MAY 5, Sunday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

PMO ‘monitoring’ Rafale deal progress not interference: govt.





PMO ‘monitoring’ Rafale deal progress not interference: govt.

Centre’s submission follows SC’s directive to respond to review petitions

Krishnadas Rajagopal
NEW DELHI

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was “monitoring” the progress of the deal to buy 36 Rafale jets but this could not be taken as “parallel negotiations” with the French side, the government told the Supreme Court on Saturday.

The submission follows the directive on Tuesday last that the government respond to the Rafale deal case review petitions by Saturday. The Centre had sought a whole month to respond.

“The monitoring of the progress by the PMO of this government-to-government process cannot be construed as interference or parallel negotiations,” it said.

A series of reports published by The Hindu had revealed that the PMO was conducting “parallel negotiations”. A Defence Ministry note that was published said the “parallel parleys” had “weakened the negotiating position of MoD [the Ministry of Defence] and the Indian Negotiating Team”.

But the government denied any reason for objection from the Ministry. It referred to how the then Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, himself had noted that “it appears that PMO and French President’s office are monitoring the progress of the issues, which was an outcome of the summit meeting”.

The government said these “selective” reports, based on “some incomplete internal file notings, procured unauthorisedly and illegally”, did not reflect the final decision of the competent authority. They could not form the basis for a review petition. The two affidavits filed by the MoD said the action of the review petitioners, who include former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, was “tantamount to questioning the sovereign decision concerning national security and defence”.




Devastated Puri cut off, relief work taken up on war-footing





Devastated Puri cut off, relief work taken up on war-footing

Electricity infrastructure destroyed by cyclone, says CM

Prafulla Das, Satya Sundar Barik

Amid the ruins: A resident of Podampeta village cooking food in her damaged house on Saturday.Biswaranjan RoutThe Hindu

Puri/Bhubaneswar

A day after being struck by the very severe cylonic storm Fani, the coastal pilgrim town of Puri in Odisha remained largely cut off on Saturday. The State control room in Bhubaneswar is yet to establish contact with many affected districts.

As information about the destruction trickled in, officials said, “The entire district of Puri and parts of Khurda are badly ravaged.” The death toll rose to 12, with four casualties reported from Mayurbhanj district, the officials said.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who reviewed the situation, said, “Fani was one of the rarest of rare summer cyclones. It tore apart critical infrastructure, especially power, telephone and water supplies.” With power lines, trees and boundary walls having collapsed across the town, large parts of Puri remained inaccessible. The situation was compounded by the collapse of communication networks.

Around 2,000 emergency workers, along with civil society organisations, personnel of the NDRF, the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and one lakh officials were engaged in the restoration work, Mr. Patnaik said in a statement, before leaving for an aerial survey of the affected areas.



Bombers visited Kashmir, Kerala, Bengaluru: Sri Lankan Army chief





Bombers visited Kashmir, Kerala, Bengaluru: Sri Lankan Army chief

Lt. Gen. Senanayake says visits were for training, networking

PRESS TRUST OF INDIA

Mahesh Senanayake

COLOMBO

Sri Lanka Army’s chief has said some of the suicide bombers who carried out the country’s worst terror attack on Easter Sunday last month had visited Kashmir and Kerala for “some sorts of training” or to “make some more links” with other foreign outfits.

It is the first time a top security official has confirmed the militants’ visit to India, which had shared intelligence inputs with Sri Lanka ahead of the attacks.

Nine suicide bombers, including a woman, carried out a series of blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, killing 253 people and injuring over 500.

In an interview to the BBC on Thursday, Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake disclosed some details of the movement of the suspects in the region, and also international links. “They have gone to India, they’ve gone to Kashmir, Bangalore (Bengaluru); they’ve travelled to Kerala State. Those are the information available with us,” he said.

Asked what activities the attackers undertook in Kashmir and Kerala, the Army chief said: “Not exactly, but definitely in some sorts of training or to make some more links with the other organisations outside the country.”

The terror outfit Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the government blamed the local extremist group National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ). Colombo has since banned the NTJ and arrested over 100 people for the blasts.


* Nation

Attack on CM: man was ‘disenchanted’ with AAP





Attack on CM: man was ‘disenchanted’ with AAP

He was a supporter of AAP and used to work as an organiser of party rallies

Hemani Bhandari , Nikhil M Babu
NEW DELHI

The 33-year-old man who was detained after slapping Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday has been a supporter of the Aam Aadmi Party and used to work as an organiser of the party’s rallies, he allegedly told the police.

Joint Commissioner of Police (Western Range) Madhup Tiwari said that Suresh, a resident of Kailash Park who runs a shop of spare parts, got disenchanted with the party and their distrust in the Armed forces.

‘Modi bhakt’

“According to him, over a period of time, he got disenchanted with the party due to the behaviour of its leaders. He got more angry due to distrust of the party in the Armed forces,” the officer said.

AAP chief spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj, however said, “Delhi Police planting that the man belonged to AAP. This is really shameful, given the fact that the attacker’s wife has herself said that attacker was a Modi bhakt and did not like anyone talking against Modi. This is the same Delhi Police who had earlier planted that no ‘mirchi attack’ happened on the CM. This political statement of the police itself is proof that they are doing all this on the orders of the Modi government.”

Sources said that while the man has no medical history of mental illness, his “behaviour is erratic”.

On Saturday, the police said, that Suresh had come for the roadshow which was scheduled to start from Karampura and end at R.K. Ashram Marg. He was wearing the AAP cap and a scarf. “He was in the reception group of the CM. No one objected to him being there as he had been an organiser for the party. He was standing near the front right tyre of the vehicle. He climbed on top off the bonnet and attempted to assault the CM,” the officer said.

