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Kerala

SC opens Sabarimala gates to women of all ages

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

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

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

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10 dead in Kerala, TN, several fishermen missing as cyclone Ockhi heads for Lakshadweep

Heavy rains lashed many parts of south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu and at least 10 people have died since yesterday as cyclone Ockhi intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm and hurtled past the coasts of the two states towards Lakshadweep Islands on Friday.

 
Cyclone Ockhi: 8 killed, several fishermen missing
Heavy rains lashed many parts of south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu and at least 10 people have died since yesterday as cyclone Ockhi intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm and hurtled past the coasts of the two states towards Lakshadweep Islands today.
 
Four people were killed in south Kerala and five in south Tamil Nadu in rain-related incidents yesterday even as the authorities mounted a massive search and rescue operation for scores of fishermen reported missing at sea.
 
One fisherman, who was among those rescued today, died in hospital here today, taking the toll in Kerala to five, official sources said.
 
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a warning of a very severe cyclone for Lakshadweep Islands this evening and said the system was likely to intensify further in the next 24 hours.
 
In a Red message issued at 1730 hours today, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the system, now over the Lakshadweep  area and adjoining southeast Arabian Sea, continued to move west-northwestwards with a speed of 15 kmph during the past six hours and intensified further into a "Very Severe Cyclonic Storm".
 
It lay centred at 1430 hours IST today near latitude 9.1º N and longitude 73.0º E, about 90 km north of Minicoy and 220 km south-southeast of Amini Divi. 
 
"The system is very likely to intensify further during next 24 hours. It is very likely to continue to move west-northwestwards across Lakshadweep Islands during next 24 hours and then move north/ northeastwards during the subsequent 48 hours," the bulletin said.
 
The IMD warned that, under the influence of the system, heavy to very heavy rainfall was very likely at most places over Lakshadweep area during the next 24 hours, with isolated extremely heavy falls. There could be isolated heavy to very heavy falls during the subsequent 24 hours, it said.
 
The bulletin also said that rainfall was very likely at many places over Kerala during the next 24 hours, with heavy rainfall at isolated places.
 
According to it, gale winds, with speed reaching 120-130 kmph, gusting to 145 kmph, were very likely over and around Lakshadweep Islands during the next 24 hours and gradual decrease thereafter.
 
Squally winds, with speed reaching 45-55 kmph, gusting to 65 kmph, were very likely along and off Kerala during the next 24 hours and along and off Karnataka coast during the next 24 hours, it said.
 
The bulletin said sea conditions would be phenomenal over and around Lakshadweep Islands during the next 24 hours and very high during the subsequent 24 hours.
 
Sea conditions would be high to very high along and off the Kerala coast during the next 24 hours and along and off the Karnataka coast during subsequent 24 hours.
 
The cyclone could cause damage to power and communication lines due to breaking of tree branches and uprooting of large avenue trees; major damage to thatched houses, huts and kutcha houses; some damage to pucca roads; flooding of escape routes; and damage to banana and papaya trees and standing crops.
 
Storm surge of about one metre above astronomical tides was very likely to inundate low lying areas of Lakshadweep Islands, the bulletin said.
 
Fishermen along and off Lakshadweep Islands were advised not to venture into the sea during the next 48 hours. Similarly, fishermen were advised not to venture into the sea along and off the Kerala and Karnataka coasts during the next 48 hours.
 
Ships and aircraft of the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) were involved in the rescue efforts at sea while teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were deployed in the affected areas in the two states and units of the Indian Army were on standby to come to the aid of the civil adminstration, if necessary.
 
Official sources here said more than 220 people had been rescued from the sea by the Navy, ICG and IAF. Many of them were admitted to hospitals here for treatment, they said. 
 
Some of the fishermen were rescued by a Japanese cargo ship in the area. As many as 37 people were rescued by Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs) of the Indian Navy which flew between Thiruvananthapuram and the sea.
 
The ICG said it had deployed nine ships and two Dornier aircraft in the area and rescued as many as 52 fishermen so far.
 
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The International Safety Net (ISN) had been activated to advise Merchant Traffic to render assistance to stranded fishermen, it said.
 
Among others, Indian Naval Ships Sagardhwani, Jamuna and Nireekshak were in the affected areas in the Arabian Sea. INS Sharda and Shardul are also sailing out soon to augment the search effort. Both ships were in final stages of embarking HADR items for assistance at Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, Indian Navy sources said.
 
In Poonthura, a coastal village near here, angry groups of fishermen and their families staged protests, alleging that the government had not acted in time and not done enough as far as the rescue efforts were concerned. 
 
Former Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, both senior leaders of the Congress, visited the area today to listen to the woes of the villagers.
 
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told newspersons that the state government had received an alert about the cyclone only on Thursday afternoon. He said the rescue efforts were also hampered by the bad weather conditions.
 
Mr. Vijayan said all possible efforts were being made to locate and rescue the missing fishermen. He said the state government had urged the Ministry of Defence to deploy more aircraft for the search and rescue operations.
 
In Lakshadweep, the authorities had issued orders for the evacuation of people from low-lying areas in Kalpeni, Minicoy, Kavratti, Agatti, Androth, Kadamath and Amini islands.
 
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Congress wrests Gurdaspur in Punjab from BJP, its ally IUML retains Vengara in Kerala

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

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

Declaring that there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian, President Pranab Mukherjee said on Thursday that the country's premier institutions of higher education must resound with creativity and free thinking.

President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ at Kochi in Kerala on March 2, 2017.
President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ at Kochi in Kerala on March 2, 2017.
Declaring that there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian, President Pranab Mukherjee today said the country's premier institutions of higher education must resound with creativity and free thinking.
 
"Those in Universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet," he said while delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ in Kochi.
 
"India was a world leader in the field of education when our Universities like Nalanda and Takshshila were at the height of their glory. Nalanda and Takshshila are not mere geographical expressions but representations of the idea for free thought which flourished in these great Universities of the past.  Our premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society.  These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free thinking," he said.
 
"There should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian.  India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression.  Our society has always been characterized by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion.   Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent," he said.
 
Mr. Mukherjee began by speaking about Kerala, which has been the gateway to India for traders and religious missionaries from different parts of the globe. He said the people of Kerala were known for their progressive thinking and the State's impressive achievements in the field of literacy, education, health, gender equality, tourism and culture had brought it global acclaim.
 
Turning to the topic of the lecture, India@70, he said that for 50 years before independence in 1947 the economic growth rate of India was 0% to 1%. "In the fifties, our growth rate rose to 1 – 2%, the sixties 3 – 4% and in the 90s, with economic reforms, to 6 to 7%.  In the last decade, our growth rate has averaged around 8%, making us the fastest growing large economy of the world," he said.
 
"India’s population in 1950 was 360 million. Today, we are a 1.3 billion strong nation.  Our annual per capita income has gone up from Rs. 7,500 at the time of independence to over Rs. 77,000. GDP growth rate has risen from 2.3 percent to 7.9 percent in 2015-16.  Poverty ratio has declined from over 60 percent to less than 25 percent.  Average life expectancy has gone up from 31.4 to 68.4 years. Literacy rate has gone up from 18 to 74 percent. Food grains production has gone up from 45 million to an estimated 272 million tonnes in 2016-17," he said.
 
Mr. Mukherjee spoke about the progress achieved by the country in the field of food and industrial production, as well as in areas such as space, information technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. He said that, in the last 70 years, India had transformed itself from a poor, under-developed nation into the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity.
 
He said equally important was India's success in consolidating the unity of its nation and democracy in the midst of extraordinary challenges and tremendous diversity.  
 
"We have firmly established within our country the rule of law, an independent judiciary and vibrant media as well as civil society.  We have also created strong institutions like the Election Commission and the CAG who stand as pillars of our political system.  Every known religion in the world, over hundred different languages used in everyday life, 1600 dialects and multiple cultures are united under one flag and one Constitution. Around 553 million people voted in the 2014 General Elections, an exercise matched in scale and scope by none else in the world," he said.
 
The President said the most important legacy bequeathed to the nation by its founding fathers was its Constitution.
 
"A Constitution is a charter for the governance of a nation. The notion of what is good governance must be defined by the need of the times and enriched by the experience of the decades. Yet, the Constitution enshrines certain timeless values that should never be compromised. It is against the touchstone of these values that we must constantly measure our performance," he said.
 
"The Preamble records the resolve of the people of India to secure to all citizens justice - social, economic and political as well as liberty, equality and fraternity.  It also establishes the principle of secularism. Justice - social, economic and political - is in the life of any nation a journey more than a destination. To achieve social justice requires not mere governance but a recasting of mindsets and the transformation of social ethos.  That is the job not just of the legislature, the executive or the courts, but of each one of us.
 
