July 20, 2017

Ed Sheeran: ‘I didn’t go off Twitter because of Game of Thrones backlash’

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Singer Ed Sheeran insists he didn’t quit Twitter because of the negative reaction to his Game of Thrones cameo and says it was just a coincidence.

This image released by HBO shows Ed Sheeran, left, and Maisie Williams in a scene from Game of Thrones. Sheeran appeared as a Lannister soldier leading a group in song in the season premiere of the hit HBO fantasy drama. Image via AP

The 26-year-old ‘Galway Girl’ hitmaker says he isn’t worried about what other people think of his role.

“Last I’ll say on this. I came off Twitter Coz I was always intending to come off Twitter, had nothing to do with what people said about my game of thrones cameo, because I am in game of thrones, why the hell would I worry what people thought about that. It’s clearly awesome. Timing was just a coincidence, but believe what you want (sic),” reads a post on his Instagram.

This comes after the episode’s director Jeremy Podeswa defended Sheeran’s appearance.

“I think Ed did a lovely job – he’s a lovely actor and a lovely person. He was appropriate for the part because he needed to sing. If people didn’t know who Ed was, they wouldn’t have thought about it twice.

Published Date: Jul 20, 2017 05:22 pm | Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 05:25 pm

Indian Super League: Chennaiyin FC sign fresh two-year deal with Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto

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Chennai: ISL team Chennaiyin FC has signed a new contract with Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto for a two-year term.

The 26-year-old is currently on loan from Chennaiyin to Brazilian fourth tier outfit Bangu Atletico Clube but he will be back for the 2017-18 ISL season.

File image of Chennaiyin FC midfielder Raphael Augusto. AFP

Raphael joined Chennaiyin in 2015 on loan from Brazilian giants Fluminense and was instrumental in the ISL franchise reaching the semis on their way to the title. He completed a permanent move to Chennaiyin last season.

The new contract will see Raphael  stay with Chennayin till the end of 2019.

The former DC United and Legia Warsaw player has already made 26 appearances over two ISL seasons and won several individual awards.

“I have received great feedback on Raphael from Sabir. He has clearly been one of best midfielders in the ISL and at 26 can only get better. I hear that he is a real fan favourite so it’s great for the club to have him attached for the long term,” Chennaiyin FC head coach John Gregory said.

Raphael added, “I can’t express in words how I feel for Chennaiyin FC and the people of Chennai and Tamil Nadu. We have a special bond. I have spent two memorable seasons already and look forward to be with the club for many more years. We didn’t get the results we wanted last season after the success of 2015 so I am determined to bring the trophy back to Chennai.”

Published Date: Jul 20, 2017 05:21 pm | Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 05:21 pm

FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: India will be competitive even if chances are small, says coach Luis Norton de Matos

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New Delhi: India Under-17 football head coach Luis Norton de Matos on Thursday said that he has not lost hope of the country advancing beyond the group stages in the upcoming World Cup but termed his team’s chances in the prestigious FIFA event as “small”.

Addressing a press conference, de Matos said even in case his boys fail to go beyond the group stages, they will show the world that they can compete at the highest level and do the country proud.

“I will be realistic, I would say we have a small chance, considering the draw. But it can still happen. In football you never know,” de Matos said, when asked about India’s chances of going beyond the group stages.

India U-17 team coach Luis Norton de Matos (R) feels his team is not afraid of the challenge. Image Courtesy: Twitter/ @IndianFootball

“Even if we could not go a long way in the tournament, I am sure the players will be competitive. They will show that India can compete at the same level, against the best in the world,” said the 63-year-old Portuguese.

“This World Cup is the beginning of the football project in India, not the end. The performance of these boys will give a perfect start to this project,” he added.

India are clubbed along with strong teams Ghana (two-time champions and two-time runners-up), Colombia and United States. All of India’s matches will be played in New Delhi.

India will kick off their campaign against the USA on 6 October before taking on Colombia on 9 October. The hosts will conclude the first phase with a match against Ghana.

