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Navjot Sidhu Quits As Punjab Congress Chief

CHANDIGARH, Sept 28: Navjot Singh Sidhu today resigned as Punjab Congress chief, delivering a big shock to the Gandhis, who may have hoped that changing Chief Ministers would help end the turmoil in the state before elections early next year. The cricketer-turned-politician tweeted a resignation letter that hinted at his unhappiness at the ongoing changes to the Punjab cabinet.

"The collapse of a man's character stems from the compromise corner. I can never compromise on Punjab's future and the agenda for the welfare of Punjab. Therefore, I hereby resign as the President of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. I will continue to serve the Congress," Navjot Sidhu, 57, wrote in his letter to Sonia Gandhi, which he posted on social media. He had taken charge of the party in Punjab in July.

Sources say Sidhu was upset about the cabinet changes made by new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, who was seen to be close to him. Though Sidhu was widely seen to act as "Super Chief Minister" when it came to some decisions, he was reportedly ignored in recent appointments seen as controversial. He was also angry about key posts given to officials linked to the "sacrilege" case.

Navjot Sidhu, say sources, was also unhappy about his rival SS Randhawa being assigned a key ministry.

The double use of the word "compromise" in Sidhu's resignation letter was read as a clue that he was asked to accept some unpleasant choices in the cabinet shuffle.

Amarinder Singh, recently replaced as Chief Minister at Navjot Sidhu's instance, did not lose time in posting an "I-told-you-so" for the Congress leadership.

"I told you so...he is not a stable man and not fit for the border state of Punjab," tweeted the former Chief Minister, who is believed to be closing in on his own decision on his future in the Congress.

With the top two Congress faces in the state exiting in this manner, Punjab has become Exhibit A in the party's growing disarray.

The Congress's loss could well be Arvind Kejriwal's gain; his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is campaigning aggressively in Punjab and Kejriwal will also visit the state tomorrow.

Sidhu's resignation, four months before the Punjab election, calls to question a series of decisions by the leadership.

Despite warnings, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had pushed strongly for Sidhu and had even arranged his meeting with Rahul Gandhi when the Congress was trying to decide on what to do about Amarinder Singh.

The Punjab crisis has smacked the party on a day it welcomed on board high profile faces like Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani.

Sidhu's move coincides with Amarinder Singh's visit to Delhi today. Though it is described as "personal", there is speculation about a possible meeting between the Captain and the BJP.

Amarinder Singh resigned as Chief Minister 10 days ago, complaining of repeated "humiliation" by the party. Sidhu, who set the stage for his exit, has now himself quit his post, though he says he will "continue to serve the Congress".

Kanhaiya Kumar and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani join Congress

NEW DELHi, Sept 28: Former JNU students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar joined the Congress on Tuesday in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, saying the oldest party has to be strengthened to "save" the country.

Kumar addressed a press conference at the Congress headquarters here along with independent Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani who too extended his support to the Congress ideology.

Asserting that it is detrimental to a country's interests if the Opposition is weakened, Kumar described the Congress party as a "big ship" and said the small ships will be saved only when the Congress is saved.

"I have decided to join the country's oldest party and democratic party because I feel along with the lakhs of youths that if the Congress is not saved, the country will not be saved," he said.

Kumar, who was flanked by senior Congress leaders, said the country is "in danger" and "we need the courage of Bhagat Singh, equality of Ambedkar and unity of Mahatma Gandhi".

He also took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, describing him as "Govinda of our times who changes his clothes often".

Kumar had joined the Communist Party of India (CPI) ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election and had unsuccessfully contested from Begusarai in Bihar against Giriraj Singh of the BJP.

Mevani, who is currently a legislator in Gujarat and represents the Vadgam constituency, is the convener of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM).

He said there is a sense of urgency to save the country and the youth should create an atmosphere in this regard.

Mevani said he is not joining the Congress due to "technical reasons" as he is still an independent MLA, but announced that he will contest the next Gujarat election on the Congress symbol and will participate in all Congress activities and campaign for the 2022 Gujarat assembly polls.

