India Newsletter

FRONT PAGE NEWS
8 February 2020

AFTER A SUPERCHARGED CAMPAIGN, DELHI GOES TO POLLS TODAY; SHAHEEN BAGH PROTESTORS READY TOO

After a hectic and high-octane election campaign, the capital goes to polls
today. To ensure safe polling, at least 40,000 Delhi Police personnel,
19,000 home guards, and 190 companies of paramilitary forces have been
deployed across the city - apart from checking drives, flying squads and
patrolling on boats in the Yamuna.
The days leading up to the elections have witnessed anti-CAA protests in
parts of the city, two shootings at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh, and provocative
sloganeering that earned the ire of the Election Commission.
In order to ensure that February 8 goes by smoothly, especially at Shaheen
Bagh, special security arrangements were put in place by police as well as
volunteers at the 55-day protest site. On Friday, at least three SHOs of
South East district were stationed at Shaheen Bagh, and the layers of
barricades leading up to the site were guarded by the paramilitary force.
A volunteer at the protest and local resident Heena (45) said, "We don't
want any violent party to take advantage of the election and disturb the
women. In the morning, the youngsters will go and cast their vote while the
elderly will sit here. After 2-3 pm, the youngsters will sit here and the
old women will go.


I ASSURE YOU CAA WON'T LEAD TO OUTSIDER INFLUX: PM IN ASSAM

Assuring the people of Assam that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act will not
lead to outsiders settling in the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said
Friday that "certain forces" were spreading misinformation on the CAA and
that the country will "neither tolerate nor forgive" them.
The Prime Minister was in Assam for the first time after the violent
protests in December against the new citizenship law that left six people
dead.
Amidst loud cheers, and fluttering Tricolours and All Bodo Students Union
flags, Modi asked the gathering in Kokrajhar in Bodoland Territorial Region
to celebrate the government's accord with Bodo groups signed last month.
Following the signing, over 1,600 members of the Bodo militant outfit NDFB
laid down their weapons.
"I have come to assure the people of Assam that the country will neither
tolerate nor forgive anti-Assam and anti-India mentality and its supporters.
These are the same forces that are spreading rumours in Assam and Northeast
that through CAA people from outside will come to Assam and they will be
settled here. I want to assure that nothing of that sort will happen," Modi
said.
He said that just like Bodo groups have come together to join the
mainstream, others' "misconceptions too will get cleared soon".
"Friends, have trust in me, I am yours. Your sadness and pain, your hopes
and aspirations, your children's bright future. I will not be behind in
doing whatever I can for that," Modi said.
Modi pitched the recent Bodo accord as a way to "permanent peace" and
welcomed all those who gave up arms and returned to the mainstream. He said
it marked a new beginning for Assam and the Northeast in the 21st century.


CHAOS IN LS AS VARDHAN ATTACKS RAHUL

A day after PM Narendra Modi attacked Rahul Gandhi in the Lok Sabha,
treasury and Opposition members came to near blows inside the House after
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, instead of answering the Congress MP's
question, condemned his "danda" jibe against the PM.
As Rahul rose during Question Hour to seek clarification on lack of medical
colleges in his parliamentary segment Wayanad, Vardhan started reading a
prepared text, condemning his comments against the PM during a poll rally in
Delhi. "I condemn in no uncertain words the outlandish personal remarks made
by Rahul Gandhi against Prime Minister Modi," read out Vardhan.
Provoked, Congress MPs protested. But Vardhan continued to read the text
despite Speaker Om Birla asking him to answer the question. Amid vociferous
protests, Congress MP Manickam Tagore tried to snatch the paper that Vardhan
was reading. Rahul later called the ruckus "orchestrated".
The Health Minister said: "In a recent speech, Rahul Gandhi used words like
'after six months country's youth will beat Narendra Modi with sticks and
throw him out'. I am surprised that his own father was Prime Minister and I
don't think that in the worst of cases our party leaders made such
outlandish personal remarks against him....". As Manickam Tagore rushed to
the Well to snatch Vardhan's paper, BJP's Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a
wrestler, physically restrained him. Congress MP from Kerala Hibi Eden and
Union Minister Smriti Irani were seen trying to intervene.
The House was adjourned as BJP MPs demanded that Tagore be expelled. Both
BJP leaders and a Rahul-led Congress delegation later met the Speaker in his
chamber. The House re-assembled at 1 pm but was again adjourned till 2 pm.
Outside Parliament Rahul told the media: "The orchestrated ruckus in
Parliament today was designed to prevent me from questioning the government.
The youth can clearly see the PM has no clue on how to tackle unemployment.
To protect him, the BJP will keep disrupting Parliament."