"The ultimate goal of any democracy is the empowerment of the individual, irrespective of his economic, religious or social standing. This may appear to be a utopian dream for many, but the strength of a system lies in its capacity to ceaselessly work for its accomplishment.  The goal of political justice requires the continuous empowerment of marginalised sections of our society. We owe ourselves to create a system in which access to politics is not limited to a privileged few but an average Indian also feels empowered enough to contribute," he said.
 
Mr. Mukherjee said economic development was vital to good governance but stressed that this must be imbued with the principle of equality on which there could be no compromise.
 
"An egalitarian society can only be created when growth is inclusive. It is important to ensure that there is justice and equality of opportunity and the state does not create conditions in which the privileged few gain at the cost of the multitudes who suffer endemic poverty. A sustainable society can only be based on the principles of equity and justice," he said.
 
He said democracy required constant nurturing and at no cost should the exploitation of fault lines be allowed. In this context, he underlined the importance of protection and safety of women and children.
 
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Mr. Mukherjee said the country's leaders and political activists must listen to the people, engage with them, learn from them and respond to their needs and concerns. "Our law makers must never take the people for granted. They must focus on the fundamental task of law making and raising of issues of concern to the people as well as finding solutions to their problems," he said.
 
"Legislation is the first and foremost responsibility of a Parliamentarian. It is most unfortunate that time devoted towards legislation has been gradually declining in our Parliament," he said, citing figures for time lost due to interruptions and adjournments.
 
"No one who holds any elected office has been invited by the voters to occupy that office.  Each one has gone to the voters and pleaded for their votes and support.  The trust placed by the people in the political system and those elected should not be betrayed. Our Legislatures and Parliament must not turn into arenas for combat.  Floor tests are not meant to be muscle tests.  The opportunity to represent the people is not a right or entitlement but a moral obligation and duty.  Our elected representatives owe it to the people of our country to act as models of exemplary conduct," he said.
 
Mr. Mukherjee said Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies were central pillars on which the edifice of democracy   rested. 
 
"They are the supreme institutions comprising of members directly elected by our people.  It is through them that governments are held accountable by the people.  If they become dysfunctional, it results in not just paralysis of those institutions but creates an adverse impact across the system.  The debate and discussions which ought to take place in the open in the House of Parliament and Assemblies cannot be replicated elsewhere.  When they cease to function effectively, issues spill out onto the streets.  The very basis of our democracy gets undermined," he said.
 
The President said the time had come for collective efforts to re-discover the sense of national purpose and patriotism that alone can lift the nation on to the road of sustained progress and prosperity.
 
"The nation and the people must always come first.  Let us strive to arrest the moral decline in our society and ensure that our core civilisational values find firm root.  Let us exert ourselves to strengthen India’s pluralism and diversity.  Let us be uncompromising in rooting out violence, prejudice and hatred.  
 
"Let us strive for rapid progress but even as we do so, ensure that the benefits of economic progress percolate down to the poorest of the poor and those living in the furthest corners of our country.  Let us make the poorest in our land part of the story of a rising India.  Let us embrace education, skill development and innovation which will enable us catapult India into the future and build a knowledge economy, riding the technological wave of the 21st century.
 
"I see a very bright future for India. Our Constitutional values, young population and entrepreneurial abilities as well as capacity for hard work provide us the fundamentals required for rapid progress as well as the building of a caring and compassionate society. India has changed dramatically in the last 70 years.  I am confident that in the next ten years, we will see even greater progress as we steer our nation, focused on further strengthening our open, democratic and inclusive society," he added.
 
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Kerala: Court orders probe against CM Oommen Chandy, Minister Aryadan Mohammad

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

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

A 15-year-old rower died and three female athletes were hospitalised in a serious condition after they consumed poisonous fruit on Wednesday in an alleged suicide attempt at their hostel at the Sports Authority of India's Water Sports Centre at Alappuzha in Kerala.

 
Kerala suicide attempt: DG SAI says priority to save lives of girls
A 15-year-old rower died and three female athletes were hospitalised in a serious condition after they consumed poisonous fruit yesterday in an alleged suicide attempt at their hostel at the Sports Authority of India's (SAI) Water Sports Centre at Alappuzha in Kerala.
 
The decased was identified as Aparna Ramachandran, a resident of Avalookunnu in Alappuzha district, official sources said. The three others are also from Kerala, they said.
 
The four athletes allegedly consumed the fruit of cerbera odollam (Othalanga in Malayalam) sometime during the afternoon yesterday and were rushed to the Alappuzha Medical College Hospital, about 150 km from here, in the evening after they started showing symptoms of food poisoning.
 
While Aparna failed to respond to treatment and breathed her last around 4 am today, the other three girls were said to be in a serious condition.
 
The reason for the extreme step taken by the rowers could not be ascertained immediately, but parents and relatives of the girls said they were subjected to mental and physical harassment at the hostel in recent times.
 
The hostel authorities, however, denied these allegations and said there were no complaints of any harassment. Media reports quoted them as saying that the girls had recently been caught consuming beer and were questioned about it, and they must have resorted to the extreme step fearing further action.
 
The State Government as well as the Sports Authority of India have ordered inquiries into the incident.
 
Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chenithala told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram that he had asked Inspector General of Police (Kochi Range) M R Ajithkumar to conduct an inquiry into th incident and the officer would reach Alappuzha later today.
 
In Delhi, SAI Director General Injeti Srinivas said SAI had taken an extremely serious view of the incident and he had submitted an initial report to Union Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. He said SAI would conduct a probe into all aspects of the incident.
 
Mr  Sonowal said in a statement later that he had asked the Director General of SAI to rush to the spot and give a factual report on the incident.
 
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“I am deeply aggrieved by the incident that has happened in Kerala. The young girl who has died was a very promising sportsperson. It is a big loss to the country in general and Sports Authority of India and sports fraternity in particular. I convey my condolences to the bereaved family. We will give all possible help to the bereaved family," he said.
 
"Three girls are still undergoing treatment. I pray for their speedy recovery. To provide them the best possible treatment is our top priority," he said.
 
"Local police is investigating the matter. I have also directed the Director General of SAI to rush to the spot and give me a factual report. I have specifically directed him to ensure that the best possible treatment is made available to the three girls who are undergoing treatment. 
 
"While law will take its own course, at this stage I would only like to say that if anyone from Sports Authority of India is found guilty in connection with this tragic incident, strictest possible action will be taken against him or her," he added.
 
Mr Srinivas told newspersons in Delhi that it was the most shocking and tragic incident in the three-decade-old history of SAI, which is tasked with nurturing sports talent in the country.
 
He said he had been informed of the incident around midnight last night and has been in touch with Kerala government and local SAI officials since then.
 
"Our immediate priority is to deal with the medical emergency, to save the lives of the three trainees" he said. He said he had been told that there was no real antidote for the poisonous fruit and that, since the entire matter came to light only after some hours after they had consumed the fruit, the poison appeared to have entered their bloodstream and complicated matters.
 
Mr Srinivas said the four girls had reportedly left a suicide note jointly signed by them. One of the three girls in hospital, who is conscious and is able to speak, has deposed before the sub-divisional magistrate, he said. "All these matters will be investigated," he added.
 
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10 dead, 50 hurt as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails near Hosur

At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed on Friday morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.

 
10 dead, 50 injured as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails
At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed this morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.
 
The mishap occurred at around 7.45 am between Anekal Road and Hosur stations on the Bangalore-Salem section of South-Western Railway, they said.
 
Prima facie, the derailment occurred after the train hit a boulder that had rolled down onto the tracks in the ghat section, the sources said.
 
The train had left Bangalore at 6.15 am for Ernakulam in Kerala. Nine coaches and the engine of the train went off the rails, and one coach in particular, D8, a second class chair car, was badly affected, they said.
 
The derailed coaches included two air-conditioned chair cars and six second class chair cars, but they did not suffer much damage.
 
A pantry car and four second class chair cars were not affected by the derailment, the sources said.
 
South-Western Railway spokesperson Chandrasekhar Gupta told NetIndian over the telephone that ten bodies had been extricated from the mangled coaches.
 
He said 18 of the injured passengers had suffered severe injuries and were undergoing treatment in the Narayan Hridalaya, Sparsh and Anekal General hospitals nearby.
 
Police and emergency personnel, including railway officials and staff, from nearby areas in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka rushed to the spot with ambulances and medical equipment. The Railways rushed medical vans and accident relief vans to the spot.
 
Efforts were being made to restore rail traffic on the section at the earliest, the sources said.
 
