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‘Chidambaram artificially lowered fiscal deficit in interim budget’

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Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s last budget artificially brought down the country’s fiscal deficit, leaving the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government with a huge unpaid bill, says economist Rajiv Kumar in his latest book.

“P. Chidamabaram, the outgoing UPA finance minister, left an unfriendly parting gift in the interim budget for 2014-15 that he presented in February 2014. He artificially brought down the fiscal deficit for 2013-14 fiscal year that was ending in March 2014, to 4.6 per cent by slashing plan expenditure and bringing forward dividend payments by public sector enterprises to boost his revenues,” Rajiv Kumar writes.

“Thus, Chidambaram, brought in by the UPA in September 2012 to try and retrieve the economic situation, left a huge unpaid bill for the next government.”

The author, who is the Founder Director of Pahle India Foundation, a non-profit research organisation that specialises in policy-oriented research and analysis, says Chidambaram had dressed up the budget estimates for 2014-15 by assuming optimistic revenue and subdued expenditure growth estimates.

“Evidently, Chidambaram was already convinced that a Congress finance minister would not have to present the next budget.”

The author also questions India’s high growth rate, calling it a chimera. He writes that RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan and Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian had both questioned the high GDP rate of over seven per cent.

“Both not only questioned the new estimates but asked for them to be reviewed,” the author writes.

The author needs to be credited for the fact that he has tried to explore as well as analyse in totality governance during Modi’s rule with its challenges, shortcomings, expectations, failures and plans for the future.

The book’s avowed rather heroic goal is to try and understand if the present prime minister’s track record as Gujarat’s chief minister has equipped him sufficiently to tackle the enormous challenges that face him in Delhi.

Speaking about the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls, the author states: “Modi and the BJP will have to work extraordinarily hard to come even somewhat close, let alone repeat, the astounding success it managed in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh when the state goes to the polls in 2017.”

The author states that though the astounding success of mission 272-plus made Modi the face of the BJP in the 2014 general elections, the circumstances are changing.

“That Modi had a relatively short time-horizon to deliver on his promises became crystal clear in January 2015, only nine months after the famous (2014) victory when the BJP was trounced in the Delhi elections.”

“Recent elections in Bihar have seriously dented Modi’s stature as a national leader and set back the emergence of BJP as a national party,” Rajiv Kumar writes.

The book is balanced in the sense that the author has articulately brought out the positives and negatives of Modi’s policies. While he credits him for hyper-active foreign policy and a governance marked by the absence of reports of corruption, he also talks about not taking many policy initiatives to make a clean break from the past.

The book is noteworthy for separately detailing the policy aspects of the Modi government in each sector.

It also lays out challenges the government faces in the social sector as 150 of India’s 650 districts are afflicted by left-wing extremism or Maoist activity, news of farmers’ suicides continue to come in from different states and increasing reports of Indian youth being attracted to terrorist organisations like the Islamic State and other domestic fundamentalist groups.

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Refugees found frozen in Lebanon near Syria border

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Refugees found frozen

The bodies of nine Syrian refugees who crossed into Lebanon have been found frozen in a mountainous area near the border with Syria, according to the Lebanese army.

The military said in a statement that the bodies were found on a people-smuggling route in the early hours of Friday after a snowstorm hit the Masnaa area, where Lebanon’s largest official border crossing with Syria is located.

“The army saved six other displaced Syrians, one of whom died later in a hospital from frostbite,” the statement added, raising the death toll to 10.

“The bodies were taken to the hospitals in the area, and the army continues to search for other displaced people trapped in the snow, in order to evacuate them and provide medical treatment for them.”

The identities of the Syrian refugees were not immediately known. According to some reports, at least one child was among the bodies found.

Two other Syrian nationals were arrested and charged with people-smuggling, the army added.

‘We are deprived of everything’

Temperatures dropped on Friday as winter storms battered the Lebanon-Syria border, making the lives of the more than 357,000 Syrian refugees living in makeshift tents in the Bekaa Valley, some 60km north of Masnaa, even more difficult.

Reporting from the region, Al Jazeera’s correspondent Zeina Khodr said that Syrian refugees “face many challenges during the winter months”.

“They live in tents that are made out of plastic sheeting, which does little to protect them from the cold and the rain,” she said.

Hammadi Chelbi, a Syrian refugee who has been living in Bekaa Valley after he fled the Syrian conflict in its first year, told Al Jazeera that he and his family are living in misery.

“We have nothing but pain, sickness and suffering,” he said. “We are deprived of everything.”

There are one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, although government officials estimate that the number is closer to 1.5 million.

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not getting the money it needs to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon through another harsh winter.

Last year, it requested $228m but received less than 60 percent of that, prompting it to warn that life in the camps was getting worse.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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One vote can’t change dynamics of our relations: Netanyahu on India

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

New Delhi, Jan 14 : Just one negative vote at UN cannot change the dynamics of Indian-Israeli relations between India and Israel, visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said here on Sunday, terming relations with India as “marriage made in heaven”.

“I don’t think one vote affects a general trend you can see in many other votes and everything and these visits,” Netanyahu said when asked to comment on India’s vote at UN against US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in an interview on India Today TV channel.

“Yes, naturally we were disappointed, but this visit is a testimony that our relationship is moving on so many fronts, be it political, technological, tourism, security and so many other areas. Ultimately you see it reflected in all UN votes, not just now but soon,” he added.

