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Maharashtra approves 16% Maratha quota in jobs and education

MUMBAI, Nov 29: Marathas, the politically influential community in Maharashtra, will now be able to get 16% reservation in government jobs and education in the state. The state legislature on Thursday cleared the quota bill within minutes of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis tabling the legislation, first in the state assembly, and later, the upper house.

The bill is called the Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in education institutions in the state and for appointments in public services and posts under the state) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018.

With the move, the caste reservation quota in the state will now reach 68% from the existing 52%. It will come into force as soon as Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao clears the law. But the bill could still undergo intense legal scrutiny.

The previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government too had given 16% quota to the Maratha community in 2014, which was later set aside by the court.

The current Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state insists that it has followed a legally viable route since its decision is based on recommendations of the state backward class commission, which has the legal status to decide the backwardness of a particular community. The decision on quota is based on the commission’s recommendations.

The reservation to the community that comprises around 32% population of the state, has been granted on the basis on the report by the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) that has declared it as socially and educationally backward.

The commission has also recommended that the state government must take appropriate decision for providing reservation benefits to the Marathas under constitutional provisions to address the emerging scenario.

The community has been demanding reservation for decades and will now get reservation facilities as SEBC community. The state government was under tremendous pressure over providing reservation to Marathas as the community outfits had started state-wide agitations for past two years.

All political parties have already declared their support to the reservation demand to Marathas. No discussion took place on the bill, when Fadnavis tabled it in the both the Houses one by one.

Leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar and leaders from all the political parties in the state assembly extended their support to the bill that was passed without any discussion. In council too, it was passed within minutes.

‘Only God can save’: SC raps Bihar over rule violations in 17 shelter homes

NEW DELHI, Nov 27: The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the Bihar government for failing to register the appropriate criminal cases in connection with the alleged physical and sexual abuse of inmates in 17 shelter homes in the state as highlighted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Mumbai-based TISS had indicted the shelter homes in the state after it found several violations. However, criminal cases were registered only in connection with ten under lesser offences.

In one instance, the institute found evidence of sexual violence at a shelter home meant for boys. However, the FIR doesn’t include sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) such as sodomy but the case was registered under the juvenile justice act.

Similarly, in another boys’ home, a child who refused to cook food suffered a three-inch long scar on his cheek. The state, however, did not register an FIR under IPC but just JJ act.

“If we find that there were offences under section 377 IPC and POCSO Act and you did not register FIR, we will pass an order against the government,” the top court said as it gave the state government 24 hours to it add the charges in the FIR.

“What are you (Bihar government) doing? It’s shameful. If the child is sodomised you say it’s nothing? How can you do this? It’s inhuman. We were told that matter will be looked with great seriousness, this is seriousness? Every time I read this file it’s tragic,” it said.

Not heeding advice of Constitution will result in descent into chaos, says Chief Justice Gogoi

NEW DELHI, Nov 26: Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi Monday said it was in “our best interest” to heed the advice of the Constitution as not doing so would result in a “sharp descent into chaos”.

The Constitution proved critics like Rudyard Kipling wrong as it worked well for last 70 years and not only united 1.3 billion people, but also gave them a ‘national identity’, the CJI said later in the day, addressing the valedictory session of the Constitution Day celebrations here.

Justice Gogoi, in his inaugural address on Constitution Day function at ‘Vigyan Bhavan’ here, said, “It is in our best interest to heed the advice of the Constitution. If we do not, our hubris will result in sharp descent into chaos.”

The Constitution Day, also known as ‘Samvidhan Divas’, is celebrated on November 26 to commemorate the Constitution being adopted.

Referring to Kipling’s criticism and apprehension that the Constitution might not work in a vast country like India, he said, “Had he been alive today, he would have been surprised to find that India is a well-functioning polity and this is no mean achievement for the world’s largest democracy.

“The Constitution is working and working well for 1.3 billion people... and the credit mainly goes to the framework of the governance which is laid down in the Constitution,” Justice Gogoi said.

Referring to B R Ambedkar, the CJI said the success of working of the Constitution does not depend on its nature and would rather depend on the “people who work for it”.

“The Constitution has successfully united immensely diverse people into one nation. Notwithstanding, the caste, creed and religion, we are a community because we share the same Constitution. The Constitution has the very basis of national identity. It is the source of our Indian-ness.

“The Constitution has succeeded in working well for almost 70 years now. The credit for this lies partially with the members of the Constituent Assembly.”

Justice Gogoi termed the journey of India as a republic as “remarkable” in last 70 years and said despite “flaws and shortcomings”, the citizens had accepted and amended it time and again and given new meaning to it.

“Despite flaws and shortcomings, it is the spirit of the Constitution. It would not be an exaggeration to say that our Constitution is intricately intertwined with every sphere of life, be it political, social or economical. In each moment of crisis we have turned to it for refuge. This is because of our unshakable belief in Constitution in its ideals such as rule of law, democracy, human rights and so on,” the CJI said.

The constitutional texts, the people, who worked for the ideals, and their undying spirit for the constitutionalism ensured the longevity of the Constitution, he said, adding that citizens were blessed to have such a “rich inheritance” which needed to be passed on to future generations.

Justice S A Bobde, who would be succeeding the CJI, in his speech referred to the efforts put in by members of the Constituent Assembly in drafting the Constitution and specially mentioned 15 women members and their contributions.

He also referred to the 2008 Mumbai terror attack and said the strike and its aftermath established that there was rule of law in the country as the Bombay High Court worked during the ongoing strike when all the terrorists were at large and gunshots and explosions were being heard.

“I remember when these terrorists were still at large in the city, we could hear gunshots and bombs exploding. We decided as a court to sit through the morning without staff ...” Justice Bobde said.

He said then there was clamour for the sole surviving accused to lynched, but the rule of law prevailed, as a proper trial was conducted and the terrorist was executed by following the law and procedure.

“That judgement was subject to two appeals which eventually resulted in the execution. This I think is a recent example as to how deeply entrenched the rule of law is and this is what we as courts should and do stand for,” he said.

Justice A K Sikri, who also spoke at the concluding session, said the Constitution had endured, but there were “miles to go”.

He became emotional while talking about the constitutional rights and the plight of “bonded labourer, the pavement dweller sleeping on railway platforms, the rickshaw puller, landless farmer and the homeless wanderer living in hellish cesspool”.

