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Sonia Gandhi elected leader of Congress Parliamentary Party

Uncertainty continues over choice of its floor leader in the Lok Sabha

A role to play: Sonia Gandhi being elected as leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party in New Delhi on Saturday. Manmohan Singh proposed her name. PTIPTI

United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi was elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) at a meeting here on Saturday. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposed Ms. Gandhi’s name, which was unanimously approved by all the MPs.

“Smt. Sonia Gandhi elected as the leader of Congress Parliamentary Party! She says, ‘We thank the 12.13 Cr voters for reposing faith in the Congress Party,” chief spokesperson of the Congress Randeep Surjewala said on Twitter.

‘For effective opposition’

Addressing the MPs, Ms. Gandhi urged them to play the role of an effective Opposition and ensure better coordination with like-minded parties in the Rajya Sabha.

Ms. Gandhi will now pick the party’s floor leader in the Lok Sabha. There has been speculation that Rahul Gandhi, who resigned from the post of president, may opt for this position. Mallikarjun Kharge held the post in the outgoing Lok Sabha. He was defeated in Gulbarga in the recent general election. The other front runner is the three-time MP Shashi Tharoor. The floor leader sets the agenda for his party in the House, decides its parliamentary strategy and coordinates with other Opposition parties and the government.

Rahul thanks voters

At the meeting, Mr. Gandhi also thanked the voters and the party workers. “Every Congress member must remember that each one of you is fighting for the Constitution, for every person in India, irrespective of the colour of his skin or belief,” he said.

With 52 MPs, the post of Leader of the Opposition remains elusive again for the Congress. As per the norm, an Opposition party that has the strength of at least 10% of the 545-member House gets the position.

Trump ends concessions for Indian exports under GSP

Says New Delhi did not assure equitable access to markets

A day after a group of journalists was told that India’s access to preferential trade terms under the U.S.’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) was on its way out, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a proclamation ending the trade benefits effective June 5.

However, the benefits could possibly be reinstated subject to India and the U.S. reaching an agreement, according to a senior State Department official.

“I have determined that India has not assured the United States that India will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets. Accordingly, it is appropriate to terminate India’s designation as a beneficiary developing country effective June 5, 2019,” Mr. Trump’s proclamation read.

The GSP is a programme that seeks to aid developing countries by giving some of their products non-reciprocal, duty-free access to U.S. markets. In 2018, some $ 6.3 billion of Indian merchandise exports to the U.S. were covered by GSP, according to the Congressional Research Service.

ED summons Praful on Air India’s route sharing deal with 3 airlines

Procurement of 43 Airbus aircraft is also under the scanner

Praful Patel

The Enforcement Directorate has summoned former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel for recording his statement on June 6 in connection with the alleged irregularities in the sharing of Air India’s profitable routes with three international airlines.

The procurement of 43 Airbus aircraft during his tenure in the UPA government is also under the scanner, said an official. The ED’s money-laundering probe is based on the FIRs registered by the CBI in May 2017 at a Supreme Court directive.

Mr. Patel, a senior NCP leader and Rajya Sabha member, told the PTI: “I will be happy to cooperate with the ED for their understanding of the complexities of the aviation industry.”

According to a senior ED official, the investigations also pertained to corporate lobbyist Deepak Talwar, who along with his son was recently charge-sheeted by the agency for allegedly lobbying with politicians, Ministers and Civil Aviation Ministry officials for the Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar Airways.

“He illegally managed to secure favourable traffic rights for these airlines during 2008-09 at the cost of national carrier Air India,” the ED had earlier said, alleging that the three airlines paid ₹272 crore for the job.

E-mail exchanges

In the chargesheet, the agency had appended some e-mail exchanges allegedly between Mr. Talwar and the office of the former Union Minister, said the official. Mr. Talwar was deported by the Dubai immigration authority on January 31 and arrested by the ED.

Agreements for the purchase of 111 aircraft worth ₹70,000 crore, including 43 from Airbus and 68 from Boeing, are also being investigated by the CBI and the ED. Mr. Patel’s statement may also be recorded on the issue of procurement of aircraft from Airbus. Mr. Talwar has already been questioned, said the official.

Body scanners made mandatory at 84 airports

Government sets one-year deadline for installation of the equipment

Nothing to hide: The equipment will replace metal detectors and passengers have to remove metallic items.

The government has made it mandatory for 84 airports in the country to install full-body scanners to screen air travellers within a year and issued a standard operating procedure for their use.

The 84 airports include 26 hyper-sensitive airports and 58 sensitive airports. Other airports have two years’ time to introduce these scanners.

Global standard

This equipment will replace walk-through metal detectors and passengers will have to remove shoes, belts, jackets, thick clothing and be “divested” of all metallic items, which is a practice at most prominent airports across the world, according to the SOP laid down by a Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) circular sent to all airports in April.

However, 10% of passengers will also be subjected to full pat-down searches at random.

“Walk-through metal detectors and hand-held metal detectors cannot detect non-metallic weapons and explosives. Body scanners detect both metallic and non-metallic items concealed on the body,” reads the circular on reasons for the change.

Following concerns over these machines generating naked images of passengers, the BCAS has mandated privacy filters. As a result, these scanners will produce only an outline or a mannequin-like image, which is same for all genders. A yellow box appears on the body image to highlight areas that may need further screening.

‘Safe for use’

“Scanner shall provide image-free solution using a generic mannequin. Threats shall be graphically presented,” reads the circular.

These scanners use millimetre wave technology, which means passengers will not be subjected to harmful X-ray radiation, and the machine is safe for use by all, including pregnant women.

These scanners will help airports improve passenger throughput as they are required to screen a passenger in eight seconds and 300 passengers per hour, according to the technical specifications spelt out by the BCAS.

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