Nitin Gadkari Scoffed Protracted Irrigation Scheme in Maharashtra

Taking a dig at the slow-paced progression of the irrigation scheme in the Sangli district of Maharashtra, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari jibes at the government, said that “even a transgender would bear children but an irrigation scheme in Maharashtra’s Sangli district would never be completed”.

The BJP leader’s comments came on a day he accused a section of the media of “twisting” his remarks on “leadership owning up to defeat” which he had made in Pune on Saturday.

“The economic viability of the Tembhu lift irrigation scheme was so difficult … that once I had shared my views with a person over it . I had said that even a transgender would bear children but this irrigation scheme will never be completed,” Gadkari said while addressing a rally in Sangli in western Maharashtra, around 375 kms from here.

The lift irrigation project is about fetching water from the Krishna river basin and irrigating the arid region of Sangli district to increase agriculture production.

Gadkari was attending the event to mark completion of irrigation works of the fourth stage of the lift-irrigation scheme. The construction work of the fifth stage is expected to be completed soon.

The Tembhu lift irrigation project was administratively approved in 1996 for Rs 1,416.59 crore. The project envisages lifting of 22.12 TMC water from the Krishna river to irrigate 80,472 hectares of land in Satara, Sangli and Solapur districts.

Addressing an event in Pune, Gadkari had said, “Leadership should have the ‘vrutti’ (tendency) to own up the defeat and failures. Loyalty of the leadership towards the organisation will not be proved till the time it owns up responsibility for defeat.”

The remarks had come days after the BJP’s dismal show in elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

However, he Sunday said the BJP is going to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and accused the media of “twisting” his remarks.

Mi A1 Gets Android 9 Pie Update This Week

The new update for Mi A1 has been unveiled globally today to multiple users. While Xiaomi is yet to confirm the rollout, some Mi A1 owners around the world including India have posted on social media channels like Twitter and Reddit about receiving the stable Pie update. The Mi A1 is Xiaomi’s first Android One smartphone that was launched in 2017.

The Android Pie update has so far been available in beta for Mi A1 users. Some users reported receiving the update earlier this month, but it seems a wider rollout is taking place this week. Based on screenshots posted by Mi A1 users, the stable Android 9 Pie update is about 1GB in size and it brings features like FM Radio and Pie-based features like Adaptive Battery, Adaptive Brightness, App Actions and new gesture navigation. This might be a phased rollout so Mi A1 users should manually check whether the update has reached their device via Settings.

The Mi A1 was launched in September, 2017 running stock Android 7.1.2 Nougat. The phone received the Oreo update around the start of 2018. With Android Pie now rolling out, the Mi A1 has received two major Android updates, which means the phone may not get Android Q in the future. The Mi A2, on the other hand, was launched with Oreo and has already received the Pie update. The Mi A2 is expected to get updated to Android Q next year, and so is the Poco F1.

The Mi A1 has been a fan favorite device since its launch as it offered a combination of good hardware along with Google’s clean, lightweight Android One software, which made it an attractive affordable option. The Mi A1 offers a 5.5-inch FHD display with a standard 16:9 aspect ratio and capacitive navigation keys. It will be interesting to see how the new Pie-based gesture navigation will work on a device with on-device navigation buttons. Some Mi A1 users have reported that the capacitive buttons turn off when the gesture navigation is enabled.

Purple Line of Metro Halted Owing to Technical Issues

The Purple Line of Bengaluru’s Namma Metro, halted on Monday due to a brief technical snag. This resulted in unforeseen delays causing inconvenience to passengers. For a brief period between 10am and 11am, information boards in the train stations went blank and trains came to a halt or moved slower than usual. Some passengers were stuck in stations for more than 30 minutes.

Trains have been plying at intervals of 15 minutes since December 12 when structural damage in the metro track’s bridge near the Trinity Metro Station were spotted. Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) has already announced that trains will not run between MG Road and Indiranagar from 8pm on December 28 to December 30.

