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SC Refers Article 370 Cases to 5-Judge Constitution Bench for October Hearing

NEW DELHI, Aug 28: Petitions related to the abrogation of Article 370 will be heard by a five-judge Constitution Bench in October, the Supreme Court said today while hearing pleas against the repeal of special status in J&K. The top court also issued notices to the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir administration on the pleas. "We know what to do, we have passed the order, we are not going to change,” the bench said, as the Centre contended that there was no need for issuance of notice in the matter as Attorney General KK Venugopal and Solicitor General were present in court.

The Supreme Court also allowed CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury to visit Jammu and Kashmir to meet his party colleague and former MLA Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami in the state. The CJI-led bench, however, directed Yechury to only meet Tarigami and not use the visit for any political purpose. The bench said if Yechury indulges in any political activities, authorities are free to report them to the apex court.

"We will refer the matter to a five-judge Constitution bench", the bench also comprising justices S A Bobde and S A Nazeer said while not accepting the arguments that the issuance of notice will have a "cross-border repercussion".

The Attorney General said whatever is being said by this court is sent before the United Nations. As the counsel appearing for both sides were involved in arguments and counter-arguments, the bench said.

The pleas before the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi included a habeas corpus petition by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, in which he challenged the detention of Kashmir politician and party general secretary Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami.

Another plea is of Tehseen Poonawalla, a social activist, who has raised the issue of lockdown in the region as amounting to suspension of Article 19 (freedom of speech) and 21 (personal liberty) of the Constitution.

The plea said, "The actions taken by Union of India pertains to gross abuse of its powers under law, whereby the people of J&K are suffering on account of unwarranted imposition of undeclared curfew and further emergency-like restrictions are being imposed under the garb of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973."

Another petition filed by National Conference leader Mohammad Akbar Lone, who has cited 'Swaraj' or self-governance, said the right to autonomous self-government within a federal framework is an essential fundamental right. These valuable rights have been taken away without the "procedure established by law" in a manner that violates every canon of Constitutional morality.

He said Article 370 was extensively considered and carefully drafted in order to ensure peaceful and democratic accession of the formerly princely state of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union, drawing out the significance of Article 370, which defines and regulates the relationship between J&K and the Union of India.

Shah Faesal, an independent politician and former bureaucrat from Jammu and Kashmir in a joint petition with activist Shehla Rashid has challenged the Centre's move to scrap Article 370.

The bench will also hear Kashmiri artist Inder Salim alias Inder Ji Tickoo and a veteran journalist Satish Jacob's joint plea challenging recent Presidential orders on Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.

Another petition is of six retired military officers and bureaucrats who had challenged the decision to revoke Article 370.

Other petitioners include advocate M.L. Sharma, Shakir Shabir and Soyaib Qureshi. A plea of Executive Editor of Kashmir Times Anuradha Bhasin seeking direction to relax movement of media personnel as well as photojournalists for free reporting on the situation will also be heard on Wednesday.

Another plea is of a law graduate in Delhi, Mohammad Aleem Syed, seeking information on the whereabouts of his family in Kashmir.

The government’s move to announce a package for Jammu Kashmir comes after Tuesday's inter-ministerial meeting in the Home Ministry over the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 that discussed implementation of Central schemes in the state and the steps taken so far for return to normalcy in Kashmir Valley.

The cabinet meeting is likely to spell out moves on the promise of jobs, investment and the implementation of welfare schemes.

Tuesday's Home Ministry meeting, chaired by newly-appointed Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, saw the attendance of more than 15 secretaries of Central government departments, including finance, agriculture, rural development, industries. Bhalla assessed the roadmap for implementation of Central schemes in the two newly-created Union Territories -- Jammu and Kashmir with an Assembly and Ladakh without one -- before they come into existence on October 31.

Some Central government officials have visited Srinagar while more senior officials are expected to visit the Valley in the coming weeks.

The Central government will also assist the Jammu and Kashmir administration in implementing the 85 development schemes announced by Governor Satya Pal Malik.

Kashmir India's Internal Issue, Pak Instigating Violence: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Aug 28: Rahul Gandhi, in tweets today, set the record straight after being named in what the Congress called an alleged petition of the Pakistani government to the UN on Jammu and Kashmir and asserted that while he disagreed with the government on many issues, he wanted to make it "absolutely clear" that Kashmir is India's internal issue and violence in Jammu and Kashmir is instigated by Pakistan.

