuing drive against dissidence, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) today removed its founding leader Prashant Bhushan from its disciplinary committee even as it named a new internal Lokpal in place of former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (Retd.) L Ramdas.
 
At a meeting of its national executive (NE) here, the party reconstituted its Lokpal panel, saying the term of the rpevious panel headed by Admiral Ramdas had ended.
 
The new Lokpal panel comprises former Indian Police Service (IPS) oficer N. Dilip Kumar, former Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) Deputy Inspector General Rakesh Sinha and educationist S P Verma.
 
The party's reconstituted three-member national disciplinary committee will now be headed by Mr Dinesh Waghela and include Mr Pankaj Gupta and Mr Ashish Khetan.
 
The latest moves came a day after the party's National Council had yesterday, amidst acrimonious scenes, removed Mr Bhushan, Mr Yogendra Yadav, Prof Anand Kumar and Mr Ajit Jha from its National Executive for alleged anti-party activities.
 
Admiral Ramdas said he was greatly surpised and saddened tohear from a journalist that the party no longer required his services as its internal Lokpal.
 
"I am disappointed that the leadership of the party did not accord me the courtesy of informing me first before making this decision public. I still await their phone-call," he said in a statement.
 
"I am surprised because less than two weeks ago the party publicly reaffirmed its confidence in me.  At no point in my tenure did the party express to me any dissatisfaction with my service.  Neither did its leaders question my neutrality or my objectivity in this position. As recently as January 2015, I was asked to investigate complaints against potential electoral candidates. I took it as a sign of the party's confidence in me when on February 15th, at an informal meeting at the home of Mr Kejriwal, in the presence of many other senior leaders of the party, including members of the executive committee, I was actually requested to consider serving an additional five years as Lokpal.
 
"I am, however, more sad than surprised. It was with a sense of excitement and hope that I became part of this movement to bring a new kind of politics to India.  I believed in the ideals of transparency, accountability and fairness that was encapsulated in the institution of the Lokpal. And, I was honoured to be the first person to serve in this capacity," he said.
 
Admiral Ramdas said he had tried to discharge his duties and responsibilities to the best of his abilities. 
 
"My two previous letters, one which became public, the other which was intended to be public, reflected my effort to encourage the various leaders of the party to work together to remember the principles on which it was founded and to make sure that the promises made to the electorate - to the people- were fulfilled. Unfortunately I did not succeed in that effort.
 
"I still hope that the party which has fired the imagination and hopes of so many Indians will be able to fulfill its promises of good governance, both internally and externally, in the exercise of political power in its new capacity as the government of Delhi. I wish them well in this endeavour," he added.
 
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AAP removes Yadav, Bhushan, two others from National Executive

In a bitter denouement to the behind-the-scenes intrigue and open full-scale war that had broken out within the top leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party, four of its senior leaders -- Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha -- were removed from its National Executive on Saturday.

 
Yadav, Bhushan, 2 others expelled from AAP National Executive
In a bitter denouement to the behind-the-scenes intrigue and open full-scale war that had broken out within the top leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), four of its senior leaders  -- Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha -- were removed from its National Executive today.
 
The decision was taken at an acrimonious meeting of the party's National Council here this morning.
 
"The National Council hereby resolves that Mr Yogendra Yadav, Mr Prashant Bhushan, Mr Anand Kumar and Mr Ajit Jha be removed from the National Executive for their anti-party activities," the resolution adopted by the meeting said.
 
The move came a day after Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan had come out openly against the party's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at a press conference here yesterday and the Kejriwal camp responding in kind a little later.
 
While Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan had accused Mr Kejriwal, among other things, of wishing to exercise sole control over the affairs of the party and brooking no dissenting views, leaders from the rival camp -- Sanjay Singh, Ashutosh and Ashish Khetan -- denied the charges and gave details of the extent to which they had gone to keep the party united but to no avail.
 
At the fag end of the day yesterday in yet another sign of the unease and distrust within the leadership, an audio tape emerged in which Mr Kejriwal was heard telling a member of AAP, ostensibly trying to make peace between the two camps,  that Mr Bhushan and Mr Yadav had left no stone unturned to ensure the defeat of the party in the recent elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
 
He also told the member that Mr Bhushan and Mr Yadav were welcome to take over the party and that he was prepared to move out with its 66 other MLAs in Delhi and form a new outfit.
 
"Any other party would have kicked them out long ago," he was heard telling Umesh Singh of AAP's Varanasi unit on the tape, the contents of which could not be independently verified.
 
Both Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan were visibly upset at the proceedings at the National Council today and its decision to sack them from the National Executive.
 
"I am very sad to say this, democracy was murdered in the National Council today," Mr Yadav said.
 
He said that only Mr Kejriwal spoke at the meeting and nobody else was allowed to speak. He alleged that some members who wanted to have their say were escorted out by "bouncers" and several MLAs kept shouting that "the traitors should be kicked out of the party".
 
Mr Yadav said that, as soon as Mr Kejriwal ended his speech, he asked Mr Gopal Rai to chair the proceedings as he had to leave. A resolution was then moved and approved by voice vote, without any discussion, he alleged.
 
He said that the manner in which the meeting was conducted and the resolution adopted made it clear that the entire affair was "pre-scripted".
 
Mr Bhushan also said he was very sad at the day's developments. He said the manner in which the meeting was conducted showed the "mentality of Mr Kejriwal and his coterie".
 
All indications are that the issue of the alleged anti-party activities of Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan will now be referred to the disciplinary committee of AAP as a prelude to their formal expulsion from the party.
 
Prof Anand Kumar told journalists that they continued to be in the party and would continue their fight for internal democracy. "We willl neither leave the party nor break it; we will reform, and reform the party," he said.
 
Leaders of the Kejriwal camp told a press conference later that 247 members of the National Council had voted in favour of the resolution to expel the four dissidents and eight against it. They also denied that there was any scuffle at the meeting.
 
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There was some drama before the meeting began, with Mr Yadav staging a brief demonstration, alleging that many members were not allowed to attend the meeting of the National Council.
 
The developments will come as a huge disappointment to the thousands of AAP supporters around the country, especially in Delhi where it won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly in the February 7 elections.
 
There hectic negotiations between the two sides in the past fortnight but they did not help to narrow the rift that had developed.
 
Earlier this month, the Kejriwal camp had succeded in getting Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan removed from the Political Affairs Committee of the party.
 
At yesterday's press conference, Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan said Mr Kejriwal had gone back on the founding principles of the party and stifled internal democracy. They reiterated their readiness to quit all positions in the party if the five demands they had made were accepted.
 
They said they were repeatedly pressured to resign and made it clear that they had never raised the issue of the national convener, a position being held by Mr Kejriwal.
 
Mr Bhushan said that while Mr Kejriwal had many strengths, including good political judgement, he also had two fatal flaws which could lead to disaster for the party. He said Mr Kejriwal wanted to always have his way within the party and did not want around him people who would question or disagree with him.
 
He said Mr Kejriwal had told him that he had never been part of any organisation where his writ did not run.
 
The duo said that any issue raised by them was portrayed as an attempt to question Mr Kejriwal's leadership and to remove him from the post of national convener of the party.
 
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SC strikes down much-criticised Section 66A of IT Act as unconstitutional

In a landmark judgement that extends the right of free speech and expression to the Internet, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down as unconstitutional the much-criticised Section 66A of the IT Act under which the police could arrest people for social media posts seen by the authorities as "offensive" or "annoying".

In a landmark judgement that extends the right of free speech and expression to the Internet, the Supreme Court today struck down as unconstitutional the much-criticised and often-abused Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act under which the police could arrest people for social media posts seen by the authorities as "offensive" or "annoying", among other things.
 
"Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2)," a two-judge bench comprising Justices Jasti Chelameswar and Rohinton Nariman said.
 
The court held that Section 69A and the Information Technology (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 were constitutionally valid.
 
It said Section 79 was valid subject to Section 79(3)(b) being read down to mean that an intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge from a court order or on being notified by the appropriate government or its agency that unlawful acts relatable to Article 19(2) are going to be committed then fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to such material.
 
Similarly, the Information Technology “Intermediary Guidelines” Rules, 2011 are valid subject to Rule 3 sub-rule (4) being read down in the same manner as indicated in the judgement, it said.
 
The court also struck down Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act for being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved by Article 19(2).
 
The ruling came in a verdict on a batch of writ petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, incuding one filed by Shreya Singhal, a law student, challenging hte validity of Section 66A of the IT Act.
 
The judges noted that the petitions filed raised very important and far-reaching questions relatable primarily to the fundamental right of free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
 
Section 66A of the IT Act of 2000 was not in the Act as originally enacted, but came into force by virtue of an Amendment Act of 2009 with effect from 27.10.2009. 
 
Section 66A reads thus: 
 
“66-A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. 
—Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or 
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication
device; or 
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such
messages,
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
 
Explanation.— For the purposes of this section, terms 'electronic mail' and 'electronic mail message' means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message."
 
 
SC strikes down Section 66A of IT Act, terms it 'unconstitutional'
A related challenge was also made to Section 69A introduced by the same amendment which reads as follows:-
 
“69-A. Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource.—
(1) Where the Central Government or any of its officers specially authorised by it in this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, it may subject to the provisions of subsection (2), for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block for access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.
(2) The procedure and safeguards subject to which such blocking for access by the public may be carried out, shall be such as may be prescribed.
(3) The intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable
to fine.”
 
In the Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill which introduced the Amendment Act, the Government had said that the rapid increase in the use of computer and internet had given rise to new forms of crimes like publishing sexually explicit materials in electronic form, video voyeurism and breach of confidentiality and leakage of data by intermediary, e-commerce frauds like personation commonly known as Phishing, identity theft and offensive messages through communication services.
 
It said that, therefore, penal provisions were required to be included in the Information Technology Act, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to prevent such crimes.
 
The petitioners contended that the very basis of Section 66A -- that it has given rise to new forms of crimes -- is incorrect, and that Sections 66B to 67C and various Sections of the IPC were good enough to deal with all these crimes.
 
The petitioners’ various counsel also raised a large number of points as to the constitutionality of Section 66A. According to them, first and foremost Section 66A infringed the fundamental right to free speech and expression and was not saved by any of the eight subjects covered in Article 19(2). 
 
According to them, the causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill-will were all outside the purview of Article 19(2). Further, in creating an offence, Section 66A suffered from vagueness because unlike the offence created by Section 66 of the same Act, none of the aforesaid terms are even attempted to be defined and cannot be defined, the result being that innocent persons are roped in as well as those who are not.
 
The counsel argued that it was open to the authorities to be as arbitrary and whimsical as they liked in booking such persons under the said Section. In fact, a large number of innocent persons had been booked and many instances were mentioned in the form of a note to the court.
 
They said the enforcement of the Section would really be an insidious form of censorship which impairs a core value contained in Article 19(1)(a). In addition, the said Section has a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression, they argued. Also, the right of viewers is infringed as such chilling effect would not give them the benefit of many shades of grey in terms of various points of view that could be viewed over the internet, they said.
 
The petitioners also contended that their rights under Articles 14 and 21 were breached inasmuch there was no intelligible differentia between those who use the internet and those who by words spoken or written use other mediums of communication. To punish somebody because he uses a particular medium of  communication is itself a discriminatory object and would fall foul of Article 14 in any case, they said.
 
