Airtel signs agreement with DoT, USOF to connect over 2100 uncovered villages in North East

Telecom services provider Bharti Airtel today said it had signed an agreement with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) for provision of mobile services in identified uncovered villages and national highways in the North Eastern States of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.
Under the agreement, Airtel will set up over 2.000 mobile towers/sites in unconnected pockets of the region and deliver telecom connectivity to citizens in over 2.100 villages over the next 18 months. The deployment will also boost connectivity along important national highways in the region, a press release from Airtel said.
Airtel would receive approximately Rs. 1,610 crores from the USOF for executing the project, the release said.
The telecom infrastructure set up by Airtel will also enable other telecom service providers to offer services in the region, thereby, providing  a major fillip to telecom connectivity in the region, which is characterized by tough terrain. Expanding telecom connectivity will also add to the economic and social development of the region, the release said.
Mr. Ajai Puri, COO (India & South Asia), Bharti Airtel said, “Airtel has been leading the expansion of telecom services in North East India and as the largest operator in these markets, we have gained deep understanding of the region. This project will provide a massive boost to telecom connectivity in these areas and truly connect them with the rest of India and the world. Customers in these areas can look forward to affordable world-class mobile services very soon.” 
Airtel is the largest mobile operator in the North Eastern States and is the only operator to offer 2G/3G/4G services in the region. It has made significant investments to expand service availability in the region, the release added.

Understanding positioning system of cells may help unravel key diseases

In our day to day life, global positioning system (GPS) helps us to quickly determine our location and guides us to preferred destination. Similarly, in living cells, molecules like proteins have their own positioning system which guides cells to coordinate their functioning and ensures response. There is constant cross-talk among molecules in different compartments of cell through such a positioning system.
Indian researchers are studying this positioning system in proteins like RDGB which ferry and move lipid molecules to maintain homeostatic levels of lipids in plasma membrane. An understanding of how molecules like RDGB control lipid composition may help to get an insight into complications that lead to cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.
A team of researchers led by Dr Padinjat Raghu at National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore has shown that signals present within RDGB protein determine if it will remain in a specific compartment of the cell for it to function normally. 
“This is important since in the absence of such localization, cellular function of this protein will be compromised,” the researchers say in their study published in Journal of Cell Science.
“RDGB is known to localize at a specific location in the cell to maintain lipid composition of two closely situated membranes by transferring lipids from one compartment to the other. We want to understand how this process might be regulated,” pointed out Rajan Thakur, co-author  of this study. The work has been done in fruit fly which has a simpler genome makeup and shares much of organizational principles of human cells.
Cells have thousands of molecules like proteins, lipids and carbohydrates and others, and still every function is perfectly executed with respect to time, distance and their location. The new study explains that though different cellular structures perform specialized functions in seclusion, they do exchange information with each other to shape signaling output of the cell.
“In the absence of correct localization of RDGB protein to a very unique part of the cell, the photoreceptor cell does not function normally and fails to respond to light. We have found some key parts of the cellular positioning system that help in correct localization of RDGB protein,” said Dr. Raghu.
According to the study, cells have evolved ways to meet the requirement of organisms. For instance, specialized cells like photoreceptors have to process information over a large range of stimuli, from dim to very bright light. “These cells transduce the visual information at a fast pace by sequestering proteins near the light-sensitive membrane through robust positioning system,” said Shweta Yadav, first author in this study.
Dr. Raghu said, “We have discovered in fruit fly one key component of the positioning system that localizes RDGB is the protein, VAP. Mutations in human VAP have been identified in cases of neurodegenerative disease called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).” 
He said this study might provide new insights into why patients with ALS undergo neurodegeneration leading to possible treatments.
The research team also included Harini K. (NCBS, Bangalore); P. Georgiev (Babraham Institute, United Kingdom); S. Deivasigamani and G. Ratnaparkhi (IISER,Pune).
(India Science Wire)

Direct Tax collections for FY 2017-18 grow by 14.4% upto November, 2017

Direct Tax collections for financial year 2017-18 up to November 2017 increased by 14.4 percent to Rs. 4.8 lakh crore as compared to the net collections for the corresponding period of the previous fiscal year, an official statement has said, quoting provisional data.
The net direct tax collections represent 49% of the total Budget Estimates of Direct Taxes for 2017-18 (Rs. 9.8 lakh crore), it said.
 Gross collections (before adjusting for refunds) have increased by 10.7% to Rs. 5.82 lakh crore during April-November, 2017. Refunds amounting to Rs. 1.02 lakh crore have been issued during April, 2017 to November, 2017, the statement  added.

DRI officials seize Rs. 50 crore of demonetised currency notes from Bharuch in Gujarat

Officials of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) raided the office premises of a company in Bharuch, Gujarat and seized about Rs. 49.81 crore of demonetised currency in Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 denomination notes.
Acting on specific intelligence inputs, the DRI officers from Surat, assisted by officers of CGST Vadodara, raided the premises of Yamuna Building Material in GIDC Panoli, Bharuch and recovered the currency  notes yesterday and today, the Ministry of Finance said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
"In the instant case, with the demonetised currency detected by DRI to be of the order of about Rs 49 crores,the fine is expected to touch about Rs. 245 crores. The persons whose names appear in investigations will also be probed. Therefore, the ramifications can be wide & far reaching," it said.
"DRI is filing a complaint in the court against the three (3) persons involved. The various details are with DRI now and are a matter of investigation," it added.

