The government’s announcement of the Ram temple trust dominated front page headlines, while Delhi election excitement is at an all-time-high as the campaign ended Wednesday. The big story from the pink papers is about the Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Bill. All four mainstream newspapers carried interviews with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
TOI leads with the formation of the Ram temple trust, reporting Prime Minister Modi’s statement in the Lok Sabha: “The issue pertains to sensitivities and faith of crores of people in the country and it is my good fortune that I am making this announcement.” It mentions that the decision comes days before the Delhi polls, lending itself to “political interpretation but the opposition steered clear of such allegations”. In an interview Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said, “21st-century India will not be built by CAA and NRC but by having better schools, colleges and hospitals”.
Like TOI, Express leads with the Ram temple trust, and a Kejriwal interview in which he questions the definition of “patriotism” — “Is providing affordable healthcare patriotisim or is it Hindu-Muslim?”. In the report on the Election Commission’s ban on the police officer who linked the Shaheen Bagh shooter to AAP, it notes that EC said, “statements were totally uncalled for and could adversely impact elections”. Another report worth reading is the recent arrest of 19 in UP’s Azamgarh for sedition. “The UP Police’s action is in line with their crack-down on the protest in which 20 have been killed.” And there’s a follow-up story on Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa. It notes, “The Haryana government has given EC Ashok Lavasa and his family members a clean chit in case of alleged stamp duty evasion.”
Hindustan Times is the only mainstream paper to highlight the release of Kashmiri leaders, Sajad Lone and Wahid Parra — on its flap. The report adds, “At present, 389 people are in detention under the PSA, (Governor) Reddy said…,” including three former chief ministers — Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. HT’s front page looks much like TOI and that of Express. Read anchor story on, “Hiding illness may lead to death penalty in China”. The report details how the country is “scrambling to contain the fast-spreading novel coronavirus (and is) ready to implement harsh measures.”
In its Ram temple story, Hindu writes, “The Supreme Court mandated three-month deadline to set up a trust was to end on February 9, a day after Delhi votes.” It adds that Modi’s announcement was greeted with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ from BJP MPs. On the UP government’s allotment of five acres for a mosque, the paper notes, “Chief Executive Officer of the Waqf Board Syed Shoeb said they were yet to receive a formal order from the government.” The December 16 gangrape-murder is back on Page 1 as the central government moves the top court after the “rejection of its plea to separately execute the death sentence of the Nirbhaya gang-rape convicts.”
A muted morning for the Telegraph with quieter headlines. It leads with the story in Express on the UP Police’s arrest of 19 for sedition amidst the anti-CAA protests — the police “have been accused of using brutal force on a fledgling Shaheen Bagh-like protest in Azamgarh at 4 am to break up a group of women and children holding a vigil against the new citizenship regime.” ‘Tricks getting tricky’ features Gunja Kapoor, a YouTuber followed by the PM on Twitter, after her “stunt” at Shaheen Bagh that involved hiding inside a burqa: “She was let off after police intervened but not before the manner in which she was moving around there and the nature of her questions to the protesters had raised several questions.”
The New Indian Express has an unusual lead — the consecration of the famous Chola temple in Thanjavur which saw “lakhs of devotees and tourists from across the nation”. Interestingly, this story is flanked by the report on the Ayodhya Temple Trust. The lead paragraph, here, notes, right on top, that PM Modi’s announcement came just three days ahead of the Delhi elections. Also, an exclusive on the central government’s proposal to “fix an age cap of 50 years for women opting for assisted reproductive techniques (ART)”. And the anchor sees actor Rajnikanth explain why he supports the Citizenship Amendment Act — he claims that those protesting against it have been instigated.
Mumbai Mirror’s lead is about the British-era road bridges which “will instead be spruced up and transformed into walkways, and new bridges for vehicles will be built over them.” National Institute of Virology in Pune was also on the front page for its novel coronavirus screening, initiated by the central government, on 18 January. 242 samples have been tested, “but will need more labs to pitch in as virus threatens to turn into a pandemic.”
The Tribune’s cluttered Page 1 leads with the government giving its nod to a Bill amending the Banking Regulation Act “to further strengthen cooperative banks and avoid a PMC Bank-like crisis”. The most interesting (and shocking) story is about a baby testing positive for the Coronavirus 30 hours after it was born. Also, read the interesting anchor story on a Rajya Sabha committee taking an opposing stance on the Surrogacy Regulation Bill as it suggested that the surrogate mother needn’t be a close relative. The panel also said that the option of surrogacy should also be available to single mothers.
ET’s lead is Wednesday’s big financial story— the introduction of “Direct Tax Vivad Se Vishwas Bill”, which the paper describes as the “fine print” of Budget 2020. Also read how India inc is in “cold sweat” over the Coronavirus lockdown in China — several sectors like consumer electronics (mobiles), automobiles will be affected, as well as the seafood and spices exports to China. Also painkiller prices have increased. The real eyecatcher is the anchor story about the custom duty cuts on thoroughbred horses from 30 per cent to zero in the Budget; note the headline — “Horse Sense: When Free Trade Races to a Big Win”.
Mint’s lead is a little more forthright about the Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Bill, which it called the Finance Ministry’s “last resort”. The paper takes a different stand on the scheme, saying it “offers companies a chance to pay disputed tax arrears without interest and penalty”. It also highlights how the government will benefit from this. There’s an exclusive stating the likelihood of the government using a part of the dividend from the Life Insurance Company of India (LIC) “to infuse capital into the insurer” before the planned initial public offering. Also, worth reading is the anchor story about how the coronavirus has cast a shadow on solar power projects or (as Mint calls it) “solar projects infected by coronavirus”.
Business Standard chooses an interview with Maruti Suzuki CEO Kenichi Ayukawa as its lead. He said that the company is not looking to produce electric vehicles “anytime in the foreseeable future as issues like range anxiety and high cost of acquisition will put off buyers”. There’s also an exclusive on the Income Tax department reversing its stance on National Company Law Tribunal’s proposed demerger order of Reliance Jio Infocomm. In some good news, the service sector “began the year with a bang as new orders in January rose at the fastest pace in seven years”. Do also read the anchor story — an interview with Lalit Modi, who’s been “embroiled in a bitter battle with his family”.