He is a lawyer-activist and a former journalist. Mevani's entry into the Congress comes at a time when it is wooing the scheduled castes community after handpicking the first Dalit chief minister of Punjab.

Charanjit Singh Channi succeeded Amarinder Singh as chief minister of Punjab, seen as a bold step by the party for wooing back the scheduled castes, traditionally considered the vote bank of the Congress.

However, the party suffered a fresh setback in Punjab on Tuesday when state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu resigned.

3 Killed In Delhi Courtroom Shootout

NEW DELHI, Sept 24: Three gangsters were killed in a shootout inside a courtroom in Delhi that left several people injured and raised serious questions about security in a heavily protected and sanitised zone. In videos, gunshots are heard in court and policemen and lawyers are seen in a scramble in the building at Rohini in north Delhi.

Gunmen dressed as lawyers, present in court, shot gangster Jitender Gogi thrice. Special force personnel escorting the gangster then fired back, killing both the attackers on the spot.

Jitender Gogi, a notorious gangster involved in over 30 criminal cases and in Tihar jail since last year, was declared dead in hospital. A rival gang, going by the name "Tillu Gang", had plotted to kill him when he was brought for his court hearing today, said the police.

"Two from rival gang opened fire at Jitender Gogi inside the court. The police acted swiftly and killed both the assailants," said Delhi Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthana.

According to the police, when Gogi was brought to the court, with heavy police escort, two attackers dressed as practising lawyers, complete with "collar band, black blazer and trouser and black shoes", suddenly started firing at him.

The incident marks a huge security lapse on court premises.

A lawyer, Lalit Kumar, said: "The judge was in court, lawyers were present and Jitender Gogi was there. These two shooters who looked like 'lawyers' started shooting. A woman intern was also hit by a bullet."

The two gangs had reportedly been at war for years and more than 25 people have died in their rivalry.

Gogi and Tillu Tajpuria were reportedly friends in college but fell out in 2010, and their feud turned into a gang war.

Gogi, or Jitender Maan, was arrested in March last year and was considered a big catch for the Delhi police.

The incident has raised questions about whether metal detectors at the court were working and if they were, how the armed men could get past.

"The question on whether the metal detectors were not working in the court premises is a matter of investigation and I cannot comment on that at the moment. We are already investigating the case and we shall not spare anyone who is involved in this shootout. No one will be spared," said Asthana.

He added: "Delhi Police is doing its job seriously. We were effective and focused and that is why the shooter was successfully neutralised. We will say more after a detailed investigation is carried out."

Chief Justice Ramana Raises Concern After Shootout Inside Delhi Court

NEW DELHI, Sept 24: Chief Justice of India NV Ramana has expressed deep concerns over a shootout inside a courtroom in Delhi that left three gangsters dead and several people injured.

The incident raised serious questions about security in a heavily protected and sanitised zone. In videos, gunshots are heard in the court and policemen and lawyers are seen in a scramble in the building at Rohini in north Delhi.

Chief Justice Ramana has spoken to the Delhi high Court Chief Justice DN Patel, asking him to speak with both the police and the bar to ensure the functioning of the court is not disturbed.

A matter of safety and security of court complexes and judicial personnel is already under consideration of the Supreme Court, after a district judge in Jharkhand was murdered last month. The Supreme Court is likely to prioritise the matter next week after today's violence inside the courtroom in the national capital.

The local court in Rohini will remain closed tomorrow, the Delhi Bar Association said in a statement.

Gunmen dressed as lawyers, present in court, shot gangster Jitender Gogi thrice. Special force personnel escorting the gangster then fired back, killing both the attackers on the spot.

How the gunmen managed to enter the courtroom with weapons has led to criticism of the police. However, it has been pointed out that resistance by lawyers from constant frisking and the unpleasant consequences faced by the police in the past apparently led to leniency in frisking of lawyers over a long period of time.

Even a minor dispute over parking space between the police and lawyers led to violence in Delhi's Tis Hazari court complex in November 2019, with lawyers setting fire to a police vehicles and policemen ransacking lawyers' chambers.