In Delhi, Minister for Railways Suresh Prabhu said he was rushing to the scene of the accident and that he had directed the Chairman of the Railway Board, the General Manager of South-Western Railway and other senior officials to reach the spot.
 
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He said all possible help would be rendered to the affected passengers and families. He also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 200,000 for the next-of-kin of each of those killed in the accident, Rs 50,000 for the grievously injured passengers and Rs 20,000 for those with minor injuries.
  
Union Minister D V Sadananda Gowda, a former Minister for Railways and former Karnataka Chief Minister, was among those who reached the scene of the accident. 
 
"I am personally monitoring it and in touch with State and local administration. All Sr rail officials are directed by me to be on job," Mr Prabhu said.
 
"Condolences to all the  unfortunate members of the families who lost lives. Directed to provide best possible medical care to the injured," he said.
 
"Ordered enquiry to fix responsibility and for corrective action to prevent such unfortunate accidents. Monitoring action regularly," he added.
 
The Railways have set up the following helplines to provide information and assistance to victims and their relatives: 0948090599,  08022371166, 09731666751.
 
Besides, the Railways have set up the following helpline numbers in Kerala:
 
Trivandrum: 0471-2321205, 2321237, 09746769960
Ernakulam Jn.: 0484-2100317, 0813699773
Ernakulam Town: 0484-2398200
Trichur: 04877-2424148, 2430060
Aluva: 0484-2624143
 
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Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns, may return to Delhi politics

Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit said on Tuesday she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.

 
Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns
Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit today said she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.
 
Ms Dikshit, 76, who was Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years over three consecutive terms, had taken over for a five-year term as the 22nd Governor of Kerala only on March 11 this year after she and her Congress party suffered a humiliating defeat in the December 4, 2013 elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
 
She had lost in her own constituency of Gole Market by a huge margin to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, who went on to serve as Chief Minister of Delhi for 49 days before he resigned. The Congress had managed to win only eight seats in the 70-member house.
 
Ms Dikshit was among the Governors appointed by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre who had refused to heed clear signals from the new Modi government, which assumed office on May 26, that they should hand in their papers.
 
There were also reports in the media suggesting that she might be shifted to a North-Eastern state if she refused to quit.
 
Ms Dikshit met President Mukherjee and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh here yesterday. 
 
"I have only one thing to say. The news flashing on television channels is correct. I have submitted my resignation yesterday," she told newspersons.
"This is what I wanted to say, and I wanted to say it myself."
 
"I don't have anything more to say right now. After my resignation is accepted, I'll say whatever I have to say," she said.
 
To repeated queries about her views on the way the Modi government had handled Governors and about her future plans, Ms Dikshit said that she would not like to say anything further.
 
"Let my resignation be accepted, after that I promise you that I will talk to you," she added.
 
Asked if she had been under pressure from the Modi government to resign, Ms Dikshit said, "I have nothing to do with all that. I did what my heart told me to do."
 
She is now expected to plunge back into active politics in Delhi, where Assembly elections may be held in the next few months if it is not possible to form a viable government within the present Assembly in which no party has a clear majoirty.
 
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With this, eight of the Governors appointed by the previous government have resigned so far, while two were sacked.
 
Soon after the new government started nudging them, five Governors -- B L Joshi in Uttar Pradesh, M K Narayanan in West Bengal, Ashwani Kumar of Nagaland, Shekhar Dutt of Chhattisgarh and Bharat Vir Wanchoo of Goa, all of whom are former police officers -- resigned.
 
Mr Vakkom Purushothaman, a senior Congress leader from Kerala, who was shifted from Mizoram to Nagaland after then Gujarat Governor Kamala Beniwal was moved to Mizoram, resigned in protest against the manner in which he was transferred without consulting him.
 
Ms Beniwal, who had a few run-ins with then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is now the Prime Minister, was sacked on August 6. Earlier, on July 11, Mr Virendra Kataria had been removed as Lt Governor of Puducherry.
 
On Sunday, another senior Congress leader from Kerala, Mr K Sankaranarayanan, resigned after he was transferred as the Governor of Mizoram from Maharashtra.
 
The Governor of Uttarakhand, Mr Aziz Qureshi, has meanwhile filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that he had received calls from the Union Home Secretary suggesting that he resign. He contended that only the President could remove him.
 
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Kerala moves to speed up clearance of investment proposals

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Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan launched Kerala Single Window Interface for Fast, Transparent Clearances (K-SWIFT), an onine clearance mechanism that will ensure that investment proposals are cleared within days of applications.
 
The mechanism, which was launched at the inauguration of ASCEND Kerala 2019, is aimed at ending delays and official lethargy in clearance of investments.
 
ASCEND Kerala 2019 is an ambitious initiative of the government to position the state as an investment hotspot.
 
K-SWIFT is a cutting-edge software application that simplifies and speeds up approval of clearances from departments and agencies looking to launch enterprises in the state.
 
Noting that K-SWIFT complements the notion of rebuilding of Kerala, the Chief Minister urged the officials for a change in their attitude towards entrepreneurs. In this context, he said the 30-day time limit, which is applicable from village to secretariat level, may be reduced to even 15 days in future.    
 
“You should not have the wrong belief that advent of industries means exploitation of people,” he said.
 
“Kerala economy has been consumerist where lots of products have buyers, but not much of production is happening in the state. This has to be change,” he told delegates to the conference held at Lulu International Convention Centre Grand Hyatt, Bolgatty. “We have to increase MSMEs in the state. Through them, the government aims to provide jobs to around 50,000 people this year.”
 
Vijayan also launched an ‘Invest Kerala Guide’ brought out by the state government’s Department of Industries and Commerce, which is a key organiser of the day-long event that seeks to boost East of Doing Business.
 
Kerala Industry Minister E P Jayarajan said ASCEND Kerala 2019 was part of the government’s efforts to form an industry network in the state. Pointing out that a “new era” has dawned upon Kerala’s industry sector, he said any delay in taking steps in the online applications would attract serious steps against the departments and officials.
 
“Specific industrial parks will be set up in private and public sector as per the types of industry. In rural areas, the area limit will be 25 acres. The urban parks will have 15 acres,” he added. “The government will provide the same facilities of the public parks sector to private parks.”
 
The Minister revealed that around 36,000 MSME units have been established in the state within its two-and-a-half years, generating 1,24,000 jobs. Jayarajan also launched the portal of ‘Invest Kerala’that includes details about IBPMS (Intelligent Building Plan Management System).
 
K Ellangovan, Principal Secretary, Industries, Commerce & NORKA, gave a presentation on ASCEND Kerala 2019, and said Kerala is thecountry’s only state that has amended all the existing rules to streamline and encourage its industry sector. 
 
Tom Jose, Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala, said in his welcome address that the industry sector’s motto was to convert jobseekers into entrepreneurs.
 
FICCI National President Sandip Somany noted Kerala topped national rankings in sectors such as startups, food-processing and technology.  CII Chairman (Southern Region) R Dinesh said Kerala has a unique advantage in knowledge-based industries.
 
Kerala Small Scale Industries Association President M Khalid also spoke at the session, where TiE Kerala Chapter President MSA Kumar proposed  a vote of thanks.
 
The meet showcased Kerala as a top-notch investment destination, where entrepreneurs from India and abroad can set up a wide array of enterprises in a speedy and hassle-free manner with minimum of bureaucratic interventions.
 
The conference, through presentations and panel discussions, also presented a slew of legislations and administrative reforms the Kerala government has initiated to enhance the Ease of Doing Business in the state.
 
Entrepreneurs, industry captains and representatives, administrators, policy-makers and top industry department officials, besides senior functionaries of local bodies were present.
 
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Kerala foresees Rs 1,000 crore investment for startups in 4 years: IT Secretary

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Kerala is poised for a far stronger startup ecosystem, as four investment funds have opened the possibilities of more than Rs 1,000 crore for new business ventures in the next four years, a top official said here on Tuesday.
 
Unicorn India Ventures, Exseed Electron Fund, Indian Angel Network and Speciale Incept Fund are the financial entities the government has selected in response to a tender floated recently, according to M Sivasankar, Secretary, Kerala Electronics and IT Department.
 
Since the pact mandates investing 25 per cent of the volunteered amount in the next four years, the state is guaranteed with a minimum investment of Rs 300 crore by 2022 fiscal, he revealed on the sidelines of ‘Seeding Kerala’. 
 
The fourth edition of the event, organised here by Kerala Startup Mision (KSUM) in association with investment platform LetsVenture, brought together the state’s high net worth individuals (HNIs) in a bid to provide them opportunities to invest in potentially rewarding startups.
 
