PNB recovers Rs 278 cr from poor account holders as penalty

The Punjab National Bank (PNB) has recovered Rs 278.66 crore as penalty in the financial year 2018-19 from the poor account holders for not maintaining the minimum balance.

This was revealed after an RTI activist in Madhya Pradesh’s Neemuch district, Chandrashekhar Gaur sought information from the PNB on the amount recovered from the account holders in the last two financial years for not maintaining a minimum balance in savings and current account.

This amount has been recovered from about 1 crore 27 lakh customers across the country.

According to a PNB data, the penalty amount of Rs 278.66 crore is 32 per cent more than the amount recovered in the last financial year (2017-18).

The bank has recovered a total of Rs 226.36 crore from Rs 1,22,53,756 savings accounts and Rs 52.30 crore from fine accounts of Rs 5,37,692 current accounts during the financial year 2018-19.

Gaur said: “The penalty charged by a bank for not keeping the minimum amount in the accounts is a penalty on poverty.

“It should be reviewed immediately in the larger public interest and recovery of all such penalty charges should be stopped with immediate effect,” he added.



Scholarship scam: How officials, bankers cheated poor students

Initial investigation by the CBI into the multi-crore scholarship scam reveals a deep-rooted nexus between government officials, private institutions and public sector banks to siphon-off funds meant for poorest of the poor students. Students belonging to Scheduled Castes and Minorities were also deprived of scholarships to pursue basic education.

Sources in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) revealed to IANS that the scam in the scholarship fund meant for children from below poverty line (BPL) families was spread across Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.

Though the scope of the investigation pursued by CBI’s Shimla branch is limited to this region, sources said that the scam is widespread and similar complaints have been made in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the country.

“In the interest of the poor and SC/ST students, the agency can take up more such cases if the matter is recommended to us by other states,” said a highly-placed source in the CBI.

The agency’s investigation revealed that institutions like Lovely Professional University and Karnataka University established centres in different states, including Himachal Pradesh, where documents of SC/ST and BPL students were collected but admissions not granted. Later, with the connivance of officials of the Education Department and banks, fake bank accounts were opened on the basis of genuine documents(and addresses) secured by the centres.

For instance, almost 250 students of village Dehri in Himachal’s Kangra district had applied at these centres, which took the documents of these students but did not give them admission.

Subsequently, a large number of fake accounts were opened in the State Bank of India and the Allahabad Bank on basis of documents submitted by the students and the bank officials did not verify the account holders, facilitating the scamsters’ siphoning off the scholarship money.

Last month, the CBI conducted raids at multiple locations in northern India in the Rs 250 crore scholarship scam related to pre- and post-matric scholarship scheme. The CBI sleuths carried out the raids at 22 educational institutes across Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Haryana.

Besides the CBI, police in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh are also investigating scams related to scholarships where officials of the Education Department and private institutions have been found to be hand in glove. In Uttar Pradesh, the scam relates to the Minority Department, where scholarships of poor Muslim students were fraudulently siphoned-off by corrupt officials.



Himachal voters rue poor amenities along China border

The simmering discontentment over the absence of basic amenities in the area along the China border is forcing 400-odd voters in Himachal Pradesh’s remote Kunnu and Charang villages in Kinnaur district to boycott the parliamentary polls.

The reason: politicians visit the area only during elections and thereafter disappear.

“A road to connecting to our village has been constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana but there is lack of its maintenance. It is literally non-existent at most of the 15-km stretch from Moorang to Charang,” village head Puran Singh told IANS on Friday.

He sought to strengthen the BSNL network, open more schools and provide liberal funding for local area development.

“Despite repeated reminders to our representatives, no action has been initiated,a he said on phone, adding “the entire villagers have now decided that: ‘jab tak road repair nahi, tab tak vote nahi’ (We will not vote till the road is repaired).”

Kunnu and Charang polling stations in Pooh block, known for growing peas, are part of the sprawling Mandi parliamentary constituency that covers almost two-thirds of the hill state.

In this seat, sitting MP Ram Swaroop Sharma of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been pitted against Congress greenhorn Ashray Sharma, who learnt politics for years from his father and former Minister Anil Sharma.

While Charang has 50 households, Kunnu has 30.

Another villager Roshan Lal said the villagers were suffering because of unprecedented delay in repair of the road.

“Also the contractor hired by the state government has not cleared the snow from the road timely in the winter, resulting in hampering of movement of heavy vehicles,” he said.

“We are living in India and not in Pakistan. It is the duty of our politicians to take care of development in villages located in interiors of the state,” added an aggrieved Lal, who is gram panchayat ‘up-pradhan’.

Octogenarian Ramesh Lal Negi said the health services are quite bad. “Lack of development remains a major issue in areas bordering China in the state. For want of health specialists one has to travel either to Shimla or to Chandigarh.”

Locals rue that the condition of road is so bad that they even can’t even walk. Large pits pose threat of accidents.

