Citizens' Issues
256 districts hit by drought, government tells SC
New Delhi : The government on Tuesday conceded in the Supreme Court that 256 districts with a population of about 33 crore spread over 12 states were affected by drought, even as NGO Swaraj Abhiyan argued that the budget allocation of Rs.38,500 crore to the rural job guarantee scheme for 2016-2017 was far short of the actual requirement.
 
As the government it has released Rs.19,000 crores under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme as a relief measure, the bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice N.V. Ramana said that the affected population was about 25 percent of the country's population.
 
At this, Additional Solicitor General P.S.Narasimha told the court that it was not that everyone living in these drought-affected district was hit by the calamity.
 
However, thrashing the government telling the court that it was taking steps for ameliorating the plight of the people including farmers in drought-affected areas, the NGO took the bench through government's own statistics to show that for 217 crores person days under the MGNREGA, the central government has allocated Rs.38,500 crore whereas it should have been Rs.71,820 crore.
 
Telling the court the government has reduced, by a third, the labour demand of 314 crore person days projected by the state governments, counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Swaraj Abhiyan which has sought relief for people in drought-hit states, said that of Rs.38,500 crore allocated under MGNREGA for 2016-17, Rs.19,000 crore has been released of which Rs.12,483 crore would be required to service the last fiscal's unpaid dues.
 
Thus, the actual allocation, as of now, was Rs.7,000 crore, he said.
 
For 217 crore person days as fixed by the central government coupled with requirement of additional 50 days work per household in the drought-hit states, Bhushan said that actual amount that would be required to be paid would be Rs.71,820 crore.
 
Besides the allocation of Rs.38,000 crore which was well short of actual requirement, Bhushan said that minimum wages being paid under the MGNREGA was not at par with the prevailing rate of minimum wages in the states.
 
Similarly, he told the court that compensation being paid to the farmers for crop loss on account of drought too was far short of the actual cost that a farmer bears, and sought the compensation cover the cost of cultivation of different crops.
 
Claiming that what was being paid for crop loss was without taking into consideration the cost of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, water and labour, Bhushan said that what was coming to farmer's family was not even the minimum wages paid to worker.
 
Pointing out that both farmers and farming sector were in deep distress, he said that the last 15 to 20 years have witnessed more than three lakh suicides by farmers.
 
Meanwhile, the government told the court that farmers in drought-hit areas were entitled to restructuring or rescheduling of their loans from the bank.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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High speed Spanish train arrives next week to outpace Gatiman
New Delhi : Even as the railways have decided to start work on the Rs.98,000-crore bullet train project next year, a swanky new Spanish high-speed train will arrive here next week for trials, for a service between the national capital and Mumbai.
 
"This Spanish high speed train is expected to cut travel time between Delhi and Mumbai to 12 hours," a senior rail ministry official said, referring to Talgo's variable-guage train that will be tested initially for speeds of up to 200 km per hour.
 
"The trial will commence between Mathura and Palwal by the end of this month or in May."
 
With a 70-year history behind it, Talgo of Spain is a top global supplier of high speed trains. Among its various projects, it is the lead supplier of rolling stock for the Haramain line between Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
 
The Spanish high-speed train is expected to reduce the travel time between New Delhi and Mumbai by up to four hours.
 
Currently, the super fast Rajdhani Express train takes around 16 hours to complete the 1,384 km stretch between New Delhi and Mumbai. 
 
The Mumbai Central-New Delhi Rajdhani Express has an average running speed of nearly 91 km per hour. It can attain a top speed of 130 km per hour.
 
Recently, the Indian Railways launched the country's first semi-high speed train -- Gatimaan Express on April 5, 2016.
 
The Gatimaan Express can attain a maximum speed of 160 km per hour. It operates between the national capital's Hazrat Nizamuddin station and Agra Cantonment station. 
 
In February, the Indian Railways had entered into a Rs.98,000-crore pact with Japan for a high-speed bullet train linking Mumbai and Ahmedabad. 
 
