EC committed to providing conducive environment in Bengal for polls

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora on Friday said the Commission was fully committed to providing a safe and conducive environment to conduct the coming general elections in West Bengal.

Arora was here along with the full bench of the Election Commission of India (ECI) since the last two days to oversee poll preparedness in the state.

“After holding meetings with all political parties yesterday (Thursday), the ECI has taken note of all their concerns regarding security.

“The ECI is committed to providing safe and conducive environment during the elections. It has asked the administration that effective monitoring and vigilance be done and concerns of the political parties be addressed,” Arora told the media here.

He said that along with the norm of appointing general and expenditure observers, the Commission will also appoint accessibility observers for the first time during the coming elections.

It has also proposed intensive action plans to enable adequate confidence building among the voters.

“Bengal is an emotional place. It has been at the pinnacle of culture and traditions and so on… But if those emotions get channelised in the direction of violence, the EC will intervene,” the Commissioner said.

“I have asked the District Magistrates and police officers to ensure speedy execution of non-bailable warrants and disposal of pending cases from the last elections.”

He said the Commission has directed the officials to make electoral rolls error free and identify the expenditure in sensitive constituencies.

Arora said VVPATs will be used along with EVM machines at all polling booths in the state for the first time.

“The Chief Electoral Officer in this state has been directed to organise review and awareness campaigns at the booth level,” he added.

EC committed to providing conducive environment in Bengal for polls



Do you think Telugus have no masculinity, Naidu asks Centre

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu on Friday launched a scathing attack on the Centre and asked if it thinks Telugu people have no masculinity.

“Do you think Telugus have no masculinity?” Naidu asked in an angry tone while speaking in the Assembly over the Centre not fulfilling the commitments made to the state including grant of special category status.

Naidu blasted Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vishnu Kumar Raju for his claim that the Modi government had done more for the state than what it had promised.

Naidu, also the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President, challenged Raju to show what the Centre had given to the state.

He asked the BJP leader to compare the assistance provided to Andhra Pradesh with the funds given to Gujarat and other states.

The Chief Minister told the BJP leader that he is not fit to be a public representative.

Naidu, who was wearing black shirt to protest the Centre’s “unjust attitude” toward the state, vowed to continue the fight for justice. “We are not going to rest. We will not allow BJP leaders to move around,” the TDP chief warned.

He demanded to know what development south India achieved during BJP rule.

Naidu said M. Venkaiah Naidu was a union minister from the south but because of ‘their’ anger he was made the Vice-President.

“Only God knows whether this was a promotion or punishment for him,” he added.

Do you think Telugus have no masculinity, Naidu asks Centre



Modi government only knows ‘pakodanomics’; Chidambaram

Pointing out that the Interim Budget announced on Friday is “silent” on jobs and education, former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram ridiculed the Modi government saying all it understands is “pakodanomics”.

“Two words that are missing from the Budget speech are education and jobs. In the 10 point vision document presented by Finance Minister (Piyush Goyal), there is nothing about education, nothing about jobs.

“There is nothing about jobs because if they say anything about jobs the youth will dismiss it as ‘pakodanomics’.

“The only thing this government knows about jobs is ‘pakodanomics’,” said Chidambaram, referring to the term coined after Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that street vendors selling ‘pakodas’ should also be considered as employed.

The Congress veteran also dismissed the NITI Aayog’s defence of the government “suppressing” a report that showed the unemployment rate at a 45-year high.

“The NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) report has revealed that unemployment for 2017-18 stood at 6.1 per cent which is highest in 45 years.

“The NSSO data is never approved by the Prime Minister or the cabinet.

“The CSO (Central Statistics Office) is an autonomous body which collects statistics and releases its reports.

“But the Niti Aayog Vice Chairman suddenly comes up with this theory that NSSO data must be approved by the government before it is released.

“The data shows unemployment to be highest in 45 years and the government doesn’t have a word about jobs in the budget speech. The government doesn’t have a word on what it intends to do about reforming education both quantitative and qualitative.”

He questioned Goyal for using Hindi and English simultaneously in his budget speech.

