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5 THINGS FIRST

Rajasthan assembly session begins; In the Supreme Court: telecom AGR dues hearing, verdict on UGC guidelines for 2020 final exams; WPI inflation data; UEFA Champions League quarterfinal: Barcelona vs Bayern Munich (12:30 am, Saturday); England vs Pakistan, 2nd Test, Southampton, Day 2

1. Who will win the numbers game in Rajasthan?
  • The session: Amidst the recent political crisis in Rajasthan, the state is going to hold a special assembly session starting today in which the fate of the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government will be decided.
  • The story: Congress leader Sachin Pilot had openly rebelled against chief minister Gehlot last month along with 18 other party MLAs. He was then sacked as deputy chief minister and the party’s Rajasthan chief. However, this week there was a ‘patch-up’ between the two leaders after the intervention of the party’s top leadership. On Thursday, Pilot and Gehlot met for the first time since the former’s open rebellion a month ago and shook hands.
  • The build-up: The Congress on Thursday also revoked the suspension of two MLAs, Bhanwarlal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh, who were part of the Pilot camp and whom the party had accused of involvement in a “conspiracy” to topple the government.
Raj Nos
  • The action: The BJP, a legislature party meeting on Thursday, decided to move a motion of no confidence in the state assembly against the government. If the government is able to prove its majority, it cannot be challenged for the next six months, rules say.
  • The X-factor: The Rajasthan high court will today hear the petitions filed by a BJP MLA and the BSP challenging the merger of the latter’s six MLAs with the Congress. The Supreme Court on Thursday refused a plea for temporary freeze on the merger and left the decision to the high court. This means the six MLAs will be able to vote during the trust vote. However, the apex court said it will take up the case on Monday, after the high court’s decision.
2. Record daily highs continue, active cases go past Brazil
India’s count on Thursday:

  • Deaths: 1,008, 1,000+ fatalities breached for a second time; Previous high: 1,007 (August 9).
  • Cases: 66,037; Previous high: 65,410 (August 8); Overall: 2.4 million+

  • State alert: While none of the four worst-hit states — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka — reported a record high jump in Covid-19 cases on Thursday, the most worrisome spike was in Assam (4,593 cases on the day). Before this, its highest count of daily cases was less than 3,000. However, Maharashtra led the surge in deaths, reporting 413 fatalities, its highest daily toll so far.
  • Active cases: India now has the second-highest count of active Covid cases globally after the US, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University (see graphic below). The number of active cases India has gone past the count in Brazil after the latter showed a sharp drop in active Covid-19 cases, per Johns Hopkins. FYI: India’s active cases continue to rise, although at a much slower pace in August, compared with the second half of July.