A metro passenger said, “Not only are the trains running late, but it is stopping for more than three-five minutes in every station.” The metro officials and security personnel in the stations were not informed of the problem.

“There is a technical glitch in Purple Line between MG Road to Baiyappanahalli. Trains will be running slow till restored in this section. Hence expect delays in this line . Inconvenience regretted,” Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited tweeted.

The resultant delays in the stretch in turn caused a disruption in the services along the entire stretch between Mysore Road and Byappanahalli. Train services along the Green Line were, however, unaffected.

After the issue was resolved, the Chief Public Relations Officer Chavan told TNM, “Our priority is to ensure that the rest of the services are running smoothly. We are trying to ascertain what caused the problem.”

BMRCL officials said that the delays were caused due to a problem in the metro’s signaling system in both directions between the two stations. Informed sources said the snag was caused by an interruption of power supply but it is yet to be ascertained.

Madhur Bhandarkar and Actor Ashutosh Rana Shore Up Naseeruddin Shah’s Comment on Law & Order

Naseeruddin Shah’s comment on the decaying law and order in the country triggered much reversion against him. Recently, Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar and actor Ashutosh Rana came out to stave off the diatribe and support their peer. While Rana emphasised that no one should be put should be put on social trial for speaking their mind, Bhandarkar claimed that everyone has a right to express their views in a democracy.

Rana and Bhandarkar’s support for Shah came after the veteran actor expressed concerns over how “the death of a cow has more significant than that of a police officer” and how he did not see “the situation improving anytime soon”. “In many areas, we are witnessing that the death of a cow has more significant than that of a police officer,” Shah said while referring to the Bulandshahr violence where a policeman lost his life to mob fury over alleged cow slaughter earlier this month.

Urging that one must ponder over Shah’s statement rather than merely reacting on it, Rana said, “Everyone has the right to share his/her views. If someone speaks his mind in the country, does that mean there should be a social trial? We should seriously listen to him/her instead.”

The actor was addressing the media in the national capital last week when he added, “If someone is speaking his mind and there is a debate, will it improve the country’s economic situation.”

Speaking on similar lines, Bhandarkar said since we live in a democratic country, “everyone has a right to share their thoughts”. “Everyone has the right to speak. We live in a democratic country. I don’t think there is any fear. Everyone is equal in India and this is his point of view. This is the special thing about our country that everyone can express their opinions,” the 50-year-old said.

However, the filmmaker added:  “I don’t think there is any problem or intolerance.”

Last year, Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar, which was set in the backdrop of the 1975-77 Emergency, had drawn the ire of Congress leaders who had claimed that the film had portrayed the leaders in a bad light. This year, the filmmaker had a question party chief Rahul Gandhi after the latter dismissed demands to censor Netflix’s Sacred Games over alleged negative references to father Rajiv Gandhi.

Tweeting out a video of purported Congress workers staging protests and threatening him ahead of the release of his movie back then, Bhandarkar had said, “Dear Rahul Gandhi ji, here is a compilation of the harrowing experience I had when your party workers tried to police & control my FOE during my film #InduSarkar. I was hounded at various cities to 5-star hotel to the censor board office. I requested for your support but u didn’t.”

Telecom Equipment Maker HFCL Bags Rs 148 Crore

Having bagged two contracts worth Rs 148 crore from Larsen & Toubro, Telecom equipment maker Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited (HFCL) on Wednesday said on December 23, the contracts are for executing telecommunication systems projects for Mauritius Metro Express Project and Dhaka Metro Mass Rapid Transit System.

The Mauritius Metro Express Project is along a 26-km route that will connect Curepipe to Immigration Square in the capital Port Louis, the company said in a BSE filing.

The Dhaka Metro Mass Rapid Transit System Project is along a 20 km route and is an elevated metro rail system connecting Uttara and Motijheel, it added.

GVK in Talks with JM Financial Ltd for Refinance

GVK Airport, the holding company of the group’s airport business, is seeking to refinance a part of its debt, which was taken from HDFC Bank and Yes Bank to develop Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL).