India joins Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies

India joined the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies yesterday following the completion of internal procedures for joining the Arrangement. 
The plenary meeting of the WA held in Vienna on 6-7 December 2017 decided to admit India, which will become the Arrangement's 42nd Participating State, a press release from the Ministry of External Affairs said here.
"India would like to thank each of the forty-one WA Participating States for their support for India’s membership. We would also like to thank Ambassador Jean Louis Falconi of France, 2017 Plenary Chair of the WA for his role in facilitating India’s accession to the Arrangement. India also notes the valuable contribution of Japan and France as co-rapporteurs, and Ambassador Philip Griffiths, Head of WA Secretariat, for their guidance during the preparatory process," the release said.
India’s entry into the Arrangement would be mutually beneficial and further contribute to international security and non-proliferation objectives, it said.
The Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) has been established in order to contribute to regional and international security and stability, by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies, thus preventing destabilising accumulations. The aim is also to prevent the acquisition of these items by terrorists.
Participating States seek, through their national policies, to ensure that transfers of these items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine these goals, and are not diverted to support such capabilities.

Integrated Command & Control Centre projects being developed in 20 cities

Integrated Command & Control Centre projects,  which enable fast and efficient citizen service delivery, are being developed in 20 cities and have become operational in cities like Pune, Surat and Vadodara with positive results, according to Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri.
Delivering the inaugural address at a national workshop on Accelerating Implementation of Urban Missions: AMRUT and Smart Cities here yesterday, Mr Puri said 10 more cities had issued tenders for developing command and control centres.  
For smart reuse and wastewater projects, 33 cities have issued tenders. The work has begun in 16 of them. In order to promote renewable energy usage in the cities, solar power projects on rooftops of government buildings are being encouraged, he added.
Till date, 44 cities have issued tenders and work has begun in 38. Most of these cities have completed their projects, he added.
About the Smart Cities Challenge, Mr Puri stated that it promoted an increase in participatory activities and means of citizen engagement at the city and neighbourhood levels.
More than 2.4 million citizens were consulted through MyGov website and almost 12 million through other means. “The challenge is to conduct citizen consultation during implementation. The officials at city, state and centre levels have put in tireless efforts from conceptualization to roll out and implementation of these missions,” he added.
The AMRUT and Smart Cities Missions can be seen as inter-linked programmes where AMRUT follows a project-based approach and Smart Cities Mission an area-based strategy, Mr. Puri said.
Although area-based approach is not new, the way Smart City is conceptualized, it is meant to set examples that can be replicated both within and outside the Smart City. It is, therefore, expected to catalyse creation of similar Smart Cities in various parts of the country, he said.
Providing details about the progress made under AMRUT, the Minister informed that the city-wise service level improvement plans (SLIP) for all the 500 cities and State Annual Action Plans (SAAP) for all the 36 States/UTs with a project investment worth Rs 77,640 crore were approved, much ahead of time to enable timely planning and execution.
Under AMRUT, 215 projects worth Rs 157 crore have already been completed, 1606 projects worth Rs 32,459 crore are at various stages of implementation and about 1800 projects worth Rs 23, 568 crore are under tendering stage, he added.

India is now free of ‘infective trachoma’, says Nadda

India is now free of ‘infective trachoma’, Union Health & Family Welfare Minister J P Nadda said here yesterday, terming it as a momentous achievement.
Releasing the National Trachoma Survey Report (2014-17), Mr. Nadda said the survey findings indicate that active trachoma infection has been eliminated among children in all the survey districts with an overall prevalence of only 0.7%.
This is much below the elimination criteria of infective trachoma as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Active trachoma is considered eliminated if the prevalence of infection among children below 10 years is less than 5%, he added.
Minister of State Anupriya Patel was also present at the release of the Survey Report. The Health Ministers congratulated all the people associated with the survey, especially the frontline health workers who had to overcome trying conditions while conducting the survey.
Mr Nadda said the survey results indicate that active trachoma is no longer a public health problem in India. “We have met the goal of trachoma elimination as specified by the WHO under its GET2020 program,” he added.
This has been possible due to decades of inter-sectoral interventions and efforts that included the provision of antibiotic eye drops, personal hygiene, availability of safe water, improved environmental sanitation, availability of surgical facilities for chronic trachoma and a general improvement in the socio-economic status in the country, he added.
The Minister emphasized the need for constant surveillance by the states to report any fresh cases of trachoma and trachoma sequelae (TT cases) and to treat them promptly to eliminate the disease from the country.
“It is our aim to eliminate trachomatous trichiasis from the country. States which still report cases of active trachoma need to develop a strategy for community-based case finding of TT patients. These cases must be provided free entropion surgery/ treatment in local hospitals,” he stated.
A record of each case identified and its management status must be carefully maintained as per the WHO Guidelines. Adequate surveillance of the disease must be done all over the country in order to certify India as trachoma-free (eliminated).
Monthly data on indicators of trachoma surveillance as per WHO guidelines must be regularly sent to the NPCB, he added.
Trachoma (Rohe/Kukre) is a chronic infective disease of the eye and a leading cause of infective blindness globally. Poor environmental and personal hygiene and inadequate access to water and sanitation leads to the disease.
It is found affecting the population in certain pockets of the States of North India like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and the Nicobar Islands.
Trachoma infection of the eyes was the most important cause of blindness in India in the 1950s and over 50% population was affected in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. It was the most important cause of corneal blindness in India, affecting young children.
The National Trachoma Prevalence Surveys and the Trachoma Rapid Assessment Surveys were conducted by Dr Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi in collaboration with National Program for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare from 2014 to 2017.
This was conducted in 27 high-risk districts across 23 states and union territories. Trachoma Prevalence Surveys were done in 10 districts selected from the previously hyper-endemic states.
Under the survey, 19662 children in 1-9 year age group were examined by trained ophthalmologists. As many as 44135 persons were examined among the 15yr+ age group.
The Trachoma Rapid Assessment Surveys (TRA) was done in 17 other districts from other parts of the country in places where trachoma cases have been reported, which were not previously hyper-endemic.

