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India In Focus

Boosting economy to bridging divide, Modi has his task cut out

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes charge for a second time, after a long, divisive and gruelling election campaign, it is time for India’s political leadership to shift gears and turn on their governance lens.

Elections are critical to sustaining democracy. But the country has been in election mode for close to two years now. It began with the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections of 2017, and after a brief interlude, moved to the Gujarat assembly polls at the end of that year. Last year was punctuated by the Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya polls, followed soon after by the elections in Karnataka. After a brief lull, attention shifted to the heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. In each of these states, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) institutionally and PM Modi personally invested a tremendous amount of energy, with mixed results.

And over the past five months, it has all been about the Lok Sabha elections. Politics is important, but often, in election season, every decision begins to get taken through the prism of political benefit or loss; other issues get relegated to the back burner and the government machinery is on auto pilot.

With the mandate clearly in favour of a second term for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it is time for Modi to get back to giving direction to India.

Modi may have been elected by NDA voters, but he is now the Prime Minister of the whole country. This election has sharpened many fault lines- between political parties, between communities, and between geographical regions. Modi has to tackle all these three fault lines. He must reach out to the opposition, be statesmanlike and magnanimous, adopt a reconciliatory attitude and let go of allegations made in the past, and construct a cooperative relationship with leaders across the spectrum.

India 2nd in government requests for users’ data on facebook

The Indian government requested Facebook to provide data for 20,805 users (including 861 emergency requests) in the July-December 2018 period — second only to the US government — and the social networking giant provided some data in 53 per cent of the cases.

During the second half of 2018, the volume of content restrictions based on local law increased globally by 135 per cent, from 15,337 to 35,972.

“This increase was primarily driven by 16,600 items we restricted in India based on a Delhi High Court order regarding claims made about PepsiCo products,” said Facebook.

The US government asked for users’ data in 41,336 cases wherein Facebook provided some information in 88 per cent of the cases, revealed the company’s latest Transparency Report for the second half of 2018.

“In the second half of 2018, government requests for user data increased globally by seven per cent from 103,815 to 110,634,” Chris Sonderby, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Facebook, said in a statement late on Thursday.

This increase reflects normal growth for the second half as compared to previous reporting periods.

“Of the total volume, the US continues to submit the highest number of requests, followed by India, the UK, Germany and France,” he added.

The information requests include content restrictions based on local law, reports on locations where access to Facebook products and services were disrupted, and reports of counterfeit, copyright and trademark infringement.

In the US, Facebook received three per cent fewer requests than last reporting period, of which 58 per cent included a non-disclosure order prohibiting Facebook from notifying the user.


4,000 schools may be reopened in Rajasthan

After revising textbooks, the Congress government to revisit another decision of the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government — merging of 4,000 schools in the name of rationalization. Schools with low enrolment and high number of vacancies were merged with nearby schools to rationalize enrolment and teacher availability.

The Congress government is considering reopening those schools, said education minister Govind Singh Dotasra on Wednesday.

“We are presently under the process of reviewing nearly 4,000 schools across the state which were closed during the tenure of BJP government. Only thing we want to be sure about is that enough students should be available for these schools. Soon a good decision will be taken,” said Dotasra.

Educationists regard the attempt as a move in the right direction.

Komal Srivastava from Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti said that though considering to reopen schools is a good initiative, the government should take care that the schools are opened in correct places wherever it is needed, moreover they should appoint teachers immediately and follow the Right to Education rules.

“According to the RTE primary school should be available within 1 km reach of the students, similarly the distance is 2 km and 3 km for secondary and senior secondary student respectively.

With the merging of the schools, the new schools were nearly 5 km to 20 km away for the student. How do we expect a small child to walk this far? This was a reason why students specially girls we not able to go to schools.


Automaker Major Ashok Leyland ready to ride on Elon Musk’s India dream

Tesla CEO Elon Musk who has been moving back and forth on his India dream for couple of years and unable to take the next big step now has an invitation from commercial vehicles major Ashok Leyland.

Musk wants to make India his next big market but the question lingers: Will the electric car ever run on the bumpy‘desi’ roads?

According to Venkatesh Natarajan, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer, Ashok Leyland, the company is open to Musk for a partnership to finally let Indians experience his path-breaking autonomous Tesla electric cars.

“We are open to Musk’s offer. I truly believe that it’s not just one partner who can contribute to the electric car dream in India. There are multiple agencies who will be involved in this. We will be lucky to be part of that consortium,” Natarajan told IANS on the sidelines of the just-concluded AWS India Summit here in the financial capital.

PNB likely to take control of 2-3 small state-run banks: report

India’s Punjab National Bank is looking to merge with two or three government owned banks that could include Oriental Bank Of Commerce, Andhra Bank and Allahabad Bank, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters, as New Delhi tries to cut the number of state-owned lenders.

This could be the one of the first decisions to be taken by the new government after election results to be announced on May 23. Exit polls showed that the alliance led by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi could win with a big majority.

Banking sector reform is unfinished business from the last five year term of Modi’s government as banks struggle under a huge debt pile than of more than 9 trillion Indian rupees ($130 billion), or nearly 5% of the nation’s gross domestic output.

The proposal to merge PNB with 2-3 other banks would be put before the cabinet for its nod, according to a government source.

Currently, there are 20 state-run banks following mergers of small banks with State Bank of India and Bank of Baroda, and with IDBI Bank taken over by state-run Life Insurance Corporation.

PNB could start the process of taking control of the banks in the next three months, according to the sources, who declined to be named, as they are not authorised to speak to the media.

PNB shares fell as much as 4% after Reuters reported the news. Its shares ended down 2.55% at 86.10 rupees on India’s National Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

Rupee gains 5 paise against US dollar in early trade

The rupee ticked higher by 5 paise to 69.67 against the US dollar Wednesday amid weakness in the greenback and easing crude oil prices.

Strong FIIs inflows and higher domestic equity markets also improved sentiments for the rupee, forex dealers said.

At the interbank foreign exchange, the domestic unit opened almost flat at 69.70 against the dollar and then it strengthened by 5 paise to quote at 69.67 in early trade.

The rupee had appreciated 2 paise to 69.72 against the US dollar in the previous session.

The US currency was trading lower in overseas market as the dollar index was down by 0.04 per cent to 98.02 against its six global rivals.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, was trading lower by 0.55 per cent to 71.78 per barrel.

Enforcement directorate carries out raids in Mumbai

The Enforcement Directorate Wednesday carried out fresh searches in Mumbai in connection with its money laundering probe in the multi-crore IL&FS payment default crisis, officials said. They said the residences and offices of at least four directors of the firm are being raided.

The central agency had first carried out searches in this case in February after it filed a criminal case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

The searches are aimed at collecting additional evidences and documents, they said.

The debt crisis at the infrastructure lender came to light following a series of defaults by its group companies beginning September, 2018.

IL&FS has defaulted on payment of loans to SIDBI and along with its subsidiaries has a combined debt of over Rs 91,000 crore.

The ED’s case is based on an FIR filed before the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Delhi Police in December last year.

Ashish Begwani, Director of Enso Infrastructures (P) Ltd, had filed the case against officials of IL&FS Rail Ltd for allegedly causing Rs 70 crore loss to his company by fraudulent means.

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