GVK Airport owns a 50.5% stake in MIAL, while South Africa’s Bidvest Group Ltd and Airports Company South Africa Ltd hold 13.5% and 10%, respectively. The remaining 26% is held by the state-run Airports Authority of India (AAI).

The GVK group is in talks with JM Financial Ltd to refinance up to ₹1,400-crore of GVK Airport Holdings Pvt Ltd’s debt through a structured credit transaction, two people aware of the development said on condition of anonymity.

The total debt of GVK Power and Infrastructure Ltd, which runs the airports business through GVK Airport, stood at ₹12,854 crore as of March 2018.

“GVK has been trying to find a way to retire or refinance its debt,” said one of the people cited earlier. It had initially wanted to list the airports business, but shelved the plan because of unfavourable market conditions. The company had also tried to refinance existing loans of $1 billion through dollar bonds, but market volatility and tepid response from foreign investors forced it to look at other options, this person said. “Talks are now on with JM Financial to refinance a leg of the outstanding loan,” added this person.

GVK Airports was bringing more predictability into its revenue stream by monetization its real estate assets and increasing the contribution of its non-aeronautical revenue component, this person said, adding that the company was now better placed to secure funding.

In November, GVK Power and Infrastructure told the stock exchanges that it had received shareholder approval to raise up to ₹8,000 crore, and to dilute more than 50% stake in GVK Airport. The proceeds would go towards reducing its debt.

On 27 August, Mint reported that the GVK group was in talks with at least four companies—Singapore’s Changi Airport; German airport operator AviAlliance; India’s sovereign wealth fund, National Investment and Infrastructure Fund; and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority—to sell a significant minority stake in Mumbai International Airport Ltd as part of its deleveraging strategy.

Under a 30-year concession, the government had granted the GVK Airport-led MIAL the right to operate, maintain and develop Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

In 2010, GVK acquired a 13.5% stake in MIAL from Bidvest for around ₹650 crore. State-run AAI has the right to buy stakes in Mumbai airport, according to previously agreed terms, before it is sold to a third party.

“As a policy, we do not comment on any speculation in the media,” a GVK spokesman said in an emailed response. Emailed queries to JM Financial did not elicit a response till press time.

GST Compensation to Continue till 2025 to Safeguard States from Revenue Shortfall

In a bid to protect from states grappling with a revenue shortfall after the implementation of the GST regime do not face a sudden fiscal shock when the five-year transition period ends in 2022, the constitution facilitated the GST compensation scheme for states for three additional years to implement the nationwide goods and services tax (GST) after the expiry of the first five years as mandated by the Constitution which has been extended to 2025.

The backstop facility would help continue compensation through an annual transfer of the centre’s tax revenue to the states, for which the 15th Finance Commission would prepare a blueprint, two officials said. The recommendation will help states get the GST compensation till 2025, when this finance commission’s term ends.

Assured compensation helps in decision-making by consensus within the apex indirect tax decision-making body, the GST Council, where neither the centre nor the states can get decisions passed without the support of the other, according to the Union government. So far, all decisions—including GST rate cuts—have been taken by consensus, as states are confident of a 14% annual revenue growth, supported by the GST compensation.

The GST revenue trends of states would be a key parameter in finalizing the commission’s formula for devolution of central government’s tax revenues to states, Ramesh Chand, a part-time member of the finance commission and also a member of policy think tank NITI Aayog, said in an interview.

“We will see what kind of revenue deficit states will have after 2022 and how that can be met. It will be factored in the devolution formula,” he said. “We are having regular presentations on GST. “Also, when we visit states, they give us data, including that on GST revenue trends. This aspect will be factored into the commission’s recommendations.”

GST compensation to states for their revenue loss under the new indirect tax regime has aided in smooth decision-making in the council, said a GST Council official on condition of anonymity.

“Constitutional guarantee for compensation of GST revenue losses for the first five years has given states the confidence that the central government does not take their needs for granted. This, along with the finance commission grant, will take care of states’ revenue requirements,” said the official.