India's first high speed train service has been envisaged to operate at speeds of 300-350 kmph. It would mostly be funded by the Japan Investment Co-operation Agency (JICA) which would provide around 80 percent of the investment as a soft loan.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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Bowing to pressure, government withdraws new PF withdrawal rules
Hyderabad/New Delhi/Bengaluru : Under fire from political opponents and bowing to pressure from trade unions, including from RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the government on Tuesday withdrew its new rules of provident fund withdrawal.
 
Within hours after announcing the decision to withhold the rules till July 31, Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya declared that the proposed move has been rolled back.
 
"We are cancelling the notification issued on February 10. The old system will continue," he told a press conference in Hyderabad on Tuesday night - his second there in the issue in less than five hours.
 
Dattatreya said the employees, whenever they want, can withdraw employer's contribution of 12 percent.
 
The minister said the Central Board of Trustees (CBT) of Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) will meet to ratify this decision.
 
He had earlier told reporters in New Delhi that the final decision on withdrawal of employer's contribution to the provident fund corpus until the employee attains the age of 58 years will be taken only after July 31.
 
He said the notification will not be implemented from May 1 as announced earlier and he would hold talks with all stakeholders and call a meeting of the CBT, which will take a final decision.
 
The minister, who is CBT chairman, assured that they will take a decision for the betterment of employees and to make the system foolproof.
 
He had said as a result of this decision, the earlier scheme for withdrawal of PF will continue till July 31 and Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) subscribers can file for full and final settlement.
 
Dattatreya clarified that the notification restricted withdrawal of only 3.67 percent of the employer's share out of his total contribution of 12 percent, until after retirement, but during an earlier review it was also decided to allow an employee to withdraw even this amount for four purposes - treatment, purchase of house, marriage and education of children.
 
He said the decision to keep the move in abeyance was taken following representations received from trade unions and workers.
 
The BMS on Tuesday said they will continue to protest till all restrictions on PF withdrawal were removed.
 
The government decision came in wake of protests by garment workers in Bengaluru to press for removal of such curbs.
 
Workers of a garment factory took to the streets and blocked traffic on the busy Mysuru-Bengaluru highway and set many vehicles ablaze on Tuesday to protest amendments to the provident fund rules, police and eyetwinesses said.
 
Some 20 people were arrested and police fired warning shots as stone-pelting protestors attacked the Hebbagodi police station, a police officer said.
 
On the Bengaluru violence, Dattatreya said the protestors were migrant workers, who work for two to three years at one place and then migrate. "That is why they are demanding they should be allowed to take their money," he said.
 
Claiming that the Narendra Modi government is pro-worker, he said there was lot of misinformation going on in the country and it had taken many key decisions like enhancing the pension, bonus and insurance coverage.
 
Meanwhile, trade union leaders said that they are of the view that the curbs on withdrawal are unnecessary as the quantum involved is just 3.67 percent of the employer's contribution.
 
"It is an unwanted and unnecessary decision. All the trade union representatives in the board of trustees had opposed the move. Even a couple of employer's representatives were in agreement with our views," Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) president and CBT member A.K. Padmanabhan told IANS.
 
According to him, it is a confusion created by the bureaucracy and there is no rationale for restricting the withdrawal.
 
"It is after all the employees' money. Now it seems there will be one more notification," added Padmanabhan, alleging that the reduction in PF interest rate, and the budget proposals on taxing the PF corpus at the time of withdrawal are all part of the government's plan to push the people's savings towards the share market.
 
In February, the labour ministry had issued a notification restricting 100 percent withdrawal of provident fund by members unemployed for more than two months. The earlier decision was then deferred till April 30 but as protests persisted, the government has decided to postpone it yet again.
 
The EPFO had also restricted withdrawal of PF to the employee's own contribution and interest earned on that, if the claimant has remained unemployed for more than two months.
 
According to the new norms proposed earlier this year, subscribers are not to be allowed to claim withdrawal of PF after attaining 54 years of age, and would have to wait till 57. Earlier norms allowed contributors or subscribers to claim 90 percent of their accumulations in their PF account at the age of 54 years, and the final claims to be settled just one year before their retirement.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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