Amarinder Singh Quits As Chief Minister, Says Options Open

CHANDIGARH, Sept 18: Amarinder Singh resigned as Punjab Chief Minister today, months before polls, saying he had been "humiliated thrice" and that the Congress is free to "appoint whoever they trust". He also said he would "exercise his options when the time comes".

A sudden meeting of Punjab MLAs announced by the Congress late last night, with big hints that a majority of them had asked for change, drove a crisis of months to breaking point. Congress's Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat tweeted about the meeting and Amarinder Singh's rival Navjot Singh Sidhu shared the post.

Stung by the move, Amarinder Singh, 79, told reporters he had decided to resign in the morning. He said he had spoken with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and had told her he had put up with enough humiliation.

"I was humiliated three times by the Congress leadership in the past two months...they called the MLAs to Delhi twice and now convened CLP (MLAs' meeting) today. Apparently they (Congress leadership) do not have confidence in me and did not think I could handle my job. But I felt humiliated at the manner in which they handled the whole affair... It's now up to them to appoint anyone they trust," Singh said, flashing resentment that threatens to blow up for the Congress in the coming months.

Asked whether he would stay in the Congress or form a new outfit before the election, Singh said: "There is always an option, and I will use that option when the time comes... at the moment I am still in Congress."

He added that he would "speak to my people who have supported me for the past 52 years". Singh had earlier called MLAs to his house to rally his loyalists. Fifteen of the Congress's 80 MLAs, including four ministers, attended the meeting.

Amarinder Singh's son Raninder Singh talked about "new beginnings" in his tweet. "...must go now as I am proud to accompany my father to Raj Bhawan when he submits his resignation as CM of Punjab and leads us as head of our family into a new beginning et all," he wrote.

Singh unsurprisingly skipped the MLAs' meet. Sources say over 50 MLAs had written to Sonia Gandhi demanding that the "Captain" be replaced as Chief Minister. Singh had fought the party's order to resign, which raises the possibility of a split in the Congress and turmoil over who will be Chief Minister and lead the party in the Punjab election.

The names of three leaders are in circulation to replace Singh - former Punjab Congress chiefs Sunil Jakhar and Pratap Singh Bajwa, and Beant Singh's grandson Ravneet Singh Bittu.

Hours earlier, Sunil Jakhar had all but announced that Singh was on his way out. "Kudos to Rahul Gandhi for adopting Alexandrian solution to this Punjabi version of Gordian knot. Surprisingly, this bold leadership decision to resolve Punjab Congress imbroglio has not only enthralled Congress workers but has sent shudders down the spines of Akalis," Jakhar tweeted.

The Punjab crisis has escalated dramatically over the Chief Minister's festering feud with Navjot Sidhu. In July, despite the Chief Minister's fierce resistance, the party appointed Navjot Sidhu its Punjab chief, but the acrimony stayed barely below the surface.

The truce started unravelling with a row over advisers appointed by Mr Sidhu and their controversial statements, which Singh publicly condemned. Last month, four ministers and around two dozen party legislators raised fresh complaints against Amarinder Singh, telling the leadership that they had no faith in his ability to honour poll promises.

Gujarat Chief Minister, Cabinet Resign A Year Before State Polls

GANDHINAGAR, Sept 11: Vijay Rupani resigned as Chief Minister of Gujarat on Saturday ahead of elections in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state late next year.

"... has been a five-year journey for development of Gujarat... under guidance of PM Modi. Now, to further develop the state, with new energy and power, I have decided to resign as Chief Minister," said Rupani.

"It is well known the BJP, as a party, keeps changing as per requirements... it is a speciality of our party that every worker delivers to the fullest, and I too will continue to work for the party with the same energy," he added.

Rupani's resignation was followed by that of his cabinet in a stunning twist that leaves the ruling BJP with three options - appoint a successor (and new cabinet), allow the state to come under President's Rule or have an Assembly election much earlier than scheduled.