The tweets are significant after the Congress leader's criticism of the government's handling of Jammu and Kashmir after he was stopped from visiting Srinagar and turned away from the airport on Saturday.

The Congress also released a statement referring to "reports citing an alleged petition moved by Pakistani Government to UN on Jammu & Kashmir", in which Rahul Gandhi had been "mischievously dragged to justify the pack of lies and deliberate misinformation being spread by Pakistan".

"I disagree with this government on many issues. But, let me make this absolutely clear: Kashmir is India's internal issue and there is no room for Pakistan or any other foreign country to interfere in it," tweeted Rahul Gandhi.

"There is violence in Jammu and Kashmir. There is violence because it is instigated and supported by Pakistan which is known to be the prime supporter of terrorism across the world," he added.

Within moments, came an endorsement from Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who is facing criticism within the party for apparently praising the government. "Spot on, Chief! This is what @INCIndia has insisted all along: J&K is an integral part of India; we opposed the manner in which Art.370 was abrogated because the way it was done assaulted our Constitution& democratic values. No reason for Pak to draw any comfort from our stand," Tharoor tweeted.

On Saturday, after Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders were sent back from the Srinagar airport, he had said it was "clear that things are not normal in Jammu and Kashmir".

The Congress had tweeted: "If the situation in Jammu & Kashmir is "normal" as the government claims, why has the delegation of Opposition leaders led by Shri @RahulGandhi been sent back from Srinagar airport? What is the Modi government trying to hide?" Governor Satya Pal Malik had warned the Congress and Rahul Gandhi then that the statements would be used by Pakistan.

The visit as well as the Congress comments have apparently found mention in Pakistan's statement to the UN on Jammu and Kashmir.

Opposition leaders had said they wanted to see the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been under a security lockdown since August 4 to head off any trouble over the government's decision to end its special status and split it into two Union Territories. Several political leaders, including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have been under arrest for 25 days. There have been reports of protests in Kashmir.

The Congress has been seen to speak in different voices on the Kashmir decision. While in parliament, senior party leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad criticised the move, several young leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Milind Deora had come out in its support. The party subsequently nuanced its stand, with its interim president Sonia Gandhi asserting that the party was opposed to the manner in which the decision was taken and executed.

Each day a girl goes missing in UP: Priyanka Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Aug 28: Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has slammed the Yogi Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh after a Bharatiya Janata Party leader Swami Chinmayanand was booked for allegedly kidnapping a woman law student.

The student of SS Law College in the state’s Shahjahanpur district has been missing from her college hostel since she posted the video levelling accusations against former Union minister Swami Chinmayanand on her Facebook page on August 23. Chinmayanand, the three-time member of Parliament, is the college’s chairperson.

The woman had accused Chinmayanand, without naming him, of harassment and “destroying the lives of several girls” in the video. She alleged that Chinmayanand was threatening to kill her and her family because she has evidence that could land him in trouble. She also sought the help of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Adityanath in the now-viral video.

Priyanka Gandhi questioned the BJP government in a series of tweets over the safety of women in the state.

“Not a day goes by in Uttar Pradesh, when the BJP government manages to assure women that you are safe and you will get justice if something happens to you,” Priyanka Gandhi wrote in Hindi.

“The girl who raised her voice is missing. Nobody knows what is happening with her. How long will this last?” she asked.

The Congress leader even compared the current case to the Unnao gangrape case involving expelled BJP legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar.

“This looks like a repeat of the Unnao case in Uttar Pradesh. If a woman complains against a BJP leader, far from getting justice, she is not even guaranteed of her safety,” Priyanka Gandhi said.

“It was only last year that the BJP government withdrew a rape case against the accused. It is very clear who the government is supporting. The girls of UP are watching everything,” she wrote.

The woman’s father had lodged a complaint with the police, accusing Chinmayanand of putting his daughter through an ordeal. He said in his complaint that her mobile phone had been switched off since August 23.

“My daughter is missing for the last four days. When I spoke to Swami ji, he did not talk to me properly. I request the government to do justice. Her mother had gone to see her room on the college campus but that was locked,” he said.

Chinamayanand’s lawyer Om Singh had said his client has nothing to do with the missing girl. “He is also concerned about her going missing,” Singh said.