Sivasankar told a media conference that the Kerala government has adopted the Fund of Funds model to invigorate angel and VC funds, thus facilitating holding of a portfolio than of other investment funds rather than investing directly in stocks, bonds and other securities. The state, on its part, provides an annual investment of Rs 15 crore.
 
The first leg of 2017-launched ‘Seeding Kerala’ saw encouraging results, prompting the government to aim at raising investments worth Rs 60 crore. How much high amount angel and VC funds could raise from this amount was the yardstick for their selection, the IT Secretary said. The state got 34 Expressions of Interest, from which four funds were invited to the KSUM endeavour on developing the state’s startup ecosystem, he added.
 
Among the four, Exseed will invest solely in startups based in the fields of space and IT, Sivasankar said. The state will also encourage funds for startups working in the sectors of cancer treatment and disaster management, he added.
 
KSUM CEO Saji Gopinath said the selection of the four funds would help the state tide over its problem of insufficient funds. Startups anyway required decentralised operations, he added.
 
The first two editions (both in 2017) of ‘Seeding Kerala’ strove to introduce angel investors from outside of Kerala to the state. Into the third, the focus turned to HNIs within Kerala and linking them with startups that merited investment.
 
Today’s conference provided delegates a masterclass on angel investing, while giving them a clearer idea on investment and portfolio diversification. The day-long sessions also discussed the legal aspects of investing and took up case studies of remarkable business in the state.
 
Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation Chairman Christy Fernandez and Indian Angel Network’s Padmaja Ruparel, besides investors Ritesh Malik and Anil Joshi were among the speakers who led the conference.
 
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Kerala to implement online clearance mechanism for entrepreneurs

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The Kerala Government will implement an online, single window clearance mechanism with unique features that would ease the process of launching new ventures and give a push to entrepreneurship activities in the state. 
 
The Single Window Interface for Fast and Transparent Clearance (KSWIFT) mechanism will be launched at Ascend 2019, an event that will be hosted here on February 11 by the Kerala Bureau of Industrial Promotion (KBIP) to showcase the administrative and policy reform measures taken by the state government to improve ease of doing business.
 
KSWIFT will bring together relevant departments for expediting approvals within the stipulated timeframe, reducing and simplifying procedures and substantially curtailing bureaucratic interventions, a press release from KBIP said.
 
"KSWIFT will be a pioneering integrating platform that supports entrepreneurs in obtaining their requisite clearances for setting up and running an enterprise in the state.
 
"Having all the trappings of a landmark initiative, KSWIFT is designed to make governance more efficient, effective, transparent and user-friendly by leveraging the information technology. It will be a platform for all future transactions with the government for granting licences and approvals in a time-bound manner," it said.
 
For the present, the services of 14 departments and agencies have been made available in KSWIFT, wherein all the applications can be submitted through a unified Common Application Form (CAF). These departments are Directorate of Urban Affairs, Directorate of Panchayats, Department of Town and Country Planning, Factories and Boilers, Electrical Inspectorate, Mining and Geology, Forest and Wildlife, Labour, Fire and Rescue Services, Kerala State Pollution Control Board, State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, Kerala State Electricity Board Ltd., Kerala Water Authority, and Department of Ground Water.
 
 KSWIFT has features like CAF; intelligent information wizard; unified payment mechanism; time-bound clearances; digital approvals; online issue of clearances; and deemed approvals and composite licences. It will enable entrepreneurs to submit all their applications online along with provisions to upload the requisite supporting documents.
 
Dedicated dashboards provided for both project proponents and department officials pave the way for end-to-end tracking and processing of the applications. In order to increase transparency, KSWIFT has also enabled the provision for third party verification of the entire clearance process.
 
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"It will be the next revolutionary change in the clearances / legislative landscape of the state that would provide a thriving environment for enterprises. KSWIFT is expected to reduce the physical touch points in the entire clearance process, thereby making the entire process more efficient and effective.
 
"As a means of improving the entrepreneur–government interface, the Kerala government has constituted Investment Promotion and Facilitation Cells (IPFC) at both the state and district-level.
 
"The IPFC consists of officials of the departments / agencies that are involved in providing clearances for setting up and running enterprises in the state. 
 
 "The mandate of the IPFC is to act as the single point of contact for investors and accord all the required approvals for setting up and operation of enterprises in Kerala. It is envisaged to track the progress of applications submitted online, obtain regular feedback from the stakeholder departments / agencies, remove bottlenecks and ensure time-bound disposal of applications.
 
"The IPFC will also provide handholding support to all entrepreneurs, who wish to make Kerala their preferred destination for starting and running an enterprise.
 
"The IPFC at the state-level, with Managing Director, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation Ltd. (KSIDC) as its CEO, will be headquartered in KSIDC in the capital city. District Collectors will be the Chairpersons for the IPFC while General Manager, District Industries Centers, will be the Convenors in respective districts," the release added.
 
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Well-known Malayalam actor-director Sreenivasan hospitalised

Sreenivasan
Sreenivasan
Well-known Malayalam film actor and director Sreenivasan was admitted to a private hospital here today after complaining of acute breathlessness and chest pain.
 
Sources in the Ernakulam Medical Centre (EMC) told NetIndian that Sreenivasan, 62, was admitted to the intensive coronary care unit (ICCU) and kept on ventilator support.
 
He said the actor's vital parameters, which were weak at the time of admission around 9.45 am, had improved.
 
Doctors treating him would meet around 11 am tomorrow to discuss the further course of treatment, the sources added.
 
Sreenivasan was dubbing for a new movie at a studio in the Kakkanad area of the city when he complained of the uneasiness and was rushed to the hospital, located near the Palarivattom Junction.
 
“Actor Mr Sreenivasan, aged 62 years, presented to the emergency department of this hospital on 30.01.2019 at 9:46 am with complaints of acute breathlessness, following physical exertion. Patient was hemodynamically unstable on presentation, suggestive of Acute Left Ventricular Failure, warranting admission to Intensive Coronary Care Unite where he was intubated and ventilated in view of his poor oxygen saturation following persisting dysponea. He is being treated by a team of specialists consisting of Cardiologist, Intensivist, Anesthesiologist and Physician," a statement from the hospital said.
 
“Professional diagnosis: Accelerated hypertension, Acute LVF on a previously diagnosed patient with Hypertension, Diabetes, IHD, Old CVA. At present, patient is in the ICU with ventilatory support, hemodynamically stable," the statement added.
 
Sreenivasan, who has a huge fan following, has excelled in comic and character roles and is also an acclaimed scriptwriter in Malayalam cinema. He has also produced movies.
 
In January last year, Sreenivasan had been hospitalised for some days due to variations in his blood sugar level.
 
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Kerala Tourism showcases backwaters, houseboats, Mohiniyattam at FITUR in Spain

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Spaniards had a brush with the mesmerizing grandeur of God’s Own Country as Kerala showcased its various facets of life and culture at the just-concluded FITUR 2019 in Madrid, the world’s second largest tourism and travel fair.
 
Visitors and trade professionals exhibiting tremendous interest in Brand Kerala at the fair, a press release from Kerala Tourism said.
 
The pavilion of Kerala Tourism, built on the themes of ‘Houseboats’, ‘Backwaters’ and ‘Mohiniyattam performance’, whipped up huge excitement at the five-day travel meet, which concluded on January 27, it said.
 
Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran inaugurated the India Pavilion along with the Indian Ambassador to Spain, Mr Sanjay Verma. 
 
Among the dignitaries present on the occasion were Mr. Suman Billa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India; and Mrs Rani George, Secretary, Kerala Tourism.
 
Mr Surendran and Ms George held a series of meetings with key trade and media representatives at the event to boost tourism potential of the state.
 
“FITUR 2019 was a major international tourism event for Kerala after it suffered huge losses in the wake of last year’s natural calamity. We sent the message across that the state has fully overcome the impact of the calamity and has been attracting tourists from across the globe since then,” the minister said.
 
Ms George noted that the fair turned out to be the right platform to energise tourism business and forge new trade alliances. “On the basis of inputs we got at the fair, we will try to find innovative solutions to the changing demands of the market. This is imperative to further boost tourism potential of the state,’’ she said.
 
The Kerala stall showcased a range of the state’s natural beauty -- serene beaches, emerald backwaters, coconut palms – as also houseboats. There was also a live Mohiniyattam performance at the pavilion.
 
The Kerala delegation included three trade partners from the private sector – CGH Group of Hotels, Pioneer Travels and Xandari.
 
FITUR show, a meeting point of tourism professionals the world over, is considered as the second biggest gathering of travel and tourism professionals. The fair has grown 8.3% and this year’s edition was its biggest ever with the participation of 886 stand-holder exhibitors and 10,487 companies from 165 countries and regions. 
 
