Resolution demands Bangladesh set up ministry, commission for minorities

Bangladeshi MP Ushatan Talukdar (second from right) at the event. (Partha Paul) Bangladeshi MP Ushatan Talukdar (second from right) at the event. (Partha Paul)

Days ahead of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India, a resolution, demanding an end to “atrocities” against Bangladeshi minorities, was adopted at an international conference in Kolkata on Sunday. The resolution will be forwarded to the governments of India an Bangladesh.

The two-day event that ended on Sunday, organised by Campaign Against Atrocities on Minorities in Bangladesh (CAAMB) in association with Centre for Research in Indo-Bangla Relation, Kolkata, saw protests by students from Jadavpur University on both days. They claimed that the event was held under the sponsorship of the BJP and RSS, which were involved in “attacks against minorities” in India.

“The minorities in Bangladesh are suffering atrocities and we are seeking help from governments of India and Bangladesh and other organisations which work to protect the rights of people,” Arun K Dutta, president of Bangladesh Minority Rights Alliance (Canada), who participated in the conference.

The declaration reads, “We propose that the Bangladesh government ensure the prevention of all violence against Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Ahmedias, Atheists, progressive Muslims and all other ethnic minorities in Bangladesh … bring perpetrators of past communal violence to justice and provide compensation to the victims… create a similar ministry or a commission (for minorities)… We propose that the Indian government put pressure to bar upon the Bangladesh government so that it stops its appeasement of the Islamic section of the society and stop the ethnic cleansing of the minority communities.”

It adds: “West Bengal should not be a safe sanctuary for Islamic fundamentalists from Bangladesh. We demand that West Bengal government must take action against the elements in the state openly supporting the Razakars and mass murders of the Bangladesh liberation struggle”.

President of Bangladesh Minority Watch Rabindra Ghosh expressed shock at the JU students protests. “I am very shocked at the way they tried to disrupt the conference. Such behaviour was unwarranted,” Ghosh said.

On Saturday, a clash between some JU students and RSS members broke out on the varsity campus, the venue of day one of the conference. On Sunday, the students protested outside Academy of Fine Arts, the second day venue.

“We are surprised to see BJP and RSS organising seminars on atrocities of minorities in Bangladesh. In our country, minorities are targeted every day and yet the ruling party or the government is doing nothing to stop it,” said Soumya Mondal, general secretary of USDF.

Convener of CAAMB and convenor of BJP’s refugee cell, Mohit Ray said that RSS was not involved in organising the seminar. “I have been associated with CAAMB for last 15 years. I joined BJP later. But that should not become the topic of discussion. We had earlier organised similar seminars. The event was aimed at raising awareness on the atrocities of minorities in Bangladesh and how to put an end to it. This has nothing to do with RSS,” Ray said.

Various organisations such as- Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (Dhaka and Chittagong), Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (USA, UK and France), Bangladesh Minority Forum, Bangladesh Minority Rights Alliance (Canada) and others participated in the conference.

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Year after assurance, govt yet to move on request to ban 37 ‘harmful drugs’

The drugs could be injected into the middle ear, from which they would diffuse across a membrane into the inner ear. )Source: Thinkstock Images) The drugs could be injected into the middle ear, from which they would diffuse across a membrane into the inner ear. )Source: Thinkstock Images)

OVER 16 months after the secretary, Department of Health Research (DHR), Soumya Swaminathan, wrote to the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) and senior health ministry officials with a request to ban 37 drugs that she termed “very harmful”, these drugs continue to be freely available in the market. The DCGI had acted on Swaminathan’s email, which was sent on November 12, 2015, seven days later with a suggestion to the health ministry that a committee should be formed to look into this “complex” matter. But the ministry, in response to an RTI filed by The Indian Express, has stated that no such panel had been formed till January 27, 2017.

The 37 fixed-dose combinations (FDCs) listed by Swaminathan in her email are commonly used antibiotics. For example, one drug listed by Swaminathan is Cefpodoxime + Clavulanate, which is used to treat diseases like pharyngitis, urinary tract infection, gonorrhea and pneumonia.

