Thursday, March 21, 2019

Verdict of the day

All four suspects in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast case were acquitted yesterday— including the notorious self-styled godman and Hindutva extremist Swami Aseemanand. He was previously implicated but acquitted in two other bomb cases (despite making a full confession). This was the last pending case against him. Sixty-eight people were killed when two bombs were detonated on the train which connects Delhi to Lahore. Of 299 witnesses in the case, 51 who were most critical to the case turned hostile. According to defence lawyers, most of the remaining witnesses had little first-hand knowledge of the crime.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The long overdue arrest of Nirav Modi

Tell me about the fraud: Modi and his uncle Choksi are accused of swindling the bank of Rs 13,500 crores. The scam involved something called a Letter of Undertaking (LoU). Here’s how it worked:

  • In the import/export business, Indian companies who want to make a significant purchase in foreign currency will ask their local bank to issue an LoU for a requested amount to an overseas bank. That bank in turn will release the money for payments. Essentially, the Indian bank’s LoU guarantees a foreign currency loan, and it is liable if the money is not paid back within a certain time period—which is typically 90 days.

  • In this case, the PNB branch in Mumbai issued LoUs on behalf of Modi for staggering amounts which he never paid back. Instead, the LoUswere extended over and over again. And this went on for seven years.

How did that happen? According to the CBI, the entire scam was carried out by a handful of ‘bad apples’ who managed to bypass the bank’s strict security protocols to issue the LoUs. And even more incredibly, they ensured there was no record of these transactions in the central banking system—which otherwise would have served as an early red flag. There is naturally great scepticism about this theory. Adding to the ‘fishiness’ of it all, PNB didn’t report the fraud until the end of January, 2018—weeks after Modi and his family fled the country.

Ok, so now he’s been caught? Modi’s downfall began when he was spotted by The Telegraph (UK) wandering the streets of London earlier this month. Indian authorities immediately filed an extradition request. And he was arrested and put behind bars yesterday. The judge denied him bail due to the “high-value amount” involved in the case, and the “substantial grounds” for believing Modi would hightail it the moment she set him free.

Delicious irony alert: Modi was finally caught trying to open a bank account. The clerk recognised him and alerted the police.

So what was he doing in London? Modi was working for a company called Diamond Holdings at a salary of £20,000 a month—which would explain that £10,000 ostrich leather jacket.

So what’s next? He will face extradition proceedings much like Vijay Mallya, and his lawyer has already made the same argument opposing it -- i.e. the charges are politically motivated, and he would face inhumane conditions in an Indian jail. Indian officials, however, claim that the evidence against Modi is far more damning than in the case of Mallya, and expect the legal process to move far more quickly. Also: Mallya lost his extradition plea, so there is no reason to believe the same argument will work for Modi.

The bottomline: The number of bad loans—or Non-Performing Assets (NPAs)—made by Indian banks amount to over Rs 8.5 lakh crore. As India Today points out, “That is more than India's defence and infrastructure budgets combined, and close to twice Sri Lanka's GDP.” And when banks run into their own financial trouble thanks to a Modi or Mallya, it’s the government which bails them out… with your hard-earned tax money. And while Modi’s arrest is welcome justice, it does little to address the rot that has set deep into our banking system.

Learn more: The Hindu has the details of the court proceedings which landed Modi in jail. Indian Express has the best explainer on the PNB scam. India Today profiles his starry turn as celebrity jeweller. The Telegraph has his lavish ‘refugee’ lifestyle in London.

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digging up your rattiest tee for Holi


Cockpit recording of Lion Air crash leaked: Reuters interviewed three sources who have heard the audio of the last minute-efforts of the pilots. As suspected, the flight system on the 737 Max jet kept pushing the nose down because it incorrectly sensed a mid-air stall. The captain scrambled to find a solution in the manual while the first officer fought to keep the plane in the air. They both remained calm until the very end. Also important: the crew flying the very same plane a day before the crash encountered the same problem. What saved them? The help of another captain who was hitching a ride, and who found the solution after running through three checklists. (Reuters)


Yet another Brexit update here: With the March 29 deadline around the corner, PM Theresa May asked the EU for an extension until June 30—which requires the unanimous approval of all 27 member states. And that may not be easy. European Council President Donald Tusk says the EU will be open to an extension but… only if the British Parliament approves her Brexit deal. That would the deal they have rejected twice already, and which was not allowed to be put for a third vote by the Speaker. Round and round we go. (NPR)


Shashi Tharoor takes a slang test: administered by Hasan Minhaj—and fails resoundingly. That would be funny in itself, but then Hasan takes it up to the next level by calling a blushing and befuddled Shashi a ‘snacc’. Too good! Watch clip here.


