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Delhi Has 923 New Cases, 86% Up From Yesterday, Highest Since May 30

NEW DELHI, Dec 29: In a massive spike, Delhi today reported 923 cases of coronavirus - an 86 per cent jump in cases from yesterday and the highest since May 30. There have been no related deaths in the city in 24 hours.

The national capital has been witnessing a gradual uptick in the number of cases over the last week with the positivity rate now climbing to 1.29 per cent.

The huge rise comes a day after the Delhi government imposed a fresh set of restrictions under the Yellow Alert - sounded when the Covid positivity rate remains at 0.5 per cent for two consecutive days. Under the Yellow Alert, schools, colleges, educational institutes, cinema halls, gyms, and spas have been shut down while shops and malls have been allowed to open on an odd-even basis. Delhi Metro is currently running at 50 per cent seating capacity and a night curfew between 10 pm and 5 am is already in place.

Yesterday, Delhi had recorded 496 new cases, the biggest single-day spike in infections in over six months. In the last 24 hours, Delhi recorded 73 Omicron cases taking the total number to 238.

Data has shown that the average daily rise of Covid this time is almost 21 per cent faster than during the second wave in March-April. A seven-day moving average showed that the cases have shot up from 56 to 199. Today's figures are likely to push the rate further north.

The Delhi Disaster Management Authority, in a meeting today, decided not to impose any fresh curbs in the national capital in view of the steadily rising cases of coronavirus amid a global outbreak of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

It was decided that the "yellow alert" of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) will continue for some time. A decision on further restrictions will be taken in the next DDMA meeting, after monitoring bed occupancy in hospitals.

The virtual review meeting of the DDMA was chaired by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal and was attended by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and several experts.

There are currently 2,191 active cases in Delhi and the city's overall tally stands at 14,45,102 with 25,107 related deaths.

Petrol price cut by massive ₹25 a litre in Jharkhand for two-wheelers

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren on Wednesday said that the state government will give a major concession on petrol and diesel prices, but only for two-wheelers.

“Jharkhand government has decided to give a concession of ₹25 per litre petrol to motorcycles and scooter riders,” said Soren.

"Prices of petrol and diesel are touching the sky today. And this is affecting poor and middle class families. Despite having a motorcycle at home, a poor man can't ride it because he has no money for petrol. He is not able to take is produce to the marketplace to sell it," Soren said in a notice posted on the official Twitter handle of Jharkhand chief minister's office.

"So, it has been decided that if such ration card holders fill petrol in their motorcycle or scooter, we will transfer ₹25 per litre subsidy to their bank accounts. A family can get this subsidy for 10 litres of petrol every month," he added.

The changes will be implemented from January 26 next year, the notice posted by Soren further said.

The announcement was made as the Soren government completed two years today. His Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) stormed to power after winning the assembly elections in 2019.

Fighting the elections in alliance with Congress and Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), the JMM won a comfortable majority with 47 seats in the 81-member house.

While the JMM won 30 seats, Congress and RJD secured 16 and later two MLAs of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) joined Congress.

The fifth assembly election in Jharkhand since the state was carved out of Bihar in 2000 will be held in 2024, along with Andhra Pradesh.

Delhi's Highest Daily Cases 331 In Over 6 Months, Yellow Alert Likely

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: Delhi's Covid numbers took a huge jump today, exceeding 0.5% for the second consecutive day which makes the declaration of Yellow Alert with its host of restrictions likely. Over 24 hours, the city recorded 331 cases, 142 of these are of Omicron.

The current positivity rate is 0.68 per cent -- up from the critical level of 0.5 per cent recorded yesterday.

Yellow Alert may come into effect under four-stage Graded response Action Plan in Delhi. Its requirement is the critical 0.5% positivity rate for two consecutive days. The Delhi government is yet to take a decision on the matter.

For now, night curfew comes into effect in the city starting today. The duration will be from 11 pm to 5 am.

The 331 new cases in the city are a jump from the 290 case and one death reported on Sunday. The Omicron number, 149, is up from yesterday's 72. The number of active Covid patients is 1,289 -- the highest since June.

If Yellow Alert is declared, most of the activities resumed in phases as the second wave waned, will come to a stop. Malls, restaurants, shops, cinema halls spas and gyms, all will be hit.

Schools, colleges, educational institutions, and coaching institutes will have to shut and private offices will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity from 9 am to 5 pm.

Shops and malls selling non-essential goods and services will be allowed to stay open from 10 am to 8 pm under the odd-even rule.

Restaurants will have to operate at 50 per cent capacity between 8 am and 10 pm. Bars can remain open from noon to 10 pm and operate at 50 per cent capacity.

Cinema halls and multiplexes, banquet halls and auditoriums, spas, gyms, yoga institutes and entertainment parks will have to shut down. Sports complexes, stadiums and swimming pools will also be closed.
The Delhi Metro and Interstate buses will run at 50 per cent capacity. Only two passengers will be allowed in autos, e-rickshaws, taxis and cycle rickshaws. Only 20 people will be allowed at weddings and funerals. Religious places will remain open but the entry of devotees will be restricted.

Third Shot To Be Called Precaution Dose, Not Booster: CoWIN Chief

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: Amid widespread confusion over the government's classification of the third coronavirus vaccine shot for select groups as a "precaution dose" instead of a booster (commonly a different kind of vaccine), RS Sharma, chief of India's vaccination platform CoWIN, on Monday said that the portal will go with the official nomenclature.

"If the government calls it a precautionary dose, CoWIN is also going to call it the same. I can't imagine what a 4th or 5th dose will be called," Sharma said, responding to a question on whether there will be a separate plan for booster doses.

"I am not very clear about the decision as to whether the third dose will be of the same brand as the first two. As and when that decision is taken because this thing whole thing is going to happen from 10th January. Accordingly, the CoWIN platform will be configured," he added.

A frontline worker or a person above 60 with illnesses who are eligible to take this precautionary dose as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday will be able to sign up for it on the CoWIN website once nine months have passed since their second shot, Sharma said.

"They will get an SMS on their phone once their third dose is due," Sharma said.

Senior health ministry sources have said that unlike what most advanced countries are doing, there will be no mix-and-match of vaccines for the crucial third dose to be given in view of the Omicron variant that is rapidly spreading in the country.

Precaution doses will be a third dose of the same vaccine a person has taken - be it Covishield or Covaxin. The key aspect will be the gap - the third dose will be administered 9-12 months after the second dose to health and frontline workers and senior citizens with co-morbidities, sources said.

There has been considerable debate worldwide over whether mixing vaccines or sticking to the same vaccine for the third dose offers better protection. While specific data from both are yet to come in for booster doses, mixing vaccines for the first and second shots is seen to have triggered a more robust immune response.

76 Top Indian Lawyers Write To Chief Justice On Genocide Call

NEW DELHI, Dec 26: Seventy-six advocates of the Supreme Court have written to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, asking the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of the calls for "ethnic cleansing" at two recent religious events in Delhi and Haridwar.

Naming a list of people who had given the call, the advocates wrote that in absence of police action, "Urgent judicial intervention is required to prevent such events that seem to have become the order of the day".

Pointing to the religious conclaves in Haridwar and Delhi, the letter -- signed by eminent lawyers including Dushyant Dave, Prashant Bhushan and Vrinda Grover, Salman Khurshid and former Patna High Court judge Anjana Prakash -- read: "The aforementioned events and the speeches delivered during the same are not mere hate speeches but amount to an open call for murder of an entire community".

The speeches, the letter said, pose a "grave threat not just to the unity and integrity of our country but also endanger the lives of millions of Muslim citizens".

Following outrage and condemnation on social media over the open calls for genocide and use of weapons against Muslims, a police case was filed four days after the Haridwar event, in which only one person was named. Two more names were later added - Dharm Das and one Sadhvi Annapurna.

In one of the videos, "Sadhvi Annapurna" – formerly called Pooja Shakun Pandey -- is heard saying, "If you want to finish them off, then kill them... We need 100 soldiers who can kill 20 lakh of them to win this".

Those who organised the event and gave hate speeches, claim they did no wrong.

Hindu Raksha Sena's Prabodhanand Giri -- photographed often with BJP leaders including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his Uttarakhand counterpart Pushkar Dhami -- said he is "not ashamed" of what he said. "I am not afraid of police. I stand by my statement," he said.

In one of the videos circulated on social media, he is heard saying: "Like Myanmar, our police, our politicians, our Army and every Hindu must pick up weapons and conduct a Safayi Abhiyan (ethnic cleansing). There is no other option left".

"It may be noted that no effective steps have been taken under the provisions of 153, 153A, 153B, 295A, 504, 506, 120B, 34 of IPC in respect of the earlier hate speeches. Thus, urgent judicial intervention is required to prevent such events that seem to have become the order of the day," read the letter sent to Chief Justice Ramana. It also pointed out that several petitions have been filed on it and are pending with the court.

"We are writing to your Lordship hoping for prompt action in your capacity as the head of the judicial wing of the State and knowing your Lordship's commitment to both the independence of Judiciary as also the constitutional values that are fundamental to the functioning of a multicultural nation such as ours," the advocates have appealed.

Night curfew in Delhi from 11 pm to 5 am amid surge in COVID-19 cases

NEW DELHI, Dec 26: The Delhi government has announced the imposition of night curfew from 11 pm to 5 am in view of the surge in daily COVID-19 cases.

The curb will come into effect from December 27, the government said. The health department reported 290 new cases today, the highest since June 10. One fatality was also recorded in the same period.

The night curfew has been reimposed as the positivity rate in the capital city has surged past 0.5 percent. It was recorded as 0.55 percent as per the latest update issued by the health department.

According to Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA)'s four-stage Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), a 'yellow alert' will be sounded if the positivity rates remains over 0.5 percent for more than two days.

If the yellow alert comes into effect, restaurants and bars will be forced to operate at 50 percent of their total capacity, shops selling non-essential items would be allowed to remain open only till 8 pm, and cinema halls and theatres would be asked to shut down. This is in accordance to the GRAP which was approved by DDMA in July amid fears of a likely third wave.

Delhi, with 79 Omicron cases, accounts for the second-highest number of infections caused by the new coronavirus variant in the country. The nationwide tally stood at 422, as per the last update issued by the Union health ministry.

Since the spread of COVID-19 infections caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant, a number of states including Karnataka, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have imposed night curfews. The government of Maharashtra has imposed Section 144 of CrPC, which bars the assembly of five or more persons, from 9 pm to 6 am.

In a communique to states and Union territories on December 21, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan asked the respective governments to remain "proactive" and consider imposing curbs in areas which witness a surge in positivity rate.

"Omicron is at least three times more transmissible than Delta," the health secretary said, adding, "The decision making at the State/UT and district level must be very prompt and focused and take containment measures and restrictions even before these thresholds are reached."

UP businessman Piyush Jain who stashed ₹200 crore arrested

Perfume businessman of Uttar Pradesh with alleged link with the Samajwadi Party Piyush Jain has been arrested on Sunday.

Income Tax department unearthed crores of money in cash in a tax raid at businessman Piyush Jain’s residence, in Kanpur on Friday. The cash bundles were all wrapped in paper covers and secured with yellow tape.

Income Tax department unearthed crores of money in cash in a tax raid at businessman Piyush Jain’s residence, in Kanpur on Friday. The cash bundles were all wrapped in paper covers and secured with yellow tape.

NEW DELHI, Dec 26: Perfume businessman of Uttar Pradesh with an alleged link with the Samajwadi Party Piyush Jain has been arrested on Sunday, days after crores of rupees in cash were seized from his residence and factory in Kanpur.

The income tax raid on the premises of the businessman became a talking point after photos of stacks of cash wrapped in the yellow paper were released by the income tax department.

According to the director-general of GST Intelligence, Ahmedabad, a total of ₹187,45 crore cash was recovered during the search while another ₹10 crore was seized later. This includes ₹5 crore recovered from his factory in Kannauj and another ₹5 crore from his residence.

Unaccounted sandalwood oil, perfumes worth crores have been seized from Jain's factory. According to reports, when the DGGI and Local Central GST team reached Jain's premises on day one of the searches, he ran away and came back after two hours on several calls by investigating officers.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath said Jain had links with the Samajwadi Party as Jain was the one to have introduced Samajwadi perfume ahead of the elections in the state.

"For the past two-three days, continuous raids are being conducted on the premises of a person belonging to the SP. Rs 257 crore in cash and several kilograms of gold and silver was recovered. This money belongs to the poor. There is also evidence of how it was looted," Adityanath said.

During the interrogation, Jain said the cash belonged to his relatives and other family members though could not give any convincing evidence. Even the relatives whose names were taken by Jain denied the claim.

"We want to know the source of such huge cash. Why such a huge amount of cash was collected, where was this cash supposed to be used, from where this cash came. Was the 143, Anandpuri, Kanpur, where ₹177.45 crore cash was recovered a collection centre of Perfume sale or it was used for some other purpose. The investigation will be on until it reaches its logical conclusion," said an official on Sunday.

This is the biggest cash seizure in the history of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, the apex body of the investigation agency Directorate General of GST Intelligence (DGGI) who is conducting the search

Centre forms panel to look into demand for AFSPA repeal in Nagaland

KOHIMA, Dec 26: Amid the growing clamour for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Nagaland in the aftermath of the civilian killings, a state government release Sunday said that a committee to look into the demand will be instituted by the Centre.

The panel, which has been asked to submit its report in 45 days, will decide on whether AFSPA can be repealed from Nagaland and the state’s “disturbed area” status be removed.

This comes after representatives of the Nagaland government, including Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, held a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi on Thursday to discuss the present scenario in Nagaland in the aftermath of the incident in Mon district’s Oting, where 14 civilians were killed in a security ambush and clashes that followed.

The meeting, which was chaired by Shah, was also attended by Nagaland Deputy Chief Minister Y Patton former Chief Minister TR Zeliang and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

The delegation from Nagaland also appealed to the Union Home Ministry to replace the Assam Rifles Unit in Mon with immediate effect.

