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Manmohan Singh says demonetisation, GST "complete disaster", bullet train "exercise in vanity"

In a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his home turf in poll-bound Gujarat, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today described demonetisation as a "complete disaster" and the proposed Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train as an "exercise in vanity".

 
Demonetisation was organised loot, legalised plunder: Manmohan Singh
In a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his home turf in poll-bound Gujarat, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today described the November 8, 2016 demonetisation of Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 bank notes as a "complete disaster" and the proposed Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train as an "exercise in vanity".
 
Addressing a gathering of businessmen, professionals and traders organised by his party on the current economic situation, Dr. Singh said demonetisation and the "badly designed and hastily implemented" Goods and Service Tax  (GST) were a twin blow that was a "complete disaster" for the economy and broke the abck of small and medium enterprises in India.
 
Stating that he was speaking with a heavy heart, he began his address by invoking the memory of more than 100 people who lost their lives last year in the wake of the demonetisation.
 
"Tomorrow will mark exactly one year since the disastrous policy of demonetisation was thrust on the people of our country. I say with immense pain and a sense of deep responsibility that the 8th of November, 2016 was a black day for our economy and, indeed, for our democracy," he said.
 
In the evening of November 8 last year, Mr. Modi had, in an address to the nation, announced the decision to demonetise Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 bank notes as part of the fight against black money, corruption, terror financing and counterfeit currency notes.
 
"I remember feeling shocked as I heard the Prime Minister's announcement and I wondered who advised him to inflict such a reckless step on our nation and whether any considered thought went into it," Dr. Singh said.
 
He said black money and tax evasion were a menace that the country needed to tackle, but demonetisation was clearly not the solution. 
 
"It has been suggested many times in the past as one of the methods to eradicate blackmoney but as a responsibile government we never took such a drastic measure because, in our reasoned analysis, the costs of demonetisation always exceeded the benefits very substantially.
 
"One must also remember that nowhere in the world has any democracy undertaken such a coercive move withdrawing 86% of the legal tender in one single swoop. Neither would anyone advise to bring out an even more high valued currency note of Rs. 2000 after invalidating 500 and 1000 rupee notes," he said.
 
"We know by now that none of the stated objectives of eliminating black money, terror financing and counterfeit currency has been met. To promote a less cash economy, coercive steps like demonetisation are ineffective. The cash in circulation after one year is close to 90 percent of the previous level. The fact that more than 99 percent of the demonetised currency came back into the banking system has punctured the government's claims. There are also widespread reports of the rich converting their black money into white while the poor have undergone immense suffering," he said.
 
"Demonetisation has proved to be prove mere bluster to reap political dividends while the real offenders have escaped. I repeat, as I stated in Parliament, this was organised loot and legalised plunder," he said.
 
Dr. Singh said people had seen the impact of demonetisation on the economy, with GDP growth rate dropping to 5.7 percent under the new calculation. He said even this was bound to be a gross underestimate as the pain of the informal sector was not adequately captured in the calculation of the GDP.
 
"Every one percent loss of GDP growth rate annually costs our nation 1.5 lakh crore rupees. Think of the human impact from this lost growth, lost jobs, the youth whose opportunities have vanished, the businesses which have shut down, and the entrepreneur whose drive to succeed has turned into disappointment. What is even more tragic is that none of the lessons from this monumental blunder have been learnt by the Modi government," he said.
 
Dr. Singh said that the Government, instead of providing relief to the poor and the marginalised, farmers and traders and small and medium businesses who had borne the brunt of demonetisation, chose to inflict on them "a badly designed and hastily implemented GST".
 
He said that, in the textile hub of Surat alone in south Gujarat, 60,000 looms had been discarded since July. "At the rate of 35 jobs lost for every 100 looms shut, at a simple estimate, more than 21,000 jobs have been lost in just one industrial sector in Surat. The impact in the rest of the country is equally bad if not worse. The supply chains and credit lines of our MSME sectors and industrial clusters have been greatly affected, hampering production," he said.
 
"You are aware of the damage done to the ceramics sector  in Morbi and the industries in Vapi and Rajkot. Overall, as our domestic sector is not able to cope with demand, China is benefited from this situation. In the first half of fiscal year 2016-17, India's imports from China stood at Rs. 1.96 lakh crore. During the same period in fiscal 2017-18, the imports from China increased to Rs. 2.41 lakh crore. This unprecedented increase of imports by more than Rs. 45,000 crore, which is a 23% increase in a year can be attributed largely to demonetisation and the GST. These twin blows damaged India's medium andsmall and medium manufacturing sectors and our businesses had to run to Chinese imports at the cost of Indian jobs," he said.
 
The former Prime Minister said the GST, as envisaged by his government, was supposed to simplify taxation in the country with a single tax capped at 18% to make life easier for businessmen, both big and small. 
 
"The current GST is a great departure from that vision. It has transformed into a complicated mess with multiple slabs and rates as high as 28% along with additional cesses. This was done by the government without paying any heed to our advice, both in Parliament and in private consultations.
 
"Compliance requirements under the GST have become a nightmare for  small businesses. The unending notifications and changes, a repeat of the chaos of demonetisation, have caused needless and endless confusion. Along with demonetisation, GST has sown a deep-rooted fear of tax terrorism among the business community.
 
"At a time when the economy has slowed down considerably, despite favourable global macro-economic conditions, the fear of tax terrorism has eroded the confidence of Indian business to invest," he said.
 
Dr. Singh said the growth in private investment in the country was at a 25-year low and was "terrible for growth of India's economy".
 
"Good governance involves both the head and the heart. It pains me to say that the Union Government has completely failed to do its duty on both fronts," he said.
 
"Let me explain through the example of two of the greatest Gujaratis the world has seen. Mahatma Gandhi, who represents the heart and the soul of our nation, gave us a talisman. He said, 'Whenever you are in doubt, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?'
 
"Did, I ask, the Prime Minister stop to consider the wisdom of the Mahatma in asking the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India to sign on the dotted line or while implementing GST in utter haste? Did he think about the impact on those who toiled in the informal sector, whose earnings have dried up because of the shortage of cash? Did he think about the millions of people who lost their jobs and had to return to their villages in despair. If the Prime Minister had paid his attention to Mahatma Gandhi's talisman, the poor of India would not have suffered the way they did.
 
