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Jaish Terrorist And Pulwama Attack Conspirator Killed In J&K Encounter

SRINAGAR, July 31: The encounter in J&K on Saturday in which two top Jaish terrorists were gunned down brought a somewhat closure to 2019's Pulwama attack as both of them were involved in the 2019's attack on security forces. While one was identified as Abu Saifullah aka Adnan, Ismail and Lamboo, the other was later identified as Sameer Dar, the cousin of Pulwama attacker Adil Ahmad Dar.

Both Sameer and Saifullah were chargesheeted by the National Investigation Agency. IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar said there were 19 terrorists accused in the Pulwama terror attack. Out of them, eight have been killed in encounters, seven have been arrested and four are still absconding.

According to sources, Sameer Ahmad Dar was Jaish's local recruit and was active since 2018. In 2018, Sameer left his home in Pulwama for Kashmir University following which his family also filed a missing report. His photo with "illegal weapons" also went viral on social media. He was operating in South Kashmir along with Saifullah.

Apart from his involvement in the Pulwama attack in which 40 security personnel were killed, Sameer was part of "anti-national demonstrations" in the funeral of terrorists, and thereby "jeopardising national security and provoking youth for law and order in that area".

The Jaish terrorist was active in recent months. In June, Sameer Dar and his associates attacked SPO Fayaz Ahmad at the Hariparigam area of Awantipora, killing Ahmad, his wife and daughter. On July 24, Sameer and his associates killed one Javaid Ahmed Malik, son of Ghulam Mohammad Malik at Lurgam Tral, sources said.

Saifullah ail Alvi, the IED expert, was from the family of JeM chief Masood Azhar and had trained the suicide bomber, Adil Dar, who carried out the Pulwama attack.

Saturday's encounter took place in the forest area of Namibian and Marsar and the general area of Dachigam in Pulwama. Security forces had inputs about the presence of terrorists there.

"Firstly, it brings closure to the Pulwama incident because he was one of the masterminds for having trained a local youth Adil (Dar) who eventually blew himself up in the IED attack. Ever since, he has been responsible to continue to train people in making IED and deployment of IEDs against the security forces," an Army officer said.

BJP's Babul Supriyo Quits Politics for 'Social Work'

NEW DELHI, July 31: Days after he posted a series of cryptic social media posts setting off speculation about his possible retirement from politics, singer-turned-politician Babul Supriyo on Saturday confirmed he was quitting and said ‘goodbye’ on Facebook.

“Alvida. Am not going to any other party – TMC, Congress, CPIM, nowhere. I am confirming that nobody has called me. I am going nowhere. I am a one-team player! Have always supported one team #MohunBagan – Have been with only one party – BJP West Bengal. That’s it!!

“I have stayed for too long… I will leave my house (govt allotted residence) within one month. Resigning from my MP post too,” the BJP MP and ex-Union Minister wrote.

Sources say he has sought an appointment from the speaker tomorrow to submit his resignation.

The two-time member of Parliament was among the 12 ministers who were dropped from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet on July 7 as part of a rejig. His fate was likely sealed when he lost to the Trinamool Congress’s Aroop Biswas in the April-May West Bengal assembly elections.

In a lengthy post in Bengali on social media, the BJP leader said: “I have made some of you happy, some sad but after a long discussion, am saying am leaving.

It’s not possible to stay in politics and do social work. Let me settle myself.

The last few days, I have gone to Amit Shah and JP Nadda Ji, I have told them what I feel.”

“I will never forget their love and so I can’t go to them, I don’t have the audacity to go to them and say this. I have decided what I will do; I had decided long back so if I go now they may feel am bargaining and when that is not right I don’t want them to have the wrong idea. I only pray they don’t misunderstand me.”

During the first term of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, Supriyo served as a minister of state for urban development, housing and urban poverty alleviation from November 2014 to July 2016, and minister of state for heavy industries and public enterprises from July 2016 to May 2019. He also served as minister of state for environment.

The Asansol MP has also had a difficult relationship with state BJP president Dilip Ghosh.

When asked about Supriyo’s decision, Ghosh was curt. "I don’t check out anyone’s Facebook, Twitter profile. If someone’s leaving the party, it’s their personal decision.”

Continuing to pour his heart out on Facebook on Saturday, the Asansol MP wrote: “I have to answer one question because it’s pertinent! Questions will arise why do I want to leave politics. Is there any relation with the fact that I lost Ministry? Yes, there is a relation I will not hide. There is a big difference between 2014 and 2019.

At that point in time, I was the only person with a BJP ticket (with due respect to Ahluwalia Ji, he had support from GJM) but today in Bengal BJp is the main opposition party. Now various new young leaders and senior leaders are also there. Party will reach a new height in their leadership so whether somebody stays or not I do not matter.”

He also hinted at ‘differences with the party’. “Am responsible for that as I put up Facebook posts, but the differences between senior leaders have damaged the party. They did not help ground workers. This isn’t rocket science,” he wrote as signed off.

Milind Soman's Wife Ankita Calls Out 'Racism' in India

MUMBAI, July 31: Bollywood actor and supermodel Milind Soman’s wife Ankita Konwar has called out the hypocrisy as people across the country celebrated after Mirabai Chanu won a silver medal and India’s first in the ongoing Tokyo Olympics 2020 and still a section make racist comments against people from Northeast-India.

Ankita, who is a fitness enthusiast, criticized some Indians who congratulated Chanu’s achievement in Tokyo. She claimed that people from Northeast are often called names and they are only considered Indian when they win a medal for their country.

She tweeted, “If you’re from Northeast India, you can become an Indian ONLY when you win a medal for the country. Otherwise we are known as “chinky” “Chinese” “Nepali” or a new addition “corona”. India is not just infested with casteism but racism too. Speaking from my experience.”

She followed the tweet with a hashtag of “hypocrites.” Ankita received a mixed response from people. While some supported and empathized with her, others believed it was a negative and offensive approach.

In an interview, she talked in length about her own awful experiences of racism. Konwar recalled an incident, when she was coming to India from Maldives.

She was stopped at the airport as the airport officials refused to believe that she hailed from India, despite showing her passport.

“We can’t close our eyes to things that are happening in front of us. How long will you be sweeping it off? You’ve to be courageous to face the flaws in the system in the country.”

She signed off by hoping that one day, every North-Eastern would not be judged just on the basis of how he/she looks.

Pegasus Row 'Non-Issue': Minister Slams Opposition Protests In Parliament

NEW DELHI, July 30: As Opposition protests over alleged snooping using Pegasus spyware continue to disrupt Parliamentary proceedings, Union minister Pralhad Joshi on Friday said the controversy was a "non-issue" and that the government was ready for discussions on people-related issues.

The Pegasus spyware issue has snowballed into a political controversy, disrupting Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha since the start of the Monsoon session on July 19. IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has given a statement on the issue in both the Houses but the Opposition parties are not satisfied and are demanding specific answers.