State governments, which have revenue slippage after the 2017 indirect tax reform that subsumed various taxes and cesses into GST, are pitching for a longer period of compensation.

One of them is Punjab, considered the granary of India. It had let its 3% cess on farm produce, a key revenue source for the state, to be subsumed into GST. Punjab received the second-highest GST compensation in FY18 at more than ₹4,600 crore after Karnataka, which received over ₹7,500 crore. Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal said in an interview that the state would take up the matter strongly with the finance commission.

“The finance commission is yet to visit Punjab. When they do, we will flag this issue. It (subsuming the taxes on farm produce) was yet another sacrifice Punjab made for the overall good of the country,” said Badal.

With the implementation of GST, states no longer have the full flexibility to raise additional taxes to meet any spurt in their revenue needs without the consent of the GST Council and are, therefore, dependent on the centre to a great extent, said R. Muralidharan, senior director at Deloitte India.

15-Odd Coal Miners were Trapped in Ksan Area of Meghalaya

Even as search and rescue operations continue over a week after 15-odd coal miners were trapped in Ksan area of East Jaintia hills district of Meghalaya as water from multiple channels entered the mine, villagers in lower Assam’s Chirang district feel sad and helpless.

A lot of them work as migrant labourers in the illegal rat holes coal mines of Meghalaya and say that even after the horrific accident, they will work in the coal mines because they don’t have any other option.

“We know it’s very risky, but we need money,” said Sayeb Ali, the lone survivor of the tragedy.

Another miner from the village, who worked in an illegal mine in Garo hills of Meghalaya, claimed that working in rat hole mines is dangerous, but it brings good money.

“We are uneducated, unskilled and poor. If we take up daily wage jobs in Guwahati, we don’t earn more than Rs. 300 a day, but in rat hole mines, the pay starts at Rs. 1,000 and goes up to Rs. 2,000 per day. To make sure that our kids have a better life, we take this huge risk,” said Abdul Hussain.

The Meghalaya police are aware of illegal mining as well as transportation of coal, but the coal lobby has huge influence over police and politicians, said a miner, who works in a rat hole mine in Sutunga area.

Meanwhile, the Meghalaya government sources say it has names of 15 miners, but there should be around 18 of them. The lone eyewitness, Sayeb Ali, says 18 people, including him, had entered the mine that morning.

Meghalaya government had sought help of the Army, but the army said it does not have the expertise to pump out water from a 35-foot-long mine, sources said.

A huge volume of water has gushed in through a breach and the river nearby is also on a higher gradient, so water from the river will keep flowing into the mines. Government sources claim that it will take over a month to pump out water this way since all the rat hole mines in the area are interconnected.

Mining experts have been brought in to work out a new plan.

But the sources add that they are now almost certain that under such situation chances of survival are slim.

Tension Heightened in the Selection of Women’s Team Coach

VVS Laxman- BCCI’s Cricket Advisory Committee member and batting legend, on Friday notified that their panel wanted Anil Kumble to continue as India’s coach but the former captain was bent on quitting after his fallout with skipper Virat Kohli last year.

Reflecting on the tumultuous phase that gripped Indian cricket during last year’s Champions Trophy, Laxman said the episode left a “bitter taste in the mouth”.

“I don’t think Kohli crossed the line. We at the CAC thought Anil should continue as coach but he thought the right decision was to quit and move ahead. It left a bitter taste in the mouth,” Laxman said at the ‘India Today South Conclave’ in Visakhapatnam.

The CAC, comprising Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, picked Kumble as national coach in 2016.

However, the appointment didn’t quite work out as Kumble and Kohli’s difference of opinions spiralled into a full-blown public fallout which culminated into Kumble stepping down.

The former captain went on to say that his relationship with Kohli had become untenable.

“What I did not like was the way he was getting bad press during the Champions Trophy. The CAC wanted Anil to continue and the entire episode was very unfortunate, Laxman said.

“I always tell people CAC are not marriage counsellors. We were tasked with selecting the best possible job. We did a very elaborate process – unfortunately, Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble did not work out,” he added.