FT expose on Israel’s NSO raises questions on Pegasus use in India

This investigative piece published by the Financial Times (requires subscription) shows that Israel has been backing one of its companies, NSO, in selling clandestine software that is injected into phones via WhatsApp to track everything that the phone does and contains. The software also targets cloud services of Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and so on.

Is the Narendra Modi government also a client of the company, NSO? Did it buy the Pegasus software that Saudi Arabia and others have bought? If yes, for what? Questions must be raised in Parliament on this. Hostile forces can also track Indian politicians, making a mockery of our hyper-secretive establishment.

FT reports that WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is still investigating the scale of the penetration by the Israeli spyware. It began rolling out a fix for servers last Friday.

Although Pegasus is sold ostensibly to help governments fight terrorism and crime, it has been found on the phone of dissidents and critics in different countries such as Saudi Arabia and Mexico. That includes a friend of murdered Saudi dissident Kamal Khashoggi and the wife of a Mexican journalist who was also killed.

How many Indians are affected by the breach of WhatsApp, and potentially the cloud services? The Indian government needs to answer.

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Chennai Corporation doesn’t give a Swachh here!

In Chennai, the Corporation hasn’t exactly been on overdrive to sort out the waste issue. Most streets in the city’s residential localities have scenes like this.

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Dump truck, Anjaneyar Koil Street, West Saidapet

 

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This is a daily sight here. Anjaneyar Koil Street, West Saidapet. 

The dumpster is junk in itself, so is the waste carrier. No one bothers to segregate waste. No one from the Corporation is really asking them to either.

Both pictures taken today.

Motor Vehicles Act amendments revived: Why have States given Centre the advantage?

The NDA govt. has revived the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill in the LS, introducing the proposed changes on July 15.
I am not a votary of States being dictated to by the Centre, but equally, I cannot agree with States maintaining status quo in transport when our economic development and need for new jobs requires an entirely new transport framework. New schemes to encourage small entrepreneurs are needed, on the lines of small retailing is encouraged against giant retailers, and technological modernisation is urgently called for to improve utilisation of investments and aid passengers with information.
The interesting thing is that as per the amendments, the Centre will have powers to make schemes for multi-modal transport, among other things, and to aid mobility and use of transport assets, including through last mile connectivity. This was part of the lapsed Bill too in the earlier NDA regime that has now been revived.
Then again, this requirement is something that State governments have been consistently ignoring, in favour of the expensive Ubers and the Olas. They have stifled growth and instead adopted a narrow view of distributing patronage through unregulated schemes like share autos that are allowed to cannibalise bus routes rather than being asked to serve interior areas of cities as last mile carriages. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against share autos, but I want freedom for anyone to operate a share auto as a feeder carriage, with a licence, not just those who are affiliated to some organisation or other. If encouraging small entrepreneurs is your goal, make it open to all those who are likely to benefit.

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Government Estate Metro Station, Chennai. Metro Rail systems have failed to take off in the absence of last-mile connectivity.

Technically, the State governments can also make their own new schemes even now, before the amendments, to aid the above objectives, but this sector has fallen victim to corrupt policy. The traditional public sector operators have been underfunded and prevented from becoming truly modern. Many do not have professional management. So we have bus systems increasingly confined to arterial roads, as in Chennai, and have stopped serving residential communities. I am waiting to see how the MV Act amendments fare.
We badly need a shake-up of policy that will enable expansion of public transport. If the State governments see the writing on the wall, they will work to close the gap by introducing their own schemes even now, preferably using well-run public sector networks, for which they are fully empowered.

EPS95 pensioners launch struggle to secure pension on full salary

The Employees Pension Scheme 95 (EPS95) run by the Provident Fund is applicable to employees who made contributions between 1995 and 2014 to this scheme.

The pension contributions were made on a salary ceiling of Rs.6,500 earlier, from out of the employer’s PF contribution.

In 1996, an option was made for employees to contribute on their actual salary, rather than on the limited ceiling amount above, which in any case provided only a meagre pension. Since this was not communicated to employees, no one knew about it, and hardly anyone opted for it. It required a joint option with the employer also, which would have been difficult without the employer’s backing.