Mr. Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General, defended the constitutionality of Section 66A. He argued that the legislature is in the best position to understand and appreciate the needs of the people. The court could, therefore, interfere with the legislative process only when a statute is clearly violative of the rights conferred on the citizen under Part-III of the Constitution. 
 
Mere possibility of abuse of a provision cannot be a ground to declare a provision invalid, he argued. He said loose language may have been used in Section 66A to deal with novel methods of disturbing other people’s rights by using the internet as a tool to do so. Further, vagueness is not a ground to declare a statute unconstitutional if the statute is otherwise legislatively competent and non-arbitrary, he said.
 
The judges, in their verdict, discussed the content of the expression “freedom of speech and expression”. They said there were three concepts which were fundamental in understanding the reach of this most basic of human rights. The first is discussion, the second is advocacy, and the third is incitement. 
 
"Mere discussion or even advocacy of a particular cause howsoever unpopular is at the heart of Article 19(1)(a). It is only when such discussion or advocacy reaches the level of incitement that Article 19(2) kicks in. It is at this stage that a law may be made curtailing the speech or expression that leads inexorably to or tends to cause public disorder or tends to cause or tends to affect the sovereignty & integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, etc.
 
"Why it is important to have these three concepts in mind is because most of the arguments of both petitioners and respondents tended to veer around the expression 'public order'," they said.
 
The judges noted that Section 66A had been challenged on the ground that it cast the net very wide – “all information” that is disseminated over the internet is included within its reach.
 
'Two things will be noticed. The first is that the definition is an inclusive one. Second, the definition does not refer to what the content of information can be. In fact, it refers only to the medium through which such information is disseminated. It is clear, therefore, that the petitioners are correct in saying that the public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A.
 
"Information of all kinds is roped in – such information may have scientific, literary or artistic value, it may refer to current events, it may be obscene or seditious. That such information may cause annoyance or inconvenience to some is how the offence is made out. It is clear that the right of the people to know – the market place of ideas – which the internet provides to persons of all kinds is what attracts Section 66A. That the information sent has to be annoying, inconvenient, grossly offensive etc., also shows that no distinction is made between mere discussion or advocacy of a particular point of view which may be annoying or inconvenient or grossly offensive to some and incitement by which such words lead to an imminent causal connection with public disorder, security of State etc. 
 
"The petitioners are right in saying that Section 66A in creating an offence against persons who use the internet and annoy or cause inconvenience to others very clearly affects the freedom of speech and expression of the citizenry of India at large in that such speech or expression is directly curbed by the creation of the offence contained in Section 66A," the judgement said.
 
One of the challenges to Section 66A made by the petitioners’ counsel was that the offence created by it had no proximate relation with any of the eight subject matters contained in Article 19(2). 
 
"We may incidentally mention that the State has claimed that the said Section can be supported under the heads of public order, defamation, incitement to an offence and decency or morality. Under our constitutional scheme, as stated earlier, it is not open to the State to curtail freedom of speech to promote the general public interest," the judges said.
 
The Additional Solicitor General argued that a relaxed standard of reasonableness of restriction should apply, regard being had to the fact that the medium of speech being the internet differs from other mediums on several grounds. 
 
Whle repelling an Article 14 challenge by the pettioners, the judges said they did not find anything in the features outlined by the Additional Solicitor General to relax the Court’s scrutiny of the curbing of the content of free speech over the internet. 
 
"While it may be possible to narrowly draw a Section creating a new offence, such as Section 69A for instance, relatable only to speech over the internet, yet the validity of such a law will have to be tested on the touchstone of the tests already indicated above," they stressed.
 
Testing the Section from various standpoints, the judges said it was clear that it had no proximate relationship to public order whatsoever. 
 
"Under Section 66A, the offence is complete by sending a message for the purpose of causing annoyance, either `persistently’ or otherwise without in any manner impacting public order," they noted.
 
"Viewed at either by the standpoint of the clear and present danger test or the tendency to create public disorder, Section 66A would not pass muster as it has no element of any tendency to create public disorder which ought to be an essential ingredient of the offence which it creates," the verdict said.
 
On defamation, the judgement said Section 66A did not concern itself with injury to reputation. "Something may be grossly offensive and may annoy or be inconvenient to somebody without at all affecting his reputation. It is clear therefore that the Section is not aimed at defamatory statements at all," it said.
 
Equally, the judges said, Section 66A had no proximate connection with incitement to commit an offence.
 
"Firstly, the information disseminated over the internet need not be information which 'incites' anybody at all. Written words may be sent that may be purely in the realm of 'discussion' or 'advocacy' of a 'particular point of view'. Further, the mere causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger etc., or being grossly offensive or having a menacing character are not offences under the Penal Code at all. They may be ingredients of certain offences under the Penal Code but are not offences in themselves. For these reasons, Section 66A has nothing to do with 'incitement to an offence'. As Section 66A severely curtails information that may be sent on the internet based on whether it is grossly offensive, annoying, inconvenient, etc. and being unrelated to any of the eight subject matters under Article 19(2) must, therefore, fall foul of Article 19(1)(a), and not being saved under Article 19(2), is declared as unconstitutional," they said.
 
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The judges said what had been said with regard to public order and incitement to an offence equally applied to decency and morality.
 
"Section 66A cannot possibly be said to create an offence which falls within the expression ‘decency’ or ‘morality’ in that what may be hrossly offensive or annoying under the Section need not be obscene at all – in fact the word ‘obscene’ is conspicuous by its absence in Section 66A.
 
"However, the learned Additional Solicitor General asked us to read into Section 66A each of the subject matters contained in Article 19(2) in order to save the constitutionality of the provision. We are afraid that such an exercise is not possible for the simple reason that when the legislature intended to do so, it provided for some of the subject matters contained in Article 19(2) in Section 69A. We would be doing complete violence to the language of Section 66A if we were to read into it something that was never intended to be read into it. Further, he argued that the statute should be made workable, and the following should be read into Section 66A:
 
“(i) Information which would appear highly abusive, insulting, pejorative, offensive by reasonable person in general, judged by the standards of an open and just multi-caste, multireligious, multi racial society;"
 
"What the learned Additional Solicitor General is asking us to do is not to read down Section 66A – he is asking for a wholesale substitution of the provision which is obviously not possible," they said.
 
Counsel for the petitioners had argued that the language used in Section 66A was so vague that neither would an accused person be put on notice as to what exactly is the offence which has been committed nor would the authorities administering the Section be clear as to on which side of a clearly drawn line a particular communication will fall.
 
Going by the standards laid down in various judgements, the judges said it was quite clear that the expressions used in 66A were completely open-ended and undefined. 
 
They noted that the narrowly and closely defined contours of offences made out under the Penal Code were conspicuous by their absence in Section 66A which in stark contrast uses completely open ended, undefined and vague language.
 
",,, every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another. What may cause annoyance or inconvenience to one may not cause annoyance or inconvenience to another. Even the expression 'persistently' is completely imprecise – suppose a message is sent thrice, can it be said that it was sent 'persistently'? Does a message have to be sent (say) at least eight times, before it can be said that such message is 'persistently' sent? There is no demarcating line conveyed by any of these expressions – and that is what renders the Section unconstitutionally vague," they said.
 
The Additional Solicitor General argued that expressions that are used in Section 66A may be incapable of any precise definition but for that reason they were not constitutionally vulnerable. 
 
The judges said it was clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invaded the right of free speech and upset the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right.
 
"In point of fact, Section 66A is cast so widely that virtually any opinion on any subject would be covered by it, as any serious opinion dissenting with the mores of the day would be caught within its net. Such is the reach of the Section and if it is to withstand the test of constitutionality, the chilling effect on free speech would be total," they said.
 
"... not only are the expressions used in Section 66A expressions of inexactitude but they are also over broad and would fall foul of the repeated injunctions of this Court that restrictions on the freedom of speech must be couched in the narrowest possible terms," they said.
 
"We, therefore, hold that the Section is unconstitutional also on the ground that it takes within its sweep protected speech and speech that is innocent in nature and is liable therefore to be used in such a way as to have a chilling effect on free speech and would, therefore, have to be struck down on the ground of overbreadth," they said.
 
The Additional Solicitor General cited a large number of judgments on the proposition that the fact that Section 66A was capable of being abused by the persons who administered it was not a ground to test its validity if it is otherwise valid. He further assured the court  that this Government was committed to free speech and that Section 66A would not be used to curb free speech, but would be used only when excesses are perpetrated by persons on the rights of others.
 
"In this case, it is the converse proposition which would really apply if the learned Additional Solicitor General’s argument is to be accepted. If Section 66A is otherwise invalid, it cannot be saved by an assurance from the learned Additional Solicitor General that it will be administered in a reasonable manner. Governments may come and Governments may go but Section 66A goes on forever. An assurance from the present Government even if carried out faithfully would not bind any successor Government. It must, therefore, be held that Section 66A must be judged on its own merits without any reference to how well it may be administered," the bench said.
 
Mr Mehta had also submitted that if the court were not satisfied about the constitutional validity of either any expression or a part of the provision, the Doctrine of Severability as enshrined under Article 13 may be resorted to.
 
"The submission is vague: the learned Additional Solicitor General does not indicate which part or parts of Section 66A can possibly be saved. It has been held by us that Section 66A purports to authorize the imposition of restrictions on the fundamental right contained in Article 19(1)(a) in language wide enough to cover restrictions both within and without the limits of constitutionally permissible legislative action. We have held ... that the possibility of Section 66A being applied for purposes not sanctioned by the Constitution cannot be ruled out. It must, therefore, be held to be wholly unconstitutional and void," the judges said.
 
The judges held that no part of Section 66A was severable and the provision as a whole must be declared unconstitutional.
 
Having struck down Section 66A on substantive grounds, the judges felt they need not decide the procedural unreasonableness aspect of the Section.
 
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Fire breaks out in Parliament House complex, no one injured

A major fire broke out on the periphery of Parliament House complex, near one of its boundary walls and at quite some distance from the main building, in the national capital on Sunday afternoon, fire brigade sources said.

 
Massive fire breaks out in Parliament premises
A major fire broke out on the periphery of Parliament House complex, near one of its boundary walls and at quite some distance from the main building, in the national capital this afternoon, fire brigade sources said.
 
No one was reported injured in the blaze, which started in the air-conditioning plant, located near the main reception at the southern end of the sprawling campus, and was brought under control within half an hour.
 
Fire brigade officials said some maintenance work was being carried out in the air-conditioning plant, and some insulation material like PVC cables lying around appeared to have caught fire due to sparks from a welding machine.
 
The officials said they received the first report about the fire at 2.21 pm and more than ten fire tenders and tankers were rushed to the scene. One fire tender, which is always stationed in the complex, was the first to respond to the blaze.
 
The officials told journalists that the blaze had been localised and contained within half an hour and was doused completely a little later.
 
Security personnel cordoned off the area as thick black smoke billowed into the sky from the fire and hundreds of mediapersons and onlookers gathered in the area.
 
Being a Sunday, not many people were on duty in the complex when the fire broke out, the sources added.
 
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30 dead, 50 injured as Dehradun-Varanasi Express derails near Rae Bareli

At least 30 passengers were killed and 50 others suffered injuries when the engine and two coaches of the Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express derailed at Bachhrawan in Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh on Friday.

 
30 killed, 50 injured as Dehradun-Varanasi Express derails
At least 30 passengers were killed and 50 others suffered injuries when the engine and two coaches of the Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express derailed at Bachhrawan in Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh today.
 