He said these people “remind us today that they were amongst those people who on November 26, 1959 enacted, adopted and gave to themselves the Constitution”.

Attorney General K K Venugopal referred to the pendency of 29 million cases in the country’s courts and said the judiciary and the government would have to come together and cooperate to find a solution to the problem so that the fundamental right to speedy justice was made available to all.

Senior advocate and Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh said the apex court lawyers should also be considered for appointment as judges in higher judiciary.

Sunil Arora to be new Chief Election Commissioner

NEW DELHI, Nov 26: President Ramnath Kovind has cleared the appointment of former bureaucrat Sunil Arora as the chief election commissioner, according to persons aware of the development.

Arora, who is currently election commissioner, will take over the top job at the poll panel on December 2, when the incumbent OP Rawat demits office. Ashok Lavasa is the second election commissioner.

Arora, takes over office at a time when the poll panel is in the midst of conducting assembly elections in five states, which are being considered as a semi-final to the 2019 general elections.

A former secretary in the ministry of information and broadcasting, Arora has also served as the secretary in the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship. A 1980-batch IAS officer of the Rajasthan cadre, Arora has served stints in ministries such as finance, textiles and planning commission and served as joint secretary in the ministry of civil aviation.

In the past, a similar change during elections happened when Navin Chawla’s took over from N Gopalaswami during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Amid mandir demand, 221-foot statue of Lord Ram cleared for Ayodhya

LUCKNOW, Nov 25: Uttar Pradesh government will install a 221-metre bronze statue of Lord Ram in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh Principal Secretary (Information) Avanish Awasthi said on Saturday.

While the height of the actual statue would be 151 metres, its overhead umbrella would be 20 metres while the pedestal would be 50 metres, he said.

A museum would be housed at the pedestal, Awasthi said.

Five firms shortlisted for construction of the statue gave presentations before Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath this evening, the officer said, adding soil testing is being done for installing the statue.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had on October 31, inaugurated an imposing 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the country’s first home minister, in Gujarat.

Build Ram Mandir or you won’t remain in power: Uddhav Thackeray warns ally BJP

NEW DELHI, Nov 25: A Ram temple will be built in Ayodhya whether or not the present government at the Centre stays in power, said Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday, day 2 of his visit to the Uttar Pradesh temple town. It was another in a series of barbs that he has shot at ally BJP during his visit.

“If it doesn’t build it, then this government may not stay, but the Mandir will still be built,” Thackeray said at a press conference on Sunday morning after a visit to the makeshift Ram temple at the disputed Ram Janmbhoomi Babri Masjid site.

The Sena chief said he had sought the blessings of the saints. “I told the saints who blessed me yesterday that the work which we are about to begin can’t be done without their blessings. I have no hidden agenda in coming to Ayodhya. I’ve come here to express the sentiments of all Indians and Hindus across the world. They are all waiting for the Ram Mandir to be built,” he said.

Referring to a statement given by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Thackeray said, “I heard that the chief minister had said, ‘mandir tha, hai aur rahega’. (’There was a mandir, there will be a mandir and there will remain a mandir.’) But that is our conviction, our belief, our emotion. What hurts is that we can’t see the mandir. When will we see the mandir? It should be built soon,” Thackeray said.

“The government did not wait for any court order on the issue of Triple Talaq or demonetisation. So, why wait for the court’s order for the Ram Mandir?” he said.

Continuing his attack on the Modi government, Thackeray said: “It is during elections that some people say Ram - Ram. But after polls they go back to sleep.”

At a time when assembly elections are happening in five states, the Shiv Sena chief took a veiled dig at the BJP and warned that the party should not use the Ram Mandir issue as a poll plank. “If the matter has to go to court, then the party should not use this as a poll plank and should tell the people that this is just another jumla. They should not play with the emotions of Hindus,” he said.

On Saturday, Thackeray had, while addressing a gathering at Laxman Quila in Ayodhya, demanded that BJP-led governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh must give a date by which the construction for the Ram Temple will begin in Ayodhya town.

“You have to tell us the date, the rest can follow. I want the date today,” Thackeray said.

“How many years will we have to wait? Generations have gone by ... During Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time, it might have been little difficult (to build the temple) but today’s government is powerful... If you want to bring in an ordinance bring it or if you want to make a law, do it,” he said in Hindi.

Thackeray’s visit is a part of Sena’s campaign for the building of the Ram Temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. Hindus believe the 16th-century mosque, Babri Masjid, was built over a temple dedicated to 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.

“It is not important to have a big chest. But you should have a heart in your chest,” Thackeray said in a comment directed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Sena chief asserted he had to come to Ayodhya to wake up Kumbhakarna, who he said, has been sleeping for the past four years.

“The Kumbhakarna slept for six months. But this Kumbhakarna (the Modi government) is sleeping for the past four years,” Thackeray said referring to the mythological character in the Hindu epic Ramayana.

“I have not come here to fight with anyone or take credit for construction of the Ram Mandir. You (BJP) construct the temple and take credit,” Thackeray said.

The Shiv Sena chief said the Modi government has not sought a court’s permission to bring demonetisation, asking, “Now, for Ram Mandir why you are waiting for court’s order?”

Hindu groups, including the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have called for a law or an ordinance to facilitate the building of a temple at the disputed site. The RSS has also threatened a 1992-like campaign for its construction.

Talk of the government considering an ordinance or a bill to construct a temple in Ayodhya in the remainder of Parliament’s term has gained momentum after the RSS’ demand.

The dispute - among India’s most sensitive and divisive political issue - has slowly returned to the political centre stage over the past few months. The Supreme Court has turned down the Uttar Pradesh government’s request to expedite hearing the land title dispute case and pushed the hearing to January next year.

The Shiv Sena, which is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) but has had strained ties with ally BJP, has also demanded an ordinance and declare a date for the construction of the Ram temple. It has claimed it has the support of more than 400 members of Parliament cutting across party lines for the ordinance.

And on Friday, senior Sena leader Sanjay Raut pushed it a little further.

“The Babri mosque was demolished in 17 minutes ... How long does it take to prepare papers... to bring ordinance... from the Rashtrapati Bhawan to Uttar Pradesh assembly... They are all BJP governments,” Raut said.

