India en Sat Mar 06 10:36:50 IST 2021 swamy-fires-born-loser-barb-at-jaishankar-over-comments-on-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It would be an understatement to say BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy has been unhappy with the Narendra Modi government's approach to the border stand-off with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since the stand-off in Ladakh began nearly an year ago, Swamy has repeatedly used Twitter to chide the Modi government for alleged lack of transparency and willpower to confront China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Saturday morning, Subramanian Swamy took exception to the description by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar of China being a "challenging neighbour".</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alluding to the fact that the military stand-off continues in parts of Ladakh, Swamy claimed India was "in a state of war with China".</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He alleged Jaishankar "wants us to feel inferior" and this was the "sign of a born loser". Swamy tweeted, “At a time when we are in a state of war with China, our Foreign Minister wants us to feel inferior. Sign of a born loser.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaishankar had described China as a challenging neighbour at the India Economic Conclave on Friday.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"We were about the same size of economy when Rajiv Gandhi went to China in 1988 and look at the difference today. So for me, I have always seen lessons in China's growth. To me, in many ways, yes China is a neighbour and it is in many ways a challenging neighbour," Jaishankar claimed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier this month, Swamy warned he would <a title="'Breach of privilege notice': Swamy cites US report saying China not vacated Indian lands" href="">move a breach of privilege motion</a> in the Parliament over the stand-off with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Swamy referred to media reports about a US military official claiming China had not vacated Indian territory, contrary to claims of the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Mar 27 12:08:56 IST 2021 there-is-no-growth-in-country-except-for-beard-of-narendra-modi-mamata <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying his growing beard is inversely proportional to the state of the economy in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Banerjee, who was addressing poll rallies in Paschim Medinipur district, also accused BJP of being the "biggest fraud party" of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The TMC supremo, who is contesting the election from the high-profile Nandigram seat in Purba Medinipur district, said she would be staying put there till the end of polling in the constituency on April 1 as there are chances that BJP has "plans to loot votes by using goons from other states" and cautioned TMC workers in the state against complacency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"The Indian economy has gone for a toss. There is no industrial growth. There is no growth except for the beard of Narendra Modiji. At times, he dresses like Rabindranath Tagore and at times likes Mahatma Gandhi," she said mocking the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Keeping up her attack, Banerjee said, "The day is not far off when the entire country will be sold and named after Narendra Modi... BJP is trying to throttle democracy in the country. As we (opposition parties) are all busy with Assembly elections in five states, the BJP government is passing laws to intrude into the constitutional powers of the elected government in Delhi by giving more powers to the lieutenant-governor. This is shameful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recounting the cancellation of the visa of Bangladeshi actor Firdaus for campaigning for her party's candidates for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee wondered why the same should not be done for Modi for campaigning for former US president Donald Trump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"If Firdaus's visa can be cancelled for campaigning in a foreign land, then Modiji's visa should also be cancelled for campaigning for Donald Trump in America. Have you forgotten the slogan <i>Ab Ki Bar Trump Sarkar</i>," she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trump government, aiming to woo the influential Indian-American voters, in August 2020 had launched a video commercial containing clips of Modi's speeches and the former US president's historic address in Ahmedabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The TMC supremo, who held three poll rallies in Paschim Medinipur district during the day, claimed that BJP has "roped in goons to threaten people".</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"These goons might visit households and ask women with folded hands to vote for them or face the threat of being herded out," she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Don't be overconfident and suffer from complacency. BJP is the biggest fraud and <i>janjal </i>(garbage) party in the country. It can go to any extent to win the elections at any cost. Your duty is not over even after voting is over. You have to guard the EVMs," Banerjee told TMC workers at a rally at Daspur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She alleged that police personnel deployed in West Bengal were from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, where the BJP is in power. "They are being brought to West Bengal to possibly influence elections in favour of the BJP".</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"They (police personnel) will act in favour of BJP. If you sense anything amiss, rise in protest. Mothers and sisters, take the lead in such protests if you see any illegal conduct," she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Be ready with utensils and broomsticks to chase away such elements if they issue a veiled threat," Banerjee told the women, who had gathered at the meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She said people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had been arrested from Nandigram area on Thursday night and claimed that "Goons have been brought from other states to rig the polls".</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"They (BJP) think they can rig the polls. We will not allow that to happen. I will stay put in Nandigram from March 28 till the elections are over there. I will myself see how they loot votes," she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has hired "borgis from outside to loot votes". Borgis were a category of the Maratha empire's troops who indulged in large-scale plundering during Maratha expeditions in Bengal in the 18th century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alleging that EVM machines could be tampered with to help the BJP win the election, Banerjee asked TMC polling agents to check them twice on poll days and guard the machines till May 2, the date of counting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"If members of the Central force ask you to leave, tell them that you respect them, but they should not work for Modiji," she said.</p> Sat Mar 27 11:18:22 IST 2021 congress-bjp-spar-over-modis-satyagraha-for-bangladesh-claim <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Congress and the BJP on Friday sparred over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remark that he did satyagraha for Bangladesh's freedom, with the opposition party questioning the statement's veracity and the ruling party asserting that it was true.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Addressing the main golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh's independence and the birth centenary of its founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in Dhaka in the presence of his counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, and President Abdul Hamid, Modi recalled the 1971 war and said the pictures of atrocities that the Pakistan Army inflicted on the people in then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) used to disturb people in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"I must have been 20-22 years old when I and my colleagues did satyagraha for Bangladesh's freedom," he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tagging the prime minister's remarks, Congress Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor said, "International education: our PM is giving Bangladesh a taste of Indian 'fake news'. The absurdity is that everyone knows who liberated Bangladesh."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another Congress leader, Jairam Ramesh, shared a cartoon taking a dig at Modi and tweeted, "Entire Political Science by Narendra Modi."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP's IT cell chief Amit Malviya tweeted, "Was Prime Minister Modi part of satyagrah organised by Jana Sangha for recognition of Bangladesh? Yes, he was."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"A citation awarded by Bangladesh to [former prime minister A.B.] Vajpayee ji speaks of the rally. PM Modi, in a book authored in 1978, also wrote about going to Tihar during Bangladesh satyagrah!" he said and shared a snapshot of the citation to Vajpayee.</p> Sat Mar 27 09:23:28 IST 2021 delhi-has-bent-pollution-curve-annual-level-of-particulate-matter-on-decline-report <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Long-term trend shows Delhi has already bent the pollution curve downwards and the annual level of particulate matter, PM2.5, is declining every year, a new report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) claimed.</p> <p>The report titled 'Capital Gains-Clean Air Action in Delhi NCR: What next?' lays down a roadmap on what the national capital and NCR towns should be doing to curb air pollution in the region.</p> <p>The measures to be taken range from changes in cropping patterns to reduce cultivation of paddy to reduce stubble burning to scaling up pedestrianisation in high footfall areas to create low emissions zones.</p> <p>"The rolling three-year averages, a firmer indicator of change, have reduced by about a quarter since 2014–15… However, even after that decline, Delhi needs more than 60 per cent cut in annual PM2.5 concentration to meet the national ambient air quality standards," the report said.