Calls for repeal of AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to the security forces to arrest without warrant and even shoot to kill in certain situations, have been growing louder in Nagaland and other northeastern states since the incident in Oting.

Massive protest rallies have been held in Kohima, with the Nagaland Cabinet also recommending the law’s repeal. Earlier this week, a special session of the Nagaland Assembly passed a unanimous resolution demanding the repeal of AFSPA.

The release added that the committee will be chaired by the Additional Secretary, Northeast, Ministry of Home Affairs. It would also include the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police of Nagaland as well as the Inspector General Assam Rifles (North) and representatives from the Central Reserve Police Force.

The release, which was signed by Rio, Patton and Zeliang, also said that a court of inquiry will initiate disciplinary proceedings against the army unit and army personnel, who were directly involved in the incident, and that action would be “taken immediately” on the basis of a fair probe. “The identified persons who will face the enquiry will be placed under suspension with immediate effect,” it added.

India Announces Booster Doses; Vaccines For Children

NEW DELHI, Dec 25: India will start vaccinating children between the ages of 15 to 18 from January 3 next year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in a sudden address to the nation tonight.

Healthcare and frontline workers will be provided with "precautionary doses" from January 10 next year, he added.

People above 60 years of age who have co-morbidities will also have the option to take the booster dose on a recommendation from doctors. This will also start from January 10.

The Prime Minister said that as people prepare to welcome the new year with hope and celebration, it's also a time to be careful as the highly contagious Omicron variant is rapidly pushing up Covid infections.

He appealed to the people not to panic but be careful and alert. "Use masks and wash hands regularly," he said.

Modi assured the citizens that all possible preparations are in order to tackle increasing infections. He listed the number of hospital beds, oxygen beds available, and vaccination progress.

"Covid isn't past us yet. Being careful is very important," he said.

"Today, the nation has 18 lakh isolation beds, 5 lakh oxygen-supported beds, 1.4 lakh ICU beds, and 90,000 special beds for children. Today, we have over 3,000 functional PSA Oxygen plants and 4 lakh Oxygen cylinders have been provided to all states," he said.

"Apart from research on the vaccine, we were also working on approval processes, supply chains, distribution, training, IT support system, and certification. With these efforts, India started vaccinating its citizens on January 16 this year," he said.

"Today, more than 61 percent of India's adult population has received both doses of the vaccine. Similarly, about 90 percent of the adult population has been given a single dose of the vaccine," he said.

India adds 7,189 Covid cases, 387 deaths in 24 hrs; Caseload surges to 3.47 cr

NEW DELHI, Dec 25: With 7,189 cases in 24 hours, India's Covid-19 caseload has surged to 3.47 crore. India reported 387 Covid-related deaths and 7,286 recoveries in the past 24 hours. The daily active cases have declined to 484.

Overall, India's fatalities due to Covid-19 infection have surged to 4,79,520, which accounts for 1.38% of the total caseload. The overall recoveries have increased to 3,42,23,263 while the active cases climbed to 77,032.

India's daily positivity rate stands at 0.65%, which has been less than 2% for the last 82 days. The weekly positive rate is at 0.60%.

India's Covid-19 vaccination coverage has achieved 140 crore landmark milestones (140,93,45,905). Of the total vaccination coverage, 83,42,98,291 people have been administered with the first shot of vaccine while 57,50,47,614 people have been fully vaccinated.

Omicron cases in India:

A total of 414 omicron cases have been reported in 17 states and union territories of India. Of the 414 patients, 115 have recovered.

Meanwhile, an IIT study has said that the third wave of Covid-19 pandemic may peak by February 3, 2022 in India. However, the forecast is based on the assumption that India will follow the trends of rise in cases seen in many countries globally driven by the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

The IIT study came even as the government said on Friday that the world is witnessing a fourth surge in COVID-19 cases, and cautioned people against lowering the guard, particularly during year-end festivities.

Ludhiana court blast: Khalistani links found, role of Pak's ISI suspected, says Punjab DGP

CHANDIGARH, Dec 25: Punjab Director General of Police Siddharth Chattopadhyaya has said links to Khalistani elements, gangsters and drug smugglers were found in the course of the investigation into the blast at the Ludhiana Court complex on Thursday. He said the role of Pakistan's ISI is also suspected in the case.

"We have found that there is a link to Khalistani elements, gangsters and drug smugglers," he said while briefing the media.

"We are facing challenges from terrorism and narcotics. Narco organised crime and terrorism are a dangerous cocktail. The case in Ludhiana is one such case," he said.

"This is a larger conspiracy. The (accused) was a Punjab police employee. He knew how to evade check points and police checking. The bomb was strapped to his stomach. The accused Gagandeep was sound in electronic devices. He did this in his angst against the legal system," the Punjab DGP said.

"ISI Pak is said to be behind it. But there are other angles as well," he said.

He said that the case was unravelled in 24 hours. "We found several leads from the spot. We found tattered clothes and a sim card, a mobile and a tattoo on the arm," the DGP said.

Giving details of the suspect in the Ludhiana blast case, he said, "The deceased was carrying explosives -- which was the initial assessment and turned out to be correct. Within 24 hours, we found the main accused. He was arrested in 2017."

On December 23, Thursday, an explosion at the District and Sessions court complex in Ludhiana claimed the life of one person, while five others were injured.

Sources say that Babbar Khalsa, a Pakistan-backed pro-Khalistan outfit, is suspected to be behind the Ludhiana court blast.

After a preliminary probe, the police and the National Security Guard (NSG) believe that the deceased was the one who planted the bomb on the court premises. According to sources, the man has been identified as a dismissed cop named Gagandeep.

According to sources, Gagandeep's mobile phone exploded at the time of the blast. But he had a dongle through which he was using the internet. The NIA and Punjab Police suspect that he was taking information from someone online about assembling and activating the bomb.

22 farm unions float a political front in Punjab, to contest all seats

CHANDIGARH, Dec 25: As many as 22 farmer organisations which were a part of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) that spearheaded the year-long farmers’ agitation floated their own political outfit Saturday and announced that they will contest all the 117 seats in the coming Assembly elections.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, 78, who emerged as a prominent face during the farm agitation, will be the face of the front, named the Samyukta Samaj Morcha (SSM).

Addressing the media after a meeting, Rajewal and farmer leaders Harmeet Singh Qadian and Kulwant Singh Sandhu said at least three more farmer organisations might join them.

“This was a demand of the people of the state, who said that we had emerged victorious in the farmers’ agitation and should fight on the political front also,” Qadian said, adding that they were just leading the front, and their strength were the people of the state.

While the farmer leaders said that there was no decision on forming an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), sources said talks were on with the party, which had emerged as the principal opposition in the last elections.

The SSM leaders said that the BKU (Dakaunda), BKU (Lakhowal) and BKU (Major Singh Poonewala) might join them too. Their constitutions do not allow them to jump into politics, and they would need to amend the same first, the SSM said.

Jagmohan Singh Dakaunda, the general secretary of the BKU (Dakaunda), said they would hold a meeting on December 27 on whether to support the SSM or not. What was clear, he added, was that they would neither oppose the SSM nor contest polls.

A decision was taken to not go by the name SKM for the political front to keep the Morcha distinct as a purely farmers’ plank. In a statement, the SKM’s nine-member coordination committee, including representatives Darshal Pal and Jagjit Singh Dallewal, said nine of the Morcha’s member organisations were not in favour of contesting elections.

In total, 11 farmer unions were staying away from the SSM as of now, including the BKU (Darshan Pal), BKU (Krantikari), BKU (Sidhupur), Azad Kisan Committee (Doaba), Jai Kisan Andolan, Dasuya Ganna Sangharsh Committee, Kisan Sangharsh Committee, Lok Bhalai Insaf Welfare Society, and Kirti Kisan Union.

Rajewal’s outfit BKU (Rajewal) is the second biggest organisation of farmers in Punjab, with Rajewal, a farm union leader since 1971, considered the state’s tallest leader. During the farmers’ agitation, videos of his speeches were widely circulated. “He has become a national figure now,” a political leader said.

At 43, Qadian is among the youngest farmers leaders in the state, with his organisation BKU (Qadian) claiming 70,000 members in Fatehgarh Sahib area. His grandfather was a founding member of the BKU.

Sandhu, the third farmer leader who addressed the SSM meeting on Saturday, heads the Jamhoori Kisan Sabha. A former member of the students’ wing of the CPM, he was shot in his leg during militancy days. He quit the CPM in 2001.

Pointing out that the SKM was a non-political platform for farmers’ issues, comprising 400 organisations from across the country, the SKM committee said the Morcha would neither give a call for boycott of the elections nor would it contest.

The SKM is planning to meet on January 15 to decide its future course of action, now that the farmers’ agitation has been called off after the government repealed the three contentious farm laws.

If the farmers’ political front goes alone, Punjab will see a five-corner contest, including the SSM, Congress, AAP, Akali Dal-BSP alliance, and the BJP with its ally Punjab Lok Congress of Amarinder Singh.

This is likely to dent the fortunes of all political parties, but particularly the Akali Dal that counts the farmers as a major support base. However, with the biggest farmers’ union, BKU (Ugrahan), along with other organisations with Leftist leanings staying away, farmer votes might not rally completely behind the SSM.

India issues fresh warning as Omicron tally rises to 358

NEW DELHI, Dec 24: Union health ministry on Friday issued a fresh warning against Covid-19 pandemic in the wake of the rise in Omicron cases, the newest variant of SARS-CoV-2. On December 23, the world recorded over 9 lakh Covid-19 cases, which indicates a fresh wave of the pandemic, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said on Friday during the ministry's weekly press briefing.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting on Thursday to review the efforts to combat COVID-19 and Omicron strain and emphasised the need to be "satark" and "saavdhan" in view of the new variant. He said the fight against the pandemic is not over and the need for continued adherence to COVID safe behaviour is of paramount importance even...

1. The world is witnessing the 4th surge of the pandemic. On December 23, over 9 lakh Covid cases have been recorded all over the world.

2. Compared with Europe, North America and Africa, Asia is witnessing a decline in the number of fresh cases, but we have to be on guard, Rajesh Bhushan said.

3. India has been recording around 7,000 Covid cases every day. Since the past 4 weeks, India's daily case tally fell below 10,000

4. India has seen two surges of the pandemic so far: one in September 2020 and the second in May 2021.

5. At present, India's cases are on the decline: Global case positivity rate is more than 6% while India's case positivity rate is 5.3%, though there are regional variations.

6. Cause of concern is the case positivity rate in Kerala and Mizoram.

7. Around 20 districts in the country are reporting a weekly positivity between 5 and 10%

8. 108 countries have reported over 1 lakh Omicron cases and there have been 26 deaths. In India, there are 358 Omicron cases in 17 states and UTs. 114 recovery has been reported.

9. Out of 183 cases analysed in India, 121 had foreign travel history, 44 had no foreign travel history but they came in contact with people with foreign travel history. Details of 18 are unknown. Out of these 183 cases, 87 were fully vaccinated, including 3 who received three doses of vaccine. 7 were unvaccinated and 2 were partially vaccinated, the Centre said.

10. Delta continues to be the dominant strain in India, including the recently identified clusters, ICMR DG Dr Balram Bhargava said.

After Outrage, Police File Case On Haridwar Hate Speech. One Person Named

NEW DELHI, Dec 23: A case has been registered in connection to the hate speeches at a religious conclave in Haridwar after outrage and condemnation on social media over the open calls for genocide and use of weapons against Muslims.

Filed four days after the event, the First Information Report names just one person -- a Muslim who recently converted into Hinduism. No arrest has been made in the matter.

Clips from the event -- held from December 17 to 20 -- were circulated on social media and drew sharp criticism from former military chiefs, activists and even international tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

The police had initially claimed that no FIR was filed as there was no complaint. "The police are monitoring the situation," said Haridwar Superintendent of Police Swatantra Kumar Singh had said when asked about the videos doing the rounds.

The First Information Report -- filed after a complaint by Trinamool Congress leader and RTI activist Saket Gokhale -- names one Jitender Narayan, alias Waseem Rizvi, who was earlier the chairman of Shia Waqf board of Uttar Pradesh. The FIR says he and others have given "derogatory and inflammatory statement against Islam" at the conclave.

"Taking cognizance of the video that is going viral on social media for spreading hatred by giving provocative speeches against a particular religion, a case has been registered against Wasim Rizvi alias Jitendra Narayan Tyagi and others under Section 153A IPC in Kotwali Haridwar and legal proceedings are in progress," read a tweet by the Uttarakhand police.

Those who organised the event and gave the hate speeches maintain that they have done no wrong.

"I am not ashamed of what I have said. I am not afraid of police. I stand by my statement," said Hindu Raksha Sena's Prabodhanand Giri -- photographed often with BJP leaders including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his Uttarakhand counterpart Pushkar Dhami.

In one of the videos circulated on social media, he is heard advocating ethnic cleansing in the manner of Myanmar. "Like Myanmar, our police, our politicians, our Army and every Hindu must pick up weapons and conduct a Safayi Abhiyan (ethnic cleansing). There is no other option left," he is heard saying.

Another video from the controversial meet shows Pooja Shakun Pandey, aka "Sadhvi Annapurna", urging violence against Muslims. "If you want to finish them off, then kill them... We need 100 soldiers who can kill 20 lakh of them to win this," she says.

"The Constitution of India is wrong. Indians should pray to Nathuram Godse (Mahatma Gandhi's assassin). I am not afraid of the police," she said.

Indian States roll out curbs amid Omicron threat

NEW DELHI, Dec 22: A day after the Centre issued fresh guidelines on Covid-19, several states have started imposing curbs in view of the threat posed by the Omicron variant.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had on Tuesday issued specific guidelines to the states in the backdrop of “initial signs of surge” in cases of Covid-19 as well as increased detection of the Omicron in different parts of the country. After Maharashtra and Karnataka, Delhi also came out with fresh curbs on Wednesday.

On Monday, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had said that gatherings of more than 200 people will now require permission from the local assistant municipal commissioners.