The mishap occurred around 9.10 am as the train was coming to a scheduled stop at the Bachhrawan station, around 30 km from Rae Bareli and 50 km from state capital Lucknow, official sources said.
 
One of the coaches, a general compartment, bore the brunt of the impact, while the other was the guard's van.
 
Northern Railway spokesperson Neeraj Sharma told NetIndian over the telephone that 30 bodies had been recovered from the affected coach and 50 others had suffered injuries.
 
Railway sources said the train had to stop at the Bachhrawan station and the locomotive driver appeared to have overshot the signal and train hit the sand hump.
 
As soon as the mishap occurred, scores of people from the nearby localities rushed to the scene and started pulling out the victims.
 
Police, fire brigade teams, medical personnel and other emergency services reached the spot soon and started rescue and relief operations.
 
Senior Railway officials were at the scene, overseeing the relief efforts as well as the operations to restore traffic on the Lucknow-Varanasi line.
 
The Division Railway Manager of Lucknow Division, along with other officers and doctors, was among those who rushed to the site immediately.
 
An Accident Relief Medical train and an Accident Relief Train were also sent immediately.
 
Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu directed Chairman, Railway Board and the concerned Member, Railway Board as well as the General Manager of Northern Railway to rush to the scene.
 
He also directed the railway administration to provide the best possible medical care and all assistance to the injured. 
 
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Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha is also visiting the accident site.
 
Mr Prabhu expressed his profound grief over the loss of innocent lives. He announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 2 lakh to the next-of-kin of the deceased, Rs 50,000 for the grievously injured passengers and Rs 20,000 for those with simple injuries.
 
The Railways have set up the following helpline numbers: 
 
Bachhravan-09794845621, Dehradun-0135-2624002, Lucknow-09794830973, Varanasi-9542-2503814, Pratapgarh-0534-2223830, Rae Bareli-0535-2211224, Haridwar-0134-226477, 226479, Barelly-0581-2558161, 2558162 
 
An inquiry has been ordered by Railways under Commissioner Railway Safety, Northern Circle, to ascertain the cause of the accident. 
 
Rescue workers had to use flame cutters and other equipment to extricated the trapped passengers from the coach.
 
Doctors from the King George Medical University in Lucknow had been rushed to the spot to treat the injured.
 
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Modi "deeply concerned", asks for report on Nadia nun's gang-rape, Hisar church attack

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced deep concern about the alleged gangrape of an elderly nun at Nadia in West Bengal recentlyand the attack on a church at Hisar in Haryana and sought an immediate report on the incidents.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced deep concern about the alleged gangrape of an elderly nun at Nadia in West Bengal recentlyand the attack on a church at Hisar in Haryana and sought an immediate report on the incidents.
 
"PM is deeply concerned about the incidents in Hisar, Haryana and Nadia, West Bengal," the Prime MInister's Office (PMO) said on micro-blogging site Twitter today.
 
"PMO has asked for immediate report on facts & action taken regarding the incidents in Haryana and West Bengal," it added.
 
A 71-year-old nun was allegedly gang-raped by dacoits at a convent in Nadia district in the early hours of Saturday. The incident has triggered protests in West Bengal and the state government has ordered a probe by the CID in the case.
 
In the second incident, a church under construction at Kaimri village near Hisar in Haryana was vandalised by a group of people on Sunday.
 
Both the incidents have evoked widespread condemnation across the country, with the Christian community expressing serious concern about the safety of churches and other institutions.
 
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Govt. denies snooping on Rahul Gandhi, accuses Congress of raising a non-issue

The Government on Monday accused the Congress of making a "mountain out of what is not even a molehill" by raising the issue of alleged snooping by the Delhi Police on its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and asserted that it was part of a routine security exercise carried out for decades.

 
Jaitley denies snooping on Rahul Gandhi by Delhi Police
The Government today accused the Congress of making a "mountain out of what is not even a molehill" by raising the issue of alleged snooping by the Delhi Police on its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and asserted that it was  part of a routine security exercise carried out for decades.
 
Responding to the concerns expressed by leaders of the Congress as well as other opposition parties, Finance Minister and Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha that the Delhi Police had been profiling protected persons since 1957.
 
He said a proforma had been introduced for the purpose in 1987, when the Congress was in power and this had been updated in 1999.
 
Using that proforma, the Delhi Police had, as of today, got profiles of as many as 526 persons on its records to be able to provide better security to them, he said. They included former Prime Ministers, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties and members of Parliament, he said.
 
The Congress had reacted angrily to the visits made by Delhi Police personnel to the residence of Mr Gandhi last week to collect information about him, terming it as a case of snooping and political espionage. 
 
The party had also alleged that it was an intrusion into Mr Gandhi's personal life and demanded explanations from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
 
Mr Jaitley said snooping was not done by sending policemen to visit somebody's house and asking them to fill out forms. "This practice was started in 1987," he said.
 
He also asked the Opposition to not make fun of the kind of queries made in the proforma about the make and size of shoes worn by protected persons. He recalled that when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, his body could be identified only because of the shoes he was wearing.
 
"Let us leave security to the experts," he said, adding that the information so collected by the police was routinely reviewed and updated.
 
He also pointed out that the policemen concerned had, on the same day as they had visited Mr Gandhi's residence, also visited the homes of several other leaders living in the vicinity. "There is no snooping, no espionage," he said.
 
Earlier, raising the issue as soon as the House assembled, Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said that, in the more than 35 years that he had been an MP and Minister at the Centre, during which period he was given the highest levels of security, he had never seen any such proforma for seeking information about protectees.
 
He said it was even more surprising that the police had suddenly woken up to the need for such information about Mr Gandhi, who has been under the protection of the Special Protection Group (SPG) since his father became Prime Minister in late 1984. 
 
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"The Delhi Police never thought it necessary all these years to collect this information," he said.
 
He said the kind of personal details sought and the information asked for about Mr Gandhi's friends, associates and aides did not augur well for Indian democracy.
 
Mr Azad said the whole exercise of collecting such information appeared to be a way of putting pressure on political parties so that they do not raise important issues of national importance and called upon the Home Minister to make an explanation in the house.
 
He said that late last year there were reports about some Ministers being put under surveillance. He said at a time when the religious freedom of the people was under threat, this kind of attack on political freedom was against all democratic norms.
 
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India backs Sri Lanka's journey of peace, reconciliation, progress

India on Friday conveyed its sincere support for Sri Lanka's new journey of peace, reconciliation and progress and its commitment to strengthening their partnership in advancing peace and prosperity in the region, including their common maritime neighbourhood.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on March 13, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on March 13, 2015.
India today conveyed its sincere support for Sri Lanka's new journey of peace, reconciliation and progress and its commitment to strengthening their partnership in advancing peace and prosperity in the region, including their common maritime neighbourhood.
 
"We stand with you in your efforts to build a future that accommodates the aspirations of all sections of society, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo after their talks.
 
"We believe that early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it would contribute to this process," he said.
 
"The meeting today has been very productive. It gives me great confidence and optimism about the future of our relations," he said.
 
Earlier, Mr Modi arrived in Colombo on the last leg of a three-nation tour of Indian Ocean countries that had earlier taken him to Seychelles and Mauritius. He was received at the Bandaranaike International Airport by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and senior officials from both sides.
 
"I have eagerly looked forward to visiting one of our closest neighbours and a nation with which we share so much. I am conscious of the significance of this visit. It is the first standalone bilateral visit to Sri Lanka by an Indian Prime Minister since 1987.
 
"Last month, President Sirisena honoured us by making India his first foreign visit as President. I am glad to be here so soon. This is how it should be between neighbours. We should meet regularly," he said.
 
"It helps us understand each other better; find solutions to mutual concerns; and, move our relationship forward," he said.
 
Mr Modi announced a fresh Line of Credit of upto $ 318 million for Sri Lanka's railways sector, saying that India is privileged to be a development partner for Sri Lanka. The line of credit will be used to procure rolling stock, and to restore and upgrade existing railway track. 
 
"Economic ties are a key pillar of our relationship. The progress we have made reflects our shared commitment to stronger economic cooperation. 
 
"Our trade has seen impressive growth over the past decade. I am aware of your concerns about trade with India. As I said in Delhi, we will try and address them," he said.
 
Mr Modi said the agreement today on cooperation between their customs authorities was a step in that direction. It will simplify trade and reduce non-tariff barriers on both sides, he said.
 
"We are not just looking at addressing problems. We are also focusing on new opportunities. Today, Lanka IOC and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation have agreed to jointly develop the Upper Tank Farm of the China Bay Installation in Trincomalee on mutually agreed terms," he said.
 
Mr Modi said a Joint Task Force would be constituted soon to work out the modalities. India stood ready to help Trincomalee become a regional petroleum hub, he said.
 
He said he also looked forward to early commencement of work on the ground in the Sampur Coal Power Project, which would meet Sri Lanka's energy needs. 
 
"The ocean economy is a new frontier that holds enormous promise for both of us. It is a priority for our two countries. Our decision to set up a Joint Task Force on Ocean Economy is a significant step, especially because of our proximity," he said.
 
He said a number of decisions had been taken to encourage people-to-people contacts, improve connectivity and increase tourism.
 
"We will extend the facility of Tourist Visa on Arrival - Electronic Travel Authorization Scheme to Sri Lankan citizens from the Sinhala and Tamil New Year on 14 April 2015. Air India will soon start direct flights between New Delhi and Colombo. We will cooperate in developing a Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka and a Buddhist Circuit in India," he said.
 
 
Modi says fishermen issue needs long-term solution
Mr Modi said a Festival of India would be organized in Sri Lanka later this year. "Sri Lanka is where Buddhism has truly flourished. We will be organizing an exhibition showcasing our Buddhist heritage as part of this festival," he said.
 
He said the memorandum of understanding on cooperation in youth affairs signed today was an important long term investment in their relationship.
 
He said India would provide assistance for the construction of the Rabindranath Tagore auditorium at Ruhuna University in Matara. 
 
Tomorrow, Mr Modi will visit some of the projects being financed by India, including the housing project. "I am pleased that more than 27,000 houses have already been built," he said.
 
The Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka have agreed to enter into a Currency Swap Agreement of US$ 1.5 billion. This will help keep the Sri Lankan rupee stable. 
 
Mr Modi said and Mr Sirisena had discussed the fishermen’s issue. "This complex issue involves livelihood and humanitarian concerns on both sides. We should handle it from this perspective. At the same time, we need to find a long term solution to this issue," he said.
 
"It is also important that fishermen's associations of India and Sri Lanka meet at the earliest to find a mutually acceptable arrangement. It can then be taken forward by both governments," he said.
 
Mr Modi also took the opportunity to convey India's admiration for President Srinisena's efforts to build an inclusive future for Sri Lanka. 
 
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Coal block allocation: Former PM Manmohan Singh summoned as accused by court

In a major setback to him personally and his Congress party, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was on Wednesday summoned as an accused by a special court in a case related to coal block allocations to Hindalco, a part of the Adiya Birla Group of companies.

File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
In a major setback to him personally and his Congress party, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was today summoned as an accused by a special court in a case related to coal block allocations to Hindalco, a part of the Adiya Birla Group of companies.
 
Along with him, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, former Coal Secretary P C Parakh and three other officials were also summoned as accused in the case for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
 
All of them were asked by Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar to appear in court on April 8. While doing so, the court rejected the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) finding in its final report that there was "no prosecutable evidence against anyone".
 
Dr Singh was Prime Minister from May 2004 to May 2014 at the head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government.
 