The Buddhist-dominated Kinnaur district in the Himalayan terrain, with elevations ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level, shares a porous border with China.

Polling for the four Lok Sabha seats in Himachal Pradesh – Shimla, Kangra, Mandi and Hamirpur – is scheduled for May 19.




Congress, BJD conspire to keep people poor; Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said the Congress and the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha have hatched a conspiracy to keep the people poor for their vote bank politics.

“Parties like Congress and BJD conspired to keep the poor of the country poor. They deceived the poor. They treated them as vote bank,” said Modi while addressing an election rally at Bhawanipatna in Kalahandi district.

Modi said Odisha is going to repeat the history created by Uttar Pradesh in 2017 and Tripura in 2018 as he urged the people to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to achieve ‘double engine’ growth at the Centre and at the state.

He said that eight lakh people in Odisha got pucca houses in five years of BJP government at the Centre while 24 lakh houses got free electricity connections and 3,000 villages got electricity for the first time after Independence.

Besides, 40 lakh poor households got free gas connections under Ujjala scheme and 50 lakh toilets were built in the state, Modi added.

“All of these things were not done by Modi. It is your vote that brought positive changes in the country,” he said.

Maintaining that the BJD government is neck deep in corruption, the Prime Minister asked the people: “Do you want mining mafia and chit fund looters or a Chowkidar.”

He said the BJD is the enemy of poor farmers.

The party has been a wall between PM-KISAN scheme and farmers as Odisha has no farmer being enrolled under the scheme, he added.

“I have worked for you despite no cooperation of state government. This Chowkidar has taken advantage of Centre’s schemes to help you,” said Modi.

He said 19 years are enough for the development of the state but BJD leaders have taken the votes for granted.

“You trusted the BJD for 19 years, but it’s now time for transformation and to bring BJP again. You need to vote for double engine growth,” said the Prime Minister.

Odisha will have simultaneous polls in four phases on April 11, 18, 23 and 29 for both the 21 Lok Sabha and 147 Assembly seats.



Bengal MPs blame Mamata for poor MPLADS funds use

Opposition MPs in West Bengal have blamed the “non-cooperation” of Trinamool Congress-led state government and district administrations for unused MPLADS fund, even as Mohammad Salim of the CPI(M) tops the list of state MPs for spending the highest proportion of the funds released.

According to official data, Rs 803.76 crore has been spent out of the total Rs 928.09 crore available under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) during the 16th Lok Sabha. Rs 124.27 crore remain unspent till date.

The Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation specifies the role of MPs is limited to recommending the projects and it is the responsibility of the district authorities to sanction, execute and complete the works.

Babul Supriyo (BJP) who is seeking re-election from Asansol has spent 72.68 per cent of the MPLADS funds.

However, BJP Darjeeling MP S.S. Ahluwalia, who has recorded 56.30 per cent utilisation of the released MPLADS funds, claimed he recommended about 312 projects worth Rs 25.22 crore till January end, but 228 of them were yet to be processed.

“The Trinamool government had categorically instructed officers not to approve projects recommended by BJP MPs. This is a complete non-cooperation by district authorities. Since I have recommended, funds for development in Darjeeling will be used sooner or later,” Ahluwalia told IANS.

Beharampur MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Congress had a similar complaint. “We were not allowed to spend the funds by the state administration.”

The four-term Congress MP used 79.85 per cent of the amount released, his party’s Malda South MP Abu Hasem Choudhury used 74.63 per cent and former President Pranab Mukherjee’s son and party’s Jangipur MP Abhijit Mukherjee 91.80 per cent.

Mohammad Salim, seeking re-election from Raiganj, used 115.14 per cent of the released funds and recommended around Rs 28.88 crore for developmental work of which Rs 21.51 crore was sanctioned. The amount available with interest in Salim’s MPLADS was Rs 20.98 crore.

Badaruddoza Khan, CPI(M) MP from Murshidabad seat, who is also seeking re-election, told IANS: “The Trinamool government did not allow us to spend MPLADS funds. I have written to the Prime Minister and the Lok Sabha Speaker seeking their interventions. About Rs 12.5 crore fund was sanctioned.” He has used 73.32 per cent of the funds.

Refuting allegations, Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy told IANS: “Our focus has been development and we have been relentlessly working towards it, while the Opposition leaders lack interest. The allegations are their excuses for their own failure.”

Among the Trinamool Congress MPs whose fund utilisation has been over 100 per cent are mostly either first-time parliamentarians or those belonging to the entertainment industry like Jhargram’s MP Uma Soren, Sandhya Roy (Medinipur), Deepak (Dev) Adhikari (Ghatal) and Satabdi Roy (Birbhum).

Party veteran and Kolkata South MP Subrata Bakshi secured 100.46 per cent funds utilisation.

