We, the Afternoon Voice, grown by one more year with some turbulences and tides, but overall it was a beautiful year to learn many new things. We got some new staff and new readers too, you all make us sustain with integrity. Speaking at large, the year 2018 ended with big fat weddings to biggest controversies and a poor mandate for BJP. The Indian rupee had a terrible year so far—but it is only likely to get worse. The 2019 general elections may drag down the currency even further, warns global financial services firm Nomura. The Narendra Modi government’s term is scheduled to end in May 2019 and the weakening rupee has already become a political issue. Over 20 opposition parties, led by the Indian National Congress, have called for a nation-wide strike to protest the currency’s depreciation and a lack of government intervention to stem the fall. Somehow, Rahul Gandhi made his mark in Indian politics, by bringing back Congress to power in various states. He managed to show his mettle and these days he is no more called as Pappu, but Modi still remained a Jumla man for not delivering his election promises.
Killing Cow and getting killed in the name of the cow was another aggressive trend that spoke volumes for the ruling politics. Name changing to naming oppositions was a favourite attack from PM Modi. Twisting the facts in History consisted in his speeches; the battalion of the social media team was the best of his performance. Nevertheless, this time, Congress was equally strong in giving a befitting reply. Social media became one big battlefield. BJP and Modi’s magic faded and Congress regained the lost glory; this is what 2018 have to tell about politics.
Lots of infrastructure, metro, malls and roads were made. The promise of 100 smart cities might have gone to cold storage but overall many cities were made smart by installing statues or doing some makeovers.
India has seen possible highs and lows during 2018, economically the year was very bad for Indians, many small businesses got closed, youths were not provided with jobs, budget on education shrunk, farmers were restless, armed forces got killed on the border. One rank, one pension is yet to be settled. Overall, the year 2018 ended with no major developments.
This year, there were many rape cases, brutality to the woman was reported, however, on the other hand, 2018 was a big year for gender rights. From Triple Talaq to #MeToo movement, the country took several steps to push back against age-old social taboos that have marginalised women and members of the LGBTQ community. Although rape, sexual assault, and other such crimes remained a problem, changes in the law and more widespread conversations on gender rights began making a difference, even if slowly, this year. But things have not gone as well for India’s transgender community, which took to the streets to protest against the government’s decision to pass the Transgender Bill in the lower house of Parliament. These recent developments make for a bitter end to a year that was otherwise marked by several successes in India. In September, India joined the small list of countries that have done away with a remnant of their colonial past: the law against homosexuality. In a landmark judgement, India’s Supreme Court struck down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised “unnatural offences” or intercourse “against the order of nature.”
Another landmark judgement that came just a few days after section 377 was scrapped: the decision to finally allow women of menstruating age into a revered temple in southern India. For decades, Kerala’s Sabarimala temple has prohibited girls and women aged between 10 and 50 from entering its premises. The ban on women of reproductive age there was based on the belief that the reigning deity, Hindu god Ayyappa, was a celibate. Twelve years after the first public interest litigation was first filed against the practice, India’s Supreme Court decreed in September that keeping women out violated their constitutional right to religion.
Over a year after #MeToo exploded in the Western countries, it finally began taking down powerful men in India too, beginning with the media and entertainment industry. From an iconic comedy group and well-known Bollywood actors and directors to Editors at the top media companies and even a Minister in the Narendra Modi government, a wave of accounts from women revealed astonishing instances of abuse of power, harassment, and assault across industries. Powered by journalists on social media, India’s #MeToo movement prodded companies to finally start taking sexual harassment, and the law’s provisions to prevent it, more seriously.
Arguably, the year 2018 will be remembered for the biggest state-controlled bank fraud in India. Also, in a shocking revelation, India’s drug regulator had expanded its probe into Johnson & Johnson’s iconic brands of shampoo and baby soap, apart from baby powder, which was already under the lens for the alleged presence of cancer-causing asbestos.