This was for the 15th year on the trot that Kerala Tourism participated in FITUR, which provides a platform for the global tourist industry to promote commercial agreements and hammer out actionable strategies for growth of tourism.
 
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Modi provided "maximum income guarantee" to 15 of his friends: Rahul

A day after he announced that his party would ensure a Minimum Income Guarantee for the poor in the country if it is voted to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Congress President Rahul Gandhi today hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of providing "Maximum Income Guarantee to 15 of his friends".

 
Rahul says Modi wasted five years of India's time
A day after he announced that his party would ensure a Minimum Income Guarantee for the poor in the country if it is voted to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Congress President Rahul Gandhi today hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of providing "Maximum Income Guarantee to 15 of his friends".
 
"For the last five years, Narendra Modi has provided a 'maximum income guarantee' to 15 of his friends. We have decided that, if he can give 'maximum income guarantee to 15 rich people, we are going to give a 'minimum income guarantee' to the poor of this country," he said.
 
Addressing a meeting of booth level workers of the party from all over Kerala here, Gandhi said that, just like MGNREGA had given people the right to employment, the Food Security Bill had given the right to food and the Right to Information had provided the right to seek information from the government, the Minimum Income Guarantee scheme would assure a minimum income to each poor citizen of the country.
 
Mounting a scathing attack on the Modi government, Gandhi said the Prime Minister had not kept any of the promises it had made to the people before the last elections, including jobs.
 
"Narendra Modi has spent five years wasting India's time, telling one lie after another," he said.
 
"If you are Anil Ambani, then you get a guarantee for maximum income. Jobs that should have gone to the people of Kerala, Karnataka, Odisha have been taken away and the offset contract in the Rafale deal has been given to Anil Ambani," he said.
 
"For five years, people have watched this 'tamasha'," he said, referring to businessmen such as Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya and others who had fled the country in recent years after defaulting on bank loans.
 
Gandhi said that, under the Minimum Income Guarantee scheme, the amounts would be directly transferred to the bank accounts of the eligible individuals.
 
"It does not matter how much Narendra Modi tries, we will not allow him to create two Indias, one for the rich and another for the poor, the workers, farmers and labourers and the middle class. There is going to be only one India," he said.
 
"We won't allow a situation where 15 people live like kings and fly around in private jets while the rest are deprived of basic necessities," he said.
 
Gandhi accused the Modi government of also "attacking and destroying" all institutions. In this regard, he referred to the four seniormost judges of the Supreme Court who came to hold a press conference against the way the apex court was functioning.
 
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He also asked why the CBI chief was removed in a midnight move and why, after he was reinstated by the Supreme Court, he was removed again witin two days by the government. He also referred to the alleged corruption in the Rafale deal and said all this pointed to corruption at the very top.
 
"The Prime Minister is protecting himself when he removes the chief of the CBI and ensures no enquiry is carried  out," he said.
 
Gandhi also recalled that former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikhar had made it clear, at the time the Rafale deal was announced by Modi in Paris, that he had nothing to do with it. Incidentally, Gandhi had met the ailing Parrikar, who is now Chief Minister of Goa, in Panaji earlier in the day.
 
Gandhi also attacked the Modi government over demonetisation and the poor implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST). He reiterated that the Congress, if voted to power, would restructure the GST to make it an asset for the country and not a liability.
 
He promised that the party would also ensure that more youth and women are given positions of responsibility in the party and that it would field more of them in elections. He also said the Congress would try to get the Women's Reservation Bill passed in Parliament.
 
He said his party would work to ensure remunerative prices for farmers and provide jobs for the youth. It would also increase spending in key areas such as education and healthcare, he said.
 
"We have waived off farm loans in the three states where we won elections. We have committed that in 2019, we will have a government that will make up for all the crimes that Narendra Modi has done against farmers in five years," he said.
 
Gandhi accused the BJP government at the Centre and the CPI (M)-led Left Front government in Kerala of trying to divide the people for narrow political ends. He said the Left Front government in Kerala had failed to take proper steps for rebuilding the state after last year's devastating floods.
 
In an apparent reference to the Sabarimala issue, he said the Congress respected the rights of women but also equally respected the traditions of Kerala. "We do not agree with the violence carried out by BJP and CPM," he said.
 
"Kerala is not just a state, it is an idea. It is a way of looking at the world that includes compassion, humility, respect. People of Kerala are helping guide the people of India," he said.
 
He urged Congress workers to be proud of their history, their present and their future.
 
"Don't forget who fought for the freedom of this country. Don't forget all the top leaders of RSS who were begging in front of the British when our leaders were in jail," he said, adding that Congress workers had shed blood to help India attain freedom.
 
Gandhi said the Congress workers must come together to fight the forces that seek to divide the country along religious, caste and other lines. He said the Congress is the only party that could bring the country together and take it forward.
 
"You have seen how we fought the BJP in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, how we have defeated their ideology. We are going to do exactly the same thing in Kerala and at the Centre," he said.
 
He said the RSS and the CPI (M) may have cadres, but India lives in the hearts of Congress workers.
 
"Kerala and India can only grow if there is love and affection and if the people work together. We will not benefit from violence." he said.
 
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Modi inaugurates Integrated Refinery Expansion Project Complex at Kochi

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Inaugurating the Integrated Refinery Expansion Project Complex (IREP) here today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it was a historic day when the largest industrial unit of Kerala was entering its next phase of development.
 
IREP will be a modern expansion complex and transform Kochi refinery into the largest public sector refinery with world-class standards. It will be equipped for the production of cleaner fuels. It will double the production of LPG and diesel and commence production of feedstock for petrochemical projects.
 
“Today is a historic day when the largest industrial unit of Kerala is entering its next phase of development. It is indeed a proud moment not just for God's Own Country, but also for the entire nation,” he said. 
 
He also praised Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) Kochi for playing a critical role in popularizing clean fuels among masses in Kerala and neighbouring states over the past 50 years.
 
Mr Modi said since May 2016,  the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme of the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas for providing LPG connections to women from Below Poverty Line (BPL), nearly six crore connections have been provided to the poorest of the poor in the country.
 
Meanwhile, more than 23 crore LPG consumers have joined the Pahal scheme, the Direct Benefit Transfer of LPG subsidy to their Aadhar-linked bank accounts. The transparency in the scheme has helped in identifying ghost accounts, multiple accounts and inactive accounts. Over 1 crore customers have given up LPG subsidies under the ‘Give it up initiative’, he said.
 
“The refinery in Kochi is making a great contribution towards Ujjwala Yojana, by doubling the LPG production with the help of the recent expansion,” he added.
 
Mr Modi said the use of CNG, a clean fuel, is being promoted by expanding the coverage of City Gas Distribution (CGD) network in the country. After the successful completion of 10 CGD bidding rounds, more than 400 districts of the country will be connected for providing piped gas supply. 
 
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The National Gas Grid or Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga has also been created to have a gas-based economy and enhance the share of gas in the energy basket,  he said.
 
The Government was thinking of developing an additional 15000 km of the gas pipeline network. It has reduced oil import by 10% and saved precious foreign exchange, he said.
 
Mr. Modi said that India, as the second largest oil refiner in Asia, was emerging as a refining hub. He congratulated all for the timely completion of IREP, especially the labourers who worked day and night during the construction. At the peak of the project, over 20,000 labourers were working at the site and they are the real heroes of the project, he said.
 
Noting the strategic move of BPCL to diversify into the non-fuel sector through this project, he said, “Friends, petrochemicals are a grade of chemicals which we don't speak much about. But they exist invisibly and touch many aspects of our daily life.
 
“However, most of these chemicals are imported from other countries. It is our endeavour to see that these petrochemicals are manufactured in India itself,” he added.
 
He expressed happiness that Kochi refinery will now be able to produce propylene after execution of IREP.  Besides, the other niche petrochemicals will find use in different products such as paints, inks, coating, detergent and many other articles.
 
He expressed hope that all these ancillary industries will come to Kochi and business opportunities will be expanded.
 
The Prime Minister said the nation was proud of the works by Kochi refinery. When Kerala was passing through worst floods in a 100 years last August, BPCL, working against all odds, ensured continuous production of petrol, diesel and LPG. 
 
Mr. Modi laid the foundation stone of the second campus of the Skill development institute set up by BPCL at Ettumanoor. He said it will help skill development and create employment opportunities for the youth.
 
He also dedicated to the nation mounded storage facility by Indian Oil at its Kochi LPG based bottling plant at a cost of Rs 50 crore. This will enhance LPG storage capacity and also reduce the road movement of LPG tankers.
 
