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Will change GST structure if we come to power: Rahul Gandhi

INDORE, Oct 30: Congress president Rahul Gandhi has said that his party will overhaul the Goods and Services Tax (GST) structure if it comes to power in 2019, and once again described GST as it currently exists as “Gabbar Singh Tax”.

Speaking at a gathering of business leaders and professionals in Indore on Tuesday, Gandhi alleged that GST, championed by his party-led UPA when it was in power between 2004 and 2014, was introduced by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in a haphazard manner.

“If the Congress party forms the government in Delhi (Centre), the Gabbar Singh Tax would be changed to GST. Our aim is to provide a single tax with the lowest possible rate. Essential goods for common people would be removed from GST,” Gandhi said at the event in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh. ‘Gabbar Singh’ is a reference to a popular Bollywood villain from a hit Hindi film Sholay (1975).

“When Gabbar Singh Tax was implemented, traders and people who run small businesses admitted to me that the BJP called them ‘corrupt’ and ‘thief’, and that is what hurt them the most,” Gandhi added.

His party has long maintained that it supported GST but not in the form it was implemented by the NDA government. The Congress president said the BJP was a “party of loudspeakers” while the Congress was a party of “listeners”.

Gandhi also spoke about the ongoing controversy in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and repeated his charge that the BJP was attacking autonomous bodies. “The case of four Supreme Court judges, the case of the CBI director, pressure on ECI are all examples of autonomous institutions being attacked,” the Congress president said.

Gurugram To Become Super Smart City like Singapore: Haryana CM Manohar Lal

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 27: Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal has said that his Government is working towards making Gurugram 'not smart' but a 'super smart' city like Singapore.

In response to a question from this correspondent, the Chief Minister said that besides Gurgaon, another five smart cities would be developed on both sides of Kundli-Manesar-Palwal (KMP) and Kundli-Ghaziabad-Palwal (KGB). "A draft has been prepared in this regard."

In terms of development, Manohar Lal said these cities would not be less than Singapore.

Addressing a press conference organised here on Saturday on the occasion of completion of four years of present government, Manohar Lal said that we are working with the spirit of welfare for the people and present Government has been successful in completely rooting out the corruption which was rampant in the state four years ago. The previous governments used power prominently for transfer-recruitment-CLU whereas we use it only to serve the people of the state.

He said that four years ago the atmosphere of fear was prevalent in the state and corruption was rampant. "We succeeded in providing a transparent and corruption free administration to the people for which they reposed their confidence in us four years back."

The Chief Minister said that many times decisions seem strict but the interest of the society is our priority and of paramount importance. The Change of land Use (CLU) power was under the jurisdiction of the Chief Minister's office since 1992. In the last two decades, no Chief Minister had shown the courage to restrict it to the respective department as per the law. In an important decision, "we have given this power to the Director, Town and Country Planning department."

The Chief Minister said that online teacher transfer policy was implemented under which 90 per cent of teachers were posted in the stations of their choice. Other states are also coming forward to emulate this policy in their states.

He said that there was a time when there was an atmosphere of complete suspicion and doubt for getting government jobs. Now the jobs are given only on meritorious basis. He said "previous government used power for their own benefit whereas our government is working with the spirit to serve the people. During the previous governments, large scale corruption, nepotism and regionalism were prevalent in the state," he added.

The Chief Minister said that the villages should also be equipped with all basic amenities like cities. Following this, the present government has started many schemes for the rural areas. Referring to the seven star Rainbow scheme, he said that under the scheme, the villages are being rated according to the facilities and it is a matter of pride that many villages of the state have come under 6 star rating.

Manohar Lal said that the state government has no dearth of funds for development schemes. He said that the state government has made 6,800 announcements in the last four years, most of which have been completed. Only the work on announcements made in 2018 are remaining which would be completed by the next year. While in the ten years’ of previous government, 6,500 announcements were made.

Those present included, Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma; Finance Minister Capt Abhimanyu; Health Minister Mr Anil Vij; Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Minister O. P. Dhankar; Public Works (Building and Roads) Minister Rao Narbir Singh; Urban Local Bodies Minister Kavita Jain; Industries and Commerce Minister Vipul Goel; Minister of State for Public Health Engineering Dr. Banwari Lal; Minister of State for Co-operation Manish Kumar Grover, Minister of State for Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, Mr Karan Dev Kamboj; Minister of State for Labor and Employment Nayab Singh Saini; Media Advisors to the Chief Minister Rajiv Jain and Amit Arya; Additional Chief Secretary, Information, Public Relations and Languages Department and Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Rajesh Khullar; and Director General, Information, Public Relations and Languages Department Sameer Pal Srow.

Supreme Court to hear Ayodhya case in January

NEW DELHI, Oct 29: The Supreme Court on Monday turned down requests from the Uttar Pradesh government for early hearing in the Ayodhya case and said it will decide on the bench that will hear the case only in January next year.

Tushar Mehta, additional solicitor general, who appeared on behalf of the Uttar Pradesh government in the title suit, asked the court to take up the case after the Diwali break.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said the appropriate bench will decide the date in January. “We don’t know which bench will hear the matter,” Chief Justice Gogoi said.

The petitions, which challenge the 2010 Allahabad high court judgment in the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title suit, will be taken up in the first week of January.

The Allahabad High Court had ordered trifurcation of the disputed site between the Nirmohi Akhada, Ram Lalla (the deity which is a party in the case through a legal representative) and the Sunni Muslim Waqf Board in September 2010. The decision was immediately challenged in the top court.

Hindus believe the 16th-century mosque, Babri Masjid, was built over a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram, whose birthplace is also considered to be at the site. The mosque was demolished by a mob of thousands in 1992, triggering a cycle of violence and riots across India.

The top court on September 27 declined to refer to a five-judge constitution bench the issue of reconsideration of the observations in its 1994 judgment that a mosque was not integral to Islam which had arisen during the hearing of the Ayodhya land dispute.

In a majority verdict of 2:1, a three-judge bench headed by then chief justice Dipak Misra had said the civil suit has to be decided on the basis of evidence and the previous verdict has no relevance to this issue.

Finish probe against CBI chief Alok Verma within 2 weeks: SC

NEW DELHI, Oct 26: The Supreme Court on Friday skirted the issue of whether the government, through the Central Vigilance Commission, had the power to effectively remove the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Alok Verma but insisted that an investigation into the director by CVC be supervised by retired SC judge AK Patnaik, and be concluded within two weeks.

A bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi refused to grant CVC more time. “Can’t give more time, it’s not in the interest of the country,” the CJI told solicitor general Tushar Mehta who sought three weeks for the task. The court also refused to entertain a plea by CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, also divested of all responsibilities on the same day as the director (October 23), saying he had “missed the bus”. However, its order to CVC did not mention the CBI’s own probe into him which precipitated the crisis in the country’s federal investigation agency.

The third person in the high-drama that played out on the intervening night of October 23 and 24, the agency’s joint director promoted as interim director, M Nageswara Rao found his powers curtailed by the bench, which also comprised justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph. The court barred him from taking any “policy decision” or “major decision.” It sought all orders passed by the agency since October 23 to be shown to it by the next hearing on November 12. This includes the transfer of several officials in the agency. Rao, the court said, “will only perform routine tasks that are essential to keep the CBI functional.”

Union minister Arun Jaitley described Friday’s order as “an extremely positive development”. “The government has no interest for or against any individual. The government is interested in only maintaining the professionalism, the image and the institutional integrity of the CBI,” he said, shortly after the top court announced its directions.

Chief spokesperson of the Congress Randeep Surjewala tweeted: “Truth prevails in Supreme Court. Modi Government’s sinister attempt to capture CBI through lackeys falls flat. A slap in face of tyrants who wanted to pin the last nail in CBI’s independence. CVC can’t act as Modi Government’s pawn but would be supervised by a SC judge to act fairly.”

A CBI spokesperson said the agency will “follow today’s Supreme Court order in letter and spirit”, and seek legal opinion if needed.

