RJD eyes Bihari voters in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala


Senior RJD leaders reportedly in touch with Badruddin Ajmal of AIUDF, Assam Congress president Ripun Bora, TMC

Patna: After its resounding performance in the recently concluded Bihar polls, the RJD is eyeing Hindi-speaking voters in West Bengal, Assam and Kerala.

The RJD, which has been trying to expand its wings outside Bihar, hopes to give a tough fight to the BJP. Political analysts said that the party has been eyeing sizable “Bihari voters” in West Bengal, Assam and Kerala.

 

Talking to this newspaper, a senior RJD leader said, “Our party’s decision is based on the feedback from people who have been urging our leaders to contest in areas where Hindi speaking voters, mostly from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, stay. Our senior party leaders are already in touch with like-minded political parties in West Bengal and Assam and will make a final announcement soon”.

Reports suggest that senior RJD leaders are in touch with Badruddin Ajmal of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Congress state president Ripun Bora in Assam and Mamata Bannerjee’s TMC in West Bengal.

Political analysts are of the view that RJD’s main interest in AIUDF could be its popularity among Muslim voters in Assam.

 

On Friday, after the poll dates were announced by the Election Commission, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav and the party’s national general secretary landed in Guwahati and held a series of meetings with top leaders of some regional parties. Sources said that after Assam, Mr Yadav along with other senior leaders of the RJD, will also visit Kolkata to discuss the poll related issues with political leaders.

Meanwhile, the JD(U) which is an alliance partner of the BJP in Bihar, is also gearing up to field candidates in West Bengal and Assam in the coming Assembly polls.

Sources in the JD(U) said that leaders in both the states have been asked to identify seats to contest. JD(U) national secretary Sanjay Verma is camping in Assam and the final decision regarding alliance and seats will be taken by the party leadership after the assessment of Assembly constituencies in both the states.

 

The LJP is also planning to contest the polls in West Bengal and Assam and is currently assessing its party’s position in both the states. 

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Tough time for tipplers as Kerala plans to hike liquor prices by 7% from Feb


 

The Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco), the public sector agency with a monopoly on purchase and distribution in the State, has finalised a proposal to increase the price of liquor by seven per cent effective February 1 in response to a long-pending demand of the alco-bev industry.

Post-2018 floods, the State had raised the excise duty on liquor for 100 days with a view to tiding over a fiscal crisis. Two years down the line, Covid-19 had prompted it again to reach out for this low-hanging fruit. The price hike announced in May last took liquor sales tax up to 247 per cent, among the highest in the country.

Annual revenues

This compares with the levy of as low as 25 per cent levy in 1960-61! The hike of May last year alone amounted to 35 per cent. Bevco’s turnover in 2019-20 was at a record ₹14,508 crore, or ₹1,568 crore higher than the previous year.

On an average, the State sources up to 20 per cent of its annual revenues from liquor.

United Spirits and Tilaknagar Industries, makers respectively of McDowells No 1 and Mansion House Brandy, are the leading players in the Kerala market. The latest price hike is expected to not only help boost the bottomlines of the manufacturers but also shore up revenues of both Bevco and the government.

ALSO READ Kerala eyes production of its own Feni brand from cashew apple

Sales gallop quarter on quarter

The price hike could not have come at a better time for the stakeholders, with sales having improved substantially after easing of the lockdown. Amit Dahanukar, Chairman & Managing Director, Tilaknagar Industries, told BusinessLine that sales have shown significant pick-up, quarter on quarter.

“The industry has witnessed a strong rebound even into the third quarter. Opening up of tourism and hospitality sectors coinciding with the festive season may have facilitated this. Sales will grow further in the immediate future as more people start travelling and holidaying,” Dahanukar said.

ALSO READ Liquor app BevQ pips food delivery platforms in Kerala

Beats Covid-19 blues

Revenue to the State government from liquor sales comprises sales tax, excise duty, gallonage fee and license fee. It is estimated that for every sale of ₹ 100, as much as ₹ 85 goes to the government as tax. Along with petrol and lottery, liquor has always been the go-to source for the cash-strapped government.