As yet another day of Lok Sabha proceedings were adjourned due to vociferous protests, Pralhad Joshi, the Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister, urged the protesting members to allow the House to function while speaking during the Question Hour.

While describing the Opposition's behaviour as "unfortunate", the minister said in the Lower House that the spyware issue was not a serious one.

Noting that the IT Minister has already given a detailed statement on the issue in both the Houses, Pralhad Joshi said the protests are over a "non-issue, non-serious issue".

"There are so many issues directly related to the people of India... government is ready for discussions," he said.

This week, the Lower House passed some bills without much discussion amid the din.

"We don't want to pass bills without discussions," Pralhad Joshi asserted. Amid uproar, Lok Sabha proceedings were adjourned for the day.

Earlier, the House was adjourned for half an hour till noon.

As soon as the House met for the day, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury sought to raise certain issues but was not allowed.

During Question Hour, Opposition members raised slogans and displayed placards as they protested on Pegasus spyware controversy and other issues.

Delhi Assembly passes resolution terming Rakesh Asthana’s appointment as ‘unconstitutional’

NEW DELHI, July 29: The ruling AAP on Thursday slammed the Centre over the appointment of Rakesh Asthana as the Commissioner of Delhi Police, alleging the move was aimed at 'harassing' the party leaders.

Raising the issue in a short duration discussion on the first day of the Monsoon session of the Delhi Assembly, AAP MLA Sanjiv Jha moved a resolution terming Asthana's appointment as 'unconstitutional' and against Supreme Court directions.

The resolution expressed 'disapproval' against the controversial Gujarat-cadre officer being 'forced upon Delhi' as its police commissioner.

The Union government had on Tuesday appointed Asthana as the Delhi Police commissioner, giving him a one-year extension on the new post days before his retirement.

Asthana, a 1984-batch IPS officer, was serving as the director-general of the Border Security Force and was due to retire on July 31.

Jha also questioned Asthana's knowledge of Delhi and policing in the city as he was a Gujarat-cadre officer.

Participating in the debate, AAP MLAs Gulab Singh, Akhilesh Pati Tripathi, Somnath Bharti and B S Joon, supported Jha's resolution and alleged that Asthana was brought to Delhi to 'muzzle and harass the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)”.

Tripathi asserted that AAP leaders and workers were not scared by Asthana's appointment and added, 'We are born out of revolution. We are not like the Congressmen in Gujarat.' AAP MLA Bharti questioned the purpose behind Asthana's appointment, alleging that he has been “brought to harass AAP MLAs, councilors and the chief minister'.

Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Ramvir Singh Bidhuri called Asthana an 'honest and decorated' IPS officer who was awarded the President’s Police Medal twice.

'Rakesh Asthana successfully investigated the Godhara carnage and Purulia arms drop cases. He also investigated the land scam related to the son-in-law of a political party chief. The House should welcome his appointment,' he said.

In his reply over the debate in the House, Delhi Home Minister Satyendar Jain dared Bidhuri for action against the 'son-in-law' he was not naming and added that the BJP and Congress are 'two sides of the same coin'.

He supported the resolution, saying the central government should not have defied the Supreme Court directions while making the appointment.

The resolution was accepted by the House with a voice vote.

'Hum Akele Kuch Nahi': Mamata Calls on Sonia Gandhi in Big Show of Opposition Unity; Rahul Present

NEW DELHI, July 28: Even as she remained ambivalent on the Opposition’s face to take on the BJP, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi today while powering through a packed schedule in a bid to resurrect a united Opposition to take on the BJP juggernaut in the 2024 general elections.

Sources said Rahul also attended the meeting.

“Hum akele koi kuch nahi hai (alone we are nothing). Everyone has to come on board,” she was quoted as saying after the meeting.

“Our meeting was fruitful. We discussed many issues including COVID-19 and Pegasus besides a strong opposition. I personally believe that we need to be united to defeat the BJP. The Centre should respond to the Pegasus issue in the Parliament. Why are they mum on the Pegasus issue?”

When she was asked once again who will be the face of the opposition, she said, “I am not a leader but I am a cadre. I am a street person. I will work as a worker.”

The Bengal chief minister is in Delhi for five days. She had met with senior Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma yesterday.

Before the meeting, Mamata spoke to a handful of reporters, where she clarified that she had no leaning towards being the prime minister.

“I want to help all the opposition parties to bell the cat. I don’t want to be a leader, but a simple cadre,” she said on the leadership issue.

“I am not a political astrologer. It depends on the situation, structure. I have no problem if someone else leads. When the matter is discussed we can decide. I cannot impose,” Banerjee told the media when asked if she would be the face of the Opposition.

Recently, while addressing the ‘Ekushey July’ (Martyrs’ Day on July 21) speech virtually from her residence at Kalighat in South Kolkata, she had said, “It is difficult to predict what will happen in 2024 (Lok Sabha Poll) but we have to start preparing for it now. I would like to request senior leaders like Sharad Pawar ji to arrange a meeting (of Opposition leaders) in Delhi as I will be in the national capital. We can’t afford to waste time. I will work as an ordinary worker and I will follow your instructions to fight against this dangerous government at the Centre.”

She further said, “We need to work now on a formula against the BJP considering the 2024 Polls because ‘azadi khatre mein hai’ (freedom is in danger). Therefore, let’s unite to save our country because we have only two and half years left (for 2024 Lok Sabha polls). I felt that the alliance just before the poll will not work and therefore we have to work on mission 2024 from now onwards.”

This is not the first time Mamata that diluted the issue over who will be the face of the united force against the BJP.

In November 2018, in a carefully scripted speech, she refused to name any leader as the face of the ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

This time too, sensing that projecting an individual face could jeopardise her effort to bring all Opposition parties under an umbrella – Mamata on Wednesday clarified that she will work as an ordinary worker and she will listen to the instructions of other members of the united force against the BJP.

Congress Not Letting Parliament Run, Expose Them, Modi Tells BJP MPs

NEW DELHI, July 27: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday attacked the Congress, accusing it of not allowing the monsoon session of parliament to function, and asked BJP MPs to "expose the party before the public and the media".

The session has been marked by protests from the opposition and demands for discussions on the Pegasus phone-hacking row, the farm laws and other issues.

Addressing a meeting of the BJP's parliamentary party, he accused the Congress of deliberately spurning attempts at resolving an impasse that has seen little, if any, work in this session.

The Prime Minister pointed to the Congress' boycott of last week's all-party meeting to review the COVID-19 situation in the country, and said the party had also prevented others from attending. At today's meeting Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said vaccines for children were likely by August.

The Prime Minister - who was forced to cut short his speech due to slogan-shouting opposition leaders when he rose to introduce new ministers on July 19 - asked his party MPs to "expose this behaviour of the Congress and some opposition parties in front of the media and the public".

Modi has taken aim at the Congress several times over the past week. Earlier, during a smaller meeting of BJP MPs, he called its actions "irresponsible and unfortunate".