When contacted, Swaminathan, who is also the director-general of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), told The Indian Express: “The DCGI has to take further action. ICMR can only bring to their notice. In fact, they had taken action on many FDCs but much more is needed on irrational combinations. The pharma companies should cooperate.”

According to IMS Health, a global market research company, this drug is sold by more than 70 companies — including Sun Pharma, Pfizer, Wockhardt, Mankind Pharma, Alkem Laboratories, Lupin, Zydus Cadila, Glenmark Pharma, Cipla and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories — in India under different brand names.

In her 2015 email, Swaminathan had stated: ‘’I am attaching a list of irrational antibiotic combinations that need to be banned. The list has been prepared by a group of ID physicians from the Clinical Infectious Disease Society of India (CIDSCON). I agree with them that these are very harmful and will spur additional antibiotic resistance in the community. I hope some action can be taken by DCGI. Am happy to assist in any way possible.’’

This email was sent to B P Sharma, the then health secretary; G N Singh, DCGI, who heads the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO); K L Sharma, joint secretary, health ministry; Jagdish Prasad, director-general of Health Services (DGHS) and S Venkatesh, director, National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). None of these officials responded to queries sent by The Indian Express seeking comment.

The present health secretary C K Mishra also did not respond to queries sent by The Indian Express. Sun Pharma, Glenmark Pharma and Cipla said they are not aware of Swaminathan’s email and therefore can’t comment on it.

A Pfizer spokesperson told The Indian Express: “We currently market two out of these combinations listed by you and have not been informed of any concerns on either of these. We place utmost emphasis on patient safety and will continue to remain committed to ensuring the safety and quality of our medicines.”

Wockhardt, Mankind Pharma, Alkem Laboratories, Lupin, Zydus Cadila and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories did not respond to requests by The Indian Express seeking comment.

On November 19, 2015, G N Singh, DCGI, wrote a note to the health ministry, stating: “Considering the complexity involved in the issue, examination of each of the antibiotic combinations included in the list forwarded by secretary (DHR) needs to be examined separately considering all aspects of safety, efficacy and present status.”

Singh proposed that a committee of experts under the chairmanship of Swaminathan, comprising experts from institutes like All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, “may be constituted for detailed examination and recommendations”.

Singh stated that the proposed committee’s recommendations will enable top health ministry body Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) “to take final decisions through deliberation”.

On January 27, 2017, the health ministry told The Indian Express — in response to an application filed under Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 — that no such committee “has been constituted so far by this ministry to examine 37 antibiotic combinations”.

The ministry stated that “three irrational antibiotic combinations (Cefixime + Azithromycin, Ofloxacin + Ornidazole Suspension, and Metronidazole + Norfloxacin) out of 37 mentioned in e-mail of Dr Soumya Swaminathan were banned by the Government vide notifications dated 10.3.2016. However, the Delhi High Court has struck down the said notifications.”

These three drugs were part of the 344 FDCs that were banned on March 10, 2016, by the central government on the recommendation of committee formed under the chairmanship of Professor C K Kokate. This committee, which studied the irrationality of various FDCs, recommended the ban on 344 of them, citing the rising “antibiotic resistance” in the country as one of the reasons. Antibiotic resistance is the ability of a microorganism, which is causing the disease, to withstand the effects of an antibiotic medicine.

On December 1, 2016, Delhi High Court struck down the ban stating that the government had acted in a “haphazard manner”. This January, The Indian Express had also asked the health ministry if there was any committee or any other government department that is currently examining the issue of banning 37 drugs mentioned in Swaminathan’s email. The ministry replied that it has “no such information”.

CIDSCON and Indian Drug Manufacturers Association (IDMA) did not reply to the queries sent by The Indian Express.

The Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) declined to answer queries on behalf of member-companies. D G Shah, secretary-general, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), told The Indian Express: “We are not aware of any communication from the government specific to these 37 FDCs. Some general notices have been put on the website of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) and the ministry of health & family welfare about the FDCs from time to time.”

Swaminathan’s email stated that these 37 specific drugs “will spur additional antibiotic resistance in the community”.

On February 1 this year, the DCGI wrote a letter to associations of doctors and pharmacists on the subject of “rational use of antibiotics for limiting antimicrobial resistance”.

The DCGI stated in the letter: “Antibiotic resistance is the result of environmental and behavioural causes. Indiscriminate prescription of antibiotics and laxity of enforcement laws are the main causes of antimicrobial resistance. This may be due to injudicious use of antibiotics in hospitals as well as in private practice apart from easy availability of prescription drugs in the country. In this regard, it is requested that you may kindly sensitise your members by raising awareness for rational use of antibiotics so as to curb antimicrobial resistance in the interest of patient safety.”

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Motor Vehicles Act made more stringent: Five-fold increase in drunk driving fine, jail up to 10 years for causing death

A liquor vend on the Ferozepur highway in Ludhiana downed shutters Saturday after the Supreme Court order. Gurmeet Singh A liquor vend on the Ferozepur highway in Ludhiana downed shutters Saturday after the Supreme Court order. Gurmeet Singh

The penalty for drunk driving is being raised five times to Rs 10,000 and if such driving results in the death of another person, the driver can be booked for a non-bailable offence with imprisonment up to 10 years. Changes to the Motor Vehicles Act, approved by the Cabinet Friday, show that the Ministry of Road Transport has sought “appropriate action” from the Ministry of Home Affairs to hold such drivers responsible for culpable homicide under Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code. In the IPC, Section 299 states: “Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide.”

In case of accidents, such drivers will not be booked under provisions of negligence but their action will be considered as pre-meditated commitment of crime, punishable under relevant provisions of the IPC depending on the consequences of the accident.

The new Motor Vehicles Act also raises fines on other offences including driving by a minor.

* In order to discourage car owners from handing over vehicles to juveniles, registration of the vehicle in use will be cancelled and, in case of an accident by the juvenile, his or her family will be fined up to Rs 25,000 with or without imprisonment up to three years.

* The amendments also provide for protective headgear for children above the age of four while riding a two-wheeler with a check on the quality and standard of the helmets.

* Not wearing a helmet while driving will attract a fine of Rs 1,000 with cancellation of licence for three months — the same as the fine for jumping a red light or not securing the seat belt while driving.

* Talking on a mobile phone while driving will attract a penalty of Rs 5,000, up from Rs 1,000.

* Compensation to victims of road accidents under No Fault Liability has been fixed at Rs 10 lakh in case of death and Rs 5 lakh in case of grievous hurt, up from earlier provisions of Rs 50,000 and Rs 25,000 respectively while removing the Central government’s authority to prescribe the compensation.

* In case of hit-and-run accidents, compensation will be Rs 2 lakh in case of death and Rs 50,000 in case of injury.

* The Ministry has also agreed to the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s recommendation to remove the cap on third party liability of insurance firms. The initial proposal was to limit the insurers’ liability to a maximum compensation payment of Rs 10 lakh in case of death and Rs 5 lakh for injury.

While tightening rules related to traffic, issue of driving licences and vehicle registration has been linked to Aadhaar and vehicle registration by authorised automobile dealers. The Ministry declined to accept the Committee’s recommendation that this provision should be made optional to be decided by the states. The Centre will also set up a National Register for vehicles and driving licences, issuing a unique registration number to weed out duplication. The Act also empowers the Centre to recall vehicles whose components or engine do not meet standards. A manufacturer can be penalised up to Rs 500 crore.