Sources have said at this point no decision has been taken on early polls and a change of guard - a new Chief Minister - is likely to be the strategy.

Sources also said Mansukh Mandaviya, who was just sworn in as the Union Health Minister in July, and Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel are possible replacements.

Some reports have indicated Mandaviya, who was born in Gujarat's Bhavnagar and is a Rajya Sabha MP from the state, has already reached Rupani's residence.

Rupani resigned, sources further said, after the party's central leadership expressed dissatisfaction with his performance; sources have called this a "course correction" by a BJP eager to change things around if it feels unsure in its state leadership.

The strategy, it seems, is simple - 'if there is resentment against state leadership, sort it out now'. There are recent examples - Karnataka and Uttarakhand.

In July BS Yediyurappa resigned as Karnataka Chief Minister following resentment against him and his son, and unrelenting calls for his removal by a section of the party's state unit.

Before that there was the double whammy in Uttarakhand, where Tirath Singh Rawat quit barely four months after replacing Trivendra Rawat.

The Uttarakhand example is particularly interesting because, like Gujarat, the state will hold elections next year. Trivendra Rawat and Tirath Singh Rawat were both replaced with around six months to polls, underlining the BJP's willingness to take big decisions to retain power.

Principal opposition parties, including the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, have yet to respond. However, independent MLA Jignesh Mevani has.

"People of Gujarat would have appreciated had Mr. Rupani resigned for his monumental mismanagement of Covid crisis. This resignation comes purely to take care of electoral arithmetic keeping 2022 assembly polls in mind," he tweeted.

Rupani, 65, was sworn in for a second term in December 2017 in front of Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and over a dozen other BJP chief ministers.

Mumbai Woman, Raped And Tortured With Iron Rod, Dies In Hospital

MUMBAI, Sept 11: The 34-year-old woman raped and brutalised inside a stationary tempo in suburban Mumbai's Sakinaka in the early hours of Friday has died while being treated at a local hospital.

A statement from Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's office decried the "shameful" and "highly condemnable" incident, and vowed to ensure the strictest punishment for the accused.

"This incident is highly condemnable... it shames humanity. The accused will be given the harshest possible punishment and a fast-track court will handle the trial," the statement said.

In a vile attack that bore a disturbing similarity to the assault on a young medical student in Delhi in 2012, the woman was sexually assaulted and tortured with an iron rod.

A team of police officers - alerted after the control room received an emergency call at 3.30 am on Friday - found her lying in a pool of blood on Khairani Road.

The caller said a woman was being beaten by a man, according to a news agency.

She was rushed to the government-run Rajawadi Hospital for treatment.

Day time visuals from the area show a busy main road, with more than a moderate amount of traffic buzzing up and down. Disturbing CCTV footage has also been secured by the police; grainy visuals seem to show a man standing over what looks like body lying on the ground.

A report said preliminary inquiries found bloodstains inside the tempo, which was parked by the roadside during the assault.

One accused - 45-year-old Mohan Chouhan - has been arrested. He had been arrested under charges of rape and attempt to murder (which will now be revised to murder).

He was produced in court and sent to police custody till September 21.

The National Commission for Women has taken cognisance and expressed dismay at the "barbarity and atrocity" of the attack, directing the police "to immediately intervene.... an FIR must be filed".

The NCW urged charges of rape, murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt, and asked police to complete inquiries in a fair and time-bound manner.

I'm Kashmiri Pandit, Says Rahul Gandhi

JAMMU, Sept 10: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, whose party has long assailed the ruling BJP for entwining politics and religion, was on Friday seen exhorting people to chant 'Jai Mata Di' from a stage in Jammu and invoking his Kashmiri Pandit lineage.

"Jai Mata Di," he was heard saying, somewhat tepidly with a smile while addressing a congregation of Congress workers, and on seemingly not receiving the desired reaction, he went "Boliye, boliye (Say, say)" before repeating the Hindu chant a little louder and getting a better response.

"I am a Kashmiri Pandit. My family is Kashmiri Pandit. Delegation of Kashmiri Pandits met me and said that Congress implemented many welfare schemes for them but the BJP has done nothing. I promise that my Kashmiri Pandit brothers that I will do something for them," Gandhi also said.