Dahanukar said that for Tilaknagar Industries, quarter 1 (April to June) was virtually a washout owing to the lockdown, but sales had come back strongly in Q2 and Q3. Citing figures, he said sales of one lakh cases in Q1 had more than tripled to three lakh cases and 3.5 lakh cases in Q2 and Q3, respectively.

Mostly brandy market

Asked if the lockdown has encouraged ‘home-drinking/binge drinking’ habits, he said this has been an unprecedented situation and may have induced unusual response in some people. “But I don’t see that as permanent. People will resort to social drinking as the open-up becomes complete.”

The State is predominantly a brandy market with more than 50 per cent of the aggregate sales. In 2019-20, sales amounted to approximately 19.3 million cases (by all manufacturers) and brandy made up for nearly 56 per cent at 10.7 million cases. The year before, sales logged in at 19.1 million, and those of brandy at 10.1 million cases, or 53 per cent of the total.

‘High levies are regressive’

Within the overall brandy category, maximum sales are recorded in regular-brandy segment that includes brands like Courrier Napoleon Red and McDowell No.1, among the most in demand. This segment accounted for 58 per cent of the total brandy sales in 2019-20. The regular-brandy segment is followed by the ‘upper medium’, ‘semi-premium’ and ‘medium’ brandy segments.

Meanwhile, Dahanukar of Tilaknagar Industries observed that Kerala retains a very high levy on liquor resulting in the MRP’s of IMFL brands being amongst the highest in the country. This does limit the growth of the premium category. Moreover, there are frequent changes in taxation.

“Alcohol has traditionally been the highest grosser for the state government in terms of revenue. While one can understand the short-term compulsions behind these moves, it may not augur well for the long term. Excessive taxation and frequent changes in taxation could encourage illicit sales and production.”

 

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Kerala gold-smuggling case: NIA files chargesheet against 20 accused


KOCHI: The NIA filed a chargesheet against 20 people before a special court here on Tuesday for their alleged involvement in smuggling 30 kg of gold worth Rs 14.82 crore in a diplomatic baggage into Kerala, an official said.

The accused, including Sarith P S and Swapna Prabha Suresh, have been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

So far, 21 accused have been arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the case, while eight are absconding.

The case pertains to the seizure of 30 kg of gold worth Rs 14.82 crore on July 5 last year from a diplomatic baggage at the air cargo of the Trivandrum International Airport by the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, Cochin.

The NIA investigation revealed that the accused had knowingly conspired since June 2019, raised funds and smuggled around 167 kg of gold into the country from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between November 2019 and June 2020 through the import cargo addressed to diplomats at the Consulate General of the UAE in Thiruvananthapuram.

The main accused in the case had planned to smuggle more gold from countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.

The probe against the absconding accused and others who had facilitated them is on, the NIA said.

The consignment was found camouflaged in a diplomatic baggage from the UAE that is exempted from inspection in accordance with the Vienna Convention.



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Lone BJP MLA in Kerala supports Assembly resolution against farm laws


The MLA clarified that he had actually opposed the resolution and said the laws were aimed at protecting the farmers.

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Assembly on Thursday demanded the immediate repeal of three farm laws.

The demand was raised through a resolution passed unanimously in the state Assembly. The legislators belonging to the ruling CPM led LDF and opposition Congress led UDF vehemently opposed the farm laws during the special session of Assembly.

 

Even the lone BJP member O Rajagopal said that he agreed with the sentiments conveyed in the resolution. “We supported the spirit of the resolution despite having differences on certain issues pointed out in it,” he said at a press conference.

With his statement causing confusion in the BJP circles, the MLA clarified that he had actually opposed the resolution and said the laws were aimed at protecting the farmers.

Embarrassed by the Rajagopal’s statements, BJP state president K Surendran said he would look into the matter.

Earlier the resolution said that The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services ACt 2020, Framers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation ) Act 2020, Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 were not only against the farmers but also infringed into the state’s powers.

 

The resolution called for immediate solution to the farmers’ agitation. “If the agitation continues it will adversely affect a consumer state like Kerala. If food grains stop coming to Kerala, the state would plunge into starvation and it will not be able to face such a grave situation especially with no let up in Covid – 19 situation.”

The resolution pointed out that agriculture, market and fares came under state subject as per the Constitution.  The government should have convened the interstate council and discussed these issues with the states at length. Such serious matters involving agriculture were not even subjected to discussion in the Parliamentary standing committee.