In his complaint to the Cabinet Secretary on August 24, which was forwarded to the CVC, Rakesh Asthana accused Verma of receiving money to give relief to one Satish Babu Sana who was being investigated by the agency in the Moin Qureshi case. In its order divesting Verma of his responsibilities, CVC referred to the agency’s lack of co-operation with regard to an inquiry arising from this complaint.

Solicitor General Mehta expressed apprehension that the court order would reflect on the CVC’s functioning. “Let the CVC examine the matter. The CVC has to submit an annual report to the President, which will be presented before the Parliament,” he urged the bench, quoting the provisions of CVC Act, 2003.

The court’s response was conciliatory but firm. It said in its order: “We make it clear that entrustment of supervision of on-going enquiry by the C.V.C. to a former judge of this court is one-time exception which has been felt necessary by this Court in the peculiar facts of this case and should not be understood to be casting any reflection on any authority of the Government of India.”

The court also issued notice on Verma’s petition questioning the government decision to send him on leave. Notice was also issued to the Centre on Common Cause’s petition asking for a probe by Special Investigation Team (SIT) against Asthana and his removal from the CBI. “We will examine the matter,” the court said at the outset of the hearing.

The court refused to entertain Asthana’s lawyer senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi because his petition against the government order was not listed before it. “You have missed the bus. Your matter is not before us. We cannot pass any orders,” the CJI said.

Senior advocate Fali Nariman, appearing for Verma, quoted the law to point out that Verma has a fixed two-year tenure and his removal or transfer cannot be without a reference to the high-powered committee led by the Prime Minister and comprising leader of the opposition and Chief Justice of India.

Before Nariman could argue further, CJI Gogoi told Attorney General KK Venugopal that the court would examine the matter at the next hearing and would give CVC 10 days to complete the probe against Verma. When Mehta said the time was not sufficient, the CJI quipped: “Okay we will give you 240 hours.”

Mehta pointed to the voluminous documents in a sealed cover and said several documents were yet to be received from CBI. CJI Gogoi refused to look into the bulky documents. “This is just a preliminary enquiry being done by the CVC,” he said.

Mehta made yet another effort. “There is Diwali break as well. Give us some more time.” CJI replied: “Diwali is just for one day and that is 24 hours.”

Alok Verma claims govt interference in sensitive cases

NEW DELHI, Oct 24: Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Kumar Verma has accused the government of interfering with the independence and autonomy of the premier institution and told the Supreme Court that divesting him of his powers “overnight” by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) was “patently illegal”. He also hinted that he was removed for investigating cases inconvenient to the government.

He also hit out at the agency’s special director Rakesh Asthana (whom he didn’t name), who too was sent on leave along with the director, for posing hurdles in investigating cases.

Verma’s petition was mentioned by advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan before a bench led by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi on Wednesday morning. Investigating officers of sensitive cases are being changed, which may jeopardize a probe into many sensitive cases, he said. The court agreed with his request for an early hearing and listed the matter for Friday.

Verma sought the quashing of the “rapid fire” decisions of October 23 by the CVC and the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), as being without jurisdiction and in violation of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. They were arbitrary and issued without following the due process of law, he claimed.

Verma has moved the top court under Article 32 of the Constitution.

As CBI is expected to function independently and autonomously, there are bound to be occasions when certain investigations of high functionaries do not take the direction that may be desirable to the government, Verma mentioned in his petition. He offered to share details of “many cases” which have led to the “present circumstances.” Verma did not divulge the same in his petition as they “are extremely sensitive” in nature.

Verma’s petition has asked to court to “give independence to CBI from the DoPT” as its latest move “seriously hinders the CBI’s independent functioning.” Not all influence exerted by a political government would be found “explicit or in writing.” “More often than not, it is tacit and requires considerable courage to withstand,” Verma claimed.

The director has also challenged the decision of the government by which joint director M Nageswara Rao, a 1986-batch Odisha cadre Indian Police Service officer, has been given charge as head of the probe agency. According to him the DoPT could not have divested him of the powers without the mandate of the high-powered committee led by the Prime Minister and comprising the leader of the Opposition and chief justice of India. Under the law it is this committee that appoints and approves the transfer of a CBI director.

“Over the recent past, although all functionaries within CBI from the investigating officer and the superintending officers up to the Joint Director and the Director have agreed on a certain course of action, the Special Director has been of a different view,” he said, referring to Asthana. Hurdles posed by Asthana, Verma said, have now been compounded by his complicity in “concocting evidence” to impugn the director’s reputation. This had led to registration of a separate FIR, which Asthana has challenged in the Delhi high court.

“As matters stood thus, CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) and the Central Government have overnight taken the impugned decisions to divest the petitioner of his complete role as Director CBI and to appoint another individual in his stead. These actions are patently illegal for the reasons,” the petition stated.

Recalling various SC judgements, Verma said the present actions give serious credence to the requirement that the agency be given independence from the DoPT. Any illegal interference of the present nature not only erodes the independence of the institution but also the morale of its officers, he added.

CBI chief Alok Verma, deputy Rakesh Asthana stripped of charge

NEW DELHI, Oct 24: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana were divested of all duties late in the night following a feud between the two.

Joint director M Nageswar Rao, a 1986-batch Orissa-cadre officer, who was asked to take over as acting chief immediately, in his first order, removed the entire team probing the bribery case against Asthana, including Ajay Bassi, the investigation officer (IO) and deputy inspector general Manish Sinha.

Meanwhile, Verma has moved the Supreme Court challenging his removal and the appointment of a new director. The court has listed the matter for hearing on Friday.

In an order at 2:30 am on Wednesday served at Verma’s residence, the government said he was being divested of all responsibilities, said an official familiar with the development.

Before being divested of all responsibilities as the CBI chief, Verma too had signed an order at 9pm on Tuesday divesting his deputy Rakesh Asthana of all responsibilities.

The bribery case against Asthana was under the anti-corruption headquarters zone, which was under the powerful joint director AK Sharma. He too has been transferred internally.

Asthana in his complaint to the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) had alleged that the investigating officer Bassi was acting at the behest of director Alok Verma.

The CVC, which has superintendence over the CBI in corruption cases, and is already seized of the complaint by Asthana against the director and the counter FIR registered against him by the CBI, will seek a fair and impartial probe into the charges and counter charges.

More changes in the investigation agency are being effected by the interim director to ensure a fair and impartial probe.

Asthana, the second senior-most officer in the federal agency who has been accused of taking bribes, had secured protection from arrest from the high court, which ordered a ‘status quo’ until the next hearing on October 29.

In a counter-allegation, Asthana in a complaint to the cabinet secretary on August 24 had alleged that Verma had received a bribe of Rs 2 crore from a Hyderabad-based real estate agent Sathish Sana whose role was being investigated by a team led by Asthana in a bribery case allegedly involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi.

He had also alleged that Verma had called him over phone in February to not call Sana for questioning.

In a surprising and unprecedented move on October 15, the CBI has booked Asthana and investigation officer of the case on the charges for receiving bribe from Sana through middlemen Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad.

The CBI has arrested Devender Kumar, the Dy SP and investigation officer, alleging that he had fabricated the statement of Sana purportedly claiming that a Rajya Sabha MP had met Verma on his pending case and assured him of relief and a clean chit.

There were reports that the CBI headquarters had been sealed and officials or outsiders were not being allowed as a team of officers was inside, the sources said.

However, the CBI spokesman clarified that no offices in the headquarters were sealed.

The removal of the director triggered a political row, with opposition leaders criticising the move and Congress wondering if Verma was “sacked” for his keenness to probe the “layers of corruption” in the Rafale scam and sought an answer from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, chief ministers of Delhi and West Bengal Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee also criticised the move.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley rubbished the opposition charges, saying the two officers (Verma and Asthana) were sent on leave to maintain integrity of the probe, which would be done by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), and not the government.

Will adopt children affected by train tragedy: Sidhu

AMRITSAR, Oct 22: Punjab minister and Amritsar East MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu on Monday said he will adopt child victims of Friday’s train accident and take responsibility for the affected families, while the National Human Rights Commission issued notices to the Railways and the Punjab government for negligence and sought a report from the state chief secretary and rail board chairman in four weeks.

