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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s announcement of the Cabinet’s approval to an ordinance banning e-cigarettes is the lead headline Thursday.

Mainstream newspapers also track the latest updates on the Ayodhya hearings as the Supreme Court set a deadline of 18 October to wrap up the final arguments in the case.

“Nowhere in the world are people sent to ‘gas chambers to die’,” – the SC’s concern over deaths due to manual scavenging is ignored by newspapers with only a box item on Page 1 in Hindustan Times.

E-cigarettes ban

On the vaping ban, all the headlines say pretty much the same thing: The Times of India says, “Fearing ‘epidemic among kids, young’, govt bans e-cigarettes”; The Indian Express has, “Citing health, Cabinet clears Ordinance to ban e-cigarettes”; “Cabinet clears Ordinance to impose ban on e-cigarettes” is HT’s take while The Hindu puts it simply, “Cabinet approves ban on e-cigarettes”.

The ban will make the “production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale and advertisements of the product punishable offences with jail terms from one to three years and fines of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh” (TOI).

Express explains that, “Though several states have banned e-cigarettes, the Ordinance was necessitated because orders were being challenged in courts. A recent HC order dismissing a plea seeking protection from an Ordinance, emboldened the Health Ministry to push for the ban.”

However, the accompanying piece, “Tobacco stocks surge, govt entities with stakes cash in”, gives the Centre’s move a twist: it reports that the ban had a “direct beneficiary Wednesday: the Government of India” which holds stake “directly” and otherwise in two big tobacco business companies: ITC and VST Industries Ltd.

Ayodhya case

“SC allows Ayodhya mediation committee to resume talks”, writes Hindu while other newspapers highlight a different aspect of the report. Express, HT and TOI point out that “SC sets Oct 18 to wrap Ayodhya case arguments” (Express).

SC “allowed the Ayodhya mediation committee to resume talks with the disputing Hindu and Muslim parties even as it indicated that the ongoing hearings of the appeals before a Constitution Bench is likely to finish by 18 October,” writes the Hindu.

HT focuses on another aspect: Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi “clearly wants to deliver a verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case before he retires on 17 November”, and “the bench headed by him that is hearing the case articulated its willingness to work weekends to do so even as it gave the petitioners room to settle the case through mediation”.

Others

A major development in the alleged Tabrez Ansari lynching case finds space in all newspapers. “Making a U-turn in Tabrez Ansari lynching case”, the Jharkhand Police “submitted a chargesheet seeking punishment under Section 302 of IPC against 11 of the accused,” states Hindu.

Home Minister Amit Shah also makes it to the front page for various reasons. Express goes with Shah’s claim that “NRC was not limited to Assam and would be implemented across the country. All illegal immigrants ‘will be sent out of the country’”. Hindu takes up the Hindi language controversy angle with Shah backing off a little: “He claimed that he did not push for Hindi over regional languages.”

“Taking a swipe” at BJP leaders who have been commenting on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), J&K governor Satya Pal Malik said “he is against war to take back PoK. He said rapid development of J&K will ensure the return of PoK to India,” reports Express.

HT and TOI inform that Delhi NCR residents they “are likely to face a harrowing commute on Thursday” as private buses, app-based taxis etc, “will stay off roads in protest against steep new fines under the amended Motor Vehicles Act”, says HT.

Opinion

The Times of India: In “War on Plastic”, TOI evaluates the Modi government’s goal to eliminate single-use plastics (SUPs) by 2022. So far, the Centre has nudged states to curb the production of SUPs but a simple ban won’t do, writes TOI. India’s recycling record is better than the global average, yet the “popularity of SUP” that leads to large amounts of plastic waste is the main problem, it explains. As seen in Bangladesh and in Tamil Nadu’s recent experiment, a ban on plastic is not enough and must go hand-in-hand with economic incentives and alternatives to plastic. Therefore, the Centre needs a “comprehensive solution” as it will be “unwise to precipitate disruption even in the pursuit of a worthy goal”.

Hindustan Times: In “The battle against rape, the battle for dignity”, HT highlights the “vulnerability of women and the impunity with which powerful men behave”. It cites the gang-rape in Bihar’s Bettiah Monday and the rape-accused BJP leader Chinmayanand, who the police are yet to register a case against, as examples of how the “fight for women’s safety is an uphill one”. Though the 2012 Delhi rape case “started the conversation”, the Kathua and Unnao rapes suggest the law alone cannot protect women, writes HT. Despite an increase in recorded rape cases, conviction rates have “remained stagnant”. HT places the onus on the police, mainly dominated by men, to provide “certainty of action against culprits”. India needs to do better to ensure women, especially from marginalised backgrounds, “feel safe and can access justice”, it writes.

Prime Time

Many different topics emerged at prime time for heated discussions.

India Today chose the latest developments in the Ayodhya case, Times Now took on Pakistan with reports of Hindus being “killed” — “There is a global outrage but Imran Khan is mum,” it said.

NDTV 24×7 returned to the ‘One Nation One Language’ debate after actor Rajinikanth termed the imposition of Hindi “linguistic imperialism”.

CNN News 18: Amit Shah’s Hindi comments saw anchor Anand Narasimhan ask on the `Right Stand’– “Is politics fueling this language debate?”

BJP’s Subramanian Swamy said, “Article 351 of our Constitution says Hindi will be the official language of our country. The semi-literacy of the cinema world has now taken over the politics of Tamil Nadu and we will have to be a little tough on this issue.”

DMK spokesperson A. Saravanan said, “We ask for English as a link and not Hindi because it acts as a leveller and an equaliser.”

Narasimhan also voiced his views: “As the largest and most spoken language, Hindi can act as a unifier. The move to use an Indian language as a ‘unifier’ must not be projected as an imposition.”

Republic TV: “#AyodhyaSolutionSoon” was the headline on Arnab Goswami’s show.

“Let SC take its own time and come out with its verdict on Ayodhya,” said professor Rizwan Qaiser of Jamia Millia Islamia.

Journalist Saba Naqvi said, “Congress created the Ayodhya issue, and right now they are positioning themselves as the champions of secularism on it.”

BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said, “Ram Mandir is not a political issue for the BJP. What PM has shown in the last five years is that the agenda is development.”

NDTV India: Anchor Sanket Upadhyay on ‘Khabron Ki Khabar’ also brought up the Ayodhya case.

Taranjeet Varma of the Nirmohi Akhara said the case hearings are approaching an end and arguments are at an advanced stage. He felt “talks of mediation do not hold much value” at this stage.

Yaser Jilani from Muslim Rashtriya Manch said he is sure the decision would be in favour of the Ram Mandir. “The hearing is happening on the basis of all the evidence. We are ready to accept it from the heart,” he said.

Advocate Virag Gupta thought the court’s judgment was the “most suitable way to resolve the case now”. He suggested public hearings “to restore people’s faith in the judiciary and judicial system”.

India TV: On ‘Kurukshetra’, the Indian Army conducting exercises near the China border in Ladakh exercised the panel. “Is India preparing for a war?” asked anchor Sushant Sinha.

Major General K.K. Sinha (retd) said: “This is a routine exercise… But even though it is a regular activity, the message to the neighbouring nations is loud and clear — we are prepared, come what may.”

Rajya Sabha MP and RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha agreed: “…the Army keeps itself prepared for every situation”.

Kashmir activist Ahmad Ayaz raised some questions: “…conducting this exercise in Ladakh near China border has some significance. Does India want to claim the areas of PoK that China occupies?”

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