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After architecture, HRD Ministry loses polytechnic too

HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. (Express Photo by Ganesh Shirsekar) HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. (Express Photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

LESS THAN a month after losing architecture education to the Urban Development Ministry, the HRD Ministry has been asked to hand over four schemes funding polytechnics to the Ministry of Skill Development. According to sources, the decision was communicated through an order despatched by the Cabinet Secretariat last month. Although the HRD ministry headed by Prakash Javadekar initially resisted the proposed change, it later agreed to transfer the four schemes — ‘Setting Up of New Polytechnics In Unserved & Underserved Districts’; ‘Scheme of Community Development Through Polytechnics’; ‘Construction of Women’s Hostels In Polytechnics’ and ‘Upgradation of Polytechnics’ — to the Ministry of Skill Development headed by Rajiv Pratap Rudy by April.

While polytechnics are set up by the state governments, the Centre has been assisting them financially through the four schemes covered under the ‘Sub-mission on Polytechnics’ started under the 11th Five Year Plan. For instance, under the scheme ‘Setting Up of New Polytechnics In Unserved & Underserved Districts’, the HRD Ministry is investing Rs 12.3 crore in every polytechnic set up across 300 districts. Similarly, the Centre is providing Rs 500 crore to state governments under the ‘Construction of Women’s Hostels In Polytechnics’ scheme.

There are over 4,000 polytechnics across the country. They help in preparing skilled manpower for the organised, unorganised and service sectors. Generally, polytechnics offer three-year diploma courses in conventional disciplines such as civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. However, over the last two decades, many polytechnics have started offering courses in emerging disciplines such as electronics, computer science and medical lab technology.

Currently, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) regulates polytechnics and sets minimum standards of education to be imparted by them. It’s not clear if the handing over of the polytechnic schemes also means that these institutions will now be regulated by the National Council for Vocational Training under the Ministry of Skill Development.

When contacted by The Sunday Express, K P Krishnan, Secretary, Ministry of Skill Development, confirmed that the ministry had received the order on transfer of the schemes. “We are studying the order and getting ready to implement it. What I need to do precisely to implement this order, I can only say after I have studied it in depth,” he said.

Higher Education Secretary K K Sharma did not respond to questions emailed on Friday. The move comes less than a month after the Cabinet Secretary’s decision to take architecture education out of the HRD Ministry’s purview and allocate it to the Urban Development Ministry. As first reported by The Indian Express on March 9, HRD will lose the power to regulate architecture education once the change is formally notified through an amendment to the Allocation of Business Rules 1961, which enlists responsibilities of each ministry under the union government.

The transfer of the four schemes has been justified on the ground that polytechnics will be best served under a ministry that deals directly with the subject. The decision to take the Council of Architecture out of the HRD Ministry’s purview and allocate it to the Urban Development Ministry was also made for the same reason.

This is the third time the HRD Ministry has been made to give up one of its responsibilities after the NDA-II government came to power. In March last year, the government moved copyrights from its ambit to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP). The decision to take architecture education out of HRD’s control was communicated in the first week of March.

Rudy had earlier proposed that AICTE should be transferred from the HRD Ministry to the Skill Development Ministry in order to create a holistic skill ecosystem. The HRD Ministry, however, is not keen on such a transfer.

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Kolkata gets biogas bus

A 55-SEATER bus powered by biogas, sourced from cow dung, was launched in Kolkata on Friday, with operators claiming that it is India’s first such bus service. A nominal fare of Re 1 will be charged from each passenger. The bus, powered by a German technology engine, will run on 17.5 km Ultadanga-Garia route. “The bus gives a mileage of 6 km for one kg biogas that costs Rs 20,” Jyoti Prakash Das, Chairman and Managing Director of Phoenix India Research and Development Group, an alternative energy company, said.

The initiative has been undertaken under a central subsidies plan of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. Five buses will be pressed into service in the city. The bus is a part of a fleet of 16 buses to be deployed across Kolkata and surrounding areas. There will be 12 routes where the buses will ply. Two other routes are Ultadanga-Tollygunge and Ultadanga-Sector V. Nine other routes are yet to be finalised. Biogas is produced from animal and plant waste and principally consists of methane.