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"You know that I have seen crippling poverty while growing up on the other side of Punjab before partition. I have also seen the significant strides our great nation has taken in my life time, building on foundations laid by governments from Pandit Nehru to Shastriji to Indiraji to Rajivji, Narsimha Raoji to Vajpayee ji. I can proudly say that when I was Prime Minister, we lifted 140 million people out of poverty, a task no other democracy in the world has achieved in a period of ten years.
 
"Yet, one in two Indians still remain vulnerable, and one blow can make them fall back into poverty. Demonetisation and the GST were two blows that have probably pushed millions back into terrible hardship. so they had to turn to the social safety nets provided by the MGNREGA brought in by  the UPA government," he said.
 
"The other great Gujarati, who is an inspiration to all of us is the great Sardar Vallabhbhai  Patel. He was the force behind uniting India, from 565 disparate princely states to one united glorious nation.When undertaking the endeavour of one nation, one tax, if the Prime Minister had taken inspiration from the resolve and attention to detail of great Sardar Patel, the outcome today would have been very different. 
 
"Bravado and drama are poor substitutes for courage with conviction and the ability to execute well," he said.
 
Dr. Singh recalled that, when his government passed the nuclear deal in his first term, the intelligence and idealism of Nehru, Patel and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi were its guiding lights in its endeavour to end the nuclear apartheid of India and ensure 
 
"When we passed the nuclear deal in UPA-I, the intelligence and  idealism of Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel and Indiraji were our guiding lights in our endeavour to end the nuclear apartheid of India and ensure food security for all Indians. We stood strong on  our principles and even risked our government, while the BJP opposed it.
 
"We got the world to change the rules of the nuclear game in our favour, which is why the people of India supported us fully on the issue of the nuclear deal.
 
"Today, one year after demonetisation, large sections of the country feel they have been taken for a ride by their government, that their trust was betrayed," he said.
 
Dr. Singh said the bullet train was another example of such thinking by the present government was the bullet train. 
 
"It is, sadly, an exercise in vanity and will not benefit either the 6.5 crore people of Gujarat or the Indian nation as a whole," he said.
 
"Rs. 88,000 crore through a soft loan may seek like easy money, but it still needs to be repaid to the Japanese. Gujarati entrepreneurs know very well that if a deal is too good to be true, it is probably not," he said.
 
Dr. Singh said the bullet train project would require the creation of a parallel infrastructure while the existing rail network is languishing and needs the dire infusion of funds and investment to improve both safety and speed.
 
Referring to the several incidents of derailments in recent months, causing the loss of many lives, he said the Modi government had its priorities misplaced.
 
He wondered if the Prime Minister had considered the alternative of introducing high-speed rail across India by upgrading the existing broad gauge infrastructure. He said the UPA government headed by him had requested the Japanese to fund the dedicated freight corridor project and a deal had been signed in 2005. "This project will create a multiplier effect on the economy," he said.
 
Dr Singh said the people must ask questions again and again about the soundness of policy, the lack  transparency in government and such matters.
 
"It saddens me to see that every important issue that affects the lives of crores of citizens is being turned into binaries of black and white. The Congress party has built India into a global economic powerhouse over the past 70 years. We want to ensure that the national interest is upheld and the weaker sections of society are effectively protected," he said.
 
"By questioning the bullet train, does one become anti-development? Is everyone who questions the outcome of demonetisation or GST a tax evader? Does questioning the drop in GDP rate make one an anti-national?
 
"This attitude of suspecting everyone to be a thief or an anti-national, the low level rhetoric, is damaging to democratic discourse and has real consequences for how we relate to one another as citizens. Political leaders must stick to the high road," he said.
 
In a veiled reference to Mr. Modi's oft-repeated statement that Congress governments had done nothing for the country for 70 years, Dr. Singh said every government builds on the foundations of the past.
 
"Pandit Nehru laid the foundation of the Sardar Sarovar Dam (on the Narmada in Gujarat) and various Congress governments took it forward. Water flowed to the Narmada Main Canal the year our present Prime Minister first became Chief Minister of Gujarat  (in 2001). I also remember that when the World Bank cut funding for the project, as Finance Minister of India, I stepped forward to provide the needed funding from the Centre," he recalled.
 
Dr. Singh also hit out at the Modi government for allegedly neglecting the interests of the farmers and spoke at length about the various steps taken by the previous Congress-led UPA government to protect the interests of farmers, tribals, forest dwellers and other vulnerable sections of society.
 
He listed the various steps taken by Modi government and BJP governments in different states to undo some of the measures initiated by the UPA government. "Is it any wonder that ourfarmers and others continue to protest for justice in these states"" he asked.
 
He also talked about the privatisation of education in Gujarat and the fall in standards. He said Gujarat was behind many other states on social indicators such as infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, female literacy. He said the poor quality of education in the state was affecting the competitiveness of otherwise sharp Gujarati youth in the job market.
 
"The recent agitations of the youth, cutting acrosss sections of the society, is an indication of the deep dissatisfaction with the performance of successive BJP governments in Gujarat," he said.
 
"The winds of change are blowing in Gujarat. The Congress party will ensure that the voice of every Gujarati, irrespective of caste, creed, gener or class is  heard and will be heard. Our Congress government will govern with both head and heart, with Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel as our inspiration.
 
"After decades, the time has come for the intelligent and enterprising people of Gujarat to once again repose their faith in the Congress party, which will work together with 6.5 crore Gujaratis to take the state to new heights and a future they truly deserve," he added.
 
Gujarat will to the polls in two phases on December 9 and 14 to elect a new 182-member assembly. The Congress has been out of power in the state for more than two decades.
 
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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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SC says sex with minor wife is rape as it aligns anti-rape, child protection laws

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

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

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

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

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday performed ‘shramdaan’ for the construction of a twin pit toilet at Shahanshahpur village in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the national cleanliness campaign.

 
Governance is not about vote banks: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today performed ‘shramdaan’ for the construction of a twin pit toilet at Shahanshahpur village in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the national cleanliness campaign.
 
Mr. Modi, who was on a two-day visit to his Lok Sabha constituency, interacted with the people, who have resolved to make the village open-defecation-free (ODF). He appreciated their initiative of naming the toilet "Izzat Ghar."
 
Mr Modi also visited a ‘Pashudhan Arogya Mela’ organised at the village. He was briefed on various health and medical activities being performed at the premises. These included surgeries on cattle, ultrasonography, and so on.
 