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IndiGo announces flights from Kannur to Doha and Kuwait

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Low-cost carrier IndiGo today announced flights from Kannur, the new international airport in Kerala, to Doha in Qatar and Kuwait.
 
A press release from the airline said it would also launch flights from Kannur to Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Goa and Hubli.
 
Effective March 15, the airline will operate daily flights between Kannur and Doha and six-days-a-week service between Kannur and Kuwait, it said.
 
"These new flights are designed to cater to business and leisure travellers who are constantly on the lookout for new and affordable flying options. The introduction of these flights will further strengthen the airline’s operations and will provide connectivity between Kannur and other domestic and international destinations with all-inclusive fares starting from Rs. 1299, the release said.
 
Mr. William Boulter, Chief Commercial Officer, IndiGo said, “We are pleased to have the opportunity to fly out of the new airport in Kannur starting January 25th. We are also excited to announce our international flights connecting Kannur with Doha and Kuwait effective March 15, 2019. Kannur will be the fourth airport in Kerala that IndiGo is starting operations from, and, with the launch of these new international services, IndiGo now operates 66 daily non-stop flights between India and the Middle East. The launch of these new international services will provide increased convenience to customers based out of North Kerala and South Karnataka, through these new non-stop services to Gulf at affordable fares.”  
 
“IndiGo will continue to expand its network to meet the requirements of both business and leisure travellers wherever they demand it. IndiGo will continue to offer its customers on-time, courteous and hassle-free service, and an affordable flying experience always," he added.
 
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‘Artivist’ and her feminism library add to biennale’s infra-project

The red-and-white-walled Pepper House sports a pinkish library in one corner these days, and there’s something particularly striking about its books: the authors are solely women.
 
Gender inequality across the world and caste hierarchy in India form the chunk of the subjects in the collection with feminist perspectives that bear a historical approach as well. There are graphic novels as well as illustrated zines — those low-cost self-publications aiming a small circulation. All of it by young artist-archivist Aqui Thami.
 
The 29-year-old activist has been working on this moving library that is an infra-project under the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale. ‘Sister Library’, as it is called, reflects on the general reading culture in the country even as it seeks to “celebrate the contributions of women in the creative world”.
 
The 100-book library, along with Thami, has so far travelled five cities: Goa, Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The sixth has been this coastal Kerala city amid the subcontinent’s biggest contemporary art festival that is on till March 29. Starting this week at the sea-facing venue of Pepper House in Fort Kochi, she is leading a month-long workshop featuring feminism-centric reading sessions, film shows, talks, discussions and art workshops.
 
So, why the word ‘Sister’ ahead of library? “Well, ‘sister’ is a word of solidarity that brings together women from all class, region or language,” explains Thami, who lives in Mumbai after having been brought up in West Bengal’s hilly Darjeeling.
 
Artist Anita Dube, who is curator of the 108-day biennale that began on December 12, notes Sister Library “aptly describes” the festival’s two running themes: feminism and pedagogy. “Aqui has prioritised through her workshops and aesthetics that learning can be pleasurable and accessible,” Dube notes. “This is a major aim for me.”
 
According to Thami, the year-old project is still evolving and generative. “The idea is to engage in an in-depth reflection on the visual and reading culture prevalent among women,” she says. “The library will make people look at the works of women seriously. The readers can celebrate the ideas of women authors,” she says. “The perception of women will be widely shared. It will start help shift some of the general perceptions about women around and hopefully bring a change some day.”
 
The artist had visited the biennale during its previous (2016) chapter. To be part of the latest edition is “great”, she feels, for the ongoing biennale women forming more than half of the 90-plus artists. Hailing curator Anita Dube’s vision, Thami says the biennale has boosted “artists, like me, who belong to an indigenous culture and come from the global south.”
 
Thami’s work reflects on the absence of safe community spaces that allow women to read works about other women. “Works of women writers are not easily available. It took me years to have collection of around 4,000 books. I come from the mountains that has an indigenous community, I have gone through so much intergenerational trauma. I face a lot of racism in the land. I went through a very dark age of my life where art became a ray of light and a healing element,” adds Thami, who received the 2017 Inlaks Fine Art Award for the project.
 
Some of the notable authors in her treasured collection include Sylvia Plath, Ursula le Guin Alison Bechdel, Naomi Wolf, Gloria Steinem, Susan Sontag, bell hooks, Simone de Beauvoir and Audre Lorde. Alongside them were displayed the works of Ishmat Chugtai, Imitiaz Dharker, Sharmila Rege, Taslima Nasrin, and Nayyirah Waheed besides plenty of non-fictional works on intersectional feminist history.
 
Thami has been working in the Dharavi Art Room at Mumbai with its founder-educator Himanshu Shady since 2012, providing women and children in the community with a place to express and heal them through art.
 
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Art Rises for Kerala auction raises Rs 3.2 crore for flood relief

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A first-ever international live contemporary art auction in Kerala saw all its works getting sold out and the proceeds of Rs 3.2 crore set to be donated to the state government’s rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of the natural calamity five months ago.
 
The auction, conducted by Mumbai-based Saffronart and the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) last weekend, had no buyer’s premium — and comprised 42 artworks donated by leading Indian and international artists, gallerists and collectors. 
 
The amount from the Friday night event at the Grand Hyatt in Kochi is going to the Kerala Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund for the benefit of the people hit by the floods and landslides in August last year. 
 
The sale was led by eminent artist Anish Kapoor’s Untitled, 2018, a vivid blue canvas-and-resin work that sold for Rs 1.3 crore.
 
The KBF noted that the Kerala government has been the principal supporter of the biennale which has its fourth edition on for 108 days till March 29. 
 
“We’re proud to have been able to bring together the artist community to rebuild Kerala,” said KBF president Bose Krishnamachari. “I’m also happy that along with the important collectors in India, a new generation of art collectors have come forward in Kerala.I hope that this will strengthen the ecosystem for art here.”
 
Saffronart said it had partnered with the KBF once again in solidarity with the people of Kerala. “We thank the art community for their generous support in both donating and bidding on works for this important cause,” said Saffronart CEO Dinesh Vazirani. “We hope that the funds raised through this auction, with artworks by some of India’s leading artists, will support the commendable rebuilding efforts initiated by the state government that are already underway.” 
 
Sunil V, Secretary of the KBF, thanked the artists who generously contributed to the cause. “We also want to thank Saffronart and Dinesh Vazirani for their partnership,” he added.
 
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Kerala Government to hold Ascend 2019 to showcase its business-friendly initiatives

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In an initiative to position Kerala as a hotspot for attracting investments from India and abroad and setting up enterprises in a hassle-free manner, the State Government will organise Ascend 2019 here next month.
 
To be held on February 11 at the Lulu Bolgatty International Convention Center (LBICC) here, Ascend 2019 will showcase various administrative and policy reforms that the government says have considerably improved Ease of Doing Business in the state for the benefit of industry and trade.
 
The event is expected to be attended by Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and Ministers from various states, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, investors, policy administrators and other delegates from India and abroad.
 
In particular, the event will display two software applications: K-SWIFT (Kerala Single Window Interface for Fast, Transparent Clearances) and IBPMS (Intelligent Building Plan Management System), a press release issued by the Kerala Bureau of Industrial Promotion.
 
KSWIFT, an online clearance mechanism and Common Application Form (CAF) under Ease of Doing Business initiatives, have been developed to simplify and speed up issuance of clearances from Departments and agencies for setting up enterprises in the State.  The activities associated with KSWIFT and its integration with portals of 14 Departments and agencies concerned have already been completed. 
 
“The objective behind the launch of Ascend 2019 is to bring into sharp focus a governance that is simplified, transparent, facilitates business and investments with a string of industry -friendly measures,” the release said.
 
The event will have plenary addresses, panel discussions, break-out sessions and presentations on some of the best practices under the Ease of Doing Business initiatives.
 
According to the release, Kerala has, of late, launched policy and procedural reforms to position it on an equal footing amongst other top ranked States in the Business Reform Action Plan (BRAP) ranking. It has simplified and rationalized the existing rules; introduced IT to make governance more efficient, transparent and user-friendly; and ensured swift and transparent ways of dealing with the industries, it said.
 
Listing out the other measures, it said the State Assembly unanimously passed an omnibus legislation—Kerala Investment Promotion Facilitation Act 2018 during May 2018, amending the existing seven Acts dealing with doing business in Kerala and investment-related issues. Further, it has reduced the transaction time for obtaining permits and licenses and also created an elaborate e-platform to largely eliminate the citizen-government interface, bringing out the transparency dimension in the entire exercise.
 
The Department of Industries & Commerce, Government of Kerala has also introduced the concept of "deemed approval" for everyone, who does not get the reply from various departments within the stipulated time frame. The new land allotment policy facilitates entrepreneurs in the state and the bureaucracy has been trained to implement the revised procedures.
 
