ELECTION COMMISSION APPROVES ADVANCED EVMS FOR FUTURE ELECTIONS IN INDIA

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The VVPAT machines, that leave a paper trail of votes cast at EVMs, will be used in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Photo: Javeed Shah/ Mint

In a bid to increase transparency in the electoral process, the Union cabinet cleared a proposal to procure 1,615,000 voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines by September 2018. These are the advanced versions of the currently used EVMs. Estimated to cost Rs. 3,173 crore, it will also ensure VVPAT units are used in all the polling booths in the next general elections in 2019.

Immediately it nixes the growing controversy after allegations of tampering of electronic voting machines (EVMs) were levelled by several political parties, including the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won massive victories in the Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh elections last month.

“A voter has a right to know whether his vote has been correctly registered or not. VVPAT machines in many phases and in small numbers were ordered earlier in 2013 and 2015 as well. The estimate of the Election Commission is that approximately 16 lakh machines are required. The entire procurement will be supplied by September 2018. If by September 2018, machines are procured then elections conducted after that time will have a paper trail,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said while addressing a press conference after the cabinet meeting.

To prove that a correct vote has been recorded, the VVPAT machine dispenses a paper slip with details of the party for whom the voter cast their vote. The slip has the name, serial number and symbol of the candidate and is displayed through a screened window for seven seconds. The slip then gets cut and is dropped in a sealed box.

“The decision of the government would enable the Election Commission of India to deploy VVPAT units in all polling booths in the general elections, 2019, which will act as an additional layer of transparency for the satisfaction of voters, allaying any apprehension in the minds of the voters as to the fidelity and integrity of the EVMs,” an official statement said.

In 2013, the Supreme Court had asked the EC to generate a printed record to ensure confidence of voters in the EVMs. Last year, chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking funds for the new process. In the 2014 general election, there were a total of 9,28,237 polling stations across the country – around 12% more than the 15th general election in 2009.

“The Commission shall closely monitor the production of VVPATs for timely delivery well before general elections in 2019. With this, the Commission will ensure the total compliance of the orders of Supreme Court and its commitment to use VVPATs with every EVM at all polling stations in the country in general elections 2019,” the EC said in a statement.

“It is a good step and will definitely enhance transparency. There has been a demand from political parties for quite sometime and the process was essentially delayed due to the lack of funds. The recent assembly election results have also helped to speed up the process,” said Maj Gen (retd.) Anil Verma, head of the New Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms think tank.

END OF MY THREE YEAR OLD COLLEGE JOURNEY!

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I opted to study Journalism and Mass Communication, under IP University, New Delhi, way back in 2014, after admissions and selections. How time flies by, and now it is 2017! My final exams are expected to begin from next month. I really enjoyed learning new things and got lots of exposure from my teachers and fellow seniors as well.

Farewell Day is an event that brings mixed emotions to the mind and the heart. On one hand, graduating after three years of dedication, hard work and achievements gives a feeling of pride but on the other hand, departing from the college, teachers and fellow students is painful. The thought of moving into a new world makes you feel anxious and thrilled at the same time.

The Students, Faculty Members, Staff and Management of Trinity Institute of Professional Studies, Dwarka organized the farewell function, El-Veda at Radisson Blu, Dwarka Sector 13, for the students of BBA, B.Com (H), BCA and BJMC, on April 22, 2017 to bid a grand adieu to the graduating students. Around 1000 students, faculty and staff gathered to celebrate the joyous occasion.

The chief guest for the occasion was Mr. Chandrachur Singh, the famous Bollywood actor whose presence made the event more memorable for the students as well as the institute. The event was graced with the presence of Dr. R.K Tandon, Chairman, TIPS and Mrs. Reema Tandon, Vice-Chairperson, TIPS, along with Dr. Vikas Rao Vadi, Director, TIPS.