He was reportedly questioned by a team of CBI officials in January this year at his Motilal Nehru Marg residence here in connection with the allocation of the Talabira II block to Hindalco when he was also holding the portfolio of coal.
 
The former Prime Minister is understood to have defended the decision and stressed that it was made after due deliberations.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio between 2006 and 2009, which is part of the period that is being probed by the CBI.
 
Dr Singh's tenure in office was marred by the finding of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that the delay in introduction of the process of competitive bidding in the allocation of coal blocks to private companies for captive mining had led to likely financial gains of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to them.
 
 
Coal scam: Manmohan Singh among six summoned as accused by court
The CAG had, in his report tabled in Parliament on August 17, 2012 said that a part of this financial gain could have accrued to the national exchequer by operationalising the decision taken years earlier to introduce competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks.
 
The CAG estimated the financial gains to the private coal block allottees on the basis of the average cost of production and average sale price of opencast mines of the public sector Coal India Limited (CIL) in 2010-11.
 
The report noted that the Screening Committee had recommended the allocation of coal blocks to particular allottees, out of all the applications for them, by way of minutes of its meetings.
 
"However, there was nothing on record in the said minutes or in other documents on any comparative evaluation of the applicants for a coal bock which was relied upon by the Screening Committee Minutes of the Screening Committee did not indicate how each one of the applicants for a particular block was evaluated. Thus, a transparent method for allocation of coal blocks was not followed by the Screening Committee," it said.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio himself during much of the period under review in the report in the first term of the UPA Government, prompting the opposition to hold him personally responsible for the alleged scam.
 
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had earlier sought closure of the case, in which Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and others were named as accused. The court directed it to carry out further investigations and submit a report on January 27. It also said that it would be appropriate if then Coal Minister were examined first.
 
The CBI had registered the case in October 2013, following which the Prime Minister's Office had, on October 18, 2013, issued a detailed statement saying that Dr Singh was satisfied that the final decision taken in the matter relating to the allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and Hindalco was entirely correct and based on the merits of the case placed before him.
 
The PMO had given the details of the processing of the matter at different stages of the decision-making to clarify the position.
 
The statement came four days after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a first information report (FIR) in which it named Mr Birla, Hindalco and Mr Parakh in connection with the alleged coal blocks allocation scam.
 
The FIR alleged that Hindalco was shown "undue favour" in the allocation of Talabira II and TAlabira III coal blocks in Odisha.
 
"The Talabira coal block allocation is a case where the final decision differed from the earlier recommendation of the Screening Committee, and this was done following a representation received in the Prime Minister's Office from one of the parties, which was referred to the Ministry of Coal," the PMO statement had said.
 
The following is the annexure issued by the PMO with the statement, giving details of the decision-making in the matter:
 
"1. The Prime Minister received a letter dated 7.5.2005 from Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla requesting allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to HINDALCO for its 650 MW captive power plant in its Integrated Aluminium Project in Sambalpur District, Odisha and for a 100 MW captive plant for the expansion of its Hirakud Aluminium plant in Odisha. The letter was acknowledged by the Prime Minister who noted on the letter– “Please get a report from Coal Ministry”. 
 
2. The Prime Minister’s Office forwarded the letter to the Ministry of Coal on 25.5.2005 requesting it to look into the matter and send a report. 
 
3. Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla submitted another letter to the Prime Minister on 17.6.2005 repeating the request. This letter was linked to the earlier reference and sent to the Ministry of Coal with a request to send their report on the matter. 
 
4. In August 2005, Ministry of Coal sent its file on the matter to the Prime Minister. In the file, it was mentioned that the Screening Committee had considered three major contenders for allocation of Talabira-II and decided to allocate this block to Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) as: 
 
(i) adequate coal linkages had been provided to HINDALCO from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. (MCL) a long time back and HINDALCO had not used the coal, 
 
(ii) Talabira-II & III blocks needed to be developed together to extract an additional 30 million tonnes of coal which would have gone waste otherwise at the boundaries of each block, (Talabira-III is a coal block which had been separately allocated to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd.) and
 
(iii) NLC & Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. can develop the two blocks together as one large mine through a Joint Venture (JV). 
 
Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla had requested for allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco as: 
 
(i) Hindalco was the first applicant for it as long back as 1996, 
 
(ii) the coal linkage granted earlier was not used as a bauxite mine lease relating to the aluminium plant had not materialized, 
 
(iii) in view of the current shortage of coal, Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. will not be able to supply coal as per the earlier linkage, and
 
(iv) the Government of Odisha favoured allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco in preference to NLC. 
 
While the file was being processed in PMO, the Prime Minister received a letter dated 17.8.2005 from the Chief Minister of Odisha on the allotment of Talabira-II to Hindalco. The CM’s letter mentioned that the State Government had assigned topmost priority to the allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco and had strongly supported the case in the Steering Committee meeting. The letter mentioned that aluminium plants should get higher priority over independent power plants as they generate more employment, create more wealth for the country and add to the growth of the manufacturing sector directly. Further, it stated that it is equitable to accord higher priority to units adding more value through manufacturing within the state where the coal mine is located. The letter urged that these special considerations be kept in mind and the matter examined expeditiously. 
 
6. On 29.8.2005, the Ministry of Coal file on the matter was returned with the comment that while the file was being processed, a letter was received from Chief Minister, Odisha and the Ministry of Coal may please take this letter of CM, Odisha on record, re-examine the matter in light thereof and resubmit the file. 
 
7. Ministry of Coal resubmitted the file on 16.9.2005 with the proposal that
 
i) Talabira II & III be mined as a single mine with the mining done by a JV formed between MCL, NLC & Hindalco. 
 
ii) The shareholding of the JV between MCL:NLC:Hindalco to be 70:15:15. 
 
iii) Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s equity shareholding of 70% would approximately equal Talabira-III’s extractable reserves as a proportion of the total of the two blocks. Under the sharing arrangement, 70% of the total annual production will be handed over to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. 
 
iv) The remaining 30% of the annual production will be shared equally between Hindalco and NLC with each getting 15%.
 
v) The satisfaction level of NLC would be 29% of its total requirement and of Hindalco, 81.5%. 
 
8. The reasoning given by the Ministry of Coal was that: 
 
i) Talabira-II & III combined have reserves of 553 million tonnes. 
 
ii) The total requirement of coal from these blocks from the three main contenders is 503 million tonnes, with NLC seeking 280 million tonnes, Hindalco seeking 100 million tonnes and Orissa Sponge Iron Ltd (OSIL) seeking 123 million tonnes. 
 
iii) Allocating the blocks to these three would leave little coal for Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. 
 
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iv) NLC may not be dropped as it is a Central PSU already recommended by the Screening Committee. Hindalco’s case for allocation has been strongly recommended by the State Government and it has also been an early applicant. OSIL can be accommodated elsewhere. 
 
v) It was further brought out that the Government of Odisha have indicated a clear preference for allotment of the block to Hindalco in the interest of creating more employment and growth of the manufacturing sector in the state.
 
vi) It was also pointed out that while both Hindalco and NLC get the same amount of coal, Hindalco's satisfaction level is about 80%, whereas NLC’s is much lower.. However, as NLC and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. are proposing to set up a JV power plant from the coal available from Talabira-II & III, NLC’s full requirements could be met from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s reserves in Talabira-III. This would fully meet the coal requirement of the two CPSUs to set up their power project and protect the interests of the CPSUs. 
 
9. While processing this proposal in PMO, it was noted that the ownership ratio in the JV ownership was not in congruence with the guidelines approved by PM on 09.06.2005 which required this ratio to be in proportion to the assessed requirement of coal of each allocatee. As per this guideline, the NLC:Hindalco ratio in their 30% share should be 22.5:7.5 and not 15:15 as was proposed. 
 
10. While recommending the case to the Prime Minister, it was clearly brought out that: 
 
i) The State Government of Odisha has strongly recommended allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco and supported it in the Screening Committee. Chief Minister, Odisha had reiterated this position assigning topmost priority to the allocation of Talabira-II in favour of Hindalco.
 
ii) Under the MMDR Act, the mining lease for coal is granted by the State Government with the previous approval of the Central Government. Thus, under the federal framework of sharing mining rights as provided under the Act, both the Central and State Governments need to concur before an allocatee can be granted a mining lease. Accordingly, the strong recommendation of the Government of Odisha is important and has to be given due consideration while taking a decision in the matter. 
 
iii) The Ministry’s suggestion for allocation of 30% share of production in the JV for Talabira-II & III combined to NLC & Hindalco, with the remaining 70% of the total production taken by MCL has merit and may therefore be considered for acceptance. 
 
iv) As for the NLC:Hindalco equity ratio in the JV, this would require relaxation of guidelines that were approved by PM earlier, but this could be considered as NLC and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. are sister PSUs and NLC’s requirements of coal could be met from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s 70% share of production. This would fully meet the coal requirement of the two CPSUs to set up their power project and protect the interests of the CPSUs. 
 
11. Based on these arguments, and also on the reasoning of the Ministry, it was proposed that Prime Minister may approve: 
 
i) Allocation of Talabira-II & III to a JV owned jointly by MCL:NLC:Hindalco in the ratio 70:15:15 with the other aspects as proposed by the Ministry. 
 
ii) The existing long term coal linkage of Hindalco may be reviewed and suitably reduced after taking into account Hindalco’s requirement of coal for the project and the share of Hindalco in the coal mined by the JV in Talabira-II & III. 
 
12. The Prime Minister approved the proposal on 1.10.2005."
 
On September 24, 2014, the Supreme Court had scrapped 214 of the 218 coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2010, sparing only four  -- two allocated to an ultra mega power project (UMPP) and two to public sector companies, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and NTPC.
 
In recent days, the Government has put up more than 30 of those blocks for auction.
 
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Renowned journalist Vinod Mehta passes away

Renowned journalist Vinod Mehta, who was the founder-editor-in-chief of Outlook magazine, passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here on Sunday morning after a prolonged illness.

Vinod Mehta
Vinod Mehta
Renowned journalist Vinod Mehta, who was the founder-editor-in-chief of Outlook magazine, passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here this morning after a prolonged illness.
 
He was 72.
 
"Outlook Group announces with deep sadness the demise of its founder Editor-in-Chief and editorial chairman, Vinod Mehta, in New Delhi, today," the magazine said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
AIIMS spokesperson Amit Gupta said Mr Mehta had been transferred to the hospital a week ago from Fortis Hospital for treatment of acute chest infection.
 
He had developed septicemia and was on a ventilator at AIIMS for the past week. He died of multiple organ failure this morning, Dr Gupta said.
 
Mr Mehta began his journalistic career as the editor of Debonair magazine and later edited other publications such as the Sunday Observer, Indian Post, The Independent and The Pioneer before joining Outlook. He was editor-in-chief of Outlook until February 2012 after which he served as the Editorial Chairman of the magazine.
 
He has also written several books such as his memoirs Lucknow Boy and biographies of film actress Meena Kumari and Indira Gandhi's son Sanjay Gandhi.
 
Born on May 31, 1942 in Rawalpindi in West Punjab of undivided India, his family moved to India when he was three. He grew up in the syncretic culture of Lucknow, having attended La Martinere school and the university there. 
 
He tried his hand at a variety of jobs before taking up an offer to edit Debonair magazine in 1974. Over the years, he became one of India's most influential and respected editors. He was till recently a regular on many television debates.
 