Technical Cooperation Non-Cash Grant for Coimbatore, Bhubaneswar and Kochi for urban transport

Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, Bhubaneswar in  Odisha and Kochi in Kerala will receive Technical Cooperation Non-Cash Grant for Urban Transport Activities.
An Implementation Agreement on Sustainable Urban Transport project between Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the German development agency GIZ was signed here yesterday in the presence of Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri and German Ambassador Dr Martin Ney.
The agreement was signed by Mr. Mukund Kumar Sinha, OSD & ex officio Joint Secretary, Housing & Urban Affairs and GIZ Country Director Wolfgang Hanning.
Under the agreement, an amount of euro four million (approximately Rs. 29 crore) will be given to the three cities for urban transport activities through GIZ over a period of three years. The main objective is to improve planning and implementation of sustainable urban transport, an official press release said.
The Annual Negotiations and Consultations between India and Germany in 2015, had listed Technical Cooperation by Germany for Urban Mobility in India as one of measures to be taken. It was later formalised with a memorandum of understanding (MoU).
The project will give the desired impetus in three major interventions proposed under Smart City Mission of the Ministry -- ITS based transport solutions, Non-motorised vehicles and Last mile connectivity, the release added.

Chief of the Air Staff flags off mountaineering expedition team to Mount Vinson

A team of Indian Air Force (IAF) mountaineers has successfully scaled the highest peaks of six continents and is now embarking on an expedition to Mt Vinson in Antarctica to complete the 'Mission Seven Summits'.
The IAF, after one of its mountaineering teams successfully scaled Mt Everest in 2005, had launched 'Mission Seven Summits' with an aim to fly the tricolour and the IAF flag on the highest peaks in every continent.
While the first expedition was to Mt Everest in Nepal, the second was to Mt Carstenz Pyramid in Indonesia. The third was to Mt Elbrus in Russia, the fourth to Mt Kilimanjaro in South Africa, the fifth to Mt Aconcagua in Argentina and the sixth to Mt McKinley/Denali in Alaska.
A five-member IAF team is now embarking on an expedition to Mt Vinson (4897 M) on December 13. The expedition was flagged off by Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff, here yesterday.
The team is led by Gp Capt RC Tripathi, who has participated and led several IAF expeditions including ‘Mission Seven Summits’. 
The team has recently completed pre-expedition training and acclimatisation in Leh and Siachen from  November 24 to December 3. It is now ready to undertake the arduous and challenging mountaineering expedition in the remote Antarctica.
A successful ascent of Mt Vinson will make the IAF the first organisation in India to achieve this unique feat of scaling seven summits, an official press release said.
The IAF has always promoted adventure activities among its personnel. In 2011, a women's expedition scaled Mt Everest successfully and in 2017 a joint IAF-BSF women camel expedition covered the 1386 km distance along the western border in 47 days.
The IAF is also committed to the cause of environment and in September this year, an expedition to Mt Stok Kangri had engaged in cleaning up activities and managed to restore the base camp’s pristine environment, the release added.

DNA damage continues in MIC-exposed in Bhopal: Study

Victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy continue to suffer damage in their DNA, a new study has revealed.
Methyl isocyanate, which released from the Union Carbide plant in December 1984, is known to damage human DNA by interacting with proteins. Such damage was recorded in studies done by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in years following the gas leak.
Now a team of scientists from MGM New Bombay Hospital has performed fresh tests on people who were exposed to MIC and found that the damage continues. Researchers used the same categorization that was used by ICMR - people were grouped as severely exposed, moderately exposed or unexposed. Blood samples of 156 persons were collected for this study. Of this, 130 samples gave readable data and anomalies detected were classified, and results compared with ICMR screening performed between 1985- 1988. 
The study has shown two trends. Even though people who were severely exposed to the gas now possess fewer abnormal cells, the frequency of aberrations within such cells has increased with time. Another finding was increase in chromosomal aberrations even in people who were not exposed or moderately exposed to the gas.
The researchers explain it could be due to several reasons. “A number of confounders, including lifestyle, environment, nutritional factors, drinking water, occupational exposures, and inherent genetic conditions interact. Additionally, continuous soil contamination by chemical wastes dumped in the Union Carbide India limited site might have augmented the genetic changes through interaction with other biologic and abiologic factors,” the study says.
Dr Hit Kishore Goswami, former founder chairman of Department of Genetics at Bhopal University (Now Barkatullah University) who was involved in Bhopal studies, commented that “many follow up studies have been performed by individual groups, each differing slightly in their approach. This study also does the same. It manages to expose the complications of chemical contact with better techniques."
However, Dr V Ramana Dhara, Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory, commented that “given problems with the study design and a lack of clear exposure-response, it does little to advance the knowledge of methyl isocyanate toxicity.”
The study was conducted by Bani B Ganguly and Shaouvik Mandal from the MGM Centre for Genetic Research and Diagnosis, MGM New Bombay Hospital. It has been published recently in journal Mutation Research-Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis. 
(India Science Wire)