No business has been conducted in parliament this session since the Pegasus row erupted July 18.

Yesterday the government reached out to the opposition to end the deadlock, amid new demands from the opposition that Home Minister Amit Shah resign and the Prime Minister be investigated.

This morning the Rajya Sabha was adjourned for an hour at 11.24 after yet more opposition protests over Pegasus and the farm laws. This was after CPM MP Elaram Kareem and Congress MP Shaktisinh Gohil gave a 'suspension of business' notice to discuss Pegasus.

On Monday the Rajya Sabha was adjourned five times.

Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi gave a 'suspension of business' notice in the Lok Sabha to discuss the Assam-Mizoram border clashes. MP Manicka Tagore gave an adjournment motion notice demanding a discussion in the presence of the Prime Minister or Amit Shah on the Pegasus row.

It has been adjourned till noon. On Monday it was adjourned three times.

Proceedings in both houses have been disturbed by opposition protests, leading to chaotic scenes - including a Trinamool MP snatching papers from the hands of IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw as he was giving a statement on the Pegasus scandal - and repeated adjournments.

The Congress has insisted the government is to blame for the non-functioning of parliament, as it is not agreeing to opposition parties' "united" demand for a discussion on the Pegasus issue.

Several opposition parties have called for a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the hacking allegations - something the government has refused, insisting surveillance of the alleged kind was impossible given existing checks and balances within the country's legal framework.

The Bengal government, however, has set up the country's first judicial commission to probe the Pegasus hacking allegations, with two retired judges given six months to submit a report.

Yesterday the focus was on Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, as he drove a tractor to parliament to underline widespread protests against the centre's controversial farm laws.

Last week, on the first day of the monsoon session (and a day after Pegasus broke) the Prime Minister called on the opposition to "ask tough questions, but allow the government to reply".

Need Top Court-Monitored Probe Into Pegasus: Mamata Banerjee After PM Meet

NEW DELHI, July 27: Mamata Banerjee met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence in Delhi today. This was the Bengal Chief Minister's first meeting with the Prime Minister after the acrimonious Bengal election campaign in which the two clashed frequently.

After the meeting, she told reporters that there should be a Supreme Court-monitored inquiry into the Pegasus scandal involving opposition leaders, two union ministers and 40 journalists revealed as potential targets of surveillance using Israeli Pegasus spyware that is sold only to governments.

The allegations have virtually blocked the monsoon session of parliament with the opposition demanding answers from PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

Ms Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee is among the potential targets whose names have surfaced as part of a worldwide investigation by a media consortium that includes India's The Wire.
Yesterday, she announced a judicial inquiry led by former Supreme Court judges - the first since the Pegasus scandal broke - to investigate reports that many Bengal leaders were targeted.

The Chief Minister said in her meeting with the PM - she described it as a 'courtesy visit' - she had discussed the Covid situation, the supply of vaccines and medicine to the state and also a proposal to rename Bengal as Bangla. "I should not speak what the PM said," she told reporters when pressed for details.

She said she was also supposed to meet President Ram Nath Kovind. "But the problem is they are asking me to have an RT-PCR done before meeting him. I have got both the doses though. Where will I go here," she said.

Tomorrow, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has invited the Bengal Chief Minister, whose three-day visit to Delhi is packed with politically significant meetings. Ms Banerjee will also meet Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday.

Earlier today, Ms Banerjee met with Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma.

Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav is also expected to call on her. "I will also have a meeting with Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi," she told reporters.

Ms Banerjee has been a key figure in speculation swirling around the opposition's attempts to join forces to take on PM Modi and the BJP in the 2024 national election. Her recent election victory in Bengal has buttressed her image as an opposition face that can challenge the BJP's might.

She was last week named leader of the Trinamool parliamentary party though she is not an MP. The new role signals her readiness to play a larger role in national politics beyond Bengal.

Basavaraj Bommai To Be New Karnataka Chief Minister

BENGALURU, July 27: Basavaraj Bommai may have joined the BJP way back in 2008, but his family's political history came a full circle only today after his name was announced as the next Karnataka Chief Minister. His father, SR Bommai, occupied the position for a brief period in the 1980s, making a whole lot of difference to Indian politics.

The state Home Minister will now succeed the 78-year-old BS Yediyurappa who tearfully announced his resignation on Monday after weeks of speculation.

The BJP veteran is considered the tallest leader alive today of Karnataka's Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, which constitutes 16 per cent of the state's 68 million population. His departure was risky business for the BJP since the party has had strong backing from this segment for long.

While it can't be anyone's claim that zeroing-in on Mr Bommai as replacement was easy, the choice may be easily justified.

An MLA from Shiggaon in central Karnataka's Haveri district, Mr Bommai, too, is a Lingayat -- although the term 'Basava' also means ox in Kannada, it resonates the name of Basaveshwara, the 12th century founder of the community.

Before joining the BJP, he was with the Janata Dal United, defecting, along with 22 others JDU functionaries.

Ironic, since his staunchly socialist father, a leader of the Janata Party and later Janata Dal, is best remembered for a landmark battle in the Supreme Court -- SR Bommai versus Union of India -- that he fought after losing his government in Karnataka following such defection.

The judgment in that case laid down certain guidelines against the misuse of Article 356 by the Central government to impose President's Rule on states with unfriendly governments.

Basavaraj Bommai began his political career with the Janata Dal and was a member of the Karnataka Legislative Council twice. He served as political secretary to former Chief Minister JH Patel and was also Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Council.

Since crossing over, Bommai has remained a close confidant of Yediyurappa and has risen in the party ranks to last helm the state's Home Ministry and, earlier, the Water Resources Ministry.

A mechanical engineer by training, he worked for Tata Motors in Pune for three years before turning entrepreneur.

Married to Ms Chennamma, Mr Bommai has a son and a daughter and is a permanent resident of Dharwad district.

His interests include reading, writing, playing golf, and cricket.

6 Assam Cops Killed As Clashes On Border With Mizoram Escalate

GUWAHATI, July 26: Six officers of the Assam Police were killed in clashes at the border with Mizoram, Chief Minister Himanta Sarma said today after another bout of violence in the volatile area.

"I am deeply pained to inform that six brave jawans of Assam Police have sacrificed their lives while defending constitutional boundary of our state at the Assam-Mizoram border. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families," read the tweet of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Mizoram said the violence started after the Assam Police crossed the border and "over-ran" a police post at Kolasib in violation of the understanding between the police of the two states. Mizoram also said the Assam Police damaged vehicles on the national highway and opened fire on the state police.

"The Government of Mizoram strongly condemns the unjustified act of the Government of Assam in this," said Lalchamliana, the Home minister of Mizoram.

The violence took place two days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah met all Chief Ministers of the northeast at Shillong. Shah dialled Chief Ministers of both states today and asked them to resolve the border issue.

Earlier, Sarma and Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga clashed on Twitter, posting videos of the violence and sought Shah's intervention.