‘Got agitated’

Sources said that during interrogation, Suresh allegedly told them that he saw the CM and suddenly got agitated but investigators are yet to ascertain whether it was a planned attack.

“He also said that about a week ago, a local AAP MLA had come to his office. However, the MLA did not meet him,” the officer said. Suresh’s wife however, said that when the MLA had come, the leader had spoken against Prime Minister Narendra Modi which had upset Suresh.

The police said that when Mr. Kejriwal arrived around 5.45 p.m., he got out of the official vehicle and got onto the open vehicle prepared for the roadshow.

The police had not received a formal complaint in the matter and an FIR was not registered at the time of going to the press. The man has been sent for medical examination.

Mr. Kejriwal, in November 2018, was attacked by a man who came up to him outside his office in the Secretariat and then lunged towards his face, breaking his glasses, attempting to smear red chilli powder.



New Delhi voters want job security, relief from sealing





New Delhi voters want job security, relief from sealing

AAP earns brownie points for mohalla clinics, development in schools; locals say power tussle, statehood not primary concerns; seek welfare

Bindu Shajan Perappadan
NEW DELHI

Free from rampant illegal construction, floating migrant population and major infrastructural woes, the New Delhi parliamentary constituency is also called ‘lucky indicator’ as the party winning here captures power at the Centre, which has been happening since the late ’90s.

“This has been an interesting trend and we believe that many politicians and even the residents are superstitious about this unique ‘indicator’ constituency,” said Jagmohan, who stays in the servant quarter of Sujan Singh Park and runs a kiosk here. He said electricity and water supply has never been a problem here. “Security concerns are limited with the constituency offering great public transport network and even schools and hospitals…in that sense, it is a good place to be. But the area has a very distinct set of problems,” he added.

The small and medium traders also agreed to this. After the sealing of commercial units, the trading community has been appealing to the State and Centre to intervene on their behalf.

The sealing drive started on the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee’s orders in December 2017 and over 6,000 commercial units were sealed across Delhi. Several traders echoed while “statehood is not an issue but the Centre should leave the State government alone”.

“Markets including, Defence Colony, Khanna Market, Meharchand Market, Amar Colony Market, Motia Khan, etc, have all borne the brunt of the sealing drive. We feel that traders are caught between the Central and State governments with neither of them being powerful enough to help us. Adding to our problems is the power tussle between the two governments,” said Alok Tripathi, who has a shop in Khanna Market. Delhi’s trading community is considered a traditional vote bank of the BJP and is known to have a decisive role in the elections. The community said hit by demonetisation, GST and sealing, “traders have been at the receiving end for far too long.”

‘We want welfare’

“DPCC president Sheila Dikshit was running this same government without statehood being an issue. People are worried about jobs, job security, escalating cost of education, felling of trees and rising air pollution. We want the government to work on these issues…statehood and power struggle can wait. We are not interested in politics. We want welfare,” said Balbir Sharma, who lives in Mansarover Garden and works as a manager in a private firm.

Mr. Sharma added that he is not sure that Delhi will “function as well as it does now if power is given to only the State government.”

But many in the constituency said the overall work done by AAP in terms of mohalla clinics, mobile health vans, mobile garbage collection vans and improvement of Delhi government schools has helped them. Hema Devi has three children studying in government schools in R.K. Puram. She said the education standard has improved.

“Teachers come regularly and copies are checked. We have regular parent-teacher meetings, which were earlier just an eyewash. I would like to see an AAP member in the Parliament.” However, the LGBTQIA community said they were expecting a lot from APP’s manifesto because “we always saw this as a party with a difference”. “We are disappointed to say that this time, AAP has been a huge let down for the disability and the LGBTQIA community. Never have we seen any party taking such a huge U-turn. In 2014, they had a four-point agenda but this one is a complete disaster as there is no mention of them,” said disability rights activist Satendra Singh, a doctor at the University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital, Delhi.




Karnataka limits weight of school bags





Karnataka limits weight of school bags

Schools told to ensure their weight is not more than 10% of that of the child

Special Correspondent

A burden no more: Schools have been told provide space in classrooms where students can store their books. File photo

Bengaluru

Children weighed down by school bags will finally get some relief. The Karnataka government on Friday issued an order directing all schools in the State, including government, aided and unaided institutions, to ensure that the weight of a school bag is not more than 10% of the child’s weight.

As per the order, a bag of a student in Class 1 or 2 should weigh no more than 2 kg. It can weigh anywhere between 2 and 3 kg for students from Class 3 to 5.

The prescribed weight increases progressively, with students in Class 9 and 10 allowed to carry bags in the 4-5 kg range.

No homework

The order also states that students in Classes 1 and 2 should not be given any homework. Schools must set a timetable in advance, which will limit the number of books that have to be brought to class every day. All classwork should be kept in the school itself, either in files or books.

Managements have been directed to create awareness about the health hazards of lugging heavy school bags. The order also says that schools must provide some space in classrooms where students can store their notebooks and textbooks.

Another measure to ease the daily load is to make provisions for drinking water facilities so students don’t have to carry water bottles in their bags.

Schools have also been directed not to ask students to keep books of more than 100 pages, while the third Saturday of every month should be followed as a “No School Bag Day”. On that day, teachers have to engage students without any books or supplementary materials. Suggested activities include field visits, general knowledge clubs, art classes, indoor and outdoor games, abacus, dance classes, and debates.