 

The resolution said considering the concerns mentioned above, the Centre should accept the genuine demands of the farmers who are the backbone of the nation.

Even while supporting the resolution, the Congress led UDF hit out at the LDF Government for failing to criticize the Prime Minister’s indifferent attitude and his failure to hold with farmers in the resolution.

The opposition also took the government to task for not criticizing the Governor who had initially shot down the proposal to hold a special session of Assembly.

Congress MLA K C Joseph took a dig at the chief minister saying that he should not be afraid of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

 

Responding to the opposition criticism, the chief minister said there was no need to mention the prime minister by name as the resolution was against the central government. He rejected the opposition charge that the government was soft on Governor Arif Mohammad Khan.

“We made the Governor see constitutional sense when two of our ministers called on him at the Raj Bhavan. We clarified our position by quoting various Supreme Court verdicts on governor-state government relations,” Mr Pinarayi Vijayan said.

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Kerala CM moves resolution against central farm laws in Assembly


The resolution was moved in a one-hour special session convened solely to discuss the farmers’ issue and express solidarity with them

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday moved a resolution in the state Assembly and attacked the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre over the three contentious central farm laws against which farmers are agitating in Delhi.

The resolution was moved in a one-hour special session convened solely to discuss the farmers’ issue and express solidarity with them.

 

While moving the resolution demanding the immediate scrapping of the new laws, VIjayan said the country was now witnessing one of the most iconic protests ever by farmers in its history.

The central farm laws, passed in Parliament, were not only “anti-farmer” but also “pro-corporate”, he alleged and said that at least 32 farmers had lost their lives in the last 35 days of the agitation.

“Legislative assemblies have the moral responsibility to take a serious view when people have anxieties about certain laws which affect their lives,” he said, adding that agriculture was part of the culture of the country.

The Centre had come up with the contentious laws at a time when the agriculture sector was facing still challenges, he said, adding as a result of which the farmers were anxious they would lose even the present support price.

 

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Kerala Couple Accidentally Die In Fire, State To Look After Children


When the police approached couple, they doused themselves in kerosene (Representational)

Thiruvananthapuram:

The death of a poor couple, who died from burn injuries after accidentally immolating themselves to stop an eviction drive in Thiruvananthapuram, has triggered a widespread row in Kerala, with opposition parties blaming the police for the incident, following which the state government extended a helping hand to their orphaned children today.

The couple, Rajan (47) and his wife Ambili (40), died at the government medical college and hospital in Thiruvananthapuram after they suffered multiple organ failure on Monday.

The video of the their two teenaged children, Rahul and Renjith, crying outside the hospital for help to cremate their father at the disputed land as per his last wish went viral on the social media, following which many offered to help them construct a house of their own.

As the opposition Congress took up the matter and criticised the police for the incident, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced that his government will protect the children of the couple.

“The government will take over their protection and other responsibilities. We will meet their educational expenses and construct a house for them,” he said in Thrissur when he came as part of his state-wide tour to meet dignitaries in various fields ahead of the assembly elections that are due next year.

The Youth Congress have already announced that they were ready to construct a house for the children while the Democratic Youth Federation of India, the youth arm of the ruling CPI(M), said they would meet their educational expenses.

According to the police, the incident occurred on December 22 when the police and an advocate commission appointed by a local court had gone to Rajan’s house to implement a judicial order to evict him and his family from a three cent land that belongs to the government based on the complaint of a neighbour. Earlier in June this year, there was an attempt to evict the family from the disputed land.

When the police personnel approached them, Rajan doused himself and his wife in kerosene and warned them not to come closer.

They caught fire accidentally when a police officer tried to snatch the lighter away from him.

Newsbeep

Their children later alleged that the haste shown by the police had caused the mishap.

The law enforcers had tried to evict them even after knowing that there would be a stay order, which came soon after the tragic incident, they told the media.

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala on Tuesday demanded a probe into the alleged lapses by the police during the eviction drive.

Based on the complaint of human rights activist Ashwathy Jwala, the state Human Rights Commission directed the Thiruvananthapuram district police chief (Rural) to probe the alleged lapses by the police in the incident and submit a report within four weeks.