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  • Economic impact: Retail inflation rose an annual 6.93% in July, accelerating higher than expectations on the back of hardening food prices. Higher than the upwardly revised 6.2% in the previous month, it dashes hopes of any interest rate cuts for now. Food inflation soared to an annual 9.6% in July from 8.7% in the previous month as supply disruptions continued to take toll.
  • Finally: More than a week after he shared the stage with PM Narendra Modi during the bhoomi pujan of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, Ram Janmabhoomi Trust chief Mahant Nritya Gopal Das tested positive for Covid on Thursday. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and governor Anandiben Patel were also among the top leaders who were present at the event on August 5.
3. Will the new tax system help boost tax revenue?
  • No identification: “Seamless, painless and faceless” will be the new mantra for the income tax department, according to PM Narendra Modi, who unveiled a ‘transparent taxation’ platform for “honest taxpayers”. This will entail the assessment of a taxpayer’s returns by a tax department in another city or state, which will be reviewed by another state’s tax department and then finalised in another city or state — to ensure that the taxpayer and the tax officer aren’t in the same geographical jurisdiction.
  • No interaction: The new system is designed to eliminate person-to-person interaction between the taxpayer and the officer as the cases for both assessment and appeals will be assigned randomly through a computerised system. Moreover, instead of a single officer assessing or scrutinising a case, it will now be done by a team — which should hopefully lead to greater transparency and honesty. It may be recalled that the government has since last year compulsorily retired 85 officials for charges related to corruption and bribery.
  • No harassment: A taxpayer’s charter also came into effect alongwith faceless assessment from Thursday — which basically says that taxpayers will be considered honest “unless there is reason to believe otherwise”. The move is aimed at reducing the harassment from income tax department, which gained tragic infamy with the suicide of Cafe Coffe Day founder V G Siddhartha, who committed suicide in July 2019, alleging harassment by tax officials. Appeals too, shall be similarly faceless — coming into effect from September 25.
  • No revenues? The new policy is expected to boost the tally of taxpayers, who currently number around 1.5 crore in a country with a population of 130 crore, according to Modi. Added to that is the amount in disputed tax arrears, which as of November 2019 stood at Rs 9.32 lakh crore. For comparison, in 2018-19, total tax collection was Rs 11.37 lakh crore. As per a report by the CAG last year, 98% of tax arrears may never be recovered for reasons ranging from no or inadequate assets for recovery, untraceable assessees to mismatch in TDS.
4. India is propping up the Maldivian economy
  • A helping hand: India wants to limit the damage to the Maldivian economy caused by the pandemic. On Thursday, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said New Delhi will fund a major connectivity project in the Maldives through a $400 million line of credit and $100m grant. Jaishankar made the announcement after holding talks with his Maldivian counterpart Abdullah Shahid.
  • An infra project: The Greater Male Connectivity Project will connect Male with the islands of Villingili, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi. Villingili is a resort island of Addu Atoll, Gulhifalhu is a rising industrial hub and also the site of an upcoming port being built through a loan from India, and Thilafushi is an artificial island that houses industries (and sometimes derided for the piles of garbage). The connectivity project will boost the tourism and industrial economy of the country.
  • Tourism boost: India has also signed an air bubble agreement with the Maldives so that flights can operate between the two countries despite the pandemic. India has similar agreements with the US, UK, Germany, France and Kuwait. The air bubble will ensure Indian tourists, shut out from much of the world, can head to the atolls of Maldives.
  • An eye on China: New Delhi’s assistance to Male is a hedge against China, which under its ‘String of Pearls’ strategy had tried to coerce the Maldives into its sphere of influence during the term of Abdulla Yameen. But since Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came to power in the Maldives, the island nation has rekindled its ties with India, and New Delhi has reciprocated. Since Solih became President, India’s assistance to the Maldives has topped $2 billion.
  • One-upmanship: The Greater Male Connectivity Project embodies the strategic battle between India and China the most. The proposed 6.7km project would dwarf the Maldives-China Friendship Bridge, a 2km sea bridge connecting Male with Hulhule island built by a Chinese company.
NEWS IN CLUES
5. Prahlad, Soma, Pankaj & Amrit are the brothers of which famous Indian?
  • Clue 1: In 2018, he received the UN’s highest environmental award, the ‘Champions of the Earth’. He’s also the only Indian to win the Seoul Peace Prize.
  • Clue 2: Count Social Harmony, Jyotipunj and Exam Warriors among the books he’s authored.
  • Clue 3: Born in 1950, he’s the first Indian prime minister to be born after Independence.

Scroll below for answer

6. Expressways will be the new highways
  • The project: India will have 23 new expressways ready by March 2025. These expressways, with a combined length of about to 7,800 km, will require an investment of Rs 3.3 lakh crore, which will be recovered from toll collections.
  • The timeline: Four expressways, including Delhi-Mumbai, Ahmedabad-Dholera and Amritsar-Jamnagar, are scheduled for completion by March 2023, nine more will be ready by March 2024 and another nine new ones by March 2025, according to the National Highways Authority of India.
  • The connections: The network of expressways will be spread across the country connecting cities like Surat, Solapur, Lucknow, Vizag, Chennai, Bengaluru, Vijayawada, Raipur, Kota, Kharagpur and Siliguri.
  • The novelty: The massive development of new expressways is a departure from the conventional mode of widening the existing highways. The move is aimed at ensuring seamless movement of people and cargo, including heavy vehicles. Cargo vehicles in India cover about 400 km per day now, which is at least 50% less than the global standard. More details here
7. From the apex court…
  • UGC: The UGC told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the decisions of the Maharashtra and Delhi governments to cancel final year college exams citing the pandemic was void ab initio (invalid at the outset) and they could not override the commission’s directions to universities to conduct final year exams by September 30 through online or offline modes. “Neither the Disaster Management Act, 2005, nor the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, empower the state… to take such decisions,” the panel said, adding that under the UGC Act, only it could do so.
  • Sushant Singh: The Bihar government, in its final submission to the SC, said it was well within its rights and is following the law in transferring the case of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death to the CBI. “Simultaneously, non-registration of a FIR by Mumbai Police is not only entirely inexplicable but is also contrary to law,” it added. Rhea Chakraborty, who also filed her written petition on the day, asked the top court to transfer the FIR from Patna to Mumbai. She said the Bihar Police’s FIR is “completely illegal” and the state did not have jurisdiction to send the case to the CBI. However, she had no objection if the SC transferred the case to the CBI.
  • According to a Times Now report, the Maharashtra Government too filed its submission in the apex court, saying the Patna FIR is malafide and illegal and a single-judge bench can’t order for a CBI probe. Note: The CBI cannot start its investigation until the SC gives its nod.
  • Finally: Clearing the uncertainty over BS-IV vehicles which were purchased before lockdown but could not get registered before the March 31 deadline, the SC allowed registration for vehicles whose sales details were uploaded on Vahan or those which were given temporary registration.
8. PSG’s great escape
The clock ticked past 89 minutes and a little club from the pandemic-hit Bergamo had one foot in and many dreams of the semifinals of the Champions League, in their first ever appearance at UEFA’s flagship event. But fairytales seldom come to pass in the real world. Over the next few minutes, Atalanta were jolted to reality when Paris-Saint Germain of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and the like struck two goals in quick succession to script a come-from-behind 2-1 win in the quarterfinals in Lisbon late on Wednesday.