</p> <p>Multi-sector action has to gather speed, scale, and urgency. This requires strategic shifts to achieve mobility transition, clean energy transition, circular economy at a scale, and clean energy access at a regional scale, the green advocacy group said.</p> <p>After the ban on furnace oil and petcoke in the industrial sector, coal will also have to be replaced with clean fuels.</p> <p>Delhi has implemented the most ambitious clean fuel policy that has also outlawed coal. But the airshed cannot clean up if coal combustion remains dominant in industrial clusters of the NCR, the report said.</p> <p>"The implementation of 2015 emissions standards for coal-based thermal power plants has to be done in a time-bound manner by 2022. The plants are already capable of meeting the particulate standards," it said.</p> <p>"While scaling up action for the entire region, there is urgent need for the hyper local action agenda in the targeted polluted hotspots so that the local solutions for solid waste, construction and demolition waste, industrial waste, plastics, and unpaved roads and vehicular movement can be implemented," the CSE report read.</p> <p>It said Delhi has closed down all its coal power plants, but it has to ensure that it procures only clean or cleaner electricity from plants that are meeting the standards or are close to meeting the standards. "Currently, Delhi is procuring electricity from some of the dirtier power plants in the country," the report said.</p> <p>Stating that Delhi has done well in restricting the entry of diesel trucks, the report said, "NCR cities will also require a well thought-out strategy to address heavy duty traffic by rationalising movement patterns, routes and logistic infrastructure, spacing of warehouses/wholesale marts, entry points, and timing."</p> <p>On vehicular pollution, it said that the government should strengthen periodic auditing of Pollution Under Control (PUC) centres and calibration of equipment and third-party checks.</p> Fri Mar 26 22:56:59 IST 2021 delhi-govt-opens-6-hour-vaccination-without-registration-window <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Arvind Kejriwal government on Saturday announced it had decided to keep 3pm to 9pm as a "no registration" window for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain was quoted by <i>ANI </i>as saying, "People were facing difficulty in registration for vaccination; many people aren't tech savvy. Even if they get registered, they get busy and don't reach centres. So government has decided to keep 3pm-9pm as window when people can go for vaccination without registration."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to mediapersons, Jain said there was no possibility of another lockdown to contain the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"As of now, [there is] no possibility of lockdown. First, it was said that it's 14-day cycle between infection and recovery. Experts said if all activities close for 21 days, it won't spread. Lockdown was extended, but it didn't stop completely. So I don't think lockdown is solution," Jain was quoted as saying by <i>The Times of India.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"It is a recurring disease. Experts said from the beginning 'do not believe it will be finished immediately'. We will have to learn to live with it," Jain was quoted as saying by <i>NDTV.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jain reiterated the continued need to wear masks and maintain social distancing. "People wore masks for two or three months... then they stopped. This is wrong. We don't know how the virus behaves. I appeal to the people... the more people who wear masks, the better the spread of the virus can be controlled," Jain was quoted as saying by <i>NDTV</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Friday, Delhi reported 1,534 COVID-19 cases, the highest since December 16. Since March 23, Delhi has reported over 1,000 COVID-19 cases daily, the first time daily cases have crossed that mark since December 24.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jain claimed the Delhi government had taken steps to increase testing and ensure provision of adequate hospital beds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"At present, there are enough beds; the occupancy rate now is 20 per cent. And if we have to increase the number of beds, then we will do it," Jain was quoted as saying by <i>NDTV</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Mar 27 12:55:18 IST 2021 refugees-in-assam-will-be-given-citizenship-rights--but-infiltra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In his first direct reference to the controversial CAA in the run-up to the Assam assembly elections, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Friday said refugees will be given citizenship rights, but asserted that the BJP will not allow infiltrators to enter the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah referred to the Citizenship Amendment Act addressing election rallies at Silchar and Patharkandi in Barak Valley, where the legislation has been welcomed by the predominantly Hindu Bengali migrant population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"I give assurance that refugees who come to Assam will be given citizenship rights, but infiltrators will not be allowed inside the state... The next BJP government will enact laws to tackle the menace of 'love and land jihad' in Assam," he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CAA, a major poll plank of opposition parties, did not find any mention during election rallies by national and state leaders of the BJP or in its manifesto, but party president J P Nadda had said the act is a "legislation passed by Parliament and will be implemented in time".</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah accused the Congress leaders of double standards as they wear 'gamosas' with 'no-CAA' messages in the Brahmaputra Valley, but sport the same traditional scarfs "with no writings when they are in the Barak Valley", maintaining silence over the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"'Congress ke dikhane ke daant alag hote hain aur chaabane ke alag' (Congress has two sets of teeth, one to show and another to chew). This stand makes it clear that it is paving the way for AIUD chief Badruddin Ajmal to become the chief minister of the state," the home minister said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He accused the Congress-AIUDF alliance of encouraging infiltration that threatened to change the state's demography and asserted that the BJP will not allow this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Encouraging infiltration is an old habit of the Congress and this time they are doing it riding on Ajmal's shoulders," Shah said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also said appropriate laws and policies will be put in place to strengthen Assamese culture and civilisation.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP manifesto, which was released a few days ago, apart from promising laws against love and land jihad, said its government will enforce a deradicalisation policy to identify and quash organisations and individuals fanning communal exclusion and separatism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah alleged that it was the under the Congress government's patronage that infiltrators brought in with Ajmal's support encroached land of 'sattras' (Vaishnavite</p> <p>monasteries) and other places of worship, besides that of the Kaziranga National Park. "This land jihad must stop," he asserted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Badruddin Ajmal indulged these infiltrators in order to change Assam's identity and civilisation. He may be the Congress's identity but not that of Assam. Give BJP the mandate for another five years and we will ensure that this land jihad ends," he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the concept of "love jihad" is well known and BJP governments in some states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have enacted laws to prevent forced religious conversion for marriage, little is known about "land jihad" beyond Assam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many state BJP leaders have alleged that Hindus were being forced to sell off their land in Muslim majority areas because of harassment which they call "land jihad".</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"If they come to power, infiltration will increase and change the demographic identity of the state," Shah alleged.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"The Congress manifesto is merely a tool for election campaign but the BJP manifesto is meant for implementation," he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The home minister also accused Congress leader Rahul Gandhi of saying Ajmal represented Assam's identity. "He (Gandhi) does not understand Assam and its identity."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Assam's identity is linked to Vaishnav saints Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhavdeva, brave Ahom general Lachit Barphukan who saved the state from Mughal invasion and Bharat Ratnas Bhupen Hazarika and Gopinath Bordoloi, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"We will not allow Ajmal to become a symbol of Assam's identity notwithstanding Congress's efforts to do so. Can the Congress and AIUDF save the state from illegal infiltration?" he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has already made Assam free from insurgency and agitations in the last five years and is committed to ridding it of infiltrators and recurrent floods over the next five years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Rahul baba should remember that it was their chief minister Tarun Gogoi who once dismissively asked about the AIUDF chief 'Who is Ajmal?' And now it is the Congress which has joined hands with Ajmal to gather votes. I think Gogoiji has got his answer in heaven," the senior BJP leader said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Calling the Congress a "sold-out" party, Shah said, "It has no agenda left except for promoting the tourism plans of the brother-sister duo (Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"The Congress leader comes to Assam as a tourist and is seen in the state only for 2-3 days during the elections.