In the wake of the widespread complaints, Director General of Police (DGP) Loknath Behera directed Thiruvananthapuram Rural Superintendent, B Ashok Kumar to probe the immolation incident and the death of the couple.

“The DGP directed to submit the report at the earliest,” his office said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Kerala Blasters sign Juande as Cidoncha’s replacement


Bambolim (Goa) [India], December 28 (ANI): Spanish midfielder Juande Lopez on Monday joined Kerala Blasters squad as a replacement for the injured Sergio Cidoncha for the remaining Indian Super League season.

Born in Alicante, Spain, Juande was part of the Real Betis Academy before getting promoted to their Reserve squad at 19. The Defensive midfielder made his first-team debut that season in a Champions League match but got his chance in the LaLiga only in 2007. He made a total of 69 appearances for the club in his six-year stint at Real Betis where he found the net 3 times.

The hard-tackling midfielder spent a short loan spell during the second half of the 2010-11 season and moved to the Belgian League to play for Westerlo for a season, scoring once in his 15 appearances.

Following his time at Westerlo, he moved back to Spain to play in the Segunda Division for SD Ponferradina for 2 seasons before spending 4 seasons with Spezia in Serie B. The 2018 season saw Perth Glory from the A-League secure the services of the strong midfielder where he spent 2 seasons before receiving the call from Kerala Blasters FC. Juande is currently undergoing his mandatory quarantine at the team hotel and will start training with the team soon.

“I am very excited to be a part of a great franchise like Kerala Blasters FC, a club which has the best fans in the entire country. I would like to thank the club management for this opportunity and can’t wait to be there together with my teammates and the coaching staff to fight it out altogether,” said Juande on signing for the club.

Blasters are at the ninth spot with seven points in as many games. They will next lock horns against Mumbai City on January 2. (ANI)



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Mandis not an option for Kerala: Agriculture Minister


Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of misleading the nation on the farmers stir to subserve the interests of rapacious corporate giants seeking to fleece farmers for profit, Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunil Kumar on Sunday said the mandis under the APMC Act were never an option for Kerala.

In a pressnote issued here, he flayed Mr. Modi’s efforts to find fault with the Left parties for the nationwide stir by farmers.

Mr. Kumar said Kerala had decided not to implement the APMC Act because the State had a strong grassroots-level procurement system in place for paddy and copra, the two crops eligible for assistance from the Centre under the MSP regime.

“Farmers in the State get a production incentive over and above the MSP on the paddy procured by Supplyco from the field itself. The State has a procurement and marketing system for fruits and vegetables. In this context, the concept of mandis becomes irrelevant in Kerala.”

The Minister explained that farmers in Kerala preferred to sell raw coconuts rather than convert them into copra. “A strong procurement system, together with a decentralised chain of agricultural markets dissuaded Kerala dissuaded Kerala from opting for the APMC regime. The Prime Minister should have tried to understand this before asking why Kerala did not implement the APMC Act.”

Consumer State

Mr. Kumar observed that a consumer State like Kerala would be impacted if private monopolies were allowed to operate the procurement and marketing chain as per the new farm laws.

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CPM led LDF scores significant victory in Kerala local body polls


Despite facing such an adverse political situation, the LDF managed to keep its rural base almost intact winning 514 grama panchayats

Thiruvananthapuram: The CPM led ruling Left Democratic Front in Kerala on Wednesday registered a significant victory in local body polls considered as the semifinals ahead of crucial Assembly polls next year.

 Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the success of the ruling front as “people’s victory.” “It’s a befitting reply from the people of Kerala to the forces who tried to destroy our achievements, central agencies which worked with ulterior motive, communal forces which wanted to weaken the unity of the people  and the forces which unleashed lies against the government,” he said.

 

The chief minister said the people irrespective of caste, creed, religion, region extended wholehearted support to LDF. “The mandate reflects the secular mindset of the people of the state,” he said.

For the LDF, the victory is vital as it comes in the backdrop of serious allegations related to gold smuggling, corruption in mega projects faced by the government and chief minister’s office. Almost all central agencies including CBI, ED, Customs, NIA are camping in the state in connection with the investigations into various cases forcing even chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to accuse the BJP led Government at the Centre of misusing these agencies to derail the pro- people projects and topple democratically elected state government.