NARENDRA MODI ATTRIBUTED WRONG QUOTE TO OMAR ABDULLAH, SAYS SITARAM YECHURY

The Opposition parties on Friday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of
attributing a wrong quote to former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar
Abdullah, saying it was picked from a satire website.
"PM Modi, while replying to the Motion of Thanks to the President's Address,
in Parliament claimed that statements made by two J&K ex-CMs were not
acceptable. It has now been shown that these statements have been taken from
satire website Faking News," CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury wrote
on Twitter.
The party's Polit Bureau accused Mr. Modi of using false charges to frame
Mr. Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti. "That the
Modi government should take recourse to such false news for slapping the
notorious Public Safety Act (PSA) belies the claims that everything is
normal in J&K...," it said.
On February 6, Mr. Modi said Mr. Abdullah had said dilution of Article 370
would cause a massive earthquake that would divide Kashmir from India. Hours
later, Mr. Abdullah and Ms. Mufti were booked under the PSA. Both have been
under arrest since August 5 when the Rajya Sabha approved the withdrawal of
the special status from Jammu and Kashmir.


DEATH OF DOCTOR WHO SOUNDED CORONAVIRUS ALARM SPARKS ANGER AT GOVERNMENT

A Chinese doctor who was reprimanded for warning against a "SARS-like"
coronavirus before it was officially recognised died of the virus on Friday,
triggering a wave of mourning in China and rare online expressions of anger
towards the government.
The death of Li Wenliang, 34, came as Chinese President Xi Jinping assured
the United States that China was doing all it could to contain the virus.
The death toll in mainland China reached 637 on Friday, with a total to
31,211 cases, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
said in Geneva.
"For the last two days there had been fewer reported infections in China,
which is good news, but we caution against reading too much into that," he
told the WHO Executive Board. "The numbers could go up again."
Ophthalmologist Li was among eight people reprimanded by police in the city
of Wuhan, the epicentre of the flu-like contagion in central Hubei province,
for spreading "illegal and false" information.
Li was forced to sign a letter on Jan. 3, saying he had "severely disrupted
social order" and was threatened with charges.
Social media users called Li a hero, accusing authorities of incompetence.


JARED KUSHNER PRESENTS ISRAEL-BACKED MIDDLE EAST PLAN TO UNITED NATIONS

US President Donald Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with UN
Security Council members on Thursday behind closed-doors to brief them on
the US peace plan for the Middle East.
The initiative allows for Israel to retain sovereignty over all its
settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley. A newly created Palestine would
remain a disjointed state under the highly criticized US plan.
Having worked on the proposal for nearly three years, Kushner and the Trump
administration set up the Mideast plan with the aim of ending the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While Trump hailed the plan as the "deal of the century," Palestinians have
already rejected it, saying they were never included in the talks in the
first place. The European Union has also slammed the US plan, saying the
proposal departs from established international agreements.
Kushner told reporters after the briefing that he blamed Palestinian
President Mohammed Abbas for a spike in violence in Israel in the days since
Trump announced the plan. "He calls for days of rage in response and he said
that even before he saw the plan," Kushner said.