“I always play for a win. I know it will be difficult to win against these sides. Ghana, US and Colombia are very strong teams and they have prepared very well. But it (a win) can happen, you never know.

“We have prepared very well in the last 4-5 months since March. We had been to Europe for an exposure tour, have played 25 friendly matches and we are confident. Even if we have 5 per cent chance for a win, we will go for it,” he said.

Asked what could be the difference between India and the other teams, the Portuguese was quick to point out the number of competitive matches the European, Latin American and African teams have played.

“When we talked about these teams like Ghana, US and Colombia, their players have been playing football for the last 10 years. They have the experience of playing a lot of competitive matches, in tournaments. That is the difference,” said de Matos.

De Matos replaced German Nicolai Adam who was sacked after complaints by the players of physical and verbal abuse.

“But we have improved a lot since I joined in March. The next two and a half months are crucial. We are trying out a lot of formations, combinations and working out on how to react to different situations.”

He said before he took over, the team played more direct football which he has changed a bit as he wanted more possession football.

“The team earlier played more direct football than now. Moreover, 6-7 players have been added from the earlier one (under Nicolai Adam). We have been spending a lot of hours on this passing and receiving, reducing the space etc.

“Another aspect is the mental focus. You may play 89 minutes of fantastic football but if you lose focus in the crucial one minute, you may concede a goal and lose the match,” he explained.

De Matos said that his side will know where they actually stand when they take part in a four-nation tournament in Mexico where all the national Under-17 teams will play. Hosts Mexico, Chile and Colombia are the other teams.

“This tournament will be an important one and there we will know where we stand.”

Talking about his coaching style, he said, “I am the chief not the leader. A leader gives orders while I try to be a friend with the players. Of course, I want them to follow what I want them to be. I want to instill confidence in them.”

Asked if the football pitches in India were upto the standards, he said, “The pitches we are training (India) are good and the actual World Cup pitches will be even better. The pitches in Europe are the best. I have been to Africa and there the pitches are far more worse (than in India).

He also said that India will not have much of the home condition advantages against the African and American teams.

“In October, the weather conditions in India will be similar to that in these African countries, in Colombia or in the US. It may affect a bit to European teams but not to others,” he said.

Understandably, de Matos refused to revealed any formation or the playing style of his team.

Published Date: Jul 20, 2017 05:16 pm | Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 05:16 pm

Digitisation drive: UPI is gaining currency among users but concerns of tech glitches, frauds remain

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The National Payments Corporation of India’s payment solution Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has been growing leaps and bounds since its launch in August 2016.

Within a span of 11 months from its launch when it started off with 93,000 transactions valued at Rs 3 crore with 21 banks going live, it shot off to 1 crore transactions in June 2017 valued at Rs 3,067 crore with 52 banks going live.

The government-backed UPI has been lauded for its many features like trust, ease of doing business among others but there are a few concerns.

Analysts pointed out the few glitches that could mar the smooth functioning of the payment system.

Atul Gupta, Head – Cyber Security, KPMG in India, says there can be malpractices which can arise largely because of the consumer being unaware of the secure method of using the app. No matter how secure the payment system is, if the customer doesn’t pay heed to security systems on the mobile phone for instance, he/she can risk losing the money.

The UPI app is available on the Google Play Store of Android phones. But Android phones are not foolproof, says Gupta. A user tends to download app on the phone which cannot be trusted. The information used while operating the UPI on an android phone may be captured by other apps. “So, even if the user has not shared the details with anyone, one or the other app which is not secure can capture it,” he points out.

Another worry is that technical glitches could creep in as more users log on to UPI. “Who will take care of the backend,” asks Pradeep Oomen, MD, Bijlipay, a payment services company.

The need of the hour is for people to be educated about the ease of doing business with regard to UPI. Gupta citing an example points out when phishing attacks were on the rise in the initial days of net banking. This was because users were using it without much awareness about the security aspects as phishing attacks saw users losing their money.