‘Unscientific method’

Not all schools have welcomed the move, claiming that the limit on the weight of a school bag was assigned without enough evidence. “We object to the unscientific method by which the weight of the bag has been fixed. It has been done without any proper research. Practical observation and bags available in the market were not considered. Our objections were not considered by the education department,” said D. Shashi Kumar, general secretary, Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka.

The order comes after the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development in October last year directed all States to draw up guidelines to reduce the weight of school bags.

Following the Ministry’s direction, the Department of Primary and Secondary Education took up a pilot study, which was conducted by the Directorate of State Education, Research and Training and the Centre for Child and Law, National Law School of India University.



A home for Malappuram’s hero





A home for Malappuram’s hero

K.P. Jaisal, who crouched in floodwaters to help a victim, gets a new house

Abdul Latheef Naha

A file photo of K.P. Jaisal in the floodwater. At right is his new house.Special Arrangement

MALAPPURAM

It was a selfless, spontaneous gesture from K.P. Jaisal to help a flood victim get onto a boat. But his act of crouching down on all fours in the swirling floodwater to offer his back as a foot step for the woman, made him an instant hero as Kerala reeled from the worst floods in history last August.

Although Jaisal, a fisherman from Tanur here in Kerala, became a hero within hours after his gesture went viral on social media, very few knew that he lived in a makeshift shanty with his wife and three children.

After the rescue, global media lauded Mr. Jaisal and philanthropists and social organisations showered him with accolades and gifts, including a car from a popular dealer. And the Sunni Yuvajana Sangham (SYS), a youth organisation of the Sunni community, working to help flood victims rebuild their homes, went a step ahead. The Sangham came up with a plan to build him a house on a small plot of land that he owned. In culmination of the effort, the SYS offered him the key to a new house at Aavil Beach near Parappanangadi in Malappuram district on Saturday. An overwhelmed Mr. Jaisal said, “It’s a dream come true for me.”

The SYS completed the two-storey, two-bedroom house in 1,100 sqft in less than seven months at a cost of ₹16 lakh. “As we had already been involved in a massive charity work called Santhwanam, we had to seek the help of our expatriate voluntary wing for financial support,” said SYS leader Jamal Karulai.



Most complex mission ahead: Sivan





Most complex mission ahead: Sivan

Assembly of launch vehicle for Chandrayaan-2 under way at Sriharikota

Tiki Rajwi
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft will be ready for integration with the launch vehicle this month, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) K. Sivan said on Saturday.

Mr. Sivan, who is on a visit to the ISRO facilities here, told The Hindu that the assembly of the launch vehicle, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III (GSLV Mk-III), was on at the Sriharikota spaceport.

On May 1, the ISRO announced a July 9-July 16 launch window for India’s second moon mission with plans to land on the lunar surface on September 6.

“All systems are ready. The satellite (Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft) will be ready for integration in May. But unlike other satellites, we cannot launch it just because it is ready. We need to have specific conditions on the moon for a landing,” he said.

The spacecraft has three modules: an orbiter, a lander (Vikram), and a rover (Pragyan). Mr. Sivan said Chandrayaan-2 was the most complex mission undertaken by the ISRO to date, primarily on account of the soft touchdown required at the chosen landing site — near the lunar south pole.

The Moon Impact Probe (MIP) on Chandrayaan-1, by comparison, had not been designed for a soft landing.

Safe landing

For a safe landing on the moon, the velocity of the lander — which will detach from the orbiter — has to be reduced under right conditions, Mr. Sivan said. “To achieve that remotely is a very complex operation. We have built the systems for that.” Mr. Sivan also drew attention to the failed ‘Beresheet’, a privately funded Israeli mission, where the lander crashed on the lunar surface in April.

The GSLV Mk-III, which will lift the spacecraft, will be carrying its heaviest payload to date — 3.8 tonnes.



HC affirms conviction in royal family property scam





HC affirms conviction in royal family property scam

I-T official, 6 others were charged in the 24-year-old case

Special Correspondent
Bengaluru

The High Court of Karnataka has upheld the conviction of seven persons, including an official and a clerk of the Income Tax Department, in a 24-year-old scam to knock off property belonging to the family of the Mysore Maharaja. They had sold the property, worth crores, at a throwaway price to their coterie through a dubious public auction process.

The convicts are C. Subbarayan, former I-T Inspector; B.N. Rajanna, former UDC of the department; Jagadeep R. Thandani, Director of M/s Belair Estates Pvt. Ltd., and private individuals S. Narayanamurthy, R.S. Sethuraman, B.C. Ashwath, and M.D. Bheema Naidu.

Justice N.K. Sudhindrarao passed the order while upholding the August 30, 2010, verdict of a Special Court for CBI cases, which had convicted eight of the 10 accused against whom the CBI had filed the chargesheet.

“This is an ideal case to show how conspiracy is hatched, system is cheated, misuse of laws is effected, and white-collared crime is committed, wherein all the accused persons are equally liable for the offences,” the High Court observed.

Two accused dead

Two accused, Shivanna, Income Tax Recovery Officer (ITRO), and K. Ramanna, UDC, died during the pendency of the trial, and convict Narasimhamurthy, a private individual, died during the course of his appeal in the High Court.

The public auction of the 10-acre property, situated at survey number 4, Kurubarahalli, near Zoo Garden, Mysuru, belonging to Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, was organised on October 30, 1995, by ITRO Shivanna to recover income tax dues of around ₹7.51 crore.

Two officials, two clerks of the department along with six private individuals had created fake documents to undervalue the prime property and the reserve price for auction was fixed at just ₹2 lakh per acre against ₹30-40 lakh per acre. The convicts had ensured that no bidder other then their coterie participated in the auction.

Subsequently, the Commissioner of Income Tax, on complaints by Wadiyar and others, cancelled the auction. The CBI registered a case in February 1996.