“I am a strong supporter of the use of Hindi and English as official languages, but no one intended that the two languages should be used alternately or simultaneously.

“Those who knew only Hindi did not understand one half of the Budget Speech and those who knew only English did not understand the other half.

“Perhaps that was the real intention of the government: leave the people confused at least for a day. The mist that wraps this Budget will lift by tomorrow and the people will see the desperation and recklessness of the government,” he added.



Not Vote on Account but Account for Votes; Chidambaram

Former Finance Minister and Congress veteran P. Chidambaram on Friday described the Interim Budget as an “Account for Votes” and not a Vote on Account and said the Modi government has further weakened fiscal stability.

“It was not a Vote on Account but an Account for Votes,” Chidambaram told the media here.

“It was a full-fledged Budget accompanied by an election campaign speech. By doing so, the government has trampled on time-honoured conventions,” he said.

He added that the government had no hope of returning to power and had, therefore, “acted desperately and recklessly, and in violation of the Constitution”.

He said the big takeaway was that the present government had “further weakened fiscal stability”.

“For the second year in succession, the government has missed the Fiscal Deficit target. The revised estimate shows a slippage from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent. Worse, for 2019-20 too, the government has proposed an FD of 3.4 per cent. The government has thrown the FRBM Act out of the window.

“Similarly, the government will end the year with a Current Account Deficit (CAD) of 2.5 per cent as against the CAD in the previous year of 1.9 per cent,” said Chidambaram.

“Both numbers for the current year and the estimate of FD for 2019-20 point to incompetent fiscal management and a disdain for fiscal prudence,” he said.

Pointing to the “last-gasp” announcements including a scheme for welfare of cows, a new Department of Fisheries and pension scheme for unorganised workers, Chidambaram asked: “If these were important and necessary interventions, what was the government doing for five years?”

He also questioned the “measly” farmers’ income support.

“The government’s desperation is proved by its announcement of the Farmers’ Income Support Scheme to provide a measly sum Rs 6,000 per year to every small/medium farmer. The Fiscal Deficit numbers are telling.

“By recklessly breaching fiscal discipline, the government will fund the scheme this year entirely out of borrowed money of Rs 20,000 crore. Next year too, the scheme will be funded entirely out of borrowed money of Rs 75,000 crore.

“While I welcome the support to farmers, I ask what about the non-farmer poor? What about the urban poor,” he asked.

He said the new scheme was intended to help the farmer, but in reality it will also help the absentee landlord.

“I would like to ask how the government will reach the money to the tenant-farmer and farm labourer who actually tills the land,” he added.



Imitation best form of flattery says K.T. Rama Rao

Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) Working President K.T. Rama Rao on Friday reacted to the Centre announcing a direct cash transfer scheme for farmers on the lines of the state’s “Rythu Bandhu” scheme.

Rama Rao, son of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrshekhar Rao, tweeted that he is “glad that the farmers of India are going to be helped by the Rythu Bandhu”, the brainchild of KCR.

While presenting the Interim Budget for 2019-20 in the Lok Sabha earlier in the day, Finance Minister Piyush Goyal announced the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Yojna to provide income support to small farmers.

Under this scheme, every farmer owning less than two hectares of land will get Rs 6,000 per year in three equal instalments.

“The name may have been changed by the NDA government, in spirit it remains the trimmed version of the ‘Rythu Bandhu’. Jai Kisan,” added Rama Rao, popularly known as KTR.

Under the scheme, farmers in Telangana irrespective of their land holding are getting Rs 8,000 per acre annually, at the rate of Rs 4,000 per acre per crop.

Imitation best form of flattery: KTR



For those in Ayodhya, Modi can make Ram temple a reality

The jury may be out on whether Narendra Modi will lead the NDA back to power. But, for those thronging the Ram Janmabhoomi (RJB) site at this temple town he is “the only man who will get the Ram temple constructed”.

For 19-year-old Suraj, who sells rosaries (beaded maalas) and other religious items near the barricade of the ‘isolated zone’ of the RJB, there is only one man who can get the temple built – Modi.

Ramesh Maali, who has come with his friend Ram Niyaad Pandya from Ajmer, said: “Only the Prime Minister appears serious in doing this.”