Officials added that the buses are being built in Delhi. These will be non-AC vehicles. Tata Motors chassis are being used for the buses. The Centre wants to promote the use of this eco-friendly and cheap fuel as it has the potential of becoming an alternative to fossil fuel. Phoenix India Research and Development Group is an alternative energy company that has been selected by the Union ministry of New and Renewable Energy to begin the use of biogas vehicles in the state.

Once the pilot run is successful, the Ministry will plan introduction of this technology on a bigger scale. Apart from issuing route permits, the state Transport department doesn’t have much to do in this regard yet. Phoenix has set up a biogas plant at Dubrajpur in Birbhum. At present, it can produce 1,000 kg of the gas, which will be transported to Kolkata by tankers. The company has got the permission to set up 100 fuel pumps. The first pump will come up at Ultadanga.

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Supreme Court order on liquor sale: 4 & 5 star hotels may lose status

A man carries two boxes of liquor outside a vend on Madhya Marg in Chandigarh on Friday. Kamleshwar Singh A man carries two boxes of liquor outside a vend on Madhya Marg in Chandigarh on Friday. Kamleshwar Singh

Consternation gripped hoteliers a day after the Supreme Court ordered a complete ban on sale of liquor at all hotels and restaurants within 500 metres from the edge of a national or state highway. Four star and five star hotels which fall in that periphery now run the risk of losing their premium status. The guideline and classification of the Ministry of Tourism states that, “Bar licence is necessary for 4, 5, 5 Star Deluxe, Heritage Classic & Heritage Grand categories.” The industry body, Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), is set to take up this matter with the ministry along with the overall issue of the ban on sale of liquor from these establishments.

“We will seek both legal advice and take up the matter with the government to determine our future course. We will also examine the aspect related to the status of four star and five star hotels, jointly with the ministry,” Amitabh Devendra, secretary general of FHRAI, said. He said the federation is currently assessing the number of hotels and restaurants that will get impacted by the order but the preliminary sense is that it will be a substantial number and percentage. According to Ministry of Tourism data until December 2015, there are a total of 197 approved four star hotels in the country, and 252 five star and five star deluxe hotels. The ones affected by the Supreme Court verdict could lose their status.

As part off its process to assess the number of hotels and restaurants affected by the court order, the FHRAI has written to all member hotels and restaurants. “Once we get the numbers from them, we will aggregate and arrive at the number of hotels and restaurants that have been impacted,” Devendra said, adding that there should be a better mechanism to stop drunk driving. “You can’t stop legal businesses being done with proper due diligence for the same,” he said.

While the industry body is yet to aggregate the number of hotels that have been impacted by the order, numbers from some states and cities paint a grim picture. In Delhi, for instance, all 10 operational hotels at Aerocity, situated close to the Indira Gandhi International Airport and within 500 m of NH-8, will be affected.

Arun Nanda, who heads the CII Committee on Hospitality and is chairman and founder of Mahindra Holidays and Resorts, said: “Uniform ban like this will be extremely detrimental to the industry. There are hotels on or near highways around airports, tourist destinations, industrial estates and major towns.”

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Looking back at GST’s journey: How an idea is now near reality

In 2011, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee introduced a Bill to provide the enabling framework for GST. (Representational image) In 2011, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee introduced a Bill to provide the enabling framework for GST. (Representational image)

In February 1986, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Finance Minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, proposed in the Budget a major overhaul of the excise taxation structure. The aim, he said, was to reduce the cascading effect of multipoint excise levies, and eventually help reduce costs — and in turn, the prices that consumers paid. Singh announced the introduction of a Modified Value Added Tax or MODVAT scheme which, he said, would allow manufacturers to obtain instant and complete reimbursement of excise duty paid on components and raw materials, along with the promise of transparency — disclosure of the full taxation on the product.