“The regulator had then asked banks to come out with information in the public space that users could use it safely do transactions online,” says Gupta. Thus advertisements on television, radio, print and also text messages helped create an awareness about net banking and how to be careful so that phishing attacks could be avoided. Similarly, the government needs to come out with information on all the channels of communication so that users know how to safely use UPI, says Gupta. Advisories are also needed that can help caution the user, he adds.

One of the highlights of UPI is that a user needs to get a virtual address and there is no need to reveal phone numbers or transfer money to a wallet etc. Pradeep Oommen of Bijlipay says that people have to be educated about getting virtual address to be able to use UPI. The government  and the financial intermediaries should educate people about how to use UPI, he says.

If you want to get the entire payment ecosystem on UPI, it also needs to incorporate merchant payments. To promote that, fintech and intermediaries should be involved and and there should be a commercial or an incentive structure for all stakeholders holders, says Oommen.

UPI, a success story

Terming the UPI a ‘brilliant’ move by the government, Sanjay Khan Nagra, senior associate at Khaitan & Co, says that the biggest advantage of the payment solution was that it did not require the individual to park funds in a wallet. This is a huge advantage in rural areas where people are not savvy with online financial services.

Earlier, people in the rural areas preferred IMPS – Immediate Payment Service, an instant interbank electronic fund transfer service through mobile phones – but migrated to UPI for ease of doing business.

IMPS gained a lot of popularity as one could do transactions beyond banking hours and across any banks. UPI operates on the same platform and is a substitution to IMPS as the latter did not have easy debit capability.

Oomen of Bijlipay,  feels that ease of doing business is the biggest USP of UPI. Earlier, in the e-commerce space, a customer had to rely on card or net banking. That was cumbersome. UPI is a one-step payment. All you have to provide is your virtual address. With BHIM app, P2P has taken off. You don’t have to give IFSC code or other details.

AP Hota, MD and CEO, NPCI says the reasons for UPI’s success is the “increased acceptance among member banks, merchants and consumers. Usage of UPI powered BHIM App (Bharat Interface for Money) has also been a significant contributor.”

A P Hota, CEO of National Payments Corp of India (NPCI). Reuters

Another reason, Hota said was that there is a  ‘significant push’ from the government to adopt UPI as one of the preferred payment options by end users. “This has been the case, both during the demonetisation and post-demonetisation era. The overall target for UPI for 2017-18 is to achieve over 400 million transactions and with the growth expected to come in the next few months with growing adoption, we are sure of covering the shortfall in the ensuing quarters. Publicity and awareness campaign on BHIM would start shortly,” he said.

Use case development other than person-to-person remittance is the key. Once Bharat QR is made a part of BHIM version 1.4, which will be released by 31 July, 2017, usage of BHIM app for bill payments will grow substantially.

What it does

UPI facilitates virtual payment address as a payment identifier for sending and collecting money and works on single click 2-factor authentication. According to the government, the product will enable money transfers – both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ through smart phones. According to it, the two important features of UPI are, i) it facilitates customer convenience by eliminating the need for providing detailed account/beneficiary details, through the use of virtual address; and ii) it facilitates interoperability of person-to-merchant payments (both push and pull).

For using UPI, the user has to have a virtual identification and that works across banks. In mobile wallets, the user has to give his/her mobile number. For merchants, as of now, there is no Merchant Discount Rate, points out Nagra. MDR has made mobile payments unattractive for merchants. “Going forward, if the government decides to levy MDR – a percentage of transaction, merchants would prefer it as with goods and services tax (GST) a reality now, it makes it easy to record non-cash payments,” he said.

The government launched Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) as a smart mobile phone-based app on Unified Payments Interface (UPI) platform that allows simple, easy and quick payment transactions. Since it is a government app, people tend to trust it and see it as ‘safe’, says Nagra. BHIM enables a user to easily make direct bank to bank payments instantly and collect money using mobile number or payment address. It enables an individual with immediate send and collect request.