 

Despite facing such an adverse political situation, the LDF managed to keep its rural base almost intact winning 514 grama panchayats. The UDF which was expected to do better this time, ended up with 377 grama panchayats. However, the UDF maintained its upper hand in municipalities winning 45 of the 86.  The LDF won 35 while BJP added one more to its 2015 tally.

Of the six corporations, the LDF recorded a clear victory in Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode and Kollam while Kannur went with UDF. In Thrissur and Kochi the LDF has a slender margin of three and one seat respectively. The decision of victorious independent candidates would be decisive in these corporations.

 

The UDF, however, faced a major setback in district panchayats elections which are considered more political in nature. Of the 14 districts, LDF won 10 and UDF ended up with just four.

In block panchayats, the LDF was way ahead winning 108 compared to UDF’s 44.

LDF wins prestigious Thiruvananthapuram corporation

The LDF retained the prestigious Thiruvananthapuram Corporation winning 52 of the 100 wards. The BJP which had set the target of capturing the corporation this time, managed to win 35 seats.

Reaction of political leaders

LDF convenor and acting CPM state secretary A Vijayaraghavan attributed the victory to the pro-poor policies, effective handling by government of back to back floods and Covid pandemic. The negative campaign targeting the government, chief minister and the unholy nexus between UDF-BJP and fundamentalist organizations were rejected by the electorate, he added.

 

“Never before had such a vitriolic campaign had been witnessed in the state. But people stood strongly with secular, left democratic forces and ratified the good governance,” he said.

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala claimed that the UDF had improved its performance compared to 2015. “LDF cannot claim a big victory as its tally in grama panchayats and municipalities has gone down,” he said.

The Congress leader admitted that the corruption cases against LDF government, gold smuggling and involvement of officials of CMO had not reflected in the people’s mandate. “Local body elections are mainly held on local issues. People tend to vote on local issues, interpersonal relations and the candidate’s profile,” he said and added that the opposition campaign against corruption, gold smuggling and money laundering will continue.

 

 He said the BJP which was making tall claims of being the main opposition could manage to win only in some pockets. Despite all the resources and backing of the central government, the BJP failed to make any major impact.

BJP state president K Surendran said the CPM and Congress joined hands in defeating BJP in places where the party had high prospects of winning. He alleged that this was evident in the Thiruvannathapuram corporation where the Congress votes were shifted enmass to the LDF. “We have won more grama panchayats, municipalities compared to 2015. Had it not been for the unholy alliance between CPM and Congress, we would have won in many local bodies,” he claimed.

 

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Disease transmission in Kerala stays low


Kerala’s COVID-19 curve remains on an extended plateau, as the low level of disease transmission has continued throughout the State over the past one month, with the test positivity rate remaining steady between 9% and 11%.

While new cases have generally begun to show a declining trend, there has been no let-up in the mortality. The State is now bracing for another peak, with disease monitoring indicators in some northern districts showing a spike.

On Friday, Kerala reported 5,718 new cases when 57,456 samples were tested in the past 24 hours, taking the State’s cumulative case burden to 6,25,767. The test positivity rate was 9.95%. With 5,496 more patients recovering and getting discharged from hospitals, the State’s active caseload has now dropped to 61,401. So far, 5,61,874 recoveries have been reported in the State.

29 deaths

The addition of 29 more deaths to the official death list on Friday has taken the State’s toll to 2,358. Malappuram reported seven of these deaths, Kottayam six, Kollam five, Ernakulam and Kozhikode three each, Thrissur and Wayanad two each and Thiruvananthapuram one.

According to official data, 867 COVID-19 patients in the State are at critically ill and being treated in ICUs in various hospitals, with 215 requiring ventilator support.

Of the 5,718 new cases reported on Friday, 5,623 are locally acquired infections, with the authorities unable to establish the epidemiological link in 572 cases. The number of health-care workers who contracted the infection was 60. In 95 cases, health officials have reported a history of travel outside the State.

Among districts, Malappuram reported 943 cases, Kozhikode 773, Kottayam 570, Thrissur 528, Ernakulam 486, Palakkad 447, Alappuzha 394, Kollam 318, Thiruvananthapuram 279, Kannur 275, Idukki 216, Wayanad 180, Pathanamthitta 163 and Kasaragod 146 cases.



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