According to data updated at 8 am on Wednesday, India recorded 6,317 new cases of Covid-19 and 318 deaths in the last 24 hours. The country’s active caseload presently stands at 78,190, the lowest in 575 days.

Christmas, New Year gatherings banned in Delhi

Amid the threat posed by the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) has stated that no event or gathering to celebrate Christmas or New Year will be allowed in the city.

DDMA said that as per its order dated December 15, all social, political, sports, entertainment, cultural and religious events are prohibited and no gatherings can be held. “All District Magistrates and DCPs shall ensure that no cultural event/gatherings/congregations take place for celebrating Christmas or New Year in NCT of Delhi,” it stated.

Delhi recorded 125 Covid cases in a day with a positivity rate of 0.20 per cent while there was zero death due to the viral infection, according to data shared by the Delhi health department on Wednesday.

With this, the total number of cases reported in the city so far increased to 14,42,515. Of these, over 14.16 lakh have recuperated from the disease, the department said.

The death toll due to Covid-19 stands at 25,102. Delhi has recorded four deaths due to Covid in December so far. The city reported 102 cases on Tuesday with a positivity rate of 0.20 per cent and 91 cases on Monday with the same positivity rate.

Karnataka orders quarantine for primary, secondary contacts of Covid patients

The Karnataka government Wednesday directed the health officials, deputy commissioners and district surveillance officials to steadfastly track, trace and quarantine primary and secondary contacts of persons infected by Covid-19. Currently, around 300 Covid cases are being reported daily in Karnataka and the Test Positivity Rate (TPR) is between 0.25 per cent and 0.3 per cent. As on date, 19 cases of Omicron have been detected in Karnataka.

In a circular issued to the district and health officials, principal secretary, health and family welfare, T K Anil Kumar said 19 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected and “if left unchecked, may trigger a spike in number of new infections.”

“To sustain the gains achieved so far in surveillance, containment efforts and to make best efforts to prevent occurrence of the third wave of COVID infections in the State, it is necessary to trace, track and quarantine the primary and secondary contacts of COVID-19 positive persons, more effectively,” Kumar said in his circular.

When will government provide vaccine booster shots, asks Rahul Gandhi

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said a large population of the country is still not vaccinated against Covid-19, noting that only 42 percent of the population will be vaccinated by December end against the required rate of 60 percent to prevent the third wave of coronavirus.

He also asked the government to provide booster shots. Sharing data about vaccinations, Gandhi said there is a daily shortfall of 55.3 million doses (one million is equal to 10 lakh). “Majority of our population is still not vaccinated. When will GOI begin booster shots? #VaccinateIndia,” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, Dr VK Paul, Member-Health, Niti Aayog said that booster doses, if introduced, have to be backed by scientific decision-making. “Health Minister has said in the parliament, the need, the timing, and the nature of boosting if any will be based on the scientific decision, thinking,” he said.

No vaccination certificate, no salary: Punjab govt tells employees

The Punjab government has told its employees they won’t get their salaries if they don’t furnish their Covid vaccine certificate.

It has asked the employees to register their full or provisional vaccination certificate number with the state government’s human resources portal iHRMS. If they fail to do so, they will not be able to get their salaries, the government said in an order.

The move is being seen as the state government’s attempt to encourage more and more employees to get themselves vaccinated against Covid as concerns escalate over the new variant of coronavirus, Omicron.

The order issued by the Punjab government also asked employees to link the Covid vaccination certificate number with the salary module so that in case an employee does not furnish information regarding vaccination, his/her salary is not released.

Haryana to impose restrictions on those who aren’t fully vaccinated

Haryana is set to impose restrictions on people who are not fully vaccinated against Covid, state Health Minister Anil Vij said on Wednesday. Vij said nly fully vaccinated persons will be allowed to visit crowded public places like restaurants, malls, banks and offices, among others, in the state from January 1, 2022.

The minister made this announcement while replying to a Calling Attention Motion on the state’s preparedness to tackle the Omicron variant.

“The new variant of Covid-19 is a public concern and the whole world is worrying about it,” the minister said, adding that the severity and the infectivity of the Omicron variant were yet to be fully understood.

Vij then said that 30 per cent of patients admitted at the hospitals in the state were from outside Haryana during the second wave of the pandemic.

Priyanka Gandhi's 'Deewar' Twist In UP Poll Campaign: 'Mere Paas...'

LUCKNOW, Dec 22: The Congress's Uttar Pradesh in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has put her faith firmly on the women of the state to carry her party to the victory line in the assembly election early next year.

When asked about how the Congress plans to take UP - a state ruled by the BJP's Yogi Adityanath, who is set on giving a fierce fight to secure another term as Chief Minister - Priyanka Gandhi drew parallels with a famous dialogue from the 1975 Bollywood film Deewaar, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor.

"Have you heard this dialogue from Deewar? Mere paas maa hai (my mother is with me)," Priyanka Gandhi told News18, before adding her UP election twist.

"Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor were brothers in the movie. Amitabh asks Shashi Kapoor, 'mere paas gaddi hai, mere paas bungalow hai, yeh hai, woh hai, toh Sashi Kapoor ne kahan mere paas maa hai. Toh main keh rahin hun mere paas behen hai (my sisters are with me)," Priyanka Gandhi said.

In Deewaar, Amitabh Bachchan lists out a number of material achievements that he has to prove his wealth to his brother Shashi Kapoor, whose brief answer - "My mother is with me" - shatters Amitabh Bachchan's pride.

Priyanka Gandhi has been reaching out to women voters in UP in the hope that they would help turn the tides for her party. In a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cash outreach scheme for women in UP, she had said, "What did I say to the women of UP? To use their power. Now even PM Modi has given in. Why didn't he announce this in the last five years? Why now, before elections? Women have woken up with our 'ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon' slogan."

Daughter of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi who became the latest member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to enter politics ahead of the 2019 general elections, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been seen with a more assertive approach this time than last when the Congress bombed, scoring just one parliamentary seat.

UP government orders probe into Ayodhya land deals near temple, seeks report in a week

NEW DELHI, Dec 22: On the day, The Indian Express published an investigative report that elected public representatives and relatives of state government officials bought land parcels in Ayodhya after the November 9, 2019, Supreme Court verdict clearing construction of a Ram temple in the district, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered an inquiry into transactions and sought a report within a week.

Confirming this, Manoj Kumar Singh, Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue), Uttar Pradesh, said, the Chief Minister has sought a report with relevant documents in the next 5-7 days. “Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has taken cognisance of the newspaper report. An inquiry has been ordered on his directive. An officer of the rank of Special Secretary has been asked to conduct the probe,” said Singhs.

An official said Radhey Shyam Mishra, Special Secretary, Department of Revenue, has been asked to conduct the probe.

The investigation by The Indian Express of land records has found that at least 15 buyers of land parcels in Ayodhya included local MLAs, close relatives of bureaucrats who have or are serving in Ayodhya, and local revenue officials whose job was to authenticate land transactions.

One set of these transactions raises further questions of propriety and conflict of interest given that the seller in three cases, the Maharshi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust (MRVT), is under scrutiny — for alleged irregularities in purchase of land from Dalit villagers — by the very same officials whose relatives bought the land.

These three officials are MP Agrawal, Divisional Commissioner, Ayodhya, since November 30, 2019; Purushottam Das Gupta, who was the Chief Revenue Officer of Ayodhya between July 20, 2018, and September 10, 2021; and Deepak Kumar, who was Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) between July 26, 2020, and March 30, 2021.

MRVT had acquired 21 bighas (about 52,000 sq m) from a dozen Dalit families using a Dalit person Ronghai employed with the trust as a conduit for just Rs 6.38 lakh. Its value at the current circle rate varies between Rs 4.25 crore and Rs 9.58 crore.

The other 12 elected representatives and officials who either bought land themselves or whose relatives bought land are: Ayodhya Mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay, Ayodhya city MLA Ved Prakash Gupta, Gosaiganj MLA Indra Pratap Tiwari (now disqualified), then District Magistrate Anuj Jha, State Information Commissioner Harshvardhan Shahi, OBC Commission Member Balram Maurya, former Sub Divisional Magistrate Ayush Chaudhary who is now in Kanpur, Circle Officer, Provincial Police Service officer, Arvind Chaurasia who is now in Meerut; retired IAS officer of UP cadre Umadhar Dwivedi, Kanoongo of several villages including Ganja Sudhanshu Ranjan, then Lekhpal of Ganja village Badri Upadhyay, and Dinesh Ojha, Peshkar of Bhan Singh, Assistant Record Officer, who is hearing cases against MRVT.

The total land bought by the 15 individuals, according to records, is 70,826 sq m, about 17 acres.

Activate War Rooms, Night Curfews As Needed, Centre Tells States

NEW DELHI, Dec 21: Omicron is three times as infectious as Delta and "war rooms" are needed to contain it, the Centre has told states. It listed a series of prevention and containment measures that included extensive testing, night curfew and regulation of gatherings.

The letter from the health ministry said the measures taken should be based on local conditions, laying down the guidelines for what it called "threshold limits".

The thresholds, the Centre said, are test positivity of 10 per cent or more in the last one week or 40 per cent occupancy on oxygen supported or ICU beds.

The states and Union Territories can take "containment measures, curbs even before thresholds are reached" the Centre said.

Besides Omicron, the Delta variant is "still present" in different parts of the country, the letter read.

Calling for "greater foresight, data analysis, dynamic decision making and strict and prompt containment action", the letter said decision making at the State/UT and district level "must be very prompt and focused and take containment measures and restrictions even before these thresholds are reached".

As part of test and surveillance methods, the Centre has mentioned door-to-door case searches, contact tracing of all Covid-positive persons.

Samples from cluster infections must immediately be sent to INSACOG Labs for Genome Sequencing.

The states have also been asked to "accelerate and ensure" 100 per cent vaccination coverage.

It has also been suggested that emergency funds be used to ramp up medical infrastructure, including hospital beds, ambulances, oxygen equipment and medication.

The number of Omicron cases has crossed the 200-mark in India, the Health Ministry has said. Maharashtra and Delhi have reported the highest number of cases of the new variant -- 54. They are followed by Telangana (20 cases), Karnataka (19), Rajasthan (18), Kerala (15) and Gujarat (14). Of them, 77 patients have recovered or migrated, the ministry added.

India has 200 cases of Omicron, Maharashtra & Delhi top contributors

NEW DELHI, Dec 21: As many as 200 cases of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus were so far recorded in India, the ministry of health and family affairs said on Tuesday. The latest bulletin said 77 of these 200 patients have recovered from the viral disease.

Of the total cases, Maharashtra and Delhi have the highest number of infections from the highly contagious strain at 54 each, followed by Telangana (20), Karnataka (19), Rajasthan (18), Kerala (15) and Gujarat (14).

So far, 12 states in the country have reported cases of the Omicron strain that was first detected in South Africa in November and was soon after, declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

So far, most of the Omicron patients in the country have been asymptomatic or showed mild symptoms, health officials said.

On Monday, health minister Mansukh Mandaviya told the Rajya Sabha the country is prepared to deal with the new onslaught of Omicron. "…the country’s vaccine manufacturing capacity will be increased to 45 crore doses per month in the next two months,” he said.

Buffer stocks of medicine and oxygen have been arranged to tackle any outbreak and 48,000 ventilators have been distributed to the states, the minister said. As much as 88% of the country’s eligible population has received the first dose of a vaccine and 58% have been fully inoculated.

Delimitation Commission proposes six additional seats for Jammu, one for Kashmir valley

NEW DELHI, Dec 20: The Delimitation Commission has proposed to increase the number of Assembly seats in Jammu region to 43 and in Kashmir Valley to 47 while 24 seats are expected to remain in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in a draft proposal discussed during its meeting in New Delhi on Monday with the associate members.

Nine seats have been proposed for STs and seven for SCs in Jammu and Kashmir, in its first paper drafted by the Commission.

The commission on Monday called five Jammu and Kashmir MPs, including National Conference’s (NC) Farooq Abdullah, M Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi, BJP’s spokesperson for J&K Jitendra Singh and BJP’s Jugal Kishore Sharma. It has asked the associate members to submit their suggestions by the end of December.

“The Commission has come out with a document that is objectively prepared. All associated members, regardless of party, appreciated the work done by the Delimitation Commission. NC members were also satisfied by parameters followed by the Commission,” Union Minister Jitendra Singh told the press after the conclave.

NC vice-president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah said the draft recommendation of the commission was unacceptable. “The draft recommendation of the J&K delimitation commission is unacceptable. The distribution of newly created assembly constituencies with 6 going to Jammu & only 1 to Kashmir is not justified by the data of the 2011 census,” he tweeted.

Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh at Ashok Hotel after attending the second meeting of Delimitation Commission in New Delhi in New Delhi on Monday.

“It is deeply disappointing that the commission appears to have allowed the political agenda of the BJP to dictate its recommendations rather than the data which should have been its only consideration. Contrary to the promised “scientific approach” it’s a political approach,” the NC leader added.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted: “My apprehensions about the Delimitation Commission werent misplaced. They want to pitch people against each other by ignoring the population census & preposing 6 seats for one region & only one for Kashmir. This commision has been created simply to serve BJPs political interests by dividing people along religious & regional lines. The real game plan is to install a government in J&K which will legitimise the illegal and unconstitutional decisions of August 2019.”

The Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) also rejected the panel’s proposal. “J&K Apni Party rejects the proposal of the delimitation commission. This is outrightly unacceptable to us. Apni Party demands a fair delimitation exercise without any bias, taking population and districts as the base. We strongly demand the GoI to intervene,” it tweeted.

Delimitation is the act of redrawing the boundaries of an Assembly or Lok Sabha seat to represent changes in population over time. This exercise is carried out by a Delimitation Commission, whose orders have the force of law and cannot be questioned before any court. The objective is to redraw boundaries (based on the data of the last Census) in such a way so that the population under all seats, as far as practicable, is the same throughout the state. Aside from changing the limits of a constituency, the process may also result in changes in the number of seats in a state.

After the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019, the government set up the Delimitation Commission on March 6, 2020, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai.