When the UPI crossed 10 million transactions in June, Hota had said, “Our current focus is on the release of next version of BHIM App with enhanced functionalities.” Perhaps that will allay the fears.

(With data support from Kishor Kadam)

Published Date: Jul 20, 2017 05:12 pm | Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 05:12 pm

Why is India’s next president so unknown?

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Why is India’s next president so unknown?

  • 20 July 2017
  • From the section India

BJP presidential election candidate Ram Nath Kovind along with others perform yoga on the occasion of International Yoga Day in Delhi.Image copyright
EPA

Ram Nath Kovind, former governor of the northern Indian state state of Bihar, has been elected as the country’s new president. BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare profiles a man many Indians have never heard of.

“I have been writing about the Dalits [formerly untouchables] for 27 years. But I first heard of Ram Nath Kovind the day he was nominated for India’s next president.”

Dalit writer-activist Chandrabhan Prasad is not alone in claiming that he does not know about the man who has just been elected to the top constitutional post.

His nomination by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) caused so much surprise that a local media report quipped that it “seems only two people knew about his candidature. PM Narendra Modi and God”.

It added that his name had been entered more than 500,000 times on Google within 24 hours of the announcement of his candidacy.

When BJP president Amit Shah declared that Mr Kovind would be the party’s nominee, he described him as a Dalit who had “struggled his way up to such a high position in his political career”.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Vote counting was held on Thursday

The Dalits sit at the bottom of the Hindu caste system in India and complaints of discrimination are still widespread. Many in fact, accuse the BJP of perpetuating the Brahmin-led caste order where Dalits figure at the bottom, and say Mr Kovind’s nomination comes at a time when the party is being accused of being insensitive towards the community.

The five-year job is largely ceremonial but could be crucial when elections throw up fragmented mandates.

However, many prominent Dalits say they are unaware what contributions, if any, the new first citizen has made on behalf of the community.

“I go to seminars on Dalits. I write opinion pieces. I appear on TV debates. My job is to work around the subject. But I don’t know anything about him,” said Mr Prasad.

“I have never heard him take a stand on Dalit issues. It could be my ignorance.

“He seems to be an educated, conscientious person but I have never heard him comment on the atrocities against the Dalits,” complained another Dalit writer, who preferred anonymity.

“The move to install a Dalit to the ornamental post is symbolic. Did the appointment of [India’s first Dalit president] KR Narayanan help the community in any way? If the ideology of the party is not supportive of the Dalit cause, it doesn’t make much difference,” he said.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have known each other for a long time

“The party has gone for a man who is not towering, is media shy and whose political and ideological orientation is in sync with Mr Modi,” senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan told the BBC.

Mr Kovind’s long-time neighbour Jageshwar, a Dalit in the northern city of Kanpur, claims he cannot recall if Mr Kovind, “son of a cloth-seller, ever campaigned for a Dalit cause”.

Kanpur journalist Ramesh Verma agrees the new president has kept a low profile.

“He stayed away from the media as he didn’t want to be controversial,” Mr Verma told the BBC.

“I never saw him attend Dalit programmes. In fact, he never projected himself as a Dalit leader.”

Easygoing man

So what is known about Mr Kovind?

A handful of YouTube videos of his speeches show that he is fluent in both Hindi and English.

The activists who spoke to the BBC agree that he is a soft-spoken man who “prefers to stay away from controversies”.


What is India’s caste system?

The system which divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (the Hindi word for religion, but here it means duty) is generally accepted to be more than 3,000 years old.

The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Many believe that the groups originated from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.


A “committed member” of the right-wing RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, Mr Kovind rose to become a lawyer and served two terms in the upper house of parliament.

He has also been the party’s spokesperson, led a BJP Dalit organisation and has held several important party posts.

“His closeness to the RSS helped him go places,” senior Dalit leader in the BJP Sanjay Paswan told the BBC.