Sidhu is under fire after the accident that claimed the lives of more than 60 Dussehra revellers at a function organised by his aide Saurabh Mithu Madan and presided over by his wife Navjot Kaur, who reached the event late, delaying the burning of Ravan’s effigy. The delay is seen as one of the reasons behind the tragedy as people watching the burning effigy did not see the approaching train in the dark and got run over.

“It seems that the local authorities and the organisers did not properly manage the crowd, gathered to watch the Dussehra celebrations. It was the responsibility of the State to provide proper safety and protection to the citizens during the event,” the NHRC said while taking suo motu cognisance of media reports about the incident.

A petition was filed by an advocate in the Punjab and Haryana high court, seeking a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation or a special investigation team. Dinesh Kumar Dakoria, the petitioner, blamed the event organisers for the tragedy. A similar petition filed in the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur against Navjot Kaur, seeking registration of a case against her. The case will be heard on November 3.

Accompanied by Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar, Sidhu told reporters in Amritsar, “I commit to take all kind of responsibility to educate them (the victims) and settle them from my own pocket. Besides, I also take responsibility of the persons who became disabled or the elderly who lost the breadwinner of the family,” he said.

He visited the local civil hospital and Guru Nanak Dev Hospital to enquire after the health of the injured.

Jakhar criticised the manner in which the minister of state for railways and the rail board chairman had washed their hands of the accident by giving a clean chit to the driver.

The Punjab Government disbursed the compensation amount of ₹5 lakh each to 21 families of the deceased in the first phase.

Priest who testified in Kerala nun rape case against Bishop Franco found dead

HOSHIARPUR, Oct 22: A witness in the case of alleged rape of a nun by the former Jalandhar bishop was found dead in his room at a church in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur on Monday, prompting police to launch an investigation into the death.

Father Kuriakose Kattuthara had testified against Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was arrested last month after allegations of raping the Kerala nun repeatedly over a period of two years.

Just before his arrest, the Vatican accepted a request from the bishop to be temporarily relieved of his pastoral duties. Mulakkal, who has denied the charges, is out on bail.

A senior police official said there were no injury marks on Kattuthara’s body and the cause of the 62-year-old’s death in Dasuya in Punjab was being investigated.

“Prima facie, it seems like a natural death. The viscera will be sent for examination which will throw light on the cause of the death,” said Hoshiarpur senior superintendent of police J Elanchezhian, adding that all angles in the case would be investigated.

“We are waiting for the family of the priest to come from Kerala. Autopsy will be conducted after they reach here,” he added.

The deceased’s family, however, said they suspected foul play in the death. “We suspect it to be a case of murder. My brother was getting threats after he deposed against the bishop in the nun rape case. Kuriakose recorded his statements when the Kerala police came to Punjab and questioned priests, nuns and other staff of several churches in the Doaba region,” said the priest’s brother, Josse Kattuthara.

“We want a detailed inquiry in the case and have lodged the complaint with the Kerala police,” said the priest’s brother, who will reach Punjab from Kerala on Tuesday.

The body of Kattuthara, a native of Allepy in Kerala, was found in his room on the premises of the St Mary’s Church by his cook around 9am. The cook, identified as Madan, knocked on the priest’s door for breakfast but he did not respond. Madan then informed Sister Lisabeth, the principal of the St Paul Convent School.

“When we broke open the door, we found father lying on his bed. We immediately took him to the civil hospital, where he was declared brought dead,” said Sister Lisabeth said. “There was vomit in the room and some tablets were found near the bed,” she added.

Lisabeth said that Kattuthara was suffering from multiple health ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problem, and on was medication.

Other officials at the church, however, said Kattuthara was fine and had conducted Sunday prayers in the absence of the head priest.

The police spoke to Sister Lisabeth, Madan and other staff of the school and church for about two hours. A forensic team was called to trace the fingerprints from the spot, an official said.

In Kerala’s Kottayam, five nuns who are staying with the rape survivor at a convent in Kuravilangad said they did not feel safe after Monday’s incident.

“We are scared now. There is a mystery behind the death of the priest who had testified against Bishop Mulakkal. We and those who stood with us during our protest seeking arrest of Bishop Mulakkal are also in danger,” Sister Anupama told reporters in Kottayam.

3 soldiers killed in Pak ambush in J-K

JAMMU, Oct 21: An Indian Army patrol team was ambushed by a group of heavily-armed intruders from Pakistan near the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district on Sunday, killing three soldiers and seriously injuring a fourth.

The incident took place at about 1.45 pm.

A senior army officer said the ambush appeared to have been carried out by Pakistan’s Border Action Team, or BAT, that had crossed into India.

“The intruders had come inside our territory and ambushed our patrol. Our soldiers immediately took positions and eliminated two BAT members,” the officer said.

BAT comprises regular Pakistani soldiers and terrorists to carry out cross border operations in an effort to dominate the line of control and inflict losses on Indian army and paramilitary forces.

Pakistan army’s Special Services Group forms the core of BAT which has been involved in several incidents on the Indian side of the border, often supported by firing from Pakistan posts.

The three soldiers, residents of Jammu and Kashmir, have been identified by the army as Havildar Kaushal Kumar of Nowshera, Lance Naik Ranjeet Singh of Doda and Rifleman Rajat Kumar Basan of Pallanwala. The injured soldier is Rifleman Rakesh Kumar of Samba. His condition is said to be stable.

Amritsar train tragedy due to negligence, will fix accountability: Punjab Police

JALANDHAR, Oct 21: Punjab Director General of Police (DGP) Suresh Arora Sunday said Additional Director General of Police (Railways) Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota will conduct an inquiry into the Amritsar train accident to fix responsibility.

There has been “negligence” on someone’s part and this probe has been ordered to fix accountability, the DGP told media persons on the sidelines of the 59th Police Commemoration Day parade.

Arora said it was a tragic incident and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has already ordered a magisterial probe under Divisional Commissioner, Jalandhar, B Purusartha, who would submit a report within four weeks.

He said ADGP Sahota would also conduct an inquiry to ensure that those responsible for the accident are nailed.

At least 61 people were killed Friday evening after a crowd of Dussehra revellers that had spilled onto railway tracks while watching the burning of a Ravana effigy was run over by a train near Joda Phatak here.

At least 300 people were watching the ‘Ravana dahan’ at a ground adjacent to railway tracks.

Over 40 hours after the accident, protesters were cleared off the tracks and services resumed on Sunday afternoon, a railway spokesperson said. The railways got the clearance from local authorities at 12:30 pm, the spokesperson said.

“The first goods train started from Manawala to Amritsar at 1416 hours,” said Northern Railways spokesperson Deepak Kumar. This train will be followed by mail/express trains, he said.

Despite resumption of train services, the railways cancelled 17 trains, short-terminated 14 and diverted seven on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, the Punjab Police removed the protesters from the tracks who were staging a sit-in.

CBI chief trying to frame me: Special Director Rakesh Asthana

NEW DELHI, Oct 21: In another chapter in the tussle between the top two officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the premier federal agency’s special director Rakesh Asthana has alleged in a fresh letter to the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) that his boss, director Alok Verma, and joint director (JD) Arun Kumar Sharma, are trying to falsely implicate him.

The letter, sent to the CVC on October 15, states that Verma and Sharma have asked that he be framed in a Sterling Biotech case and, on their instructions, an officer of “doubtful integrity” is visiting places in Gujarat to “dig out anything” against Asthana.

In the latest episode of the war at the top in the CBI, the agency has registered a fresh FIR against Asthana, alleging that a middleman was seeking money on his behalf to scuttle a probe. The FIR was registered on the day Asthana sent the fresh letter to the CVC.

Asthana is a 1984-batch Gujarat cadre Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and has served in the state police in various capacities over the years.

The fight between Verma and Asthana started with the latter’s appointment. In 2017, the director objected to Asthana’s appointment as special director in the agency by promoting him from the rank of additional director on the grounds that Asthana was under probe in the Sterling Biotech case.

The spat got aggravated since then, with charges and counter charges traded between the two officers over a series of probes and internal transfers.

Matters came to a head when Asthana complained to the cabinet secretary on August 24 this year that Verma was interfering in probes, following which matter was referred to the vigilance commission, which monitors the CBI’s probes.