Addressing a gathering on the occasion, the Prime Minister congratulated Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the State Government for the successful setting up of the Pashudhan Arogya Mela. This is a new effort which would benefit the animal husbandry sector in the State, he said.
 
The increase in milk productivity will lead to economic benefit for the people. Cooperatives can help consolidate the gains in the dairy sector, as has been the case in other parts of the country.
 
Describing the well-being of people as the priority for governance, the Prime Minister reiterated the pledge to double farm incomes by 2022. He noted that soil health cards are benefiting farmers significantly. “Each one of us should resolve to make a positive contribution by 2022, to achieve the India that our freedom fighters dreamt of,” he added.
 
Mr. Modi said the feeling of "cleanliness being our responsibility" needs to be inculcated among all. He said this would go a long way towards ensuring wellness, and protecting the health of the poor. He said Swachhta is like a prayer for him and cleanliness a way to serve the poor.
 
On the first day of his Varanasi visit yesterday, Mr Modi visited the historic Tulsi Manas temple in the evening. He released a postal stamp on “Ramayana,” on this occasion.
 
Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister said stamps have a special place in society. “They are a wonderful way to preserve our history,” he added. The Prime Minister also spoke of how the life and ideals of Lord Rama continue to inspire everyone. He later visited the Durga Mata Temple and Durga Kund.
 
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Mumbai building collapse toll rises to 34, rescue efforts continue

The death toll in Thursday's collapse of an old, dilapidated five-storeyed building in the Bhendi Bazaar area of Mumbai rose to 34 on Friday with the recovery of more bodies from the debris in search and rescue efforts that continued throughout last night.

 
Mumbai building collapse: Death toll reaches 34
The death toll in yesterday's collapse of an old, dilapidated seven-storeyed building in the Bhendi Bazaar area of Mumbai rose to 34 with the recovery of more bodies from the debris in search and rescue efforts that continued throughout last night.
 
At least 12 others suffered injuries in the incident and have been admitted to the nearby J. J. Hospital for treatment, where the condition of some of them was stated to be serious, official sources said.
 
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) Assistant Commissioner J S Ghegadmal told NetIndian over the telephone from the scene that 46 victims had been extricated from the debris, of whom 34 were found dead.
 
With at least two more persons feared trapped under the tonnes of rubble,  scores of men from the Mumbai Fire Brigade, the Municipal Corporation, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and local residents continued to be engaged in massive search and rescue efforts at the scene of the disaster.
 
Cranes, gas cutters and other equipment were being used to clear the debris and cut through the mangled steel and concrete to look for possible survivors.
 
The structure, Husaini Building, was 117 years old, sources said. It was located in a heavily congested area in south Mumbai's C Ward, near the J. J. Junction, and rescue teams with their big vehicles and heavy equipment had a tough time reaching the spot.
 
The building had a playschool on the premises which would have opened at 10 am as usual. However, the building came down at about 8.30 am yesterday, much before the children were scheduled to arrive.
 
This is the third major incident of building collapse in the metropolis in recent weeks. On July 25, at least 17 people died and 11 others suffered injuries when a four-storeyed residential building collapsed in the suburban area of Ghatkopar. On August 26, six people lost their lives when a part of a seven-storeyed under-construction building collapsed at Chandivali while some unauthorised portions of the structure were being demolished.
 
Municipal officials said they received a call about the collapse of the building around 8.40 am yesterday and the fire brigade was immediately rushed to the spot. Police have cordoned off the area to facilitate the smooth conduct of the search and rescue operations.
 
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The incident occurred two days after Mumbai experienced its heaviest rainfall since the July 2005 floods on Tuesday.
 
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis expressed grief over the loss of lives in the incident and is personally monitoring the situation. He visited the site yesterday and announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 5 lakh to the next-of-kin of those who had lost their lives in the collapse.
 
He also ordered a detailed inquiry into the incident by a committee headed by the Additional Chief Secretary (Housing).
 
Mr. Fadnavis has asked the Municipal Commissioner to submit a detailed report on the tragedy. He also asked the Municipal Commissioner to focus on ensuring immediate medical assistance to the injured persons. State Minister Subhash Desai visited the spot and later briefed Mr. Fadnavis about the situation.
 
In Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed sadness over the loss of lives in the tragedy.
 
“Collapse of a building in Mumbai is saddening. My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and prayers with the injured," he said on Twitter.
 
Civic officials said the building had been declared unsafe for living six years ago. The residents had been served with evacuation notices in 2011 and ordered to vacate the building to enable redevelopment of the area under the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) project.
 
"We are extremely saddened and concened about this unfortunate incident, and our thoughts and prayers are with the affected families," a statement from the SBUT said here yesterday.
 
"All the necessary support from SBUT and the disaster management teams, including MCGM, Mumbai Police, Fire Brigade and MHADA are being mobilized towards ensuring the safety of all tenants in the affected area," it said.
 
The SBUT said the ground+six building housed a total of 13 tenants -- 12 residential and one commercial. Out of these, the Trust had already shifted seven families in 2013-14 to the SBUT transit homes.
 
"MHADA notices dated 28-03-2011 and 20-05-2011 declaring  the building dilapidated were issued along with offer of transit accommodation to the remaining tenants and occupants," it said.
 
The 150-year-old Bhendi Bazaar is home to more than 20,000 people. More than 80 percent of the 250 buildings in the locality are old and wornout and have been declared dilapidated and unfit for living by MHADA, the release added.
 
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16 dead, 15 injured, several trapped as five-storeyed building collapses in Mumbai

At least 16 people died and 15 others suffered injuries when an old, dilapidated five-storeyed building collapsed in the Bhendi Bazaar area, near J J Junction, in south Mumbai here this morning, official sources said.

 
16 dead, 15 injured in Mumbai building collapse
At least 16 people died and 15 others suffered injuries when an old, dilapidated five-storeyed building collapsed in the Bhendi Bazaar area, near J J Junction, in south Mumbai here this morning, official sources said.
 
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai Assistant Commissioner J S Ghegadmal told NetIndian over the telephone from the scene that 31 victims had been extricated from the debris, of whom 16 were found dead.
 
The injured were rushed to the nearby J. J. Hospital, where the condition of some of them was stated to be serious, sources said.
 