“Mr Modi and Mr Kovind have known each other for a long time. There is nothing wrong if the PM goes for a man with whom he shares chemistry,” he said.

Mr Paswan also blamed the “caste bias” of the media for Mr Kovind’s “anonymity”.

“Dalit spokespersons are the last choice for India media,” he claimed.

Mr Paswan also said Mr Kovind had many “achievements” that the “media refuse to talk about”.

Image copyright
Dhaniram Panther

Image caption

Neighbour Jageshwar claims Mr Kovind never hit the streets to campaign for the rights of the Dalits

“He has been instrumental in installing memorials of Dalit leader BR Ambedkar. He got the name of the welfare ministry changed to the social justice empowerment ministry – a phrase that conveys the true work of the ministry. He did a lot of work for the Dalit cause.”

Another BJP spokesperson, Dr Bizay Sonkar Shastri, a Dalit who has known Mr Kovind for a long time, says his “presidential term would help bring forth the real problems of the Dalits”.

“The question ‘Kovind who?’ is a commentary on the state of political journalism in India – an ecosystem based on babalog [childlike] and inheritor ‘sources’,” tweeted journalist Swapan Dasgupta, who is considered close to the BJP.

But Mr Kovind is not entirely without controversy.

A 2010 Hindustan Times report quoted him as saying that “Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation” at a press conference calling for the scrapping of a report that recommended government job reservations for socially and economically disadvantaged sections among religious and linguistic minorities.

“This was a political statement and is still the stand of the BJP. Mr Kovind’s statement was a political one and it should be seen in that context,” Mr Paswan said.

Parliament Monsoon Session: Congress alleges Narendra Modi, Donald Trump did not discuss H1B visa

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The Congress contended that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not taken up with President Donald Trump the issue of H1B visa restrictions imposed by the US and asked the government to take steps to address the matter affecting Indian professionals.

Reuters

Raising the issue in the Rajya Sabha during the Zero Hour, Congress leader Anand Sharma asked the government to be “sensitive” to the concerns of Indian IT industry and professionals.

“Unfortunately, in recent years, difficulties have been created in the movement of Indian IT professionals, particularly in the US where the temporary movement and location of (Indian) IT professionals is wrongly equated with that of the immigrants,” he said.
The Congress member said that H1B visa fees have been doubled, spouses who were allowed to travel (with the IT professional) have been disallowed and the number of visas to Indian professionals has been cut.

Sharma said that he expected the Prime Minister to take up this matter with the US President during his recent visit to Washington and get a credible assurance that restrictions imposed on Indian IT professionals would be removed.

“Unfortunately this matter was not taken up and no assurance has been given. If we look at the (India-US) joint statement (issued after talks between Modi and Trump), there is not even a mention of Indian IT professionals and H1B visa issue,” he said.
The Congress leader said the movement of Indian IT professionals and grant of H1B visa should be assured. Sharma said a large number of US professionals work in India in different sectors and there should be a “reciprocity”.
He highlighted that Indian IT companies have made a significant contribution to the US industry and economy, and that value addition has helped in creation of jobs in US.
Earlier, Pramod Tiwari of Congress demanded a discussion and a statement from the government on the China issue. He said the government should take the country as well as this House into confidence on this matter, while reposing faith on Indian army

Published Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:13 pm | Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:25 pm

Presidential election 2017 results LIVE: Ram Nath Kovind defeats Meira Kumar, to become next President of India

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The counting for the presidential election held on Monday will start on Thursday and the name of the next occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhawan would be known by 5.00 pm, according to reports.

According to Lok Sabha secretary general Anoop Mishra, who is also the returning officer of the election, the counting would begin at 11 am. First, the ballot box of Parliament House would be opened, and then, the ballot boxes received from states would be counted on alphabetical basis.

Meira Kumar (left) and Ram Nath Kovind. Agencies

Officials said all preparations have been made for the vote count and that all ballot boxes have already reached Parliament House by Tuesday evening amid tight security, according to IANS.