Septuagenerian Chattrapal who sells religious books like the Ramayan and Gita – came across as a disappointed soul but somewhat hopeful too.

Angry at the political class for the inordinate delay in the construction of the temple, he asked: Will the political class build the Ram temple?”

A self-professed fan of Subhas Chandra Bose, he fumed at the Congress and blamed it for the delay in temple construction.

Sumitra, who is from Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh and is on his twelfth visit to the RJB, said she and her family are certain that Modi would help build the temple.

Raunak Pandey, from Lucknow, on his maiden visit to the temple town with his family echoed similar sentiments. He was in class 2 when the 16th-century Babri mosque was razed in 1992. He admitted that before his visit to RJB on Thursday he had little idea of how much the issue mattered to millions of Hindus.

Ram Nath Pandey from Jaswantnagar, Etawah, who is back from Kumbh and made a stopover in Ayodhya, was, however, doubtful on the timeline of the Ram temple’s construction.

“Modi is sincere but what of the other politicians?” he asked.

Everyone was busy creating and appeasing vote banks, Pandey said as he negotiated his way through the rusted iron-grilled corridors leading to the Ram Lalla’s makeshift temple under a tent.

Fourteen-year-old Bimal Narayan Das, who is learning priesthood at the fabled Hanumangarhi temple, however, has a different take on the issue. “Not Modi, Not Rahul Gandhi…the temple will be built only when Hanumanji wills,” he says.

For those in Ayodhya, Modi can make Ram temple a reality



Paswan calls Interim Budget ‘second surgical strike’

Union Minister and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan called the Interim Budget 2019-20 the “second surgical strike” by the NDA government and said the opposition leaders looked “despondent”.

“The first surgical strike occurred on the border. Jawans fought it with bullets. Here, we will fight with ballots. People will decide that the NDA wins 400 seats. Narendra Modiji will be the Prime Minister (again),” he told reporters outside Parliament.

“Has anybody ever thought of such a big step for farmers?” he asked.

Equating the Budget with cricket, Paswan said it was “a sixer” and the opposition would not be able “to find the ball” until the Lok Sabha elections.



Balanced budget will stimulate India’s growth; Parrikar

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on Friday congratulated the Modi government for presenting a budget that will stimulate India’s economic growth.

“A balanced budget that will uplift every section of the society and further stimulate India’s economic growth. Farmers, poor, middle class and youth are all set to benefit from #BudgetForNewIndia,” Parrikar tweeted.



High Court rejects plea to advance hearing on JNMF issue

The Delhi High Court on Friday rejected the Central government’s plea for getting an early hearing on the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund (JNMF) application challenging the eviction notice issued by the government.

The court said the matter will be heard on February 19, the next date fixed for hearing on January 23.

The JNMF has challenged the October 2018 eviction notice.

The Central government on Tuesday moved the Delhi High Court for getting an early hearing on the issue.

The government said the JNMF was in possession of the property due to the court’s stay order.

The hearing must be advanced or the authorities should be allowed to proceed under law against the JNMF, the government said.

Earlier, the court had stayed the estate officer’s notice to vacate the premises.

The JNMF, in its plea, alleged that the proceedings initiated by the Estate Officer was designed to destroy Nehru’s legacy and contributions and attempted to create a new narrative.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund formally came into being on August 17, 1964 under the chairmanship of Dr S. Radhakrishnan, the then President of India, and is located at Teen Murti House.

The Fund had been asked to vacate the Teen Murti Bhavan saying that Nehru Memorial Museum Library (NMML) is in “dire need of space”. It has been alleged that the Memorial Fund is occupying the premises “without any authority of law”.



MPs chant ‘Modi, Modi’ over tax exemptions on Friday

BJP members and their allies brought the Lok Sabha down thumping tables and chanting “Modi, Modi” when Finance Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday announced a tax exemption for people earning less than Rs 5 lakh annually.

The Minister prefaced his remarks with concerns for the middle class and made the pre-election budget announcement with a bonanza for those who mostly constitute the salaried and pensioners.

The announcement was met with loud thumping of desks by a majority of parliamentarians and a beaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi did not seem impressed by the move.