Centre reviews rescue operation in Odisha, Bengal, A.P.





Centre reviews rescue operation in Odisha, Bengal, A.P.

Following a request, NEET postponed in Odisha; rail line cleared partially; flight operations resume at Kolkata and Bhubaneswar airports

Special Correspondent

The path of devastation: Debris seen on a road near Puri in Odisha. Biswaranjan Rout

New Delhi

The Union Health Ministry on Saturday decided to postpone the NEET examination in Odisha, which was scheduled for May 5, following a request from the State government in view of the ongoing rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of Cyclone Fani.

The decision was conveyed to the National Crisis Management Committee that reviewed the ongoing operations in the cyclone-hit areas of Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

Cabinet Secretary P. K. Sinha held the meeting with the officials concerned through video-conferencing. Among the participants were also senior officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministries of Home Affairs, Defence, Shipping, Civil Aviation, Railway, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Power, Telecommunications, Steel, Drinking Water and Sanitation, Food Processing, Health, Fisheries and other departments.

Extensive damage

Odisha officials said there was extensive damage to the telecommunications and power infrastructure in Puri, Bhubaneswar and other areas due to the cyclone. However, due to advance precautionary measures taken and large-scale evacuation, the loss of human lives was minimal.

West Bengal reported mild impact of the cyclone, while Andhra Pradesh recorded heavy rainfall and some damage to crops and roads in Srikakulam district.

The Cabinet Secretary directed the Ministry of Power and Department of Telecommunications to immediately assist the Odisha government in providing electrical poles, gang workmen and diesel generator sets for quick restoration of power supply.

The transmission line supplying power to Bhubaneswar is expected to be restored by Saturday evening. The Department of Telecommunications also indicated that mobile services would be restored partially.

The Railway, which suffered major damages to its infrastructure, has cleared the mainline for starting partial operations using diesel-operated locomotives.

“No damages to ports and refinery installations were reported. NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) has moved 16 additional teams for rescue and relief work in Odisha and has removed fallen trees and other obstacles on most of the roads,” said a government statement. Flight operations also resumed at the Kolkata and Bhubaneswar airports on Saturday, said the Ministry of Civil Aviation.



State-owned NewSpace creates a flutter among space startups





State-owned NewSpace creates a flutter among space startups

No clarity yet on functioning of the new business arm of DoS

Madhumathi D.S.

NewSpace India Ltd. was quietly registered on March 6.

Bengaluru

In early March, the small set of NewSpace entities in the country sat up in disbelief to see a state-run company taking birth in that name although it did not fit the standard definition of their league.

On March 6, the Department of Space (DoS) quietly registered its second commercial entity, NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL), in Bengaluru.

At the time, the small, new age ventures and startups foraying into the space industry were still coming to terms with the news of February 19 that the Union Cabinet had cleared a new business arm for DoS.

Surprise, because DoS already has a commercial venture, Antrix Corporation Limited, which was set up in September 1992 to market the products and services of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

While the government hasn’t said much about NSIL plans since the first announcement, officials in the DoS and ISRO have been trying to figure out how exactly Antrix and NSIL would operate their respective businesses in the common, niche area.

What we do know is that NSIL has an authorised capital of ₹10 crore and a paid up capital of ₹1 crore. And that two senior officials of Antrix — Executive Director D.R. Suma and Director (launch services) D. Radhakrishnan — were moved to NewSpace in March to help the new venture get off the ground.

Board soon

Two senior ISRO officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was still early to talk about the new company. “Currently the department [DoS] is completing statutory formalities such as the formation of a board of 8-10 directors,” one of the officials said. “We would like to do it as quickly as possible. A selection committee will find the Chairman and Managing Director,” the official added.

“Both the companies are there [now]. Their roles and responsibilities will be divided. The new company will basically focus on industry participation. Clarity will emerge as we go forward,” the official observed.

“A lot of new [business] activities are cropping up, such as customer satellites, spinoff technologies, industry participation, production partners, ground stations, and satellite data sales,” the official said.

Some serving and former DoS associates apprehend that NSIL may one day cannibalise Antrix and reduce it to an idle shell. They contend that the government may have created NSIL just to erase an eight-year-old blot and resultant liabilities associated with Antrix’s cancelled Devas contract. The ISRO official, however, ruled out any such eventuality, asserting that Antrix’s expertise, accumulated over decades, could not be recreated or transferred overnight.



PMO’s monitoring is not interference: govt.





PMO’s monitoring is not interference: govt.

The government attacked the court’s April 10 judgment agreeing to hear the review petitions on the basis of the Rafale purchase documents published in the media.

The government said the judgment would now be taken to imply that any secret document can be obtained through any means and put in the public domain without attracting penal action.

“This could lead to the revelation of all closely guarded State Secrets relating to space, nuclear installations, strategic defence capabilities, operational deployment of forces, intelligence resources in the country and outside, counter-terrorism and counter insurgency measures etc. This could have implications in the financial sector also if say budget proposals are published before they are presented in Parliament. Such disclosures of secret government information will have grave repercussions on the very existence of the Indian State,” it cautioned.

The government countered the petitioners’ argument that the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) was turned on its head when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the French President announced the purchase in a statement on April 10, 2015 — that is, well over a year before the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved the purchase on August 24, 2016.

The DPP mandates that any defence deal worth over ₹1000 crore first requires CCS approval.

The government claimed “DPP does not mandate approvals prior to conveying an intent or making an announcement.” It said a waiver of sovereign guarantee in Inter Governmental Agreements (IGA) was “not unusual”.