With several more people feared trapped under the tonnes of debris, scores of men from the Mumbai Fire Brigade, the Municipal Corporation, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and local residents were engaged in massive search and rescue efforts.
 
Cranes, gas cutters and other equipment were being used to clear the debris and cut through the mangled steel and concrete to reach the victims and look for possible survivors.
 
The structure was more than a hundred years old, sources said. It was locted in a heavily congested area in south Mumbai's C Ward, and rescue teams with their big vehicles and heavy equipment had a tough time reaching the spot.
 
The building had a playschool on the premises which would have opened at 10 am as usual. However, the building came down at about 8.30 am, much before the children were scheduled to arrive.
 
This is the third major incident of building collapse in the metropolis in recent weeks. On July 25, at least 17 people died and 11 others suffered injuries when a four-storeyed residential building collapsed in the suburban area of Ghatkopar.
 
On August 26, six people lost their lives when a part of a seven-storeyed under-construction building collapsed at Chandivali while some unauthorised portions of the structure were being demolished.
 
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Municipal officials said they received a call about the collapse of the building around 8.40 am and the fire brigade was immediately rushed to the spot. There was no immediate word on the number of people living in the building and how many of them were trapped under the debris. Police have cordoned off the area to facilitate the smooth conduct of the search and rescue operations.
 
The incident has come two days after Mumbai experienced its heaviest rainfall since the July 2005 floods.
 
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis expressed grief over the loss of lives in the incient and is personally monitoring the situation.
 
He has ordered a detailed inquiry into the incident by a committee headed by the Additional Chief Secretary (Housing).
 
Mr. Fadnavis has asked the Municipal Commissioner to submit a detailed report on the tragedy. He also asked the Municipal Commissioner to focus on ensuring immediate medical assistance to the injured persons. State Minister Subhash Desai visited the spot and later briefed Mr. Fadnavis about the situation.
 
Civic officials said the building had been declared unsafe for living six years ago. The residents had been served with evacuation notices in 2011 and ordered to vacate the building to enable redevelopment of the area under the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) project.
 
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29 killed, 250 injured in violence after Panchkula court convicts Dera Sacha Sauda chief in rape case

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

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

Six coaches of the 18477 Utkal Express, from Puri in Odisha to Haridwar in Uttarakhand, derailed at Khatauli, about 25 km from Muzzafarnagar, in Uttar Pradesh, this evening.
 
The mishap occurred around 5.46 pm today, railway sources said, adding that details of casualties were not immediately available.
 
Television pictures from the scene showed that one of the coaches had climbed on to the top of another coach, and one of its ends had crashed into a building on the side of the track.
 
Gas cutters were being used to cut through the mangled steel to pull out those trapped inside the coaches. 
 
"Our focus right now is on rescue and relief operations. Officers and staff from the nearby railway stations have reached the spot," Ministry of Railways spokesman Anil Saxena told journalists in New Delhi.
 
Khatauli is located on the Meerut-Saharanpur section of the Delhi Division of Northern Railway.
 
"We have geared up our rescue and relief machinery. Senior officials of Delhi Division have rushed to the accident site. Staff and officers from the nearby stations have already reached there," Mr. Saxena said.
 
He said personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) would also reach the site soon.
 
The train had left Puri yesterday and was due to reach Haridwar at 9 pm today, they said.
 
Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu said on micro-blogging site Twitter that he was personally monitoring the situation and had instructed senior officers to reach the spot immediately and ensure speedy rescue and relief operations. He said medical vans had been rushed to the site of the accident.
 
"Have instructed Chairman Rly Board, Member Traffic to oversee rescue and relief operations. I am personally monitoring situation," he said. "Instructed General Manager, other senior officers to ensure all possible help to the people."
 
"In close touch with @CMOfficeUP , State Government officials, district administration to coordinate rescue and relief operations," he said.
 
Mr. Prabhu said he had instructed the Member, Engineering of the Railway Board, the Director General, Health and other senior officers to rush to the scene.
 
"Have ordered inquiry into the unfortunate accident to ascertain the cause. Strict action will be taken against any lapse," he added.
 
Mr. Prabhu said Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha and Minister of State for Water Resources Sanjeev Kumar Baliyan were on their way to the scene of the accident.
 
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told journalists that two State Ministers -- Satish Mahana and Suresh Rana -- have also left for the spot.
 
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Modi interacts with young entrepreneurs at NITI Aayog's Champions of Change initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Manohar Parrikar on Monday resigned as the Defence Minister and will be sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Goa on Tuesday at the head of a BJP-led coalition government that will be formed by the party with the support of regional outfits and independent legislators.

Manohar Parrikar
Manohar Parrikar
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Manohar Parrikar today resigned as the Defence Minister and will be sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Goa tomorrow at the head of a BJP-led coalition government that will be formed by the party with the support of regional outfits and independent legislators.
 
"The President of India, as advised by the Prime Minister, has accepted the resignation of Shri Manohar Parrikar, from the Council of Ministers, with immediate effect, under clause (2) of Article 75 of the Constitution," a press communique from Rashtrapati Bhavan said.
 
Further, as advised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Pranab Mukherjee has also assigned the charge of the Ministry of Defence to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in addition to his existing portfolios, the communique added.
 
Mr. Jaitley held the Defence portfolio as an additional charge in the initial months after the Narendra Modi government assumed office at the Centre in May 2014. He relinquished the charge in November 2014 when Mr. Parrikar, who was Chief Minister of Goa, was shifted to the Centre as the Defence Minister.
 
The Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the elections to the Goa Legislative Assembly, polling for which was held on February 4 and votes counted on March 11, with 17 seats in the 40-member house. 
 
The ruling BJP ended up with 13 seats, with Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar and many of his Cabinet colleagues losing their seats. However, the BJP has managed to get support from two regional outfits -- the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and Goa Forward Party -- which won three seats each as well as two of the three independents. 
 
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The 13 BJP MLAs and the other eight legislators met Governor Mridula Sinha yesterday evening and she later invited Mr. Parrikar to form the new government.  
 
Mr. Parrikar will have to be elected to the State Assembly within six months in keeping with the Constitutional requirements. He is currently a member of the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament, from Uttar Pradesh.
 