&nbsp; He then vanishes for the next five years." There are only three images before the people of Assam -- that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's development and service to people, of Rahul Gandhi's tourism and Ajmal's</p> <p>agenda of infiltration. The people of Assam have to decide what they want, "Modiji's double engine for development or Congress-AIUDF's double infiltration", he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He accused former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who represented Assam in the Rajya Sabha, of not solving the state's problems, particularly failing to ensure payment of oil and gas royalty of Rs 8,000 crore which Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately released after assuming power in 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP government has taken several measures to ensure the development of not only Assam but the entire North East, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The home minister said it was due to the prime minister's efforts that the Bodo Accord was signed, paving the way for permanent peace in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"But if the Congress and its allies are voted to power, violence will return," he warned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the BJP government assumes office for the second consecutive term, it will initiate the process of providing one lakh government jobs immediately and the exercise will be completed by March 31, 2022, Shah said, adding it will also facilitate creation of eight lakh jobs in the private sector.</p> Fri Mar 26 22:45:57 IST 2021 tmc-bjp-allege-malpractices-to-meet-election-commission-today <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the first phase of polling progresses in West Bengal, both the TMC and the BJP have accused each other of malpractices and will meet the Election Commission on Saturday. A 10-member Trinamool Parliamentary delegation led by Sudip Bandyopadhyay, leader Lok Sabha and Derek O'Brien, leader Rajya Sabha to meet Election Commission in Kolkata at 12 noon on Saturday. The BJP delegation led by National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya will meet the West Bengal Election chief at 2pm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two main parties at war have raised allegations of election rigging against each other. TMC has alleged EVM tampering in Kashipur assembly constituency, saying that on pressing the TMC button, the votes are going to the BJP. It has also accused the BJP of threatening those not voting for the party.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP also fielded similar allegations against the ruling party. Nandigram BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari has written to the Election Commission, seeking suspension of Haldia Addl SP Partha Ghosh, Haldia SDPO Barunbaidya and some other officers of Nandigram Police Station "for helping TMC members in carrying out malpractices, irregularities during polls". "We approached the EC that there should be free and fair polls. People will choose whom they want. The TMC is scared. We've given the name of one Alauddin to EC, he creates disturbance there," said Soumendu Adhikari, BJP leader and brother of Suvendu Adhikari.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Assam and West Bengal recorded a voter turnout of 24.48 and 24.61 per cent respectively till 11 am on Saturday. Polling began at 7 am for the 30 seats in the first phase of the assembly elections in West Bengal in which 191 candidates are in fray.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Mar 27 11:58:24 IST 2021 mumbai-sees-record-spike-third-day-in-a-row-adds-5513-new-covid-19-cases <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mumbai, on Friday, reported 5,513 COVID-19 cases, the third consecutive day when the addition has been the highest since the outbreak began in March last year, a BMC official said.</p> <p>On Thursday the count was 5,504, while it was 5,185 on Wednesday, both of which remained outbreak records for the metropolis at the time.</p> <p>The caseload in the country's financial capital is 3,85,628, including 11,629 deaths, nine of which took place during the day, the civic official added.</p> <p>He said Dharavi, among the densest urban settlements in the world, accounted for 58 of the cases reported in the city during the day.</p> <p>He said the BMC had carried out contact tracing of 24,550 people, and performed 47,504 tests during the day.&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 22:27:19 IST 2021 indias-daily-covid-19-tally-hits-62-258-highest-in-160-days <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The worrying surge in COVID-19 cases in India since earlier this month reached a milestone on Saturday as over 60,000 cases were confirmed in a single day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to data from the Union ministry of health and family welfare published on Saturday, 62,258 COVID-19 cases were reported in the past 24 hours. As many as 291 deaths were also reported in the same period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This takes the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country to 1,19,08,910 and the death toll to 1,61, 240. The number of active COVID-19 cases has reached 4,52,647.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The figure of 62,258 cases is the highest daily surge in COVID-19 cases since October 17 last year. The daily death toll was also the highest since December 30.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maharashtra has accounted for the bulk of the new COVID-19 cases. On Friday, Maharashtra recorded an all-time high of 36,902 new COVID-19 cases, while Mumbai also saw an all-time high of 5,515 cases. Friday was the second day that Maharashtra reported 35,000 cases or more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Punjab and Gujarat also recorded their highest-ever single-day spike in COVID-19 numbers on Friday. Punjab reported 3,176 new COVID-19 cases, the first time the state crossed 3,000 cases in a day. Punjab also reported 59 COVID-19 deaths on Friday.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gujarat reported 2,190 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, its highest-ever count for the fifth consecutive day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karnataka and Chhattisgarh have also reported a surge in new COVID-19 cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Mar 27 10:08:37 IST 2021 central-probe-agencies-all-set-for-a-legal-battle-with-kerala-go <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the Kerala cabinet on Friday decided to go for a judicial inquiry against the central agencies investigating the gold smuggling and related cases, the Enforcement Directorate, the National Investigation Agency and the CBI are preparing for a legal battle with the sleuths terming it “politically motivated” and an “election stunt” at a time when the model code of conduct is already in place in the poll-bound state.</p> <p>Leading from the front is the ED which has been drawn into a murky battle after the state Crime Branch registered a case against it. While the Kerala High Court declined to issue a stay on the probe based on the Kerala Police FIR against ED officials for allegedly forcing gold smuggling accused Swapna Suresh to name the chief minister in the case, the central agency is readying its armour.&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said the ED has submitted Swapna’s damning statement in court, which has mention of her links in the chief minister’s office and also evidence to prove that the complainants in the Crime Branch case were not present on the day Swapna was questioned by ED.&nbsp;</p> <p>But what is likely to drive the ED’s defence first is the argument that the accused in the Prevention of Money Laundering Case already under investigation by the central agency cannot use “political power” to scuttle an investigation against them. It would not only set a bad precedent, but would also mean that politicians and powerful bureaucrats can use their position to launch investigations against the probe agencies, said an investigator.&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the political class is affected, this tussle between the central and state agencies can have a bitter fall out on the police officials involved, said a security expert, as investigations were already underway in the PMLA case and any move to protect the accused can draw charges of abetment to the crime.&nbsp;</p> <p>The second argument of investigators in the case is that the proposed Commission does not hold any legal standing in probing role of investigating agencies in the state.</p> <p>“The central agencies are conducting the inquiries as per law,” said a senior official .</p> <p>Meanwhile, the terms of reference of the Commission are still not decided. Till the time the Election Commission clears the move, the central agencies are adopting a wait and watch policy and keeping their ammunition ready, if the legal battle heats up.</p> <p>Sleuths said the decision of the Kerala cabinet is politically motivated and that the central agencies are not concerned about “election stunts”.</p> <p>In any case , the fall out may not be pleasing for either the state police agencies or the central agencies as police officials are likely to get involved. Whether the political masters will face any heat soon remains to be seen.