“Since the last about a month, after my submission against Shri Alok Kumar Verma, DCBI and Shri Arun Kumar Sharma, JD (Policy), CBI, out of sheer vendetta and vengeance, these two officers have instructed the investigating and supervisory team of the case related to Sterling Biotech Dairy (RC 08 (A) of 2017 (Sandesara Group-IT Officials-AC-III) to investigate against the undersigned (Asthana) and somehow or other to implicate the undersigned in the case. Teams have been Vadodara, Surat and Ahmedabad, in order to dig out something against me irrespective of the fact as to whether the same is connected with the investigation of the aforesaid case or not,” says the letter Asthana sent to the CVC.

The letter further says that an officer has been posted in the AC-III branch to specifically target Asthana.

It adds that the officer is “notorious for breaking rules and intentional insubordination” and is directly reporting to CBI chief Alok Verma in this regard.

The agency special director added that this officer is travelling with a personal section staff of Sharma with the instructions to find evidence of linking Asthana with the Sandesara case.

“(The two officers) are examining people in Vadodara and have issued notices under Section 91 of the Criminal Procedure Code as well, for production of documents pertaining to expenditure related to marriage of daughter of the undersigned which took place in 2016 and also guest list etc.,” states Asthana in the letter to the CVC.

He adds this exercise is illegal as the wedding took place in 2016 while diary allegations pertain to 2011, and also that he was not an accused in the case.

He further alleges that the “roving enquiry” with “no time limit” is a violation of the “fundamental right to privacy” of his family members, listing seven instances of digital, postal or physical monitoring, and has asked for a CVC-monitored investigation by a special investigation team.

61 killed as train runs over crowd at Dussehra celebrations in Amritsar

AMRITSAR, Oct 17: Tragedy struck at a Dussehra celebration in Amritsar on Friday when a speeding train ran over a festive crowd that spilled on to the tracks while watching the customary burning of a giant Ravana effigy. At least 61 people were killed and 74 injured in the accident, according to a senior government official.

Hundreds of people were gathered at an open ground near the manned crossing at Joda Phatak, barely 70 metres from the Amritsar-Jalandhar double railway track where the celebrations were happening at around 7.15pm. Navjot Kaur Sidhu, the wife of Congress minister and Amritsar East legislator Navjot Singh Sidhu, was the chief guest at the event.

The crossing, 3 km from Amritsar railway station, was closed for vehicular traffic, but people were spread out from the ground to the areas surrounding the tracks on both sides; many of them standing on the tracks.

The track was not cordoned off by the police or the local administration, eyewitnesses alleged. It was not immediately clear if the administration had given permission to hold the festivities so close to a busy railway track.

As the effigy started burning, and firecrackers inside it started going off, many pulled out their phones to capture a video of the scene. The noise and the crowd seemed to have masked the sound of the train approaching Amritsar from Jalandhar. As the train thundered across the track, crushing several revellers, the force was such that bodies were flung in all directions. It took some time for onlookers, even those whose view of the effigy was temporarily blocked by the passing train, to realise what happened.

“We didn’t hear the train coming. It had become dark and everyone was watching the effigy when the train suddenly appeared,” said Mintoo, a migrant labourer staying nearby. Most of the victims are feared to be migrant labourers.

Amritsar sub-divisional magistrate (I) Rajesh Sharma said 61 people were killed and at least 74 admitted to Amritsar hospital. Raveen Thukral, media advisor to chief minister Amarinder Singh, put the number of dead at 40, adding the toll could rise. The chief medical officer at Amritsar Civil hospital said doctors had treated at least 80 injured after the accident.

Leaders across the political spectrum put out condolence messages and a state of mourning was declared in Punjab, where all government institutions will be shut on Saturday.

The state government also announced Rs 5 lakh compensation to the families of the dead, while the Centre announced an addition Rs 2 lakh for grieving families.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh said he was rushing to the spot to personally supervise rescue and relief operations. “District authorities have been mobilised on war footing,” Singh tweeted.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was extremely saddened by the mishap. “The tragedy is heart-wrenching,” he tweeted. “My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required.”

Railways minister Piyush Goyal cancelled all his engagements in the US and said he was immediately returning to India. “May God give strength to the bereaved and injured. Railways is proving all possible assistance at the site. I have cancelled all engagements in USA and immediately returning back to India,” Goyal tweeted.

Minister of state for railways Manoj Sinha, railway board chairman Ashwani Lohani and northern railway general manager Vishwesh Chaube, too were rushing to the spot. Union home minister Rajnath Singh announced all possible assistance by the Centre.

Union Minister MJ Akbar resigns over sexual harassment allegations

NEW DELHI, Oct 17: Minister of state for external affairs M.J. Akbar resigned on Wednesday after facing charges of sexual misconduct dating back to the years he was a journalist and newspaper editor. At least a dozen woman journalists have accused Akbar, 67, of inappropriate behavior as part of the #MeToo campaign.

“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levelled against me, also in a personal capacity. I have, therefore, tendered my resignation from the office of MoS for external affairs. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and to the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for the opportunity they gave me to serve my country,” Akbar said in a statement.

The minister has sued journalist Priya Ramani for criminal defamation in a Delhi court for sparking off the allegations against him.

The National Democratic Alliance government had come under immense pressure to remove him from office after the allegations surfaced against Akbar, who was on an official overseas visit when the first accusations were made.

Akbar has dubbed the accounts malicious and intended to defame him. He has also alleged that it was a political conspiracy scripted ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which initially maintained a stoic silence on the issue, has now distanced itself from Akbar; claiming that the incidents date to a time when Akbar was not a member of the party. The party has also argued that seeking legal recourse to defend his name was a right that cannot be denied to Akbar. BJP president Amit Shah, however, said the party will look into the charges to ascertain their veracity.

Giving in to the mounting pressure to take action against the complaints of sexual misdemeanour, the women and child development (WCD) ministry announced the setting up of a committee to examine all issues emanating from the ‘#Metoo’ movement, which captures stories of harassment recounted by women.

“I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complaint. Cases of sexual harassment at work must be dealt with a policy of zero tolerance,” WCD minister Maneka Gandhi said, announcing the committee last week. There has been no action yet towards forming the committee.

Most BJP MPs and ministers have refrained from commenting on the issue. Senior functionaries who spoke on the condition of anonymity said there was “discomfort” within the party over the charges levelled against the minister, and many were of the opinion that he should step down.

Indian guru Rampal sentenced to life in jail for murder

HISSAR, Oct 16: A self-styled Indian guru and 14 others have been sentenced to life in prison for murdering four women and an 18-month-old baby in 2014.

The court in Haryana state convicted Rampal last week. He was also found guilty of another murder and will be sentenced in that case on Wednesday.

The victims suffocated after they were locked in a room while his supporters and police clashed, the court said.

The guru claims tens of thousands of followers and has ashrams across India.

Sentencing was announced amid tight security at the court in the northern city of Hisar in Haryana state.

Rampal's lawyers said they would appeal against the sentence.

The court heard that four women and the baby were found dead inside a tiny locked room in the ashram after the bloody standoff, in which at least six people died.

A fifth woman found in the same room was taken to hospital but did not survive. Sentencing in her murder case is due on Wednesday.

He was first accused of involvement in a murder case dating from 2006 in which a man died in a clash at one of his ashrams. He denied the allegations and was released on bail.

The authorities ordered his arrest on contempt charges after he repeatedly failed to appear in court. A ruling is awaited in this case.

Rampal refused to surrender to the police when they reached his fortress-like Satlok Ashram in Barwala, in Haryana state, in November 2014. Thousands of his supporters clashed with police and stopped them from entering the ashram.

Police had to use water cannons to scatter the guru's supporters during the 2014 clashes
Many people suffered injuries during the week-long standoff.

Police accused the guru's armed devotees of holding people hostage, and using women and children as human shields.

Rampal was born in 1951 to a farming family in India's northern Haryana state. After his diploma in engineering he began working for the local government and became a disciple of a seer.

He began giving talks to groups of people in 1994. Encouraged by his growing number of devotees, he set up the an ashram in 1999. A year later Rampal resigned from his government job.

