Don't Join Russian Payment System, US Tells India; Despite ‘Daily Chemotherapy’ of 80 Paise Hikes, Oil PSUs Still Bleeding
AP rejected Pegasus as ‘illegal’, Imran loses majority, 14 dead in sewers in 3 days, Bommai on halal meat case, Tipu painting auctioned and new UP ministers uncomfortable about women personal staff
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
Snapshot of the day
March 31, 2022
The WHO is set to release its estimates of excess deaths caused by Covid-19 in early April, but it is bracing for pushback, especially from countries like India. According to a technical advisory group member who was privy to the process, the Indian government does not agree with the estimates shared by WHO which are at least four times the official figure of 521,101 deaths. The Indian government has asked for the estimates to be published “10 years later”.
The Modi government refuses to deny that it used Pegasus to hack citizens’ phones. Now, after West Bengal, which confirmed it was offered the military-grade spyware, the Newsminute reports on Andhra Pradesh former intelligence chief AB Venkateswara Rao’s revelations that the state government was approached by Israeli company NSO to purchase Pegasus. They refused as it was “illegal”.
Class 10 Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) board exams have begun in Karnataka, and seven school officials were suspended in Gadag district for allowing women students to take the exam in hijabs.
Commenting on the exclusion of Muslim traders in fairs in Karnataka, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, executive chairperson of Biocon Ltd, has urged Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to resolve the “growing religious divide” and said that the “religious divide will destroy India’s global leadership.” The BJP hit back: "It is unfortunate to see people like Kiran Shaw impose their personal, politically coloured opinion,” the head of the party’s IT cell tweeted. Bommai himself proposes to take a stab at halal meat, at the behest of Islamophobic Hindutva groups. He will look into “serious objections” about it.
January data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India shows that mobile users fell by 93.8 lakh that month ― yet another indicator of the state of the economy. Mobile companies took a 20% tariff hike in prepaid plans towards the end of November that has resulted in consolidation of SIM cards. Reliance Jio holds the largest market share at 35.49% and BSNL, just 9.95%. Recently, the director general of BSNL revealed that it has not received a single mobile project in the last five years. All projects of the Universal Service Obligation Fund were awarded to two private telecom service providers ― who allegedly used imported infrastructure, despite the atmanirbhar campaign.
After visiting China, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has started a two-day visit to New Delhi. The trip coincides with visits by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and US Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Daleep Singh. The US has reacted to the possibility of India signing up for the SWIFT-like Russian alternative financial transfer system for its oil purchases, saying this would be “deeply disappointing”.
Facing a series of crippling economic sanctions, Russia has written to the Indian Defence Ministry, requesting clearance of payments worth $1.3 billion that have been halted since last month, reports Economic Times. The letter was received on March 14 but officials are finding it difficult to process any payment to Russia, with most of its banks sanctioned. Indian banks are refusing to transact with them for fear of being excluded from the global financial system.
The Ministry of External Affairs has asked the Union Health Ministry to allow Indian diplomats to take third doses of Covid-19 vaccines – which the government calls precautionary doses – since they need to travel abroad frequently, and many countries are strict about vaccination norms.
Journalist Rana Ayyub has approached the Delhi High Court seeking permission to travel abroad after she was prevented by authorities from boarding a flight to London on Tuesday. The petition was mentioned before Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla today. Counsel for Ayyub prayed for early listing tomorrow morning since she has to travel abroad tomorrow. The Court said that if it is filed before 11 am, it will be listed tomorrow.
Fuel prices rose again by the now-standard 80 paise per litre. After the ninth increase in the last 10 days, petrol prices are up today by Rs 6.40 per litre compared to last week. “The timing of the hikes is extremely suspicious and extremely political,” Tamil Nadu Finance Minister P Thiaga Rajan says. They are clearly not determined by international crude prices, which are coming down now, and held steady before the Assembly polls, when international prices were rising. Herbalist and businessman Ramdev became hectic when a reporter asked him about his claim from long ago: “If BJP comes to power, petrol will cost Rs 40.”
"चुप हो जा, आगे से पूछेगा तो ठीक नहीं होगा" (“Shut up, don’t ask again or it’ll go hard for you.”)
The reason for the outburst may lie in the way Ramdev’s Patanjali acquired Ruchi Soya. It is an instructive example of nationalised banks, regulatory institutions and tribunals enabling massive wealth accumulation by cronies.
The price of natural gas will more than double as the new fiscal year begins tomorrow, in line with a surge in global prices, Reuters reports. The price of gas from old fields will be a record $6.1 per million metric British thermal units (mmBtu), up from the current $2.90 per mmBtu, while more challenging fields will see an increase to $9.92 per mmBtu from $6.13. Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries will benefit, along with state-run ONGC and Oil India, but inflation driven by high input costs in industry, farming and transport will punish households.
Britannia, India’s biggest biscuit manufacturer, plans to hike prices as much as 7% this year, another sign that inflationary pressures will hurt poorer consumers the most. In India, where private consumption accounts for some 60% of GDP, increasing prices risk denting demand, reports Bloomberg
In Sri Lanka, store shelves are bare and prices of essentials are soaring. “Public anger against the government is growing.” In Pakistan, ‘beleaguered’ Prime Minister Imran Khan has lost his majority in the House with the departure of the MQM, which broke ranks and joined the Opposition. Khan cancelled his address to the nation yesterday, apparently at the behest of the army, keeping alive speculation that he may step down. The opposition wants PML (N) leader Shehbaz Sharif as PM.
The Supreme Court has struck down the 10.5% internal reservation granted by the Tamil Nadu government to the Vanniyar community in 2021, and upheld a Madras High Court order. The Vanniyar community was given internal reservation under the existing 20% reservation given to Most Backward Classes (MBCs) by the Tamil Nadu government.
The BJP’s tally in the Rajya Sabha could rise to 100 after elections to 13 seats, but the euphoria is likely to be short-lived because it may drop to 95 by the end of the year.
The Union government yesterday formalised the merger of the Films Division, the Directorate of Film Festivals, the National Film Archive of India and Children's Film Society of India into the National Film Development Corporation. The move has been criticised by members of the film fraternity.
The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) plans to replace its existing logo with two new ones for international and domestic audiences, but this is being opposed by faculty members, who were not consulted. The present logo of IIM-A ― adopted in 1961 when the institute was set up ― has a tree of life motif, inspired by an exquisitely carved stone latticework jaali at the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque in Ahmedabad, built in 1573. It bears the Sanskrit verse ‘Vidya viniyogadvikasa’ (development through the distribution or application of knowledge).
A painting depicting a momentous 1780 victory against the East India Company in the Second Anglo-Mysore War went under the hammer in London. Sotheby’s accepted a bid of $658,000 for the painting, which shows Haider Ali and his son Tipu defeating Company forces led by Col William Baillie in the Battle of Pollilur, near Kanchipuram. The image is politically significant, one of many used later in the freedom struggle, to encourage solidarity among Indian states. For the Sangh parivar, of course, Tipu is a villain.