The thumping soon gave way to loud chants of “Modi, Modi” by the treasury benches. Goyal could resume his speech only after the chanting abated.

MPs chant 'Modi, Modi' over tax exemptions



Nude protest against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

Three men on Friday staged a nude protest near the Secretariat here in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

The protesters were swiftly removed by security personnel, police said.

Protests against the Bill have enveloped virtually the entire north-eastern region since the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8.

The Bill seeks to provide Indian citizenship to six non-Muslim minority groups from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The fear in the northeast is that if this is done, “outsiders” will overwhelm the locals in the region.

A nude protest was also staged last month by 10 Assamese youths in front of Parliament in the national capital.



Rs 6,000 investment support to farmers says Goyal


New Delhi, Feb 1 (IANS) Finance Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday announced direct annual income support of Rs 6,000 to farmers with land holding of two hectares.

Presenting the Interim Budget for 2019-20 in the Lok Sabha, Goyal said the Pradhan Mantri Fund Scheme has been constituted with an aim to double farmers’ income by 2022.

He said Rs 75,000 crore will be allocated for the scheme for 2019-20 and Rs 20,000 crore has been set apart in the revised estimates for the current year 2018-19.

The money will be transferred in three instalments through direct benefit transfer. The scheme, to be implemented from December 1, 2018, will be notified shortly.

He also said that Rs 1.7 lakh crore has been allocated on food subsidy and Rs 60,000 crore for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.



Andhra CM wears black shirt to protest against Centre

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu on Friday wore a black shirt to protest against the Centre’s “step motherly” treatment to the state and for not fulfilling its promises including granting special category status.

Naidu, also the President of the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP), reached the Assembly wearing the black shirt and white pants.

His cabinet colleagues including his son and Information Minister Nara Lokesh and all other party legislators also wore black.

The Chief Minisger wore black to the Assembly as a sign of protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “step-motherly treatment meted out to Andhra Pradesh and for breaking all promises made including #SpecialStatus”, tweeted Lokesh.

According to TDP sources, this was the first time Naidu wore a black shirt. He is usually seen wearing white, cream or yellow coloured clothes. Even when he was in the opposition, he confined to wearing a black badge in protest.

The TDP leaders also expressed solidarity with a day-long shutdown called in the state by Pratyeka Hoda Sadhana Samithi (PHSS), which is fighting for the special status to the state.

Earlier, during a teleconference with TDP leaders, Naidu said that demonstrations would be held in the state till February 10. The next day he will head to New Delhi where he would lead a protest.

The protests in the national capital would continue till February 14.



Shutdown in Andhra Pradesh over demand for special status

Normal life was paralysed across Andhra Pradesh on Friday due to a day-long shutdown called over demands for a special category status to the state.

The ruling Telugu Desdam Party (TDP), Congress, Left parties and mass organisations backed the shutdown called by Pratyeka Hoda Sadhana Samithi (PHSS), which is fighting for special status to the state. Students and workers groups have also extended support.

PHSS chairman Chalasani Srinivas said on the day when the Union Budget was being presented in Parliament, the shutdown was called to draw the nation’s attention towards the plight of Andhra Pradesh due to the Centre not fulfilling the promise to accord special category status.

Buses of Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) went off the roads, while shops, business establishments and educational institutions remained closed..

Srinivas along with state Congress chief Raghuveera Reddy and leaders of Communist Party of India (CPI) took part in a protest outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Bus Stand in Vijayawada.

Left parties and student groups staged a protest in Visakhapatnam. Demonstartions were also held in Guntur, Rajahmundry, Tirupati, Kurnool, Anantapur and other towns.

Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, his cabinet colleagues and TDP legislators will attend the Assembly session wearing black badges.

Government Employees Association has also appealed to the employees to wear black badges while attending their duties. Andhra Pradesh Lorry Owners’ Association, managements of private schools and colleges were also extending support to the shutdown.

Following the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to carve out Telangana in 2014, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced in Parliament that residual state of Andhra Pradesh would be accorded the special category status.

TDP pulled out of BJP-led NDA government at the Centre last year after the latter ruled out special status.