It grew from there and he now has tens of thousands of devotees in several states.

Rampal claims that "thousands of people have got their chronic illnesses cured" and "ruined families have become prosperous again" after coming in contact with him.

Rahul Gandhi says India indebted to HAL

BENGALURU, Oct 13: Congress president Rahul Gandhi reached out on Saturday to employees of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), seeking to co-opt them in his campaign against the Rafale jet fighter deal signed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

Taking part in a discussion with former and current employees of HAL, Gandhi said the state-run military planemaker was a strategic asset and India owed it a great deal for protecting the country.

“When (former US President Barack) Obama says the only countries that can challenge the USA are India and China, that’s because of your contribution,” Gandhi said, standing in front of a model of the Light Combat Aircraft built by HAL, opposite the company’s corporate office near Cubbon Park in Bengaluru.

At the session, former employees and trade union leaders of the public sector unit said they felt insulted that a private company had been chosen as an offset partner of Dassault Aviation, bypassing HAL’s claim.

The NDA government’s decision to enter an $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by HAL.

The deal has become controversial with the Opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is Rs 1,670 crore for each, three times the Rs 526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL. The NDA has not disclosed details of the price, but the UPA deal, struck in 2012, was not a viable one, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar has previously said, implying that it would have never been closed and that, therefore, any comparison is moot.

The deal has also become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity for an offset deal. Both the government and Reliance Group have repeatedly denied this.

At the session with Gandhi, a former HAL employee and union leader identified as Sirajuddin said he felt insulted and let down that a company with 78 years of experience in manufacturing aircraft was kept out.

“We were hurt and I don’t understand why the deal was taken away from us. What we want from influential leaders is that you should please protect our honour,” he said. “We are not begging and we are capable of manufacturing Rafale in India,” he said.

The decision to invite Gandhi for the event has come under criticism. The HAL employees’ union had decided not to support the event and the company had issued a directive asking current employees to give the discussion a miss.

Explaining the decision to invite Gandhi, Anant Padmanabhan, also a member of the HAL union, said it was clear that nobody would listen to HAL employees unless a leader like Gandhi was invited. “The Opposition and ruling party are both responsible for running the country...it is my duty to approach a proper person who is capable of defending and giving us strength to defend HAL and the public sector,” he said.

Bringing the event to a close, Gandhi said a couple of points raised at the discussion had struck a chord with him.

“One, these (public sector units) are the temples of modern India and they are being destroyed and we cannot allow that. Second, you have worked for 70 years. If somebody thinks they can build their future on your graves, that won’t be allowed either,” he said.

“I can see HAL’s capabilities here, I can see 78 years of your work… You have a history. And I understand that you are pained and hurt,” he said.

In a bid to Save Ganga, Swami Sanand dies after fasting for 111 days

HARIDWAR, Oct 11: Environmental activist and rationalist GD Agarwal, a former Indian Institute of Technoloy (IIT) professor popularly known as Swami Gyanswarup Sanand, died in a Rishikesh hospital on Thursday, the 112th day of a hunger strike demanding a law to save the Ganga, scrapping of hydropower projects on the river, and free flow of its waters.

Agarwal, who was 86, was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, by the administration of neighbouring Haridwar in Uttarakhand on Wednesday, a day after he stopped drinking even water. He had been accepting water with honey during the duration of his hunger strike, which he started on June 22.

“The seer is dead. On October 9 he declared (his intention) to quit water, following which the next day we admitted him at AIIMS on Wednesday afternoon,” said Deepak Rawat, district magistrate (DM) of Haridwar. Dr Ravi Kant, the director of AIIMS, Rishikesh, said Agarwal died of cardiac arrest coupled with arrhythmia at around 2pm. “His potassium levels were low and his blood pressure was high,” he said.

Agarwal was a professor at the IIT-Kanpur, and also served as a member-secretary of the anti-pollution watchdog the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Since renouncing the materialistic world seven years ago, he was staying at Matri Sadan, the epicentre of an agitation for cleansing the Ganga of pollution. Matri Sadan founder Swami Sivananda has himself been on fast several times.

It was not the first time that Agarwal had gone on hunger strike.

His fast in 2009 led to the scrapping of two dams - Bhairon Ghati (380 Mw) and Pala Maneri (480 Mw) - on the Bhagirathi river, a tributary of the Ganga in higher reaches of Uttarakhand. His fast in 2016 forced the Haridwar administration to crack down on illegal mining in the area.

Following the flash floods in Kedarnath in June 2013, Agarwal staged a 105-day fast, citing inactivity by National Ganga River Basin Authority, which is meant to protect the Ganga from pollution and overuse. “I had resigned from authority in support of Swami Sanand (Agarwal) over the then government’s apathy. Swami Sanand was quite concerned about the Ganga and was first to present himself for agitation,” said Rajendra Singh,a Magsaysay awardee and close associate of Agarwal.

His latest hunger strike started after he failed to receive any response from the central government to a letter seeking enactment of the Ganga Protection Act as drafted by retired judge Giridhar Malaviya, which sought a total ban on quarrying and stone crushing on the Ganga river bed and scrapping of all hydel projects on the river in Uttarakhand.

His died a day after the environment ministry issued a notification for the free flow of 20-30% of water in river Ganga in the next three years.

Agarwal is the second activist to have died while on hunger strike for efforts to save the Ganga. In 2011, Swami Nigmananda Saraswati died after a fast of 115 days in Haridwar protesting against illegal mining in the Ganga’s environs.

“For hundred days at 86 years of age, being on agitation without food intake is nothing but a miracle,” said Swami Harichetnanand, who was with Agarwal at Matri Sadan. “He was an IIT professor, it is hard to believe in less than a decade of taking up sainthood, he assumed such power and will.”

Reliance pact was ‘imperative’ and ‘mandatory’ for Dassault: Report

PARIS, Oct 11: A French media report on Wednesday suggested that a senior official in Dassault Aviation saw the partnership with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group as “imperative and mandatory” to getting the “export contract” with India for the Rafale aircraft.

Mediapart quoted an internal Dassault Aviation document detailing a presentation that deputy chief executive officer Loïk Segalen gave to worker representatives explaining the rationale for setting up a joint venture in Nagpur with Reliance Aerospace.

During the presentation, the report said, Segalen described the joint venture as a “contrepartie” to getting the “export contract India”.

Contrepartie roughly translates to “compensation” or to refer to something given as compensation. This could be a reference to the offsets.

The NDA’s decision to enter an $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy the 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

The deal has become controversial with the opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is ₹1,670 crore for each, three times the ₹526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL.

The deal has also become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity for an offset deal. Former French President Francois Hollande has said that Reliance was made Dassault’s offset partner at India’s insistence.

On Rafale deal, SC asks Centre to submit details of decision-making process

NEW DELHI, Oct 10: The Supreme Court on Wednesday told the government to provide details of the decision-making process leading to the purchase of the Rafale but made it clear that this did not construe to be a formal notice on the two petitions it had taken up.

“It is only for the purpose of satisfying ourselves,” the judges said, underlining that it had not taken into account any of the points made about the deal in the two petitions “that appear to be grossly inadequate”.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Rajan Gogoi also ordered that the centre’s report “would not cover issue of pricing or suitability of the equipment for Indian Air Force, keeping in mind the sensitive nature” of the information.

The bench had earlier agreed to hear two petitions, one seeking the details of the agreement India has entered into with France for buying 36 Rafale Fighter Jets and the other seeking setting up of a special investigation team under the supervision of the apex court to probe the deal.

This information is to be filed with the top court’s registrar general in sealed cover.

The Centre had earlier asked the court to dismiss the petitions, insisting that these were “politically motivated”.

The petitions have been filed close to election time and should not be entertained as they do not involve public interest.

Arguing for dismissal of the petitions, the government’s top law officer, Attorney General KK Venugopal said the case pertains to national security and even he would not be supplied with any information pertaining to the deal.