Apart from Desai, Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and J&K State Election Commissioner K K Sharma are the ex-officio members of the delimitation panel. The panel also has five associate members — National Conference MPs Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi, Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Dr Jitendra Singh and Jugal Kishore Sharma of the BJP.

Although the Commission was tasked with finishing the delimitation in a year, it was granted a year’s extension on March 4 this year after the panel members said they couldn’t make much progress due to the Covid-induced lockdown across the country.

As per the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, the number of Assembly seats in J&K would increase from 107 to 114, which is expected to benefit the Jammu region.

'Girls Only Safe In Mother's Womb, Grave': Chennai Student's Suicide Note

CHENNAI, Dec 20: Three days after a schoolgirl died allegedly by suicide in Chennai, leaving a note that said "a girl is safe only in the mother's womb or the grave", a 21-year-old college student has been arrested for sexual assault.

On Saturday, the Class 11 student's mother found her hanging in their home on the outskirts of Chennai. The mother had been out for only an hour. She returned from the market to find the teen's room bolted.

The young man confessed that he and the girl were close and he had harassed her, the police claimed. He has been charged under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

"The boy has confessed to a physical relationship with the minor girl. In the last two weeks, he had been harassing and torturing her. We have located filthy messages and the exchange of photographs. They had a good friendly relationship for eight months before all this," said a police officer investigating the case.

Three years ago, when the girl was in Class 8, the boy was in Class 11 in the same school. She moved to a girls' school later but the two, police say, became friends over Instagram.

In the note found in the room, the girl suggested that school was not safe and teachers could not be trusted. She wrote that she could not even study or sleep because of "mental torture even in her dreams".

"Every parent should teach their kids and sons (to treat) girls with respect," she wrote.

The police are investigating whether the girl was harassed by more people, based on her suicide note.

The note, which also said, "Stop Sexual Harassment" and ended with "Justice for Me", mentioned three possible harassers - "relative, teacher, everyone".

In the past few weeks, there have been four more suicides due to alleged sexual harassment, in two cases allegedly by teachers.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin recently put out a video message saying the loss of lives "disturbs me" and urging people "not to take extreme measures but courageously report such perpetrators and ensure they are brought to justice".

Unnao Rape Convict Kuldeep Senger Acquitted In 2019 Accident Of Victim

NEW DELHI, Dec 20: A Delhi court on Monday discharged Kuldeep Singh Senger in the 2019 accident case of the Unnao rape victim saying that no charges were made out against him in the case.

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey discharged Kuldeep Singh Senger and five other accused observing that prima facie there is no evidence against the accused - Senger, Komal Singh, Arun Singh, Gyanendra Singh, Rinku Singh, and Awdesh Singh.

However, the Court ordered framing of charges against four accused Ashish Kumar Pal, Vinod Mishra, Haripal Singh, and Naveen Singh. The court said that there is sufficient evidence against these accused persons.

In 2019, when the Unnao rape survivor was on her way to Rae Bareli with her two aunts and her lawyer, a truck rammed into their vehicle. While her aunts died, she and her lawyer were grievously injured.

As per the charge sheet, on July 28, 2019, between 12:45 pm and 12:50 pm, accused Ashish Kumar Pal was driving the truck on the wrong side of the road from Rai Bareilly towards Lalganj in a rash and negligent manner. The car being driven by advocate Mahender Singh collided with the back of the truck resulting in the death of the girl's two aunts besides grievously injuring him who later died as did the girl.

The court noted that the charge sheet did not mention any record or evidence regarding the criminal conspiracy between the accused persons with Kuldeep Singh Sengar.

The Court also noted that Kuldeep Singh Sengar was in judicial custody during the period when the alleged threats were extended to the girl or her family members. The Court also noted that admittedly the case of the prosecution is that he conspired with the other accused to threaten the victim or her family members but he himself did not threaten them.

Kuldeep Singh Senger was represented by advocates SPM Tripathi and Deepak Sharma.

On August 1, 2019, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Delhi from a trial court in Uttar Pradesh. In December 2019, Senger was convicted and jailed for life for raping the woman in Unnao in 2017 when she was a minor.

Man Beaten To Death After Alleged Sacrilege Attempt At Golden Temple

CHANDIGARH, Dec 18: A man was beaten to death by a mob after an alleged sacrilege attempt at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the police said on Saturday, in an incident that has stoked tensions over a highly sensitive issue just ahead of elections in Punjab.

According to witnesses, the man jumped over the railing of the sanctum sanctorum inside the Golden Temple during the daily evening prayer and tried to grab the sword kept in front of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. He was stopped and killed by those present.

TV footage of the incident - the prayers are broadcast every day - showed people rushing to stop the man.

The police confirmed the man was killed after the incident and said they were checking all CCTV cameras in their efforts to find out where he had come from, when he entered the Golden Temple and how many people were with him.

"This evening during prayers, a man jumped the fence and entered the enclosed area. The congregation was offering prayers and bowing down," Parminder Singh Bhandal, the Deputy Commissioner of Police of Amritsar, said.

"The man, about 20 to 25 years of age who had a yellow cloth tied on his head jumped the fence... the people inside held him and escorted him out to the corridor where there was a violent altercation and he died," he said.

"He was alone. All details will be revealed as there are a lot of CCTV cameras in the area and our teams are alert, sifting through footage. Postmortem will be done tomorrow. We will verify where he was from," Bhandal added.

Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, whose party Congress has battled accusations that it has been lax about its handling of sacrilege cases, condemned the incident on Twitter.

Desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and Sikh temples is a highly emotive issue in Punjab and among Sikhs, who view the holy book as their 11th guru. There have been several instances of sacrilege in recent years that have spawned intense outrage as well as political tumult.

The subject was one of the flashpoints in the feud between former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu which ultimately resulted in an acrimonious resignation of the former.

The opposition Akali Dal was quick to attack the state government over Saturday's incident which, it said, was a "deep-rooted conspiracy".

"The state and the central government must look into this. It's a matter of great pain. It's an attempt to weaken Punjab which is the sword arm of India. Some people have made it a political game over the last five years," said Akali Dal MP Balwinder Bhunder.

86 New Covid Cases In Delhi Today, Highest In 5 Months

NEW DELHI, Dec 18: Delhi reported 86 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday - the highest in five months - continuing the steady rise in infection numbers amid a worldwide alert over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The positivity rate - the share of COVID-19 tests that come back positive - stood at 0.13 per cent.

With no deaths for the 10th consecutive day, the number casualties stood at 25,100.

There are currently 484 active COVID-19 patients in Delhi with 203 in home isolation.

According to data shared by the city's health department, Delhi had reported 93 coronavirus cases on July 8.

The rise in cases is being recorded amid the Omicron scare in Delhi as the total number of patients infected with the latest variant of coronavirus jumped by 12 on Friday to reach 22.

The number of Covid cases recorded in Delhi so far reached 14,42,090. Over 14.16 lakh patients have recovered from the disease.

On Thursday, 85 cases were recorded with a positivity rate of 0.15 per cent, while on Friday the daily cases count stood at 69 with a positivity rate of 0.12 per cent.

The death toll due to the coronavirus infection in Delhi stands at 25,100.

Two deaths due to COVID-19 have been recorded in December so far in Delhi. Seven COVID-19 deaths were reported in November four in October and five in September.

The case positivity rate was 0.13 per cent on Saturday, according to the health bulletin. On Wednesday, 57 cases were recorded in Delhi with a positivity rate of 0.10 per cent.

A total of 66,096 tests -- 59,901 RT-PCR and 6,195 rapid antigen tests -- were conducted a day ago, the bulletin stated.


Over 100 Omicron Cases In India, Avoid Unnecessary Travel, Crowds: Centre

NEW DELHI, Dec 17: The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is "spreading rapidly" - there are now more than 100 cases in 11 states in India - the Health Ministry said Friday, warning that 19 districts were at high risk of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Faced with the threat of a third wave of infections, the ministry underlined the need to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour, including the use of face masks and maintaining social distance. The ministry also urged people to avoid non-essential travel and stay away from large crowds and gatherings.

The ministry then issued a dire threat - that based on the progression of the strain in the UK (which already has over 11,000 Omicron cases), India could see a devastating 14 lakh cases daily.

Renewed warnings of the dangers posed by Omicron come as 10 new cases were reported from Delhi earlier in the day. The city has now 22 confirmed Omicron cases.

The 10 new cases were reported after a worrying spike in overall Covid cases in the city over the previous 24 hours - 85 were detected - up from 57 on Thursday and 45 on Wednesday.

Maharashtra - worst hit by earlier waves of infections - has so far recorded the most Omicron cases - 40. Rajasthan is next with 17, and Karnataka and Telangana have reported eight each. Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh have also reported cases of the new variant.

A point of worry is that at least two of the Omicron cases reported from Maharashtra were young children - a three-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl.

The government has already urged states to step up surveillance measures and focus on sequencing positive samples in an effort to identify cases and potential hotspots.

New travel rules were enforced starting December 1, requiring foreign arrivals from countries deemed 'at risk' to submit to RT-PCR tests and, in some cases, mandatory quarantine.

"Most cases of Omicron have a travel history, or have contacts with travel histories. But there have been some cases in which we have not been able to establish any such history. In that the process is on to identify travel or contact histories..." Dr VK Paul, India's Covid task force chief, said.

Omicron was first reported from South Africa last month.

Since then, it has been reported from 77 countries, including the US, Israel, Hong Kong and Japan, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the variant is "probably" in most countries.

The first cases in India were reported by Karnataka on December 2.

Earlier today the G7 (Group of Seven) called Omicron the "biggest current threat to global public health" and said it was now "more important than ever" for countries to "closely cooperate".

A sliver of good news is that only one death has been linked to the Omicron strain so far - in the UK.

Initial studies indicate Omicron is significantly more infectious than the Delta variant that wrought havoc in India and the world, but it does lead to less severe symptoms.

The jury is still out on the variant's vaccine-evasion ability, but medical experts have urged people to ensure they are double-vaccinated and called on governments to offer booster doses.

India has not yet opened booster doses to the fully vaccinated, although there have been calls to do so, including by Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla, whose facility produces Covishield.

Congress's DK Shivakumar apologises over party MLA’s rape remark, says 'men in politics need to do better'

BANGALURU, Dec 17: day after KR Ramesh Kumar kicked up a storm with his controversial comments on rape, Congress's Karnataka president DK Shivakumar on Friday apologised to women over the remarks made by the party legislator.

Taking to microblogging site Twitter, Shivakumar wrote that he was "deeply saddened" and promised that he would ensure that similar remarks are never made again.

“As the President of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, I am deeply saddened that such words were uttered by a Congress MLA. To all the women of Karnataka, I am sorry and I will ensure words like these are never repeated,” Shivakumar said in a tweet.

Further, he said men in politics need to shed their regressive attitude towards women.

“While we note that the legislator has tendered an apology, the incident in the assembly is a sign that all of us men in politics need to do better to shed our inherent regressive attitudes towards women,” he added.

Congress national general secretary Priyanka Gandhi also condemned the remarks, saying they are "indefensible".

"I wholeheartedly condemn the statement made earlier today by Sri K R Ramesh Kumar. It is inexplicable how anyone can ever utter such words, they are indefensible. Rape is a heinous crime. Full stop," she said on Twitter.

KR Ramesh Kumar, who came under severe criticism, tendered an apology for the rape comment he made on the Karnataka assembly floor on Thursday.

Ramesh Kumar said that if the statement hurts the sentiments of women, he has no problem apologising. I apologise from the bottom of my heart.

Omicron Count In India Rises To 83 After 10 New Cases Reported

BENGALURU/NEW DELHI, Dec 16: Karnataka, Delhi and Gujarat together today reported 10 fresh cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus taking the countrywide tally of this strain to 83 even as the national capital with a total of 85 new COVID-19 cases recorded its highest single day rise in the last 137 days.

Karnataka, Delhi and Gujarat reported five, four and one fresh cases of the Omicron variant to take the total to eight, ten and five respectively, according to a tally of the new infections from the states.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, meanwhile, reviewed the COVID-19 situation in the country and the preparedness of the health infrastructure of all Union territories, according to a home ministry spokesperson.

Maharashtra has so far reported the highest number of Omicron cases at 32, followed by Rajasthan at 17. These cases have also been reported in the states of Karnataka, 8, Gujarat, 5, Kerala, 5, Telangana, 2, Tamil Nadu, 1, West Bengal, 1, and Andhra Pradesh, 1, and Union Territories of Delhi, 10, and Chandigarh, 1. The country's first two cases of the Omicron variant were detected in Karnataka on December 2.

Karnataka Health Minister K Sudhakar said five more cases of the Omicron variant were detected in the state to take its tally of the new strain to eight.

"Five more cases of Omicron have been detected in Karnataka today: 19 yr male returning from UK, 36 yr male returning from Delhi, 70 yr female returning from Delhi, 52 yr male returning from Nigeria, 33 yr male returning from South Africa," Sudhakar tweeted.

The country's first two Omicron cases-- a South African national who has left the country, and the other a local person, a Doctor with no travel history-- were detected in Bengaluru.

Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said the Omicron variant was detected in 10 people so far in the national capital and none of them has developed "severe" disease.

He said 40 people are currently admitted to the special facility at the Lok Nayak Hospital meant for isolating and treating suspected Omicron cases. Of them, 38 are COVID positive.

"Ten Omicron cases have been detected in Delhi so far. One of them has been discharged," Jain told reporters.

There has been no "severe" case so far, he said.

The minister said many international travellers are turning out COVID positive upon arrival at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

"Eight such people were admitted to the hospital today (Thursday)," he added.

On Tuesday, Jain had said the Omicron variant of coronavirus has not spread in the community so far and the situation is under control.

On August 1 this year, Delhi had logged 85 COVID-19 cases at a positivity rate of 0.12 per cent along with one fatality. It was on June 29 when the positivity rate was recorded at 0.15 per cent that the number of fresh cases stood at 101 and four deaths were reported.

The 85 cases that were recorded on Thursday came out of 56,027 tests, including 50,879 RTPCR tests, and there was no death due to COVID-19 in the last 24 hours in Delhi, according to the Delhi Health government data.