Ayodhya tense as Ram temple pitch intensifies

AYODHYA, Nov 25: Tens of thousands of Hindu religious figures and their followers were descending on Ayodhya on Saturday to crusade for the construction of a Ram temple on the ruins of a disputed 16th century mosque, as the authorities threw a tight security ring around the tense but calm holy city to deter troublemakers.

Chanting-slogan supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is spearheading the Ram temple campaign and organising the ‘Dharma Sabha’ (religious assembly) on Sunday, charged into the city on motorbikes, in buses and SUVs.

Activists of the Shiv Sena also poured into Ayodhya for the ‘Aashirwad Utsav’ organised by the party where Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was in attendance.

Ayodhya was drenched in saffron -- the colour of both the VHP and the Shiv Sena -- as groups of their supporters took to the streets chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘Pahle Mandir, Phir Sarkar’ (temple first, government later).

“Some intellectuals sitting in New Delhi think that Ram temple movement has lost relevance. We will show a mirror to them,” VHP vice-president Champat Rai said,

On Saturday, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, in Ayodhya for the first time, let go of the first, blistering salvo -- and it was directed against the central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Thackeray, whose party is an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the centre and in Maharashtra, likened the Modi government to Kumbhkaran, a character in the epic Ramayana.

“The real Kumbhkaran slept for six months. But this Kumbhkaran is sleeping for the past over four years,” he said of the BJP-led government, which took office in May 2014 and which, critics allege, has put the Ram temple issue on the back burner. Mocking the Prime Minister, who once said he had a 56-inch chest, Thackeray said: “It is not important to have a big chest. But you should have a heart in your chest.”

He urged the BJP-led government to introduce an ordinance for the construction of the temple in Ayodhya. Thackeray later performed a puja with full Vedic rituals at the Lakshman Quila ground to seek the blessings of Hindu religious figures. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, head of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, also attended the event, where the Thackeray family presented him a silver brick for the temple amid slogans of ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and ‘Jai Bhavani-Jai Shivaji.’

Immediately after the arrival of Thackeray in the afternoon, the district administration sealed Ayodhya, where 20,000 police and paramilitary troops were deployed and drones used to monitor the movement of crowds. Security personnel were making videos of the crowds that milled into the city, and kept a high profile in Muslim areas.

A special vigil was maintained around the disputed religious complex, which is about two kilometres from the venue of the Shiv Sena’s Aashirwad Utsav and the Dharma Sabha.

Hindu groups have been campaigning since the 1980s for a Ram temple on the site of the Babri mosque, which they say was built on the birthplace of the warrior-god. On December 6, 1992, the mosque was demolished by Hindu mobs, triggering communal riots that left about 2,000 people dead across India.. The Ram temple campaign has again gained resonance as the 2019 general elections approach.

The VHP held out an assurance that the Dharma Sabha will be peaceful. “More than 200,000 people will attend,” said Surendra Jain, all India joint general secretary of theVHP. “We assure everyone, though we don’t need to, that not even a twig will be disturbed,” he added.

Religious figures associated with the VHP are reaching Ayodhya from across the country for the event.Uttar Pradesh chief minister and his cabinet colleagues will stay away from the event. When the disputed mosque was demolished in 1992, several senior BJP leaders were in attendance.

Despite the heavy security, unease was evident in the Muslim-dominated areas of Ayodhya and adjoining districts. “Muslims are afraid. We saw such a huge crowd in 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished and a large number of people were killed in violence in different parts of the country,” said Mohammad Yusuf, a local resident. “Some people of our community have shifted their families while others are keeping fingers crossed.” Iqbal Ansari, a party to the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case in the Supreme Court, said Muslims had been gripped by fears of a repeat of the 1992 communal violence. Fearing trouble, several Muslims settled in the Alambagh Katra locality of the temple town shifted their women and children to safer places.

Mahanth Dharamdas, a party from the Hindu side to the title dispute case, said the town was in the grip of rumours as large groups of Shiv Sena and VHP supporters were arriving. “An uneasy calm is prevailing in the town,” he said.

Some Ayodhya residents said the issue was being raised now in view of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Some members of the BJP have called for a law to be passed to enable the temple’s construction after the Supreme Court put off hearings on the title dispute case to January 2019.

“They (politicians and religious organisations) are also aware that nothing can be done now. The Supreme Court will take up the issue only in January 2019. If they want to hold any such convention, they should do so in New Delhi to put pressure on the Narendra Modi government to bring an ordinance,” said Dhiman, a rickshaw-puller.

Terming the mobilisation of people for the Ram temple a planned strategy, BSP president Mayawati said the issue was in the Supreme Court and “the matter should be disposed of by the court only”. The BJP is headed for reverses in the current round of state assembly elections as well as the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and to divert the attention of the people from its failures, the BJP and RSS had rekindled the Ram temple movement, Mayawati said in Lucknow.

6 terrorists killed in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, Nov 23: Indian troops have killed six terrorists in a gun battle in Kashmir, according to the army, taking the death toll for the year to the highest in nearly a decade.

So far this year, 400 people have been killed in Kashmi and more than half of them were rebels fighting against the Indian rule. The number of the dead is the highest in the state since 2008 when 505 people were killed.

The number of deaths in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir had dropped to 99 in 2012 but has since been climbing.

The region has witnessed a spike in violence since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014. Analysts say the hardline policies adopted by the Hindu nationalist government may further worsen the situation.

Indian army spokesman Rajesh Kalia said an operation was launched in Sekipora village, around 50 km south of Srinagar, the region's main city, after intelligence reports about the presence of a group of rebels.

"Six militants were killed during a fierce gunfight and arms and ammunition along with their bodies have been recovered," said Kalia.

Indian forces have stepped up an offensive against rebels operating inside the Kashmir Valley as well as those trying to intrude from across the border with Pakistan, officials say.

The rebels have hit back, targeting members of the Kashmir police and their families in recent months.

Among the dead was a member of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The latest crackdown in southern Kashmir, which has been on the boil since the killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani, was prompted by the abduction of six people from the area by rebels.

While four were let off, the rebels killed two accusing them of being informers for the Indian security forces. One of them was beheaded, while a video of the assailants pumping bullets into the other went viral on the social media.