Barkha Dutt gets some justice: Back in February, Dutt was deluged with rape threats, obscene messages and calls. The Delhi police has tracked down and arrested four men. Three are out on bail, but one has been kept in custody because he sent an obscene photograph (presumably the dick pic she shared on Twitter). Hindutva trolls are delighted that he is Muslim and works at a butcher’s shop. (Indian Express)


The Mouse swallows the Fox: It’s official! Disney has sealed a $71 billion deal to buy 21st Century Fox—a giant goody bag that includes Fox film and TV studios, FX and National Geographic TV channels, a big chunk of Hulu, and Star India (hence also Hotstar). Yes, this is Netflix’s worst nightmare. But the next bad dream is right around the corner: Apple will unveil its streaming entertainment platform on Monday. Meanwhile, Fox franchises, ‘Simpsons’ and ‘Dead Pool’, marked the occasion in their own special way. Vox analyses the gargantuan size of this new media behemoth.


The jobs crisis’ greatest victims are women: Ninety percent of the 10 million jobs lost last year were held by women. One reason is that most female labour is in the informal economy which was hardest hit by demonetisation and GST. Another reason: when jobs are scarce, patriarchy ensures that it’s the men who are hired first. Highly related: A new analysis of the leaked NSSO survey shows a total job loss of nearly 3 crore in casual farm labour since 2011-2012 (that’s a 40% drop) (Reuters)


The 2019 World Happiness Report is out: So who is the happiest of them all? It’s Finland, and for the second year in a row! Santa’s homeland is followed by other Scandinavian nations, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and The Netherlands. They possess the six key variables of happiness: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. All of the superpowers—US (#19) or Russia (#68) or China (#93) - dropped in their rankings since last year. Then there’s us: “India came in 140th this year, dropping seven places from 133 last year. As a result, India featured in the five countries that had the largest drop since 2005-2008 in the index, along with Yemen, Syria, Botswana and Venezuela.” (CNN)


Alibaba’s magic mirror of beauty: The Chinese company’s latest gadget is a mirror powered by AI with voice command. It’s just the latest example of the ‘beautytech’ trend which uses augmented reality and artificial intelligence to sell highly personalised beauty products. (Asia Nikkei)


This is what jugaad looks like: and it’s pretty darn amusing. Indian Express assembles a photo gallery of Indians at their creative best. Who knew a knee-length boot works just as well as piping. (Indian Express)


Pollution is hard on the penis: Petrol and diesel exhaust fumes may be linked to higher rates of erectile dysfunction. New research claims that inhaling toxic air leads to inflammation in blood vessels, which in turn starves men’s genitalia of oxygen. This is, of course, excellent news for Viagra. (Daily Mail)


An important Holi reminder: It is a crime to force anyone to play Holi against their will. Also illegal: water balloons. Also: here’s a bhang safety guide that may come handy. (The Telegraph)

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Our Bodies, Our Selves’ Edition 


This is the Face of a Liar

When it comes to lying, our personal preference is to do it over the phone or via text. In-person mendacity has always seemed way too hazardous. Turns out this is a very sensible precaution because human bodies are traitorous wretches ready to expose us as literally bare-faced liars. Then again, if you are the one being lied to, then it’s probably handy to know the various facial expressions that give it all away. Watch, learn, and deploy your new-found knowledge to persecute loved ones. (If you prefer text, read the article over here)


Watch: Facial expressions that indicate someone is lying | Business Insider

Sex, Love etc 2

The Many Useless Parts of Me

We’ve all heard about the miracle that is the human body, that most well-designed machine. Or maybe not so well-designed if you go by the many pointless bits and bobs it contains within it. Gizmodo asked anatomists and evolutionary biologists to name their pick the least useful of them all—and their list is enlightening and kinda fun. Who knew that there are “eight small, fixed, and mostly useless bones” in our wrist.


Read: What's the Least Useful Body Part? | Gizmodo

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