In contracts signed with Rosoboronexport, the requirement of bank guarantees was waived off in view of assurances provided through a ‘Letter of Comfort’ from the government of the Russian Federation, the government said, adding, “Similarly, in Foreign Military Sales (FMS) with the U.S. government, no sovereign/bank guarantee is signed.”

Offset partner

It reiterated that it had no role in selection of the Indian Offset Partner, which is a commercial decision of Dassault Aviation.

The government dismissed allegations such as the “Reliance Group paid €1.48 million to former French President Francois Hollande’s partner’s venture.” It said these charges were “matters of individual perceptions” of the petitioners.

It said DPP-2013 was followed and approval of the Defence Acquisition Council was taken for the procurement of the Rafale aircraft. The Indian Negotiating Team conducted comprehensive negotiations with the French side for about a year, holding 48 internal and 26 external meetings with the French side. The approval of the CCS was taken before signing the IGA.

The Rafale procurement was on schedule with the deliveries of the aircraft commencing September, 2019 and training for the Air Force team had begun in France, the government said.


* Foreign

200 rockets fired from Gaza

 

200 rockets fired from Gaza

Israel responds with air strike on rocket launchers, hits Hamas military posts

Agence France-Presse

Ceasefire falters: A picture taken from the southern Israeli village of Netiv Haasara shows an explosion caused by an air raid across the border in Gaza Strip on Saturday.AFPJACK GUEZ

Gaza City

Gaza militants on Saturday fired some 200 rockets at Israel, which responded with strikes that killed a baby, her pregnant mother and another Palestinian, officials said, as a fragile ceasefire faltered and a further escalation was feared. The latest flare-up came with Hamas seeking further concessions from Israel under the ceasefire.

Israel said around 200 rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave and its air defences intercepted dozens of them.

One woman was seriously injured in a rocket strike on the Israeli city of Kiryat Gat, some 20 km from the Gaza border, police said.

Police said a man was also hospitalised in the city of Ashkelon and spoke of other injuries without providing details. A house near Ashkelon was damaged, while other rockets hit open areas.

120 military targets hit

The Israeli Army said its tanks and planes hit some 120 militant targets in its response. They included an Islamic Jihad attack tunnel that stretched from southern Gaza into Israeli territory, military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

The Gaza Health Ministry reported a 22-year-old man as well as a 14-month-old baby and her pregnant mother killed, with 17 others wounded. An Israeli Army spokeswoman said the military did not have any information on the incident involving the baby. The Army said earlier it was targeting only military sites. As the exchange of fire continued, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held consultations with security chiefs.

A statement from Hamas ally Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for at least some of the rocket fire and said it was prepared for more if necessary. Its armed wing distributed a video showing militants handling rockets and threatening key Israeli sites, including Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv. A source in the Islamic Jihad group said Egypt was engaged in discussions to calm the situation, as it has done repeatedly in the past. The European Union called for an immediate halt to rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel said it was closing its people and goods crossings with Gaza, as well as the zone it allows for fishermen off the enclave, until further notice due to the rocket fire. “Over the coming hours we will continue and we will broaden our offensive efforts, air force efforts, inside the Gaza Strip, again focusing only on military targets,” said Mr. Conricus.

The escalation follows the most violent clashes along the Gaza border in weeks on Friday. Four Palestinians, including two Hamas militants, were killed after two Israeli soldiers were wounded in a shooting during weekly protests on the border. Israel blamed Islamic Jihad for what it called a sniper attack, but stressed it held Hamas responsible for all violence from Gaza.

Efforts at de-escalation

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas brokered by Egypt and the UN had led to relative calm around Israel’s April 9 general election.

The ceasefire has seen Israel allow Qatar to provide millions of dollars in aid to Gaza to pay salaries and to finance fuel purchases to ease a severe electricity shortage.

Several factors may lead Israel to seek to calm the situation quickly.

Mr. Netanyahu is engaged in tough negotiations to form a new government following last month’s election, while Israel is due to host the Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv from May 14 to 18. The country also celebrates its Independence Day on Thursday. On the Gazan side, the Muslim holy month of Ramzan begins later in May.

 

 

Coronation of Thailand’s ‘Rama X’ begins

 

Coronation of Thailand’s ‘Rama X’ begins

Maha Vajiralongkorn crowned the King in an event that will continue on Sunday

Agence France-Presse

Royal and divine: Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn sitting on the throne after being crowned on Saturday.AP

Bangkok

To the boom of cannons, pipes and chants, King Maha Vajiralongkorn was crowned on Saturday in a ceremony governed by centuries-old rituals, vowing a righteous reign and calling for “national security” and “happiness” in a remarkable display of royal power.

Starting at the auspicious time of 10.09 a.m. (0309 GMT), the public was granted a rare window into the cloistered halls of Thai royalty as the three-day coronation began.

10th Chakri monarch

King Vajiralongkorn is the 10th monarch of the Chakri dynasty, which has reigned over the kingdom since 1782. He ascended the throne over two years ago following the death of his beloved father.

Saturday’s sombre ceremony opened with the white-gowned King receiving sacred water and dabbing it gently across his face at a shrine inside the Grand Palace complex. A cannon salute marked the moment as pipes played and Buddhist monks chanted. Several grey-haired Hindu Brahmins were also in attendance at a ceremony that symbolises Rama X’s transformation from human to divine figure.

He later took his seat under the umbrella of state and was handed the Great Crown of Victory, a 7.3-kg tiered gold headpiece topped by a diamond from India.

For most Thais, it is the first time they have witnessed a coronation — the last was in 1950 for the King’s beloved father Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The $31 million coronation continues on Sunday with the King appearing in a hours-long procession along a seven-km route twisting through the old city.