On a two-day visit to Jammu, the 51-year-old travelled to the Vaishno Devi shrine from Katra on foot on Thursday, with the optics of the pilgrimage clear.

In videos, the Congress MP was seen walking briskly alongside pilgrims on the 14-km stretch leading to the shrine, surrounded by security personnel. Congress workers holding up party flags lined the pathway.

"I have come here to offer prayers to the Mata (mother goddess). I don't want to make any political comments here," Rahul Gandhi told reporters who chased him to the shrine. The media was not allowed to take their cameras.

The Congress posted videos in which the MP was seen interacting with pilgrims.

This is his second visit to Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation in August 2019 of Article 370, which gave special status to the former state. Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two territories.

Mehbooba Mufti placed under house arrest

SRINAGAR, Sept 7: PDP chief and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti Tuesday claimed she has been “put under house arrest”, added this exposed the fake claims of normalcy in the state by the Government of India.

She said the step has been taken as “according to the administration, the situation is far from normal in Kashmir”.

“GOI expresses concern for the rights of Afghan people but willfully denies the same to Kashmiris. Ive been placed under house arrest today because according to admin the situation is far from normal in Kashmir. This exposes their fake claims of normalcy,” Mufti tweeted.

Mufti’s tweet comes after security restrictions were imposed in the Valley after the death of separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani last Wednesday.

On Sunday, Mufti flayed the central government for the filing of an FIR over the draping of Geelani’s body in a Pakistani flag and the alleged raising of “anti-national” slogans after his death.

“Having turned Kashmir into an open air prison, now even the dead aren’t spared. A family isn’t allowed to mourn & bid a final farewell as per their wishes. Booking Geelani sahab’s family under UAPA shows GOI’s deep rooted paranoia & ruthlessness. This is New India’s Naya Kashmir,” the PDP chief had tweeted.

Talks Fail, Huge Farmers' Camp At Haryana Government Office

KARNAL, Sept 7: Protesting farmers decided to pitch tents outside the government offices in Haryana's Karnal as talks with the state on their demand justice for victims of August 28 lathicharge -- failed. The police earlier used water cannons on the farmers.

Administration offices in Karnal became the site of the big face-off between farmers and the police. Water cannons were used as farmers breached barricades, intending to gherao the mini-secretariat.

Videos from the spot show flag-waving, slogan-shouting, cheering farmers jumping over barricades. Soon the police and their water cannons take over.

"The gherao of mini-secretariat at Karnal has just started. It will be peaceful," Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav told reporters. He and several farmers leaders, including Bharatiya Kisan Union chief Rakesh Tikait, were detained earlier, he said.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of around 40 farmer unions, said the mini secretariat has been "gheraoed by tens of thousands of farmers".

Earlier, farmer leaders spoke to the administration demanding the suspension of Ayush Sinha, "the murderous official being protected and promoted by Haryana government," the SKM said. Ayush Sinha was caught on video telling cops to "break (farmers') heads".

The administration did not agree to this, and "continued with its defence of the official", read the SKM statement. Earlier talks between 11 farmer leaders and district officials – over permission for the march - failed.

The administration had imposed prohibitory orders banning large gatherings two days ago. A huge number of security personnel, including 40 companies of policemen, were deployed and cellphone internet and SMS services were suspended. Barricades were set up in five districts.

The farmers said that today's mahapanchayat and the protest march are "to seek justice" for Sushil Kajla - who they claim died of injuries sustained in the august 28 lathicharge. The police say he died of a cardiac arrest.

Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar infuriated farmers further last week defending the official's comments. He said "the choice of words was not correct (but) strictness had to be maintained". Ayush Sinha has been transferred to a different department.