Modi hopes Kartarpur corridor will act as bridge between India, Pakistan

NEW DELHI, Nov 23: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday hoped the Kartarpur corridor would act as a bridge between India and Pakistan, a day after the Union cabinet cleared a proposal to develop a corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to the International Border. Referring to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Modi hoped that the corridor might lead to a better future between the two countries.

Underlining the strength of people-to-people contact, the prime minister said "Had anyone ever thought that the Berlin Wall would fall. May be with the blessings of Guru Nanak Devji, this Kartarpur corridor will not just remain a corridor, but act as a bridge between the people of the two countries.”

While speaking at a function to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev at the residence of Union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal here, Modi referred to the Partition and said, “What has happened in 1947 has happened.” He said the issues between the governments and the armies would continue and only time will show the way out.

Kartarpur Sahib is located across Ravi river in Pakistan and is about four km from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine. The demand to build a corridor linking India’s border district of Gurdaspur with a historic gurudwara in Pakistan has been a long-pending demand of the Sikh community. The corridor, once built, will give Indian pilgrims easy access to the shrine in Kartarpur.

Hours after India cleared the proposal to develop the corridor, Pakistan welcomed the move and conveyed its decision to open the Kartarpur corridor.

“It is a step in the right direction and we hope such steps will encourage voice of reason and tranquility on both sides of the border,” Pakistan information and broadcasting minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted.

Sonia Gandhi vows to teach TRS a ‘fitting lesson’

HYDERABAD, Nov 23: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who visited Telanagana for the first time on Friday, called upon the people of the county’s newest state to teach a fitting lesson to Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) for completely shattering their hopes and aspirations in the four-and-a- half years of its rule.

Addressing a rally at Medchal on the outskirts of Hyderabad, she said, “It is an emotional moment for me, as I feel like a mother who is meeting her children after several years,” amidst loud cheers from the public.

Gandhi said she had to undergo a lot of difficulties while taking a decision on granting statehood to Telangana. “It was no easy decision, as I had to keep in mind the sentiments and feelings of people from both Andhra and Telangana regions. But, having witnessed the agitations of the people of Telangana and understood their aspirations, I had decided to carve out Telangana state, thanks to the support extended by all my colleagues, including then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi,” she said.

She reminded the people that the Congress had to pay a heavy price for its decision to grant Telangana state. “Politically, it was a big loss for the party. Yet, we had taken the decision in the larger interests of the people of Telangana,” she said.

The UPA chairperson also sought to reach out the people of Andhra who were angry over the bifurcation of the state. “While passing the bifurcation bill in Parliament, we had promised to take care of all the interests of Andhra Pradesh, including granting of special category status. We are still committed to this promise and once the Congress comes back to power at the Centre, we shall grant special category status to Andhra Pradesh,” she asserted.

Gandhi said she was very much pained to see the plight of the Telangana, even after four and a half years of the formation of new state. “Every mother wants her children to grow stronger and have a bright future. But I am able to see how you are still struggling with lack of development even after four years. The dreams you had when the Telangana state became a reality were totally shattered. The issues – water supply to parched lands, allocation of funds to every sector and filling up of jobs to eradicate unemployment – remained unfulfilled,” she alleged.

Also alleging that farmers’ suicides were on the rise in the last four years, she also accused the TRS government of setting aside the central land acquisition act, 2013, brought in by then UPA government to forcibly acquired their lands. Meanwhile, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was completely ignored, unemployed youth became desperate and self-help group women had become helpless, she added.

“When I used to visit other states in the past, I used to proudly mention about the welfare schemes being implemented in Andhra Pradesh. Now, there is no such opportunity. Every section – SC, ST and other backward classes are totally frustrated. While students and unemployed youth are agitating, only one family (of Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao) is happy,” she said.

Gandhi said the time had come for the people to show their anger at the TRS government. “This is the excellent opportunity for you to come out of all your troubles and lay the path for the progress of the state for a better future of the people. Understand the power of the vote and teach the TRS government a fitting lesson by voting for the Congress and its allies,” she said.

In his brief address, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the time had come for the people to show their gratitude towards Sonia Gandhi who was responsible for achieving statehood to Telangana. “She is very much concerned about the new state and the welfare of the people of all sections. She stood with you and understood your struggle for a separate state,” he said.

He said the Congress had joined hands with other like-minded opposition parties to form an alliance to fulfill the dreams of all sections of people including farmers, students, youth and women. “We must end the dictatorship and single family rule in the state,” he asserted.

Leaders of parties in the Congress-led grand alliance - M Kodandaram of Telangana Jana Samithi, Telugu Desam Party’s Telangana president L Ramana, Communist Party of India state secretary Chada Venkat Reddy - as well as state Congress chief N Uttam Kumar Reddy, also addressed the rally.

20,000 farmers in Mumbai to remind Fadnavis govt on ‘promises’

MUMBAI, Nov 22: More than 20,000 farmers and tribals continued their march for the second day on Thursday on their final stretch till Mumbai’s Azad Maidan demanding for the implementation of the measures promised by the state government last year.

The agitators left at 5 am according to their schedule despite Mumbai Police insisting that they leave an hour earlier to avoid traffic in the city. They were supposed to reach Azad Maidan around 11 am to hold a protest rally. A 30-member delegation will then meet chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to put forth their demands.

The farmers, who are struggling to cope with the drought, are demanding the proper implementation of the loan waiver package announced by Fadnavis in 2017; the implementation of recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Commission that suggested 50% minimum support price (MSP) for crops; land rights for tribal farmers and also compensation for farm labourers.

The protesters from across Maharashtra, under the banner of Lok Sangharsh Morcha, have crossed Parel-Lalbaug and reached JJ Road flyover. There is a heavy morning rush towards south Mumbai and a portion of the flyover has been kept free for vehicles. The flyover on the opposite side is closed for vehicles for the protesters.

Apart from the farmers, supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party and some Mumbai based social groups are also participating in the march.

The farmers and tribals had gathered at the Anand Nagar octroi naka in Mulund since Tuesday night. After marching for close to 19km, they halted for the night at Somaiyya Ground in Sion.

State water resources minister Girish Mahajan met the farmers at Sion and said the chief minister will meet the agitators. He said all the concerned ministers and officials will be present in the meeting and a solution will be worked out.

The organisers of the march were unhappy that tribal development minister Vishnu Savara did not meet them.