Born on July 28, 1952, the British-schooled King Vajiralongkorn is known for his love of cycling and piloting jets, but he spends much of his time abroad — mainly in Germany — and remains something of a mystery to many Thais.

 

 

Boeing 737 skids into Florida river

 

Boeing 737 skids into Florida river

 

Agence France-Presse

 

Miami

A Boeing 737 skidded off a runway into a river after crash-landing during a lightning storm in Florida on Friday, officials said, with terrified passengers all safely evacuated to shore from the stricken jet’s wings. The plane carrying 143 people, including crew from Guantanamo Bay, slammed into shallow water next to a naval air station in Jacksonville after a hard landing that saw the plane bounce and swerve down the runway, passengers said.

No fatalities or critical injuries were reported.

 

 

Huawei 5G leak not a criminal offence: police

 

Huawei 5G leak not a criminal offence: police

 

Agence France-Presse

 

London

The top-secret leak that Britain had conditionally allowed China’s Huawei to develop its 5G network does not amount to a criminal offence, police concluded on Saturday.

Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday sacked Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary over the leak last month of the bitterly-disputed decision made at the April 23 meeting of the National Security Council. Some senior Opposition figures called for a police investigation. In a statement on Saturday, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the head of Specialist Operations at London’s Metropolitan Police, said a probe would be inappropriate.

“I am satisfied that what was disclosed did not contain information that would breach the Official Secrets Act,” said Mr. Basu, whose section is responsible for investigating alleged criminal breaches of the Act.

 

 

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Steering away from diesel





Steering away from diesel

Leading passenger vehicle markets such as the European Union are opting for other fuels. What is the trend against this heavy polluter fuel in India?

G. Ananthakrishnan

The story so far: On April 25, Maruti Suzuki, India’s top carmaker, announced that it would phase out production of diesel models from April 1, 2020, when stricter Bharat Stage VI emission standards come into force. What does this mean for the auto industry?

Why did Maruti take this decision?

Explaining its rationale, the leading passenger vehicle manufacturer said the enhanced emission standards would make diesel engines costlier by up to ₹1.5 lakh, and the acquisition cost of diesel vehicles for consumers would be markedly higher than petrol equivalents. Given the market dynamics, it would not make business sense for the company to invest in developing new diesel engines to meet the BS VI norms. Compressed Natural Gas could be a replacement for both fuels, according to Maruti.

Diesel cars account for about 23% of Maruti’s domestic sales and it sold a total of 4.63 lakh diesel-powered vehicles during 2018-19.

On the consumer side, diesel vehicles are not particularly attractive today. The traditional advantage of lower operating costs due to a wide gap between expensive petrol and lower cost diesel has narrowed significantly. On Saturday, the price of diesel in a city like Chennai was ₹70.48 per litre compared to ₹75.92 per litre for petrol.

Environmentally, diesel is a heavy polluter and is losing ground in leading passenger vehicle markets such as the European Union. The rigging of emissions data by Volkswagen to show lower levels of nitrogen oxides accelerated the move away from diesel. Even in Germany, which is a leading maker of diesel cars, cities want to ban them.

Why is the move significant?

India has a growing vehicle-to-population ratio, although it is still lower than several other big countries. While Maruti’s is a business decision, policy decisions on emission norms will steer the industry, and are therefore critical to improving air quality.

Ambient air quality has deteriorated so badly that 15 Indian cities led by Gurugram are among the 20 most polluted cities globally as per the IQAir AirVisual ‘World Air Quality Report’ for 2018, based on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that penetrates the lungs and bloodstream. Transport emissions, particularly from diesel, are a major contributor.

As of 2017, India’s installed capacity for vehicle production stood at 7 million four-wheelers and 27.56 million two and three-wheelers. Commercial three-wheelers, such as large autorickshaws, sold in the past include heavily polluting diesel models that continue to operate even in densely populated cities.

During 2017-18 the auto industry produced over four million passenger vehicles and just under 900,000 commercial vehicles, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

After the decontrol of diesel pricing about five years ago, the share of diesel models in car sales has dropped from nearly 43% in 2012-13 to 23% at the end of 2018.

What is diesel’s pollution profile?

The Auto Fuel Vision and Policy 2025 published by the erstwhile Planning Commission, which laid out the road map for a transition to less polluting fuels, pointed out that sulphur in diesel is a contributor to particulate matter both in the vehicular exhaust and in the atmosphere. Sulphur is found in petrol too, but for comparison, it was 2,000 parts per million (ppm) in petrol before introduction of standards in 2000, but in diesel it was 10,000 parts per million (ppm) in 1996. Sulphur content was reduced with each phase of upgradation of emission standards to touch 50 ppm under BS IV. In BS VI, which is already dispensed in Delhi, it is 10 ppm.

Sulphur plays a key role since higher concentrations have an impact on technologies for control of other pollutants in the emissions, such as carbon monoxide, particulates, oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbons.

The importance of cleaner diesel was studied in Karnataka, and data show that adoption of Bharat IV diesel in 2015 had an impact on the sulphur dioxide (SO2) concentrations. The sulphur content of diesel changed from 350 ppm to 50 ppm. There was a 25% drop in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations too, which could also be linked to change in the fuel quality. But such gains were neutralised by traffic growth. The rise in larger PM10 concentrations by 50%, was linked to growing numbers of vehicles and dust resuspension, besides construction activity.

Even with cleaner fuel, increase in vehicle numbers, especially those running on diesel cut into the gains. It was witnessed in Delhi, where, in spite of a shift of buses and autorickshaws to CNG during 1998-2002, the air quality gains were soon lost to explosive motorisation.