</p> Fri Mar 26 22:12:18 IST 2021 udhayanidhi-hurls-aiims-delay-brickbat-bjp-files-theft-complaint <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The sarcasm was not lost on anyone, when he showed a brick in his hand, standing atop his campaign vehicle. Campaigning in Vilathikulam near Madurai, DMK youth wing leader Udhayanidhi Stalin took to reminding the people about the delay in construction of an <a title="Palaniswami thanks Modi for choosing Madurai for AIIMS campus" href="">AIIMS campus in the region</a>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone for the AIIMS campus at Thoppur near Madurai in the presence of Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswamy in January 2019. The AIIMS campus turned into an election issue with Udhayanidhi reminding people about the delay in building it and the BJP lodging a police complaint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Do you remember the BJP and the AIADMK constructed an AIIMS hospital for the people. I have brought it with me in my hand,” he said, showing a red brick. His tactic seems to have irked the BJP and the AIADMK. The delay in construction of the AIIMS has remained an issue in Tamil Nadu. While the Centre appointed directors for the yet-to-be-built AIIMS, the project has not seen the light of day except for land acquisition in Madurai for over two years. And when Udhayanidhi spoke on this, it was construed as epic 'trolling' of the BJP. But the BJP, by filing a complaint, has yet again made it apparent that the construction has not yet begun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A BJP functionary from Kovilpatti on Thursday filed a complaint against Udhayanidhi Stalin, accusing him of stealing a brick from the construction site of the Madurai AIIMS. M. Neethipandian, a advocate, in his complaint said that Udhayanidhi, while campaigning for his party’s candidate in Vilathikulam, showed a brick, claiming he had taken it from the AIIMS premises, under construction in Madurai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is a punishable offence under section 380 of the IPC, as he has stolen it from the site,” said Neethipandian in his complaint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“To build an AIIMS hospital in Thoppur, Madurai, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid foundation on January 27, 2019. About two years later in December 2020, construction of the surrounding wall began. The secretary of the DMK youth wing, Udhayanidhi Stalin, has stolen a brick from AIIMS, Madurai, which is a protected property. He even admitted to this act by exhibiting the brick, during his campaign,” Neethipandian said in his complaint.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Sat Mar 27 08:56:47 IST 2021 voting-begins-in-1st-phase-of-assembly-polls-in-west-bengal-assam <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Polling began at 7am on Saturday in the first phase of Assembly polls in West Bengal and Assam amid tight security. Voting is being held in 47 constituencies of Assam and 30 in West Bengal in this phase.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>West Bengal</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 73 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 191 candidates in these 30 seats, most of which are located in the once-Naxalite-affected Jungle Mahal region. Total 73,80,942 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase. Of them, 37,52,938 are male and 36,27,949 female, while there are 55 third gender voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elections are being held following COVID-19 guidelines in all nine seats in Purulia, four in Bankura, four in Jhargram and six in Paschim Medinipur, besides the seven seats in high-stakes Purba Medinipur—the home turf of BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elections, which will continue till 6pm, are being held amid tight security with the Election Commission deploying around 730 companies of Central forces, guarding 10,288 polling booths housed in 7,061 premises, officials said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each company of the Central forces consists of 100 personnel, they said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides, 22,092 state police personnel have also been deployed at strategic locations, they added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Long queues were seen outside many booths even before polling began with people stepping out early to avoid the sweltering heat, besides the uncertainty of being able to cast their votes in case of violence later in the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the voters and political party workers were seen without masks amid a resurgent coronavirus outbreak. In some booths, the voters were provided masks, while sanitisers were made available at all the locations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trinamool Congress is contesting 29 of the 30 seats, while supporting an independent in the Joypur Assembly segment in Purulia, as the nomination of its official candidate, Ujjwal Kumar, was rejected by the EC due to a discrepancy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is also contesting 29 seats and backing ally AJSU Party of Jharkhand in Baghmundi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Left-Congress-ISF alliance has put up candidates in all 30 seats, even as there are "friendly fights" in some seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of these 30 seats, 27 were won by the TMC in the 2016 Assembly elections, the Congress bagged two and RSP one. However, the equations changed in 2019 with BJP making massive inroads in the tribal-dominated Jungle Mahal region, winning all five Lok Sabha constituencies—Purulia, Bankura, Jhargram, Medinipur and Bishnupur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tension was palpable at Tulsidi village in Purulia's Bandwan as an election vehicle was set on fire hours before the polling began. Forces are at present keeping a close vigil in the area, surrounded by forests that were once the hideouts of Maoists, officials said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Assam</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A total of 81.09 lakh voters—40,77,210 males and 40,32,481 females—are eligible to cast votes at 1,1537 polling stations in the first phase.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A total of 264 candidates are vying for the 47 seats, of which 42 are located in 11 districts of the Upper Assam and northern Assam regions and five seats in central Assam's Nagaon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A total of 37 MLAs are seeking re-elections: 24 from BJP, 6 each from Congress and AGP and one from AIUDF.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As many as 375 companies of Central and state security forces have been deployed for the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Key seats being decided in this phase include Majuli, from where Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is contesting. Sonowal is facing Rajib Lochan Pegu of Congress, whom he defeated in 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Assembly speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami (Jorhat) and Ministers Ranjit Dutta (Behali), Naba Kumar Doley (Jonai) and Sanjoy Kishan (Tinsukia) are some other prominent names in the fray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress leader Ripuan Bora is contesting from Gohpur against sitting BJP MLA Utpal Bora.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(With PTI inputs)</p> Sat Mar 27 07:41:33 IST 2021 rohingya-case-country-cant-be-capital-for-illegal-immigrants-centre-tells-sc <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The country cannot be the “capital” for illegal immigrants, the Centre told the Supreme Court which on Friday reserved order on a fresh plea seeking directions for immediate release of detained Rohingya refugees in Jammu and restrain the government from implementing any order deporting them to Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde refused to hear at this stage the intervention application filed by United Nations special rapporteur in the matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We will not hear you today. There is serious objection to it,” the bench told the counsel appearing for the UN special rapporteur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are closing it for order,” said the bench, which also comprised Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, after hearing submissions on the fresh plea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the arguments, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner, said Rohingya children were subjected to killing, maiming and sexual exploitation and Military in Myanmar has failed to respect international humanitarian law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said he is stating the problems which persist in Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said they are not refugees at all and this is the second round of litigation as the top court had earlier dismissed an application filed by the petitioner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There was a similar application for Assam earlier. They (petitioners) wanted that no Rohingya be deported, we had said that we will follow the law. They are illegal immigrants. We are always in touch with Myanmar and when they confirm that the individual is their citizen, then only deportation can take place,” he said.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bench asked can it be said that the government will deport only when Myanmar accepts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mehta said yes, the government cannot send an Afghan national to Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"We cannot be the capital for all illegal immigrants,” Mehta said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhushan referred to a verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and argued it has said that Myanmar has not presented any concrete measures aimed specifically at recognising the rights of the Rohingyas to exist as a protected group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that Jammu and Kashmir administration has detained Rohingyas in Jammu, who have refugee cards and they will soon be deported.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am seeking directions to not detain and deport these Rohingyas to Myanmar under Article 21 of the Constitution,” Bhushan said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the hearing, the counsel appearing for the United Nations special rapporteur referred to the application filed by him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The application filed earlier by the United Nations special rapporteur has said that the Centre's decision for mass deportation of Rohingya as being "impermissible under international human rights law" and India should ensure that the Rohingyas enjoy "equality before the law and equal access to judicial remedies and individualised forms of due process".