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BBC film: Govt. says will take all necessary steps against broadcast

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday the Government would take all necessary steps in the matter of the BBC's decision to air last night a documentary film featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012 despite a court order restraining its telecast.

 
Rajnath says will act against airing of Nirbhaya documentary
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said the Government would take all necessary steps in the matter of the BBC's decision to air last night a documentary film featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012 despite a court order restraining its telecast.
 
Though the Government had, on Tuesday, obtained a restraining order from a local court against the dissemination of the contents of the documentary, BBC went ahead and aired it late last night in the United Kingdom. It was also available on video sharing website YouTube.
 
Talking to reporters here today, Mr Singh said the Government had informed all television channels in the country not to telecast the interview.
 
"But the BBC told us that they were an independent organisation and had decided to go ahead with its telecast," he said. The BBC, in fact, advanced the screening of the film to last night from the original date of March 8, International Women's Day.
 
Mr Singh said the Government would take all necessary steps in this regard, including to prevent the further dissemination of the contents of the film.
 
"Whatever action we have to take, the Home Ministry will go ahead and take it," he said, adding that there had been no laxity on the part of the Government in this regard.
 
Asked about the possible steps the Government could take, he said that he would not like to make any further comment at this stage. "All I can say is that whatever is required, will be done. If conditions have been violated, there will be appropriate action," he said.
 
The Home Ministry is understood to be in touch with the Ministries of External Affairs, Information & Broadcasting and Communications & Information Technology in this regard.
 
While there was no official word from the Government on the steps it had taken in the matter, various sources said it had asked YouTube to remove the film.
 
BBC is learnt to have conveyed to the Government that it did not plan to telecast the film in India in compliance with the directive.
 
Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi told journalists that suitable action would be taken under the law, especially with regard to portions in the film which transgressed the law.
 
"We will take steps to ensure there is no further dissemination o the film, especially on (internet) portals," he said. "We are going to take action under the law," he said.
 
Yesterday, Mr Singh had told the Rajya Sabha that the makers of the film had violated the conditions under which permission had been given by the authorities to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar Jail here with convicts in cases related to atrocities against women.
 
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Mr Singh said a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar jail of cases was given by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 24 July, 2013 and thereafter the permissions were given by the jail authorities to shoot the documentary to Ms. Leslee Udwin and Ms. Anjali Bhushan.
 
He said the permission was given, subject to the following conditions:
 
(i)         Prior approval of jail authorities is to be taken for publishing the research paper or for releasing the documentary film, which is being made for purely social purposes without any commercial interest as conveyed.
(ii)        To interview only such convicted prisoners who give written consent.
(iii)       The complete unedited footage of shoot in the Tihar Jail premises will be shown to the jail authorities to ensure there is no breach of Prison security.
 
The documentary features an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case who are now facing the death sentence.
 
Certain remarks during the interview by Mukesh Singh, who was the driver of the bus in which a 23-year-old student of physiotherapy was gang-raped by six men on that fateful night, have caused outrage across the country as well in both houses of Parliament.
 
The media calls the victim Nirbhaya because she cannot be identified under the country's laws.
 
The film's makers have said that they had all the required permissions to shoot inside Tihar Jail and interview the convicts.
 
While many people have been outraged by the reported remarks of Mukesh Singh and have sought a ban on the documentary, there are others who feel such a move would be a violation of the freedom of expression.
 
Ms Udwin told the BBC that the decision to ban the film was ill-advised. "I went out there not to point a finger at India - the opposite, to put it on a pedestal, to say not in my life have I seen another country go out with that fortitude and courage the way the Indian nation did," she said.
 
"Unfortunately what this ill-advised decision to ban the film is now going to do is have the whole world point fingers at India," she said.
 
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Govt. gets court order restraining broadcast of interview with Nirbhaya case convict

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday the Government had taken legal action and obtained a restraining order from a court against dissemination of the contents of a documentary by BBC Four featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012.

Court restrains telecast of interview of Nirbhaya case convict
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said the Government had taken legal action and obtained a restraining order from a court against dissemination of the contents of a documentary by BBC Four featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012.
 
He told the Rajya Sabha in a statement that the makers of the film had violated the conditions under which permission had been given by the authorities to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar Jail here with convicts in cases related to atrocities against women.
 
Mr Singh said a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar jail of cases was given by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 24 July, 2013 and thereafter the permissions were given by the jail authorities to shoot the documentary to Ms. Leslee Udwin and Ms. Anjali Bhushan.
 
He said the permission was given, subject to the following conditions:
 
(i)         Prior approval of jail authorities is to be taken for publishing the research paper or for releasing the documentary film, which is being made for purely social purposes without any commercial interest as conveyed.
(ii)        To interview only such convicted prisoners who give written consent.
(iii)       The complete unedited footage of shoot in the Tihar Jail premises will be shown to the jail authorities to ensure there is no breach of Prison security.
 
Mr Singh said the documentary, inter alia, featured an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case who are facing the death sentence.
 
Certain remarks during the interview by Mukesh Singh, who was the driver of the bus in which a 23-year-old student of physiotherapy was gang-raped by six men on the fateful night, have caused outrage across the country as well in both houses of Parliament.
 
The media calls the victim Nirbhaya because she cannot be identified under the country's laws.
 
The film's makers have said that they had all the required permissions to shoot inside Tihar Jail and interview the convicts.
 
"It came to the notice of the jail authorities that the permission conditions have been violated and hence a legal notice was issued to them on 7th April, 2014 to return the unedited footage within 15 days and also not to show the film as it violates the permission conditions," he said.
 
"Subsequently, the documentary film was shown to the jail authorities where it was noticed that the documentary film depicts the comments of the convict which are highly derogatory and are an affront to the dignity of women.  It was also noticed that the film shown was the edited version and not the unedited as per permission conditions.  Hence, they were requested to provide full copy of the unedited film shootout for further review by the authorities and that they were asked not to release/screen the documentary till it is approved by the authorities," he said.
 
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He said it had come to the notice of the Government that BBC Four was going to telecast the documentary on March 8.
 
"The Government has taken necessary legal action and obtained a restraining order from the court disseminating the contents of the film," he said.
 
"Our Government condemns the incident of 16th December, 2012 in the strongest possible terms and will not allow any attempt by any individual, group or organization to leverage such unfortunate incidents for commercial benefit.  The respect and dignity of women constitute a core value of our culture and tradition.  Our Government remains fully committed to ensuring safety and dignity of women," he added.
 
While many people have been outraged by the reported remarks of Mukesh Singh and have sought a ban on the documentary, there are other groups who feel such a move would be a violation of the freedom of expression.
 
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Govt., RBI sign agreement on Monetary Policy Framework in shift to inflation targeting

The Central Government and the Reserve Bank of India have signed a landmark agreement on Monetary Policy Framework under which the RBI will aim to bring inflation below 6 per cent by January 2016.

The Central Government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have signed a landmark agreement on Monetary Policy Framework under which the RBI will aim to bring inflation below 6 per cent by January 2016.
 
The target for financial year 2016-17 and all subsequent years shall be 4 per cent, with a band of +/- 2 per cent.
 
The agreeent, signed on February 20 and made public yesterday, is a shift towards inflation targeting that RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has been advocating for some time.
 
Signed by Dr Rajan and Finance Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, the agreement stressed it was essential to have a monetary police framework to meet the challenge of an increasingly complex economy.
 
"The objective of monetary policy is to primarily maintain price stability, while keeping in mind the objective of growth," it said.
 
The agreement said the monetary policy framework shall be operated by the RBI. The Governor, and in his absence the Deputy Governor in charge of monetary policy, shall determine the Policy Rate, as well as any other monetary measures, to achieve the target.
 
The Reserve Bank shall publish the operating target(s) and establish an Operating Procedure of Monetary Policy through which the Operating Target will be achieved. Any change in the operating target(s) and the operating procedure  in response to evolving macro-financial conditions shall also be published.
 
Once every six months, the Reserve Bank shall publish a document explaining the souces of inflation and forecasts of inflation for the period between six to 18 months from the date of the  publication of the document.
 
According to the agreement, the RBI shall be seen to have failed to meet the target if inflation is more than 6 per cent for three consecutive quarters for the financial 2015-16 and all subsequent years or less than 2 per cent for three consecutive quarters in 2016-17 and all subsequent years.
 
If the Reserve Bank fails to meet the target it shall set out in a report to the Central Government the reasons for its failure to achieve the target, the remedial actions proposed to be taken by it, and an estimate of the time period within which the target would be achieved pursuant to timely implementation of proposed remedial actions.
 
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Personal tax rates unchanged, wealth tax abolished, corporate tax to come down to 25%

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley kept personal income tax rates unchanged while offering individual tax payers several concessions, proposed to reduce corporate tax from 30% to 25% over the next four years and abolished wealth tax in his General Budget for 2015-16 presented to the Lok Sabha on Saturday.

Union Minister for Finance Arun Jaitley arriving at Parliament House to present the General Budget 2015-16, in New Delhi on February 28, 2015.
Union Minister for Finance Arun Jaitley arriving at Parliament House to present the General Budget 2015-16, in New Delhi on February 28, 2015.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley kept personal income tax rates unchanged while offering individual tax payers several concessions, proposed to reduce corporate tax from 30% to 25% over the next four years beginning next year and abolished wealth tax in his General Budget for 2015-16 presented to the Lok Sabha today.
 
Mr Jaitley also proposed several measures aimed at fostering "cooperative federalism", empowering the States and meeting five major challenges faced by the economy: agricultural income under stress, weak private sector investment in infrastructure, decline in manufacturing, resource crunch in view of higher devolution in taxes to states and maintaining fiscal discipline.
 
He declared that the fight against the scourge of black money would continue and announced that a new law would be put in place to tackle the evil. 
 
He also said taxation was an instrument of social and economic engineering and listed steps aimed at fostering a stable taxation policy and non-adversarial tax administration.
 
Mr Jaitley said the Goods and Services Tax (GST) introduced in the last session of Parliament would play a transformative role in the way the economy functioned and felt this transformative piece of legislation in indirect taxation needed to be matched with transformative measures in direct taxation.  
 
In this regard, he proposed the reduction in corporate tax from 30% to 25% over the next four years and said this would lead to higher level of investment, higher growth and more jobs. 
 
He said the broad principles adopted in finalizing the tax proposals included measures to curb black money; job creation through revival of growth and investment and promotion of domestic manufacturing and ‘Make in India’; minimum government and maximum governance to improve the ease of doing business; benefits to middle class taxpayers; improving the quality of life and public health through Swachch Bharat initiatives; and stand alone proposals to maximize benefits to the economy.
 
He said the proposed new law on black money would specifically deal with illegal wealth stashed abroad and that the Bill in this regard would be introduced in the current session of Parliament.
 
The key features of the Bill will include punishment of rigorous imprisonment upto ten years for concealment of income and assets and evasion of tax in relation to foreign assets.  This offence will be made non-compoundable and offenders will not be permitted to approach the Settlement Commission.  Penalty for such concealment of income and assets at the rate of 300 per cent of tax shall be levied.  Non-filing of return or filing of return with inadequate disclosure of foreign assets will be punishable with rigorous imprisonment up to seven years, he said.
 
Mr Jaitley said that, to curb domestic black money, a new and more comprehensive Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill would be introduced in the current session of Parliament.  He said this law would enable confiscation of benami property and provide for prosecution, thus, blocking a major avenue for generation and holding of black money in the form of benami property, especially in real estate.  
 
