India Insight

Death toll in Uttarakhand monsoon floods crosses 150

Thousands stranded in parts of northern India awaited rescuers on Wednesday as floods caused by heavier-than-usual monsoon rains killed at least 150 people in worst-hit Uttarakhand.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a 10-billion-rupee aid package for the state after he and Congress president Sonia Gandhi did an aerial survey of the flood-hit region.

“The government will not spare any effort in rescue and relief operations,” Singh said on his official Twitter account, adding the large-scale devastation they witnessed was “most distressing”.

“The priority for the authorities at the moment is to rescue the stranded and provide urgently needed succour to those most in need of it,” he said.

(Read full text of the prime minister’s statement here)

This year, the rains are at least twice as heavy in northwest and central India as the annual monsoon rains covered the whole country faster than usual.

Updated: Delhi police helpline: if your stalking case is not urgent, please press 1

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

Citizens First: those are the two words at the top of the Delhi Police department’s website. An alternative could be: “first come, first served.”

I called the stalker line after receiving some text messages and telephone calls that made me feel unsafe. The upshot: a dispatcher routed my call to three police stations, none of which have a record of the complaint. Furthermore, it will take several days to get back to me with the results of any investigation. This is happening when the police are under intense criticism for not doing enough to prevent rape, harassment and assault, not to mention reports of their views on women. This latest incident was not an inspiring episode.

Snapshots from Arvind Kejriwal’s hunger strike in Delhi

“Ankush, should we pay the electricity bill? The secretary of our apartments has advised us against it.” That was my mother’s question to me as I was leaving for Arvind Kejriwal’s fast venue in Delhi’s northeast corner, Dilshad Garden.

While I won’t be among those who refuse to pay electricity bills, Kejriwal’s supporters said hundreds of thousands of city residents had signed a pledge saying they would not pay their bills to the state.

Kejriwal said people should not pay because he says residents of Delhi are paying twice the amount they should be paying and began a hunger strike on March 23 against inflated bills.

Photo gallery: Spirit of Holi in Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

The festival of Holi is easy on the pocket. All one needs is a packet of gulaal (coloured powder), buckets of water, friends and family; and perhaps some music and alcohol.

Holi, the festival of colours, is celebrated to mark the beginning of spring and harvest season. In places associated with the Hindu god Krishna, Holi is traditionally played over several days with revellers flinging coloured powder and water at each other.

Anti-rape bill goes easy on first-time stalkers, but only if innocent

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

Women have become increasingly worried about their safety in New Delhi after the gang rape and torture of a young woman aboard a moving bus last December. Not for nothing do people call the city India’s rape capital. Beyond the leers and the crass words that men often direct at women walking on the street, fresh fears have arisen over stalkers.

The Lok Sabha passed a bill to toughen penalties on rape and sexual assault on Tuesday, and among its penalties, it would make stalking punishable by jail time. But first-time offenders will be able to avoid being detained till investigation is complete, as the offence is bailable.

Making a case for tougher anti-stalking laws

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

Should any well meaning law proposed in a democratic parliament be shelved because it risks being misused in some form?

Unless we go into specifics, it is hard to generalize the question, but the eighteenth-century English scholar William Blackstone made a strong argument: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

Connaught Place: As ugly as it gets in Delhi’s expensive heart

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

New Delhi’s Connaught Place is home to the fourth-most expensive office space in the world, ahead of such usual suspects as New York and Tokyo. If you’re one of the people who has to walk through it every day, the one question you’d ask yourself is: why?

The occupancy cost in Connaught Place is $162 per square foot, compared to $156 per square foot for Tokyo’s central business district in fifth place, according to an annual survey released by global real estate service firm Cushman & Wakefield. In New York city’s Midtown, the equivalent cost is $128.85. (London is most expensive, $262 per square foot, which includes taxes and charges for cleaning and other services)

Corruption trumps reforms and economics in Kejriwal’s politics

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The transformation of Arvind Kejriwal from taxman to anti-corruption activist and politician has been hard to ignore. He became something of a celebrity last year when he launched broadsides against rich, powerful people. That in turn gave him a platform to enter politics with his “Aam Aadmi Party” (party of the common man). Now Kejriwal, 44, must build a party in time to contest state-level elections in New Delhi this year.

After an hour-long election speech on a makeshift dais at a bus stand, the novice politician was visibly tired as he climbed into an off-white SUV for the journey home to Ghaziabad. I waited for him to stop coughing and take a sip of water before asking questions. We then had an animated, if one-note discussion about India’s economy and politics. The short story? Fix corruption and you fix everything else. Details about the economy, such as statistics and reports on inflation and economic growth? Just numbers for the media to repeat.

Delhi Art Gallery’s nude portrait exhibition draws protesters

Modern Indian artists have celebrated the body on the canvas for more than a hundred years. Amrita Sher-Gil, known as India’s Frida Kahlo, may have been the earliest Indian artist in modern times to paint nudes, including a self-portrait. The Delhi Art Gallery’s latest show – “The Naked and the Nude” – presents a retrospective journey of the representation of the body in modern Indian art, mostly from the dawn of the 20th century to the present.

It’s also generating anger among groups that object to art involving nudes. When I visited the gallery, the front office operator received a call from a regional political group, demanding that the show be closed. That is not an option, said Kishore Singh, project editor and head of exhibition and publication at the Delhi Art Gallery. “We cannot and will not take seriously people’s right to be offended, and demand that we take something down.”

On Monday, the show was briefly shut down after women from the right-wing group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) protested at the venue. Meanwhile, gallery owner Ashish Anand said about 200 to 300 people plan to protest on Wednesday. (A similar fracas just happened in Bangalore.)

Understanding the repo rate, cash reserve ratio and the Reserve Bank of India

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Tuesday cut the repo rate as well as the cash reserve ratio (CRR) by 25 basis points, or 0.25 percent. Here’s a quick explanation of what that means. It will be obvious to some readers, but many people haven’t studied economics and are unfamiliar with the terms.

The repo rate, which now stands at 7.75 percent, is the rate at which the central bank lends money to Indian banks. As the repo rate goes down, it gets cheaper for banks to borrow money. That makes it easier for people to borrow money at cheaper rates too. As more people borrow money, which ought to be the result of action like this, they’ll spend more money. That’s good for the Indian economy.

The CRR, meanwhile, is the amount of funds banks must keep with the RBI. The CRR is at 4 percent, which means for every 100 rupees, the bank keeps 4 rupees with the RBI in cash. The ratio indicates the policy stance of the bank and is used as a tool to manage liquidity, or the amount of money in the system. By changing this ratio, the central bank can control the amount of liquidity. Tuesday’s cut would release 180 billion rupees (or about $3.35 billion) into the system, meaning banks would have more money to lend to borrowers.

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