There are currently 475 active cases of coronavirus in the national capital which include nine cases of the Omicron variant.

About the rise in COVID cases, a senior doctor from Delhi government-run GTB Hospital, requesting anonymity, said, "The last three-four months went off smoothly, but the spurt in cases was impending.

"Worldover, a spike in cases is being seen and some countries have even imposed lockdown. People only wake up when they see a rise in cases. It is essential that people wear masks and maintain social distancing because it is expected that the cases may rise again." In Gujarat, a 41-year-old woman health worker was found infected with the Omicron variant at a village in Vijapur tehsil of Mehsana district on Thursday, officials said.

"The woman serves as an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA). She does not have any history of foreign travel, but she recently came in contact with her relatives who had arrived from Zimbabwe, one of the 'at risk' countries," Chief District Health Officer Dr Vishnubhai Patel said.

She is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward created in a government hospital at Vadnagar town of Mehsana and her condition is stable, he said.

"The woman recently lost her husband to cancer. To attend the condolence meet, her husband's elder brother and his wife came from Zimbabwe last month. Both of them tested negative for COVID-19 in all the three tests conducted on them," Patel added.

But the authorities decided to carry out contact tracing as a precautionary measure and the woman was found positive for coronavirus on December 10, following which her samples were sent to the Gandhinagar-based Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC) for genome sequencing, the official said.

"The woman's genome sequencing on Thursday established that she is infected with the Omicron strain. Her mother-in-law and another relative, who came in her contact, also tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday. We have sent their samples to GBRC to know if they are also infected with this variant," Patel said.

In Kerala, Health Minister Veena George said those who have come from abroad and have been asked to practice self-observation, as per central government guidelines, should not be complacent in doing so.

The minister, at a high level meeting, said such persons should avoid social interactions, crowded places, theatres and malls and should wear an N-95 mask if they go out, according to a state government release.

She also said that such persons should observe if they have any symptoms and if they show symptoms, they should immediately quarantine themselves and inform the health workers.

The decision was taken after a person who had come from Congo, a non-high risk African nation, tested positive for Omicron and now has a large contact list as he went to shopping malls and restaurants instead of practicing self-observation.

Congress calls out Centre for not mentioning Indira Gandhi's name in Vijay Diwas celebrations

NEW DELHI, Dec 16: Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi on Thursday called out the Union government for not mentioning the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s name during the Centre’s programme on the occasion of Vijay Diwas – celebrated to commemorate India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Rahul Gandhi, currently in poll-bound Uttarakhand to launch his party’s election campaign in the state, said that the former PM’s name was not even mentioned once during the Centre’s event in Delhi.

He also said that Indira Gandhi sacrificed her life for the nation. “Today a function was held in Delhi regarding the Bangladesh war. There was no mention of Indira Gandhi in that function. The woman who took 32 bullets for this country, her name was not there in the invitation because this govt is afraid of the truth,” said the Wayanad MP.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi also echoed similar comments and called the government “misogynistic” and said that women in the country don’t believe in Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Our first and only woman Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi is being left out of the misogynist BJP government’s Vijay Diwas celebrations. This, on the 50th anniversary of the day that she led India to victory and liberated Bangladesh,” she tweeted. “@narendramodi ji, women don’t believe your platitudes. Your patronising attitude is unacceptable. It’s about time you started giving women their due,” she said in a subsequent tweet.

Earlier in the day, Modi, accompanied by Union defence minister Rajnath Singh, participated in the celebrations of the 50th Vijay Diwas. Singh issued a commemorative stamp on the occasion.

“On this special day of Vijay Diwas, I had the honour of paying my respects at the National War Memorial and merging into the Eternal Flame, the four Vijay Mashaals which traversed across the length and breadth of the country over the course of last one year,” Modi tweeted.

Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh hailed the war as a “golden chapter in India’s military history” and remembered the sacrifice of the armed forces.

“On the occasion of ‘Swarnim Vijay Diwas’ we remember the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces during the 1971 war. The 1971 war is the golden chapter in India’s military history. We are proud of our armed forces and their achievements,” he tweeted, sharing a few images of the war.

President Ram Nath Kovind, in Bangladesh on an official visit, and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu also wished the people on the occasion. However, none of the messages mentioned Indira Gandhi’s name.

Lakhimpur Kheri: Union Minister Ajay Mishra loses cool when asked about jailed son; summoned to Delhi

NEW DELHI, Dec 15: Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra on Wednesday lost his cool at journalists when he was asked about his son Ashish, who is in jail in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri incident.

The minister's son Ashish Mishra is among the 13 accused in the violence that took place in October wherein at least four farmers and a journalist were killed. Ajay Mishra has reportedly been summoned to Delhi amid Opposition's demand to sack him.

A video of the minister pushing at journalists and hurling abuses has gone viral. The purported video was shot when Mishra visited a hospital in Lakhimpur Kheri to inaugurated a newly constructed ward.

The minister asked reporters to shut the camera off and even snatched mobile phone of one of the journalists when he was asked questions regarding SIT report on Lakhimpur Kheri incident. The report had said that the incident was 'pre planned' and that Ashish Mishra be tried for attempt to murder.

Meanwhile, the Opposition has stepped up attack on the government demanding resignation of Ajay Mishra. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the government will have to sack the minister in order to provide justice to the victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.

"He should resign," Gandhi told reporters when asked whether Mishra should put in his papers. He also said Opposition leaders are trying to ensure a discussion in Parliament on issue.

"We are trying. They (government) are not allowing us to speak, that is why the House is being disrupted," the Congress leaders told reporters outside Parliament.

The violence in Tikunia in Lakhimpur Kheri district on October 3 that set off a political storm ahead of the 2022 Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, among other states, left a total of eight people, including two BJP workers, dead and two separate FIRs were filed in connection with the incident.

The violence erupted when a group of farmers was protesting against the visit of Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya to Ajay Mishra's native place.

'Planned Conspiracy' To Kill Farmers, Say Cops; Indian Minister Sees Jailed Son

LUCKNOW, Dec 14: The killing of farmers at Uttar Pradesh's Lakhimpur Kheri was a "planned conspiracy" with intent to commit murder and not a case of death by negligence, the Special Investigation Team has said, in the case in which Union Minister Ajay Mishra's jailed son Ashish Mishra is the main accused.

The charges of rash driving against Ashish Mishra and the others should be modified, cops investigating the case have written to a judge, adding that an attempt to murder charge and the charge of voluntarily causing hurt should be added.

Ashish Mishra and others are already facing murder and conspiracy charges.

As the ruling BJP prepares for polls in Uttar Pradesh, the new development signals huge trouble for Ajay Mishra, the Union Minister of State for Home, who has remained in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government despite calls for his sacking.

The minister met with his son in jail today.

Ashish Mishra and others are facing murder and conspiracy charges.

The killings at Lakhimpur Kheri caused massive anger among farmers, one of the most important voting blocs in the elections ahead.

Eight people were killed on October 3 at Lakhimpur Kheri during a farmers' protest.

After four farmers and a journalist were run over, allegedly by an SUV driven by Ashish Mishra, violence broke out in which three more, including two BJP workers were killed.

Two FIRs were filed by the Lakhimpur police. One filed by the family of the dead farmers named Ashish Mishra as the main accused. The other FIR was filed by a one Sumit Jaiswal, a BJP worker in Lakhimpur, against unnamed farmers accused of instigating the violence afterwards. In viral videos, Jaiswal was seen running from one of the SUVs that hit the farmers. He was later arrested as a co-accused in the Ashish Mishra FIR.

The UP government faced many tough questions as the Supreme Court heard a petition on the case.

Last month, the Supreme Court directed the Special Investigation Team to complete the investigation expeditiously. It also added three IPS officers to the team - those who are not from Uttar Pradesh, though they are allocated to UP cadre. This was done over concerns that local policemen would manipulate the probe.

Char Dham Roads: SC accepts border security concerns, allows widening of 3 hill stretches

NEW DELHI, Dec 14: Agreeing with security needs highlighted by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Supreme Court Tuesday allowed widening of three hill stretches in Uttarakhand — Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh – forming part of the Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna.

This will be in the Double Line-Paved Shoulder (DL-PS) format with a width of 10 metres (7 metre doubleline carriageway and 1.5 metre paved shoulders on either side) as prescribed by the December 5, 2020 circular of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH).

The bench of Justices D Y Chandrchud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath modified the top court’s September 8, 2020 order which had asked the MoRTH to stick to its 2018 circular on the width of roads in hill terrain in the execution of the project. The 2018 guidelines prescribed a width of 5.5 m for the carriageway.

The bench said MoRTH and MoD can proceed with the project subject to the condition that it addresses all environmental concerns flagged by the High Powered Committee (HPC) that the court had appointed.

Noting that the “Project is riddled with environmental issues”, the bench also set up an Oversight Committee, headed by its former judge Justice (retired) A K Sikri, to oversee implementation of the HPC’s recommendations.

Allowing an application filed by MoD seeking modification of the September 2020 order, the bench said “at the outset… we find that there are no mala fides” in the plea.

It said “the allegation that the application… seeks to re-litigate the matter or subvert the previous order of this Court are unfounded inasmuch as MoD, as the specialized body of the Government of India, is entitled to decide on the operational requirements of the Armed Forces. These requirements include infrastructural support needed for facilitating the movement of troops, equipment and machines”.

The bench pointed out that “bona fides of the MoD are also evident from the fact that the issue of security concerns was raised during the discussions of the… HPC (High Powered Committee) and finds mention in the HPC Report. Thus, the MoD has maintained the need for double-laned roads to meet border security concerns”.

Writing for the bench, Justice Chandrchud said “this Court, in its exercise of judicial review, cannot second-guess the infrastructural needs of the Armed Forces”. The bench rejected the argument by those against further widening that the need of the Army will be subserved better by disaster-resistant roads of smaller dimension.

Pointing out that the 2020 circular was issued by MoRTH based upon the recommendations received from the MoD, it said “the submission… requires the Court to override the modalities decided upon by the Army and the MoD to safeguard the security of the nation’s borders” and to “interrogate the policy choice of the establishment which is entrusted by law with the defence of the nation”. It said “this is impermissible”.

8.81 lakh Indians renounced their citizenship in last 7 years, govt tells Lok Sabha

NEWW DELHI, Dec 14: More than 8.81 lakh Indians have renounced their citizenship since 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed the Lok Sabha on December 14 in response to a query raised by Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MP Kotha Prabhakar Reddy.

"8,81,254 Indians renounced their citizenship in the last seven years till Sept 30, 2021, as per information available with MEA (Ministry of External Affairs)," the Home Ministry said in response to the question.

The MHA further provided a break-up of the data, which showed that the maximum number of citizenships was renounced in 2019, and the minimum in 2020, as per the data available for the past seven years.

In 2015, a total of 1,31,489 citizens gave up their citizenship, 1,41,603 citizens in 2016, 1,33,049 in 2017, 1,34,561 in 2018, 1,44,017 in 2019, 85,248 in the pandemic-hit 2020 and 1,11,287 citizens renounced their citizenship till September 30, 2021, the MHA said.

Reddy, in his question, also sought to know whether the process to renounce the citizenship has been simplified.

Responding to this, MoS Home Nityananda Rai said that an online portal has been activated since August this year to simplify the process.

"Citizenship of India may be renounced under provisions of Section 8 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 read with rule 23 of the Citizenship Rules, 2009. The online portal for renunciation of Indian citizenship has been activated in August, 2021. End-to-end processing of renunciation applications is carried out in the online Citizenship Module," Rai said.

Only One Who Holds Damru Rules Kashi: Modi

VARANASI, Dec 13: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today performed various rituals and prayers and took a dip in the Ganga as he launched the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project with chants of "Har Har Mahadev" in his constituency Varanasi in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi boarded the Swami Vivekanand Cruise at Ravidas Ghat in Varanasi and will part in 'Ganga Aarti' shortly. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other Chief Ministers and deputy chiefs of BJP-ruled states are also present. The Ganga ghats have been lit up for the grand aarti.

In some of the key moments, Modi was seen throwing flowers at artisans who constructed the corridor and then having lunch with them, taking a holy dip in Ganga, offering prayers at the Kaal Bhairav temple, and accepting a turban from a common man in a street.

Urging the nation to take three pledges, Modi at the grand event said, "Today, I ask you for three pledges, not for myself but for the country- cleanliness, creativity, and a constant effort for a self-reliant India." Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, and India's independence from British rule also figured in the speech.

"God is the only 'sarkar' (government) in Kashi... only the one who holds damru rules. The new complex reflects our history, culture - where the old and new co-exist. I thank Yogi Adiyanath and the artisans who worked tirelessly to finish the corridor despite the pandemic," Modi said.

All BJP Chief Ministers and over 3,000 seers attended the launch of the project, which is crucial for the party ahead of the state polls next year. The ₹ 800 crore corridor project - "the vision of the Prime Minister for a long time", according to the government - aims to decongest the temple complex.

This is the third project that the Prime Minister inaugurated in Uttar Pradesh in a week. Last week, he launched projects worth ₹ 9,600 crore in Gorakhpur - Yogi Adityanath's stronghold - and the Saryu Canal project in Balrampur.

He is scheduled to visit the state for two more events this month. Several projects that the BJP government is launching before the polls have triggered attacks from the opposition leaders, including former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.

Akhilesh Yadav on Sunday claimed credit for the big temple project. "...If there is any cabinet that passed the Kashi Vishvanath Corridor, it was Samajwadi Party's government," he told reporters. Last week, he said that "75 per cent of the work for the Saryu Canal project" was completed during his tenure.

In a statement, the Prime Minister's office said a total of 23 buildings have been inaugurated in the first phase of the Kashi Vishwanath project that offers myriad facilities to the visitors - Yatri Suvidha Kendras, Tourist Facilitation Centre, Vedic Kendra, Mumukshu Bhavan, Bhogshala, City Museum, Viewing Gallery, Food Court, among others.