Quoting of PAN will be made mandatory for any purchase or sale exceeding the value of Rs.1 lakh.  To improve enforcement, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) would leverage technology and have access to information in each other’s data-base, he said.
 
He said job creation would be encouraged through revival of growth and investment and promotion of domestic manufacturing and "Make in India".
 
The tax "pass through" is proposed to be allowed to both Category-1 and Category-2 alternative investment fund so that tax is levied on the investors in these funds and not on the funds per se. 
 
To rationalize the capital gain regime for the sponsors  exiting at the time of listing of the units of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs) subject to payment of Securities Transaction Tax (STT) is proposed, he said. 
 
He said the Permanent Establishment (PE) norm will be modified to encourage fund managers to relocate to India. 
 
He said the General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR) would be deferred by two years. It will apply to investments made on or after 01-04-2017, when implemented.  
 
 
Corporate tax to be cut to 25% in four years:Budget
In order to facilitate young entrepreneurs, the rate of income tax on royalty and fees for technical services will be reduced from 25 per cent to 10 per cent. To generate greater employment opportunities the benefit of deduction for employment of new regular workman to all business entities will be extended. The eligibility threshold of minimum 100 regular workmen will be reduced to 50.
 
Recognizing the importance of indirect taxes in the context of promotion of domestic manufacturing and Make in India, the Finance Minister said basic custom duty on certain inputs, raw materials, intermediates and components in 22 items was proposed to be reduced to minimize the impact of duty evasion. All goods, except populated printed circuit boards for use in manufacture of ITA bound items are proposed to be exempted from SAD.  Subject to actual user condition, SAD will be reduced on import of certain other imports and raw materials. 
 
Mr Jaitley the wealth tax would be replaced with an additional surcharge of 2 per cent on the "super rich" with taxable income of more than Rs 1 crore. This is expected to yield Rs 9000 crore against the Rs 1008 crore generated currently by wealth tax.
 
To eliminate the scope for discretionary exercise of power and provide a hassle-free structure to the tax payers, he proposed to increase the threshold limit for domestic transfer pricing from Rs.5 crore to Rs. 20 crore.
 
In order to rationalize the minimum advance tax (MAT) provisions for foreign institutional investors (FIIs), profits corresponding to their income from capital gains on transactions in securities which are liable to tax at a lower rate, shall not be subject to MAT, he said.
 
The education cess and the secondary and higher education cess is proposed to be subsumed in central excise duty.  The general rate of central excise duty of 12.36 per cent, including the cesses will be rounded off to 12.5 per cent.  
 
The ad-valorem rates of excise duty lower than 12 per cent and those higher than 12 per cent with a few exceptions are not proposed to be increased. Excise duty on footwears with leather uppers and having retail price of more than Rs.1,000 per pair is proposed to be reduced to 6 per cent.  
 
Mr Jaitley said online central excise and service tax registration will be done in two working days.  As a measure of business facilitation, the time limit for CENVAT credit on inputs and input services will be increased from 6 months to one year.  Service tax plus education cess is proposed to be increased from 12.36 per cent to 14 per cent to facilitate transaction to GST. 
 
He proposed 100 percent deduction for contributions made, other than by way of corporate social responsibility (CSR) contributions, to the Swachh Bharat Kosh. Similar tax treatment has been proposed for the Clean Ganga Fund.
 
He proposed an increase in clean energy cess from Rs.100 to Rs.200 per metric tonne of coal, etc. to finance clean environment initiatives.   
 
He said excise duty on sacks and bags of polymers of ethylene other than for industrial use is proposed to be increased from 12 per cent to 15 per cent.  He also mentioned an enabling provision to levy Swachh Bharat Cess at the rate of 2 per cent or less on all or certain services, if the need arises. 
 
Mr Jaitley said that services by common effluent treatment plant will be exempt from service tax.  He also proposed the extension of concessions on customs and excise duty available to electrically operated vehicles and hybrid vehicles upto 31-03-2016.
 
He proposed no change in the rate of personal income tax and rate of tax for companies in respect of income earned in the finance year 2015-16, assessable in Assessment Year 2016-17. 
 
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Mr Jaitley proposed to levy a surcharge @ 12 per cent on individuals, HUFs, AOPs, BOIs, artificial juridical persons, firms, cooperative societies and local authorities having income exceeding Rs.1 crore.  
 
Surcharge in the case of domestic companies having income exceeding Rs.1 crore and up to Rs.10 Crore is proposed to be levied @ 7 per cent and surcharge @ 12 per cent is proposed to be levied on domestic companies having income exceeding Rs.10 crore.
 
He  proposed that in the case of foreign companies the surcharge will continue to be levied @ 2 per cent if the income exceeds Rs.1 crore and is up to Rs. 10 Crore, and @ 5 per cent if the income exceeds Rs.10 crore.
 
He also proposed to levy a surcharge @ 12 per cent as against current rate of 10 per cent on additional income tax payable by companies on distribution of dividends and buyback of shares, or by mutual funds and securitization trusts on distribution of income.
 
The education cess on income tax @ 2 per cent for fulfilment of the commitment of the Government to provide and finance universalized quality based education and 1 per cent of additional surcharge called ‘Secondary and Higher Education Cess’ on tax and surcharge is proposed to be continued for the financial year 2015-16 for all taxpayers, he said.
 
Describing the extension of benefits to middle class tax payers as the priority of the government, Mr Jaitley proposed the following concessions for them:
 
A.     Increase in the limit of deduction in respect of health insurance premium from Rs.15,000 to Rs.25,000.
(1)   For senior citizens the limit will stand increased to Rs.30,000 from the existing Rs.20,000.
(2)   For very senior citizens of the age of 80 years or more, who are not covered by health insurance, deduction of Rs.30,000 towards expenditure incurred on the treatment will allowed.
 
B.     The deduction limit of Rs.60,000 towards expenditure on account of specified diseases of serious nature is proposed to be enhanced to Rs.80,000 in case of very senior citizens.
 
C.     Additional deduction of Rs.25,000 will be allowed for differently abled persons under Section 80DD and Section 80U of the Income Tax Act.
 
D.     The limit on deduction on account of contribution to a pension fund and the New Pension Scheme is proposed to be increased from Rs.1 lakh to Rs.1.5 lakh.
 
E.      To provide social safety net and the facility of pension to individuals and additional deduction of Rs. 50,000 is proposed to be provided for contribution to the New Pension Scheme under Section 80 CCD.  This will enable India to become a pensioned society instead of a pensionless society.
 
F.      Investments in Sukanya Samriddhi Scheme are already eligible for deduction under Section 80C.  All payments to the beneficiaries including interest payment on deposit will also be fully exempt.
 
G.     Transport allowance exemption is being increased from Rs. 800 to Rs. 1,600 per month.
 
H.     For the benefit of senior citizens, service tax exemption will be provided on Varishta Bima Yojana.
 
Mr Jaitley said these concessions had been given to individual taxpayers despite inadequae fiscal space.
 
"After taking into account the tax concession given to middle class tax payers in my last Budget and this Budget, today an individual tax payer will get tax benefit of Rs 4,44,200. As and when my fiscal capacity improves, individual taxpayers will have a lot to look forward to," he said.
 
Other taxation proposals include conversion of existing excise duty on petrol and diesel to the extent of Rs 4 per litre into Road Cess to fund investment in roads and other infrastructure.  An additional sum of Rs 40,000 crore will be made available through this measure for these sectors. 
 
In service tax, exemption is being extended to certain pre- cold storage services in relation to fruits and vegetables so as to incentivise value addition in this crucial sector.  The Negative List under service tax is being slightly pruned and certain other exemptions are being withdrawn to widen the tax base. 
 
Yoga wil be included within the ambit of charitable purpose under Section 2(15) of the Income-tax Act.  
 
Further, to mitigate the problem being faced by many genuine charitable institutions, the Budget proposed to modify the ceiling on receipts from activities in the nature of trade, commerce or business to 20% of the total receipts from the existing ceiling of Rs25 lakh.  A national database of non profit organisations is also being developed, he said.
 
Mr Jaitley said most of the provisions of the proposed Direct Taxes Code (DTC) had already been included in the Income-tax Act.  Among the very few aspects of DTC which were left out, some issues had been addressed in today's Budget.
 
"Further, the jurisprudence under the Income-tax Act is well evolved. Considering all these aspects, there is no great merit in going ahead with the Direct Tax Code as it exists today," he said.
 
Mr Jaitley said his direct tax proposals would result in revenue loss of Rs 8,315 crore, whereas the proposals in indirect taxes are expected to yield Rs 23,383 crore.  Thus, the net impact of all tax proposals would be a revenue gain of Rs15,068 crore, he said.
 
Mr Jaitley began his Budget Speech by saying that the economy had turned aorund dramatically in the last nine months, since the Narendra Modi took over on May 26, 2014, with the real gross domestic product (GDP) growth expected to accelerate to 7.4 per cent, making India the fastest growing large economy in the world.
 
He said macro-economic stability had been restored and conditions had been created for sustainable poverty elimination, job creation and durable double digit economic growth.
 
He listed the Jan Dhan Yojana, which brought over 12.5 crore families into the financial mainstream in just 100 days, transparent coal block auctions to augment resources of the States and ‘Swachh Bharat’, the cleanliness mission, as the key achievements of the government.
 
He said India had now embarked on two more game-changing reforms -- the GST and the JAM Trinity - Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile -- to implement direct transfer of benefits. 
 
He said GST would put in place a state-of-the art indirect tax system by 1st April 2016 while the JAM Trinity would allow transfer benefits in a leakage-proof, targetted and cashless manner.
 
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Mr Jaitley said the declining inflation rate was one of the major achievements of the Government and said this represented a structural shift. He said consumer price index (CPI) inflation was expected to remain at close to 5% by the end of the year, which would allow further easing of monetary policy. 
 
He said a Monetary Policy Framework Agreement had been concluded with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to keep inflation below 6%.
 
He said that, based on the new series, the estimated GDP growth for 2014-15 is 7.4%, which is expected to go up to between 8 and 8.5 per cent in the next financial year, making double-digit growth seem feasible very soon.
 
He mentioned the Government's plan for Housing for All by 2022, and said this would require the construction of two crore houses in urban areas and four crore in rural areas. He said the vision included power supply for each house and means of livelihood for at least one member of each family, substantial reduction in poverty, electrification of the remaining 20,000 villages, including off-grid solar power by 2020, connecting each of the 1,78,000 unconnected habitation, providing medical services in each village and city, and ensuring a Senior Secondary School within 5 km of every child.
 
He said this also involved strengthening rural economy, increasing irrigated area, ensuring communication connectivity to all villages, to make India, the manufacturing hub of the world through Skill India and the Make in India Programmes, encouraging and growing the spirit of entrepreneurship and development of Eastern and North Eastern regions on par with the rest of the country.
 
Mr Jaitley assured the House that the country would meet the challenging fiscal deficit target of 4.1% of GDP set by the previous government. He said the Government was firm on achieving a fiscal deficit target of 3% within three years.
 
He stressed the need for a well targeted system of subsidy delivery and reduction in leakages. He said the Government was committed to the rationalization of subsidies. He said the direct transfer of benefits (DBT), started mostly in scholarship schemes, would be further expanded to increase the number of beneficiaries from the present 1 crore to 10.3 crore.
 
