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The benchmark index loses a whopping 1,941.67 points to close at 35,634.95

The benchmark Sensex on Monday witnessed its biggest single day fall in absolute terms amid a global sell off in equities. This came on the back of rising concerns over the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and a plunge in crude prices that further fuelled worries about a global slowdown.

The Sensex lost a whopping 1,941.67 points, or 5.17%, to close at 35,634.95 — a 52-week low for the barometer — with all its 30 constituents ending the day with huge losses.

The Sensex has now lost 6,639 points, or nearly 16%, from its record intra-day high of 42,273.87 that was touched on January 20.

The broader Nifty plunged 538 points, or 4.90%, to close at 10,451.45.

The India VIX index, considered a barometer of near-term volatility, jumped nearly 35% during intra-day trading to touch a new 52-week high of 34.4, before closing at 30.8 — 20.11% higher than Friday’s close.

“The Indian markets followed the global market meltdown which was triggered by the rapidly spreading virus and a free fall in crude oil prices,” said Siddhartha Khemka, head, Retail Research, Motilal Oswal Financial Services.

Global crude prices registered their biggest drop since the Gulf War in 1991. After falling to an intra-day low of around $27 per barrel, crude was trading at around $33 a barrel level — nearly 20% lower than previous day’s price — around 8 p.m.

Bengaluru techie among 45 confirmed cases nationwide

With six more persons testing positive for COVID-19, the number of confirmed cases in India climbed to 45 on Monday. Punjab, Jammu and Karnataka reported their first cases, while fresh cases have been confirmed in Kerala, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The country now has over 40 active cases.

While the Union Health Ministry confirmed 44 cases, the Karnataka government announced its first case in the evening.

“Karnataka confirmed its first positive case after a 40-year-old software professional, who returned from the U.S. on March 1, tested positive. The condition of the patient, who has been admitted to the State-run Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (RGICD) is stable,” a State government release said. In Punjab, a man who returned from Italy was confirmed as positive — the first case in the State, Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said.

Project entails destruction of forests

The rail line will pass through forests between the Kali Tiger Reserve (in photo) and Bedthi reserve. K. Murali Kumar

The controversial Hubballi-Ankola railway line project in Karnataka, which came up for discussion at the State Board for Wildlife meeting held on Monday, saw stiff opposition from a majority of the board members.

The project entails large-scale destruction of forests, including the felling of nearly 2.2 lakh trees in a biodiversity hotspot, but a section of officials argued in favour of the project.

Sources said there was political pressure from elected representatives of the region to get environmental clearance and permission from the wildlife board on the grounds that the project was a demand of the people of north Karnataka. The board met in Bengaluru and the meeting was chaired by Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa.

A senior official supportive of the project argued that the railway line did not cut through a protected area and was outside it, and hence the permission of the board was not required. But those opposed to the project argued that any forest between two protected areas acts as a corridor, and so a discussion on the project was well within the purview of the board.

Some of the members pointed out that the project, which was announced in 1997, has met with stiff opposition at all levels. It was rejected by the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had opposed it, and even the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had rejected it twice on the ground that the damage rendered by such a linear project through pristine forests could not be mitigated.

Kept in abeyance?

However, there was no response from the Chief Minister, who suggested that they move on to the next subject. This is interpreted to mean that the project may be kept in abeyance, but not rejected.

The 164.44-km railway line passes through pristine forests between two major protected areas — Kali Tiger Reserve and Bedthi Conservation Reserve.

Opposition leaders demand immediate release of political detainees in Kashmir

The Opposition on Monday called for the immediate release of all political detainees in Kashmir, especially Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, who have been detained for about seven months on the “flimsiest of grounds”.

In a joint statement, NCP president Sharad Pawar, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool president Mamata Banerjee, Janata Dal(S) leader and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI general secretary D. Raja, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Kumar Jha, besides two former Ministers from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government — Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie — termed these detentions as a blatant violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Observing that India and the Constitution had always stood for “unity in diversity” with everybody’s views respected, honoured and heard, the statement said that in the Narendra Modi-led government, “democratic dissent is being muzzled by coercive administrative action, which has threatened the basic ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as enshrined in our Constitution”.

There are growing assaults on democratic norms, fundamental rights and civic liberties of citizens of the Indian Republic, it said, adding that as a result, dissent is not only being stifled, but the avenues of raising critical voices are also being systematically muted.

“Nothing exemplifies this more starkly than the continuing detention, on the flimsiest of grounds, of three former Chief Ministers of Jammu & Kashmir — Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Shri Omar Abdullah and Smt. Mehbooba Mufti — for over seven months. There is nothing in the past records of these three leaders to lend credence to the Modi government’s false and self-serving claim that they pose a threat to ‘public safety’ in J&K or that they have endangered national interests with their activities,” it said.

The very validity of the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978 can be challenged following the dilution of Article 370 as the State had now been stripped off its special status, it added.

“All this exposes the oft-repeated lie of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and Home Minister Shri Amit Shah that the situation in J&K is ‘completely normal’.” It said while the government had recently organised well-choreographed visits of foreign diplomats to Srinagar, it had placed all kinds of hurdles in the attempts of the representatives of India’s political and media establishment to move freely in the State and assess the situation on the ground.

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