The votes would be counted on four separate tables and there would be eight rounds of counting.

An Election Commission official who has witnessed previous two presidential polls said that usually, results are declared at around 5 pm.

Close to 99 percent voting was recorded for electing India’s next president.

The numbers are stacked in favour of the ruling coalition’s nominee Ram Nath Kovind over the Opposition’s candidate Meira Kumar.

Thirty two polling stations including the one in Parliament house, were set up in various states.

Officials said the seals of ballot boxes will be opened on Thursday in the presence of representatives of the two candidates — former Bihar Governor Kovind and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar — and the observers of the Election Commission.

A total of 4,896 voters — 4,120 MLAs and 776 elected MPs — were eligible to cast their ballot. MLCs of states with legislative council are not part of the electoral college.

While the value of an MLA’s vote depends on the population of the state he or she belongs to, the value of an MP’s vote remains the same at 708.

The total value of votes of the presidential electoral college is 10,98,903, and the NDA candidate is slated to get over 63 percent votes.

In the last presidential election in 2012, Pranab Mukherjee had defeated PA Sangma and got over 69 percent votes.

Published Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:13 pm | Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:13 pm

Kerala’s planned greenfield airport may run into legal trouble over dubious land deals

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Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala government’s decision to build the state’s fifth international airport in a land embroiled in legal disputes has raised eyebrows in the state.

The land (2,263 acres) held by Gospel for Asia, the social service wing of Believers Church, is now under the scrutiny of the state high court. The land called Cheruvally Estate was purchased by the church from Harrison Malayalam Plantations, the farm business arm of the industrial conglomerate, RPG Group, in 2005.

Representational image. PTI

However, MG Rajamanickam, a special officer appointed by the state government to review the plantations on long-term leasehold, had found the sale illegal and ordered the resumption of the land along with another about 4,750 acres of land similarly sold by the plantation firm in 2015. The high court stayed the proceedings against the church on an appeal filed by it.

A committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary PH Kurien identified the estate containing rubber plantations for the proposed airport to cater to the millions of pilgrims visiting the Sabarimala hill shrine in Pathanamthitta district throughout the year and migrants hailing from Kottayam, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and parts of Thrissur districts. The state cabinet that met on 19 July approved the proposal.

The government release announcing the project has not made any clarification on the status of the land. Social activists and a section of opposition parties allege behind the silence a conspiracy to legitimise the illegal land deal. Earlier there were reports that the government had planned to give 25 percent stake in the project to the Believers Church.

CR Neelakandan, state convenor of Aam Aadmi Party, believes that the government had paved the way for a backdoor deal in the case by removing Susheela Bhatt, who had effectively argued this and other cases involving Harrisons Malayalam Ltd as government pleader, and also getting a new report favouring the company from Legislature Secretary, HA Hareendranath.

The government has filed an affidavit in the court based on Hareendranath’s report which states that the government cannot take over the land under the present laws.

Neelakandan told Firstpost that this was contrary to Rajamanickam’s report that stated that all land possessed by foreigners prior to Independence must have gone to the government automatically following the enactment of Independence Act 1947.

Rajamanickam had identified five lakh such land owned by foreign citizens and companies in different parts of the state. Harrisons Malayalam Ltd had 65,000 acres of land owned either by British citizens or firms in the state. Cheruvally estate was part of this.

A Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) investigation into the Harrison Malayalam land deals had revealed that the company had sold the land by forging documents. The sale deeds were not supported by previous documents, which dated back to the colonial era.

The VACB had booked four Harrisons Malayalam Ltd executives in connection with 7,000 acre of land it thus sold to four private persons on a recommendation made by Bhatt. The cases are now pending in a vigilance court.

Neelakandan told Firstpost that if the state government goes for any out of court settlement with the Believers Church it will not only legitimise the deal but also have a bearing on other land identified by various panels for resumption.

