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WRAP UP RS 70,000 CRORE AIR INDIA SCAM PROBE BY JUNE, SC SAYS CBI

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court ordered the CBI on Thursday to complete probe into the alleged Rs 70,000 crore scam in purchase and leasing of aircraft by Air India during UPA-I government in 2005-06.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi informed a bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices N V Ramana and D Y Chandrachud that CBI had registered an FIR in 2013 and has already examined 55 witnesses.

“CBI has requested UK for certain information and has so far examined 55 witnesses. Investigations are likely to be completed by June,” Rohatgi said.

An Empowered Group of Ministers under chairmanship of then finance minister P Chidambaram and comprising then law minister H R Bharadwaj and civil aviation minister Praful Patel was constituted on December 20, 2005. It held discussions with Boeing and GE on December 24, 2005.

A note signed by Chidambaram submitted for information and approval of the then Prime Minister for placing orders for 68 aircraft with Boeing with a caveat that Boeing would complete delivery of the planes by 2011 instead of 2012. The PMO on December 30, 2005 informed that the PM has seen note and directed that the ministry of civil aviation “may inform the CCEA about the finalised transaction”.

GIVE TIME FRAME FOR PAPER TRAIL IN EVMS, SC SAYS EC

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has asked the Election Commission to spell out the timeframe within which it would deploy Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in EVMs across the country in all elections to make the process more transparent.

The paper trail system is meant to supplement the existing procedure of voting and it allows voters to verify their respective votes.

Under this system, a printout will come out after a person casts his vote, apprising the voter that his vote has been rightly registered. The printout is to be deposited in a box which can only be used by the EC in case of an election dispute.

In October 2013, the SC had directed the EC to introduce paper trails as allegations were being made from time to time that EVM machines were prone to tampering.

It said that paper trail was an “indispensable requirement of free and fair elections”. A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and L Nageswara Rao asked the EC to give an undertaking to implement its order and also the timeframe within which paper trails would be introduced.

“We direct the EC to bring on record the approximate time within which the entire system of VVPAT can be introduced subject to grant of sanction and release of funds as and when required,” the SC said. The SC agreed to hear a contempt plea against the chief election commissioner for the EC’s failure to implement the SC’s order “in true spirit”.

SAHARA PAPERS DON’T PROVE PAY-OFFS TO POLITICIANS, PRINCIPLES I-T PANEL

NEW DELHI: Based on forensic evidence, the Income Tax Settlement Commission has said “evidentiary value” of loose papers and electronic documents seized in raids on Sahara India and which refer to alleged pay-offs to politicians cannot be proved but has assessed the Subroto Roy-led firm’s income at Rs 1,911 crore.

The Sahara case has been at the centre of a political storm as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal have alleged that the entries, along with those recovered from Birla group, point to pay-offs to PM Narendra Modi when he was Gujarat CM.

However, the documents, which contain references to other BJP members as well as non-NDA politicians, have been found to be unverifiable by the commission.

The commission has reached an assessment for the seven-year period ending 2015-16 (assessment year) against the company’s contention that it had incurred losses of Rs 2,279 crore during this period.

The contention of losses has not been upheld but allowed set off for certain losses claimed by the company.

While the Settlement Commission — which is a forum that can be tapped by taxpayers to settle a tax dispute only once — has allowed for a set off for losses incurred by Sahara India between 2009-10 and 2013-14 assessment years, it has asked the company to pay tax on Rs 137.58 crore for the assessment year 2015-16 (financial year 2014-15). The income tax department has been asked to compute the tax and interest on this amount.

The tax forum accepted the contention that documents seized during the raids were “loose papers and electronic documents were fabricated and had no evidentiary value”.

 

NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL FREEZES GOVT MOVE TO EASE CONSTRUCTION NORMS

NEW DELHI: The National Green Tribunal barred on Thursday any fresh constructions under the environment ministry’s December 9 notification exempting real estate projects of all sizes from environment impact assessment and environmental clearance.