The scheme was to be implemented in stages, and its rollout on March 1, 1986, marked the first crack at reforming the country’s indirect tax structure. Subsequently, Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister in the government of P V Narasimha Rao, started early discussions on a Value Added Tax at the state level — after the Raja Chelliah Committee appointed by him to suggest reforms in the direct and indirect tax regimes submitted its report.

When Yashwant Sinha was Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Finance Minister, a decision was taken to put an end to the sales tax war among states, and to have uniform floor rates for sales tax of various commodities with effect from January 1, 2000. More importantly, to monitor implementation, Sinha proposed the creation of an Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers in 2000, which was approved by Vajpayee. West Bengal Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta headed this Committee — a nod not only to his impeccable credentials, but also to efforts at building a consensus and at signalling cooperative federalism. The plan was to kick off VAT from April 1, 2003 — however, given some resistance, it came into force only in April 2005 after the UPA government came to power.

Earlier, in 2003, after the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act had been approved by Parliament, but was yet to be notified, Finance Minister Jaswant Singh — who had swapped places with Sinha — called a meeting of his officers to discuss the implementation of the new law.

Singh’s Economic Adviser, Vijay Kelkar, told him that meeting targets of lower fiscal deficit would entail increasing revenues, and not necessarily cutting spending in a growing economy (India’s GDP in 2003 was a little over $ 600 billion) with a severe infrastructure deficit.

Kelkar’s point was that India should use this opportunity to work on a modern tax law — by shifting the focus from a tax on production to a tax on consumption, and by creating a single national market that would provide a huge boost to Indian manufacturing.

There were other considerations too. India was signing regional tax treaties, which Kelkar recognised could hurt Indian industry and hobble the competitiveness of local firms. A Constitution Amendment Bill had been approved that empowered the government to tax services. Kelkar, along with Arbind Modi, an Indian Revenue Service officer who was on special duty in the Ministry of Finance, and Ajay Shah, another adviser in the Ministry, started work on a report on the Task Force for the Implementation of the FRBM, which had as its members all the Secretaries in the Ministry as well as the Chief Economic Adviser. That was the first report on a design for the GST — which suggested a single low rate: 7% for states and 5% for the Centre, and which detailed a plan for a grand bargain with states to get the proposed new taxation structure off the ground.

After the NDA lost the 2004 polls, the UPA’s Finance Minister, P Chidambaram, picked up the threads. He worked out the financial support to states and campaigned for the introduction of VAT. After overcoming resistance, by 2005, Chidambaram could announce a national VAT or GST, covering both the Centre and the states. The following year’s budget signalled April 1, 2010, as the date for launching GST.

By 2009, the first discussion paper on GST was unveiled by the Finance Ministry. The Finance Commission headed by Kelkar recommended several steps for the launch, including a substantial grant to the Empowered Committee to help reduce dependence on the central government to carry out research.

In 2011, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee introduced a Bill to provide the enabling framework for GST. That went to the Parliamentary Committee on Finance led by Yashwant Sinha, which suggested changes. During that period, resistance to the proposed GST was led by BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The resistance was strong enough for Sinha to examine these arguments before Kelkar twice in the proceedings of the Committee. Some of the states opposing the new structure also raised the issue of their autonomy being impacted. The UPA government was unable to push forward, even though Chidambaram — who had returned to the Finance Ministry by then — approved most of the changes the Committee recommended, and provided for a higher compensation against potential revenue losses with the implementation of GST.

After the Narendra Modi government came to power, efforts were renewed, and the legislation was approved in the Lok Sabha in 2015. But the government’s lack of numbers in the Upper House led to a long standoff with the Opposition in 2016. Back channel talks were initiated, and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley led negotiations with several stakeholders — mainly state governments — and gradually got them on board. The passage of key bills this week has now paved the way for the launch of GST on July 1, 2017.