36 suffered pellet injuries since August 5 in JK: official

NEW DELHI, Aug 28: As many as 36 persons have received pellet injuries in the Kashmir Valley since August 5, according to a senior government official. The official said the numbers were based on records available with hospital authorities in Srinagar. The data from other districts in Valley was not available.

On Wednesday, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik admitted that pellet guns were used by security personnel during protests in the Kashmir Valley but they took utmost precaution to prevent injuries.

“Its our achievement that there has been no civilian casualty so far. There were allegations that we are concealing the number of deaths but on the contrary we are sharing information even on pellet injuries. Barring one case, all pellet injuries were below the waist, only one person was hit in the neck, he is also fine and out of danger now,” Malik said in Srinagar.

Severe restrictions including communication blockade has been imposed in Kashmir Valley since August 5 when Home Minister Amit Shah moved two Bills in the Rajya Sabha to read down Article 370 that had granted special status to J&K and downgrade and bifurcate the State into two Union Territories.

Of the 36 persons who received pellet injuries, eight were reported in the first week of the clampdown, the official said. More than 200 incidents of stone throwing have been reported during this period.

“No one has been blinded. Except four, all pellet injuries are below the waist,” the official added.

In 2016, after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter with the security forces, over 70 civilians were killed in a spate of violence and protests in the Kashmir Valley. As per 2016 records, from July 8 to September 6, as many as 7,550 civilians were injured, of which 127 were admitted in hospitals. The security personnel had come under attack for the use of pellet guns, that as per official records, had blinded or partially blinded 30 people the same year.

Court extends Chidambaram's CBI custody till Aug 30

NEW DELHI, Aug 26: A CBI court on Monday extended the custody of former finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX media case to August 30 days after the CBI sought five more days to interrogate him.

The investigating agency told Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar that the former minister was not cooperating and the interrogation was incomplete.

Chidambaram’s original four-day CBI custody ended Monday after his arrest on August 21.

After P Chidamabaram was arrested by the CBI, the Congress has launched a scathing attack on the Modi government. Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, alleged that the BJP was using the CBI and the ED as personal revenge seeking departments.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said there were sufficient grounds for extension of his custodial interrogation.

“He has been confronted with another accused, but the interrogation was not complete. It has to continue, so we need another five days,” Mehta said

Hours before the CBI court’s decision , the Supreme Court turned down Chidambaram’s petition challenging the dismissal of his anticipatory bail plea by Delhi High Court in the INX Media case.

The apex court which on Friday had barred the Enforcement Directorate from arresting Chidambaram till Monday, extended the protection till Tuesday in the same case.

A two-judge bench comprising justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna said since Chidambaram has been arrested and is already in the CBI custody, his appeal in the case has become infructuous.

The bench said however that Chidambaram was free to seek remedy in accordance with the law.

22 tax officials accused of corruption sacked in Centre’s ‘clean-up’ drive

NEW DELHI, Aug 26: The government has sacked 22 more tax officials accused of corruption and serious irregularities in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to purge the “black sheep” in the tax department, the government announced on Monday. The finance ministry had earlier sacked 27 senior Indian Revenue Service officers including 12 from the income tax department.

“The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has compulsorily retired yet another 22 senior officers of the rank of Superintendent/Administrative Officer under Fundamental Rule 56 (J)... due to corruption and other charges and CBI traps,” the CBIC said.

The crackdown on officials facing corruption and other serious charges comes against the backdrop of a concerted effort by the government to end any possibility of tax officials issuing notices and summons to individuals and businesses on the sly to make money.

From 1 October, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced, the all notices, summons and orders by the income-tax authorities will be issued through a centralised computer system and will contain a computer-generated unique Document Identification Number.

“Any communication issued without computer-generated DIN shall be non est in law”, she told a news conference last week. If the tax department doesn’t decide a case within three months of a company’s response, the tax notice shall lapse.

Many of the indirect taxes and customs department officials compulsorily retired in the latest string of orders had been arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the past. Some others had faced inquiries for irregularities, cases for disproportionate assets or collusion.

Like 9 of the 22 officials sacked on Monday from Bhopal were facing accusations that they colluded with a cigarette manufacturer to facilitate excess unrecorded clandestine production and clearances of cigarettes.

