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Amit Shah gets Home in new Cabinet

S. Jaishankar is MEA, joins Cabinet Committee on Security Nirmala is new Finance Minister, Rajnath Singh moved to DefenceNitin Gadkari and Ravi Shankar Prasad retain their portfolios

The contours of the new Modi government were clear after portfolios were announced for the Union Council of Ministers, with BJP national president Amit Shah being allotted the Home Ministry and former Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar being made the External Affairs Minister. Both new faces immediately also became members of the Cabinet Committee on Security, the most powerful Cabinet sub-committee.

Former Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be the new Finance Minister and former Home Minister Rajnath Singh will take over as the Defence Minister.

Change at the top

Prime Minister Modi has made bold changes in the top four Ministries that form the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), with Mr. Jaishankar being the biggest gainer, having joined the government as a Cabinet Minister and inducted straight into the CCS. However, many other Ministers have retained their portfolios from the first Modi government, with some being given additional departments.

Senior Minister Nitin Gadkari continues as the Minister of Road Transport and Highways and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. Ravi Shankar Prasad stays on as the Law Minister, along with Information Technology and Telecommunications.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal retains charge of the Ministry with the addition of Commerce, which was earlier held by Suresh Prabhu who has been dropped. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan retains the crucial portfolio and has been given the additional responsibility of Steel.

Giant killer Smriti Irani, who defeated Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi and was expected to be moved up in the hierarchy, continues with her old portfolio of Textiles, along with Women and Child Development, formerly held by Maneka Gandhi.

New Ministry

One of the major gainers among Cabinet Ministers was former Minister of State for Agriculture Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who will head the newly created “Jal Shakti” Ministry. Mr. Modi had said at the BJP’s manifesto launch in April that the Ministry would be a priority area for the new government. The Agriculture portfolio has been allotted to Narendra Singh Tomar, along with his old portfolios of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj.

GDP growth slumps to 5.8%

Unemployment rate at 45-year high

India’s GDP grew at 5.8% in the January-March 2019 quarter, dragging down the full year growth to a five-year low of 6.8%. The unemployment rate in the country rose to a 45-year high of 6.1% in 2017-18, as per official data released on the first day of the second term of the Modi government.

Addressing a press conference on Friday, Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg said the slowdown, caused by temporary factors such as liquidity crunch, is likely to continue in the April-June 2019 quarter, with the demand picking up from the second quarter onwards.

‘Temporary factors’

“Slowdown in the fourth quarter GDP was due to temporary factors, like stress in the NBFC sector affecting consumption finance. The first quarter of the current fiscal will also see relatively slower growth. From the second quarter onwards, we expect the growth and consumption to pick up,” Mr. Garg said.

Asked about India losing the fastest growing nation tag to China with a quarterly growth of 5.8%, Mr. Garg, who is also the Finance Secretary, said, “Quarterly numbers don’t matter…it is basically annual growth… At 6.8% annual growth, India is still the fastest growing nation… China is still lower.”

During the year, the slowdown in the economy was led by sluggish growth in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector (2.9% growth), the mining sector (1.3% growth) and in manufacturing (6.9%).

The sectors which saw growth rate of over 7% were public administration, defence and other services, construction, financial, real estate and professional services, and electricity, gas, water supply and other utility services.

The unemployment data, which was released a day after Prime Narendra Modi took oath for the second term, confirms an earlier leaked version of this survey that claimed that joblessness was at a 45-year high.

“It is a new design and a new matrix. It would be unfair to compare it with the past. This 45-year high is your interpretation. I don’t want to claim that it is 45-year low or high,” Statistics Secretary Pravin Srivastava told the media.

Scholarship for wards of defence personnel hiked

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved changes to the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme for wards of deceased defence personnel under the National Defence Fund — his first decision on assuming office, a statement from the PMO said on Friday.

This was “in line with the Prime Minister’s vision for India’s safety, security and the well-being of those who protect the nation...,” the PMO statement read.

Police too covered

Mr. Modi approved the increase from ₹2,000 to ₹2,500 a month for boys and from ₹2,250 to ₹3,000 a month for girls.

The ambit of the scheme was also widened to cover the wards of State police officials martyred in terror or Naxal attacks.

Below normal rainfall likely in northwest, northeast, says IMD

Normal monsoon expected over rest of India

Thick clouds hovering over Bengaluru.V. Sreenivasa Murthy

A week before the onset of the southwest monsoon, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted a “normal” rainy season, with the country as a whole set to receive 96% of the long period average (LPA) rainfall.

However, northwest India will get 94% of the average, while the northeast will only receive 91% of average rainfall, putting both these regions in the “below normal” category.

Issuing its second stage long range forecast on Friday, the IMD said the 2019 monsoon is likely to reach the Kerala coast by June 6.

The IMD seemed to allay fears of the El Nino phenomenon playing havoc with the summer’s rainfall, although it noted that “the current weak El Nino conditions may continue during the monsoon season with reduced intensity”.

During a “normal” monsoon, the country gets 96% to 104% of the LPA. The forecast probability of rainfall falling within this range was 41%, said the IMD statement.

If the total rainfall is between 90% and 96% of the LPA, it falls in the “below normal” category.

Regionwise, the season’s rainfall is likely to be 94% of the LPA over northwest India, 100% over central India, 97% over south Peninsula, and 91% over northeast India, all with a model error of ± 8 %, it said.

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