The event was inaugurated with the lighting of the ceremonial lamp by Dr. R.K Tandon, Chairman, TIPS Dwarka. He inspired the students with a motivational speech and shared anecdotes from movies such as “PINK”, “BAGHBAN” etc. to inculcate Indian culture and values. He also made students aware about the new addition to the Kamal Educational Society, that is ‘Trinity Institute of Innovations in Professional Studies’.

Besides this the honorable chairman also appreciated the work done by Mr. Chandrachur Singh in the Bollywood industry. He invited the chief guest on stage to address the audience. Mr. Singh greeted everyone with great enthusiasm. He inspired students to follow their dreams and shared as to how he succeeded in chasing his dream of being a Bollywood actor. He wished the students best of luck and sang a few lines from the song that kept him motivated in times of struggle – “Ruk Jaana Nahi, Tu Kahin Haarke”.

After this, the screening of the movie ‘El-Veda 2017- Blessings’ took place that presented the wonderful memories of the last three years. The management and faculty members of various programmes showered their good wishes and blessings on students through the recorded messages in the movie. After that, the students of second year of all courses presented a variety of cultural events,which were greeted with a great applause from the audience.

The honorable chief guest surprised everyone with a mesmerizing performance. He sang famous and melodious Bollywood numbers; the students were so overwhelmed with the performance that few of them joined him on the stage. The programme was solemnized with giving away mementos and titles to the outgoing students by the Mr. Singh and the management, for their achievements in academics, sports and co-curricular activities.

A photo session was also held for the ongoing batch, to capture their memories in the heart for time immemorial. The programme ended with a ‘Vote of Thanks’ followed by lunch. Post lunch, DJ was organized for the students that gave a rhythmic end to the grand and gala event.

INDIA SET TO BAN SERVICE CHARGE IN ALL ITS HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS

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The government plans to issue an advisory to states and union territories, endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office, to stop the imposition of service charges by restaurants and hotels in bills for food and drinks as it is an illegal practice.

A few months back, the Food and Consumer Affairs ministry had sent an advisory to states directing them to stop this illegal practice, but some states did not act on it, following which the department has now decided to take the help of the Prime Minister’s Office.

‘Service charge does not exist. It is being wrongly charged. We have prepared an advisory on this issue. We have sent it to the PMO for approval,’ Ram Vilas Paswan told. The advisory will also be useful for Voluntary Consumer Organisations (VCOs) fighting for consumer rights, a senior official said.

No customer should be forced to pay service charges. If customers want, they can pay a tip to waiters or give their consent to levy the charge in the bill. The levying of service charge without seeking customer consent will be considered as unfair trade practice under the Consumer Protection Act.

The ministry has received a number of complaints from consumers about hotels and restaurants levying a ‘service charge’ in the range of 5-20%, in lieu of tips, which a consumer is to forced pay irrespective of the kind of service provided to him. Highlighting provisions under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the ministry had said a consumer can make a complaint to the appropriate consumer forum against unfair trade practices.

The minister also said there was no provision under the existing law to take action against hotels and restaurants. However, he added that in future such cases would be addressed effectively, by the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) proposed in the new Consumer Protection Bill.

On food wastage at hotels and restaurants, Paswan said the government will not bring a law or issue any advisory, rather it will encourage them to take voluntary steps. Hotels and restaurants have been asked to take voluntary measures such as training its staff to create awareness amongst customers on portion of dishes served.

Paswan further stated that he had taken steps to enforce the sale of bottled water at the official minimum retail price (MRP). At the Centre’s intervention, global soft drinks giant Pepsico has started selling mineral water bottles at the same rates, irrespective of the place of sale.

‘BCCI has also assured the ministry and also sent a directive to all the cricket stadiums, which it gives recognition that no packaged food items would be sold at different prices inside and outside the stadiums during the current IPL series and also otherwise,’ Paswan said.

On the issue of disclosure of food portions to check wastage, the minister said the he has held extensive discussion with hotel and restaurant owners. The big hotels and restaurants said that first they would sensitize their staff to make the customers aware of the size of each portion.

Some hotels have assured that they on their own would try to lower wastage. He also said that no law or questionnaire is being prepared to check the size of portions served in restaurant menus and compliance would be voluntary.