"Kolasib SP is asking us to withdraw from our post until then their civilians won't listen nor stop violence. How can we run government in such circumstances? Hope you will intervene at earliest," Sarma had tweeted.

Zoramthanga responded with some videos, one of which was of a car apparently targeted on the highway. "Innocent couple on their way back to Mizoram via Cachar manhandled and ransacked by thugs and goons. How are you going to justify these violent acts?" his post read.

Three districts of Mizoram -- Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit -- share a 164.6 km long inter-state border with Assam's Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts.

The area has seen clashes for decades, with the locals and security forces on each side accusing the other of intrusion. The last incident was reported in June.

The Mizoram government has constituted a boundary commission to deal with demarcation of the border. Assam has border disputes with Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh as well.

9 killed, 3 injured in Himachal Pradesh landslides

SHIMLA, July 25: At least nine tourists were killed and three others were injured in multiple landslides that took place on Sunday in Himachal Pradesh's Kinnaur district. The tourists were travelling in a vehicle on which heavy boulders fell killing nine of 11 tourists, reports said. Indo-Tibetan Border Police teams have been pressed to rescue work.

Prime Minister's office offered condolence over the deaths of the tourists in the landslide. "An ex gratia of ₹2 lakh each from PMNRF would be given to the next of kin of those who lost their lives in an accident in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh. Rs. 50,000 would be given to the injured," the PMO said.

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jairam Thakur expressed grief over the incident and said the relief work has already started. "I spoke to Kinnaur district administration and enquired about the incident and gave them proper guidelines. The administration has started relief work. The affected are being attended to immediately," the CM wrote.

Terrifying footage of boulders coming down from the top of the mountain emerged on social media. As the boulders came down Batseri bridge in the Sangla valley of Kinnaur collapsed, the video shows.

Reports said the travellers, some from Delhi, were on their way to Chitkul, which is a popular tourist spot in Himachal Pradesh. Superintendent of police, Kinnaur district, Saju Ram Rana said a rescue operation is going on.

Reports said the incident took place at around 2.15pm and as evident from the footage, locals who were recording the rockslides raised an alarm after the boulders started coming down from the top of the mountain. First, a massive splash in the Baspa river and then the bridge on the river caved in.

On Saturday, Himachal Pradesh director general of police Sanjay Kundu issued a warning on his Twitter account asking people to not venture too close to water bodies. "Himachal Pradesh is blessed with natural beauty which attracts people to rivers, rivulets, lakes and ponds," he wrote adding 156 persons lost their lives due to drowning in the 13-month period between January 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021.

The incident comes weeks after Himachal Pradesh witnessed a flash floods in which at least three were killed and severeal got stranded.

Delhi Unlocks: Theatres Can Open at 50% Capacity; Metro at Full Capacity

NEW DELHI, July 24: Cinema halls, theatres, and multiplexes are allowed to open in Delhi with 50 percent seating capacity, while the Delhi Metro can now operate at 100 percent capacity from Monday, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) said in an order on Saturday.

Intra-state bus service has also been allowed with 100 percent seating capacity. However, passengers should board the bus from the rear door and exit from the front door. No passenger is allowed to stand.

The gathering cap at weddings, funerals has been raised from the present 50 people to 100. Spas have been allowed to open but with strict adherence to COVID protocol.

Auditoriums and assembly halls, too, can open but with 50 percent seating capacity.

The relaxations have come after the number of daily cases and positivity rate have been dipping in the national capital. On Friday, 23 July, Delhi reported 58 new cases, while the positivity rate stood at 0.09 percent.

BSF Lodges Strong Protest With Pakistan on Increased Drone Activities by Neighbour in Jammu

JAMMU, July 24: The Border Security Force (BSF) on Saturday lodged a strong protest with Pakistan regarding the drone activities by “Pakistan authorities” in Jammu area, in its first official protest lodged post the June 27 drone attack on the Jammu Airforce station.

The protest was lodged during a sector commander level meeting between the BSF and the Pakistan rangers held on the International Border in the Suchetgarh sector on Saturday.

“Today, on request of Pakistan Rangers, a Sector Commander level meeting was held between Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers on International Border in Suchetgarh area," Deputy Inspector General of BSF, Jammu, SPS Sandhu said.

He said during the meeting, the BSF delegation’s main emphasis was on Pakistan drone activities, terrorist activities by Pakistan from across the border, and digging of tunnels by Pakistan.

“A very strong protest was lodged by BSF delegates regarding drone activities by Pakistan authorities in Jammu Area," Sandhu said.

He said the BSF delegation was led by Surjit Singh, DIG, Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers delegation was led by Brig Murad Hussain, sector commander Pakistan Rangers, Sialkot Sector. “It was the first Sector Commander level meeting between two border guarding forces, after declaration of ceasefire agreement by DGMOs”, he said.

Tt was decided to re-energise instant communication between field Commanders, whenever required, to resolve operation matters, he said, adding: “The meeting was held in a cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere and both sides agreed for expeditious implementation of the decisions taken in the earlier DG level talks and committed to each other to maintain peace and harmony at International Border."

Since the June 27 attack on the Jammu air force station, there have been several instances of drone sightings in Jammu. On July 23, the Jammu Police shot down a hexacopter in the Kanachak area of Akhnoor sector. The hexacopter, which had ventured six to seven kilometers inside the Indian territory, was carrying an Improvised Explosive Device weighing 5 kilograms.

In the past too there have been several instances where drones from Pakistan’s side have been used to drop arms and ammunitions into the Indian territory.

On June 27, the Jammu police also arrested an individual identified as Nadeem who was carrying an IED weighing 5.5 kilogram.

During his interrogation, Nadeem said the IED was dropped near the international border from the Pakistani side using a drone and that he was tasked to explode the IED in a crowded area in Jammu.

110 dead after heavy rainfall in Maharashtra

MUMBAI, July 23: At least 110 people have been killed in landslides and flooding triggered by heavy rains in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

The rains overwhelmed hundreds of villages, sweeping away houses and leaving residents stranded.

Rescue crews have been racing to evacuate survivors but many people are feared missing.

The Indian military has been helping the efforts, which have been hampered by difficult conditions.

The western state has recorded its heaviest spell of July rain for decades.

Many factors contribute to flooding, but experts say climate change caused by global warming makes extreme rainfall more likely.

On Friday Indian officials said most of the deaths had been caused by landslides and flooding in two districts.

The officials said at least 38 people died when a landslide flattened a small village to the south-east of Mumbai, India's financial capital.

The state's chief minister, Udhav Thackeray, called an emergency meeting, where he asked officials to provide aid to those affected.

He said authorities were evacuating people from vulnerable areas as they released water from dams that were threatening to overflow.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "anguished by the loss of lives" and would provide assistance to the affected.

The Indian navy and disaster authorities have been sent to help rescue operations in coastal areas.

One coastal district has been completely cut off after bridges and mobile towers in the area collapsed.

Authorities have asked stranded residents to go to rooftops from where the rescuers in helicopters can spot them.