Opposition MPs also alleged the TMC refused tickets to better performers like Soren, Roy and Bakshi. But Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refuted the charge saying Roy asked for “a more sedate responsibility owing to her ill-health” and Bakshi preferred to work for the party.

Anupam Hazra and Soumitra Khan, who were expelled from the Trinamool for anti-party activities and joined the BJP subsequently, have ensured 89.44 per cent and 98.42 per cent utilisation, respectively. Hazra is contesting from Jadavpur while Khan is in the fray from Bishnupur.



Congress’ minimum guarantee to benefit 25 cr poor; Rahul

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Monday said nearly 25 crore poor people in the country will get financial assistance of Rs 72,000 per annum if the party is voted to power.

Announcing the details of the party’s promised Minimum Income Guarantee scheme, Nyay, Gandhi said it will provide Rs 72,000 per annum to 20 per cent of the poorest families in the country.

Addressing the media here after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, Gandhi said the scheme will be the “final assault on poverty”.

Nyay, a major promise of the Congress ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls, is economically feasible, he added, as he refused to take any question other than the scheme.

He said the scheme will supplement income of those earning Rs 12,000 per month.

“The minimum income line is Rs 12,000. Those who have income less than Rs 12,000 we will top up (their income),” he said.



5th ODI; Captain Kohli blames poor bowling for loss

India skipper Virat Kohli blamed poor death overs bowling for the 35-run loss to Australia in the fifth and final One-Day International (ODI), here on Wednesday.

The Australians rode a century from in-from opener Usman Khawaja and a half-century by Peter Handscomb to post 272/9 before dismissing the hosts for 237 runs to claim the match and the series.

“Yeah, we thought it was a gettable target. They got away from us a little bit at the end, and 15-20 more than we thought we were going to concede. One or two overs can make a whole lot of difference. But if you look at the overall series, Australia played with more passion, hunger and heart and they deserved to win,” Kohli said after the match.

“They were brave in pressure situations compared with us, especially in the last 3 games the way they handled the pressure, they really deserved to win,” he said.

Admitting that Australia were the better team in the five-match series, Kohli revealed the World Cup squad is more or less set.

“The guys will reflect on the series quite a bit. It’s been a long season, and we can be proud of the cricket we have played over the last few months. Both teams played with equal intensity, but the deserving side won in the end as I said before. We are more or less sorted with what we want to do,” he said.

“The guys just need to get their roles for the World Cup and expect them to stand up and deliver. Just one spot in the side needs some discussion. The last three games were all about giving the fringe guys some chances, but that’s not an excuse at all. You don’t need any motivation for the World Cup. All the sides will enjoy the tournament. Full stadiums. We just want to relive the big moments and do well in the World Cup.”



Robert Vadra skips ED summons citing poor health

Robert Vadra, who was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning in connection with a money laundering case, did not depose before the agency on Tuesday citing poor health.

Vadra was supposed to join the investigation on Tuesday morning. However, his lawyers informed the ED officials that he was unwell and will appear whenever he is summoned again.

On February 16, a Delhi court extended Vadra’s interim bail till March 2.

Vadra, brother-in-law of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, has been questioned thrice by the directorate for over 24 hours in connection with the case on February 6, 7 and 9.

The case relates to ownership of undisclosed assets abroad worth 1.9 million pounds, allegedly belonging to Vadra, husband of Priyanka Gandhi, Congress General Secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh East.

He was also questioned twice by the ED in Jaipur in connection with a Bikaner land deal case.

The ED on Friday attached Rs 4.43 crore immovable property at Vadra’s Sukhdev Vihar house in Delhi. The house was in the name of Vadra’s company Sky Light Hospitality Private Limited.

On February 2, the court had granted Vadra interim bail till February 16 and asked him to join the investigation on February 6.

The ED had lodged a money laundering case against Manoj Arora after his role came up during the the Income Tax Department probe into another case under the 2015 anti-black money law involving absconding arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari.

Arora, an employee of Vadra’s Skylight Hospitality, was aware of the latter’s overseas undeclared assets and was instrumental in arranging funds, the ED had alleged.

The London property was allegedly bought by Bhandari and sold in 2010 for the same amount despite incurring additional expenses on renovation.

On December 7, as part of the investigation, the ED had conducted searches at a number of premises in Delhi-NCR and Bengaluru.



SC refuses to stay 10% quota for poor in upper castes

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay the decision to give 10 per cent quota for economically weaker sections among upper castes and clubbed all petitions including by Tahssen Poonawala for early hearing.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi refused to stay the government’s decision to grant 10 per cent reservation to economically poor in the general category as a PIL by Poonawala contended that such a reservation was contrary to several pronouncements by the court.

Appearing for Poonawala, senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan said there was a cap of 50 per cent in the top court’s ruling in the Mandal Commission case that came in the wake of OBC reservation by the then V.P. Singh government.

Earlier, the top court on a petition by NGO Youth for Equality had sought response from the Centre and the states.