Bookies predict Congress in MP, Rajasthan; BJP in Chhattisgarh; TRS in Telangana

NEW DELHI, Nov 21: Bookmakers are predicting a mixed bag for the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in four state assembly elections, satta (local bettors) market operators in these states said.

The bookies in Madhya Pradesh are seeing a swing in favour of the Congress edging out the ruling BJP while those in Chhattisgarh are giving clear victory to the BJP and the ones in Rajasthan say the Congress is much ahead of the rival BJP. In Telangana, the odds favour the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) with the rival Congress-led grand alliance coming close behind.

The satta markets operate on the local sentiments of the players and may not reflect the ground situation.

“In the ‘satta market’ low price indicates victory while high price indicates defeat,” said a bookie based in Rajasthan’s Sikar town.

For instance, in Chhattisgarh for every one rupee placed on bet, one will get 90 paise for BJP and Rs 1.40 for the Congress. This basically means that if there is an upset, people make money and operators lose.

In Madhya Pradesh, the bookies are predicting that the Congress has made a lot of ground in the last fortnight and may upset the ruling BJP.

“As per the rates, it is a close race with the Congress slightly ahead at present. The prediction is that the Congress will get 112–116 seats in the 230 assembly seats, while the BJP will get 100–102 seats,” he said.

Another bookie in Bhopal said about a month ago, the BJP was a clear winner. “We were giving 130 seats to BJP as compared to less than 100 to the Congress,” he said, without commenting on the reasons for the swing.

If someone would have placed a bet of Rs 1,000 on Congress a month ago, he may win twice that amount. But now, he will not earn much on Congress, a local bookie said.

In Rajasthan, which has major satta markets in Sikar, Phalodi and Nokha, the operators are expecting a clear win for the Congress though the BJP has made some recovery in the last two months.

“Two months ago, the punters were giving the Congress 132 to 134 seats when it was a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress. With emergence of third front and after BJP’s sustained campaign, we are predicting about 118–122 seats for the Congress,” said a Sikar based bookie.

He added that the BJP is expected to get Rs 55–57 seats as compared to 47–49 two months ago.

The bookies in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh said they accept bets for election in each assembly constituency, region and entire state. The rates vary each day depending on the speeches made by local leaders and political developments.

The betting market of Sikar had predicted a full majority for the BJP in the 2013 state assembly elections and had given 135–140 seats. Its assessment of the win was correct, but the party got 163 seats.

The betting market of Phalodi, the biggest in the country, is claiming that Congress will come back to power. “Till Wednesday, the assessment of the local punters was that Congress will get 126–130 seats and the BJP will get 55–58 seats. But the real markets will open on Friday,” said one of the bookies of Phalodi.

In Chhattisgarh, where polling ended on Tuesday, the satta market favours the BJP.

“Our prediction is that the BJP will win 42–43 seats and the Congress 36–37. The Ajit Jogi-led alliance with get seven seats,” said a Raipur-based satta market operator, who was not willing to be named.

He said that after the second phase polling, the probability of the BJP winning has improved.

According to satta operators in Telangana, bettors expect the Telangana Rashtra Samiti to return to power. “The stakes for KCR is high but the mood has slightly changed in the past fortnight with rates for the Congress-led grand alliance picking up,” said a Hyderabad-based bookie.

While polling was complete in two phases in Chhattisgarh, it is scheduled to be held in Madhya Pradesh on November 28 (along with Mizoram) and in Rajasthan and Telangana on December 7. The counting of votes for all the states will be done on December 11.

Arrest made in Amritsar blast case; Pak ISI behind it: Punjab CM

CHANDIGARH, Nov 21: The grenade used in the blast, in which three people were killed at Nirankari Bhawan in Amritsar’s Rajasansi on November 18, was made in Pakistan, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh said on Wednesday. The chief minister said Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, was behind the terror attack.

Three people were killed and about 20 injured when two men on a bike carried out the attack at the congregation on Sunday.

The chief minister said Khalistan Liberation Force chief Harmeet Ph.D is the real mastermind of attack on Namdhari congregation. He is already the prime suspect accused of strategising the targeted killings of Punjab’s some socio-religious leaders in 2016-17.

Captain Singh said one of the two persons involved in the attack had been arrested. Bikramjit Singh, 26, has been arrested and his associate, Avtar Singh, will be arrested soon.

This is the type of grenade which has been taken from other modules. This is the one being used against forces in Kashmir and this is the one that burst. This one is made under license by Pakistan ordinance factory and is filled with pellets, said Captain Amarinder Singh.

Modi Made Hollow Promises, Copied Congress’ Schemes: Manmohan Singh

BHOPAL, Nov 21: The Congress maintained the unity and diversity of the country and worked for the upliftment of the citizens during its regime, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said in response to the repeated attacked by the BJP over the work done by Congress during its time in power.

“From 2004 to 2014, the national income grew by over 8% per annum, 140 million people came out of the BPL status and we electrified five lakh villages leaving only 18,500 villages,” Singh said.

The Modi government published rural electrification as big achievement through advertisements but only electrified 18,500 villages, the veteran Congressman alleged.

He also rejected the accusation against him of being a remote-controlled Prime Minister. “In those times, the party and government worked on same platform and I guess it was the key to our success,” he said.

Coming down heavily on Modi government’s monetary policy, Mammohan said that the last four and a half years have been extremely challenging. He termed demonetisation a “monumental disaster of epic proportions” which failed to achieve any of the stated objectives.

“There is ample evidence which suggests demonetisation was a dubious scheme meant to convert black money into white,” said Manmohan adding it was a “deliberate and designed” attack on savings of small traders, farmers and housewives.

The former prime minister flayed the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan over highest suicide rate of farmers and jobless youths, dismal record on women and child safety and battery of scams including Vyapam which according to him destroyed the careers of 70 lakh youngsters.

Asked to comment on Congress being in power in only two states, , Singh claimed that the BJP served lies on UPA corruption through media, accepting the Congress could not reach out to the public with required conviction on those lies. “But people have now realized that Modi had made hollow promises and his schemes are mostly leepa-poti of UPA schemes.”

He criticised PM Modi him for being excessively critical of non-BJP governments whenever he visits those states. “This is unbecoming of his post of PM.” He continued the assault saying the present government came in power with the slogan of fighting corruption but the corruption has peaked under PM Modi.