Apart from petitioned by two lawyers Vineet Dhanda and ML Sharma, Aam Admi Party’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh had also moved the top court. He had sought orders to form a special team to probe the matter and that the apex court monitor it. The AAP leader’s plea sought that the SIT should probe “as to how the figure of 36 fighter jets was arrived at without the formalities associated with such a highly sensitive defence procurement”.

Gujarat remains on edge as migrants face backlash

AHEMADABAD, Oct 7: Migrant workers in Gujarat remained on the edge on Sunday amid alleged threats and violence they have been facing after a 14-month-old was “raped” in the state’s Himmatnagar district last month.

Raghuvir Sahu, a ceramic factory worker from Bihar, has been arrested for allegedly raping the baby.

The rape has triggered attacks on workers in Mehsana, Sabarkantha and Aravali districts since September 28.

Police said two men from Uttar Pradesh were assaulted in Ahmedabad’s Ghatlodia and Sardarnagar areas on Sunday.

Migrant workers have been leaving for Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar ahead of the usual time this holiday season, with many alleging they have been asked to leave by October 8.

Uttar Bharatiya Vikas Parishad (North Indian Development Council) president Shyamsinh Thakur said they have received reports that migrants have been asked to leave by October 8.

“We fear that if this escalates, it may sow the seeds of a regional divide,” said Thakur.

Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Hasmukh Hingu echoed Thakur and said they too had been receiving reports about threats to migrant labourers. “In some cases, they have been injured also.’’

He said a large number of migrant labourers are part of the industrial workforce in Gujarat.

“The industries are running overtime to meet deadlines before Diwali. We appeal to the government to take adequate measures.”

Bhavani Lal, who lives in Ahmedabad’s Chandlodiya, said they were planning to leave for Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind around Diwali. “But due to tensions in our area in Ahmedabad, we have decided leave early. We have not received any direct threat...”

Rupesh Sikarwar of Satyam Travels in Meghaninagar said they usually run a daily bus service for Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh.

“But these days, we are running an extra bus or two due to the rush. Some are panic-stricken while others are going back for other reasons.”

Pappu Chottelal said around 1,200 to 1,400 migrants from Madhya Pradesh like him live in Chandlodiya.

“Over the last few days, some 150 of them have returned... Though police have been patrolling in the area, some people came on Saturday and threatened us to leave.”

Gujarat police chief Shivanand Jha on Sunday visited violence-hit areas and insisted that migrants were mostly leaving because of the holiday season. “…many people are leaving because of Durga Puja, Diwali and Chhath (festivals) are around the corner. I have asked policemen to talk to people and assure them of security in case they are leaving out of fear.”

Police have arrested over 300 people for the violence. “Five persons have been arrested for spreading rumours on the social media,’’ said Jha. He added they have provided security in industrial and residential areas in the affected areas.

On #MeToo allegation, author Chetan Bhagat’s apology in Facebook post

MUMBAI, Oct 7: Author Chetan Bhagat has apologised in a Facebook post after a woman journalist shared a WhatsApp chat on social media amid a #metoo movement that has seen several women accuse public figures of sexual harassment. Bhagat said in his post on Saturday that he wanted “to make a couple of points about the screenshots that someone has shared,” and that he was “really sorry.”

Bhagat also said that he put up the post after having a discussion with his wife Anusha, to whom he has been married for 20 years.

“But first of all, I am really sorry to the person concerned. The screenshots are of course real and I am sorry if you felt they were wrong. I hope you will accept my apology,” wrote Bhagat.

In the screenshots shared, Bhagat says “After a long time someone engaged me and could keep up with my pace of thought”. In his Facebook post he said “Maybe I was going through a phase, maybe these things just happen, or maybe I felt the person felt the same too based on our conversations (which I don’t need to repeat here). However, it was stupid of me, to feel that way and to even share that with her.”

He clarified that he had not sent her any obscene messages or photos and had deleted her number too after the conversation.

After actor Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment, many in the entertainment and media industry have been called out in such cases. Actor Kangana Ranaut, who accused Super 30 director Vikas Bahl of molestation, said the director had harassed her on the sets of Queen as well.

In an interview, Kangana also revealed that she even lost out on a few projects after she decided to help the girl who accused Vikas Bahl of sexual harassment.

The AIB stand-up comic Utsav Chakraborty has also been accused of sexual misconduct by several women.

Reacting to the allegations, the AIB posted an apology on social media titled “We’re sorry”, saying “we messed up” and we should have cut ties with Chakraborty immediately after complaints.

Assembly polls in MP, Rajasthan, 3 other states between Nov 12 and Dec 7, counting on Dec 11

NEW DELHI, Oct 6: Assembly elections in five states, three of them held by the ruling BJP, will be held in four phases between November 12 and December 7, Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat said on Saturday. Counting of votes for the five states, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana, will be held on 11 December.

The state elections, seen as a bellwether for next year’s national elections, will also decide the fate of the BJP’s three most prominent chief ministers: Chhattisgarh’s three-time Chief Minister Raman Singh, Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the party’s only woman chief minister, Vasundhara Raje.

These are also going to be the most-watched, given that the Congress is the ruling BJP’s main rival in these states that are crucial to the BJP’s big plan to come back to power in 2019.

These three states send 65 lawmakers to parliament. In 2014, the BJP lost out in just three seats, sweeping all 25 seats in Rajasthan, 10 out of 11 in Chhattisgarh and 27 out of 29 in Madhya Pradesh.

Chhattisgarh is going to be the first of the five to vote and the only one to do so in two phases; November 12 and 20. The Maoist-affected districts in the southern part of the state will go to polls in the first phase.

Madhya Pradesh, which has 230 seats, and Mizoram, the smallest of the five states with 40 seats, will go to polls on November 28. The 200-member Rajasthan assembly will vote on December 7 along with Telangana.

In the desert-state of Rajasthan, which hasn’t voted back any chief minister in 25 years, the BJP is seen to have come under pressure following by-poll defeat in three seats this year. Moving into damage-control mode, the BJP replaced its chief in Rajasthan but could not find an alternative to its chief minister and retained Vasundhara Raje.

Raman Singh has held the fort in Chhattisgarh since 2003 and has won all three elections with a wafer-thin margin, the last being with less than one percent. He is hoping to benefit from a divide in the opposition vote and the newly-formed alliance between Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh.

The BJP also replaced its state president in Madhya Pradesh where its campaign it led by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh for last 15 years and is perceived to be facing what some party leaders describe as a voter fatigue. The party proposes to change a large number of sitting legislators to deal with anti-incumbency.

BJP suffocating Indians: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Oct 5: Opposition parties have decided to first defeat the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and then later decide on who will be Prime Minister, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said today when asked if he will take the top job next year if his party comes to power.

But if the allies want him as the prime minister?

“If they want me, sure,” said Gandhi, 48. He was speaking at the 16th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, where he delivered a keynote address and later answered questions.

In his keynote address, Rahul Gandhi launched a scathing attack on the BJP-led government, accusing it of imposing a “single, suffocating ideology on 1.3 billion people” and going “to war with the people.”

“Reimagining India for the BJP, RSS is to shut the imaginations of Indians,” he told a gathering of business leaders, diplomats, political leaders and commentators at the summit, the theme of which is ‘Reimagining The Future’.

Attacking the government over demonetisation and GST, Gandhi also accused it of not building any institutions in the last four and a half year that it has been in power.

Underlining the difference between the Congress and the BJP, he said “India is a partnership between all its peoples” and the Congress “didn’t believe in binaries”.

Gandhi is spearheading the opposition campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre ahead of key state elections later this year and the Lok Sabha elections next year.

He said he was confident the Congress would “win in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana,” four of the five states where assembly elections will be held this year.

Speech of Congress President Rahul Gandhi at HT Leadership Summit:

India has been imagined and re-imagined for centuries. The courageous men and women who fought non-violently and justly for our liberty imagined a nation where all its children would be free, where none would be discriminated on the basis of their caste, gender, religion or creed. They imagined a tolerant and fair India, who would force no agenda on any of its friends or neighbours but guide them along the path that we had traveled: one of unity and brotherhood.

When I saw the topic of the conclave, I wondered what's happened that we need a reimagination of this beautiful ideal. True, the work of imagination is never over, it is always in constant flow and flux. But what we see today is not a re-imagining. It is a defaming, a maligning of the Indian imagination.