He proposed to fully support the Agriculture Ministry’s organic farming scheme – “Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana”. He also proposed an allocation of Rs 5,300 crore for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sinchai Yojana, an irrigation scheme.
 
In order to support the agriculture sector with the help of effective agriculture credit and focus on small and marginal farmers, he proposed to allocate Rs. 25,000 crore to the corpus of the Rural Infrastructure Development fund (RIDF) set up in NABARD, Rs. 15,000 crore for Long Term Rural Credit Fund; Rs. 45,000 crore for Short Term Cooperative Rural Credit Refinance Fund; and Rs. 15,000 crore for Short Term RRB Refinance Fund. 
 
He said that the Government had set an ambitious target of Rs. 8.5 lakh crore of agricultural credit. Stating the Government’s commitment to supporting employment through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), he proposed an initial allocation of Rs. 34,699 crore for the programme.
 
Mr Jaitley proposed to create a Micro Units Development Refinance Agency (MUDRA) Bank, with a corpus of Rs. 20,000 crore, and credit guarantee corpus of 3,000 crore, which will refinance Micro-Finance Institutions through a Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana,. He added that priority would be given to Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) enterprises in lending.
 
Expressing concern over the large proportion of India’s population that is without any kind of insurance, he said that the soon-to-be- launched Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana would cover accidental death risk of Rs. 2 lakh for a premium of just Rs. 12 per year. 
 
Similarly, the Government will launch the Atal Pension Yojana, which will provide a defined pension, depending on the contribution, and its period. To encourage people to join this scheme, the Government will contribute 50% of the beneficiaries’ premium limited to Rs. 1,000 each year, for five years, in the new accounts opened before 31st December, 2015. 
 
He also announced the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana which covers both natural and accidental death risk of Rs. 2 lakhs. The premium will be Rs. 330 per year, or less than one rupee per day, for the age group 18-50, he said.
 
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Referring to the unclaimed deposits of about Rs. 3,000 crore in the Public Provident Fund (PPF) and approximately Rs. 6,000 crore in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) corpus, the Minister said that the amounts would be appropriated to a corpus, which will be used to subsidize the premia on these social security schemes through creation of a Senior Citizen Welfare fund in the Finance Bill. 
 
He reiterated the Government’s commitment to the ongoing schemes for the welfare of SCs, STs and women.
 
Underlining the need to increase public investment in infrastructure, Mr Jaitley proposed increased outlays for roads and the gross budgetary support to the railways, by Rs. 14,031 crore and Rs. 10,050 crore, respectively. 
 
He said the capital expenditure of the public sector undertakings (PSUs) was expected to be Rs. 3,17,889 crore, an increase of approximately Rs. 80,844 crore over the Revised Estimates (RE) 2014-15. 
 
He also proposed to establish a National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) with an annual flow of Rs. 20,000 crore.  
 
He said that he also intended to permit tax free infrastructure bonds for the projects in the rail, road and irrigation sector. He said the public private partnership (PPP) mode of infrastructure development had to be revisited and revitalized.
 
Mr Jaitley proposed to establish the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) in the NITI Aayog, which will provide an Innovation Promotion Platform involving academiciansand draw upon national and international experiences. A sum of Rs. 150 crore is proposed to be earmarked for the mission.
 
He said the Government establishing a mechanism, to be known as SETU (Self-Employment and Talent Utilisation), which will support all aspects of start-up businesses, and other self-employment activities, particularly in technology-driven areas. An amount of Rs. 1,000 crore has been initially earmarked in NITI Aayog, the body which has replaced the Planning Commission, for the purpose.
 
Mr Jaitley said the Government also proposed to set up five new Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPPs), each of 4000 MW, in the plug-and-play mode.
 
To promote investment in the country, he proposed to set up a Public Debt Management Agency (PDMA) which will bring both India’s external borrowings and domestic debt under one roof. 
 
He also proposed to merge the Forwards Markets Commission with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to strengthen regulation of commodity forward markets and reduce wild speculation. He said enabling legislation, amending the Government Securities Act and the RBI Act was proposed in the Finance Bill, 2015.
 
Regarding the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), the Minister said the employees need to be provided two options, EPF or the New Pension Scheme (NPS). He said, for employees below a certain threshold of monthly income, contribution to EPF should be optional, without affecting or reducing the employer’s contribution.
 
Noting that India is one of the largest consumers of gold in the world, Mr Jaitley proposed to introduce a Gold Monetisation Scheme, which will replace both the present Gold Deposit and Gold Metal Loan Schemes. The new scheme will allow the depositors of gold to earn interest in their metal accounts and the jewelers to obtain loans in their metal account.  Banks/other dealers would also be able to monetize this gold. He also proposed a Sovereign Gold Bond, as an alternative to purchasing metal gold. 
 
He also announced commencement of work on developing Indian Gold Coin, which will carry the Ashok Chakra on its face.
 
Highlighting need for increasing investments from all sources, the Finance Minister proposed to allow foreign investments in Alternate Investment Funds. He said that, in order to catalyze investments from the Indian private sector  in South East Asia, a Project Development Company will set up manufacturing hubs  in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
 
In order to support programmes for women's security, advocacy and awareness, the Minister proposed to provide another Rs. 1,000 crore to the Nirbhaya Fund.
 
He said resources would be provided to start work on landscape restoration, signage and interpretation centres, parking, access for the differently abled, visitors’ amenities, including security and toilets, illumination and plans for benefiting communities around them at various heritage sites in the country.
 
Expressing concern over environmental degradation, Mr Jaitley said that the target of renewable energy capacity had been revised to 1,75,000 MW till 2022. He said the Government was also launching a scheme for Faster Adoption and manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) with an initial outlay of Rs. 75 crore.
 
He said the Government would soon launch a National Skills Mission which will consolidate skill initiatives spread across several Ministries. He said Rs. 1,500 crore has been set apart for the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gramin Kaushal Yojana, a skills programme for rural youth.
 
He proposed to set up a fully IT based Student Financial Aid Authority to administer and monitor scholarships and educational loan schemes, through the Pradhan Mantri Vidya Lakshmi Karyakram.
 
Mr Jaitley said a new Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) would be set up in Karnataka and the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad would be upgraded into a full-fledged IIT.
 
New All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) will be set up in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Assam. Another AIIMS-like institution will be set up in Bihar.
 
A Post-Graduate Institute of Horticulture Research & Education will be set up in Amritsar, Punjab, three new National Institutes of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPERs) will be set up in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh and one Institute of Science and Education Research will be set up in Nagaland and Odisha each. 
 
Two Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) will be set up in J&K and Andhra Pradesh, he said.
 
Mr Jaitley said the National Optical Fibre Network Programme (NOFNP) of 7.5 lakh kms networking 2.5 lakh villages would be  further speeded up by allowing willing States to undertake its execution.
 
He said that, inspite of the large increase in the devolution to states, adequate provision was being made for the schemes for the poor with allocation of Rs. 68,968 crore to the education sector including mid-day meals, Rs. 33,152 crore to the health sector and Rs. 79,526 crore for rural development activities including MGNREGA, Rs. 22,407 crore for housing and urban development, Rs. 10,351 crore for women and child development, and Rs. 4,173 crore for Water Resources and Namami Gange. 
 
The Minister said that adequate funds had been provided for the needs of the armed forces. As against likely expenditure in this year of Rs. 2,22,370 crore, the budget allocation for 2015-16 is Rs. 2,46,727 crore, he said.
 
He said the Non-Plan expenditure for 2015-16 was estimated at Rs  13,12,220 crore. Plan expenditure is estimated to be Rs. 4,65,277 crore, which is very near to the R.E. of 2014-15. 
 
The total expenditure has accordingly been estimated at Rs. 17,77,477 crore. Gross tax receipts are estimated to be Rs. 14,49,490 crore. Devolution to the States is estimated to at Rs. 5,23,958 crore. Share of Central Government will be Rs. 9,19,842 crore. 
 
Non-tax revenues for the next fiscal are estimated to be Rs. 2,21,733 crore. 
 
He said that, with these estimates, the fiscal deficit would be 3.9 percent of GDP and the revenue deficit would be 2.8 percent of GDP.
 
Mr Jaitley said the Government was committed to change, growth, jobs and genuine effective upliftment of the poor and the under-privileged. He also reaffirmed its commitment to the Constitutional principles of equality and justice for all without concern for caste, creed or religion.
 
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Economic Survey predicts 8.1-8.5% growth in 2015-16, says double digit trajectory possible

The Economic Survey 2014-15 presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to the Lok Sabha on Friday, a day ahead of his Budget for the coming fiscal year, said that the economy was poised for a growth of 8.1 to 8.5 percent at market prices in 2015-16.

 
The Economic Survey 2014-15 presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to the Lok Sabha today, a day ahead of his Budget for the coming fiscal year, said that the economy was poised for a growth of 8.1 to 8.5 percent at market prices in 2015-16.
 
Asserting that the economy was looking up, with brighter prospects amongst the world's major economies today, the survey said that the clear political mandate for reform and a benign external environment now was expected to propel India onto a double digit trajectory.
 
It said that the economy appeared to have now gone past the economic slowdown, persistent inflation, elevated fiscal deficit, slackening domestic demand, external account imbalances and oscillating value of the rupee.
 
The survey took into consideration of the recent change of base year  by the Central Statistics Office of the National Accounts series from 2004-05 to 2011-12 while projecting its growth estimate for 2015-16.
 
It said the growth rate in GDP at constant (2011-12) market prices in 2012-13 was 5.1 per cent, which increased to 6.9 percent in 2013-14 and it is expected to further increase to 7.4 per cent in 2014-15 (according to advanced estimates). 
 
The change in methodology by the Central Statistics Office has also introduced the concept of Gross Value Added (GVA) at the aggregate and various sectoral levels, it noted.
 
According to the survey, the expectation for such a growth rate is also due to a number of reforms that have already been undertaken and more that are being planned for.  
 
It mentioned some of these reform measures such as deregulation of diesel price, taxing energy products, replacing cooking gas subsidy by direct transfer on national scale, issuance of an ordinance to reform the coal sector via auctions and increasing the foreign direct investment (FDI) caps in defence.
 
The document also commended the far-reaching changes brought about on the issue of sharing of revenues between the Centre and States as recommended by the 14th Finance Commission.
 
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The report said the decline in inflation by over 6 percentage points since late 2013 and the reduction of the current account deficit (CAD) from a peak of 6.7 per cent of GDP in the third quarter of 2012-13 to about one per cent in the coming fiscal year had made India an attractive investment destination well above most other countries.
 
The expected high growth rate in the coming year in the favourable economic environment has created a historic moment of opportunity to propel India onto a double-digit growth trajectory to attain the fundamental objective of  “wiping every tear from every eye” of the vulnerable and  poor people of the country, it said.
 
The survey said this also provided an opportunity to the increasingly young, middle-class and aspirational India to realize its full potential. As the new Government is to present its first full year budget, the Economic Survey said that it appeared that India had reached a "sweet spot" and that there was a scope for "big bang reforms" now.
 
The report said the growth estimates of over 8 per cent for the coming year was based on expectations that the monsoon would be favourable,  as it was forecast to be normal, compared to last year. 
 
However the growth rate in Gross Value Added (GVA) at basic prices in agriculture is projected to decline from 3.7 per cent in 2013-14, an exceptionally good previous year from the point of view of rainfall, to 1.1 per cent in 2014-15, the current year with not-so-favourable monsoon.   
 
The survey drew attention to certain other "stagnating or declining elements" of the economy in the recent past.
 