For Mr. Parrikar, 61, this will be his third time as Chief Minister of Goa, having first served in that position from October 2000 to February 2005 and then from March 9, 2012 till Novemer 9, 2014. He had also served as Leader of the Opposition in the Goa Legislative Assembly from June 1999 to November 1999 and from June 2005 to March 2012. In all, he was elected six times to the Goa Assembly since 1994. 
 
He has a B.Tech. in Metallurgy from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai and was the first IIT alumnus to serve as the Chief Minister of a state.
 
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Assembly elections: Counting of votes to be taken up on Saturday

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

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

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

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

Tamil Nadu caretaker Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam received a major boost in his open power tussle with ruling AIADMK General Secretary V. K. Sasikala when one of her key supporters and State Minister K. Pandiarajan and party spokesman and former Minister C. Ponnaiyan crossed over into his camp on Saturday.

 
TN Education Minister Pandiarajan backs OPS
Tamil Nadu caretaker Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam received a major boost in his open power tussle with ruling AIADMK General Secretary V. K. Sasikala when one of her key supporters and State Minister K. Pandiarajan and party spokesman and former Minister C. Ponnaiyan crossed over into his camp today.
 
As Ms. Sasikala moved quickly to keep her flock together amidst reports of growing desertions, three Lok Sabha members, V. Sathyabama of Tiruppur, Ashok Kumar of Krishnagiri and P R Sundaram of Namakkal also threw in their lot with Mr. Panneerselvam today.
 
Ms. Sasikala, on the other hand, voicing concern over the delay by Tamil Nadu Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao in responding to her claim to form the next Government in the state, wrote to him again today, seeking an opportunity to parade before him the MLAs supporting her.
 
Mr. Pandiarajan, the state Minister for School Education and Sports and Youth Welfare, arrived at Mr. Panneerselvam's residence, bringing cheer to the large crowd camping there and which has seen its support base growing slowly in the past few days.
 
The decision of Mr. Pandiarajan, one of the founders of well-known recruitment and consultancy firm Ma Foi, to switch loyalties is significant, given the fact that he was one of Ms. Sasikala's most ardent supporters during the past several days of political crisis in the state.
 
An indication of his impending shift was available from a "tweet" he posted on micro-blogging site Twitter this morning.
 
"Will surely listen to the collective voice of my voters & decide in a way to uphold the dignity of Amma's memory & unity of AIADMK!" he said.
 
Mr. Ponnaiyan said Mr. Panneerselvam was capable of leading the party with discipline and of running a corruption-free government.
 
Mr. Panneerselvam's Twitter handle said that state Rural Industries Minister P. Benjamin would shortly visit him to extend his support to him.
 
In her letter to the Governor, Ms. Sasikala noted that she had written to him on February 5 and February 7, seeking an appointment with him.
 
The Governor met her and nine Tamil Nadu Ministers in the evening of February 9 when she formally informed him of her election as the leader of the AIADMK legislature party last Sunday.
 
O. Panneerselvam
O. Panneerselvam
"... I submitted my elaborate presentation to invite me to form the Government as I have absolute majority. Original letter and true copy of the resolution were also handed over to Your Excellency," she said.
 
"Thus, as it has been seven long days since the Chief Minister Thiru. O. P. Panneerselvam submitted and Your Excellency accepted his resignation, taking the urgency of the situation at hand, I would like to seek an appointment with Your Excellency by today along with all MLAs who extended their support to me regarding further course of action to form the Government," she said.
 
"I believe Your Excellency will act immediately to save the sovereignty of the Constitution, democracy and the interest of the state," she added.
 
Ms. Sasikala addressed her supporters outside Veda Nilayam, the Poes Garden residence of the late Ms. Jayalalithaa, and said, "Amma has given me 1.5 crore party brothers and sisters.When they are with me,the sinister intentions of many will not  harm me."
 
"Amma is confident that I will look after AIADMK with all care," she said.
 
She said the relentless work done by Ms. Jayalalithaa had made AIADMK the third largest party. "Amma is with us now. Our Amma is now showing us the betrayers of our party," she said.
 
"People who think they can separate our party which has 1.5 crore people will only face defeat. Amma won over the hurdles, we are facing the same situation,we will also win over it. I believe in justice and democracy," she added.
Later, Ms. Sasikala drove in a motorcade to the resort where about 120 AIADMK MLAs have been staying for the past few days and met them for discussions on their future course of action.
 
"After meeting the party MLAs, I feel happy," she said. "All the party MLAs are fine and happy."
 
She said the "created time lag", in inviting her to form the government, appeared to be intended to create a split in the party.
 
Ms. Sasikala said she and her supporters were "waiting patiently" till now for a response to their claim, adding that "necessary measures will be taken".
 
Mr. K. A. Sengottayan, who has been appointed as the new chairman of the AIADMK Presidium, told journalists at the resort that all the MLAs there would remain with Ms. Sasikala till the end. "Our only aim is to make her the Chief Minister," he said.
 
However, there has been no indication whatsoever from Raj Bhavan in the past few days on when and how the political stalemate would be ended.
 
Even as the two rival groups continued to swipe and snipe at each other, Raj Bhavan clarified yesterday that the Governor had not sent any report to the President or the Ministry of Home Affairs on the political situation in the state.
 
The clarification came after media reports which said that Mr. Rao, who is the Governor of Maharashtra and is holding additional charge as the Governor of Tamil Nadu, had sent a report to the Centre after his meetings with Mr. Panneerselvam and Ms. Sasikala.
 
"Thiru Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, Governor of Tamil Nadu has not sent any report either to the Ministry of Home Affairs or to the President of India, as reported in some of the media," a statement from Raj Bhavan said.
 
Mr. Panneerselvam, 65, had submitted his resignation last Sunday after Ms. Sasikala, 60, a long-time aide of late Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, was chosen by AIADMK MLAs as the new leader of their legislative party and, therefore, his successor. The Governor accepted his resignation on Monday and asked him to continue in office till alternative arrangments were made. 
 
Mr. Panneerselvam had been sworn in as the Chief Minister in the early hours of December 6, 2016 shortly after the death of Ms. Jayalalithaa, who was both the head of the government and the party supremo.
 
The usually reticent and self-effacing Mr. Panneerselvam made a surprise visit to the memorial of Ms. Jayalalithaa late in the night last Tuesday and then told waiting newspersons that he had been forced to resign and that he was willing to continue as Chief Minister if the people and the party so wished.
 