NORTH INDIA SET TO INAUGURATE FIRST WILDLIFE DNA BANK BY 2017-END

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North India is all set to get its first DNA bank for wildlife. Scientists at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) in Bareilly are in the process of collecting DNA samples of all wild animals to set up the bank. It is expected to help in research and also in bringing down poaching.

At present, the Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) in Hyderabad is the only such facility in the country. According to principal scientist and in-charge of the Centre for Wildlife, IVRI, Anil Kumar Sharma, so far, the scientists have collected 140 samples of 25 wild animals. The DNA bank is expected to start this year-end.

“We are making a baseline data of different animals. Every time we receive some identified specimen, viscera, skin or part of the body of a wild animal from either forest department or zoo, we take out the DNA,” Sharma mentioned. It took one year for the IVRI to collect the DNA samples of animals such as tigers, leopards, lions, elephants, rhinos and deer, which are on the radar of poachers.

“At present, every time there is an incident of poaching, the specimen is sent to the facility in Hyderabad, which is an expensive affair. Also it is too much of a pressure on the Hyderabad institute. We are starting this to cater to the needs of north India,” Sharma said.

The DNA bank was the brainchild of Dr. Raj Kumar Singh, the director of Indian Council of Agricultural Research-IVRI, Mr. Sharma added. “The bank has ‘positive sample’, meaning a ‘known sample’ which will have DNA sequencing. In future, if we get some ‘unknown sample’ like hair or skin, then with the help of the DNA bank, we can tell which animal it belongs to,” Sharma added.

SUPREME COURT BANS USAGE OF RED BEACONS IN VIP VEHICLES

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The government decided to ban red beacons atop cars of all ministers, politicians and bureaucrats, ending a privilege that was seen as the ultimate status symbol. The ban, effective from May 1, does not exempt even vehicles of the country’s top dignitaries such as the President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India.

But ambulances and vehicles of the fire service, police, and army will be allowed to use blue flashing beacons to cut through traffic. About six categories of beacons – primarily red, blue and yellow are in use in India. But the red, or the coveted “lal batti”, has been drawing maximum attention as an elitist VIP symbol, since the British rulers introduced it.

Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari called the decision historic, and tweeted: “Usage of red beacon tied us back to colonial legacy. With the lal batti removal, PM Narendra Modi’s vision of new India took a step forward.” The decision was taken at a meeting of road transport officials with the Prime Minister’s office yesterday.

“We have decided to remove the clause from the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, that gave the Centre and states the power to decide who should be allowed to display red beacons. The road ministry will shortly notify the amended rules,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.

The Centre’s move follows decisions by the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab Chief Ministers, Yogi Adityanath and Captain Amarinder Singh, to discard beacons from official cars in their states. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal took the lead in 2015 by asserting he would not have the red beacon on his car. Union Ministers such as M Venkaiah Naidu and junior home minister Kiren Rijiju have never used one since they joined the Modi’s council in 2014. Gadkari and Jitendra Singh, junior minister in the prime minister’s office, removed theirs after the announcement.

The opposition Congress welcomed the step, but took a swipe at the BJP, saying it was good to see the ruling party catch up with the progressive policies of the previous government. The top court called beacons atop cars of ministers and bureaucrats “ridiculous and synonymous with power”, and said these should be removed immediately.

The Road Ministry had proposed limiting the privilege to five constitutional authorities – the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, and Speaker of the Lok Sabha, which was not approved. According to the government, vehicles with beacon lights have no place in a democratic country.

People often saw these flashing lights as shining examples of power and VIP status, more than security aids. Even lower-level politicians and officials misuse the beacons to show off their importance, especially in smaller towns.