On a positive note, the country also saw the remarkable rise of eight unicorns — a group of firms that are valued at over $1 billion individually, as per a report by apex IT industry body NASSCOM. Other newsworthy business stories included India’s economic growth at an impressive 8.2 per cent in the April-June quarter of the current fiscal, while posting 7.1 per cent growth in the July-September quarter. Besides all these events, the historic battle between North Block and Mint Road, and several sudden high-profile departures from the government departments and the corporate sector hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The bank fraudsters hit the headlines and at the same time managed to flee from India, Nirav Modi-Punjab National Bank Scam had shocked the country’s banking system when it disclosed its detected fraudulent transactions worth $1.77 billion (about Rs 11,400 crore) at a single branch in Mumbai. Disgraced diamantaire Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi were accused of defrauding the PNB out of Rs 14,000 crore. In January, both had fled India. RBI governor Urjit Patel’s sudden departure was even more shocking. Urjit Patel had resigned as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor citing “personal reasons”, following months of tension between Mint Road and North Block. It was for the second time in the history of independent India, a governor of the apex bank left nine months ahead of his scheduled exit. In September 2016, Patel was appointed the RBI chief for a three-year term that would have ended in 2019.
Curtains fell on Chanda Kochhar and Shikha Sharma’s tenures, in October. ICICI Bank Managing Director and CEO Chanda Kochhar had quit the private sector lender, six months earlier her current stint was to end. It was alleged that family members of Chanda Kochhar, including her husband Deepak Kochhar, received financial favours from the borrowers against the loans sanctioned by the bank. Chanda Kochhar’s five-year tenure as CEO of the bank was to end on March 31, 2019. Another high-profile banker Shikha Sharma had decided to cut short her tenure at Axis Bank — the country’s third largest Private sector lender, the RBI had asked the private sector lender board to reconsider the extension given to Shikha Sharma. Meanwhile, good times are over for Vijay Mallya as the beleaguered liquor tycoon, who defaulted loans of up to Rs 9,000 crore, should be extradited from Britain to India to face fraud and money laundering charges resulting from the collapse of his defunct Kingfisher Airlines, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court had said in a ruling. In the past, the 62-year-old former Kingfisher Airline chief challenged his extradition on the grounds of “human rights conditions” in Indian jails. The embattled businessman had also contested his extradition on the pretext that the case against him is “politically motivated”. On the other hand, infrastructure lending major IL&FS had defaulted on some debt payments, causing a panic in the stock market and prompting comparisons with the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. The beleaguered company’s debt pile had grown more than Rs 91,000 crore. In a rare move to save the country’s financial system, the Centre took control of Il&FS. It may be noted that the government did take control of Satyam Computer Services in 2009 accounting fraud.
It was all good for the Maharashtra state, the government had earmarked a sum of Rs 10,000 crore in the state budget for 2018-2019 to revise the pay-scales of the employees. Tigress Avni, plastic ban, fires hogged the limelight in Maharashtra. The fire triggered an alarm among environmentalists as it threatened to affect tribal residents in the city’s biggest green lung. Navi Mumbai airport would lead to rising tides and extreme climatic events. As the year ended, Maharashtra faces a drought situation due to deficit rainfall. The government in October declared 151 talukas in 26 out of the total 36 districts in the state having ‘drought-like’ conditions. These 26 districts include eight each in Vidarbha and Marathwada regions, five in North Maharashtra, four in western Maharashtra and the Palghar district in the coastal Konkan region. The state government also launched the Kanya Van Samruddhi Yojana scheme, under which around three lakh households in Maharashtra where a girl child was born in the last one year will get a gift of ten saplings each from the forest department.
The state government is on a memorial building spree, including that of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Arabian sea, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray in suburban Dadar and BJP leader Gopinath Munde in Aurangabad at a collective cost of around Rs 5,000 crore.
Mumbai and Bollywood made big headlines for hits and flops and at the same time for their extravagant marriages. Cricket and sports brought a lot of grace to the nation. Many launches on tech and automobile fronts, lucrative offers grabbed the market. Property prices have gone sky-high; no resell value to old properties. Overall, the year has ended for a new beginning. Let’s all say goodbye to 2018 and welcome 2019.
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