"Spread of the project area stands at a massive 5 lakh square feet, earlier premises limited to just 3,000 square feet. More than 40 ancient temples have been rediscovered, restored, and beautified," it further said.

Modi has a packed schedule for his two-day Varanasi visit. Tomorrow, he will attend a conclave of Chief Ministers of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, along with Deputy Chief Ministers from Bihar and Nagaland.

2 Dead, 12 Injured In Terror Attack On Police Bus Near Srinagar

SRINAGAR, Dec 13: Two Jammu and Kashmir armed police personnel have died, and 12 have been injured after two terrorists attacked a police bus near a police camp at Zewan on the outskirts of Srinagar this evening, police said.

One of the fallen policemen is an assistant sub-inspector and another a section grade constable. The injured have been shifted to the hospital where the condition of some is said to be critical.

Terrorists resorted to heavy firing on the bus in the highly secure area that houses several camps of various security forces. The incident took place in the Zewan area.

The area has been cordoned off and a search operation launched to track down the assailants.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed condolences to the families of those who were killed in the attack and has sought details. "PM @narendramodi has sought details on the terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir. He has also expressed condolences to the families of those security personnel who have been martyred in the attack," the Prime Minister's Office tweeted.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have also offered condolences to the bereaved families. While Abdullah "unequivocally condemned" the attack, Ms Mufti attacked the Centre for a "false narrative of normalcy" in Kashmir. "GOIs false narrative of normalcy in Kashmir stands exposed yet there has been no course correction," her tweet said.

This attack comes days after two policemen were killed after terrorists opened fire at a police team in Kashmir's Bandipora district. Two policemen were critically injured and were shifted to a hospital where the doctors declared them dead on arrival. The incident took place in Bandipora's Gulshan Chowk on December 10.

This is the second major terrorist attack in the valley after the recent spate of targeted attacks on migrant workers and members of the minority communities in Kashmir. All the terrorists behind the target killings have been killed in a series of encounters in the last two months, the police had said.

At Mega Rally In Rajasthan, Rahul Gandhi's "Hindutvavadi" Attack On BJP

JAIPUR, Dec 12: Congress's Rahul Gandhi ripped into the BJP today, censuring them over price rise, farmers' issue and crony capitalism.

At a massive rally in Rajasthan's Jaipur, he also made a frontal attack on the BJP over Hindutva -- an ideology widely linked to the BJP's ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh -- the outline of which he drew last month in an internal session of the party.

"I am a Hindu. All these people are Hindus. They are Hindutva-vadis. Let me explain," he said in his opening remarks.

Then, in a pun on "Satyagraha" -- a term meaning a "search for truth" coined by Mahatma Gandhi -- he said: "Mahatma Gandhi searched for the truth, Nathuram Godse pumped three bullets into him. He was a Hindutva-vadi. A Hindu is interested in Satyagrah. Hinduta-vadis are only after power, they don't care about truth. A Hindutva-vadi is only after Sattagrah (search for power)".

"Who is a Hindu? Someone who respects every religion and is scared of nobody. Those in power are false Hindus... India is experiencing a Hindutva-vadi raj, not Hindu raj. We want to remove these Hindutva-vadis and bring in a Hindu raj," Gandhi added in the rally, which was also attended by his mother, party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sister and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Last month, Mr Gandhi sought to differentiate Hinduism and Hindutva at an internal meet of the party.

"Is Hinduism about beating a Sikh, or a Muslim. Hindutva, of course, is. In which book is it written? I have not seen it. I have read the Upanishads. I have not read it," he said.

"We say there is a difference between Hindutva and Hindu religion. It is a simple logic -- if you are a Hindu then why do you need Hindutva? Why do you need this new name?" he said.

The BJP had responded saying Rahul Gandhi and the Congress have a "pathological hatred" of Hinduism.

"It is in the character of the Congress and the Gandhi family to attack Hinduism at every opportunity... What they say is not a coincidence but an experiment. And the headmaster of this experimental lab is Rahul Gandhi," said the BJP's Sambit Patra.

Punjab Goes To Supreme Court Over New Border Force Powers, First To Do So

NEW DELHI, Dec 11: Punjab on Saturday moved the Supreme Court against the centre's extension of the Border Security Force's (BSF) jurisdiction in three states from 15 km to 50 km from the international border.

The Punjab government - the first to challenge the centre's move to give the BSF more powers in the state, as well as in Assam and Bengal - called it an "attack on the federal structure" of the country.

Challenging the centre's move under Article 131 of the Constitution, the Punjab government said the extension of BSF authority encroached on the constitutional jurisdiction of the states concerned.

"The impact of the centre's decision will be on 80 per cent of the area of districts adjoining Pakistan... whereas the Constitution has placed the right to maintain law and order, and the police, in the 'state list'. This right has been given to the state government," the Punjab government said.

"But here, through this notification, jurisdiction of the states has been encroached upon," it said.

The original suit further says the centre had not consulted the state before issuing its order.

The centre has been called to present its side of the story; the registrar issued a notice via the Attorney-General asking for a reply to be filed in 28 days after which the matter will be listed.

The Punjab government's suit has been welcomed by the ruling Congress' state chief, Navjot Sidhu.

"I congratulate Punjab and its legal team to be the 1st to approach the Hon'ble Supreme Court by filing an original suit challenging the notification extending the BSF jurisdiction," he tweeted.

The cricketer-turned-politician - whose public and scathing attacks on his party have triggered a leadership crisis ahead of next year's election, called it a "fight to retain principles".

"The fight to retain principles embodied in the Constitution, i.e. to retain the federal structure and autonomy of the states, has begun. Notice issued to the centre to respond."

In an October 11 notification the centre said BSF jurisdiction Punjab, Bengal, and Assam would henceforth include all areas within 50 km of the international border in each state.

Previously BSF had jurisdiction up to 15 km from the borders.

The BSF can now carry out searches and make arrests within a wider area, setting up a potentially explosive situation in Punjab - where the BJP and Congress will go head-to-head in next year's polls.

Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Channi has urged the centre to reconsider the notification, and Akal Dal leader Sukhbhir Badal slammed the move as "imposing President's Rule through the back door".

The Congress also hit out, accusing the BJP of issuing the notification to deflect attention from the movement of heroin through the Adani-run Mundra Port in Gujarat this year.

The centre has dismissed concern over the BSF's extended jurisdiction as "ill-founded".

Junior Home Minister Nityanand Rai last month claimed it would result in better and more effective action against trans-border crimes, with the central force acting in cooperation with state police.

Before that the Punjab Assembly had passed a resolution against the BSF notification. The BJP's sole two MLAs were absent, meaning the resolution was passed 'unanimous'.

The Bengal Assembly soon after, underling the "attack on the federal structure" of India.

In Bengal, though, the BJP was vehement in its opposition of the resolution; "there is no question of conflict between the state police and the BSF", Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari said.

Assam, where the BJP is in power, has made no protest, formal or otherwise, in this matter.

On the contrary, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma welcomed the move, saying it would serve as "a strong deterrent for defeating cross-border smuggling and illegal infiltration".

33 Omicron Cases In India, Zimbabwe Traveller Tests +ve In Delhi

NEW DELHI, Dec 11: Delhi logged its second case of Omicron as a traveller who returned from Zimbabwe tested positive. With the latest infection, India has so far logged 33 cases of the new variant that has sparked fresh worry worldwide.

Vaccines and masks are important, the government said in a cautionary note Friday. "WHO is warning against the decline in mask usage. The global scene of Omicron is disturbing... We are now operating at a risky level," said Dr VK Paul, who heads the centre's Covid task force.

In Maharashtra, a three-year-old was among seven new patients confirmed by the state government on Friday; Mumbai has banned large gatherings for two days amid scare. All fresh cases in the state are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. A majority of cases in India are also mild.

More than 90 international passengers who returned to India since December 1 tested positive for Covid. At least 80 of them returned from "at-risk countries".

The second Omicron patient in Delhi had also visited South Africa, one of the "at-risk" nations. At the national capital's LNJP hospital, samples of 27 passengers have been sent for genome sequencing so far.

Fifty-nine countries have logged Omicron cases so far, the centre said on Friday, adding that five states in India have seen patients affected by the new variant.

The UK, Denmark, and South Africa are the top three countries with the highest number of Omicron cases, the government warned.

Top US scientist Anthony Fauci earlier this week clarified that Omicron was not worse than prior strains, and was possibly milder.

The new variant is "clearly highly transmissible," very likely more so than Delta, the current dominant global strain, Dr Fauci said, adding that "there is some suggestion that it might even be less severe".

Urging countries for quick yet measured action, the World Health Organization earlier this week said the new variant may change the course of the pandemic. "We can prevent omicron becoming a global crisis. We can prevent omicron from becoming a global crisis."

The new variant has also sparked a fresh debate about booster doses. Pfizer and BioNTech SE said initial lab studies show a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine may be needed.

Amit Shah Lied, Say Protesters In Massive Rally Over Nagaland Deaths

KOHIMA, Dec 11: Seven days ago, in Nagaland's Mon district, a botched Army op led to the death of six civilians. Seven more died in retaliatory clashes between security personnel and locals, in which one soldier was also killed.

In massive protests in Mon today, furious residents have demanded an apology from Home Minister Amit Shah for his "false" and "fabricated" statement on the incident in Parliament this week.

Protesters burned an effigy of the Home Minister to underline the extent of their anger - both against Shah and his allegedly incorrect statement, and against the central government over the continued imposition of AFSPA, or the Special Forces Act, that, they fear, will be invoked to shield the guilty.

The protesters - who included residents from the village of Oting, the home of 12 of the 14 killed - were led by an apex body of tribes called the Konyak Union, and have demanded an immediate apology from Amit Shah and the withdrawal of his statement from the Parliament's records.

"We are asking for justice... we don't need sympathy. Twisting of truth is unfortunate... Home Minister Amit Shah's statement in Parliament (is) confusing the world with wrong information. He should immediately withdraw... we demand his apology," Honang Konyak, the union's Vice President, said.

"We will not rest until justice is delivered to those 14 Konyak youth who were killed," he added.

These demands, they have said, must be added to the five already placed in front of the centre.

The earlier demands include an independent committee to investigate the failed Army ambush and that all those involved in the incident be charged and punished in accordance with the law of the land.

The big demand, though, is the repeal of AFSPA, or Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act - a demand also made by Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and his Meghalaya counterpart, Conrad Sangma.

In a perfunctory statement to both Houses of Parliament on Monday, Amit Shah said the Army unit had only opened fire because the truck carrying the villagers accelerated away when ordered to stop.

The Army unit, suspecting insurgents were in the vehicle, opened fire, he said.

The Army itself, earlier, had said that a member of the unit thought he saw a hunting rifle in the truck, and has ordered a Court of Inquiry to be led by an officer of Major General rank.

Either way, in the initial burst of murderous fire, six villagers were killed. No arms or ammunition were recovered, and all those in the vehicle were found to be innocent coal miners returning from work.

The killings were condemned by Nagaland and national opposition parties and, most crucially, by the BJP's state unit; Nagaland BJP chief Temjen Imma Along, who is also a minister, called it "genocide".

Earlier this week Oting villagers offered their own version of events, accusing the soldiers involved of planting weapons in the hands of those they killed to justify the shooting.

Their strongly-worded statement calls the soldiers "unprofessional, half-trained, psychopaths".

The Army, responding to the killings, had expressed regret but categorically denied any attempt at a cover-up, saying the bodies were being taken to the police station for reporting.

Amit Shah's statement in Parliament has also been criticised by Meghalaya's Nationalist People's Party, which is an ally of the BJP. A NPP spokesperson said that the roads in the area were so bad the truck could not have sped away as Shah had claimed.

The Congress has also questioned Shah's statement.

Terrorists kill two cops in Kashmir’s Bandipora

SRINAGAR, Dec 10: Two cops succumbed to their injuries on Friday after terrorists attacked a police team in Bandipora in north Kashmir. The area has been cordoned off by the police.

Constables Mohd Sultan and Fayaz Ahmad were killed when terrorists opened fire at the police team in Bandipora’s Gulshan Chowk.

“Terrorists fired upon a police party at Gulshan Chowk area of Bandipora. In this terror incident, two police personnel namely SgCT Mohd Sultan and Ct Fayaz Ahmad got injured and attained martyrdom. Area cordoned off. Further details shall follow,” the police said in a tweet.

Bandipora witnessed another attack on security personnel last month at a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Bandipora’s Sumbal. No damage however was caused as the grenade missed its intended target, said CRPF personnel. The district earlier in October also witnessed a grenade attack which led to six civilians, including a woman, being injured.

Offering Namaz In Open Spaces Won't Be Tolerated: Haryana Chief Minister

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: Muslims should not offer Friday prayers in open spaces in Gurgaon, Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar said today, withdrawing an earlier agreement - reached after clashes with members of the Hindu community in 2018 - that allowed namaz at designated places in the city.

Khattar's statement comes amid a festering row between the two communities that has seen right-wing Hindu groups repeatedly harass and intimidate Muslims looking to pray at agreed sites.

The Chief Minister said the Gurgaon administration is re-negotiating with all parties involved and would work out an "amicable solution" that doesn't encroach on anyone's rights.

Until then, people should offer prayers at their homes and other places of worship.

Speaking to reporters, Khattar said, "I have spoken to the police and this issue must be resolved. We don't have problems with anyone praying at places of worship. Those places have been built for this purpose."

"But these should not be done in the open. We won't tolerate the custom of offering namaz in the open," the Chief Minister maintained.

The administration will work out ways to help free areas and sites belonging to the Waqf that may have been encroached upon, he said.

Namaz offered outdoors on government-owned land has triggered vociferous protests by right-wing groups, who, last month, went so far as to spread cow dung on a prayer site. On other occasions, Muslims peacefully praying faced shouts of "Jai Shri Ram".

In October tensions flared as groups of people - locals claimed were affiliated to right-wing organisations - disrupted prayers in Sector 12-A. Visuals from the area showed heavy police presence as Muslims prayed; 30 protesters were detained over the incident.