CHINA LAUNCHES THEIR FIRST CARGO SPACECRAFT SUCCESSFULLY

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China successfully launched its first unmanned cargo spacecraft, taking another crucial step towards realising the Communist giant’s ambition to have a permanently manned space station in the next few years. Powered by a Long March-7 Y2 carrier rocket, Tianzhou-1 roared into the air from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in the southern Hainan Province, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Hours later, space department officials declared the launch a success, as it entered the designated orbit. In space, the cargo ship will dock with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space station, provide fuel and other supplies, and conduct space experiments before falling back to Earth.

China aims to build a permanent space station by 2022, which is expected to orbit for at least 10 years, and the debut of the cargo ship is important as it acts as a courier to help maintain the space station. Without a cargo transportation system, the station would run out of power and basic necessities, causing it to return to Earth before the designated time.

The space centre had recently conducted the final rehearsal for the launch, which covered all systems involved in the launch, such as the rocket, spacecraft, launching site and testing, control and communication systems. China’s fast-expanding space programme targets a landing on the dark side of the Moon by 2018.

It aims to launch its first Mars probe around 2020, followed by a second mission that would include collection of surface samples from the red planet. If the Tianzhou-1 mission completes its objective, China will become the third country besides Russia and the United States to master the technique of refuelling in space.

“The Tianzhou-1 mission includes the breakthrough of in- orbit refuelling and other key technologies needed to build a space station, laying a foundation for future space station operations,” said Bai Mingsheng, chief designer of the cargo ship which can carry over six tonnes of supplies. Tianzhou-1 is larger and heavier than Tiangong-2, which is 10.4 metres in length and has a maximum diameter of 3.35 metres, weighing 8.6 tonnes.

The chief designer has said that supplies loaded on the cargo spacecraft are nearly as heavy as the ship’s own weight, exceeding the loading capacity of Russian cargo ships in active service, adding Tianzhou-1 will dock with Tiangong-2 three times. The second docking will be conducted from a different direction, which aims to test the ability of the cargo ship to dock with the space station from different directions. In the last docking, Tianzhou-1 will use fast-docking technology.

Previously, it took China about two days to dock, while fast docking will take about six hours, according to the chief designer. Refuelling is conducted during docking, a process that is much more complicated than refuelling vehicles on land. The refuelling procedure will take 29 steps and last for several days each time.

NOW, ENJOY YOUR AIR TRAVEL IN A PAPERLESS AFFAIR

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Jayant Sinha on Friday said the ministry is working on the initiative to ensure the whole air travel experience is completely digital. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

In its attempt to minimise paperwork for air travel, the government is looking to roll out a digital system for airport entry and boarding flights using a flier’s Aadhaar number and mobile phone.

Under the proposed ‘Digi Yatra’ initiative, the civil aviation ministry is looking to make “boarding pass and security check-in” digital. The Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said the ministry is working on the initiative to ensure the whole air travel experience is completely digital.

“Your payment is digital, your boarding and security interactions are digital. That is the Digi Yatra concept we are working on,” he noted. According to Sinha, under the initiative, there will be no need for any paper and the traveller will be securely identified through Aadhaar number, passport or other documents.

“We have a working group established and we are very hopeful of rolling out some of these in the next few months,” the minister said. “The whole experience would be completely digital so that you would not need any paper and you would be able to book your car to the airport, get into the airport, get a digital boarding pass, board your aircraft, take a car way back and do all of that just with your mobile phone,” said Sinha.

He also stressed that the ministry is trying to understand how best to establish a uniform set of standards and protocols so that they can be applied across the system. Meanwhile, Sinha said the ministry is in the process of coming up with an approach to have a no-fly list that is based on safety. “If passengers behave in an unruly or disruptive manner and endanger the safety of all of us in an aeroplane, then we will have a way of ensuring they are not able to fly and are appropriately dealt with,” he mentioned.

Noting that the ministry is blazing a new trail on the safety-based no-fly list apart from security considerations, Sinha said it is a serious matter that needs a great deal of deliberations. The government decided to have a no-fly list in the wake of instances of unruly behaviour by air passengers, especially in the case of Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad who assaulted a senior Air India staffer last month, arguing over the downgrading of a seat and thrashing the staffer with his own slippers.