The cruel one-paisa cut on fuel prices & Ukraine is suspicious of India’s defence deal

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They’ve finally cut fuel prices… by all of one paisa. The Times of India tells us that the first fuel price reduction in a month turned into a “cruel joke” for consumers because of a “technical glitch” by state-run oil companies. It was initially indicated to be a 60-paisa reduction, but within a few hours the authorities hastily clarified that the cut in petrol and diesel rates actually amounted to one paisa per litre.

The opposition had a field day with this news, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeting:

However, Hindustan Times reports that fuel prices may soon be cut by ₹4-5 in most parts of the country. The national daily says the Centre has plans to marginally cut excise duty on fuel, provided it convinces states to reduce the value added tax and oil marketing companies to take a cut in their commission on sales.

Newly minted coalition partners in Karnataka, the Congress and the JD(S), may have finally got their act together regarding the distribution of portfolios, says Hindustan Times. Senior partner Congress is likely to keep the important home ministry, while the JD(S) will get the crucial finance ministry. Speculation had been rife that the distribution of portfolios had been held up because Congress president Rahul Gandhi was travelling abroad, accompanying his mother for her annual medical check-up.

Chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy with predecessor Siddaramaiah | PTI /Shailendra Bhojak

There’s ‘something fishy’ about India’s purchase order: Ukraine is currently investigating alleged kickbacks of around Rs 17.55 crore in India’s purchase of spares for military transport aircraft An-32. The Indian Express has found that Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Bureau suspects the involvement of Indian defence ministry officials and sent a “request for international legal assistance” to the ministry of home affairs via the Indian envoy in Kiev in February this year.

The curious case of Chanda Kochhar: After the ICICI Bank MD and CEO was given a clean chit by the board in the Videocon case, an anonymous whistle-blower has made new allegations against her regarding “non-adherence to code, conflict of interest, and quid pro quo”. The Indian Express says this has prompted the board to conduct a fresh probe, which will be conducted by an “independent and credible person”, and will be “comprehensive”.

ICICI will conduct an independent inquiry, reports Business Standard. Bank chairman M.K. Sharma had earlier expressed full confidence in Chanda Kochhar.

Profile Photo of Chanda Kochhar | Commons
File photo of Chanda Kochhar | Commons

Twelve long years after two CDs showed Kashmiri minors being sexually exploited, five people were found guilty of rape by a special court Wednesday. These include former Border Security Force (BSF) deputy inspector general K.C. Padhi, and former J&K police officer Mohammad Ashraf Mir, The Tribune reports. The court acquitted former J&K additional advocate general Anil Sethi and businessman Mehruj-ud din Malik, giving them the “benefit of doubt”. The rest could face seven years in jail to life imprisonment, but we’ll only know on 4 June, when the sentence is pronounced.

Meanwhile, the BJP has a message for separatists demanding clarity and ‘one voice’ from Delhi in order to hold talks: “You first.” Rising Kashmir tells us that state BJP general secretary (organisation) Ashok Kaul told the Joint Resistance Leadership to show clarity in order to get clarity from the Centre, and stop the unrest if they want to come to the dialogue table.

In case you ever wondered why you were struggling through advanced algebra in school when you never planned on using it in your real life, the CBSE may have just answered your prayer. Hindustan Times says the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is reviewing a proposal to introduce two versions of the mathematics paper so that students who aren’t keen to take up the subject later don’t have to sit for the test’s tougher edition.

The special investigation team has filed its first chargesheet in the Gauri Lankesh murder case against K.T. Naveen Kumar, 37, who was arrested in March. The Hindu reports that, according to the chargesheet, Kumar procured the bullets that were used to kill Lankesh on the night of 5 September, 2017. He also allegedly provided local logistical support to the shooters and guided them to her house and office in Bengaluru. The Indian Express adds that three diaries with extensive notes, and a map of Lankesh’s house were also found by the SIT in the homes of the four accused.

Business Class

It was not just the civil aviation ministry that was allegedly handpicked for lobbying by AirAsia but several others too, reports The Economic Times. The lobbyists had reportedly prepared detailed plans for how to make friends and influence senior officials elsewhere as well so as to change the 5/20 rule for overseas flights.

Income tax authorities have started examining in detail the Walmart-Flipkart deal, reports The Economic Times. The US retail giant had recently acquired a 77 per cent stake in the Indian e-commerce player Flipkart for $16 billion.

Media Watch

Amrita Nayak Dutta of The Print has found that the union home ministry has scrapped the proposal of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) to replace press accreditation cards of journalists with radio-frequency identification (RFID) cards or another type of chip-based smart cards as “it is impractical and not feasible”. The proposal had sparked fears that the I&B ministry was seeking to track and regulate the media. This had, in turn, come on the heels of another controversial order seeking to take away government accreditation of journalists who “spread fake news”.