The NGT has received two applications questioning legal issues with the December 9 notification, which even has a “self-declaration” clause that will ensure issuance of permission from urban local bodies. For larger projects of more than 20,000sq m, the environmental clearance and building permission will be given by urban local bodies simultaneously in an “integrated format”. The notification also states that residential buildings will not require “consent to establish” and “consent to operate (CTO)” from state pollution control boards under provisions of the Air Act 1981 and Water Act 1974.

The NGT bench also allowed the applicants’ lawyers to keep a watch on any such constructions coming up and inform the tribunal of the same. “You can’t do legal blunders and get away with it,” a bench headed by NGT chief Justice Swatanter Kumar told lawyers representing the ministry.

The applicants—Pushp Jain and Society for Protection of Environment and Biodiversity — have raised different issues. These include — the draft notification issued by the ministry on April 29, 2016 being “substantially different” from the final one. The exemption from applying for CTO and CTE, for example, wasn’t mentioned in the draft.

On the contrary, it stated that CTO was mandatory for all projects. One of them also argued that the penalty clause in the new notification for violation of environmental norms by construction projects was ambiguous and propagated “pay and pollute” policy.

BANK CREDIT GROWTH SLOWEST IN DECADES; DEMONETISATION EFFECT, SAY EXPERTS

MUMBAI: Growth of bank credit fell to a multi-decade low of 5.1% for the fortnight ended December 23, as drying up of demand in the last two months of the year saw businesses cutting down on borrowing.

Data released by RBI showed that as of December 23, bank lending to businesses, individuals and the farm sector stood at Rs 73.48 lakh crore, an increase of 5.1% over the same period of last year.

Going by readily available RBI data, this is the slowest rate of growth since 2000. SBI chief economist Soumya Kanti Ghosh went further to say that credit growth was actually the lowest in over 60 years – since 1954-55 – when it had slowed to 1.7%.

A slowdown to 5.1% in December seems to indicate that credit growth is reaching a point of no return in this financial year.

While there is marginal growth year-on-year, on a year-to-date basis (from April 2016) credit has declined in many sectors,” said SBI chief economist Soumya Kanti Ghosh.

Year-on-year credit growth in the previous fortnight ended December 9 was also a low 5.76%.

DK Joshi, chief economist at Crisil, the country’s leading credit rating agency, attributed the drop in credit growth to the disruption caused by demonetisation. “Otherwise there was no reason for credit growth to fall. The economy was looking up, there was the pay commission hike, there were good rains, and some interest rate cuts were being passed on to borrowers, which would have created more demand for credit,” he said.

FROM FEB, CONNAUGHT PLACE WILL BE A CAR-FREE ZONE

NEW DELHI: From next month, you will no longer to be able to drive to Connaught Place. The middle and inner circles of the iconic market will turn into an exclusive pedestrian zone for a three month period starting February, under a pilot project aimed at addressing congestion in the area.

A meeting chaired by Union urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday okayed the plan, under which people driving to CP will park at designated slots at Shivaji Stadium, Baba Kharak Singh Marg and Palika, and take a free shuttle service to the market.

A UD ministry official said the pilot project will test changes in traffic circulation after pedestrianisation of CP.

“It would also study the experience of pedestrians and shop owners, management of reclaimed parking lots and the traffic load on the outer circle,” the official said. He added that Naidu had directed officials to ensure that CP is made “congestion-free, accident-free and crime-free”.

According to estimates, 3,172 cars can be accommodated at parking lots at Shivaji Stadium, Baba Kharak Singh Marg and Palika. But on an average only 1,088 vehicles are being parked.

Police and NDMC officials have informed the ministry that the unutilised capacity could be fully used by promoting ‘park and ride’. There will be cycles on hire and batteryoperated vehicles for shoppers and visitors to move around CP. Officials said if the traffic plan becomes permanent, it would free up space for landscaping and construction of water bodies to act as humidifiers in the walking zone.

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