It said that the growth in 2014-15 was largely driven by domestic demand. "There is hardly any external support to growth in 2014-15, as the growth in exports is projected to be only 0.9 per cent and the growth rate of imports, around (-) 0.5 per cent. The deceleration in imports owe substantially to the sharp decline in international oil prices in the current year that compressed the oil import bill," it said.
 
The survey also said that there had been a decline in the rate of gross domestic saving, from 33.9 per cent of the GDP in 2011-12 to 31.8 per cent in 2012-13 and further to 30.6 per cent in 2013-14, caused majorly by the sharp decline in the rate of household physical savings.
 
It said that the investment rate over the past years, as measured by gross capital formation (GCF) as a percentage of GDP, declined from 38.2 per cent in 2011-12 to 36.6 per cent in 2012-13 and further to 32.3 per cent in 2013-14.
 
On investments, the document said that, while private investment must remain the primary engine of long-run growth, the public investment, especially in the railways, would have to play an important role, at least in the interim, to revive growth and to deepen physical connectivity.
 
The report prescribed what it called a golden rule of fiscal policy, saying that governments are expected to borrow over the cycle only to finance investment and not to fund current expenditures. It urged the government to aim at bringing down the centre’s fiscal deficit down to 3 per cent of GDP.
 
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The survey said price subsidies did not appear to have had a transformative effect on the living standards of the poor, though they have helped poor households to weather inflation and price volatility.   
 
It said that a close look at price subsidies, which are estimated to be about Rs 3,78,000 crore, about 4.24 per cent of GDP, revealed that they may not be the government’s best weapon for fighting poverty.  
 
Dwelling upon various subsidies to the poor, the survey stated that price subsidies were often regressive. It said an analysis of the current subsidy scheme indicated that rich households benefit more from the subsidy than poor households. 
 
Among various examples, it said that the subsidy on electricity, for example, could only benefit the relatively rich.
 
At the same time, it said that eliminating or phasing out subsidies was neither feasible nor desirable.
 
It said that adoption of the "JAM Number Trinity" -- Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar and Mobile numbers --- would allow the State to deliver the subsidies to the poor in a targeted and less distorted manner.
 
The document expressed serious concern that several projects had been stalled and that this tendency had increased over the past years. It, however, expressed happiness that such stalling of projects seemed to have plateaued.  It suggested revitalizing public private partnership model of investment.
 
On the manufacturing vs services debate, the survey said both were equally important for the growth of the economy in the Indian context.
 
Similarly, “Skilling India” is no less important and deserved an equal attention as the other important goal of “Make in India “, it said
 
In a chapter on a Common National Market for Agricultural Commodities, the survey, without drawing any conclusions, suggested that there may be a Constitutional provision used to regulate trading in specified agricultural commodities to create a National Common Market.
 
In an exclusive chapter on the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC), the survey quoted both Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the country and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that adoption of the recommendations of the FFC and the creation of Niti Aayog earlier would further take forward the Government’s vision of cooperative and competitive federalism.
 
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Modi writes to CMs, says Govt. has accepted recommendations of 14th Finance Commission

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written to Chief Ministers of all States, informing them of the Government`s decision to wholeheartedly accept the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission (FC), although it would put a tremendous strain on the Centre's finances.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written to Chief Ministers of all States, informing them of the Government`s decision to wholeheartedly accept the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission (FC), although it would put a tremendous strain on the Centre's finances.
 
The 14th FC has recommended a record increase of 10% in the devolution of the divisible pool of resources to states. This compares with the marginal increases made by previous Finance Commissions, he said.
 
"The total devolution to states in 2015-16 will be significantly higher than in 2014-15. This naturally leaves far less money with the Central Government. However, we have taken the recommendations of the 14th FC in a positive spirit as they strengthen your hand in designing and implementing schemes as per your priorities and needs," he said.
 
Mr Modi said that, in making its recommendations, the 14th FC had made a fundamental shift in the pattern of financing revenue expenditures. It has assumed all central assistance to State Plan Revenue expenditure to be part of the states’s revenue burden and determined devolution on this basis. 
 
"Para 7.43 of its report explains this. The dominant view of states too has been that a majority of the resources should flow as tax devolution and the number of CSS should be reduced as the 14th FC states in Paras 8.6 & 8.7," he said.
 
"Therefore, there is a shift from scheme and grant based support from the Central Government to a devolution based support. Hence, the devolution of 42% of divisible resources," he said.
 
Mr Modi said that, therefore, as per the 14th FC, all State Plan Revenue expenditure had to be met from the resources being devolved to states. In spite of this large devolution, the Centre had decided to continue with some support to topmost areas of national priority such as poverty elimination, MNREGA, education, health, rural development, agriculture and a few other areas. 
 
"You will appreciate that, following the acceptance of the 14th FC recommendations, we are moving away from rigid centralised planning, forcing a ‘One size fits all’ approach on states. States have always been voicing their opposition to this philosophy for years. Accepting these long standing concerns and long-felt lacunae in the country’s planning process, our Government has decided to devolve maximum money to states and allow them the required freedom to plan the course of states’ development. The additional 10% of resources being devolved will give you this freedom," he said.
 
"In this overall context when you are flush with resources, I would like you to have a fresh look at some of the erstwhile schemes and programmes supported by the centre. States are free to continue or change these schemes and programmes as per their discretion and requirement. In all these, the Union Government, particularly the NITI Aayog, will support states in developing a strategy and in its execution through ideas, knowledge and technology," he said.
 
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Mr Modi said this was all towards the fulfilment of his promise of co-operative federalism. 
 
"As you have already seen, we have decided to involve states in discussing and planning national priorities. This is being done so as to maximise the outcome from every rupee spent either at the centre or the state. It was with this spirit of Team India that all Chief Ministers have been made equal partners in the Governing Council of NITI Aayog. This is our strategy to take the country to a faster and yet inclusive growth trajectory through co-operative federalism which is real and true federalism," he said.
 
"We are happy with our decision and that resources are going to the right place. Resources are going to states to ensure that poverty is eliminated, jobs are created; houses, drinking water, roads, schools, hospitals and electricity are provided. This has never happened in this country before," he said.
 
Mr Modi said that, in addition, the Government had recently revised the rates of royalty on minerals which benefits many states. The ongoing transparent auction of coal and other minerals will result in flow of over Rs 1 lakh crore of additional funds to mineral and coal bearing states. 
 
"Eastern India, which is less developed in spite of having immense mineral resources, is an important gainer and this is an opportunity for this part to catch up with the rest of the country," he said.
 
"Resources, thus, are not and will not be a problem. The issue is the direction and intent of our policies and our capacity to implement. You will agree that money, either at the central or the state level, should be spent to address the key challenges before the Nation. The focus should be the poor, farmers and common men and women, the youth and children. The challenge is to address the factors which inhibit the realisation of their full potential," he said.
 
Mr Modi pointed that, ever since his Government came into office, he had been working to strengthen the country's federal polity and promote cooperative federalism. 
 
"The people of the country have high expectations from their governments and do not want to wait. Therefore, since the very beginning, we have been committed to a rapid and inclusive process of growth. Looking to the diversity of the country, we understand that real and functional Federal Governance is the only vehicle to achieve this objective quickly and holistically," he said.
 
"I sincerely believe that strong states are the foundation of a strong India. Even as Chief Minister, I had been saying that the progress of the country depends on the progress of states. This Government is, therefore, committed to the idea of empowering states in all possible ways. We also believe that states should be allowed to chalk out their programmes and schemes with greater financial strength and autonomy, while observing financial prudence and discipline. We are clear that without this, local development needs cannot be met and marginalised communities and backward regions cannot be brought into the mainstream. 
 
"With this in mind, we have replaced the Planning Commission with the NITI Aayog with the explicit intent of ensuring that this becomes a common forum for forging a national vision on development. Such a vision and the concrete steps that all of us take will help in realising the development aspirations of our people," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said this was a golden opportunity in the nation’s economic development process. He said his recent visits across the world had shown that there was a lot of optimism about India and interest in investing in this country. "Everyone wants to partner with India in its growth story. This is not an opportunity for the central government, but an opportunity for India as a whole," he said.
 
"Let us aim at a quantum leap in the process of our nation’s development. I am writing this to you in order to seek your co-operation and involvement in defining key challenges facing your state and the country and to devote the time, energy and resources to address these. I expect that every state will come up with a plan for its key priorities and deploy resources for this purpose. We should also adopt a rigorous system of evaluation of schemes and projects. I will work with you in this effort. Together, we have to establish benchmarks in terms of quality of works and their speedy execution. 
 
"Let us work together in this direction. I will be available for any consultation in this regard at any time," he added.
 
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Arrested former journalist Santanu Saikia says papers leak case is Rs 10,000 crore scam

Former journalist Santanu Saikia, who was arrested by the Delhi Police on Friday in connection with the alleged leak of confidential documents from the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas to private oil companies, created a sensation on Saturday by claiming that it was a Rs 10,000 crore scam and that he was just covering it.

 
It's 10000 crore scam: Saikia
Former journalist Santanu Saikia, who was arrested by the Delhi Police yesterday in connection with the alleged leak of confidential documents from the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (MoPNG) to private oil companies, today created a sensation by claiming that it was a Rs 10,000 crore scam and that he was just covering it.
 
"It is a 10,000 crore scam, you know. I was trying to do a cover up. I was doing a cover up operation. It is a 10,000 crore scam," he told reporters as he was led away by policemen into the Delhi Police Crime Branch office.
 
The claim came even as the Delhi Police late yesterday arrested five executives of major private energy companies as part of its investigations into the corporate espionage case.
 
Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan ruled out any suggestion that the authorities were covering up matters, and said Saikia was only trying to save his own skin.
 
Union Home Miniser Rajnath Singh said no one found guilty in the case would be spared and that strict action would be taken against them.
 
"We should be appreciated for unearthing this. We found out that this was happening. Those responsible will be punished," he told reporters, adding that the scandal would not have come to light if the government had not been vigilant.
 
The five executives arrested in the case have been identified as Shailesh Saxena of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), Vinay Kumar of Essar, K K Naik of Cairns India, Subhash Chandra of Jubilant Energy and Rishi Anand of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG).
 
Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi told journalists that the police would produce the five in a local court and seek their custody for interrogation.
 
The police had earlier arrested seven persons, including Saikia, in connection with the case. While five people, including two employees of the MoPNG, were arrested on February 17, the former journalist and Prayas Jain, an energy consultant, were arrested early yesterday.
 
Mr Bassi siad the police had questioned the recipients of the documents stolen and leaked by the five men arrested in the first instance. "The documents that have been stolen were further sold and the recipients of the stolen property have been taken in control and were being questioned by us," he said.
 
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Saikia, who used to work for a business newspaper in the capital earlier, now runs a portal on energy. Jain's firm is based in Delhi and Melbourne.
 
Saikia, Jain and two others arrested earlier have been sent to police custody till February 23. The remaining three are in judicial custody for 14 days.
 
Official sources said the stolen documents incuded inputs for the General Budget for 2015-16, due to be presented on February 28 by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, a letter from the Prime Minister's Office and documents related to the power and coal ministries.
 
According to the police, the men in the first group of arrested persons usd to enter the MoPNG offices in Shastri Bhavan with the help of forged identity cards and entry passes and open rooms of senior officias and copy papers they found there. The papers were sold to the consultants, who would pass it on for a price to energy companies, they said.
 
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