Scientists reveal what makes human cells maintain calcium equilibrium

Calcium levels inside human cells play a crucial role in normal functioning of cells and even in cell death. The mechanism and factors determining calcium movement across cell membrane has remained elusive to researchers for a long time. Now a group of Indian researchers has reported that a membrane protein inside part of human cell is critical in maintaining calcium equilibrium in cells.
The membrane bound protein is named LRRC8B and it is found inside a cell’s sub-unit called endoplasmic reticulum (ER).
“ER serves as a reservoir of calcium ions dictating multiple cellular functions. We have found that the protein LRRC8B acts as a calcium leak channel in the ER, thereby causing perturbations in calcium flux across the cell,” explained Dr Amal Kanti Bera, a senior researcher involved in the study. The work has been published in Journal of Cell Science.
The researchers have built upon recent discovery of ER-targeted calcium sensitive fluorescent protein (CEPIA) constructs reported in 2014. This enabled them to record calcium changes in ER more effectively, explained Arijita Ghosh, another member of the research team. The study was conducted on cultured human cells under laboratory conditions.
Alteration in calcium movement across the cell membrane has been shown to be linked with several diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Dr Bera hopes the newfound role of LRRC8B in maintaining cellular calcium levels would open up avenues to probe these diseases which are linked with calcium level dysfunction.
The research team from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, also included Nitin Khandelwal and Arvind Kumar. The research was supported by the Board of Research in Nuclear Science (BRNS). 
(India Science Wire)

BJP MP Nana Patole resigns from Lok Sabha, party

Mr. Nana Patole addressing a press conference after resigning  from the Lok Sabha and from the Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi, on December 8, 2017
Mr. Nana Patole addressing a press conference after resigning from the Lok Sabha and from the Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi, on December 8, 2017
Mr. Nana Patole, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Member of Parliament from Bhandara-Gondia in Maharashtra, who has been critical of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over the agrarian crisis and farmer suicides in the state, resigned from the Lok Sabha and the party today.
"I hereby tender my resignation of my seat in the House with immediate effect," Mr. Patole said in a one-line resignation letter addressed to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan today.
Mr. Patole, 54, was in the news recently for criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that he did not like to be asked questions during meetings.
He has extended his support to senior BJP leader and former Finance MInister Yashwant Sinha, who has joined the farmers' agitation in Akola in Maharashtra.
Mr. Patole had resigned from the Congress in 2008 and joined the BJP. He defeated Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and former Union Minister Praful Patel in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Though Mr. Patole said that he was not joining any other party, there was speculation that he might ultimately return to the Congress. This impression was strengthened by the fact that he met Congress General Secretary Mohan Prakash here today. 
Talking to journalists here, he said he had resigned from the primary membership of the BJP, too. He said the BJP leadership tried to suppress those who tried to raise issues affecting the people such as the agrarian crisis and the impact of demonetisation and the Goods and Service Tax (GST).
Before being elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2014, he had served three terms as a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly from 1999 to 2014.

Business leaders commit support of nearly Rs. 500 crore for Namami Gange Mission

Captains of Indian trade and industry have committed a support of nearly Rs. 500 crore for the development of amenities like ghats, river fronts, crematoria and parks at various places along River Ganga as part of the Namami Gange Mission.
Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Nitin Gadkari had interacted with business leaders in Mumbai yesterday and appealed to them to participate in the mission to clean the Ganga. The interaction was organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr Gadkari emphasised that cleaning the Ganga should become a people’s movement. A lot of private individuals from across the world have pledged support for cleaning Ganga and donated generously. He also said that strict laws will be brought in to check pollution of the river.
The support from the business community in Mumbai follows closely after similar success in London last week where Indian corporates committed overwhelming support for Namami Gange Mission after an interaction with Mr Gadkari at a road show organized by NMCG.
Private funding is being sought for projects worth over Rs. 2,500 crore for development of ghats, crematoria, waterbodies, parks, sanitation facilities, public amenities and river front.
An indicative list of these projects have been published as a booklet and are also available on the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) website as an e-booklet. The Government is appealing to the business community to participate in the Namami Gange Mission to clean the river by funding projects of their choice.
At the interaction with business leaders in Mumbai Shri Gadkari outlined the implementation of the ‘Namami Gange’ programme for rejuvenation of the river Ganga and its tributaries, which has been divided into three levels.
The short term activities for immediate visible impact include river surface cleaning and modernization of ghats and crematoria.
The medium term activities to be implemented within five years include municipal sewage management, biodiversity conservation, afforestation, Ganga gram, industrial effluent management, water quality monitoring and rural sanitation.
Long term activities to be implemented within ten years include adequate flow of water, improved efficiency of surface irrigation and increased water use efficiency.
Minister of State for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Satyapal Singh said for Indians Ganga is not just a river, it is a civilization in flow. Water as one of the tatvas is symbolically associated with creation, dissolution, fertility and cleansing and is inherent in the larger Indian cultural ethos.
Mr UP Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources said 113 ghats and 52 crematoria were under various stages of progress at a cost of Rs. 626.57 crore. As many as 84 ghats in Varanasi will be cleaned up at a cost of Rs. 5 crore per year .
All villages near Ganga have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). Trash skimmers have been deployed in 11 cities to collect all kinds of floating waste materials to clean the river surface.
The Union Government, through Namami Gange Programme announced in 2014, has given a much needed thrust to restoring the wholesomeness of the river by allocating resources of about Rs. 20,000 crore. It has adopted an integrated Ganga Rejuvenation approach addressing various aspects.
The National Mission for Clean Ganga ( NMCG) has sanctioned projects worth about Rs. 17,000 crore for Sewerage Management, Industrial Effluents Managements, Biodiversity Conservation, Solid Waste Management, Afforestation , Rural Sanitation, River Front Management, Capacity Building, Development/ Rehabilitation’ of Ghats & Crematoria etc. and above all a Communication & Public campaign to make ‘Ganga Rejuvenation’ a public movement.

First phase of polling in Gujarat Assembly elections to be held on Saturday

Polling will be held Saturday for 89 seats in the first phase of the crucial elections to the 182-member Gujarat Legislative Assembly tomorrow which have become a major test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity and the policies and programmes of the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state.