Bengaluru also had a similar experience, as a study by the Air Pollution Knowledge Assessment City Program by Urbanemissions.info showed. The city has steadily motorised, and number of vehicles registered per 1,000 population increased from 150 in 1990 to 300 in 2001 and 600 in 2016.

Within the transport sector, more than 70% of PM2.5 emissions were found to originate from a small fraction of diesel-powered vehicles. Also an estimated 200 million litres of diesel are used by diesel generator sets in the city annually.

Data for Delhi from 2011 led researchers to conclude that on-road commuters are exposed to 1.5 times the average ambient concentrations. Automotive emissions add to the pollution burden imposed by manufacturing and construction activity, power plants, biomass burning for cooking and heating, and incineration of farm residues and garbage.

How can eliminating diesel improve health?

Air pollution is a leading contributor to non-communicable diseases and accounts for a large number of premature deaths. The World Health Organisation describes diesel exhaust as an occupational cancer-causing agent.

In India, the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 attributed 8% of the disease burden, and 11% of premature deaths in people below 70 years of age to air pollution.

An assessment by researchers published by The Lancet Planetary Health in December 2018 said most Indian States, particularly those in north India, and 77% of the country’s population were exposed to an annual population-weighted mean [fine particulate matter], PM2·5, greater than the 40 microgrammes per cubic metre of air limit recommended by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Even with a reduction in the sulphur content in BS VI fuels, the health effects of lower emissions would be lost due to a growing number of vehicles. The best scenario to reduce PM2.5 exposure in India is, therefore, not just shifting to BS VI fuels but bringing about a reduction in use of private vehicles through augmented public transport and promoting alternative fuels including the use of electric vehicles.

In his book, The Invisible Killer, air pollution scientist Gary Fuller says diesel cars were promoted by a variety of actors, such as oil companies, governments, and vehicle manufacturers in the 1990s in order to create a market for the middle fractions of crude oil. Real-world emissions in new cars have not always aligned with expected type-approval tests. While test cycle nitrogen oxide emissions decreased by 80% since 1992, the real driving emissions from diesel cars increased about 20%, says Prof. Fuller in a recent paper.

In Europe, trucks and buses were already running on diesel, and industries and governments promoted its use in cars, giving petrol a lesser profile. Car makers produced newer diesel engines and promoted them citing lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions compared to petrol equivalents.

India has slowly moved towards stricter regulation through mass emission norms for vehicles. The first standards came into force in 1991 for petrol vehicles, and a year later, for diesel vehicles. Based on Supreme Court orders of 1999, the Central government notified the Bharat Stage II norms for the National Capital Region and Bharat Stage I for the rest of India, from 2000. After transitioning over the years to BS III and BS IV, BS VI (the equivalent of Euro VI) standard will cover vehicles manufactured on or after April 1, 2020. (BS V has been skipped altogether.) Its 10 ppm sulphur standard will be less polluting, since the current level is 50 ppm.




Chips at stake in the PepsiCo-farmers fight





Chips at stake in the PepsiCo-farmers fight

Who has infringed on rights under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001?

Priscilla Jebaraj

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The story so far: A David versus Goliath story has played out in Gujarat over the last month, with food and beverages giant PepsiCo dragging potato farmers to court for allegedly growing its registered potato variety used to make ‘Lays’ chips. Four small farmers from Sabarkantha district were sued ₹1.05 crore each, although they cite a law allowing them to grow and sell even registered plant varieties. Faced with growing social media outrage, boycott calls from farmers groups and condemnation from major political parties, the company finally agreed to withdraw cases after talks with the Gujarat government.

When was the variety introduced?

PepsiCo introduced, in 2009, the FC5 variety of potato that it uses to make its popular ‘Lays’ potato chips to India. The potato variety is grown by approximately 12,000 farmers who are a part of the company’s collaborative farming programme, wherein the company sells seeds to farmers and has an exclusive contract to buy back their produce. In 2016, the company registered the variety under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 (PPV&FRA).

Finding that farmers who were not part of its collaborative farming programme were also growing and selling potatoes of this variety in Gujarat, PepsiCo filed rights infringement cases under the Act against some farmers in Sabarkantha, Banaskantha and Aravalli districts in 2018 and 2019. Farmers allege that the company hired a private detective agency to pose as potential buyers, take secret video footage and collect samples from farmers’ fields without disclosing its real intent.

What is the farmers’ stand?

The ₹4.2 crore lawsuit against four small farmers in Sabarkantha district was heard by an Ahmedabad commercial court on April 9, and an ex-parte injunction ordered against the farmers. However, farmers’ rights groups across the country began a campaign against PepsiCo, requesting the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority to intervene in the case and bear the farmers’ legal costs using the National Gene Fund. At the April 26 hearing, the company offered an out-of-court settlement to the farmers on the condition that they give an undertaking not to grow the registered variety and surrender existing stocks or to join its collaborative farming programme.

Demanding an unconditional withdrawal of cases, farmers unions affiliated to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the Left parties joined in boycott calls against PepsiCo products and stoked outrage on social media as well. In the midst of an election season in which agricultural issues are in the spotlight, senior political leaders from the Congress and BJP added their criticism. On April 27, the Gujarat government announced that it would back the farmers and join the legal case on their behalf, although it later indicated it was working toward an out-of-court settlement. Finally, on May 2, PepsiCo agreed to withdraw all nine cases after discussions with the government.

What is the legal basis for the suit?