Ms. Sasikala was widely expected to be sworn in on Tuesday, but the Governor has not yet taken a final view on the situation confronting the state. Mr. Rao, who reached here from Mumbai on Thursday afternoon, met ten-member delegations led by the rivals, Mr. Panneerselvam and Ms. Sasikala, later that day.
 
While Mr. Panneerselvam told the Governor that he was forced to quit as Chief Minister and that he should be allowed to continue and take a floor test in the Assembly, Ms. Sasikala submitted to Mr. Rao a list of about 130 of the AIADMK's 135 MLAs and staked claim to forming the next Government.
 
The Governor is understood to be consulting legal and Constitutional experts and weighing his options.
 
Yesterday, Mr. Rao met State Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan and Director General of Police T. K. Rajendran as well as Chennai Police Commissioner S. George amidst complaints by the Panneerselvam camp that the Sasikala group was holding about 120 MLAs at a nearby resort, many of them against their will.
 
V. K. Sasikala
V. K. Sasikala
DMK working president and leader of the Opposition M. K. Stalin met Mr Rao yesterday and submitted a representation in which he said the state administration could not be allowed to drift any further. He urged the Governor to take steps to ensure that a democratically and Constitutionally valid government was in place at the earliest through a free and fair floor test.
 
Meanwhile, Ms. Sasikala yesterday expelled AIADMK presidium chairman E. Madhusudanan from the primary membership of the party, a day after he threw in his lot with Mr. Panneerselvam. Mr. K. A. Sengottayan has been appointed as the new chairman of the presidium.
 
Mr. Madhusudanan, on his part, wrote to the Election Commission stating that Ms. Sasikala's election as General Secretary of the party was in violation of its rules and urging it to reject her claims in this regard.
 
Mr. Panneerselvam had said on Thursday that he would issue orders to convert Veda Nilayam, the Poes Garden residence of late Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, into a memorial for her. The announcement assumes significance in view of the fact that Ms. Sasikala is functioning from that house.
 
To take this a step further, his camp has launched a signature campaign outside his residence on the proposal.
 
Two days after Ms. Sasikala removed him from the post of AIADMK treasurer, Mr. Panneerselvam on Thursday also wrote to banks asking them to not allow any one to access the party funds without his written permission. He said his removal from the post of treasurer was illegal.
 
Mr. Panneerselvam has been always regarded as a trusted lieutenant of Ms. Jayalalithaa and had stood in for her as Chief Minister twice when she faced crises.
 
Among those who have openly come out to support Mr. Panneerselvam is AIADMK Rajya Sabha member V. Maitreyan and former Tamil Nadu Assembly speaker P. H. Pandian.
 
There has been opposition to Ms. Sasikala's elevation from a section of the public, in social media and from the Opposition in the state. They point to the fact that she has never contested any election and has no administrative experience. They also point to the fact that an appeal against her acquittal in a two-decade-old corruption case is pending before the Supreme Court and its verdict could be delivered as early as next week.
 
Ms. Sasikala and two others were co-accused with Ms. Jayalalithaa in the case, in which they were all acquitted by the Karnataka High Court in May 2015. The two others are her nephew Sudhakaran, who is Ms. Jayalalithaa's disowned foster son, and her close relative Ilavarasi.
 
The Karnataka High Court had allowed Ms. Jayalalithaa's appeal against the verdict of a special court in Bangalore which had, on September 23, 2014, sentenced her to four years in prison and asked her to pay a fine of Rs 100 crore. The special court had sentenced Ms. Sasikala, Sudharakan and Ilavarasi  also to four years in prison and fined them Rs 10 crore each.
 
Ms. Jayalalithaa was admitted to the Apollo Hospital here on September 22 and died on December 5 after a sudden cardiac arrest. Doctors who treated her had told a press conference here on Monday that the AIADMK leader had been treated for septicemia and a host of other medical problems.
 
Mr. Panneerselvam was Finance Minister in Ms. Jayalalithaa's Cabinet and was also handling all the portfolios held by her after she was hospitalised on September 22.
 
He had stood in as Chief Minister for Ms. Jayalalithaa twice in the past. On September 29, 2014, he took over the position when Ms. Jayalalithaa resigned after being sentenced to four years in prison by a special court in Bangalore in a corruption case. Ms. Jayalalithaa returned to office on May 23, 2015, twelve days after the Karnataka High Court acquitted her in the 19-year-old corruption case.
 
He had earlier served as Chief Minister for a brief period from September 21, 2001 to March 1, 2002 after the Supreme Court had declared null and void the action of then Governor Fatima Beevi appointing Ms Jayalalithaa to the position as she had been sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment in another corruption case. Ms Jayalalithaa was cleared of all charges in 2002 and returned as Chief Minister.
 
Ms. Sasikala's control over the party was in evidence in the manner in which she carried out Ms. Jayalalithaa's last rites and then took hold of the reins of the AIADMK a few days later. Since then, there has been a clamour from a group within the AIADMK that, after being chosen as the new General Secretary, she should also take charge of the Government. Ms. Jayalalithaa held both the posts and they argued that it was better if the same person held both positions.
 
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Panneerselvam's resignation accepted, Sasikala likely to be sworn in on Tuesday

Tamil Nadu Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao on Monday accepted the resignation of Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and his Council of Ministers and his successor, Ms. V. K. Sasikala, a long-time aide of late AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa, is expected to be sworn in on Tuesday.

V. K. Sasikala
V. K. Sasikala
Tamil Nadu Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao today accepted the resignation of Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and his Council of Ministers and his successor, Ms. V. K. Sasikala, a long-time aide of late AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa, is expected to be sworn in tomorrow.
 
The Governor requested Mr. Panneerselvam and his Council of Ministers to continue to function until alternate arrangements are made, a press release from the Raj Bhavan said.
 
Mr. Panneerselvam, 65, had resigned from office yesterday after the ruling All India Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) legislature party met here and chose Ms. Sasikala as its new leader.
 
Ms. Sasikala, 60, is expected to be sworn in as the new Chief Minister of the State tomorrow morning at a function at the Madras University auditorium. 
 
Mr. Panneerselvam had been sworn in as the Chief Minister of the state in the early hours of December 6, succeeding Ms. Jayalalithaa who passed away at a private hospital here late night on December 5.
 
"Chinnamma elected as the AIADMK Legislature Party Leader," the AIADMK had said on micro-blogging site Twitter yesterday. Ms. Sasikala is referred to as "Chinamma" by party workers, just as Ms. Jayalalithaa was called "Amma".
 