Polling officials checking electronic voting machines (EVMs) and other necessary inputs required for the Gujarat Assembly Election, at the distribution centre, at Athawa Gate Line, in Surat, Gujarat on December 8, 2017.
Polling officials checking electronic voting machines (EVMs) and other necessary inputs required for the Gujarat Assembly Election, at the distribution centre, at Athawa Gate Line, in Surat, Gujarat on December 8, 2017.
Polling will be held tomorrow for 89 seats in the first phase of the crucial elections to the 182-member Gujarat Legislative Assembly tomorrow which have become a major test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity and the policies and programmes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments at the Centre and in the state.
The elections are also the first major challenge for Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who is all set to take over as the new president of the party in the next few days.
The 89 constituencies are spread over the Kutch, Saurashtra and South Gujarat regions of the state. Campaigning for these seats had ended yesterday evening.
Polling will begin at 8 am and will end at 5 pm. The 89 constituencies have a total electorate of 2.12 crore, including 1.11 crore men and 1.01 crore women.
Among the voters, there are 35.29 lakh in the 18-25 years age group, 78.68 lakh in the 26-40 age group, 70.31 lakh in the 41-60 age group and 28.01 lakh in the over 60 age group.
There are a total of 977 candidates, including 57 women, in the fray in the 89 constituencies. Jamnagar Rural has the highest number of candidates at 27, while Jhagadia (ST) and Gandevi (ST) have the least at three each.
The ruling BJP has fielded candidates in all 89 constituencies, while the Congress has put up its nominees in 87. The Bahujan Samaj Party is contesting 64 seats, the Nationalist Congress Party 30, the Shiv Sena 25, the Aam Aadmi Party 21 and  the Janata Dal (United) 14. There are also 443 independent candidates.
Prominent candidates whose electoral fate will be decided on Saturday include Chief Minister Vijay Rupani who faces Indranil Rajyaguru of the Congress in Rajkot (West) and Congress leaders Shaktisinh Gohil (Mandvi) and Paresh Dhanani (Amreli).
A press release from the Election Commission of India (ECI) said 27,158 electronic voting machines (EVMs) will be set up at 24,689 polling stations in the first phase of voting.
The second and final phase of polling will be held on December 14 and counting of votes will be taken up on December 18, along with Himachal Pradesh, where polling was held on November 9.
Meanwhile, Mr. Modi and Mr. Gandhi and other leaders of their parties continued their campaign today in the constituencies that will go to the polls on December 14.
The ECI and the state authorities have made  arrangements to ensure a free and fair poll. Tight security arrangements are in place and more than 1.74 lakh police personnel have been deployed to maintain order during the polls.
The Commission said it had put in place an elaborate framework of administrative system, security protocols and procedural checks-and-balances in Gujarat, which prevent any possible misuse of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifitable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) units or procedural lapses in their use.
"These safeguards are being implemented by ECI, in total transparency, with the active and documented involvement of political parties, candidates and their representatives at every stage, so as to build their confidence on efficacy and reliability of EVMs and VVPATs. All these functions and procedures are implemented through the District Election Officers (DEOs), Returning Officers (ROs), Assistant Returning Officers (AROs) and other election related officers concerned, who are on deemed deputation to the ECI and are under its superintendence, direction and control," an ECI press release said.
In order to provide 100% voter verifiability and auditability of every vote cast through the EVM, the Commission said it had deployed VVPAT machines in all the 50,128 polling stations in Gujarat, excluding Auxiliary Polling Stations. In the VVPAT machine, a paper slip is generated bearing the name and symbol of the candidate to whom the vote has been cast and remains visible to the voter through a transparent window for 7 seconds. 
"Thus, the VVPAT enables the voter to verify instantly that the vote cast by him has been recorded correctly in favour of the candidate of his choice, thereby injecting greater transparency and credibility to the whole voting process," it said.

Delhi govt. cancels licence of Max Hospital Shalimar Bagh after wrongly declaring newborn dead

Shalimar Bagh Max Hospital's licence cancelled
The Delhi Government today cancelled with immediate effect the license of a leading hospital, Max Hospital Shalimar Bagh, in the national capital, a week after doctors there had declared a pair of twins dead after they were born premature but one of them was found to be breathing while the parents were on their way to perform the babies' last rites.
The parents later took the baby, a boy, to another hospital, where he ultimately died a few days later. The other baby, a girl, had died soon after birth.
The hospital had described the incident as "unfortunate" and said the concerned doctor had been sent on long leave pending the completion of an inquiry.
Announcing the decision to cancel the hospital's licence, Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain said such cases of negligence were not acceptable. He said Delhi, being the national capital, had to set an example in all areas for the rest of the country.
Mr. Jain said the decision had been taken by the government after receiving the report of the committee which probed the case.
He also said there had been at least two other cases involving the hospital in the past few months in which the government had issued notices to them. "They are habitual offenders," he remarked.
Mr. Jain said the hospital could continue treating patients already admitted by it or give them the option to get admitted to another hospital. But it could not admit or treat any new patient, he said.
It means that the hospital will have to close all its operations -- including the out-patient services and emergency services where new patients come in -- with immediate effect.
He said the hospital had been issued notices earlier for not earmarking beds for patients belonging to economically weaker sections as per the conditions set by  the government while providing it land at subsidised rates.
The mother of the babies had been admitted to the hospital on Tuesday afternoon last week and had delivered the babies, via Ceasarian section, on Wednesday evening. Initially, doctors told the family that the girl had died while the boy was alive. He was, however, said to be in a critical condition and put in an incubator.
Later, the family was informed that the boy, too, had died and the two babies were packed in  plastic bags and given to the family. While they were on their way for performing the last rites, the family noticed movement in one of the bags and found the boy was breathing when they opened it. He was rushed to a hospital in Pitampura, where he finally died a week later.
The Delhi Police is conducting an investigation into the case on the basis of a complaint from the parents of the child.