When asked if he thinks the economy was in tatters, so what was the remedy, the former Prime Minister claimed the investments are required to be boosted and savings are needed to be upped again as they slipped drastically after the UPA rule.

High alert in Delhi, cops look for 2 suspected Jaish terrorists

NEW DELHI, Nov 20: Two days after a grenade attack in Amritsar killed three people and injured 20 others, police on Tuesday sounded an alert in Delhi and released photographs of two alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed operatives who could try to carry out a terror attack in the city.

Many senior officers on the condition of anonymity confirmed receiving an input about the two men from JeM, who could try to carry out a terror attack.

Deputy commissioner of police (special cell) Pramod Kushwah said they received inputs two Jaish-e-Mohammed suspects are approaching Delhi.

“All police stations have been alerted to step up patrolling in their respective areas and we are looking for the suspects,” he said.

Police said that they were checking guest houses, hotels and paying guest accommodations to find the suspects.

In the photo released by Delhi Police on their social media accounts — which have been pasted across the city — the two men are seen leaning on a milestone that reads, Firozpur 9 kilometres and Delhi 360 kilometres.

Firozpur is 133 km from Amritsar, where three people were killed and 20 injured when two men on a motorcycle threw a grenade at a religious congregation on Sunday. An archway is also seen in the background with a Pakistani flag hoisted from the top. A senior officer who did not wish to be named said they were yet to ascertain the whereabouts of these men in Delhi.

“We got input that they’re heading towards Delhi. We have increased vigil in border areas and inside the city. We are questioning second-hand car dealers. Our officers are checking parking lots to spot abandoned vehicles. Security at important installations such as Delhi Metro, IGI airport, inter-state bus terminals and security establishments have been significantly stepped up. There is no need to panic,” the officer from the Delhi’s anti-terror special cell said.

The officer said the district police had been alerted to maintain high security.

Police are also not dismissing a warning that was recently issued on a WhatsApp group allegedly being run by a member of the student’s wing of Jaish-e-Mohammed, in which they talked of avenging Maulana Masood Azhar’s nephew Usman Haidar encounter in Kashmir’s Tral on October 30.

Two days before the Amritsar attack, the Punjab Police had reportedly issued an alert that at least six to seven Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists had sneaked into Punjab and are believed to be hiding in Firorpur area. The alert also read that the suspected terrorists may plan to move towards Delhi.

At Bihar shelter home, doctor drugged girls, woman ‘taught’ minors sex: CBI

PATNA, Nov 20: Madhu Kumari alias Sajista Pravin, a close aide of Muzaffarpur shelter home sexual scandal prime accused Brajesh Thakur, surrendered before a CBI court in Muzaffarpur on Tuesday. CBI officials termed her arrest a “big catch” as she is supposed to have knowledge of activities at the shelter.

Her surrender coincided with the surrender of former social welfare minister Manju Verma in a Begusarai court on the same day.

On the basis of Madhu’s statement, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested Dr Ashwani Kumar, who allegedly used to inject the minor girls at the shelter home with drugs.

The surrender of Madhu is significant as she had gone underground ever since the horrific sexual exploitation of at least 30 girls at the short stay home came to light.

Soon after her surrender, she was produced before the court for Pocso (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act cases. Later, the CBI sleuths took her on remand for interrogation. They are likely to question Madhu on her whereabouts during the last two-three months and all information she had about the shelter home activities.

CBI officials said Madhu’s arrest was a big catch’ in the case. During investigation, the probe agency found that she was “involved in teaching the shelter home children how to have sex”.

Talking to reporters before her surrender, Madhu said she was innocent and her name did not figure even in the FIR.

“I had no reason to hide. The reason why I have chosen to appear before the CBI now is that recently the investigators visited my residence a number of times and this was causing inconvenience to my family members,” she said. Asked about reports that she had been hiding in Nepal, she said she was very much in Bihar and not hiding.

Meanwhile, a senior official said her interrogation would be crucial for getting vital clues about the goings on in the ‘horror home’, as she was the main conduit in Thakur’s racket.

Madhu had a checkered childhood, allegedly spent in the red light area of Muzaffarpur. She was later spotted by Thakur, who made her a correspondent of his newspaper, ‘Halaat-e-Bihar’, to allegedly win favours from officials.

She got married, but that did not last long. Thakur made her the pointsperson for an organisation, ‘Wama Shakti Vahini’. Madhu was appointed a member of the Juvenile Justice Board between 2008 and 2012 and given a bodyguard.

It was due to Madhu’s clout that her name was recommended by the district administration to the department of social welfare for a womans’ award, on the basis of the recommendation of a district-level committee.

Ananth Kumar passes away

BENGALURU, Nov 12: BJP leader and Union minister Ananth Kumar died at 2 am today at a hospital in Bengaluru, his office has confirmed. He was 59. Kumar was undergoing treatment for cancer at a hospital in Bengaluru. Kumar is survived by his wife and two daughters.

Karnataka government declared a 3-day mourning period for Ananth Kumar.

Born in a middle class family on July 22, 1959, in Bengaluru to Narayan Shastri, a railway employee, and Girija N Shastry, Ananth Kumar’s early education began under the guidance of his mother who herself was a graduate.

Graduate in Arts and Law, Kumar’s journey into public life began due to his association with the Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a student organisation of the Sangh Pariwar, which he served in various capacities, including the state secretary and the national secretary.

Looking for bigger ground in politics, Kumar joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1987, where he went on to to take up the responsibilities of state secretary, state president of the Yuva Morcha, general secretary and national secretary.

Kumar began his parliamentary career when he got elected to Lok Sabha in 1996 from Bangalore South, the constituency which remained his strong fort till his passing sway, by winning it for six consecutive times.

He enjoyed the credit of being the “youngest” minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet in 1998. He served as the Civil Aviation minister, also Minister for Tourism, Sports, Youth Affairs & Culture, Urban development & poverty alleviation.

Kumar, who also held positions in various parliamentary committees, was serving as the Union Cabinet Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Chemicals and Fertilizers in the Narendra Modi led government, after winning the 15th Lok Sabha election from Bengaluru south by defeating IT Czar Nandan Nilekani.