Today's mahapanchayat and march comes days after Sunday's massive gathering in Muzaffarnagar, UP. They declared that they will oppose the BJP in the coming elections in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Hundreds of thousands hit Indian streets to protest against farm laws

MUZAFFAR NAGAR, Sept 5: Hundreds of thousands of farmers have gathered in India's most populous state Uttar Pradesh, the biggest rally yet in a months-long series of demonstrations to press Narendra Modi's government to repeal three new agricultural laws.

More than 500,000 farmers attended the rally in the city of Muzaffarnagar, according to local police.

The demonstration in Uttar Pradesh, a predominantly agricultural state that's home to 240 million people, will breathe fresh life into the protest movement, said Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers' leader.

"We'll intensify our protest by going to every single city and town of Uttar Pradesh to convey the message that Modi's government is anti-farmer," he added.

Over the past eight months, tens of thousands of farmers have camped on major highways to the capital, New Delhi to oppose the laws, in India's longest-running farmer' protest against the government.

The measures, introduced last September, allow farmers to directly sell their produce, outside government-regulated wholesale markets, to big buyers. The government says this will unshackle farmers and help them get better prices.

Farmers, however, say the legislation will hurt their livelihood and leave them with scant bargaining power against big private retailers and food processors.

Farming is a vast sector that sustains almost half of India's more than 1.3 billion people, and accounts for about 15 percent to the country's $2.7 trillion economy.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, another farmers' leader, said Sunday's rally was a warning for Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, which next year will a contest state assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, often seen as a barometer of the popularity of the federal government.

"Our message is very clear - either repeal the laws or face defeat in the state election," he added.

40 Children Among 50 Die Of Dengue In UP

LUCKNOW, Sept 3: At least 50 people, including 40 children, have died in western Uttar Pradesh's Firozabad district in the last 10 days from dengue. The state government said the deaths were due to "Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever," which is a severe form of the disease.

Other districts in western UP like Mathura and Agra have also reported a rise in dengue, with hospitals teeming with children who are suffering from viral fever and dehydration.

"A team of the WHO has told me this is Haemorrhagic Dengue which is a very dangerous form of dengue. The platelet count of children collapses suddenly and there is a lot of bleeding," Chandra Vijay Singh, the district Magistrate of Firozabad said in a video statement on Thursday.

A team of experts from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme has been sent to Firozabad by the centre to help health officials.

Among the five deaths in Firozabad on Thursday was of 6-year-old Pallavi, who was brought to the designated 100-bed district hospital that is treating dengue cases. Visuals outside the hospital showed the child's mother weeping and blaming government doctors for inaction and for not providing ambulances to transport the dead. The six-year-old was brought to the hospital on Tuesday with high fever and dehydration.

"We have hearse vans and even ambulances to transport bodies. You can see for yourself," a doctor at the government hospital said in response to the allegations.

In Mathura, 60 km away from Firozabad, 11 children have died from fever and dehydration in just one village - Koh - in the last 15 days. The UP government said the deaths are due to vector-borne diseases, primarily dengue. Fifteen people have died in the district so far.

Visuals from a government hospital in Hapur, about 100 km from New Delhi, showed a paediatric (child) outpatient department filled with patients - mostly young children accompanied by their mothers.

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi has hit out at the state government over the incident. On Twitter, she claimed that over 100 people had died from viral fever across the state.

"Has the UP government not learned any lessons from the horrific consequences of its disastrous Covid management in the 2nd wave? All possible resources should be directed towards providing healthcare to the affected and taking adequate precautions to prevent the disease from spreading," Priyanka said in her tweet.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited Firozabad a few days ago and said all measures would be taken to help those who needed treatment. The top health official of the district, its chief medical officer, was transferred out after Yogi Adityanath's visit.

Supreme Court asks Govt to issue Covid death certificates immediately

NEW DELHI, Sept 3: The Supreme Court on Friday gave the government time till September 11 to file a compliance report on a June 30 order directing it to frame guidelines for issuing death certificates and paying compensation to the families of those who have died of COVID-19.

The court was disinclined to grant the 10 days the government sought.

It pointed out that a significant period had passed since its last order and said that unless steps were taken immediately, the third wave too would have passed and the government would face an even bigger challenge.