In Mumbai, two people died and 10 others were injured after a residential building collapsed in a region of the city on Friday.

Train services have been suspended and the city's low-lying areas have turned into flood zones.

Weather experts say heavy rains will continue to lash the city over the next few days.

Heavy rains in Mumbai are not uncommon. The city experiences flooding every year during the monsoon season, but the intensity of the rains has increased in recent years.

Thousands of people migrate to the city every day in search of jobs.

This fuels rapid - and often unregulated - construction, forcing many to live in poor quality buildings.

Congress demands Amit Shah’s resignation, investigation on PM on Pegasus project

NEW DELHI, July 19: Speaking on the ‘Pegasus Project,’ Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Rajya Sabha and Congress senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge have demanded Home Minister Amit Shah’s resignation and an investigation against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the matter.

“The PM and HM are involved in snooping on Opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, journalists and even union ministers. Before a probe, Amit Shah should resign and an inquiry should be conducted against PM Modi,” Kharge said while addressing a press conference in the national capital.

It comes after the names of over 40 Indian journalists appeared on the leaked list of potential targets for surveillance by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware.

Amit Shah questions timing of Pegasus Project

NEW DELHI, July 19: Union Home Minister Amit Shah on July 19 called the ’Pegasus Project’ leaks a report by "disruptors for the obstructers” while questioning the timing of its release – a day before the Monsoon Session of Parliament.

The only aim of the report, Shah said, is to humiliate India at the world stage and derail India’s development trajectory.

Shah used the famous ‘Aap Chronology Samajhiye’ (understand the chronology) phrase often associated with him, to explain his point establishing a possible link between ‘Pegasus Report’ published by Indian news portal The Wire on July 18 and disruptions in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on the first day of Monsoon Session on July 19.

“People have often associated this phrase with me in lighter vein but today I want to seriously say - the timing of the selective leaks, the disruptions…Aap Chronology Samajhiye (understand the chronology) This is a report by the disrupters for the obstructers,” Shah said in a press note that he shared in a tweet as well.

The phrase ‘Aap Chronology Samajhiye’ became popular after it was used by Shah in April 2019 explaining how the government wanted to first bring the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) followed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

By disrupters, Shah meant global organisations which, he said, "do not like India to progress" and obstructers, he said, are political players in India who do not want India to progress.

Leader of the Congress party Rahul Gandhi was also a potential surveillance target in leaked phone data, adding him to the list of as many as 300 prominent leaders, journalists and activists whose numbers were found on a leaked database of targets for hacking that used Israeli spyware 'Pegasus', a report by The Guardian said on July 19.

The Home Minister targeted the Opposition for derailing the first day of the Monsoon Session.

“When the Prime Minister rose in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to introduce his Council of Ministers, which is a well-established norm, the Congress-led Opposition was in the well of both the Houses. Is this their respect for Parliamentary norms? The same behaviour continued when the IT Minister was speaking about the issue,” Shah wrote.

Members of Opposition parties interrupted Prime Minister Narendra Modi with slogans against rising fuel prices and over farm reform laws, as he stood up to introduce the new Council of Ministers inducted during the recent reshuffle in both houses of Parliament on July 19.

“The facts and sequence of events are for the entire nation to see. Today the Monsoon Session of Parliament has started. In what seemed like a perfect cue, late last evening we saw a report which has been amplified by a few sections with only one aim - to do whatever is possible and humiliate India at the world stage, peddle the same old narratives about our nation and derail India’s development trajectory,” Shah said.

Shah hit out at 'rudderless' Congress as well for jumping on to this bandwagon and try to derail anything progressive that comes up in Parliament.

“They have good past experience in trampling over democracy and with their own house not in order, they are now trying to derail anything progressive that comes up in Parliament,” he said.

The Home Minister concluded with the assurance that Modi government's priority is clear –‘National Welfare’.

“And we will keep working to achieve that no matter what happens,” he signed off.

At all-party meet, Modi calls for healthy debates, says Oppn suggestions key

NEW DELHI, July 18: Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired an all-party meeting on Sunday a day before the Monsoon session of Parliament is scheduled to begin. The meeting was attended by more than 40 leaders of 33 parties, said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi.

Addressing the meeting, Modi said that all representatives' suggestions, including those from the Opposition, are very valuable, added Joshi.

The PM further said healthy and fruitful debates should take place in Parliament, adding the government is ready to hold discussions on any subject if raised as per parliamentary rules and procedures.

Later, Modi put out a tweet that read, "We look forward to a productive session where all issues can be debated as well as discussed in a constructive manner."

Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla also met leaders of parties in the lower House of Parliament.

The Monsoon session is expected to be stormy with opposition parties preparing to take on the Union government on issues like the rise in petrol and diesel prices, the alleged Covid-19 mismanagement and vaccine shortage.

About 17 bills are listed for introduction in the Lok Sabha and five bills for consideration and passage, and a similar number of bills are expected to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha during the session.

Besides Modi and Joshi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Union minister and Leader of House in the Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal were present at the meeting. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also attended the meeting.

Floor leaders of all prominent opposition parties, including Derek O' Brien from TMC, Tiruchi Siva from DMK, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav and BSP's Satish Mishra were also present. Apna Dal leader and NDA ally Anupriya Patel and LJP leader Pashupati Paras also attended the meeting.

Earlier, CPI (M) MP Elamaram Kareem said a meeting of Opposition parties will take place at Parliament after the all-party meeting called by the government.

BSP president Mayawati said Opposition parties should come together and hold the Central government accountable. “The government's apathy towards the farmers protesting against three farm laws is very sad. BSP MPs will raise matters related to fuel and LPG prices, inflation and Covid-19 vaccination in Parliament,” Mayawati said.

“I have directed my party MPs to raise matters related to the benefit of the country and people in the Monsoon session of Parliament,” she added.

The monsoon session will continue till August 13 with all pandemic-related protocol in place.

Sidhu appointed Punjab PCC Chief

CHANDIGARH, July 18: AICC President Sonia Gandhi on Sunday appointed Navjot Singh Sidhu as the President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee with immediate effect.

In an official release, the All India Congress Committee said that Congress President has appointed Navjot Singh Sidhu as the president of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee with immediate effect.

Sonia Gandhi also appointed four persons as working presidents of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. These include: Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Pawan Goel and Kuljit Singh Nagra.

"The party appreciates the contributions of outgoing PCC President Sunil Jakhar," the notice further read.

Meanwhile, Kuljit Singh Nagra has been relieved from his present responsibility as AICC Incharge of Sikkim, Nagaland and Tripura.

Centre directs immediate withdrawal of all cases under Section 66A of IT Act

NEW DELHI, July 14: The Union home ministry on Wednesday asked state governments and police chiefs to immediately withdraw cases registered under the repealed Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act and to stop registering such cases. The move came days after the Supreme Court expressed shock over the continued registration of cases under the repealed Section.

The Supreme Court on March 24, 2015, struck down a much-abused Section, which authorised police to arrest people for social media posts construed to be “offensive” or “menacing”.

The NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties informed the court this month that 229 such cases were pending in 11 states. After the provision was repealed, police in these states lodged 1,307 new cases under it.

“What is going on? It is terrible...shocking. It is distressing,” a bench, headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman, remarked on July 5. The bench asked the government to come up with a response to ensure police stop invoking Section 66A of the Act in First Information Reports (FIRs).

In its advisory sent to the chief secretaries and director generals of police, the ministry said on Wednesday: “It has been brought to our notice through an application in the Supreme Court that FIRs are still being lodged by some police authorities under the struck down provision of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000. Hon’ble Supreme Court has taken a very serious view of the matter.”

The ministry said it is therefore requested to direct all the police stations not to register cases under the repealed Section 66A of the IT Act and sensitise the law enforcement agencies for the compliance of the Supreme Court order.

It directed the chief secretaries and police chiefs to withdraw such cases. “If any case has been booked in your state under Section 66A of the IT Act, it should immediately be withdrawn.”

The Supreme Court has called Section 66A “open-ended and unconstitutionally vague”. It said nothing short of quashing the law in its entirety could suffice since this provision “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately” invaded the right to free speech, right to dissent, right to know, and had a “chilling effect” on constitutional mandates.

Section 66A criminalised “grossly offensive” or “menacing character” messages sent in form of text, audio, video, images, or any other electronic record. It provided for the punishment of up to three years in prison.

Even though the Section was struck down in March 2015, 332 cases were filed under it the same year. In 2016, 216 cases were registered and 290 in 2017, 318 in 2018, 253 in 2019, and 34 until February 2020.

Can't Discuss China, Rahul Gandhi Walks Out Of Defence Panel Meet: Sources

NEW DELHI, July 14: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and some of his parliamentary colleagues walked out of a Defence Committee meeting after they were not allowed to discuss border issues with China, sources have said.

The meeting was scheduled at 3 pm today, they said. A request by Mr Gandhi and the Congress MPs to discuss the border row with China was denied, after which he walked out of the Defence Committee meeting, followed by his party MPs.

In the parliament strategy meet chaired by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has decided to raise the border issue with China in the coming monsoon session of parliament.

Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge has been asked to coordinate with allies on floor management and strategy inside parliament, sources have said. The Congress wants to raise fuel price hike issue, inflation, vaccine shortage, unemployment and the Rafale deal controversy, apart from border issues with China, during the monsoon session.

Gandhi has long been criticising the government alleging India has "ceded" territory to China. Indian and Chinese soldiers had clashed in eastern Ladakh's Galwan Valley in June last year.

After a nine-month standoff, the militaries of India and China in February this year reached an agreement on disengagement in the north and south banks of Pangong lake that mandates both sides to cease forward deployment of troops in a "phased, coordinated and verifiable" manner.

India has not "conceded" any territory to China by firming up an agreement on the disengagement process in Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh, the government had said in February.

Prashant Kishor meets Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, sets political circles abuzz

NEW DELHI, July 13: Setting the political circles abuzz, poll strategist Prashant Kishor Tuesday met former Congress president Rahul Gandhi at his residence in Delhi, according to reports.

According to reports, senior party leaders including Priyanka Gandhi, KC Venugopal, and Harish Rawat, the in-charge of Punjab affairs, were present during the meeting.

While it was not clear what the meeting was about, it came against the backdrop of infighting and turmoil in the Congress unit in Punjab. The crisis has intensified in recent months and, with Assembly elections scheduled for early next year, leaders in the party have been getting restless over the delay in its resolution.

Meanwhile Rawat, after the meeting, said that Kishor didn’t meet Gandhi regarding Punjab crisis.

“Rahul Gandhi is a national leader. Many leaders meet him and convey their views. Prashant Kishor didn’t meet him to negotiate something regarding Punjab,” he said.

Last week, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had met Kishor at Kapurthala House, the CM’s residence in Delhi.

Kishor, who was appointed principal adviser by the Amarinder, had come to Punjab during the recent Assembly elections in a few states, including West Bengal. However soon after the results, he had expressed his intentions to hang up his boots as a political strategist.

Shouldn't Misuse Anti-Terror Law To 'Quell Dissent': Supreme Court Judge

NEW DELHI, July 13: Anti-terror law should not be "misused for quelling dissent" Supreme Court Judge Justice Dr Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud said on Monday as he was addressing an event on the legal ties between India and the United States.

"Criminal law, including anti-terror legislation, should not be misused for quelling dissent or harassment to citizens. As I noted in my judgement in Arnab Goswami vs the State, our courts must ensure that they continue to remain the first line of defence against the deprivation of liberty of citizens," Justice Chandrachud said.

"Deprivation of liberty for even a single day is one too many. We must always be mindful of the deeper systemic issues of our decisions," he added.

He was speaking at Indo-US Joint Summer Conference on Indo-US legal ties.

The remarks come amid outrage over the death of 84-year-old activist Stan Swamy, who arrested under the anti-terror law- Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or UAPA - in the Elgar Parishad case last year. He died last week in Mumbai in the middle of his fight for bail on health grounds.

Several other cases where the UAPA was used have made headlines recently. Earlier this month, Assam leader Akhil Gogoi walked out of jail after 1.5 years. He was arrested over violent protests against the contentious citizenship law. Soon after his release, he pledged to fight against the misuse of UAPA.

In another case, a Kashmiri man, arrested on terror charges, was released a few weeks back - after a legal fight of 11 years - on being found innocent.

During Monday's event, Justice Chandrachud made several other remarks on Indo-US ties and said the United States is a "torchbearer in promoting liberty, freedom of speech and expression and religious peace". The event was organised by the American Bar Association's International Law Section, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators India, and the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF).

"India, being the oldest and largest democracy, represents ideals of multicultural, pluralist society where their constitutions are focused on a deep commitment and respect for human rights," he underlined.

The top courts in India and the United States have "both been termed as the most powerful courts in terms of their own might," Justice Chandrachud further said, underscoring that the USA's "influence on Indian jurisprudence cannot be understated".

"It has contributed to the heart and soul of the Indian constitution," he said.

"One of the most cited anecdotes of American influence has been on the right to protection of life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the constitution, as against its conception in the Bill of Rights, which provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law," he highlighted.

"(For) my judgement on decimalising same-sex relationship between adults, I relied on US Supreme Court decision in Lawrence Vs Texas," he shared.

India's current Covid vaccination rate simply not good enough: Arvind Panagariya

NEW DELHI, July 11: Former Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya on Sunday said that India’s current vaccination rate was simply not good enough. He said the country needs to achieve daily rate of at least 5 to 6 million jabs.

"India's current vaccination rate of 3 to 4 million per day is simply not good enough. We need to up our game to achieve daily rate of at least 5 to 6 million jabs. Not clear whether the cause is hesitation or insufficient production," Arvind Panagariya said.