</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 11, an interim plea was filed in a pending PIL seeking immediate release of detained Rohingya refugees in Jammu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plea also sought direction to Ministry of Home Affairs to expeditiously grant refugee identification cards through the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for Rohingyas in informal camps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The application filed by Mohammad Salimullah, a Rohingya refugee through advocate Prashant Bhushan, has said that it is filed in public interest in order to secure and protect the right against deportation of refugees in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plea said that it is filed to protect rights guaranteed under Article 14 and Article 21, read with Article 51(c) of the Constitution, against the deportation of Rohingya refugees who have taken refuge in India after escaping widespread violence and discrimination against their community in Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Release the detained Rohingya refugees immediately and direct the Union Territory government and the Ministry of Home Affairs to expeditiously grant Refugee identification cards through the FRRO for Rohingyas in informal camps,” it said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It sought direction to the Union Government to refrain from implementing any orders on deporting Rohingya refugees, who have been detained in the sub jail in Jammu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Violent attacks allegedly by Myanmar army men have led to an exodus of Rohingya tribals from the western Rakhine state in that country to India and Bangladesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of them, who had fled to India after the earlier spate of violence, have settled in Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-NCR and Rajasthan.&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 21:18:12 IST 2021 pm-modi-hopes-to-go-beyond-symbolism-on-trip-to-bangladesh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Bangladesh rolled out the red carpet for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he touched down in Dhaka on Friday morning. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was present at the tarmac as a special gesture setting the tone for two-day visit celebration of friendship and a war fought side by side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“India and Bangladesh are tied together culturally and in progress,’’ said Modi at the Bangladesh National Day programme. “Our goals are the similar as well as our challenge. Just we have like have opportunity in trade and we also face similar threat in terrorism,’’ he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is Modi’s first trip abroad after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. An important trip high on symbolism, the aim is to emphasise—especially to the neighbourhood—the special nature of the India-Bangladesh relationship joint by blood. “I also salute the brave soldiers of the Indian Army who stood with the brothers and sisters of Bangladesh in the ‘Muktijuddho’ (Liberation War). I am happy to see them present at this event today,” he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian contribution—and the connection—was also touched upon by an emotional Hasina who remembered the dark night when her family was assassinated. “In our Independence war, we always remember the contribution of India,’’ she said. “India was beside us during our good and bad times,’’ she added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ministry of external affairs has ensured that the trip is carefully crafted to woo Bangladeshi hearts—from the itinerary for Modi, which includes going out of Dhaka and visiting mausoleum of Sheikh Mujib to the coat worn by Modi—the Mujib coat—to the National Day celebration. Designed to cement friendship, the fabric was carefully chosen to be Khadi India's freedom fabric. The symbolism is unmistakable, especially, as Modi jacket has turned into a diplomatic power gift—the South Korean President Moon Jae-in was gifted the Modi jacket because he admired it. (An order of 100 coats with Khadi and Villages Industry Commission had been placed by the Indian High Commission for the occasion, according to reports).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But India hopes to go beyond just symbolism. “We have demonstrated that mutual trust and partnership we can solve all problems. The land boundary agreement illustrates that,’’ said Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And to ensure that this goes beyond just diplomacy, there has been an attempt to win the younger Bangladeshis. An invitation has been extended to 50 entrepreneurs to join start-ups in India is an attempt to find new connections. With an economy that is growing at 7 per cent, it is a chance for India to be part of the growth story.</p> Fri Mar 26 22:37:24 IST 2021 maharashtra-ajit-pawar-warns-stringent-measures-if-covid-19-situation-doesnt-improve-in-pune <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, on Friday, warned that some "stringent measures" will be taken if the COVID-19 situation did not improve in the next one week in Pune district.</p> <p>Pawar, who is also the guardian minister for Pune, issued the warning while addressing a press conference after reviewing the situation in the district.</p> <p>"I would like to tell people that the situation is becoming serious. If the situation (in terms of cases) remains the same, we will have to take more stringent measures in the district by the first week of April," he said.</p> <p>The deputy chief minister further warned people to follow all the COVID-19 norms such as using masks, physical distancing and hand hygiene.</p> <p>As many as 50 attendees will be permitted at weddings, while 20 persons are allowed at funerals, he said, adding that social and political events have been cancelled.</p> <p>Hotels and restaurants will be allowed to operate till 10 pm with a 50 per cent capacity, Pawar said.</p> <p>In view of the surge in infections, the state has decided to take control of 50 per cent of beds at private hospitals, he said.</p> <p>"We have already started a jumbo hospital in Pune and a jumbo facility in Pimpri Chinchwad will be operational from April. We are also starting other COVID-19 care facilities in the city," the deputy chief minister said.</p> <p>The number of beds in Sassoon General Hospital has been increased to 500, he said, adding that an officer has been appointed to ensure that the oxygen supply in hospitals remain uninterrupted.</p> <p>"We are in talks with an oxygen plant in Raigad district in case we need additional supply," he said.</p> <p>There are plans to double the vaccination centres in the district, he said.</p> <p>"We held a discussion with Union Minister Prakash Javadekar and we have sought additional vaccine doses for the district. He has agreed to look into the issue," Pawar said.&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 16:56:46 IST 2021 mp-hands-of-another-woman-severed-by-husband-third-incident-in-17-days <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Another incident of a husband severing the hands of his wife has been reported in Betul of Madhya Pradesh, the third incident of similar nature reported within 17 days. In two of the cases, the husbands suspected the character of the women and in all the cases axes were used to sever hands.</p> <p>Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has said that stricter laws will be made to ensure that such perpetrators get punished suitably. He said that these incidents are not of ordinary crime but of murder of faith as husbands have perpetrated them on women with whom they took oath to be together for several births.&nbsp;</p> <p>“These are heinous crimes. Are we living in barbaric middle ages in Madhya Pradesh? This cannot be tolerated and mere attempt to murder (section 307) charges will not suffice. Stricter laws have to be made and I am directing officials in this direction,” the CM said while talking to media.</p> <p>Chouhan also said that he has asked the director general of police (DGP) to ensure that charge sheets are filed against the perpetrators of the recent three cases at the earliest and the cases are taken up in fast-track courts. The CM said that awareness campaigns will be taken up against domestic violence, too.</p> <p>Madhya Pradesh reported sixth highest cases of crime against women (27,560) in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau 2019 report. Also, it reported the sixth highest cases (5486) of cruelty by husband or his family members (section 498-A), according to the same report. The states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Assam and Maharashtra record more crime against women compared to MP, the report shows, though the number of rape cases reported in MP is highest in the country.</p> <p>The latest incident occurred early Thursday morning in Chicholi of Betul and the woman Kavita Vanshkar was brought in to the Hamidia Hospital in Bhopal late on Thursday night. While doctors have re-attached one of her hand that was completely severed and the three finger of other hand, they have expressed apprehension on whether these will work properly.</p> <p>The husband, Raju Vanshkar has been arrested by the local police. Police sources said that he had frequent fights with his wife over small domestic matters and their 17-year-old daughter was asleep in the house when Raju attacked his wife early on Thursday morning.</p> <p>On March 22, an incident of similar nature was reported from Sagar district where a woman Aarti was attacked by her husband Randhir Singh within two-and-a-half-months of their love marriage. Randhir took Aarti out to jungles late in the night on the pretext of collecting firewood that he had cut earlier in the day, where she was attacked and both her hands almost totally severed, police sources said. The accused suspected Aarti of talking to other men over telephone, police said, adding that he had been arrested.