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Attack on Africans in Greater Noida: Not correct to draw conclusion as probe is pending, says MEA

Centre said the attacks on Africans in Greater Noida cannot be categorised as racial yet, and that it is not correct to draw a conclusion on “the nature and the reason” for these acts as the probe is pending. (File Photo) Centre said the attacks on Africans in Greater Noida cannot be categorised as racial yet, and that it is not correct to draw a conclusion on “the nature and the reason” for these acts as the probe is pending. (File Photo)

The Centre on Thursday said the attacks on Africans in Greater Noida cannot be categorised as racial yet, and that it is not correct to draw a conclusion on “the nature and the reason” for these acts as the probe is pending. On the alleged attack on a Kenyan woman on Wednesday, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said Kenyan diplomats held a meeting with officials of the ministry concerned, and it has been conveyed to the Indian side that the reported incident “does not correspond with reality”. Asserting that such attacks were “completely unacceptable and have been condemned”, he said the government is engaged with the authorities concerned as well as the students.

Asked if these were racial attacks, Baglay said, “Pending the investigation, it is not correct to go into the nature and the reason for these particular activities. There will be a better understanding after the outcome of the probe.” Four Nigerian students were attacked by residents of Greater Noida after a 17-year-old Indian boy died last week at the NSG Black Cats Enclave due to suspected drug overdose. The residents had taken out a protest march after police released from their custody some Nigerians, who were detained in connection with the boy’s death, due to “lack of evidence”.

Terming these acts as “the action of the uninformed and misguided few”, Baglay said they do not detract from the deep belief of the government and the people of India of “vasudeva kutumbakam (the world is one family)”. “We will continue to welcome African people as valuable partners. Our engagement with Africa, embodied among others in the implementation of the historic IAFS – III, will continue to grow,” he said.

Baglay said the external affairs minister has spoken to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, and Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar has spoken to the acting High Commissioner of Nigeria. “We are in touch with the Nigerian High Commission in New Delhi. The students who were hurt during the incident have been treated at a local hospital and have already been released,” he said. Law enforcement authorities of the district have made arrests and a large number of people are under watch, he said, adding, “The investigation is on and the law of the land will prevail.”

The ministry is in touch with the Gautam Buddha Nagar district administration, which has enhanced round-the-clock security in the area, Baglay said. He also noted that the district magistrate held a meeting that was attended by the residents and foreign students’ associations in the presence of representatives from the Nigerian High Commission.

Meanwhile, Nigeria called the Indian envoy in Abuja to register its protest over attacks on its nationals in India and sought “diligent prosecution” against the perpetrators. The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Olushola Enikanolaiye, sought action from the Indian government during his meeting with Indian envoy BN Reddy in Abuja Wednesday, state-run News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported.

(With Inputs from PTI)

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House panel questions service tax exemption for Haj tour operators

In 2016, a total of 1,35,903 Indians undertook the pilgrimage. The Haj quota for India was recently increased to 1,70,000. In 2016, a total of 1,35,903 Indians undertook the pilgrimage. The Haj quota for India was recently increased to 1,70,000.

There is one group Finance Minister Arun Jaitley may want to know more about as he goes about rolling out the GST. None of the 484 private tour operators who are registered with the Ministry of Minority Affairs for arranging the Haj pilgrimage pay any service tax or show their turnover while applying for registration with the government. A disproportionately high number of these operators — 183 — are there only in the state of Maharashtra. The department-related Parliamentary standing committee on social justice and empowerment in its 39th report on the demands for grants of the Ministry of Minority Affairs for 2017-18 has raised the red flag on both these issues. The report was tabled in the Lok Sabha on March 17.

Haj is the largest overseas activity undertaken by Government of India. The five-day long religious congregation, requires managerial exercise for almost an entire year. Indian pilgrims constitute the third largest national group performing the Haj. In 2016, a total of 1,35,903 Indians undertook the pilgrimage. The Haj quota for India was recently increased to 1,70,000. Tour operators registered with the concerned ministry, earlier the Ministry of External Affairs and now that of minority affairs, arrange for the travel documents, insurance etc of Haj pilgrims based on the quota allotted to each of them. The management of Haj pilgrimage was taken over by Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) from October last year. The total Haj subsidy that the government gives out is in range of Rs 600-700 crore. The Ministry of Minority Affairs formed a committee last year to re-examine ways to reduce that money.