Indian media
Image used for representational purposes | Pratham Gokhale/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Wikimedia and other organisations have written an open letter to world leaders attending the G20 summit in Argentina in November — India is a member of the bloc — urging collaborative efforts to create “a digital society that is open for everyone to participate in knowledge”. The letter opens with a sweeping vision as well as a promise. “G20 countries have both the opportunity and the responsibility to lead efforts to reinstate trust in the digital age…G20 countries can set a digital agenda that places people at the centre,” it said.

A Columbia Journalism Review special report has found that digital newsrooms, at least in the US, underpay their staff and fail to provide job security. Called ‘More secure jobs, bigger paychecks’, the article says that the reasons for unionising haven’t changed much in the last 80 years.

News it’s just kinda cool to know

A heartbroken man in Pakistan tried to walk up to the Indian border “hoping that a bullet from the BSF jawans would pierce his heart and end his trauma”. Mohammad Asif (32) is now behind bars. Hindustan Times reports that Asif was in love with the sister-in-law of his eldest brother Atik-ur-Rehman, and decided to end his life after twice being denied permission to marry her.

Pooping in space isn’t easy, and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson’s story about how she regularly packed poo with her hand will probably make you very grateful for your toilet. “You’re trying to hit a pretty small target,” Whitson told Business Insider last week. NDTV further reports that the poop just sits inside the toilet until mass disposal every 10 days or so; when it’s shot out of the International Space Station, “(it) burns up in Earth’s atmosphere like a shooting star”.

Prime Time

NDTV India’s 9 pm primetime show with Ravish Kumar began with shots of bank employees striking across the country against a meagre 2 per cent salary hike. Pointing to the abysmal working conditions of bank employees, such as long working hours, poor infrastructure and lack of gender-segregated toilets, Ravish wondered whether it was a good idea to “counter all these issues by broadcasting a Hindu-Muslim debate in every bank for at least half an hour”.

On her 7 o’clock show on India Today TV, Preeti Choudhary talked about cyclone Mekunu, which hit coastal Karnataka Tuesday, and how the newly formed government in that state was totally absent. Pointing out that the JD(S)-Congress government still hadn’t formed a cabinet and Rahul Gandhi was travelling abroad, Choudhary asked, “Is governance suffering?”

G.B. Athri of the Congress and Syed Aslam of the JD(S) assured her that the government would be formed very soon. “Congress-JD(S) alliance is in doldrums in Karnataka, they don’t know how to handle this situation,” said Vivek Subba Reddy of the BJP.

Meanwhile, Rahul Kanwal of India Today TV chipped in on Twitter : “The more Congress and the JD (S) squabble over portfolio allocation the more voters will see through the inherent instability of a hotchpotch alliance. The more they fight the more it benefits Modi and Shah,” he said.

Rahul Shivshankar, on his prime-time show on Times Now, referred to the government’s decision of reducing the price of petrol and diesel by one paisa a “joke on common people”. BJP national spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said his was a sensitive government and understood the hardship of the common man. NCP spokesperson Clyde Crasto and economist Prosenjit Bose wanted to know why petrol and diesel had been exempt from GST. But Swarajya editorial director R. Jagannathan lauded the government and explained how it hiked tax when prices fell, so “if at some point oil prices rise, the government will have some scope to cut the tax”.

Point of View

The Hindu is critical of the slow pace of the Congress-JD(S) coalition in getting its government going. The editorial says, “After having thwarted the BJP by offering unconditional support to the JD(S), the Congress cannot afford to get into an unseemly scramble for portfolios now. But neither can it allow the JD(S) to run the government as its own show.”

The Vedanta protests in Tuticorin and the consequent closure of the plant have been criticised by Business Standard, with the paper saying that “due process” was not followed. The plant, which has been operational for more than two decades, has been in the eye of a storm in the past too but in the unsettled politics of Tamil Nadu after the death of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa it’s bearing the brunt disproportionately, it adds.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala chastises the BJP in his column in The Indian Express. He writes, “As the government completes four years, it appears obsessed with drum-beating and window-dressing rather than reflecting on the ground reality.”

The Aadhaar debate continues. Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ praise for the project has provoked Columbia Law School professor Eben Moglen, in his column in The Times Of India, to say, “What consequences will follow — and what measures of remediation will be possible — when a national-scale single-token identity store like Aadhaar is cracked, no proponent has explained.”

Sample Aadhaar card
Sample Aadhaar card

Meanwhile, India and the US, the world’s two major democracies, are going through a churn as their governments bring in massive reforms, says Varghese K. George in his column in The Hindu. “Underlying the many concerns expressed in terms of federalism and the regional power balance, are also deeper questions of citizenship, identity and marginalisation of religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities in both democracies.”

(With inputs from Prateek Gupta, Manisha Mondal and Ratnadeep Choudhary)