</p> <p>The first of the heinous incidents was reported right in capital Bhopal on the night of March 9. Here, the husband, Pritam Singh Rajput attacked his wife Sangeeta in an inebriated condition at their home in Paras Colony, severing her left hand totally and left leg partially. Sangeeta was asleep at the time of the incident. Later the accused tried to attack the cops who reached the spot and a video of him asking the police to call an ambulance while smoking a cigarette in the balcony of his home had gone viral. He was also arrested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 16:54:47 IST 2021 ldf-govts-attempt-to-revive-economy-is-like-trying-to-start-car-without-petrol-rahul-gandhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who began his second leg of campaign for the April 6 assembly polls in Kerala, on Friday attacked the Central and the LDF governments over the "weak" economic condition.</p> <p>"The economic condition of the country and the state are weak and have become worse due to demonetisation and flawed GST. Both the governments have failed to revive the economy," Gandhi said at an election meeting in Palakkad in sweltering heat.</p> <p>The Congress leader arrived by helicopter from Coimbatore on a two-day visit and will be addressing meetings in Palakkad and Malappuram districts.</p> <p>Taking a swipe at the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF, he said its attempt to revive the economy was like trying to start a car without filling petrol.</p> <p>"We need to inject money into the economy. When we tried to introduce a job guarantee scheme, many said it was a waste of money. But later, they had to accept that it boosted the economy," he said.</p> <p>He claimed the NYAY scheme will inject money into the economy, enhancing the purchasing power of the common people, thus boosting the production sector.</p> <p>"This will create new jobs," he said.</p> Fri Mar 26 16:43:08 IST 2021 kerala-assembly-elections-2021-here-is-all-you-need-to-know <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Elections to the 140-member Kerala assembly will take place on April 6 with the Left Democratic Front looking to retain power and the United Democratic Front hoping to make a comeback. The BJP-led National Democratic Front has also launched a vigorous campaign, hoping to further improve their vote tally in the changed political scenario.</p> <p>Elections will be held in a single phase on April 6 and the counting of votes will take place on May 6. The tenure of the 14th Legislative Assembly will end on June 1.<br> &nbsp;</p> <p><b>Important dates</b></p> <p>Issue of Gazette Notification: March 12</p> <p>Last date of nomination: March 19</p> <p>Scrutiny of nomination: March 20</p> <p>Last date for withdrawal of candidature: March 22</p> <p>Date of polling: April 6</p> <p>Counting of votes: May 2<br> &nbsp;</p> <p>Total number of voters: 2,67,31,509</p> <p>Men: 1,37,79,263</p> <p>Women: 1,29,52,025</p> <p>Transgenders: 221</p> <p>First time voters aged 18 and 19: 2,99,258</p> <p>Total constituency: 140</p> <p>Seats required for majority: 71<br> &nbsp;</p> <p><b>Major alliances</b></p> <p><b>LDF: </b>CPI(M), CPI, Kerala Congress (M), Janata Dal (Secular), NCP, Loktantrik Janata Dal, INL, Congress (S), Kerala Congress (B), JKC</p> <p><b>UDF</b>: INC, IUML, RSP, Kerala Congress, Kerala Congress (Jacob), CMP, RMP&nbsp;</p> <p><b>NDA:</b> BJP, BDJS, AIADMK, Kamaraj Congress, JRS, Social Justice Party</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Current seat status</b></p> <p>LDF 91</p> <p>UDF 41</p> <p>NDA 1</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The LDF hopes that the welfare initiatives of the Pinarayi Vijayan government like service pension and free food kit, and the measures taken by it to effectively curb the COVID-19 pandemic would help them retain power. The opposition, on the other hand, has been raking up a plethora of issues including gold smuggling, deep sea fishing contracts, alleged backdoor appointments in govt jobs and Sabarimala women entry to corner the government.</p> <p>The BJP, which has only one seat in the current house, hopes to make a major gain this election as the party has fielded an array of celebrity leaders including Metrman E. Sreedharan and former DGP Jacob Thomas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 18:01:04 IST 2021 maharashtra-night-curfew-across-state-from-sunday-guidelines-issued-for-holi-easter-festivities <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the wake of continued rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra, the state government decided to impose night curfew across the state from Sunday.</p> <p>According to media reports, the decision was taken after a meeting of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray with district magistrates to assess the pandemic situation in the state.</p> <p>Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Gujarat collectively account for 80 per cent of the new COVID-19 cases. Maharashtra had recorded 35,952 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, the highest one-day rise since the pandemic began.</p> <p>The CM instructed authorities concerned to ensure strict adherence to night curfew rules.</p> <p>Accordingly, malls will remain closed from 8 pm to 7am&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Meanwhile, the state government has also issued guidelines for Holi, Good Friday, Easter celebrations.</p> <p>Holi will be celebrated on March 28 and Rang Panchami falls a day later.<br> </p> <p>People should celebrate Holi in a simple manner and crowding should be avoided, the state government said. "The festival should be celebrated in a simple manner, observing social distancing norms and without coming together in any way given the increasing spread of COVID-19. Rang Panchami too should be celebrated in a simple manner," the government said in a statement.</p> <p>"No big religious or cultural programmes should be organised on the day of Holi and Rang Panchami," the government added.</p> <p>The state government also urged the Christian community to observe Good Friday (on April 2) and celebrate Easter Sunday (on April 4) in a simple manner in view of the spread of the disease. It said adherence to COVID-19 protocols, including wearing masks, using hand sanitisers etc, must be ensured, adding that efforts must also be made to broadcast prayer meets online. "No religious programme that can attract crowd in any way should be organised. Besides, procession should not be taken out," the statement said.</p> <p><b>— With PTI inputs</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 20:28:43 IST 2021 assam-goes-to-polls-in-1st-phase-on-saturday-will-caa-be-the-deciding-factor0 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Forty-seven constituencies in Assam will go to polls on Saturday, almost deciding on which alliance will rule the state. This large chunk of seats out of the 126 constituencies had last time voted overwhelmingly in favour of the ruling BJP as it managed to win 35 seats. The area dominated by the indigenous and tea tribes saw high-pitched campaign this time in the run up to the polling. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP chief J.P. Nadda and a battery of ministers including Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan kept up the attack on the Congress alliance accusing it of siding with the illegal migrants. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and his cabinet colleague Himanta Biswa Sarma, too, carried out intensive campaign here.</p> <p>Migration has been an emotive issue in the state which has witnessed violent protests over the decades. The enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act that provides citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring countries had led to large-scale protests in Assam in 2019 and 2020, till the pandemic slowed them down. The anger was directed against the ruling BJP as the locals felt that the new law will allow citizenship to Bengali Hindus who were culturally different from the Assamese. While the CAA protests across the country were primarily organised by the Muslims fearing enactment of NRC, in Assam these were largely held by the Hindus.</p> <p>The upper Assam region which goes to poll on Saturday witnessed the maximum anti-CAA protests. The Congress and the newly formed regional parties in response to the agitation—Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal—are hopeful of doing well in this region. In the first phase, the BJP is contesting 39 of the 47 seats, and the Congress 43, remaining by their allies.</p> <p>However, the BJP has managed to recover much of its lost ground as it managed to stir debate on the illegal Muslim migrants as people were reminded of Mughal invasion. The Congress has aligned with Badrudin Ajmal's AIUDF. In the last few months, as the BJP toned down its CAA rhetoric, the sentiment on the ground also appears to have changed—a development which has given hope to the saffron party. Even in the BJP's 10 manifesto promises, the party did not mention CAA, while it promised to bring a revised NRC.</p> <p>The Congress, on other hand, is banking on reviving the anti-CAA sentiment, promising to bring a new law against the Centre's Act. As opposed to the BJP's high octane campaign, the grand old party focussed on padyatras, corner meetings, reaching out to maximum people telling them about their five guarantees—five lakh jobs, Rs 2000 per month to home makers, 200 free electricity units, new law against CAA, and increasing daily wage of tea workers from Rs 365 from Rs 167.</p> <p>Congress' Rahul Gandhi and Priyanaka Gandhi started their campaign in the region primarily attacking the BJP and the CAA law which, they claimed, would affect the Assamese identity. The Congress has tried to focus its campaign on highlighting the syncretic Assamese culture, as opposed to BJP's Hindutva pitch.</p> <p>The Congress hopes that if it does well in these seats, improving on its 2016 tally, it will add up to its number from other parts of Assam which has significant Muslim presence. In terms of arithmetic, the Congress' alliance with AIUDF, and Bodoland Peoples Front—based on 2016 elections vote share—has advantage. However, a polarisation based on illegal Muslim migrants issue is what the BJP is hoping for.</p> <p>The ruling party is also relying on the beneficiaries of its central and state schemes to stand by it during the polling. As the BJP in the last five years has been successful in launching several schemes, and even making it possible for direct cash transfers to people, it hopes that it will overcome the anti-CAA sentiment.