After this, the Gurgaon administration on November 2 said Muslims could not pray at eight of the 37 previously agreed sites. The administration said permission had been cancelled after "objections" from locals and said permission would be revoked for other sites if similar "objections" were raised.

Among other "objections" raised are claims "Rohingya refugees" use the prayers as an excuse to commit crimes in the area.

When protests first made headlines, Khattar said everyone had a right to pray but also issued a caveat, saying "those offering prayers should not block road traffic".

Union Minister Krishan Pal Gurjar - the junior Social Justice minister, and whose constituency is in Haryana, said people must be allowed to pray if the sites had been designated for such purposes.

IPS officer suspended over Gurgaon multi-crore theft case

CHANDIGARH, Dec 10: Days after a Gurgaon court pulled up investigators for not probing allegations against IPS officer Dheeraj Setia in connection with a multi-crore theft case, the Haryana government Friday suspended the officer. Authorities in Haryana have also asked the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department to look into the case.

In an order issued Friday, Haryana Additional Chief Secretary Rajeev Arora said: “The Governor of Haryana is pleased to place Sh Dheeraj Kumar, IPS (HY: 2013) Commandant, 3rd IRB, Sunaria, Rohtak under suspension with immediate effect… During suspension, his headquarters will be in the office of DGP Haryana…”

Earlier, referring to the disclosure statement of an accused in the theft made before the Haryana Special Task Force (STF), a Gurgaon court had observed that the statement makes it clear “he has given illegal gratification to (the then Gurgaon) DCP Dheeraj Setia for hushing up the matter”.

Explained |Explained: What is the multi-crore theft case in Gurgaon?
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, when asked about the allegations against the IPS officer, said on Friday: “We will not spare anyone – he may be an officer of any level or anyone else – who is found guilty. The DCP’s involvement has been found. Investigation is going on. Some people have been arrested. Rs 6-7 crore has also been recovered…”

The case pertains to a multi-crore theft from the office of a company in Gurgaon’s Sector 82 in August. Two Gurgaon-based doctors and Delhi Police ASI Vikas Gulia were earlier arrested in connection with the case. Police suspect gangster Vikas Lagarpuria had planned the theft. The theft was reported on August 21, after the complainant went to collect the cash to deposit it in the bank and noticed Rs 50 lakh missing.

A senior government officer said: “The case has been referred to the IT department because initially, a theft of only Rs 50 lakh was reported while several crores have already been recovered. During investigation, an accused had hinted towards theft of Rs 30-40 crore of ‘black money’. He also claimed a bag (with gold, US and Indian currency) valued at Rs 2.5 crore was sent to an official to bury the matter. The IT department will probe angles related to alleged black money while the ED will probe the aspect of US currency.”

A senior officer of the STF had earlier said: “Our investigation suggests a theft of at least Rs 14-15 crore had taken place. We have recovered Indian currency, US dollars, and gold bricks. As many as 11 persons have been arrested.”

In his order on December 2, Gurgaon Additional Sessions Judge Jasbir Singh had stated: “From the… disclosure statement of accused Dr Suchender Kumar Nawal, it is clear he has given illegal gratification to DCP Dheeraj Setia for hushing up the matter. He (Nawal) also disclosed to have delivered huge amount in the form of gold, dollars etc… to the DCP for said purpose. From perusal of police file, I have not found any concrete step taken for taking the investigation to its logical conclusion on the basis of disclosures made by accused Dr Nawal. As such, the investigating agency has failed to perform its statutory duty with utmost care, especially when involvement of a senior police officer has come on record.”

The STF had earlier said: “We are not trying to save anyone. STF arrested the two accused doctors, and the disclosure statements of one mentioned the name of a senior police officer. It is an admission in police custody, which is not admissible in the court of law. We are collecting corroborative evidence to verify the claims and allegations. A notice was served to Dheeraj Setia. He was not available at the time. Another notice has been issued and he will join the investigation in the coming days.”

Setia was not available for comment.

Gen Bipin Rawat Cremated With Full Military Honours

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: General Bipin Rawat and his wife, Madhulika Rawat, were cremated with full military honours at Delhi's Brar Square Crematorium on Friday evening. The cremation was performed by their daughters, Kritika and Tarini.

The bodies of Gen Rawat, India's first Chief of Defence Staff, and his wife were laid side-by-side on the funeral pyre. Hours earlier, at the same crematorium, the General's top aide, Brigadier LS Lidder, was also cremated. All three, and 10 others, died in a horrific chopper crash in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday.

As the flames rose, a 17-gun salute was accorded the Gen Rawat. The elaborate funeral ceremony involved 800 military personnel, in line with established protocol.

Earlier today, after the bodies of the General and his wife were brought to the crematorium, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stood in silent tribute as military bugles sounded in the background. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also paid his respects, as did high-ranking officers from foreign friendly nations.

Gen Rawat and Madhulika Rawat's bodies were brought to their final resting place in a gun carriage decked with flowers and draped with the national flag, which wound its way through the streets of the national capital as part of a solemn procession that included military personnel marching alongside.

The military personnel were joined by civilians waving the national flag and shouting 'Bharat Mata ki jai' and 'General Rawat amar rahe', or 'General Rawat will live forever'.

On Friday morning a sea of mourners visited Gen Rawat's residence, where his wife and he were laid in state to allow the public to pay their final respects. Among those who came to offer condolences were Home Minister Amit Shah and NSA Ajit Doval.

Politicians cutting across party lines also came to express their grief, including Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and the chief ministers of Uttarakhand (PS Dhami) and Delhi (Arvind Kejriwal). Gen Rawat hailed from the Pauri Garwhal district in Uttarakhand.

The bodies of Gen Rawat, his wife and the 11 who died in the crash were brought back to Delhi last night on a C130-J Super Hercules transport aircraft. As the plane landed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led tributes in a brief but emotional ceremony.

Only four bodies have been identified so far - Gen Rawat and his wife, Madhulika Rawat, Brigadier LS Lidder, and Lance Naik Vivek Kumar. Their bodies have been released to the families for last rites. The others will be kept at the Army Base Hospital till identified.

Group Captain Singh - the sole survivor - was being treated at the military hospital in Wellington. He has been airlifted to the Air Force's Command Hospital in Bengaluru. The Group Captain is stable but remains in critical condition, officials have said.

PM Pays Tribute To General Bipin Rawat, Others

NEW DELHI, Dec 9: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday night led tributes to Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife, and the 11 who died in a chopper crash the day before. The 13 bodies were flown back to Delhi on a C130-J Super Hercules aircraft.

Prime Minister Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and NSA Ajit Doval were at Delhi's Palam Air Force base to pay their final respects to Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife, and those who died in the crash. Also present were the Chiefs of Staff of the Air Force, Navy and Army.

Only four bodies have been identified so far - Gen Rawat and his wife, Madhulika Rawat, Brigadier LS Lidder, and Lance Naik Vivek Kumar. Their bodies will be released to the families for last rites. The others will be kept at the Army Base Hospital till identified.

From 11 am Friday the bodies of Gen Rawat and his wife will be kept at their Delhi home for family, friends, and the public to pay their final respects. The funeral procession will begin at 2 pm. The funeral itself has been scheduled for 4 pm at the Brar Square Crematorium; Brigadier Lidder's funeral has been scheduled there at 9 am.

Earlier on Thursday one of the vehicles carrying the 13 bodies met with a minor accident near Mettupalayam in Tamil Nadu's Coimbatore district. The vehicles were taking the bodies to the Sulur Air Force base in Coimbatore, from where they were flown to Delhi.

A large crowd of locals gathered to welcome the convoy as it reached the Sulur base. People were seen shouting 'Bharat Mata ki jai' and showering the road with flower petals as the string of vehicles turned into the base compound.

Also Thursday, the 'black box', or flight data recorder, of the crashed chopper was recovered. The data will be examined as part of the high-level, tri-services inquiry ordered by the government. The inquiry will be lead Air Marshal Manvendra Singh, Singh told Parliament.

Group Captain Singh - the sole survivor - was being treated at the military hospital in Wellington. He has been airlifted to the Air Force's Command Hospital in Bengaluru. The Group Captain is stable but remains in critical condition, officials have said.

Gen Bipin Rawat, India's first Chief of Defence Staff, will be cremated with full military honours Friday, as will all those who died. The bodies of Gen Rawat and his wife, Madhulika Rawat, will be taken to the Army hospital in Delhi's Dhaula Kuan this evening.

Condolence messages have come from the US, China, Nepal, the UK, Russia, Australia, France, Israel, and Japan.

Farmers call off year-long protest after Centre agrees to demands

NEW DELHI, Dec 9: The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of 32 farmers' unions, announced the formal decision to lift the year-long protest on December 9. The protesting farmers are expected to head home on December 11, though many have already started removing the makeshift tents on Delhi borders.

The farmers' protest on Delhi borders that started last November against the now-repealed agri laws ended on December 9. The move comes after the farmers' union received a formal communication from Centre agreeing to their demands.

The agitating farmers are all set to go to homes on December 11 though many have already started packing up their belongings and removing the makeshift tents on Delhi borders.

"We have decided to suspend our agitation. We will hold a review meeting on January 15. If government doesn't fulfill its promises, we could resume our agitation," said farmer leader Gurnam Singh Charuni following a meeting of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of 32 farmers' unions.

December 9 was 378th day of the protest that began with a call to march to Delhi in November last year.

The formal announcement of ending the protest was made after the SKM meeting held on December 9 after the Centre sent an official communication accepting demands, including the unconditional withdrawal of all police cases lodged against protesters during the agitation.

On December 8, a panel of five senior SKM leaders met in Delhi to discuss a fresh proposal offered by the government.The farmers' demands also include compensation to those farmers who lost their lives during the year-long agitation against the three contentious farm laws.

President Ram Nath Kovind on December 1 gave his assent to a Bill passed by Parliament in Winter Session of Parliament to repeal three farm laws, twelve days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government was scrapping the laws that ran afoul of farmer groups. The presidential nod to the Farm Laws Repeal Act, 2021 meant that the three farm laws stand scrapped now.

The Bill to repeal the laws was passed by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on November 29, the first day of the winter session of Parliament. The farmer unions leading the stir, however, did not end the protest saying their agitation would only end only after their remaining demands were addressed.

After civilian killings, Nagaland govt to write to Centre demanding repeal of AFSPA

KOHIMA, Dec 7: In the aftermath of the killing of 14 civilians by security forces, the Nagaland government has decided to appeal to the Home Ministry to repeal the Armed Formed (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).

The decision was taken during a cabinet meeting which was chaired by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio on Tuesday.

In the meeting, it was also decided that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that has been constituted to probe the incident will complete its investigation within a month.

The government also decided to call off the ongoing Hornbill Festival in protest against the civilian killings. However, the stalls at the venue will remain open and the tourism department will hold a simple closing ceremony.

The 10-day Hornbill Festival, the state’s largest tourism extravaganza held at Naga Heritage Village in Kisama near the state capital, was scheduled to end on December 10. On Monday, the state government had cancelled the day’s event at the venue.

During the meeting, the cabinet was briefed about the action taken following the killing, including setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by an IGP rank officer and grant of ex-gratia to the next of kin of the deceased by the state and central governments, ministers Neiba Kronu and Temjen Imna Along later told reporters.

The cabinet has directed the SIT to complete the investigation within a month, they said.

Kronu said that altogether 14 civilians have died in the incident, while two seriously injured are undergoing treatment in neighbouring Assam, and six are being treated in Dimapur.

Several tribes from eastern Nagaland and other parts of the state had suspended all activities at their respective Morungs over the killings in Mon district.

The civilians, said to be workers in a coal mine, were returning home in a vehicle when the security forces opened fire. Six civilians died on the spot. This triggered violence in the area later, in which eight more people (seven on Saturday, and one Sunday) were killed.

Expressing regret, Union Home Minister Amit Shah informed Parliament Monday that “a team of 21 para-commandos of Indian Army laid an ambush” for insurgents in Mon district on December 4 evening but “it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity”.

He added “The Government of India sincerely regrets this unfortunate incident in Nagaland and expresses its deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives.”

A suo motu FIR filed on Sunday by the officer in-charge of the Tizit police station in Mon district has alleged that it was the “intention” of the security forces was “to murder and injure civilians”.

According to the FIR filed by Ubi Posehu Kezo, the officer in charge of the Tizit police station, against “21st Para Military Force”, on December 4, coal mine labourers from Oting village were returning home from Tiru in a Bolero pick-up vehicle when, “on reaching Longkhao, between Upper Tiru and Oting villages, security forces blankly open fired at the vehicle without any provocation, resulting in the killing of many Oting villagers and seriously injuring many others”.

The FIR stated that at the time of the incident, there was no police guide and neither did security forces “make requisition to police station to provide police guide for their operation. Hence it is obvious that that the intention of the security forces is to murder and injure civilians.”

The Army has expressed deep regret and ordered a Court of Inquiry into the incident. “The cause of the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated by a Court of Inquiry at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law,” it said.

Rio, while attending the funeral of the 14 civilians in Mon town on Monday, had joined a growing chorus of demands seeking the repeal of AFSPA that gives special powers to security forces in “disturbed areas”.

Meanwhile, the Konyak Union (KU), the apex tribal body in Nagaland’s Mon, imposed a day-long bandh in the district on Tuesday to protest the killings, and announced seven-day mourning from the next day.

The KU urged security forces to abstain from patrolling in the Konyak region during the seven-day mourning period, and warned that if the law enforcers do not abide by it, they will be responsible for “any untoward incident that might occur”.

The union, in a letter sent on Monday, requested President Ramnath Kovind to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) “also comprising two members of Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) in it”, and identify the Army personnel involved in the incident, and put in the public domain within 30 days the action taken against them.

It demanded that 27 Assam Rifles immediately vacate Mon for failing to protect civilians, and Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act be removed from the entire Northeast.

“We have imposed a day-long bandh in Mon district on Tuesday. It is going on peacefully. We have also announced seven-day mourning from Wednesday,” said Konyak Union president Howing Konyak.

A report submitted to the state government on Sunday claimed the army made no attempt to ascertain the identity of the civilians returning from work on a pick-up truck before shooting them in Nagaland’s Mon district on Saturday.