“We are not against an airport for the Sabarimala pilgrims, but it should not be at the cost of the government land. Kerala is a land scarce state, where thousands of people remain without land to build a shelter. We will not allow the government to go ahead with the airport project if it goes for any compromise with the Believers Church,” he said.

The state unit of the BJP has also taken a similar stand. Party president Kummanam Rajashekharan said the land proposed for the airport was part of 26,000 acre of land declared as revenue land by various agencies.

“We will not allow the government to go ahead with the project if it tries to acquire the land for money or other considerations. This would mean allowing rights to the rest of the land sold by Harrisons Malayalam,” he said.

Believers Church official spokesman Father Sijo Panthapallil denied any illegality in their deal with Harrisons Malayalam Ltd. He said that the church had bought the land after satisfying itself that the land was supported by all requisite documents.

He claimed that the high court had upheld their rights over the land in three cases since 2005. He said that court had granted stay against the move to resume the land after examining all aspects.

“We are confident that the high court would settle the case in our favour. If it goes against us we will move the Supreme Court,” he said.

However, the priest said that the church would cooperate with the government if it was ready for an amicable settlement. He said that no official had approached them for any discussion on the issue so far. The church will reveal its stand when the government approaches them, Father Panthapallil said.

The estate is part of the religious empire being built by Gospel for Asia, which is one of the largest and richest evangelical groups in the world, by funneling money from all over the world. The institutions it has established in Kerala include over a dozen schools, a medical college, an engineering college, a finance company, a soccer team, three hospitals, and a broadcasting company.

The group head KP Yohannan, Metropolitan Bishop, is facing a case in the US for diverting funds collected from its citizens. According to a report in Christian Post, Yohannan has been named along with several of his family members in a class action lawsuit there.

The law suit initiated in the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas by the Dallas-based Stanley Law Group alleges that Gospel for Asia and its several affiliates fraudulently solicited hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable donations, and misdirected them into the founder’s kitty for-profit businesses.

Published Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:09 pm | Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:09 pm

Indian economy to grow at 7.4% in 2017, 7.6% in next year, says ADB report

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New Delhi: India is expected to achieve the projected growth rate of 7.4 percent in 2017 and further up 7.6 percent next year on strong consumption demand, with South Asia leading the growth chart in Asia and the Pacific, an ADB supplement report said today.

“India, the sub-region’s largest economy, is expected to achieve previous growth projections of 7.4 percent in 2017 and 7.6 percent in 2018, primarily from strong consumption,” the supplement of Asian Development Bank (ADB) Outlook 2017 said.

Representational image. Reuters

According to the report, South Asia will be the fastest growing of all sub-regions in Asia and the Pacific, with growth on track to meet original projections of 7 percent in 2017 and 7.2 percent in 2018.

The growth prospects in developing Asia for 2017 have improved on the back of stronger than expected export demand in the first quarter of this year, it said.

In the supplement, ADB has upgraded its growth outlook in the Asian region to 5.9 percent in 2017 from 5.7 percent and to 5.8 percent for 2018 from 5.7 percent.

The smaller uptick for the next year reflects a cautious view on this sustainability of this export push, it added. “Developing Asia is off to a good start this year with improved exports pushing growth prospects for the rest of 2017,” said Yasuyuki Sawada, ADB’s Chief Economist.

“Despite lingering uncertainties surrounding the strength of the global recovery, we feel that the region’s economies are well placed to face potential shocks to the outlook,” Sawada said.

Published Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:07 pm | Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:07 pm

Watch: Sold by Islamic State in Raqa, Yazidi female fighters back for revenge

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Raqa (Syria): She was trafficked into Raqa as a sex slave by the Islamic State group but managed to escape. Now Yazidi fighter Heza is back to avenge the horrors she and thousands of others suffered.

Her hair tucked under a tightly wrapped forest green shawl embroidered with flowers, Heza says battling IS in its Syrian bastion has helped relieve some of her trauma.

“When I started fighting, I lifted some of the worries from my heart,” she says, surrounded by fellow Yazidi militia women in Raqa’s eastern Al-Meshleb district.