EXPECT 80% OF INDIVIDUAL TAXPAYERS TO MOVE TO NEW SLAB REGIME, SAYS GOVT

The government said Friday that its estimates show that about 80 per cent of
individual taxpayers would switch to the new tax regime announced in the
Union Budget last week and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the
new tax regime is the first step towards a no-exemption lower tax system in
India. Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey said that the Income Tax
department had run a simulation on about 5.8 crore tax returns. It showed
that 69 percent of existing tax payers will benefit from the new slabs while
11 per cent would see no change in their tax outgo by switching to the new
system. Thus, the government's expectation is that 80 percent will switch to
the new system, which some experts had criticised as being too complicated
since it had more income slabs.
Under the new system, tax payers who forgo deductions and exemptions such as
those for housing loans, rent and so on, will have to pay income tax at
lower rates. Sitharaman also said that the new tax system is only a
beginning. That's why it was "not compulsory" but optional for tax payers.
The government introduced this new system with the intent of putting more
money into people's wallets. In the budget speech, Sitharaman had said this
would put around Rs 40,000 crore (the government revenue forgone) in the
hands of tax payers as the government tries to put the economy back on
track.
The government expects the bulk of those who file I-T returns to shift to
the new simplified tax regime which does away with exemptions for long-term
savings. More disposable income is expected to boost demand, and give an
immediate fillip to growth.
Sitharaman also rebutted criticism on the dividend distribution tax (DDT)
which the Budget had abolished at the company level. Earlier, DDT was taxed
at the corporate level, the budget proposed that it is taxed as income in
the hands of investors. "When DDT was taxed at company level it didn't work,
when it is taxed at shareholder level it is unacceptable. So should dividend
be taxed or not?," said Sitharaman.
She also said it was too early to make changes to the long term capital
gains tax (LTCG) which was introduced in 2018. In the run-up to the Budget,
investors and traders had lobbied hard for abolishing LTCG.


POLL ON MIND, SC HEARING ON SHAHEEN BAGH STIR DEFERRED

The Supreme Court on Friday deferred to February 10 a hearing on petitions
seeking removal of protesters opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)
to clear Kalindi Kunj Road that connects South Delhi to Noida.
"We understand there is a problem and we have to see how to resolve it. We
will take it up on Monday. We will be in a better position by then," a Bench
headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul told the petitioners.
As the petitioners' counsel said elections would be over by Monday, the
Bench responded, "Exactly. That's why on Monday. Why should we influence
it?"


SEVERAL INDIANS UNDER CORONAVIRUS QUARANTINE ON CRUISE SHIP OFF JAPAN

Several Indian crew members and passengers on board a cruise ship have been
quarantined off Japan in the wake of coronavirus outbreak, External Affairs
Minister S Jaishankar said on Friday.
He said none of them have tested positive and India is closely following the
developments.
"Many Indian crew and some Indian passengers are on board the cruise ship
Diamond Princess quarantined off Japan due to Coronavirus. None have tested
positive, as per the latest information provided by our Embassy (in Tokyo).
We are closely following the developments," Mr Jaishankar said in a tweet.
At least 61 people on a cruise liner off Japan tested positive for
coronavirus on Friday (February 7), and thousands of passengers remain
confined to their cabins.
A North Dinajpur youth has sought the help of central and Bengal governments
for disembarkation of him and over 150 other crew members from the evssel.
"I am on board the ship and so far, 62 people, including some crew members,
have been diagnosed with coronavirus. Some of them have been shifted from
the ship in ambulances, which have lined up at the port. I am worried and so
are the other crew members. In total, 160 Indians work on this ship," Binay
said in a video.
Diamond Princess had 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members when it docked
at Yokohama. The ship has been quarantined by the Japanese authorities till
February 19, said an update issued by Princess Cruises, the company that
runs the cruise liner.