It said Mr. Panneerselvam himself, known to be a long-time Jayalalithaa loyalist, had proposed Ms. Sasikala's name as the new leader of the AIADMK legislature party leader.
 
"Chinnamma all set to become the next Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu," the party said.
 
Ms. Sasikala had then made a brief appearance in the balcony of Ms. Jalayalalithaa's residence in Poes Garden here, dressed in a green saree and blouse, the AIADMK's colour, and greeted the crowds gathered outside with a "namaste" and then the "V" sign.
 
She later drove to the AIADMK headquarters where she said that it was Mr. Panneerselvam who had urged her first to take charge as General Secretary of the party and it was he who insisted, first, that she become the Chief Minister of the state. Ms. Sasikala has never held any position in Government before nor has she ever contested any elections.
 
She assured the people that her government would always work for the welfare of the people. "Tamil Nadu Government will follow the principles of Amma," she said.
  
Mr. Panneerselvam, 65, was Finance Minister in Ms. Jayalalithaa's Cabinet and was also handling all the portfolios held by her after she was admitted to the Apollo Hospital here on September 22.
 
Mr. Panneerselvam had stood in as Chief Minister for Ms. Jayalalithaa twice in the past. On September 29, 2014, he took over the position when Ms. Jayalalithaa resigned after being sentenced to four years in prison by a special court in Bangalore in a corruption case. Ms. Jayalalithaa returned to office on May 23, 2015, twelve days after the Karnataka High Court acquitted her in the 19-year-old corruption case.
 
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He had earlier served as Chief Minister for a brief period from September 21, 2001 to March 1, 2002 after the Supreme Court had declared null and void the action of then Governor Fatima Beevi appointing Ms Jayalalithaa to the position as she had been sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment in another corruption case. Ms Jayalalithaa was cleared of all charges in 2002 and returned as Chief Minister.
 
Ms. Sasikala's control over the party was in evidence in the manner in which she carried out Ms. Jayalalithaa's last rites and then took hold of the reins of the AIADMK a few days later. Since then, there has been a clamour from a group within the AIADMK that, after being chosen as the new General Secretary, she should also take charge of the Government. Ms. Jayalalithaa held both the posts and they argued that it was better if the same person held both positions.
 
Ms. Sasikala, along with her nephew Sudhakaran, who is Ms. Jayalalithaa's disowned foster son, and her close relative Ilavarasi , were  co-accused with Ms. Jayalalithaa in an 18-year-old corruption case, in which they were all acquitted by the Karnataka High Court in May 2015. An appeal against the acquittal is pending before the Supreme Court and its verdict in the matter is awaited.
 
The Karnataka High Court had allowed Ms. Jayalalithaa's appeal against the verdict of a special court in Bangalore which had, on September 23, 2014, sentenced her to four years in prison and asked her to pay a fine of Rs 100 crore. The special court had sentenced Ms. Sasikala, Sudharakan and Ilavarasi  also to four years in prison and fined them Rs 10 crore each.
 
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Sasikala Natarajan set to be new CM of Tamil Nadu

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) General Secretary Sasikala Natarajan, a long-time friend and companion of late party supremo J. Jayalithaa, is all set to become the new Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu after the party's MLAs met in Chennai and chose her as the leader of its legislature party.

 
Sasikala Natarajan appointed legislative party leader of AIADMK
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) General Secretary Sasikala Natarajan, a long-time friend and companion of late party supremo J. Jayalithaa, is all set to become the new Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu after the party's MLAs met here today and chose her as the leader of its legislative party.
 
She will succeed Mr. O. Panneerselvam, senior leader of the ruling AIADMK, who was sworn in as the Chief Minister of the state in the early hours of December 6, succeeding Ms. Jayalalithaa who passed away at a private hospital here late night on December 5.
 
"Chinnamma elected as the AIADMK Legislature Party Leader," the AIADMK said on micro-blogging site Twitter. 
 
Ms. Sasikala, 60, is referred to as "Chinamma" by party workers, just as Ms. Jayalalithaa was called as "Amma". It said Mr. Panneerselvam had proposed Ms. Sasikala's name as the new leader of the AIADMK legislature party leader.
 
"Chinnamma all set to become the next Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu," the party said.
 
Ms. Sasikala made a brief appearance in the balcony of Ms. Jalayalalithaa's residence in Poes Garden here, dressed in a green saree and blouse, the AIADMK's colour, and greeted the crowds gathered outside with a "namaste" and then the "V" sign.
 
Ms. Sasikala later drove to the AIADMK headquarters where she said that it was Mr. Panneerselvam who had urged her first to take charge as General Secretary of the party and it was he who insisted, first, that she become the Chief Minister of the state. Ms. Sasikala has never held any position in Government before nor has ever contested any elections.
 
She assured the people that her government would always work for the welfare of the people. "Tamil Nadu Government will follow the principles of Amma," she said.
 
She is expected to meet Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao in the next day or two and stake claim to form the next government in the state.
 
Mr. Panneerselvam, 65, was Finance Minister in Ms. Jayalalithaa's Cabinet and was also handling all the portfolios held by her after she was admitted to the Apollo Hospital here on September 22.
 
Mr. Panneerselvam had stood in as Chief Minister for Ms. Jayalalithaa twice in the past. On September 29, 2014, he took over the position when Ms. Jayalalithaa resigned after being sentenced to four years in prison by a special court in Bangalore in a corruption case. Ms. Jayalalithaa returned to office on May 23, 2015, twelve days after the Karnataka High Court acquitted her in the 19-year-old corruption case.
 
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He had earlier served as Chief Minister for a brief period from September 21, 2001 to March 1, 2002 after the Supreme Court had declared null and void the action of then Governor Fatima Beevi appointing Ms Jayalalithaa to the position as she had been sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment in another corruption case. Ms Jayalalithaa was cleared of all charges in 2002 and returned as Chief Minister.
 
Ms. Sasikala's control over the party was in evidence in the manner in which she carried out Ms. Jayalalithaa's last rites and then took hold of the reins of the AIADMK a few days later. Since then, there has been a clamour from a group within the AIADMK that, after being chosen as the new General Secretary, she should also take charge of the Government. Ms. Jayalalithaa held both the posts and they argued that it was better if the same person held both positions.
 