Bodhi Parva-BIMSTEC Festival of Buddhist Heritage begins in Delhi

?India is hosting the three-day "Bodhi Parva: BIMSTEC Festival of Buddhist Heritage" at the India Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) here from today as part of celebrations of 20th Anniversary of BIMSTEC. 
The Festival would have diverse components including an exhibition of?international and Indian Buddhist art and ?architecture, discourses by eminent ?scholars and practitioners of Buddhism?,? guided meditation and chanting by Buddhist monks and ?choir, screening of ?film on Buddhism, dance and music performances. quiz show ba?s?ed on Buddhism and BIMSTEC and a food ?trail?.
Organizing of the Festival is in keeping with the call of BIMSTEC Leaders to work collectively towards making BIMSTEC stronger, more effective, and result oriented at the BIMSTEC Leaders’ Retreat hosted by India in Goa in October 2016, an offficial press release said.
"Bodhi Parva is an opportunity to re-emphasize and celebrate the strong Buddhist cultural heritage shared by all Member States," it added.
Member States of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) are Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.

UPSC recommends 109 candidates from Civil Services (Main) Examination, 2016 Reserve List

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) today said it had, as sought by the Department of Personnel & Training (DoP&T) recommended 109 candidates to fill up the remaining posts based on the Civil Services (Main) Examination, 2016 Reserve List.
The list includes 87 General, 19 OBC, 1 SC and 2 ST candidates, an official press release said. The candidates so recommended will be intimated directly by the DoP&T, it said.
The results of the Civil Services (Main) Examination, 2016 were declared on May 31 this year, recommending 1099 candidates in order of merit for appointment to IAS, IFS, IPS and Central Services Group ‘A’ and Group ‘B’ against 1209 vacancies.
The Commission, in accordance with the Rule 16 (4) & (5) of the Civil Services Examination Rules, was also maintaining a Consolidated Reserve List in order of merit below the last recommended candidate under the respective categories, the release said.
The candidature of the candidate bearing Roll 0335242 is provisional. The result of one candidate has been withheld.

Income Tax Department suspends an officer in Gujarat for harassing a taxpayer

The Income Tax Department today said it had placed under suspension, pending investigation, a Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax posted at Surendranagar in Gujarat for allegedly harassing a taxpayer in a scrutiny case with malafide intention.
An official press release said the Department had received a complaint making serious allegations against the officer, Mr. D. K. Meena.
The officer was alleged to have demanded illegal gratification through the taxpayer’s chartered accountant for favourably completing the assessment. The audio recordings of conversations were also received which, inter alia, mention the bribe amount being demanded by the officers of the Department for settling the case.
"In order to verify the veracity of the allegations, case records were requisitioned immediately by the Vigilance Directorate of CBDT. On examination of the case records, serious lapses and irregularities were found which led credence to the allegations made against the officer. The matter is under investigation," the release said.
"The Department has zero tolerance to such malpractices and corruption. Pending investigation, the officer has since been placed under suspension," it added.

CBDT extends deadline for linking of Aadhaar with PAN till March 31, 2018

The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) today extended the deadline for linking of Aadhhar number with taxpayers' Permanent Account Number (PAN) till March 31, 2018.
An official press release said that, under the provisions of recently introduced section 139AA of the Income-tax Act, 1961, with effect from 01.07.2017, all taxpayers having Aadhaar Number or Enrolment Number are required to link the same with PAN.
"In view of the difficulties faced by some of the taxpayers in the process, the date for linking of Aadhaar with PAN was initially extended till 31st August, 2017 which was further extended upto 31st December, 2017.
"It has come to notice that some of the taxpayers have not yet completed the linking of PAN with Aadhaar. Therefore, to facilitate the process of linking, it has been decided to further extend the time for linking of Aadhaar with PAN till 31.03.2018," the release added.

Major Ports register growth of 3.46% during April-November, 2017

With major ports registering a growth of 3.46% during April-November, 2017, India was making its presence felt on the global maritime map, an official press release said today.
The major ports together handled 439.66 million tonnes of cargo during the period as against 424.96 million tonnes during the corresponding period of previous year.
Nine ports -- Kolkata (including Haldia), Paradip, Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Cochin, New Mangalore, Mumbai, JNPT and Kandla -- registered positive growth in traffic.
The highest growth was registered by Cochin Port (17.93%), followed by Paradip (13.13%), Kolkata, including Haldia (12.64%), New Mangalore (7.07%) and JNPT (5.69%).
Cochin Port growth was mainly due to increase in traffic of POL (25.15%) and Containers (10.46%). There was decrease in traffic of Other Liquids (-26.24%), Fertilizer Raw Materials (-23.33%), Finished Fertilizers (-11.76%) and other Misc. Cargo (-1.19%).
In Kolkata Port, overall growth was 12.64%. Kolkata Dock System (KDS) registered traffic growth of 4.33% while Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) registered positive growth of 16.70%.
During the period April to November 2017, Kandla Port handled the highest volume of traffic, 72.03 million tonnes (16.38% share), followed by Paradip with 64.97 million tonnes (14.78% share), JNPT with 43.26 million tonnes (9.84% share), Mumbai with 42.33 million tonnes (9.63% share) and Visakhapatnam with 40.95 million tonnes (9.31% share). Together, these five ports handled around 60% of major port traffic.
Commodity-wise percentage share of POL was maximum at 34.02%, followed by Container (19.89%), Thermal & Steam Coal (13.07%), Other Misc. Cargo (12.37%), Coking & Other Coal (7.47%), Iron Ore & Pellets (6.58%), Other Liquid (4.22%), Finished Fertilizer (1.28%) and FRM (1.10%).
The Ministry of Shipping has taken significant strides in the last three years to make India’s presence felt on the global maritime map.
Various steps have been taken to provide a robust legislative framework, create capacities, impart skills to people, and create an enabling business environment for the growth of the maritime sector in the country.
Recently, Mr Gadkari laid the foundation stone of a Rs. 970-crore International Ship Repair Facility (ISRF) at Cochin Shipyard Limited, which will make Cochin a global ship repair hub.
Giving a boost to the maritime sector under Sagarmala, a world-class Centre of Excellence in Maritime and Ship Building (CEMS) is also being set up with campuses at Vishakhapatnam and Mumbai. It will provide industry-relevant skill development, equip students with employable engineering and technical skills in the port and maritime sector.
These steps have resulted in India gaining prominence in the global maritime arena.
In the recent elections to the IMO Council India secured the second highest number of votes and was re-elected to in Category-B, that is, states with the largest interest in international seaborne trade. The IMO Council consists of 40 member countries.