“All these unprecedented measures have been taken to correct the skewed and distorted perception of the State and enormously increase the prospects of investments by the national and international investors,” the release added.
 
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Kochi Biennale: Annu Matthew’s work pays homage to forgotten WWII heroes

Through her work that draws attention to parallel histories of immigrants and women among communities, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew hopes to enrich a collective cultural conversation with amplified voices. 
 
“I do this by drawing on history and the connected role of memory and its effect on identity,” says the 55-year-old artist about her exhibit at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
 
The ongoing fourth edition of the art festival showcases US-based Annu’s video work titled ‘Unremembered: The Indian soldiers of the Italian Campaign of World War II’. The project is about the forgotten history of Indian (South Asian) soldiers who fought during the Italian Campaign of the global conflict that lasted from 1939 to ’45.
 
“I stumbled upon the powerful story of a politically-complicated role of Indian soldiers who fought for the British colonial power during WWII,” notes the artist, a professor of art at the University of Rhode Island, 250 km northeast of New York. “I came across it through my decade-long research on the Partition of British India.”
 
This war had nearly 2.5 million Indians volunteering to fight for the British. In the end, no less than 87,000 people died. The Indian troops did achieve something particularly inspiring what with their role proving critical in winning a decisive battle at Monte Cassino and others in Italy against the Axis powers.
 
“The tenacity of the troops, especially that of Indian soldiers, is reflected in their being honoured with 30 per cent of the Victoria Crosses the British government awarded to all of the soldiers fighting in Italy during the war,” adds Annu, who was born in London and raised partly in India (largely Bangalore).
 
As for the installation at the main biennale venue of Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi, the video spanning 3 minutes and 20 seconds has a reflection pool. The work builds on the idea that military cemeteries memorialise the dead while simultaneously reminding the living of their possible complicity in the same soldiers’ deaths.
 
“These spaces, embedded with multiple overlapping layers of narrative, encourage contemplation and reflection,” notes Annu. “Layering a contemporary inscription of the wartime past expands the narrative and prompts a reconsideration. It goes on to evolve as a dialogue of the larger history of WWII and the understanding of the complexities of the Partition of British India.”
 
Annu, with familial roots in Kerala, started her research on the project one-and-a-half years ahead of the biennale. She did her test shots while she was attending the Rome Summer Fellow at Richmond International University in 2017. “For that, I projected archival footage of the Indian soldiers in Italy during WWII onto the gravestones of those soldiers memorialised in Cassino, and Forli,” says the artist who was born in Stourport, England.
 
For over twenty years, she has been mining issues of identity, immigration and inter-generational memory with the insights of a woman who has twice lived the immigrant experience. The vignettes come through her photo-based works. “I work in a wide range of photographic media from the plastic-lensed ‘toy’ Holga camera, photo animation to interactive installations,” she says. “My larger work reconsiders — or what I like to call re-views — different histories. The first time I re-viewed history, it was my own childhood.”
 
Annu has predominantly worked with photography as a medium. To her, participating in the Kochi-Muziris Biennale allowed her to take the next bold move onto installation art. “Something that I have taken as a small step towards in the last few years,” she shrugs. “It has also been wonderful to see a show giving voice to many unheard narratives and to meet a number of the artists.”
 
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Kerala's Maker Village comes under the ambit of DST's Nidhi Prayas programme

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In a big boost to the startup ecosystem in Kerala, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, has brought the electronic design and innovation hub Maker Village under the ambit of its Nidhi Prayas programme, which will provide financial grants of up to Rs 10 lakh and lab equipment support for early stage hardware startups to pursue their ideas.
 
National Initiative for Developing and Harnessing Innovations (NIDHI) has been conceived by DST as an umbrella programme for nurturing knowledge-based and technology-driven ideas and innovations into successful startups. The PRAYAS Centre -- Promoting and Accelerating Young and Aspiring technology entrepreneurs -- is a flagship programme under NIDHI, to support young innovators turn their ideas into proof-of-concepts.
 
The programme helps overcome the lack of support for early stage prototyping in the country, causing many innovators to lose interest in their ventures in the absence of support at that critical juncture.
 
“This is a real Nidhi (treasure) for Maker Village. Enterprising aspirants can now tap the benefit of this programme to pursue their ideas”, said a Maker Village official.
 
The Prayas Centre will be a place where innovative ideas are supported through physical infrastructure, technical guidance, business mentorship and a prototype grant for converting them into a prototype.
 
A well-equipped and furnished space of about 5000 sq ft is being set up at Maker Village for the commencement of the Prayas centre, a press release said.
 
The Maker Lab, coming up at the centre, will enable innovators to go through a cycle of imagination, design, prototyping, reflection, and iteration as a part of process to find solutions to challenges or bring their ideas to reality. It will provide an exciting pipeline of innovators and talents for the current incubation facility of Maker Village.
 
Each selected early stage innovator could avail a maximum grant amount of Rs 10,00,000 to facilitate the conversion of their ideas to proof- of-concept stage. Innovators in the age bracket of 18 -35 are eligible to apply for the scheme and the last date for submitting the application is January 25, 2019.
 
Details about the programme can be obtained and the applications can be submitted here, the release added.
 
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Infrastructure development a priority for government, says Modi in Kerala

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at the inauguration of the Kollam Bypass on NH 66, in Kollam, Kerala on January 15, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at the inauguration of the Kollam Bypass on NH 66, in Kollam, Kerala on January 15, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said infrastructure development was the priority of his government and the 13 km, two-lane Kollam bypass on National Highway (NH)-66 in Kerala that he dedicated to the nation earlier in the day was an example in this regard.
 
Kerala Governor Justice P. Sathasivam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Union Minister of Tourism K J Alphons along with other dignitaries were present at the dedication ceremony.
 
Addressing a gathering at he Asramam ground in Kollam later, Modi said the project had got the final sanction in January 2015 and it had now been completed.
 
He said his government believed in "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" for ease of living for the common man and appreciated the contribution and cooperation of the Kerala government in completion of the project.
 
The Kollam Bypass will reduce travel time between Alappuzha and state capital Thiruvananthapuram and decongest the traffic in Kollam town.
 
Talking about the projects in Kerala, the Prime Minister said that about 500 km of national highway has been added in Kerala since May 2014. He added that under Bharatmala, a detailed project report for the Mumbai-Kanyakumari corridor is under preparation. 
 
Modi said that the government is committed to ensure timely completion of all the projects.  He said that through PRAGATI, more than 250 projects worth Rs. 12 lakh crore have been reviewed at his end.
 
Highlighting the progress in road connectivity, Modi said that compared to the previous Government, the pace of construction in national highways and rural roads has almost doubled. More than 90% of rural habitations have been connected today compared to only 56% under the previous government.  He expressed hope that the government will reach the target of 100% rural road connectivity soon.
 
Regional air connectivity and expansion of railway lines have shown marked improvement resulting in creation of job opportunities, he said.
 
“When we construct roads and bridges, we do not only connect towns and villages. We also connect aspirations with achievements, optimism with opportunities and hope with happiness," he said.
 
About Ayushman Bharat, he said that 8 lakh patients have been benefitted under this scheme while the government has sanctioned more than 1100 crores rupees till date for the scheme. He urged the Government of Kerala to expedite the implementation of Ayushman Bharat scheme, so that the people of Kerala can be benefitted.
 
Modi said tourism is the hallmark of Kerala’s economic development and a principal contributor to the state’s economy. He added that recognizing the tourism potential of Kerala, the government has sanctioned seven projects in the state under the Swadesh Darshan and PRASAD schemes with funds worth Rs. 550 crore.
 
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He said India posted a growth of 14% over 2016 in the tourism sector while the world grew at an average of 7%. He added that India now stands at third place in Power Ranking in the 2018 report of the World Travel & Tourism Council. Foreign tourist arrivals in India increased by 42% from around 70 lakh in 2013 to about 1 crore in 2017. The foreign exchange earned by India due to tourism witnessed a jump of 50%, up from $ 18 billion in 2013 to $ 27 billion in 2017. He described the introduction of the e-Visa as a game changer for Indian tourism which is now available to nationals of 166 countries. 
 
Earlier in the day, Modi visited Odisha where he said the government was committed to the all-round development of the state and of eastern India as a whole.
 
He visited Balangir, where he launched several development projects worth Rs. 1500 crores and laid foundation stones of various projects.
 
He dedicated a Multi-Modal Logistics Park (MMLP) at Jharsuguda to the nation. The MMLP will make Jharsuguda the prime hub of logistics in the region. 
 