LET CONVICTS EXHAUST ALL OPTIONS IN A WEEK: SC

The Supreme Court today deferred to February 11 hearing on the Centre's
appeal against the Delhi HC's verdict dismissing its plea challenging the
stay on execution of the four death row convicts in the 2012 Nirbhaya
gang-rape and murder case.
"Let the one-week time (given by the High Court to convicts) be over. May be
all options will be exhausted by then. We'll consider then...," a
three-judge Bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
Meanwhile, a Delhi court on Friday dismissed the pleas of Delhi Government
and Tihar jail authorities seeking fresh date for execution of the four
death row convicts.


UP TO FIVE-YEAR JAIL, RS50L FINE FOR FAIR SKIN, HAIR GROWTH MAGIC CURE ADS

People promising magic remedies for enhanced sexual capacity, fair skin,
hair growth, changed foetal sex among other unnatural solutions could face
jail from two to five years and fine raging from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 50 lakh,
if government-proposed amendments to existing laws are approved by
Parliament.
Noting that the draft amendment law had been framed "to keep pace with the
changing times and technology and in view of the concerns raised at several
quarters on the implementation and effectiveness of the existing
legislation", the government has invited public suggestions within 45 days
of the notification of the draft amendments on February 3.


FROM RICHES TO RAGS: ANIL AMBANI PLEADS POVERTY, SAYS HIS NET WORTH IS ZERO

A UK court on Friday directed Reliance Group Chairman Anil Ambani to pay
$100 million within six weeks towards a conditional order granted to three
Chinese banks pursuing the recovery of over $680 million as part of a loan
agreement.
In what is, in effect, a deposit to be paid to court pending a full trial in
the case, Judge David Waksman has set a six-week timeline for such a payment
as he concluded that he did not accept Ambani's defence that his net worth
was nearly zero, or that his family would not step in to assist him when
"push came to shove".
Earlier, Ambani had pleaded poverty in his dispute with the three Chinese
banks . "The value of my investments has collapsed," Anil Ambani said,
according to a court filing by the banks in a London lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed by the three Chinese banks, which argued that they had
provided a loan of $925 million to RCom in 2012, on condition that he
personally guarantee the debt.


WHATSAPP PAY SET FOR PHASED ROLL OUT IN INDIA; GRANTED NPCI PERMISSION

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp has secured regulatory approval
for launching its digital payment platform - WhatApp Pay - in a phased
manner, close to two years after the US-based company's pilot run. The
National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) granted permission to the
California-headquartered company on Thursday to operate WhatsApp Pay.
WhatsApp is said to have assured the RBI and NPCI that it will comply with
the data localisation norms. WhatsApp's resistance to the government's stand
on data localisation was a key reason behind the delay in the company's
payment service launch.
Once WhatsApp is able to do a full roll-out of the payment service, it's
expected to capture the lion's share in that space. The messaging service
giant counts India as its biggest market with more than 400 million users.


PHONEPE TO CREATE WORLD'S BIGGEST ATM NETWORK OF 2 MN IN INDIA BY YEAR END

PhonePe says it will by the end of this year create an Automated Teller
Machine (ATM) network of 2 million, helping the Walmart-owned service to
fight rivals Alibaba-backed Paytm, Google Pay and Amazon Pay as they compete
in India's crowded digital payments market.
The service-billed as India's first and world's largest-enables
neighbourhood stores to act as ATMs for PhonePe users. It had a pilot run in
Delhi-NCR and is now being rolled out across 500,000 shops in 300 cities.
Subscribers use the PhonePe app to locate shops offering the ATM service and
then click the "withdraw" button to transfer an amount to the merchant. Once
the amount is transferred, the merchant gives the customer cash equal to the
amount transferred. PhonePe will not charge for the service and it has set a
withdrawal limit of Rs 1,000 for now.
India has 200,000 ATMs that frequently run out of cash and they are fewer
than those in BRICS nations, according to the International Monetary Fund.
PhonePe hopes to fill in this gap.

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