Another officer from Bengaluru faces charges of conspiracy to smuggle mobile phones and computer parts into India and removing them from the Bengaluru international airport when these were seized by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence way back in 2003.

In another case from Delhi, a tax official working at the GST office in Delhi was caught last year when he was trying to help a person smuggle 10 bars of gold weighing 1,200 gm from Dubai. He was caught by customs officials.

Chidambaram gets protection from arrest in ED case but will spend weekend in CBI custody

NEW DELHI, Aug 23: Former Union minister P Chidambaram will be spending the weekend in CBI custody as the Supreme Court on Friday posted the hearing in both INX media cases -- by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) -- for Monday. The top court, however, granted the Congress leader interim protection from arrest in ED case till the next date of hearing.

The former finance and home minister is in jail after Delhi High Court on Tuesday rejected his pre-arrest bail in connection with a money laundering case in INX media case. He was arreted by the CBI after a 90-minute drama and was produced in a special court on Thursday that gave the Central Bureau of Investigation the custody of Chidambaram till August 26.

A bench comprising justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna posted both the matters for hearing on Monday, August 26. The hearing witnessed exchange of words between prosecution counsel and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate and Chidambaram’s party colleagues Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi. Mehta vehemently opposed the order granting protection from arrest to Chidambaram in the money laundering case registered by the ED.

Arguing the case on Friday, Chidambaram’s lawyer Kapil Sibal said, “The petition raises the issue of his fundamental right to liberty. High court gave the order after seven months at 3:20 pm on Wednesday and said we could move an application asking for time. At 4 pm the application is rejected. We come to the SC, request for an early hearing. We are told to move the senior most judge the next day .. we prepare the petition overnight.. a notice is pasted at 12 in the night asking me (Chidambaram) to appear before CBI for two hours.. there is no provision for such a notice.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in his arguments said that there was no question of anticipatory bail as Chidambaram was in custody. “The court here is dealing with an offence against the finance minister who granted FIBP approval to a company called INX media, controlled by Peter and Indrani mukherjea.. CBI has a statement of indrani ...that is the predicate offence. ED proceedings on money laundering started after this predicate offence was made out.” Mehta argued.

Stating that Chidambaram has been evasive and not answering questions, Mehta urged the court to examine the evidence adduced so far . ‘The court must satisfy it’s conscience before extending a protective benefit to Chidambaram,” Mehta said arguing against any interim protection to the Congress leader in ED case.

The INX Media case relates to alleged irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the media group for foreign investment to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007, when Chidambaram was finance minister. CBI registered a first information report on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the manner the clearance had been awarded. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed a money laundering case a year later.

The agency alleges that the former directors of INX Media, Indrani Mukerjea and Peter Mukerjea, made a payment of $5 million and $450,000 to Chidambaram in 2007-08 and 2008-09, allegedly for giving the FIPB approval. Peter Mukerjea and Indrani Mukerjea are behind bars in connection with the murder of Sheena Bora, Indrani’s daughter from another marriage.

Chidambaram was arrested late on Wednesday night after the Delhi High Court on Tuesday rejected his pre-arrest bail. His legal team desperately sought to have the Supreme Court hear the matter on Tuesday and Wednesday but failed. Chidambaram then made an appearance at the Congress HQ and made a statement. He was arrested by CBI shortly after. The Enforcement Directorate is yet to arrest him.

People familiar with the matter said Singhvi and Sibal want to thwart the possibility of Chidambaram being picked up by ED even when he is granted bail in the CBI case.

IAS officer who earned accolades for service during Kerala floods resigns

NEW DELHI, Aug 23: A senior IAS officer, who shot to fame for his selfless efforts during the Kerala floods last year, sent his resignation from the coveted service on Friday.

At the time of putting in his papers, 2012-batch AGMUT cadre officer Kannan Gopinathan held charge as the secretary of key departments like power, urban development and agriculture in the Dadra and Nagar Haveli administration.

According to a source close to the officer, Gopinathan had decided to quit the IAS as he felt the service conditions hampered his urge to express his views freely.

When contacted, Gopinathan confirmed that he had put in his papers but added that he would still be an employee till the time his resignation is accepted.

“Technically, I am still an employee so I cannot say more on this,” he said.