"The order on death certificates, (compensation for) death, etc. was passed long back. By the time you take further steps, third wave will also be over," the court said.

In June the court ruled that the families of those who died from Covid should get financial compensation, and gave the NDMA, or National Disaster Management Authority, six weeks to decide on the amount and frame the required guidelines.

The court said the central agency was bound to give "minimum standards of relief, which includes ex-gratia assistance", but said the actual amount would be left "to the wisdom of the authority".

The court also said death certificates for those who died of COVID-19 must include date and cause of death (CoD), and also have mechanisms to correct CoD if the family is not satisfied.

The government had then argued that as per Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, the word "shall" should be construed as "may", meaning it is not mandatory to provide compensation.

The government also said compensation could not be paid as it applied only to natural disasters, and further that states could not afford ₹ 4 lakh - the amount proposed by petitioners - for every family.

"Utilisation of scarce resources for giving ex-gratia, may have unfortunate consequences of affecting the pandemic response and health expenditure in other aspects and hence cause more damage than good," the government had said.

The opposition Congress has slammed the centre over this issue, demanding compensation of ₹ 10 lakh per family and saying the government had no right to rule it could not provide this sum.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi said funds could be diverted from taxes collected on petrol and diesel.

Supreme Court lashes out at section of media for giving 'communal angle' to everything

NEW DELHI, Sept 2: The Supreme Court has expressed its displeasure and concern over the way a section of web portals, social networking sites and channels run fake news and harm reputations in absence of a regulatory mechanism.

Hearing a batch of petitions on Thursday, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana peeved over attempts by a section of the media to give communal colour to news and flagged lack of accountability of social media and digital platforms. The CJI said that they do not respond to complaints even from judges.

The Bench, which also comprised Justices Surya Kant and A S Bopanna, was hearing the petition was filed by Jamiat Ulama I Hind and the Peace Party, seeking appropriate direction to stop certain media sections from allegedly spreading fake news while linking the spread of COVID-19 with the Nizamuddin Markaz event in 2020.

The CJI said, “The problem is everything in this country is shown with a communal angle by a section of the media… The country is going to get a bad name ultimately,” adding "I don`t know, why everything is given communal angle. They (these social networking sites) only listen to powerful voices and write anything against judges, institutions without any accountability."

The CJI Ramana observed, "These social media sites and channels even don`t respond to us. They say we are not responsible. Institutions, judges, maligned on social media."

The Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, senior lawyer appearing for the Union of India (UoI), told the Supreme Court that "please grant me two weeks we will file something". To this, the CJI said, "you have taken four adjournments to file affidavit Mr Mehta."

"Please grant me time for 2 weeks. We need to file a document," Mehta said, adding that the balance is between freedom of the press and the right of citizens to get correct information. We have tried to make sure that no untoward information/news is broadcast. Rules have been framed for broadcasters and web portals."

The CJI observed many web portals are not under the control of anybody, asking Mehta, "If you go to Youtube, you can see there is much fake news and false information being circulated. Anyone can start doing it. You have regulatory mechanisms as far as papers and TV are concerned, but "are you suggesting that there is no regulatory mechanism?"

The CJI observed, what is the use of powerful debates if only people who are powerful are allowed to get their matters redressed and the common man`s grievance is not addressed?

Pleading for listing the matter related to IT rules next week, Mehta said that these rules have been challenged in various High Courts, and orders are being passed.

Mehta, however, said that there is a regulatory regime now for SM and OTT platforms and referred to The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, adding that the Rules call for appointment of an Indian resident as the grievance redressal officer.

The Rules have been challenged in various High Courts and the Centre has filed a petition seeking transfer of all these cases to the Supreme Court. He also cited the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021, saying it provides for two layers of self-regulation and then oversight by a government committee.

On Mehta's transfer plea, the CJI said "as far as the transfer plea is concerned, let the same be listed along with this petition on the next date."

The Supreme Court directed that it will hear all the petitions challenging Cable Rules amendment 2021 and Digital media IT rules 2021, after six weeks.

 

 



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