Opposition grand alliance reaches seat-sharing agreement in Telangana

NEW DELHI, Nov 8: After several rounds of hectic deliberations, the four alliance partners of the Maha Kootami (grand alliance) in Telangana on Thursday came to an agreement on sea-sharing for the December 7 assembly elections.

Congress general secretary in-charge of Telangana affairs RC Khuntia announced in New Delhi that the Congress would contest 94 seats in the 119-member assembly, leaving 25 seats for the allies - 14 for the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), eight for Telangana Jana Samithi and three for Communist Party of India.

In effect, however, the Congress will be contesting only in 93 seats, as it allotted one seat to Telangana Inti Party president Cheruku Sudhakar. “He would be contesting on the Congress symbol, as his party has not got the official symbol from Election Commission,” the Congress leader said.

Khuntia said the first list of 74 Congress candidates, along with that of Maha Kootami partners, would be released in New Delhi on Saturday morning. “We are in the process of finalizing the candidates for the remaining 20 seats and it would be done shortly,” he said.

In the morning, the TDP’s Telangana leaders met party president N Chandrababu Naidu at Amaravati and discussed the Congress’s offer allocating 14 assembly seats for the party. “While there is no issue with regard to the number of seats, discussions are still going on with regard to a couple of seats for which both the TDP and the Congress are staking claim,” Telangana TDP leader and former MP Ravula Chandrasekhar Reddy said.

He said Maha Kootami would be a reality and was going to give sleepless nights to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi.

TJS president M Kodandaram did hard bargaining for at least 10 seats, but was forced to remain content with eight seats. “We have asked for those seats where we have the strength to win,” a TJS leader said on condition of anonymity.

The CPI, which was offered three seats by the Congress, is demanding at least another two seats, but the Congress is firm. In lieu of the assembly seats, the Congress offered the Left party two seats in the legislative alliance in the coming days.

Demonetisation a ‘shrewd scheme’ to help PM’s ‘suit-booted friends’: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Nov 8: Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Thursday alleged that demonetisation was a planned “brutal conspiracy” and a “shrewd scheme” to convert the black money of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “suit-booted friends”.

On the second anniversary of demonetisation, he also said that there was nothing innocent about this “scam” and claimed that drawing any other meaning out of it was an insult to the intelligence of the nation.

Gandhi’s remarks came after former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s scathing assessment of the demonetisation exercise. He said the “scars and wounds” it caused are getting more visible with time and the decision’s second anniversary is a day to remember how “economic misadventures” can roil the nation.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley made a strong defence, saying demonetisation resulted in formalisation of economy and increased tax base, with the government earmarking more resources for the poor and infrastructure development.

“Note ban was a premeditated brutal conspiracy. This scam was a shrewd scheme to convert the black money of Prime Minister’s suit-booted friends to white. Nothing was innocent in this scam. Drawing any other meaning of it would be an insult of the intelligence of the nation,” Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.

Scars Only Getting More Visible With Time on Notes Ban: Manmohan Singh

NEW DELHI, Nov 8: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh today shared his scathing assessment of demonetisation as intense political sparring between the government and the opposition marked the second anniversary of the cash ban.

"It is often said that time is a great healer. But unfortunately, in the case of demonetisation, the scars and wounds of demonetisation are only getting more visible with time," he said in a statement.

"I urge the government to restore certainty and visibility in economic policies. Today is a day to remember how economic misadventures can roil the nation for a long time and understand that economic policymaking should be handled with thought and care," said the former prime minister.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in a strong defence posted on Facebook, called the notes ban a "key step in a chain of important decisions taken by the government to formalize the economy". The cash ban had also made it difficult to evade taxes, pushed digital transactions and helped improve tax collection, he said.

Manmohan Singh, calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi's overnight ban on Rs. 500 and 1,000 notes on November 8, 2016, an "ill-fated and ill-thought exercise", said "the havoc it unleashed on the Indian economy and society is now evident to everyone." The cash ban, he said, impacted every single person, regardless of age, gender, religion, occupation or creed.

"Beyond the steep drop in headline GDP growth numbers after demonetisation, the deeper ramifications of notebandi are still unraveling. Small and medium businesses that are the cornerstone of India's economy are yet to recover from the demonetisation shock," said the former prime minister, who is a noted economist.

Bypoll boost for Opposition unity as Congress-JD(S) win 4 of 5 seats

NEW DELHI, Nov 6: The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance on Tuesday won two of three Lok Sabha seats and both assembly seats with hefty margins in the November 3 Karnataka by-elections, securing a morale booster in what the former called just a teaser ahead of next year’s general elections.

An unexpected victory in the Ballari Lok Sabha constituency was particularly sweet tor the alliance, which wrested the seat from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after a hiatus of nearly one-and-a-half decades. It also won the Mandya Lok Sabha seat and the Ramanagara and Jamakhandi assembly seats.

Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa’s son Raghavendra scored the only win for the BJP by defeating JD(S)’s S Madhu Bangarappa by 52,148 votes in Shivamogga. The seat was won by BS Yeddyurappa in 2014 by a margin of nearly 350,000 votes.

Celebrating “ the sweeping victory” of the coalition in a Twitter post, the Congress called it a “teaser for what is in store for the BJP next year”.

“Congratulations to all the workers & leaders of the Congress party in Karnataka on the decisive victory of the Congress-JD(S) alliance in the By-Polls in the state. I thank each & every one of you, for your dedication & hard work that made this victory possible,” Congress president Rahul Gandhi said separately.

Acknowledging the setbacks for the BJP, Yeddyurappa alleged the result reflected the large amounts of money and liquor the ruling alliance had spent ahead of voting. “The painful fact is that we have faced a setback in Ballari and Jamakhandi. I feel this is a warning and we need to begin work there right away,” he said. “Our aim is to win many seats in the Lok Sabha polls and ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi wins at the Centre. We need to start that work now.”

The by-elections were the first litmus test for the alliance, which was formed after the May assembly elections in which the BJP won the most number of seats but fell short of a majority in the 224-member house. To thwart the BJP’s bid for power, the Congress, the senior partner, agreed to a coalition in which it accepted the JD (S)’s HD Kumaraswamy as chief minister. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted that the 4-1 result “looks like a Test series win under Virat Kohli. Coalition has delivered.”

Tougher tests are to follow with assembly elections due this month and in December in the Hindi-speaking heartland states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Telangana in the south, and Mizoram in the North-east.