The joint report by the state’s Director General of Police (DGP) T John Longkumer and Commissioner Rovilatuo Mor quoted eyewitnesses, who said the Army’s special forces tried to “hide” the bodies of six people by wrapping and loading them on a pick-up van with the intention of taking them to their base camp.

Farmers Set To End Protests As Centre Softens Stand

NEW DELHI, Dec 7: Farmers protesting for 15+ months - on issues from the (now-scrapped) farm laws to a legal guarantee for MSP - are on the brink of standing down, after sources said the centre indicated it would offer a written assurance to meet all their demands.

A lengthy meeting of farmer leaders from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha was held Tuesday evening at Singhu on the Delhi border. The meet - to consider the centre's offer - concluded without an agreement on how to proceed, and will resume at 2 pm tomorrow.

Sources said the centre was open to giving farmers written assurances on demands that include a legal guarantee for MSP and the dropping of all police cases against them, including those on stubble burning.

Sources said the centre, as part of its offer, would form a committee to decide the MSP issue. The committee will consist of government officials, agriculture experts and reps from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of farmer unions that has led this protest.

Sources also said the centre had agreed to drop all police cases against farmers - this includes stubble burning complaints and those filed by Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in connection with violent clashes with security forces over the past several months.

Should the farmers, as is widely expected, accept the centre's offer, it will mean the end of a mass movement that made headlines in India and around the world for the mobilisation of tens of thousands of farmers, violent clashes with police, and furious rows in Parliament.

It is understood that while the farmers are happy with the centre's offer, there is one sticking point - the centre wants the farmers to stand down before police cases are dropped.

The question of compensation - a point raised by Rahul Gandhi when he accused the centre of lying - was also discussed. The farmers referred to the ₹ 5 lakh offered by Punjab, to which the centre said UP and Haryana had, in principle, agreed to similar measures.

Last week farmers said Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to them (via a phone call) to discuss outstanding issues; this was after their protests forced the recall of the farm laws.

The farmers constituted a five-member panel to hold talks - talks that were to include their demand to legalise MSP and withdraw police cases against the protesters.

The centre was given a 'deadline', which expired today. "... if a compromise is found, then there is a possibility of farmers going back," said Yudhvir Singh, a union leader.

14 civilians killed during security operations in Nagaland; Army orders probe

KOHIMA, Dec 5: At least 14 civilians have been killed by security forces in Nagaland's Mon district, police said on Sunday, adding that it is investigating whether the incident was a case of mistaken identity.

The incident took place between Oting and Tiru villages when some daily-wage labourers were returning home in a pick-up van from a coal mine on Saturday evening, a police officer said.

The Indian Army has ordered Court of Inquiry into the incident and expressed deep regret over the incident. "The cause of the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law," the Army said in a statement.

"The security forces have suffered severe injuries in the incident including one soldier who succumbed to the injuries," it added.

Mon shares a porous international border with Myanmar, where the Yung Aung faction of NSCN (K) is based. The situation is under control and police is conducting spot verification, he said.

Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio condemned the incident and assured that it will be investigated. "The unfortunate incident leading to killing of civilians at Oting, Mon is highly condemnable. Condolences to the bereaved families & speedy recovery of those injured. High level SIT will investigate & justice delivered as per the law of the land. Appeal for peace from all sections," he tweeted.

Home Minister Amit Shah offered his condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives.

"Anguished over an unfortunate incident in Nagaland’s Oting, Mon. I express my deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives. A high-level SIT constituted by the State govt will thoroughly probe this incident to ensure justice to the bereaved families," he tweeted.

Official sources said Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Army Chief General MM Naravane have been briefed about the incident.

In protest against the incident, the Eastern Nagaland People's Organisaiton (ENPO) urged the six tribes of the region to withdraw participation from the ongoing Hornbill Festival, which is the state's biggest tourism extravaganza.

"While expressing deep sorrow and sadness over the indiscriminate firing by Indian security force where more than 10 daily wage laborers from Oting village were blatantly killed, the ENPO vehemently condemn the barbaric act of the security force," a release issued the organisation said.

India's Omicron Tally Jumps To 21 With 17 New Cases

NEW DELHI, Dec 5: India's Omicron tally is steadily rising with fresh cases of the variant in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Delhi. Seven in Maharashtra, nine in Jaipur and a man in Delhi were found positive with the variant, taking the total count in the country to 21.

A woman and her two daughters who travelled from Nigeria, her brother and his two daughters in Pimpri Chinchwad - a township near Pune - and one male who travelled from Finland have tested positive for the new variant in Maharashtra.

The nine patients in Jaipur are from the same family and have recently returned from South Africa.

A 37-year-old man who arrived in Delhi from Tanzania tested positive for the Omicron variant earlier today.

A case in Rajasthan and more cases in Delhi have also been reported, said officials. The respective state governments will release the details on the same.

The first two cases of Omicron in India were reported from Karnataka earlier this week. The other two cases were detected from Gujarat and Maharashtra. With seven new cases, the Omicron cases in Maharashtra have risen to 8.

"PM sahib, please stop the flights", Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had urged. The Chief Minister had also written a letter to the Prime Minister saying the same.

Omicron, first detected in South Africa on November 25, has been described as a "variant of concern" by the WHO.

International airports across India are intensively screening and testing all passengers from 'at-risk' countries. In line with central guidelines, all passengers from such countries have to take RT-PCR tests on arrival. The test result has to be negative in order to leave the airport.

The list of countries deemed "at-risk" for now includes the United Kingdom, all 44 countries in Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Israel.

Researchers are still checking if Omicron is more lethal and if current vaccines offer protection.

Varun Gandhi's Tweet Over UP Crackdown Grazes His Party BJP Again

LUCKNOW, Dec 5: If there are vacancies and also eligible candidates, why is there no recruitment, BJP MP Varun Gandhi asked today as he targeted the party-led Uttar Pradesh government over a police crackdown on a candlelight march by job seekers in Lucknow.

The Pilibhit MP, who has been publicly expressing views that are at odds with the BJP's stand, shared a viral video in which policemen can be seen chasing and cane-charging protesters.

Gandhi said these protesters too are Indians and no one is ready to even hear their grievances. He also appealed to the authorities, asking if they would have been able to act in the same manner if their children were part of these protests.

The protesters have been holding a sustained agitation over alleged irregularities in a 2019 exam to recruit 69,000 assistant teachers in the state. They were trying to march from an intersection in central Lucknow towards the residence of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath when police cracked down.

The police action also drew sharp responses from opposition parties Samajwadi Party and the Congress.

The Akhilesh Yadav-led party condemned the "brutal lathicharge", Congress leader Rahul Gandhi appealed to people to remember this when BJP asks for votes.

Meanwhile, Varun Gandhi's fresh critique makes it clear that he is in no mood to toe the party line.

Last month, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surprise announcement on the repeal of three contentious farm laws, the Pilibhit MP had shot off a letter to him, listing four big demands, including compensation for those who died during the farmers' year-long protest and withdrawal of cases registered against farmers.

He also criticised BJP leaders over the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in which protesting farmers were run over, allegedly by a vehicle driven by a Union Minister Ajay Kumar Mishra's son. Alleging that "provocative statements" by many senior leaders created an "adversarial atmosphere", he said the "heartbreaking incident is a blemish on our democracy" and demanded action against the Union Minister.

India's Fourth Omicron Case Detected Near Mumbai

NEW DELHI, Dec 4: A 33-year-old man from Maharashtra who travelled to Mumbai from South Africa via Dubai and Delhi late last month has tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, in the fourth such case confirmed in India. According to a government note, the patient is a resident of the Kalyan-Dombivali municipal area and had not taken any COVID-19 vaccine.

India logged a daily spike of 8,603 Covid cases on Saturday, taking the total tally of COVID-19 cases to 3,46,24,360. India also recorded 415 new deaths, pushing the total death count to 4,70,530.

The active cases increased to 99,974, according to the latest Health Ministry data.

India also for the first time reported 'Omicron' cases with two cases being detected in Karnataka. The new strain of the virus has triggered a global alarm with several countries announcing restrictions to arrest the spread of the 'Variant of Concern', declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Veteran Journalist Vinod Dua Dies At 67

NEW DELHI, Dec 4: Veteran journalist Vinod Dua has died after a prolonged illness following a Covid infection, his daughter Mallika Dua has confirmed in a social media post. The 67-year-old journalist was last week moved to the Intensive Care Unit of Apollo Hospital in Delhi on the advice of doctors.

"Our irreverent, fearless and extraordinary father, Vinod Dua has passed away," the comic-actor Mallika Dua said in her Instagram story and added that the cremation would be held at the Lodhi crematorium in the capital tomorrow at noon.

With an illustrious career spanning four decades, Dua was the voice a generation grew up listening to. His legacy transcends the 80s, 90s, the 2000s and in his last avatar, on digital new age media. He was known to have revolutionised election coverage in India.

NDTV's Prannoy Roy, who worked closely with Vinod Dua, said "Vinod is not just one of the greatest. He is the greatest of his era".

Dua was a pioneer in Hindi journalism, with stints at Doordarshan and NDTV. More recently, he was known for his political commentary in web shows for digital media platforms The Wire and HW News.

Dua was honoured with several awards for his contribution to journalism. In 1996, he became the first electronic media journalist to win the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award.

He was also awarded the Padma Shri for Journalism in 2008 by the Government of India. In June 2017, for his lifetime achievement in the field of journalism, Mumbai Press Club awarded him the RedInk Award, which was presented to him by Devendra Fadnavis, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

He also hosted programs like 'Janwani', where the national broadcaster Doordarshan, usually muted to government, saw the art of asking direct questions and how truth is spoken to power.

Dua always considered himself a broadcaster and not just a journalist. He was an astute political journalist, yet his heart was in art, culture, music, and even food.

An important milestone early on in his career was 'Parakh', a weekly current affairs show on Doordarshan.

Vinod Dua was an integral part of NDTV's journey as well. He was the host of 'Khabardar India' and 'Vinod Dua Live'. He was also a regular on election broadcasting. More importantly, when Hindi journalism struggled through its worst phase on the language used on TV, he was seen as a voice that provided sanity.

His much-loved food show 'Zaika India Ka' saw him crisscrossing the whole country just for the best taste.

He was widely regarded as fearless and never afraid of asking the most uncomfortable questions, in the politest way possible.

"Our irreverent, fearless and extraordinary father, Vinod Dua has passed away. He lived an inimitable life, rising from the refugee colonies of Delhi to the peak of journalistic excellence for over 42 years, always, always speaking truth to power. He is now with our mom, his beloved wife Chinna in heaven where they will continue to sing, cook, travel, and drive each other up the wall," Mallika Dua wrote in her Instagram story.

Vinod Dua was hospitalised in Gurugram along with his wife radiologist Padmavati Dua following a Covid infection during the second wave earlier this year. Mrs Dua passed away in June and Dua has struggled with his health ever since.

Dua is survived by two daughters, the comic-actor Mallika Dua and Bakul Dua, a clinical psychologist.

'What Is UPA? There Is No UPA': Mamata Banerjee's Warning Shot

MUMBAI, Dec 1: Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee -- seen as making a beeline for the political space occupied by the Congress -- today indicated that she is visualising a fresh opposition line-up for the next general elections. And this, she made clear, is being done because the Congress is not fighting against "the ongoing fascism".

"What is UPA? There is no UPA," Ms Banerjee declared after her meeting with Nationalist Congress chief Sharad Pawar in Mumbai this afternoon. Mr Pawar, who was a key interlocutor of the opposition ahead of the 2019 contest, spelled it out: "Template for 2024".

"A firm alternative course should be made as nobody is fighting against ongoing fascism. No one can do this alone. Whoever is strong in whichever place has to fight. Sharad ji is the senior-most leader and I came to discuss as a political courtesy," she said.

Quizzed about an alternative without the Congress, Mamata Banerjee said, "I agree with whatever Sharad ji said. We need a strong alternative that can fight. If someone does not want to fight what can we do? We want everyone to fight together on the field," said Ms Banerjee, who has been catapulted onto the national stage since her mega victory against the BJP in the April-May assembly elections in Bengal.

Asked if Pawar should lead the UPA, she shot back: "What UPA? There is no UPA now? What is the UPA? We will clear all issues. We want a strong alternative."

Many believe that Ms Banerjee will now be pitched as the face of the opposition. The perception is reinforced by her efforts to make Trinamool Congress the next big national party after the Congress, with a steady stream of incoming leaders giving it a foothold in multiple states -- Goa, Meghalaya, Bihar and Haryana.

Most of the new entrants in her party have been from the Congress.

In Delhi last week, Mamata Banerjee gave an open invitation to any leader who wanted to join Trinamool in its battle against the BJP. She also flared up when asked about a possible meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, questioning if it was "mandatory".

At an event held earlier today, Mamata Banerjee explained she was filling the gap in states where the Congress was not fighting and places like Maharashtra should not be "disturbed".

"India is a vast country. And in India there are many political parties. Why will we disturb what is working in Maharashtra? That we will not do. Where there is no possibility for the Congress and they are not willing to compromise, where they are not fighting and BJP is growing, there we will work together," she said.

Later in the evening, Pawar tweeted photos of their meeting, commenting that they had "agreed upon the need to strengthen the collective efforts and commitment towards safeguarding democratic values".

Last evening, Ms Banerjee met Shiv Sena's Aaditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut. Her meeting with Uddhav Thackeray did not take place as the Chief Minister is in isolation after a surgery.

The BJP has brushed off Ms Banerjee's efforts to unite the opposition.
Senior BJP leader Dilip Ghosh pointed out that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal met Ms Banerjee during her recent Delhi visit.

"The politics that she is doing of dominating everyone is not being liked by those who were once on her side. She may go to Goa, Uttar Pradesh or Himachal Pradesh but she will not get any benefit and neither will she be able to help anyone. In states where Congress has weakened, maybe one or two retired politicians will take her side," said Ghosh.


Cosmetic Dentist New Delhi India


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