</p> <p>The regional outfits, AJP and Raijor Dal, are also focussing on the anti-CAA sentiment. They have the support of influential All Assam Students Union (AASU) which has taken a political stance in these elections. Their campaign has been low key and focussed on small meetings. But as the anti-CAA sentiment cooled down, these regional parties are feeling the change in atmosphere. However, these parties are expected to garner significant votes. Only, the results will show if they have been able to dent the BJP or the Congress alliance the most. Also, the political experiment of AASU has been successful since the time when the AGP was carved out by leaders from AASU's camp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 20:21:27 IST 2021 former-karnataka-minister-ramesh-jarkiholi-booked-for-rape <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Former minister Ramesh Jarkiholi caught in the sex-for-job scandal is now facing the risk of arrest as the woman in the CD has sent a written complaint to the Cubbon Park police station in Bengaluru through her lawyer, accusing the BJP MLA of rape and criminal intimidation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Friday, almost 24 days after the CD surfaced on social media forcing Jarkiholi to resign as the minister, the woman who is still in hiding, released a third video statement thanking the people and leaders for supporting her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"I gathered the courage to file a complaint against Jarkiholi as I am getting the support from people, political leaders and various organisations. My life is in danger," she stated in her complaint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Cubbon Park police have filed an FIR under the Indian Penal Code Sections 354A (sexual harassment), 376 (sexual assault), 417 (Cheating), 504 (intentional insult), 506 (criminal intimidation) and IT Act 67A (transmission of material containing sexually explicit act). The police has also issued a notice to the complainant through her lawyer asking her to appear in person for investigation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A series of video statements being released by the woman from an undisclosed location has caused a huge embarrassment to the Special Investigation Team headed by Soumendu Mukherjee probing the case as they are unable to trace her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two days back, the woman had released a second video statement expressing apprehension over the SIT being neutral. "I had sent a video statement to the police commissioner on March 12. But it was released the next day, on March 13, after Jarkiholi lodged a complaint. This has brought me to doubt the intent of the SIT, as I now suspect they might be favouring Jarkiholi," the woman had claimed. She had also sought protection for her parents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a handwritten complaint sent through the lawyer, the woman has narrated her circumstances under which she had met Jarkiholi. "I came to Bangalore in search of job and for the first time met Ramesh Jarkiholi, who was a minister, regarding a documentary film. He had taken my mobile number and later called me several times and inquired about my family too. He started calling frequently and promised to get me a government job and I should return the favour by co-operating with him. I believed him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The complainant alleged that the minister had made video call and told her he was staying at Delhi's Karnataka Bhavan. "He asked me to undress and show him my private parts and I obliged. He started mouthing vulgar words. After he returned to Bangalore, he invited me to his apartment and took me to his room and indulged in sexual act. This happened twice and I was scared to protest as he is a powerful man. When I asked him about the government job, he avoided the topic and told me I could take some money from him instead and the job could wait."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alleging that Jarkiholi was upset when she finally confronted him, the complainant stated, "I asked him why he was denying me a job after using me. He was angry and called me a prostitute and told me that government job was out of question for people like me and asked me to leave. The next thing I see is that our audio conversations and video of our sexual act being telecast in the TV channels. This was a ploy of Jarkiholi from preventing me from lodging a complaint against him," she claimed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Claiming that her life was under threat, the woman has sought protection to her self and her family. "He is trying to prevent me from reaching the police station to file my complaint by using the police department. He is tarnishing my image so that no one comes forward to support me. I am pained to see that people who are trying to support me are being harassed. I am unable to come on person. So I am sending the complainant through my lawyer Jagadish. My parents have attempted suicide unable to take the pressure due to the mental harassment I am enduring. I urge the police to protect us," said the woman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jarkiholi made counter-allegations against the woman and said he was unperturbed by the charges. "I have the power to topple a government and install a new one. I will not be cowed down by anyone or any CD. I knew this would happen (she would complain)... after all, she is a girl who agreed to exhibit her body before the whole world. My game will start from tomorrow. I will not seek a bail too. I appeal to the police commissioner to consider my FIR before taking up her complaint. I reiterate it is a big political conspiracy to malign me. The SIT has recovered Rs 10 lakh from the house of the kingpin of the conspiracy," claimed Jarkiholi.</p> Fri Mar 26 19:57:02 IST 2021 bharat-bandh-railway-says-impact-limited-to-punjab-haryana <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Railways on Friday said except in some locations in Punjab and Haryana, the Bharat Bandh called by farmer unions protesting the Central agri laws had "almost zero impact" on rail services across the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the morning, protestors had squatted on railway tracks at 44 locations across the two states which led to four Shatabdi trains being cancelled, 35 other passenger trains detained and the movement of 40 goods trains affected, according to a northern railway spokesperson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Barring some limited number of trains in Punjab and Haryana, the bandh has had almost ZERO impact across the nation. Other than in these two states, around five to six trains were delayed for some time. Less than 0.5 per cent of trains impacted nationally. Trains are running smoothly," said Railway spokesperson D J Narain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 44 locations where train movement has been disrupted fall under the Delhi, Ambala and Ferozepur divisions of the railways. The norther railway spokespern, however, said that now things have normalised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Samkyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has called for the bandh from 6 am to 6 pm to mark four months of the farmers' agitation at Delhi's three borders -- Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders demanding a complete repeal of the three farm laws and a legal guarantee for minimum support price on their crops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 18:50:49 IST 2021 sc-tells-punjab-govt-to-hand-over-don-turned-politician-mukhtar-ansari-to-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Punjab government to hand over custody of gangster-turned-politician <a title="Jailed gangster MLA Mukhtar Ansari suffers heart attack" href="">Mukhtar Ansari</a>, who is lodged in Rupnagar jail, to Uttar Pradesh Police.<br> </p> <p>A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and R.S. Reddy said that the custody be handed over to the state of Uttar Pradesh within two weeks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The top court delivered the verdict on the plea of Uttar Pradesh government seeking a direction to the Punjab government and Rupnagar jail authority to immediately hand over the custody of Ansari to the district jail in Banda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 4, the top court was told by Punjab government that the Yogi Adityanath government has got no fundamental right to seek Ansari’s transfer from Rupnagar jail to a district jail in Banda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ansari is lodged in district jail Rupnagar in Punjab in connection with an alleged extortion case since January 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is also accused in several cases of heinous crimes lodged in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In hearing in the case earlier in March, the Uttar Pradesh government argued Ansari had been dodging the judicial system and was running his illegal activities from Rupnagar jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Uttar Pradesh alleged in the apex court that there is “collusion” between Ansari and Punjab Police, but the Amarinder Singh government refuted these claims and raised questions over the maintainability of plea filed by the Yogi Adityanath government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In its affidavit filed earlier in the apex court, Punjab had referred to the medical condition of Ansari and said that he had been undergoing treatment at the jail hospital as well as other hospitals from time to time since January 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While referring to the medical condition and advice of doctors, Punjab had said that custody of Ansari “could not be handed over to the state of Uttar Pradesh due to the specific advice of the medical officers/medical board/specialists” from time to time.</p> Fri Mar 26 15:07:17 IST 2021 india-south-korea-reaffirm-support-to-initiatives-to-promote-peace-stability-in-the-region <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>South Korean Defence Minister Suh Wook, on Friday, held bilateral talks on defence cooperation with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh. Sun Wook is on a three-day visit to New Delhi to bolster military cooperation between the two countries. Both leaders reaffirmed their support to multilateral initiatives to promote lasting peace and stability in the region and beyond.