“The Committee also learnt that these PTOs (private tour operators) neither pay any service tax nor show their turnover while applying for registration. The Committee does not understand why these PTOs are exempted from paying service tax. The Committee desires that imposition of the service tax on the PTOs may be considered under tax and other laws as is done in case of other agencies/organisations/tour operators etc. and they may also be asked to furnish their annual turnover,” the standing committee headed by Lok Sabha MP Ramesh Bais noted in its report.

It also pointed out that the disparity in the number of registered operators between states is too huge.

“The Committee notes from the details furnished to the Committee regarding the PTOs registered and allocated quota in the year 2016-17 that 183 PTOs are from Maharashtra while only one is from Jharkhand out of the total 484 PTOs all over the country. The Committee does not understand why Maharashtra should have a monopoly and maximum people should first go to Maharashtra to go for the Haj. The Committee desires that the PTOs from smaller states should also be registered for Haj quota so that Hajis are able to contact PTOs in their own states/UTs and need not go to Maharashtra which causes inconvenience to them. Needless to say, the Committee desires that if need be, the quota of PTOs may also be increased,” it noted.

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No more stamping of hand baggage tags at 7 airports

“The two airports at Delhi have been made completely free of blind spots,” said Singh. (Representational image) “The two airports at Delhi have been made completely free of blind spots,” said Singh. (Representational image)

BEGINNING APRIL 1, there will be no security stamping of hand baggage tags at seven major airports, including Delhi and Mumbai, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) said Thursday. The other airports where this practice will be scrapped are Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Kochi and Ahmedabad.

The decision comes weeks after Home Ministry had raised the red flag on doing away with this security step. On February 23, the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) had moved to scrap the stamping of hand baggage but it was put on hold by the Home Ministry after the CISF argued that there wasn’t sufficient technology in place to replace the process.

“Having made the required changes in the security set-up, along with infusion of new technology, we have decided to do away with hand baggage stamping at seven airports. The new system will speed up the security check procedure and give more time to CISF personnel for checking suspect baggage. We are committed to giving air passengers a hassle-free journey without compromising on security,” said CISF D-G OP Singh.

CISF sources said that to ensure that the removal of baggage stamping does not adversely impact security, a large number of high-definition cameras have been installed, and existing cameras re-oriented to cover gaps.

“The two airports at Delhi have been made completely free of blind spots,” said Singh.

Sources said that at Delhi, 44 new HD cameras have been installed in the security hold area and 36 more in the pre-embarkation area. In Mumbai, 85 new HD cameras have been installed, they said.

“PTZ cameras (that swivel) have also been installed in addition to fixed cameras for minimising grey areas at the airports,” said a CISF officer. Apart from this, the length of the output roller of the baggage scanner has been extended at the select airports to give CISF time to inspect “suspect” baggage. An acrylic barrier has also been put at the place to ensure that passengers leave with their baggage immediately after X-Ray scanning, said the officer.

The idea behind infusing such technology, sources said, was to ensure that responsibility can be fixed in the event of a security lapse and to help in any post-incident investigation.

On March 2, the Home Ministry in consultation with the Ministry of Civil Aviation had put on hold BCAS’s February circular declaring that the mandatory practice of putting security stamp on hand baggage tags at airports be done away with “immediate effect”.

It had then been decided to form a committee comprising senior officials from the BCAS, CISF and operators of the seven airports to plug the “grey” areas at these sensitive facilities so that the possibility of a security breach can be ruled out once the stamping of tags is done away with.

“The scheme has been cleared at these airports after ratification by the committee. A similar exercise would be conducted simultaneously at the remaining 52 airports under the CISF cover for recommending modifications in the security architecture and CCTV systems so that this scheme could be implemented there as well,” said the CISF officer.

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