Union Health Ministry said that more than 38.60 crore vaccine doses have been provided to states and union territories so far through all sources. A further 11,25,140 doses are in the pipeline, it added.

Of the over 38.60 crore doses, more than 37.16 crore doses, including wastages, have been consumed, as per data available at 8 AM on Sunday, the ministry said.

More than 1.44 crore balance and unutilised Covid-19 vaccine doses are still available with states and union territory governments as well as private hospitals for inoculation, it further added.

As per Health Ministry data, India's cumulative Covid-19 vaccination coverage has exceeded 37.60 crore till 7 AM on Sunday.

"A total of 37,60,32,586 vaccine doses have been administered through 48,33,797 sessions, as per the provisional report till 7 AM today. 37,23,367 vaccine doses were administered in the last 24 hours," the ministry said in a statement.

Of the total vaccines doses administered, 1,02,47,862 doses have been used for first shots to healthcare workers, whereas 74,02,098 doses have been used as second dose to them.

A total of 1,76,64,075 frontline workers have received their first dose, while 98,91,050 have received the full regimen of two doses.

In the age group 18-44 years, 11,18,19,570 have got the first jab, whereas 37,01,692 have got the second dose. In 45-59 age group, 9,33,66,230 doses have been used for first shot, and 2,35,53,988 for the second one.

In people over 60 years of age, 7,00,73,761 have received their first dose, while 2,83,12,260 have got their second dose.

12 ministers, including Harsh Vardhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Javadekar resign

NEW DELHI, July 7: Ahead of the oath-taking ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan of new inductees into the Union cabinet, a total of 12 ministers submitted their resignation, including Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal. Vardhan had been at the helm of the coronavirus crisis in India.

Among other high-profile resignations are of Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister for Law and Electronics and IT, who had been embroiled in a tug-of-war with Twitter over the new IT rules. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, who has held several profiles under the NDA rule and was a spokesperson for the government, also quit.

Thawarchand Gehlot, a prominent Dalit face in the government, was appointed as the Karnataka Governor Tuesday, and resigned as the Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Babul Supriyo, Minister of State, announced his resignation over a Facebook post. “Yes, I have resigned from the Council Of Ministers !! (As I had framed it earlier, “Asked to resign” may not be the right way to put it) I thank Hon’ble Prime Minister for giving me the privilege to serve my country as a Member of his Council of Ministers,” he said.

Chemicals and Fertilizers Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, Labour Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar, MoS Dhotre Sanjay Shamrao, MoS Rattan Lal Kataria, MoS Pratap Chandra Sarangi, and MoS Debasree Chaudhuri also resigned from the Cabinet.

President Ram Nath Kovind accepted the resignations with immediate effect “as advised by the Prime Minister”, a press release stated.

Dharmendra Pradhan Is New Education Minister, Piyush Goyal Gets Textile

NEW DELHI, July 7: Rajya Sabha MP Dharmendra Pradhan, who has been handling the petroleum ministry till now in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second term, will now handle the education and skill development portfolio, following today's cabinet reshuffle. Piyush Goyal, who, too, is a member of the upper house, will handle the textile ministry.

Pradhan will take over from Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank', who resigned from his position yesterday. The petroleum ministry will now be headed by Hardeep Singh Puri. Goyal, on the other hand, will replace Smriti Irani who will focus only on the Women and Child Ministry.

Fifty two-year-old Pradhan is the son of former Minister of State Debendra Pradhan. He was promoted as a Cabinet Minister in September 2017. He represents Madhya Pradesh in the Rajya Sabha and was a member of the 14th Lok Sabha.

Goyal, 57, has handled the commerce and industry, consumer affairs, and food and public distribution ministries, besides railways, which will now be taken over by Ashwini Vaishnaw, a new entrant and a Rajya Sabha MP from Odisha.

He, too, was elevated to cabinet rank in September 2017 along with Pradhan. A Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra, Goyal is also the Deputy Leader of the Rajya Sabha.

Thirty-six new ministers joined Prime Minister Modi's government today, even as four high-profile ministers quit. The mega cabinet reboot was aimed to offset criticism as the country emerges from a fierce second wave of Covid ahead of key legislative elections.

The Prime Minister now has 77 ministers, nearly half of them new.

7 Governors Moved, A Union Minister Joins Their Group

NEW DELHI, July 6: Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's expected cabinet expansion, a different shuffle saw seven governors swapping states and Union Minister Thawarchand Gehlot becoming a governor.

Thawarchand Gehlot, 83, will take over as Governor of Karnataka. He was Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment and also the BJP's Rajya Sabha leader. His shift not just creates a vacancy in the government but also takes him out of party politics.

"I have served the BJP for long. Whatever responsibility I was given, I did well," Gehlot told reporters, denying any resentment at being moved to a ceremonial role.

"I am not upset with anyone. I will resign as a minister and also quit as BJP member."

PS Sreedharan Pillai, the Governor of Mizoram, has been moved to Goa.

Satyadev Narayan Arya, Haryana Governor, will shift to Tripura. Tripura Governor Ramesh Bais has been transferred to Jharkhand.

Bandaru Dattatraya, the Governor of Himachal Pradesh, will take over as Governor of Haryana.

Hari Babu Kambhampati will be Mizoram Governor.

Mangubhai Chhaganbhai Patel will be Governor of Madhya Pradesh.

Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar has been named Governor of Himachal Pradesh.

84-Year-Old Activist Stan Swamy Dies In Hospital Waiting For Bail

NEW DELHI, July 5: Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old priest-activist arrested under an anti-terror law in the Elgar Parishad case last year, died today in the middle of his fight for bail on health grounds. The Jesuit priest had been on a ventilator since yesterday when his health took a sharp turn for the worse.

Stan Swamy was being treated at the private Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai following a court order on May 28. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had suggested a government hospital, to which, he had said: "I'd rather die here in prison."

Jailed near Mumbai since October, Stan Swamy spent the last few months of his life fighting legal battles for even the smallest of needs. In December, he was allowed a straw and a sipper in jail, which he had requested in court on account of Parkinson's disease. He had requested medical treatment and interim bail multiple times.

The NIA, which arrested him in October from his home in a widely criticized late-night swoop, opposed his bail request in court and had said there was no "conclusive proof" of his medical ailments. The agency held firm to its argument that Stan Swamy was a Maoist who had plotted to cause unrest in the country.

Stan Swamy had told the High Court via video-conferencing that his health had consistently declined at the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai and if he was not granted interim bail, he "would die soon".

Last week, Stan Swamy had filed a fresh plea for bail in the Bombay High Court, challenging the stringent conditions for bail to an accused charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). When the hearing started today, his lawyer told the High Court that the activist had died at 1.30 pm.

Messages and tributes poured in, with opposition parties and activists accusing the government of hounding the elderly activist.

UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, shared his video along with a message: "The news from India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender and Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing HRDs (Human Rights Defenders) is inexcusable." EU's Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, also tweeted.