Chandrababu Naidu, who has also accused Modi government of going back on commitments made in Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014, will be staging a protest in New Delhi on February 11.




Tamil Nadu has given us a bad name, Vedanta tells SC

The Vedanta Group whose Sterlite Copper smelting plant has been shut down since May 28, 2018 on Thursday told the Supreme Court that they were being harassed and their image being besmirched by the Tamil Nadu government.

Telling the bench of Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Navin Sinha that the State government has given it a bad name, Vedanta said that the pollution report that was shown to the court was six months after the plant was put under lock.

Describing the action against the plant as “political”, senior counsel C.A. Sundaram appearing for Vedanta, said that the State government overlooked the plea for daily maintenance to plug the sulphuric acid leaks.

Earlier, Vedanta had said that unless electricity to the plant was restored, it would not be able to comply with the conditions imposed by the National Green Tribunal in its December 15, 2018 judgment.

Senior counsel Guru Krishnakumar appearing for Tamil Nadu said that the plant management resorted to quick fixes when the environmental violations were pointed out to them.

The NGT had on December 15 directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to pass a fresh order allowing renewal of consent for the operation of the plant within three weeks.



CBI questions Mamata’s close aide, summons party MP Derek O’Brien

The CBI on Thursday questioned Manik Majumdar, a close aide of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and also summoned Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, officials said.

A senior official told IANS: “We questioned Majumdar in connection with Chief Minister’s painting case.”

The official said it has also issued fresh summons to the TMC Rajya Sabha MP.

A Central Bureau of Investigation source said the agency had earlier summoned Majumdar and Brien a few months ago.

Majumdar deposed before the agency today, but Brien has yet not joined the probe.

As the TMC MP did not join the probe, he was issued fresh summons. However, the official refused to share the date when Brien has been asked to appear before the agency officials.



JNU writes to VP against ‘violation’ of HC order by MPs, teachers reject charge

The Jawaharlal Nehru University on Thursday wrote to the Vice President of India and the Lok Sabha Speaker complaining against what it termed a violation of the High Court order by the two parliamentarians who took part in a protest meeting at the varsity’s administrative block.

The varsity authorities argued that the protest meeting was a violation of the court order which had prohibited any kind of protest within 100 meter of the administrative block.

“The JNU administration writes to you with considerable distress regarding an incident today involving honorable parliamentarians, which has violated order of honourable High Court and rules and regulations of JNU.

“JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA) had invited MP Manoj Kumar Jha and Jitendra Choudhary for a protest in the campus, which is their democratic right. However, what is shocking and unexpected is that JNUTA office bearers misled the Members of Parliament and brought them to protest at the administration building which has been prohibited by the High Court,” the varsity acting Registrar Ajay Babu wrote in his letter to the Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu.

However, the charges of violation of the court order were dismissed by the JNUTA, which pointed out that the order was meant to prohibit students from protesting at the administrative block and was never imposed on the teachers.

“There is no court order disallowing JNUTA from such a meeting. By making such a false statement – and getting someone who is not even the Registrar to sign it, JNU VC is insulting Parliament and the high constitutional offices to which the letter is addressed,” JNUTA Secretary Avinash Kumar told IANS.




Congress insulting Hindus, Hinduism says Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP on Thursday accused the Congress of insulting Hindu religion, Hindu saints and Hinduism after its leader Shashi Tharoor’s tweeted “‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva’ ideology is dividing our country”.

Addressing a press conference, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Sambit Patra said it was a conspiracy of the Congress party to insult Hindu religion.

“It is not Shashi Tharoor behind the tweet, (Congress President) Rahul Gandhi encouraged him to insult Hindus. The language used by Congress against Hindus, its saints is part of a conspiracy,” he said.

“Congress has been abusing Hindu religion every day. It is sad. It shows Congress’ real face.”

Patra said Congress’ policy was on the lines of the one adopted by the British to divide the country in the name of religion.

He hit out at Tharoor for insulting the Kumbh Mela and added that it was him who had coined the term “Hindu Taliban”.

Tharoor had tweeted in response to an incident where an immigration officer in Mumbai refused to allow an Indian student to pass through because he could not speak Hindi.