Kovind presents President's Colour to the Submarine Arm of Indian Navy

President Ram Nath Kovind presented the President's Colour to the Submarine Arm of the Indian Navy here today.
"Today, our maritime interests are directly linked to India’s economy and security, and to the well-being of our people," Mr. Kovind said on the occasion.
"Over 90 per cent of our trade by volume uses the sea route. All this enhances the role of the Indian Navy not just in national security but in the wider process of nation building. The Navy is India’s primary instrument of sea power. It is also the guardian of our maritime interests, both military and civilian," he said.
This was Mr. Kovind's first visit to Visakhapatnam after being elected as President in July and also his first visit, in his capacity as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to an Indian Navy formation.
The year 2017 is being commemorated as the Golden Jubilee of the Indian Navy’s Submarine Arm. It was on this day in 1967 that the Naval Ensign and the National Flag were hoisted on the first Indian Naval Submarine, Kalvari.  The scheduled commissioning of Kalvari in her new avatar will complete the “Kalvari to Kalvari” journey. It will herald a brighter future for the Submarine Arm of the Navy, Mr. Kovind noted.
The President noted that, in the past 50 years, 25 submarines had been in commission at various points. 
"These submarines and their crew members have been a crucial part of the Indian Navy’s operations. Submarines are complex, high-technology platforms. They acquire their strength from stealth. Quietly and without much fanfare, our submarines have had major operational achievements – in the 1971 War, during Operation Vijay in 1999, and then Operation Parakram, 2002. To date, 17 submarines of the Navy have been awarded the Chief of Naval Staff’s 'Unit Citation' for exceptional service."
He said he was happy to note that submarine technology is part of the government’s “Make in India” programme. This will strengthen the nation's capabilities in the years to come, he said.
"The sea is an unforgiving medium for those who do not respect it. No one knows this better than the valiant submariners of the Indian Navy, who operate their boats and perform their duties beneath the waves. All of you carry out your professional responsibilities with great skill and at grave risk. The nation is proud of your achievements and appreciates your contribution to national security," he said.
Mr. Kovind said the President’s Colour was being presented today to the Submarine Arm of the Indian Navy in recognition of extraordinary service to the nation, in peace and war, in the past 50 years.
"I congratulate you on this achievement. You are a special community and all submariners, past and present, share a special bond. I am happy to learn that the first Captain of the Indian Navy’s Submarine Arm, Commodore K.S. Subramanian, now in his nineties, has travelled from the United States to be here today. Many of his crew colleagues from a half-century ago are with us. I compliment them and their pioneering spirit," he said.
He also paid homage to those Indian Navy submariners who had laid down their lives in the service of India. 
"And finally I would like to acknowledge the sacrifice of the families of submariners– past and present. In their own way, they have all contributed to the nation," he added.

K. Jeeva Sagar appointed as next Ambassador to Kuwait

Mr. K. Jeeva Sagar, presently Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) here, has been appointed as the next Ambassador of India to Kuwait.
A press release from MEA said Mr. Jeeva Sagar, an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) of the 1991 batch, was expected to take up his assignment shortly.