The Indian government has gone to war with its own people because it wants to impose one imagination on 1.3 billion of us. It wants to impose one singular, suffocating memory on our 1.3 billion memories.

What is the nature of this war?

Farmers are committing suicide by the thousands.

The economy is decimated. The rupees is on its knees. Petrol is at an all time high. The stock market has imploded. Twelve Lakh crore in non performing assets and the banking system is jammed shut.

The informal sector has been decimated as a result of demonetisation and an extremely complex multi layered GST. Millions of small and medium business have been wiped out. Public confidence is in tatters.

This my friends is the price of hatred.

Aspiration is turning into anger.

Dalits and tribals are agitating across the country. Minorities are under vicious attack.

Our friends in the media are sacked when they criticise the PM. Gauri Lankesh is shot dead because of what she wrote. Fresh thinking is unwelcome. In fact, forget about fresh thinking, they hate thinkers: Raghuram Rajan, Amartya Sen, the list goes on.

Institutions are being destroyed. Supreme Court judges are compelled to go public because they feel intimidated. In the same breath that they spoke of their fears, they spoke of Judge Lohiya. The sole qualification of vice chancellor after vice chancellor chosen to lead India's top universities is that they belong to the RSS.

Many of you in this room are victimised and harassed by the authorities. You face institutionalised extortion and arbitrary cases. I would like to ask how many of you are NRI's - how many of you tell your children not to come back to India after college because things have gone horribly wrong. But I won't ask you that today in sight of all these cameras. Today in India the fear is palpable.

And while India burns, all they do is talk but their slogans. But their slogans have a shelf life: Make in India. Start up India. Clean India. What exactly have they translated into? Nothing

Because the people in charge are convinced that they have a monopoly on knowledge. They are convinced that only they understand. That no one in this country understands anything about India or the dreams of its people except them.

But what is a country if it isn’t a multitude of voices? What is a country if it isn’t a conversation?

My career in politics has been about fighting for and alongside India's most vulnerable. I fight for farmers rights, for Dalits, for tribals. I dig my heels in and I have a record of delivering to these communities. I've come here because I want to be a mirror for your aspirations and voices too, for all of you in this room. I want to fight for you too.

Everyone in India is a stake holder - all of us, rich or poor, weak or strong, north or south, east or west every voice is a part of the harmony that makes India. We don't subscribe to black or white ideologies, we don't believe in binaries. India is a partnerships between all its people.

So that's why I am here. I'm here to talk but also to listen. I am here to tell you that I value what you have to say. I am here to tell you that I trust you and am extending my hand in friendship. It is time that we build our own partnership so that I can understand your battles and you can understand mine and we can fight alongside each other to protect and the incredible heritage that has brought more than a billion imaginations to light.

We must re-imagine that old India Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where knowledge is free. Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.

Congress calls for ‘freedom movement’ to oust BJP government

SEVAGRAM (Maharashtra), Oct 3: From Mahadev Bhavan in Sevagram on Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birth anniversary, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Tuesday gave a clarion call for a “second freedom struggle” against the Narendra Modi government to combat “divisive politics and the ideology of hate and violence”.

The venue was ripe with symbolism because Sevagram ashram was where the Congress had held deliberations for its ‘Quit India’ call against British rule in 1942.

A resolution adopted by the party’s highest decision-making body also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) of “hypocrisy” for “trying to appropriate” the Mahatma’s legacy for electoral opportunities.

“The Modi government indulged in divisive politics and involved in spreading hate and violence”, a CWC resolution said, while vowing to thwart the BJP’s “disruptive” policies. “Such an atmosphere and similar reasons led to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi,” it said.

The Congress Working Committee passed two resolutions, recalling the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to the “Indian thought process, its soul and body”, and late Lal Bahadur Shastri ‘s call of ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, saying it was “not just a slogan but a way of life”.

Former prime minister Shastri’s birthday also falls on October 2.

The meeting was presided over by Congress president Rahul Gandhi and attended, among others, by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.

The CWC alleged that the RSS, which “vilified and rejected” Mahatma Gandhi during his lifetime, had today “brazenly proclaimed itself to champion his ideology”.

It said that appropriating the Mahatma’s legacy may be politically expedient for some, but imbibing his principles and values in thought, word and deed was impossible for those who see in the Mahatma only electoral opportunities.

“One may borrow the Mahatma’s spectacles for publicity campaigns, but implementing his vision will remain unfulfilled unless his principles are followed in complete essence. The Congress Working Committee resolves to expose the hollowness and doublespeak of the ideologies and organisations who have never believed in, let alone followed the Gandhian path of truth, tolerance, harmony and non-violence,” it said.

“Elections will come and go. But the ideological battle has to be relentless and unwavering. The Congress Working Committee rededicates the Indian National Congress to this sacred task.”

The Congress Working Committee called upon the nation to fearlessly defend and uphold India’s foundational values and idea of India, which Mahatma Gandhi stood for, lived for, and sacrificed his life for. It also called upon people to fight what it described as the politics of fear, intimidation, lies and deception and asked them to “never bend, to never stop; till we achieve our goal”.

The Congress said it will contest the 2019 general elections on these “mantras” to oust the government and the propagation of the ‘Sevagram Document’ will be the “dharma” of every Congressmen in the coming days, the party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala later told reporters.

After the meeting, Rahul Gandhi participated in a 3km ‘padyatra’ (walk) which culminated in a public rally at Wardha. Addressing the rally, he slammed the prime minister over the government’s “unfulfilled promises”.

Farmers’ march sparks clashes on Delhi-UP border, dozens injured

GHAZIABAD, Oct 2: Police on Tuesday fired water cannons and lobbed tear gas shells to halt a march by tens of thousands of farmers attempting to enter the national capital from Uttar Pradesh to seek better prices and concessions, the latest outpouring of agrarian anger that threatened to snowball following the day’s clashes.

At least a dozen farmers and eight policemen were hurt in the melee that took place shortly after 1am at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, where officials put up layers of metal and concrete barriers — snapping the main road link to two of Delhi’s key satellite towns of Indirapuram and Ghaziabad.

Within hours, the Union government offered to work on some of those demands, but the assurances were rejected. “We are not satisfied with the government’s assurances… The government disrupted our protest at Kisan Ghat. We will continue agitation at UP Gate if our demands are not met,” said Naresh Tikait, chief of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).

A second BKU member, spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, suggested the protesters will make another attempt at entering Delhi on Wednesday. “After we met ministers in Delhi, the Centre gave us assurance only on four-five of our demands. This is not acceptable and we have decided to continue our protest. Tomorrow we will move to Kisan Ghat and Raj Ghat,” he said.

BKU is leading the protest that began from Haridwar a week ago, and its leaders met junior agriculture minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Estimates put the number of attendees at 30,000. Their demands include waiver of loans, cut in fuel prices, and higher minimum support prices for their produce.

The march forced a near-complete blockade of the Delhi-Meerut expressway since late Monday, triggering mile-long jams. With offices set to reopen on Wednesday after a public holiday, the traffic detours due to the blockade is likely to severely hit large parts of East Delhi and Noida. The rush is also likely to spill over to the Metro, which is now the main link between Delhi and localities on the other side of the Uttar Pradesh border.

Prior to the meeting with BKU, Union home minister Rajnath Singh met Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh to discuss the farmers’ issues.

According to an official aware of the developments, home minister Singh led the parleys. “The farmers are from Uttar Pradesh, and Singh knows them well. He has handled similar crises in the past and government leaders wanted him to deal with the current situation,” said this official, asking not to be named.

The government eventually offered to work on seven out of 15 demands, but ruled out a farm loan waiver at this point since that could only be dealt by the state. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath defended his government’s initiatives for farmers and suggested that the protests were motivated.

“The state government has initiated a number of steps to help farmers, including a clutch of measures to expedite cane payments to growers,” Adityanath said.

The Opposition, however, accused the government of carrying out a “brutal attack” and said that it was ironical that it took place on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
“On International Day of Non-Violence, the BJP’s two-year Gandhi Jayanti celebrations began with the brutal beating of farmers peacefully coming to Delhi. Now, farmers cannot even air grievances coming to the capital!” Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.