He also inaugurated the Balangir-Bichhupali railway line built at an estimated cost of Rs. 115 crore.
 
Noting that it was his third visit to Odisha in the past three weeks, he told a gathering at the Railway Yard in Balangir that his government was making continuous efforts for the development of the state and eastern India.
 
He also dedicated to the nation the new bridge over Nagavali River, doubling of railway lines between Barpali-Dungaripali and Balangir-Deogaon and electrification of 813 km of Jharsuguda-Vizinagaram and Sambalpur-Angul lines. 
 
He laid the foundation stone of Kendriya Vidyalaya in Odisha's Sonepur at an estimated cost of Rs. 15.81 crore. 
 
“Education leads to human resource development. But it is connectivity that transforms such resources into opportunity. Inauguration of 6 railway projects is an effort of our endeavour to enhance connectivity. It will facilitate movement of people, make mineral resources more accessible to industry and help farmers to take their produce to far-off markets, furthering ‘Ease of Living’ for Odisha’s citizens," he said.
 
Citing his commitment for the preservation of culture and heritage, the Prime Minister said that it would strengthen cultural links and enhance the tourism potential in the state. He expressed his happiness over the renovation and restoration works at the Nilamadhav and Siddheswar temples in Gandhaharadi (Boudh). 
 
Modi also inaugurated restoration and renovation work of Ranipur Jharial group of monuments in Balangir and Asurgarh Fort in Kalahandi.
 
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Modi to inaugurate Spiritual Circuit in Kerala on Tuesday

Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram
Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the project "Development of Spiritual Circuit: Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple-Aranmula-Sabarimala” in Kerala during a day's visit to the state tomorrow.
 
The project is being implemented under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme of the Union Ministry of Tourism.
 
Kerala Governor Palanisamy Sathasivam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Union Tourism Minister K. J. Alphons are slated to be present on the occasion.
 
An official press release said the project was sanctioned by the Ministry of Tourism in 2016-17 for Rs. 92.22 crores. Most of the work under this project has been carried out at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
 
The Sree Padmanabaswamy Temple is one of the 108 divyadesams of Lord Vishnu. The temple witnesses huge footfall throughout the year. However, the temple precinct did not establish a sense of arrival to the revered destination nor were the amenities sufficient to cater to the tourists, the release said.
 
Under this project, the Ministry has developed and rejuvenated the temple and its surroundings keeping in mind the factors of heritage and socio-cultural aspects.
 
The Ministry of Tourism, recognizing the tourism potential of the State, has sanctioned seven projects in Kerala under the Swadesh Darshan and PRASHAD schemes for an approximate amount of Rs. 550 crore.
 
Talking to journalists in Thiruvananthapuram, Alphons said his Ministry had sanctioned projects worth Rs. 85.23 crore for the development of Spiritual Circuit III for Kerala under Swadesh Darshan Scheme. 
 
He said the sites identified under the circuit are spread across all 14 districts of the state and cover 133 religious places. He said the districts where the projects would be implemented are : Kasargode, Wayand, Kannur, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Malappuram, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Idukki, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Pathanamhitta, Kollam and Thiruvanathapuram .
 
The Minister said the destinations have been selected keeping in view the inherent historic, cultural and religious significance of the places. The development works include Community hall, Annadhana Mandapam, Multipurpose hall, toilets, cafeteria, parking facilities, landscaping, pathways, illuminations, signages, dustbins, and so on.
 
The circuit covers religious sites all across the state from Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the northernmost district of Kasargode to the Madre De Deus Church in Thiruvanathapuram, the southernmost district. The Circuit will cover several historical religious sites across the state like the Cheraman Jumah Masjid (Kodungallooor), Koodalmanikyam temple (Irinjalakkuda), St. Thomas Church (Malayattoor) and Thriparayar Sreerama Temple (Thrissur).
 
Alphons said that the sites had been identified after elaborate study and discussions with all stakeholders. He said 60 percent of domestic tourism is related to spiritual circuits. 
 
Swadesh Darshan scheme is one of the flagship schemes of Ministry of tourism for development of thematic circuits in the country in a planned and prioritised manner. Under this scheme, the Government is focussing on development of quality infrastructure in the country with objective of providing better experience and facilities to the visitors on the one hand and on the other hand fostering economic growth. 
 
The scheme was launched in 2014 -15 and as on date the Ministry has sanctioned 77 projects worth projects for Rs. 6131.88 crore to 30 States and UTs. 
 
As many as 30 projects / major components of projects are expected to be completed during the current financial year, of which 10 projects worth Rs.834.22 crore, covering the states of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have already been inaugurated.
 
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Modi to visit Kerala on January 15

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala tomorrow.
 
In Kollam, Prime Minister will inaugurate Kollam bypass on National Highway (NH)-66.  It is a 13 km long 2 lane bypass, with a project cost of Rs. 352 crore. It includes three major bridges over the Ashtamudi Lake, having a total length of 1540 metres. 
 
This project will reduce travel time between Alappuzha and Thiruvananthapuram, and will also decongest traffic in Kollam town, an official press release said.
 
In Thiruvananthapuram, Modi will visit the Padmanabhaswamy Temple . He is likely to unveil a plaque to mark the launch of some visitor facilities.
 
This will be the third official visit of the Prime Minister to Kollam. His first visit to the city was in December 2015, when he unveiled the statue of R. Sankar.  Subsequently, the Prime Minister visited Kollam in April 2016, hours after the fire tragedy.
 
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India's biggest startup incubator opened in Kochi

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India got its largest startup ecosystem on Sunday when Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated here a 1.8-lakh square-feet facility housing incubation set-ups across a string of segments in modern technology.
 
The Integrated Startup Complex under the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) includes ultra modern facilities of Maker Village that promotes hardware startups, the Bionest that promotes medical technologies, BRINC which is the country's first international accelerator for hardware startups; BRIC which aids developing solutions for cancer diagnosis and care, and a Centre of Excellence set up by industry majors such as Unity.
 
Overall the Kerala Government is working for the state to have a total area of 2.3 crore sq ft of IT space (up from 1.3 crore sq ft last year). The opening of the new complex at the Technology Innovation Zone (TIZ) is a major step towards achieving the objective, Mr Vijayan noted in his speech at KINFRA Hi Tech Park, Kalamassery. 
 
 “We are also planning to give direct jobs to 2.5 lakh in IT,” he revealed, adding that the government was working to ensure that information technology fosters social development.
 
After the completion of three more projects, Kerala will have startup and incubation space of 5 lakh sq ft,  which will be largest of these types in the world.
 
No less than 30 applications for patents have gone from startups with the 13.5-acre TIZ, the Chief Minister said, lauding it as a sign of the high-quality work in the zone. Simultaneously, Kerala was sensing increasing optimism in boosting software export from the state.
 
Mr M Sivasankar, Secretary, IT (Kerala), pointed out that the entire space at the TIZ facility has been sold out. “This has never happened in our country, where it usually takes a couple of years for an incubator to get the whole area occupied,” he said. The first three floors of the new complex have been furnished, while the rest of the floors have already got allotted to various startups.”
 
The campus has another incubator complex coming up and it will be open early next year, Mr Sivasankar said. Besides the Maker Village with its 30-odd startups, the facility has nascent firms working in fields such as biotechnology, computer-aided design, augmented/virtual reality and advanced communication.
 
Kalamassery MLA Ebrahim Kunju, in his presidential address, said Kerala has been proving to be a superpower in south India in the field of IT and incubation. “We expect more help from the government in its related endeavours,” he added.
 
Ernakulam MP Prof K V Thomas launched BioNest, which is a startup the KSUM has established in association with Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology with financial aid from BIRAC, under the Union Government’s Department of Biotechnology. It has 20 companies involved in deep research in biotechnology and allied fields.
 
The BRIC, which was inaugurated by Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja, will chiefly work in fighting cancer. The state has 50,000 additions to the number of its cancer patients every year, the minister noted, adding that the BRIC will work in accordance with a Cancer Strategic Action Plan and with funds totaling Rs 350 crore.
 
The other speakers at the function included B S Murthy of the Department of Telecom, Government of India, Institute of Information Technology and Management-Kerala Chairman Madhavan Nambiar and Dr Saji Gopinath, CEO, KSUM, Prasad Radhakrishnan, CEO, Maker Village. 
 
TIZ also has a full-fledged Fab Lab set up in association with MIT, USA and a large ESDM facility for supporting electronics startups working out of Maker Village.
 
Officials pointed out that TIZ was set to become the country’s largest Work-Live-Play space exclusively dedicated to startups. The Maker Village, set up by the IIITM-K in association with KSUM and supported by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, houses 65 startups working in electronics hardware technologies.
 
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