In December last year, India voted in favour of a resolution brought by Turkey and Yemen in the UN opposing the United States’ decision recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution was approved with 127-9 at the UN General Assembly.

“First of all there is a special relationship between the two countries, between their people and then between the leaders. The partnership between India and Israel is a marriage made in heaven but consecrated on earth,” Netanyahu said, adding he respects his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi “as a great leader” because he is “impatient to bring future to his people”.

On cooperation in counter-terrorism, he said that intelligence is the key.

“And Israel has on the whole superb intelligence. I would say none is better. And we share with you our intelligence and have stopped over the last few years some 30 major terror attacks, which we shared vis-a-vis not India alone but with dozens of countries.

“Israel protects lives of so many people. When you board a plane you want to know that plane won’t be blown up mid air. It will take off and land safely. When that happens, usually Israel has something to do with it, not on every flight but on many flights,” he said.

Asked if he approves India’s terror strikes launched across the border with Pakistan, he said that India makes its own choices and “you fight terrorism by fighting it”.

As the interviewer persisted, a smiling Netanyahu said: “Well, I am trying to be a foreign minister. I am trying to be a diplomat, because I hold two portfolios — the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister at the same time.”

Asked if Israel can use his good offices with China to persuade it to not veto a resolution against Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, Netanyahu said: “I think these things are best discussed not on television, especially if you want to make progress.”

However, he also said: “But our defence relationship is quite significant and comprises many things. I think the key word here is defence. We want to defend ourselves, we are not aggressive nations. We are very committed to making sure that none can commit an aggression against the either one of us.”

On the bilateral trade relations, the Israeli Prime Minister said that “there is a whole world that is erupting, exploding”.

Advocating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India to boost and deepen bilateral economic relations, he said: “Israel is changing so rapidly. We are creating industries. We have just created a car industry in just last five years. We have 500 start-ups dealing with automation of car.

“And there are other areas like water, agriculture, energy, health, transportsation. There is a whole world that is erupting, exploding. Future belongs to those who innovate… Israel is an innovation nation. India has innovations. In Silicon Valley there are two dialects you hear — Hindi and Hebrew and only a little English.”

He said that when he visited the iconic Teen Murti war memorial at Haifa circle, he felt “an expression of gratitude” because it was Indian soldiers who fell down while defending the city of Haifa (now in Israel) during WW-I.

“It’s closing of a circle 100 years later,” he said.

In a sign of growing importance to the ties with Israel, the government on Sunday renamed Delhi’s Teen Murti Chowk as Teen Murti-Haifa Chowk after the Israeli city.

Netanyahu is on a six-day visit to India, the first Israeli Premier to visit India after 2003 when Ariel Sharon came. Setting aside protocol, Modi went to personally receive Netanyahu.

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Full Court expected to resolve Supreme Court crisis

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All 25 Supreme Court judges are expected to meet soon to resolve the crisis in the country’s apex court after four senior-most judges complained against Chief Justice Dipak Misra over allocation of cases.

Informed sources told IANS that a Full Court meeting of the Supreme Court judges will take place at the earliest to take a call on the issue and deliberate over the complaints highlighted in public by the four judges — Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — who are the senior-most after Justice Misra in that order.

The rebel judges criticised the Chief Justice over allocation of cases, saying the administration of the top court was “not in order”.

As there was no solution in sight, Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh met Justice Misra and gave him a copy of the resolution the Bar passed on Saturday. The resolution also suggested a Full Court meeting to resolve the matter.

Two days after the crisis began, a seven-member delegation of the Bar Council of India (BCI) on Sunday also met the Chief Justice to convey its concern over the issue. The BCI also met three of the four rebel judges.

“We hope that the issue will be sorted out amicably and no one from outside should interfere,” BCI President Manan Kumar Mishra told reporters.

“During the meetings with Justice Misra, Justice Chelameswar, Justice Lokur, Justice Joseph and other judges, each one of them assured us that the issues will be resolved. The meetings with the judges took place in a very cordial atmosphere.”

Justices Sharad Arvind Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao also met Justice Chelameswar at his residence.

As the crisis lingered, four retired judges wrote to Justice Misra on Sunday, throwing their weight behind the four rebel judges who “have brought to light a serious issue regarding the manner of allocation of cases, particularly sensitive cases, to various benches of the Supreme Court”.

The retired judges are Justice P.B. Sawant, a former Supreme Court judge, Justice A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice K. Chandru, a former judge of the Madras High Court, and Justice H. Suresh, a former judge of the Bombay High Court.

They appreciated the “grave concern” raised by the four Supreme Court judges that cases were not being allocated in a proper manner and “arbitrarily” allocated to “particular designated benches, often headed by junior judges”.

“This is having a very deleterious effect on the administration of justice and the rule of law,” read the letter by the four former judges.

They said they agreed with the view of the rebel judges that the Chief Justice despite being the master of roster cannot assign cases “in an arbitrary manner such that, sensitive and important cases are sent to hand-picked benches of junior judges by the Chief Justice”.

“This issue needs to be resolved… for allocation of benches and distribution of cases, which are rational, fair and transparent. Only such measures would assure the people that the Supreme Court is functioning in a fair and transparent manner and that the power of the Chief Justice as master of roster is not being misused to achieve a particular result in important and sensitive cases. We, therefore, urge you to take immediate steps in this regard.”

Meanwhile, the Co-ordination Committee of All District Bar Associations of Delhi on Sunday condemned the four senior Supreme Court judges for going public over their differences with Justice Misra.

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