In the race for the Ballari Lok Sabha seat, Congress’s VS Ugrappa beat BJP’s J Shantha by over 243,000 votes. In the Mandya parliamentary constituency , JD(S)’s LR Shivaramegowda defeated BJP’s TR Siddaramaiah with a margin of 324,943 votes.

Ballari had been a bastion of the BJP since 2004, when its candidate G Karunakara Reddy, brother of mining baron G Janardhan Reddy, won the seat. Mandya is at the heart of the Vokkaliga belt of the Old Mysore region and has traditionally seen a direct contest between the Congress and JD(S).

AS Nyamagouda of the Congress defeated Kulkarni Shrikant Subrao of the BJP in Jamkhandi by a margin of 39,480 votes. Chief minister Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha won the Ramanagara assembly constituency, defeating the BJP’s L Chandrashekhar by 109,137 votes.

The defeat in Ramanagara was specially galling for the BJP, which suffered an embarrassment when its candidate L Chandrashekar, a Congress rebel, withdrew from the race two days before voting. Chandrashekar was listed on the electronic voting machine as the BJP candidate and received around 16,000 votes.

JD(S) leader and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda thanked the “people of Karnataka for supporting development-centric administration of JDS-INC government. People of the state have given their response to those who were trying to destabilise the state government.”

There is no doubt that the coalition would continue, Deve Gowda said. “It is now time for us to sit with Congress president Rahul Gandhi and other leaders to discuss how we can take this forward,” he said.

After emerging as the single-largest party in the May 12 assembly elections, the BJP made a failed bid to form government in the only southern state it has ruled in the past. State BJP president and former chief minister Yeddyurappa and senior leader B Sreeramulu were sworn in as members of the assembly after resigning their membership of the Lok Sabha from Shivamogga and Ballari, respectively.

For a similar reason, JD(S) CS Puttaraju, now Karnataka’s minor irrigation minister, also gave up his Lok Sabha membership from Mandya. Among the assembly seats, the Ramanagara seat, one of two which chief minister Kumaraswamy contested, fell vacant after he retained neighbouring Channapatna. Siddu Nyamgoud of the Congress, who won the Jamkhandi seat in May, died in a road accident days after being elected, resulting in the vacancy.

While the BJP put up candidates in all five seats, the Congress-JD(S) alliance worked out a seat-sharing arrangement as a result of which the Congress contested one parliamentary and assembly seat each and the JD(S) the remaining three. Former CM Siddaramaiah of the Congress said the results were a clear indication of the public mood ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “This election shows what decision the people will take in 2019. I want to thank voters across all five seats and the workers and leaders of our parties for this result.”

Delhi’s Signature Bridge, twice the size of Qutub Minar, opens

NEW DELHI, Nov 5: After a delay of eight years, Delhi’s much-awaited Signature Bridge was finally inaugurated on Sunday by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and deputy CM Manish Sisodia. The iconic bridge, which will be thrown open for vehicles on Monday, is expected to significantly reduce traffic in areas of north and northeast Delhi.

A Delhi Public Works Department (PWD) project, the bridge was constructed by the Delhi Tourism and Transport Development Corporation (DTTDC) at an expenditure of ₹1,518.37 crore. The new landmark is double the height of Qutub Minar.

One of the most delayed infrastructure projects in Delhi, the Signature Bridge is expected to reduce the travel time by at least half an hour for commuters going to Ghaziabad and areas near Uttar Pradesh border via Bhajanpura, Khajuri Khas, Yamuna Vihar in northeast Delhi from Wazirabad, Mukherjee Nagar and Burari in north Delhi.

“Every day I had to wade through heavy traffic near old Wazirabad Bridge to reach my office in Mukherjee Nagar. With the opening of the Signature Bridge it seems that my traffic woes are finally set to come to an end,” said Mubeen Khan, a Yamuna Vihar resident.

DTTDC officials, however, said that after Diwali the bridge would be closed between 11pm and 5am for around a month in order to carry out work on the glass façade atop the pylon. The façade, which will be used as a viewing gallery, would give visitors a bird’s-eye view of the city from a height of 154m. The viewing gallery will be opened for the public in February next year, officials said.

The bridge is expected to not only help motorists going towards northeast Delhi, but would also decongest the Outer Ring Road, Shahdara Bridge, ISBT Kashmiri Gate, Khajuri Khas, Bhajanpura, Old Wazirabad Bridge and Pusta Road.

Alok Kaushik, a banker, said the bridge would significantly take the traffic off from the Outer Ring Road and help the commuters going towards Noida, central and south Delhi.

“One can witness perennial traffic jam at Wazirabad Crossing and Majnu Ka Tila. Gaziabad or Loni bound commuters coming from Azadpur side had to either take Wazirabad Bridge or Shahdara flyover going via ISBT Kashmiri Gate. But with the Signature Bridge being operational, all this traffic will be shifted there. Noida and south Delhi bound commuters will get a smooth flow on Outer Ring Road,” Kaushik, who uses the stretch daily, said.

The western and eastern approaches (1.5km and 1.8km respectively) to the bridge will connect nearby areas like Timarpur, Nehru Vihar, Wazirabad, Aruna Nagar, Mukherjee Nagar on Ring Road to Bhajanpura on Mangal Pandey Marg.

Girl, 4, gang-raped in Lucknow hospital

LUCKNOW, Nov 5: A four-year-old girl was gang-raped while being treated in an intensive care unit in India, it has been claimed.

Police official Mahesh Srivastava said the girl told her grandmother she was raped by a hospital attendant and four others when she was alone on Saturday night.

He said one man was in custody and police were looking for others.

Detectives have also asked for CCTV footage and are trying to determine why the girl was left alone in the ICU.

Mr Srivastava said the girl had been in the hospital for four days and was being treated for a snake bite.

The hospital is located 155 miles southwest of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.

India has been shaken by a series of sexual assaults in recent years, including the gang-rape and murder of a student on a moving New Delhi bus in 2012.

The attack shocked the country where widespread violence against women had long been quietly accepted.

Although the government has passed a series of laws increasing punishment for rape of an adult to 20 years in prison, sexual assaults are still being reported regularly.

Following outrage over the recent rape and killings of young girls and other attacks on children, India's government approved the death penalty for anyone convicted of raping children under 12.


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