</p> <p>The defence and security engagements between India and Republic of Korea (RoK) have grown exponentially over the past few years. The latest round of talks explored new domains of bilateral defence cooperation and avenues to strengthen the long-standing bilateral defence partnership.</p> <p>Wook will also visit 50 Para Brigade and 60 Para Field Hospital in Agra to offer tribute to the heroes of Korean war.</p> <p>Both sides have also agreed to work on a roadmap for defence manufacturing in India. Indian private sector company Larsen and Toubro (L&amp;T) had signed a transfer of technology contract with South Korean company Hanwha Corporation to deliver K9 Vajra self-propelled howitzer for the Indian Army. Till date, the Army has received 100 such artillery guns.</p> <p>"Rajnath Singh and Suh Wook acknowledged that the bilateral defence cooperation has broadened significantly in scale and scope across Tri-Service as well as agencies dealing with defence technology and industry," according to a statement issued by the ministry of defence. Both the countries have also found common ground on several multilateral fora and engagements, the statement read.</p> <p>The ministers exchanged views on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the defence and security engagements as well as best practices followed by the armed forces of both nations. Rajnath Singh lauded stellar contribution of RoK in the pandemic mitigation efforts.</p> <p>"They reaffirmed their support to multilateral initiatives to promote lasting peace and stability in the region and beyond. The bilateral relations between both the countries are set to grow further and the meeting between them will give it the necessary impetus to take it to the next level," an MoD official said.</p> <p>The ministers also expressed satisfaction over the commitment exhibited by different agencies of both countries to sustain structured annual dialogues at various levels of leadership through virtual means when travel and physical engagements became increasingly challenging during the ongoing pandemic. This has kept up the momentum of bilateral defence engagements. The armed forces of both countries hope to approach 2021 with renewed confidence, the MoD statement read.</p> <p>Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, Chief of Army Staff General M.M. Naravane, Secretary (Defence Production) Raj Kumar and secretary, Department of Defence R&amp;D, and chairman, Defence Research &amp; Development Organisation (DRDO) Dr G. Satheesh Reddy formed part of the Indian delegation during the talks.</p> <p>Earlier, Rajnath Singh and Suh Wook jointly inaugurated the India-Korea Friendship Park in a ceremony to mark the occasion at Delhi Cantonment. The park is a symbol of close relations between both the countries and acknowledges the contribution of the Indian Army’s Medical Mission during the Korean War. The presence of distinguished guests from the Korean War Veterans Association during the inauguration ceremony was an acknowledgement of the event. Both the ministers planted a sapling each to mark the momentous occasion.&nbsp;</p> <p>Suh Wook felicitated Korean War Veterans Association of India general secretary&nbsp; Anil Malhotra on the occasion.</p> Fri Mar 26 19:28:00 IST 2021 modi-uses-new-vvip-air-india-one-jet-for-1st-foreign-trip <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday went from Delhi to Dhaka on a <a title="This is how VVIP 'Air India 1' jet for Modi, Kovind looks like" href="">new custom-made VVIP aircraft</a>, using it for the first time on a foreign journey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The prime minister is on a two-day visit to Bangladesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India and Bangladesh are currently celebrating the golden jubilee of the 1971 war victory. India had defeated Pakistan in December 1971, which led to the creation of Bangladesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Boeing-777 aircraft, which has registration number VT-ALW, was delivered by Boeing to the Indian government in October last year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The aircraft, which has call sign AI-1 or Air India One, departed from Delhi around 8am and landed at the Dhaka airport around 10.30am on Friday, government officials said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another custom-made Boeing-777 aircraft, with registration number VT-ALV, was also delivered by the American aircraft giant to the Indian government in October last year. Both custom-made planes are to fly only the president, vice president and prime minister of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These two aircraft were part of Air India's commercial fleet for a few months in 2018 before they were sent back to Boeing for retrofitting for VVIP travel. President Ram Nath Kovind <a title="Kovind boards Air India One VVIP jet for inaugural trip" href="">flew on the Boeing-777 for the first time</a> in November last year on a trip to Chennai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Boeing-777 planes have state-of-the-art missile defence systems called Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures and Self-Protection Suites.</p> Fri Mar 26 13:06:38 IST 2021 telangana-braces-for-second-wave-of-covid-19-virus-expected-to-spread-rapidly <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the last 10 days, the number of COVID-19 patients more than doubled in Telangana, forcing the administration to gear up for the second wave. The situation in Greater Hyderabad is similar to the other metros and bigger cities across the country, which are witnessing a spike in the number of infections. Unlike other states where a few towns have been placed under lockdown, the Telangana government ruled out the possibility of a lockdown anytime in the near future.</p> <p>However, officials admit that a ‘silent transmission’ is underway with schools and colleges acting as the hotspots. In the recent past, 10 to 50 cases were reported on a daily basis from various educational institutions in the state. Mobile teams dispatched by the health department to conduct random COVID-19 tests in schools were taken by surprise by the number of asymptomatic students. To control the infection in the wake of the onslaught of the second wave, the government shut down schools, colleges and hostels across the state. Meanwhile, it was also observed that high number of cases were being detected in the districts which share borders with Maharashtra.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The virus can spread 30 per cent faster,” said G.S. Rao, director of public health, Telangana, comparing the second wave with the first. “There are certain salient features of the second wave. The first one is that the spread is very fast. With this, there will be a huge morbidity within the community. Compared to the first wave, the severity will be low. The mortality is going to be very very low. There will also be less hospitalisation this time.”</p> <p>Environmental changes, negligence of people and the birth of new variants have all contributed to the onset of second wave and the surge, according to Rao.</p> <p>More number of youngsters seem to be getting infected in the new round of the pandemic. Patients aged between 20 and 40 make up for almost half of the daily positive cases recorded in the state. More than a quarter of the cases are being detected in Greater Hyderabad region on a daily basis.</p> <p>As the peak of the second wave is expected sometime between the last week of April and second week of May, the state is looking to ramp up vaccination. The state is also working towards intensifying surveillance activities.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>As on Friday, the total number of cases stood at 3.05 lakh and the death toll around 1,700. More than 8.5 lakh people have been vaccinated at various centres across the state.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 17:45:03 IST 2021 noted-journalist-author-anil-dharker-dies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Noted journalist and author Anil Dharker died on Friday, a former colleague said.</p> <p>Dharker (74) was the founder and director of the Mumbai International Literary Festival, held in November every year and was also the founder and director of Literature Live! which holds literary evenings throughout the year in the city.</p> <p>He underwent a bypass procedure at a Mumbai hospital on Thursday and died there Friday morning, the colleague said.</p> <p>Over a five-decade-long illustrious career, Dharker had been a columnist and writer, an architect, a member of the advisory committee of the film censor board and more.</p> <p>Dharker had been the editor of a variety of publications, starting with <i>Debonair</i> (a monthly), <i>Mid-Day</i> and <i>Sunday Mid-Day</i> (evening papers); <i>The Independent</i>, a morning broad-sheet from the Times of India group and <i>The Illustrated Weekly of India</i>.</p> <p>He was a columnist for <i>The Indian Express</i> newspaper and author <i>The Romance Of Salt</i>, a book on Mahatma Gandhis Dandi March. Dharker had also worked as a TV show producer and anchor, and head of a news television channel.</p> <p>He was a member of the Advisory Boards of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Doordarshan, the Children`s Film Society of India and several film funds for the production of films in India. He was also a recipient of several awards for journalism.</p> <p>Expressing grief over Dharker’s demise, columnist Bachi Karkaria tweeted: "Extremely saddened by the passing of the many talented Anil Dharker. I can safely say no other Indian Litfest curator had his deep, emotional commitment or drive. Knew him for well nigh 50 years. Flourish as much up there, dear Anil."</p> <p>In her tributes to Dharker, fellow author and columnist Shobhaa De tweeted: Goodbye dearest Anil. An elegant mind, a stylish writer, and a loyal friend. You will be missed by all those whose lives you touched. RIP."</p> <p>Lyricist and Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) Prasoon Joshi tweeted," Saddened to hear about Anil Dharker passing away. Will miss and cherish the discussions we had about life. A stimulating mind, nurturer of literature and art who thrived on ideas."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 26 12:49:23 IST 2021