Both PepsiCo and the farmers cite the same Act to support their opposing positions. The PPV&FRA was enacted in 2001 to comply with the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

PepsiCo based its suits on Section 64 of the Act dealing with infringements of the registered breeder’s rights and subsequent penalties. The farmers’ legal case depended on Section 39 of the Act, which allows the cultivator to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act” with the sole exception of branded seed. As this section begins with the words “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act…”, farmers claim their rights have precedence.

Over the last decade, more than 3,600 plant varieties have been registered under the Act, with more than half of the registration certificates going to farmers themselves. This was the first case of infringement of rights under the Act, according to the central agency set up to implement the Act.

Who are the stakeholders and what are the stakes?

“The company is harassing us. I am not a crorepati, I cannot afford to pay these damages they want,” says Haribhai Patel, who owns four acres and was sued for ₹1.05 crore. He claims he bought potato seeds locally, and is within his rights to grow and sell any variety. Even PepsiCo supporters admit that they lost the perception battle by dragging small farmers to court for large sums in election season.

However, some of the farmers sued in 2018 seem to be larger players with bigger stakes in the game. Fulchand Kachchhawa reportedly owns over 150 acres of land, as well as cold storage facilities, and is a potato grower and trader selling much of his produce to ‘Balaji Wafers’, the major regional competitor of ‘Lays’ chips. It is alleged that he sells the registered variety of seeds to smaller farmers and buys their produce as well. It is unclear whether his activities would be protected under Section 39 of the PPV&FRA.

PepsiCo says its collaborative farming programme and registered variety rights are under threat. While ‘Lays’ claims to be a leader in the country’s ₹5,500 crore potato chips market, regional players are eating into the market share.

Farmers rights groups such as the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture saw the issue as a test case on farmers rights in India under the WTO regime, and warned that a bad precedent could hurt farmers of other crops and endanger the country’s food sovereignty.

What happens next?

While farmers have claimed victory, they also demanded an apology from PepsiCo and plan to sue for compensation for “harassment” by the company. They are also wary of any future government-facilitated negotiations on seed protection and the rights of breeders. Pepsico’s decision to withdraw the cases was “backed by an assurance from the government for a long term amicable settlement”, according to sources familiar with the development, who added that both the Gujarat government and the Centre were involved in that assurance for further talks.



Points of conflict





Points of conflict

Why has the Supreme Court given an ultimatum to the Reserve Bank of India on loan defaulters?

Prashanth Perumal J.

REUTERS

The story so far: On April 26, the Supreme Court directed the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to disclose to the public the names of wilful defaulters on loans and also other information gathered by the central bank during its annual inspection of commercial banks. The RBI and the Supreme Court have been at loggerheads over this issue for a while now, with the central bank repeatedly refusing to obey the orders of the Supreme Court.

What did the RBI do?

In January 2016, the RBI refused to comply with demands made by activists under the Right to Information Act (RTI) to disclose copies of the annual inspection reports on banks such as the State Bank of India, Axis Bank, and ICICI Bank despite orders from the Supreme Court. The RBI also refused to provide information regarding the derivative losses suffered by banks and the fines imposed on banks by the RBI for violating various norms. The Supreme Court has this time around given the RBI a “last opportunity” to abide by its orders or face serious penal action. The disclosure of information about banks, however, is not the only point of conflict between two of the nation’s powerful institutions. In early April, the Supreme Court quashed the RBI’s circular issued on February 12, 2018 which directed banks to resolve their troubled loans within a period of 180 days. If banks failed to resolve their bad loans within the given deadline, the bad loan cases would be sent to bankruptcy courts.

Why does it matter?

The outcome of the battle between the RBI and the Supreme Court will determine the amount of information related to banks that will be made available to the public. Supporters of the Supreme Court’s position believe that greater transparency will allow the general public and investors in public and private sector banks to make better decisions with their money. In particular, they point to the problem of wilful defaults that has been plaguing banks. According to data gathered by TransUnion CIBIL, the amount of wilful defaults has risen by four times in the last five years from ₹39,504 crore at the end of March 2014 to ₹1,61,213 crore at the end of December 2018. At the same time, the number of wilful defaulters has doubled over the same period. State Bank of India, the largest public sector bank, has suffered the largest amount of wilful defaults among all banks.

The disclosure of the names of wilful defaulters to the public, many believe, will help bring about better credit discipline in the country by exposing problems brewing within banks sooner rather than later. In fact, they find it surprising that the RBI which has been spearheading the fight against bad loans is unwilling to release vital information on wilful defaulters to the public. The RBI, on its part, has argued that the disclosure of auditing information related to banks can lead to the exposure of sensitive information that may not be in the commercial interest of banks or even in the interest of the wider economy. The RBI also seems to believe that releasing information about defaulters can unfairly shame borrowers who may genuinely not be able to pay back their loans due to various financial difficulties. Such shaming could have the unintended consequence of impeding genuine business activity in the economy. The central bank has also put forward the argument that it has the fiduciary duty to protect certain information about banks.

What lies ahead?

It is hard to predict what will happen next in this battle. The Supreme Court may begin contempt proceedings against the RBI if it chooses to disobey its latest order, but the impact this will have on the RBI’s freedom remains to be seen. The RBI has chosen not to obey orders coming from the Supreme Court in the past, including previous proceedings of contempt against it. If the RBI is forced to abide by the Supreme Court order, it will certainly increase publicly available information on banks. Greater transparency will also help make the RBI more accountable. If there are legitimate reasons for banks and the RBI to withhold certain information from the public domain, however, the forced disclosure of information following the Supreme Court’s order may lead to various unintended consequences both within the financial sector and the broader economy. The RBI, for instance, may choose to not include in its annual inspection reports certain sensitive information about banks that it feels shouldn’t be in the public domain.


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