Border Protection Grid to be set up in border States, says Rajnath Singh

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh yesterday said that a Border Protection Grid (BPG) would be set up in border States as a multi-pronged and foolproof mechanism to secure the country's border.
Chairing a meeting with Chief Minnisters of the Indo-Bangladesh Border (IBB) States here, he said the grid would comprise various elements such as physical barriers, non-physical barriers, surveillance system, Intelligence agencies, State Police, Border Security Force (BSF) and other State and Central agencies.
He said BPG would be supervised by a State-level Standing Committee under the chairmanship of respective Chief Secretaries. BPG will ensure greater help for the States in the overall border security, he said, and sought the active participation of all stakeholders, including State Governments.
Mr. Rajnath Singh had earlier conducted border-specific review meetings for India-China, India-Myanmar and India-Pakistan borders.
In yesterday meeting, the Home Minister underlined the need for securing the country’s borders and putting in place systems to facilitate legitimate trade and commerce. He said India has friendly relations with Bangladesh and all these measures will facilitate genuine trade and legitimate cross-border movement of people while curbing radicalization, illegal migration, and smuggling of cattle, fake Indian currency notes and drugs, and so on.
Mr. Rajnath Singh stressed the need to prevent entry, at international borders, of illegal migrants, some of whom have links with extremist groups for furthering anti-national activities with ulterior motives and posing threat to internal security. 
He emphasized the need to fast track border infrastructure development and to strengthen border security. 
The Indo-Bangladesh Border covering five States -- Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and West Bengal --  is 4096 km long. So far, in 3006 km border security infrastructure of fence, roads, floodlights and border out posts (BOPs) are in place and works in the remaining 1090 km are yet to be started. Out of this, 684 km will be secured with fence and related infrastructure, and the balance 406 km with non-physical barriers. 
Although bulk of the infrastructure is in place or under construction, construction in some parts is yet to commence, mainly due to land acquisition issues. The Home Minister urged the Chief Ministers to take personal interest to expedite land acquisition in the interest of national security. They promised to make land available at the earliest. 
The areas to be covered by non-physical barriers are those where fencing is not feasible like rivers or nullahs. In these areas technological solutions of a networked combination of electronic gadgets like radar, day-night cameras and various types of sensors, all integrated in a command and control architecture, will be used. 
The Home Minister said that the people living in the border areas are a strategic asset and need to be provided with all the infrastructure and socio-economic development facilities. He emphasized the importance and necessity of improved infrastructure such as roads, railways, health and education and also boosting border economy in the border areas in a holistic and comprehensive manner. He said the State Governments must pay greater attention to these areas while the Home Ministry was working to supplement their efforts.
Appreciating the role of BSF for their unshakeable courage, skills, determination and dedication in securing the border, Mr. Rajnath Singh reiterated that they should be more vigilant. He expressed satisfaction over the active participation and assurance of all cooperation given by the states. 
The meeting was attended by Union Minister of State (Home Affairs) Kiren Rijiju, Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Assam and Mizoram, Union Home Secretary, Secretary (Border Management), MHA, DG BSF, Chief Secretary Meghalaya, Secretary, Home, Tripura. 
Senior officers of MHA and other Ministries of Government of India besides State Governments also attended the meeting, an official press release said.

Moderate earthquake shakes Nepal

An earthquake of moderate intensity, measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale, shook Nepal this morning, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
The quake, which had its epicentre at latitude 27.8°N and longitude 85.5°E, occurred at 0821 hours IST at a focal depth of 10 km," an IMD bulletin said.

Congress suspends Mani Shankar Aiyar after "neech" remarks against Modi

The Congress on Thursday suspended one of its senior leaders, Mani Shankar Aiyar, from the membership of the party after he referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a "Neech kism ka aadmi" (low level person) in remarks which caused acute embarassment for the party just ahead of the Gujarat elections.

Mani Shankar Aiyar apologises for "neech" remark against Modi
The Congress today today suspended one of its senior leaders, Mani Shankar Aiyar, from the membership of the party after he referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a "Neech kism ka aadmi" (low level person) in remarks which caused acute embarassment for his party just ahead of polling in the crucial elections to the Gujarat Legislative Assembly.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said on micro-blogging site Twitter that the party had also issued Mr. Aiyar, a former Union Minister, a notice asking him to show cause why he should not be removed from the membership of the party.
"This is the Congress party's Gandhian leadership and feelings of respect for its political rivals. The Congress has issued a show cause notice to Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar and suspended him from the primary membership of the party. Will Modiji ever show such courage?" Mr. Surjewala said.
The latest remarks by Mr. Aiyar put the Congress in a situation similar to that which it faced after his "chaiwala" remarks against Mr. Modi just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which the then Chief Minister of Gujarat exploited to the hilt to decisively turn the tide against the Congress.
As he did then, Mr. Modi, who was campaigning in Gujarat, grabbed the opportunity to hit out at the Congress and its leader and ask the people of the state to teach a lesson at the hustings to the party which had insulted him, the Prime Minister of the country and a son of Gujarat.
He said the election results on December 18 would show to the Congress how the people of Gujarat extract revenge for such remarks.
The first phase of polling in the elections to the 182-member Gujarat Legislative Assembly will be held on December 9 and the second on December 14.
Mr. Aiyar's remarks came after Mr. Modi, while dedicating to the nation the Dr. Ambedkar International Centre in Delhi, accused the Congress of seeking votes in the name of Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, even as it had tried to erase his contribution to building India.
Mr. Modi said such was Dr. Ambedkar's strength that, years after his death, efforts were made by people to crush his philosophy and erase his contributions but his ideals could not be wiped out from the memory of the people. He went on to say that more people were still influenced by Dr. Ambedkar's ideas than those of the "family" for which such efforts were made.
Reacting to this, Mr. Aiyar told journalists that India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who had worked hard to fulfil Dr. Ambedkar's vision for the country. "What is the need for playing dirty politics on such an occasion?" he said.
As the remarks triggered a controversy and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders exploited them to the full, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to say that he did not appreciate them and asked Mr. Aiyar to apologise.
"BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party. The Congress has a different culture and heritage. I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyer to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said," Mr. Gandhi said.
Mr. Aiyar apologised shortly  thereafter, but said he had been only responding to the "foul language" being used by the Prime Minister every day against Congress leaders. He clarified that his use of the word "neech" did not mean "low-born" as was being interpreted by Mr. Modi and the BJP, but only referred to "low-level politics".
"I am told that 'neech' has many meanings, many connotations in Hindi, and if Mr. Modi chooses to distort it to claim that it means low-born, then all I can do is to apologise for having used a word that could be interepreted as low-born. But that was not my intention at all and certainly not a part of my culture," he said.
He also said he regretted it if his remarks had affected the Congress campaign in the Gujarat elections.
Addressing an election rally in Surat, Mr. Modi attributed the remarks to Mr. Aiyar's "Mughal mentality" and told the Congress that the remarks would have consequences for it in the elections.
"Mani Shankar Aiyar said I was a low-caste person. He said I am a "neech". "I don't mind that. I am from the poor section of society and I spend every moment of my life working for the poor, Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs. We have nothing to say to such elements," he said.
He recalled all the names he had been called since his days as the Chief Minister of Gujarat and said that the people of the state would give a fitting answer to such language in the polls.
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