Later, the Congress Working Committee – the party’s top decision-making body – released a statement condemning the police action. “We condemn the autocratic BJP government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is inebriated with power,” it said. The head of the Congress party’s Kisan Khet Mazdoor (farmers-farm labourers) department, Nana Patole, said he will join the agitating farmers at Delhi border on Wednesday, and former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda too met protesters.

The Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also criticised Tuesday’s crackdown. Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the national capital “belongs to everyone” and that “farmers shouldn’t have been stopped… their demands are justified”.

The past year has seen several big protests held by farmer organisations, including in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – two of which will hold elections this year. The anger coincides with opinion polls that suggest the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been slowly losing support among framers.

According to the Mood of the Nation (MOTN) surveys conducted by Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies-Lokniti, 42% of farmers had a positive assessment of the NDA government on the its ability to address farmers’ woes in May 2017, immediately after the BJP’s victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. This went down by one percentage point in January 2018, and then fell to 30% by May 2018.

Junior agriculture minister Shekhawat said the government will move court against the ban on diesel vehicles older than 10 years – this was among the farmers’ demands who said the ban makes their tractors illegal – and that a committee of chief ministers will look into demand to link MGNREGA with agriculture. Another demand for 5% goods and services tax (GST) on farm equipments will be placed before the GST Council, and imports will be restricted for articles that are abundantly produced in India, the minister said.

“The government has formed a committee of six chief ministers to look into this issue of labour for farm. The committee is in talks to connect MGNREGA with agriculture,” said Shekhawat.

BKU chief Tikait said that those measures were not enough. “The Centre is not ready to reduce the power tariff for farmers and increase sugarcane price. Therefore, our agitation will continue,” he said.

An expert said the anger is a consequence of the government’s policies. “The farm and rural sectors are being largely ignored; there is no serious engagement with people. Agriculture is just one set of issues related to the rural sector, which needs to be taken seriously,” said Prof SS Jodhka, who teaches sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The protest and the blockade has snapped the main link to Ghaziabad and Indirapuram, from where commuters are now only able to take the Metro, other than long detours via Noida and Kashmere Gate.

Officials of the Ghaziabad district administration said the protesters were still at the Vaishali underpass. Both the Uttar Pradesh police and the Delhi police have deployed thousands of reinforcements in the area. “The deployment will remain till the time farmers are at the site. The diversions will remain till the underpass gets cleared. The prohibitory orders are already in place but they farmers had already intimated us about the march,” said Ghaziabad district magistrate Ritu Maheshwari.

She later announced that all schools and colleges will be closed in Ghaziabad on Wednesday.

Officials of the Delhi Traffic Police warned of problems on Wednesday when offices reopen after a public holiday.

UP minister says high-level officials tried to cover up Apple executive’s murder

LUCKNOW, Oct 1: Uttar Pradesh minister Brijesh Pathak Sunday hit out at the state police for showing “laxity” and “hushing up” the murder of a tech company executive in the city’s posh Gomti Nagar neighbourhood.

Apple executive Vivek Tiwari was shot dead early Saturday morning by a policeman when he allegedly refused to stop his car. “The killers deserve to be in jail and they must get stringent punishment.

“Some high-level officials are trying to manipulate and hide things. A probe will be conducted against them as well. The Uttar Pradesh government will not pardon any criminal, including the police personnel who killed the innocent youth,” said Pathak.

Action should also be initiated against officials who showed laxity in this case and tried to hush up the murder,” Pathak said. “I will also request the honourable court to hand over the entire matter to a fast-track court so that the aggrieved family can get justice soon. I have also sought time from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath so that the aggrieved family can meet him,” he said.

The state law minister expressed “shock” over the fact that even policemen could indulge in such an act. “The death of Vivek Tiwari has shocked us. Even the police could do such a heinous act, I did not expect,” he said.

Pathak also talked about the various anomalies reported in the case. “The lone eyewitness was kept in police custody for nearly 17 hours and her signature was taken on a plain piece of paper. The FIR was not registered in the way it should had been. There is no consistency between the statement of Sana (who was accompanying the victim) and the FIR. And efforts were made to hush up the case,” he said.

The minister also hit out at those police officials who tried to safeguard the accused cop. Two constables have been arrested on the basis of an FIR lodged by Tiwari’s colleague Sana Khan, who was travelling with him at the time of the incident.

Law and order destroyed in UP after BJP: Mayawati

LUCKNOW, Oct 1: Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati spoke about the death of the Apple executive who was shot by a policeman, saying that law and order has been destroyed in the state since BJP came to power.

“People are worried. They were shown big dreams during elections that when BJP comes, law and order will improve. Now, it’s the opposite. Now it seems like law and order in has been wrecked in Uttar Pradesh.”

Submit plan to stop use of Aadhaar for authentication, UIDAI tells telecom companies

NEW DELHI, Oct 1: The telecom companies have been given 15 days to submit a plan to stop using the 12-digit unique ID number for customer authentication.

Days after the Supreme Court imposed curbs on the use of Aadhaar, biometric-issuing authority UIDAI Monday sent a circular to telecom companies, which says: “...all TSPs are called upon to immediately take actions in order to comply with the judgement dated 26.09.2018. In this regard, TSPs are hereby directed to submit by 15th October, 2018 an action plan/exit plan to the authority for closure of use of Aadhaar based authentication systems...”

The Supreme Court, last week, struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which allowed private companies to use the 12-digit biometric ID-based eKYC. Following this, private companies like telecom operators will not be able to use this instantaneous and inexpensive Aadhaar eKYC route.

This would mean that the industry will have to revert to alternates like legacy paper-based technique (collect physical paper forms with signature, photographs, ship to verification centre and call up the customer to cross-verify submitted details). The turnaround times in this route is between 24-36 hours.

When contacted, UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey said: “In order to ensure smooth discontinuation...there are certain requirements which are there under the Aadhaar regulations...so the companies are in the best position to know what exactly is needed and they can submit their plan by October 15. If any additional requirements are to be done from the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India ) side, we will tell them after receipt of their plan.”

Sharad Pawar demands JPC on Rafale; No clean chit to Modi

MUMBAI, Oct 1: Three days after his remark that “there are no doubts over the prime minister’s intention in the Rafale fighter jet procurement deal” led to a controversy, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Monday said he never gave “clean chit” to Narendra Modi.

Pawar said there is need for an investigation into the deal, as the cost of fighter jets has increased many times, but insisted he doesn’t want to make allegations against anyone without any evidence. “I have not supported the Central government on Rafale deal. The cost of fighter jets has increased. A jet costing ₹650 crore was bought for ₹1,600 crore and the government must give clarification in Parliament,” Pawar said, at a rally in Beed district in Marathwada.

“I will not make personal allegations against anyone unless I have proper evidence. We don’t have a problem if the government doesn’t want to share technical details, but they can reveal the cost of the aircraft,” he said. “The government is reluctant to share details and hence has to face allegations. The Prime Minister should accept the demand to appoint a joint parliamentary committee to conduct a probe,” said the former defence minister.

In an interview given to a Marathi news channel, Pawar on Wednesday said, “People do not doubt Modi’s intentions…Initially, (defence minister) Nirmala Sitharaman was briefing, now she has been replaced by Arun Jaitley…It appeared crucial information on the deal was being suppressed. Doubts were raised over the manner in which information was presented.”

In damage-control mode, the party had clarified that NCP chief had not given a clean chit to PM Modi and they support the demand for a JPC probe.

The NCP got a jolt when senior party leader and former Member of Parliament (MP) Tariq Anwar resigned from the party, in protest against the statement. “Currently, a campaign is going on against the Rafale deal and all Opposition parties have come together demanding investigation. At that time, such a statement damages the entire campaign…It has left with me no choice but to take this step. I believe that the party is taking wrong line,” Anwar had said.

Pawar is known for his cordial relations with BJP top brass, including Modi. He shocked the political spectrum when NCP extended unsolicited support to the BJP to stabilise its government in the state, after the party (BJP) failed to get a majority in the Assembly elections in 2014.

 



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