Stan Swamy had in the past complained to the court of poor health facilities in prison. He and other accused in the case had alleged neglect by prison officials in ensuring medical aid, tests, hygiene and social distancing in the time of Covid.

The Elgar Parishad case relates to an event on December 31, 2017 in Koregaon-Bhima near Pune, which was followed by violence and arson that left one person dead. Investigators claim that activists at the event, an Elgar Parishad meet, had made inflammatory speeches and provocative statements that led to violence the next day.

The NIA said senior leaders of the CPI (Maoist), a banned organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, were in contact with the organisers of the Elgar Parishad event as well as the arrested activists, and aimed to spread Maoist and Naxal ideology and encourage unlawful activities.

Stan Swamy, who had worked with tribals in Jharkhand for over five decades, was accused by the NIA of links to Naxals, especially the banned CPI (Maoists). He was arrested from his home in Jharkhand capital Ranchi by a team of NIA officials from Delhi. He had denied the charges and had flagged his health worries to investigators.

Two days before his arrest, he had said in a video statement: "They are even asking me to go to Mumbai for further interrogation, which I am refusing to go. Because of my age, I have certain ailments. There is the epidemic which is ravaging the country... This is something that I am communicating to them and let us hope that some human sense will prevail."

Several prominent activists, scholars and lawyers have spent over two years in jail as they wait for trial in the case.

Stan Swamy was the oldest to be arrested. He had also tested positive for the coronavirus at a private hospital last month and was subsequently shifted to the ICU.

Dhami takes oath as CM, vows to take Uttarakhand to new heights

DEHRADUN, July 4: Two-time legislator from Uttarakhand’s Khatima constituency, Pushkar Singh Dhami took oath as the state’s 10th chief minister on Sunday, a day after the Bharatiya Janata Party picked him for the top post

The oath of office was administered on Dhami and his ministers by Governor Baby Rani Maurya at a function held on the lawns of the Raj Bhawan in the presence of several MPs and MLAs of the ruling BJP and senior government officials.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Dhami thanked the party’s central leadership including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP president JP Nadda, for assigning him the role.

“I am grateful to the party leadership for giving me this opportunity to serve the people of Uttarakhand. They have placed their trust in me, I will put all my possible efforts to prove their decision right and take the state to new heights of development,” said Dhami.

The state unit of the BJP elected Dhami as the legislative party leader at a meeting on Saturday, which was attended by Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar and party general secretary D Purandeshwari as central observers.

At 45, Dhami takes over as the youngest chief minister of the state, replacing Tirath Singh Rawat, who resigned on Friday, days after the BJP leadership summoned him to Delhi, where he met Shah and Nadda.

Rawat suggested he resign because the Election Commission (EC) was unlikely to hold by-elections — which were necessary for him to continue in the post — due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dhami is the third chief minister to lead Uttarakhand in less than four months, triggering criticism from the Opposition and concerns among BJP leaders about political instability months before the state goes to the polls. Assembly elections in the state are to be held in early 2022.

No new face has been inducted into Dhami’s cabinet, which remains as it was under his predecessor. The ministers included Subodh Uniyal, Satpal Maharaj, Arvind Pandey, Dhan Singh Rawat, Rekha Arya, Harak Singh Rawat, Yashpal Arya, Vishen Singh Chuphal, Bansidhar Bhagat, Ganesh Joshi and Swami Yatishwaranand.

Several senior BJP leaders, including Modi, extended congratulations to Dhami.

Earlier in the day, Dhami met three of his predecessors -- Tirath Singh Rawat, Trivendra Singh Rawat and Maj Gen BC Khanduri (retd). He also met BJP leader Satpal Maharaj amid reports that the senior party leader had expressed unhappiness at the party leadership’s decision to elevate Dhami as the CM.

The BJP’s state unit has, meanwhile, clarified that all the leaders support the decision.

Refuting the reports of discontent, party leader Bansidhar Bhagat said, “All these are rumours. All the leaders are supporting the decision of party leadership as they are party’s soldiers. Nobody is upset with Dhami being elected to be the next CM. We all are with him to continue the development works and win the next assembly elections to be held in 2022 with a thumping majority like in 2017.”

Brushing aside reports of discontent, Dhami said on Sunday: “There is no such thing among the party leaders. If it was true then why would have they come to the [swearing-in] ceremony? We all are together in the party and we will work for the state’s development.”

Dhami also said that his government will emphasise on issues pertaining to the youth. “I have been working among them for long, hence I am aware of their issues. The ongoing pandemic has affected their livelihood drastically and to help them, we would work on the recruitments in over 20,000 vacancies in various government departments,” the new chief minister said.

Later on Sunday, Dhami held his first cabinet meeting with all the ministers at state secretariat in Dehradun. However, no major decisions were taken, as it was held as per traditions by a new CM.

India confirms 400,000 COVID-19 deaths, half of them in the last 2 months

NEW DELHI, July 2: India has confirmed 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, half of them occurring in just the last two months as the more transmissible Delta variant — first detected in India — infected hundreds of thousands daily and overwhelmed the already-strained health system.

Even so, the grim figure announced Friday — behind only the death tolls in United States and Brazil — is believed to be far lower than the true total because of a lack of testing and reporting. One estimate says the true number of COVID-19 deaths in India may exceed 1 million.

New cases are on the decline after exceeding 400,000 a day in May, but authorities are preparing for another possible wave and are trying to ramp up vaccination.

The Health Ministry said that 853 people died in the last 24 hours, raising total fatalities to 400,312. It also reported 46,617 new cases, taking the country’s pandemic total past 30.4 million infections.

Experts say that, during the April and May surge, an untold number of people died outside hospitals and before they could be tested for the coronavirus.

A model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates there have been more than 1.1 million COVID-19 deaths in India.

Government officials from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have dismissed reports of undercounts as exaggerated and misleading.

Experts are worried that India could be at risk of another surge of the coronavirus because less than 5% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said Wednesday that the vaccine rollout has picked up speed since a new policy ended a complex purchase and distribution system that overburdened states and led to inequities in how vaccine doses were handed out.

Under the new policy, the federal government will buy 75% of all vaccines in use in India and give them to states for free. Private hospitals can buy the remaining 25% at prices that have been capped, and can charge for the shots.

Vardhan said 120 million doses would be made available by the government in July.

The hope is that India will achieve a rapid increase in inoculations in the coming months. Last month, the head of India’s COVID-19 task force told reporters that about 2 billion doses could be available by December under a plan that depends on India’s two main suppliers, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, ramping up production and five other potential vaccines being made available in the coming months.

But some have raised questions over whether this is a realistic estimate as both of the country’s main suppliers have struggled to boost manufacturing.

On Tuesday, it was announced that the Moderna shot will soon be the fourth COVID-19 vaccine to be administered in India after the AstraZeneca shot, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Russia’s Sputnik V.

India’s Zydus Cadilla has also applied to the government drug controller for emergency-use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine, which uses DNA-based technology. The vaccine can be used for both adults and young people in the 12-18 age group, the company said Wednesday.




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