In 2014, the EPFO was asked to close this option with a 6 month deadline from September 1, 2014, by which employees had to opt for the contribution on full salary, again with a joint option with employer. This was also not communicated to anyone, and the office also did not make this offer known. If one did not opt in, one is deemed to have opted out of the scheme, although no one knew it existed in the first place.

The EPF authorities in the regions are now refusing to accept claims for pension on full salary [where employees are ready to pay the
difference amount for contribution out of their own funds] citing the time limitation.

However, in 2015, a set of employees led by R C Gupta went to the Supreme Court and got an order in their favour, in which the court observed that there was no limitation envisaged in the PF pension scheme, and the six month deadline was arbitrary.

Against this backdrop, fresh claims are being made to EPFO, to include employees and retirees, for pension on full salary, where they will pay the difference in contribution to the PF Organisation.

A Public Notice was put out by EPFO in The Tribune in Chandigarh, on January 25, 2018, in pursuance of Supreme Court orders in SLP No. 33032 and 33033 of 2015 regarding revision of pension.

Today, EPFO is rejecting claims for inclusion, stating that it is not possible to opt for the full pension because members did not exercise the option before the 2014-15 deadline.

But Clause (ii) of the notice published in the Tribune indicates that members of EPS-95 are eligible for pension on full salary, if they pay the difference between what was remitted under wage ceiling, and amount to be remitted under full salary along with interest. This notice is in pursuance of a case that was decided, rejecting the very limitation that the EPFO continues to cite.

Politically, this is a sensitive issue for the Narendra Modi-led government because a lot of pensioners are litigating for relief in various courts, including the Supreme Court, against the arbitrariness of the government’s move. The Opposition parties including the Congress, CPI (M), Trinamool, DMK, CPI are yet to take it up.

The struggle is harder for members of exempted establishments, since their scheme was administered not by EPFO, but by a Trust.

One resource person on the issue is Praveen Kohli (pkkohli) (phone: +919810306699) who is in Gurugram.

He has won his case and has launched a Facebook drive to bring all aggrieved persons together, and has a membership of close to 42,000 and growing.

Are you eligible for higher EPFO pension? Read these reports

Can you also get a manifold hike in lifetime pension from EPFO? Find out

//economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/61791855.cms?edition=722&utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

EPFO directs offices to pay higher pension to eligible EPS members

//economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/64544789.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

EPS 95 revamp: An endless wait for retired private sector pensioners

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/eps-95-revamp-an-endless-wait-for-retired-private-sector-pensioners/article22668779.ece

Parveen Kohli vs Employees Provident Fund … on 25 January, 2018
(Central Information Commission order fining PIO of EPFO)
https://indiankanoon.org/doc/41889510/

Full text of SC judgment in Sasikala – Jayalalithaa DA case 2017

Here is the full text of the judgement delivered by the Supreme Court in the disproportionate assets case against Sasikala and others, on February 14, 2017. 

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The news report on the SC order is here.

B.V. Acharya, the special public prosecutor in the DA case has this to say about the verdict: It shows that the corrupt cannot escape from law. Read his first comments after the order here.

Some of the developments that immediately followed, and reactions on social media went like this:

 

Photos from Cyclone Vardha in Chennai South

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Most roads including arterial Arcot Road seen here near Palmgrove were cut-off due to fallen trees during the crosssing of Cyclone Vardha

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Entrance to Josier Street, Nungambakkam blocked by a fallen tree

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Fallen trees on Arcot Road

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Vehicles had to use one half of the road outside Palmgrove Hotel. Remarkably Uber, Ola and Utoo operated services in the peak of the storm

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A fallen barrier of the Chennai Metro Rail, at LIC station point

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Chennai Metro barriers on Anna Salai, outside LIC

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What you see from a car window at noon, Anna Salai outside Buharis, with fallen tree blocking North-bound half

Impact of Cyclone Varadha

At Tarapore Towers corner, a blurred view of a deserted Anna Salai.