  • The underdogs took the lead in the 26th minute when Mario Pasalic curved one into the far post.
  • They held onto that lead going into the half-time break, having kept Neymar at bay. Then PSG unleashed World Cup-winner Mbappe; David now had to battle two Goliaths.
  • 30 seconds to the 90th minute, Neymar deftly controlled a cross and laid it across the goal. Fellow Brazilian Marquinhos dispatched it to the back of the net, taking a deflection en route.
  • In the 3rd minute of the injury time, Neymar and Mbappe combined to serve the winning goal in a platter for Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. 2-1. Inequality restored. PSG in the semis.

Note, the late stages of this pandemic-hit Champions League is condensed into back-to-back, one-legged quarter-finals, with no home and away legs, all played at Lisbon.

Making the semis for the first time, however, were RB Leipzig — a young and technical team owned by Red Bull — who beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 on Thursday. They will face PSG next week.

9. Israel to suspend West Bank annexation, establish ties with UAE
Israel and the United Arab Emirates will establish diplomatic relations as part of a deal to suspend plans to annex occupied Palestine territories in the West Bank, the US President Donald Trump said.

  • A joint statement put out by the White House said delegations from Israel and the UAE will “meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit”.
  • UAE will be the first Gulf state and third Arab nation (after Egypt and Jordan) to establish formal relations with Israel. The development comes nearly two months after Israel and UAE announced a partnership to fight the pandemic.
  • Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had, prior to the elections, announced plans to annex nearly one-third of the West Bank beginning July. The controversial plan, denounced by the UN, major European powers and the Arab League, however, was not put into motion despite Netanyahu returning to power through a coalition.
  • The White House statement Thursday said those plans will now be suspended. “Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world,” it said. More here

Also: Israel said it has thwarted a cyberattack on its defence companies by a group linked to North Korea. Israeli officials told the New York Times that the sensitive information could be shared with Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy.

BEFORE YOU GO
10. Serena’s 19th win over Venus
In the 31st meeting of their career, 22 years after the first, Serena Williams came from a set down to beat Venus Williams 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the second round of the Lexington WTA (official name: the Top Seed Open) late on Thursday. The head-to-head record now reads 19-12 in favour of Serena. The two sisters then approached the net and tapped their racquets. Empty chairs stood witness. The Williams sisters — one 38 and the other 40 — yet again exhibited their remarkable ability to defy time, yet lurking around were signs of the times we live in.

Yet the contest was fitting: Few other athletes embody grit and perseverance like the Williams sisters do. And yes, greatness — between them they have won 30 Grand Slams. Also, behind the baseline, providing the backdrop for two of the finest athletes in the world was a canvas that read ‘Black Lives Matter’. The WTA couldn’t have announced their return to the US from a pandemic-forced hiatus any better.

Answer to NEWS IN CLUES
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Narendra Modi. On Thursday, the 69-year-old became the longest serving non-Congress prime minister and the fourth longest serving overall — after Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh — the BJP noted. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had served for 2,268 days, with all his terms put together. Modi was sworn in as India’s 14th PM of India on May 26, 2014. He was again sworn in as India’s Prime Minister on May 30, 2019, marking the start of his second term in office.

Written by: Rakesh Rai, Judhajit Basu, Sumil Sudhakaran, Tejeesh N.S. Behl
Research: Rajesh Sharma

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