“But it will be full of revenge until all the women are freed.”

She and her two sisters were among thousands of women and girls from the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi minority taken hostage by IS as it swept into Iraq’s Sinjar region in August 2014.

The women were sold and traded across the jihadists’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. Around 3,000 are believed to remain in captivity, including one of Heza’s sisters.

“When the Yazidi genocide happened, Daesh snatched up the women and girls. I was one of them,” Heza recounts, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The United Nations has qualified the massacres IS carried out against the Yazidis during the Sinjar attack as genocide.

IS separated Yazidi females from the men in Sinjar, bringing the women and girls into Raqa.

“They took us like sheep. They chased us and humiliated us in these very streets,” Heza said, gesturing to a row of heavily damaged homes in Al-Meshleb.

The eastern district was the first neighbourhood captured from IS by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab alliance, in their months-long offensive to seize the jihadist bastion.

SDF officials said that their forces had already rescued several female Yazidi captives, including a 10-year-old girl, since they entered Raqa city in June.

‘Despite pain, I felt joy’

Over the course of her 10-month captivity in Raqa, Heza was bought by five different IS fighters.

Her voice strained but her brown eyes still sharp, the young fighter says she prefers not to detail the abuses she suffered.

But in an indication of the extent of her trauma, Heza — whose name means “strength” in Kurdish — says she tried to commit suicide several times.

Finally, in May 2015, she escaped from the home where she was being held to a nearby market, and she found a Syrian Kurdish family who smuggled her out of the city.

She travelled around 400 kilometres (250 miles) across war-ravaged northeast Syria back into Iraq to join the Shengal Women’s Units (YPS).

The YPS — named after the Kurdish word for Sinjar — is a part of the US-backed SDF.

Heza underwent intensive weapons training, and when the SDF announced its fight for Raqa in November 2016, she and other YPS fighters were ready.

“When the Raqa offensive began, I wanted to take part in it for all the Yazidi girls who were sold here in these streets,” she says.

“My goal is to free them, to avenge them.”

The SDF spent months tightening the noose around Raqa before breaking into the city in June, and the YPS took up their first positions in Al-Meshleb several weeks later.

It was the first time Heza was back in the northern Syrian city since her escape.

“When I entered Raqa, I had a strange, indescribable feeling. Despite the enormous pain that I carry, I felt joy,” the fighter says.

‘Revenge will be proportional’

Rifles are lined up in neat rows inside the abandoned home used by the YPS as their base in Al-Meshleb.

Yazidi women in brand-new uniforms gather around a crackling walkie-talkie for news from the front.

Some of them, like 20-year-old Merkan, have travelled far to join the fight against IS.

Her family is originally Yazidi Turkish, but Merkan and her 24-year-old sister Arin were raised in Germany.

When they heard about IS’s infamous sweep into Sinjar in 2014, they were outraged.

“I could never have imagined a world like this. I didn’t expect things like this could happen,” Merkan says.

“I was in so much pain,” says the tall militiawoman.

Her older sister decided to travel to Sinjar in late 2014 to join the YPS, and Merkan followed in early 2015.

“I only had one goal in front of me: liberating the Yazidi women, and all women who were still in Daesh’s clutches.”

She had scribbled a similar pledge in Kurdish on a wall behind her.

“Through strength and struggle, we Yazidi women fighters came to Raqa to take revenge for the August 3 massacre,” the graffiti says, referring to when IS entered Sinjar.

“We are avenging Yazidi girls,” it adds.

“Yesterday there was Al-Qaeda and today there’s Daesh. We don’t know who will come next. I want to go anywhere there is injustice,” Merkan said.

Fellow fighter Basih is sitting quietly in a neighbouring room, chain-smoking cigarettes in the muggy July afternoon.

“We suffered the ugliest forms of injustice. Our revenge will be proportional to it,” she said

Published Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:05 pm | Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 04:15 pm

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