Ms. Sasikala, along with her nephew Sudhakaran, who is Ms. Jayalalithaa's disowned foster son, and her close relative Ilavarasi , were  co-accused with Ms. Jayalalithaa in an 18-year-old corruption case, in which they were all acquitted by the Karnataka High Court in May 2015. An appeal against the acquittal is pending before the Supreme Court and its verdict in the matter is awaited.
 
The Karnataka High Court had allowed Ms. Jayalalithaa's appeal against the verdict of a special court in Bangalore which had, on September 23, 2014, sentenced her to four years in prison and asked her to pay a fine of Rs 100 crore. The special court had sentenced Ms. Sasikala, Sudharakan and Ilavarasi  also to four years in prison and fined them Rs 10 crore each.
 
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Punjab, Goa go to the polls to elect new legislative assemblies

Punjab and Goa went to the polls on Saturday to elect new state legislative assemblies -- the first two of five states holding crucial elections midway through the five-year term of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and two months after the November 8 demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 bank notes.

 
Voters queue to cast their votes amidst tight security
Punjab and Goa went to the polls today to elect new state legislative assemblies -- the first two of five states holding crucial elections midway through the five-year term of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and two months after the November 8 demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 bank notes.
 
Voters began queueing outside polling stations in both states from early morning and their numbers were steadily increasing as the day progressed. 
 
Voting, which began at 7 am in Goa and at 8 am in Punjab, will end at 5 pm in both states.
 
Polling also took place today for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, which fell vacant after the resignation of Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh.
 
The Punjab Assembly has 117 seats and the Goa Assembly 40 seats and both states have single-phase polling today.
 
Uttarakhand will have single-phase polling on February 15, Manipur will have polling in two phases on March 4 and 8 and Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state, will have polling in seven phases between February 11 and March 8.
 
Counting of votes in all the five states will be taken up on March 11 and all the results are expected by late evening that day.
 
The terms of the Goa and Punjab assemblies are due to expire on March 18.
 
The Election Commission has made elaborate arrangements for smooth, free and fair elections in both the states.
 
Punjab has a total of 19879069 voters, including 10503108 males and  9375546 females. There are 1145 candidates in the fray, including 81 women and one of the third gender. The Election Commission has set up 22,615 polling stations across the state.
 
In Goa, there are a total of  1110884 electors, including 546742 men and 564142 women. A total of 251 candidates, including 19 women, are in the fray.  The Commission has set up 1642 polling stations across the state.
 
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making a determined effort for another term in office in Goa, while the Congress is hoping to come back to power in Goa. The three-party alliance forged by Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Goa Suraksha Manch and Shiv Sena is the other major player in the state.
 
Similarly in Punjab, the Congress is trying to wrest power back from the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine, which has been in office for a decade.
 
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The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the ruling party in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, has gone all out to emerge as the alternative to the established players in both the states.
 
In Punjab, SAD leader and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, 89, is seeking re-election for the sixth time. He will face Capt. Amarinder Singh, the chief ministerial candidate of the Congress, in the Lambi constituency. The Congress leader is also contesting the elections from his traditional seat of Patiala, where his opponent is former Army chief Gen J J Singh, a candidate of the SAD.
 
The Chief Minister's son Sukhbir Singh will face AAP's Bhagwant Mann, MP, who is his party's likely chief ministerial candidate, in Jalalabad.
 
Former Indian Test cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, who joined the Congress weeks ahead of the polls, is contesting from Amritsar East, a part of the Amrtisar Lok Sabha constituency that he represented in Parliament as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for two terms.
 
Prominent candidates in Goa include Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar (BJP) and five former Chief Ministers -- Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat, Pratapsinh Rane and Luizinho Faleiro (Congress) and Churchill Alemao (NCP). There have been indications that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar might return to Goa as Chief Minister if the BJP retains power.
 
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Jayalalithaa's condition remains "grave" after suffering cardiac arrest on Sunday

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

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

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, who has been undergoing treatment at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai for the last three months for a lung infection, suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening, the hospital said.

 
Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa suffers cardiac arrest
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, who has been undergoing treatment at the Apollo Hospital here for the last three months for a lung infection, suffered a cardiac arrest this evening, the hospital said.
 
"The Hon'ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nau who is undergoing treatment at Apollo Hospitals, Greams Road, Chennai, suffered a cardiac arrest this evening," the hospital said in a statement late tonight.
 
"She is being treated and monitored by a team of experts, including Cardiologists, Pulmonologists and the Critical Care Specialists," the statement added.
 
The hospital said Ms. Jayalalithaa was on extracorporeal membrane heart assist device and was being treated by a team of expert doctors and critical care specialists.
 
The hospital said Dr Richard Beale from London had also been consulted and he had concurred with the line of treatment by its cardiologists and pulmonologists.
 
"Our prayers are with her and we hope she will recover soon. We request all of you to pray for her good health and well being. The Hon'ble CM is the beloved leader of the masses. Please join us in praying for her speedy recovery," the hospital said in a series of posts on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Tamil Nadu Governor Chennamaneni Vidyasagar Rao, to inquire about Ms. Jayalalithaa's heath.
 
Mr. Rao, who is the Governor of Maharashtra, is holding additional charge of Tamil Nadu, since August 31 following the end of the tenure of Mr. K. Rosaiah. He told Mr. Rajnath Singh that he would leave for Chennai tonight.
 
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Hundreds of workers of Ms. Jayalalithaa's party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), her supporters and leaders of the party began converging outside the hospital after hearing of the news of her cardiac arrest. Police stepped up security arrangements outside the hospital as a precautionary measure.
 
Earlier in the day, the AIADMK had said that Ms. Jayalalithaa would soon decide when she would leave hospital and return home after doctors had declared that she had fully recovered.
 
The hospital has said several times in the past few weeks that the Chief Minister, called "Amma" by her supporters, was well enough to return home whenever she wanted. Her party said she was involved in taking government decisions and also speaking on occasion to those who were allowed to meet her.
 
Ms. Jayalalithaa was admitted to the hospital on September 27 for treatment of dehydration and fever. Later, there were reports that she was also being treated for a chronic lung infection and that he had been put on respiratory support. Specialist doctors from London and Delhi had been flown in to monitor her condition.
 
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Parliament paralysed for seventh day as demonetization woes continue

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

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

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

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