Last year, Gopinathan’s efforts in flood-ravaged Kerala had earned his accolades throughout the country.

According to reports, for eight days, Kannan Gopinathan worked at relief camps in flood-ravaged Kerala, spending two of those carrying large packages on his head while offloading relief material from trucks in the port city of Kochi. On the ninth day, he was recognised as an IAS officer and he quietly left, as discreetly as he had arrived and helped.

Gopinathan, a 2012 batch IAS officer was then serving as district collector in the union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, had arrived in Kerala on August 26 as the state battled devastation from deadly floods. He was on an official visit to hand over a cheque for Rs one crore from Dadra and Nagar Haveli for the Kerala chief minister’s relief fund.

Once that engagement was over, the 32-year-old took a bus from state capital Thiruvananthapuram. Not to his home town Puthupally, but to one of Kerala’s worst-affected areas, Chengannur, where he went from camp to camp helping distressed people forced to abandon their homes and seek shelter.

However, the news then become viral on social media earning his much praise for his efforts.

Rajiv never used power to destroy freedom of people: Sonia Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Aug 22: Attacking the Modi government a day after party leader P. Chidambaram was arrested by CBI in the INX Media case, Interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi never used his powers to create “an atmosphere of fear or to destroy the freedom and liberty of the people in the country”.

“Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1984 but he never used power to create an atmosphere of fear or to destroy the freedom and liberty of the people. He never used his power to put the principles of democracy in danger,” she said at an event to mark the 75th birth anniversary of the former Prime Minister.

Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have strongly backed Chidambaram and accused the BJP-led government of pursuing “vendetta politics”.

Gandhi did not take any names but made several veiled attacks on the government.

“There are those who are busy in inventing a new past for us. Rajiv Gandhi was inventing a new future. To him, past had to be understood in all its complexities to building pride and not prejudice, to strengthen social harmony and not fuel antagonism and polarise our society,” she said.

The Congress chief said that the party must continue its struggle “against forces of divisiveness and those opposing the idea of India”, adding that the challenges it faces are “formidable”.

“He (Rajiv Gandhi) was proud of our past. But at the same time, he held a firm conviction that India had to be a modern nation anchored in reason and scientific temper in which obscurantism has no place,” the Congress leader added.

Sonia Gandhi said that Rajiv Gandhi’s political adversaries had accused him of being “out of touch” with reality due to his obsession over technology and computers.

“But it is this obsession that made millions of our youth today ready to tackle the challenges of the digital era,” she noted.

“It is an occasion for us individually and collectively to reaffirm our resolve to continue upholding values that had inspired him and to stand up and confront forces determined to destroy their values.”

CBI arrests Chidambaram

NEW DELHI, Aug 21: Former finance and home minister P Chidambaram was arrested at around 9.45 pm from his residence in New Delhi’s Jor Bagh by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which whisked him away for questioning to its headquarters in the nearby Lodhi Road.

The arrest came at the end of around 90 minutes of sheer drama in Lutyens Delhi - from the Congress HQ on Akbar Road, to the CBI HQ, to Chidambaram’s house.

It started at 8.15 pm when the former minister made a surprise appearance at a press conference at Congress HQ to declare that he hadn’t been hiding for the past 24 hours as many believed but “seeking protection of the law”. He wasn’t running away, Chidambaram said, but “engaged in the pursuit of justice”. With Chidambaram on the dais at the HQ were his lawyers and Congress leaders Abhishek Singhvi, Kapil Sibal and Salman Kurshid. Also on stage were Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, KC Venugopal, and Mallikarjun Kharge.

Chidambaram and his lawyers may have played defence for the previous 24 hours but it was clear they were now playing offence, especially with the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the former finance minister’s plea seeking protection from arrest by CBI and the Enforcement Directorate only on Friday.

Chidambaram left the Congress HQ soon after making his statement and arrived at his residence with Singhvi and Sibal. They drove inside and the gates were shut.

A CBI team arrived around 15 minutes later, but the gates weren’t opened for it. The CBI officials scaled the wall and entered the house. They then went up to the first floor where Chidambaram and his lawyers were. Details of what transpired there aren’t available, but some CBI officials said the former minister was questioned in his house for some time and then arrested.

A team from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrived a little later. As did around 100 policemen from Delhi police, armed with riot-prevention gear, who tried to keep the peace between small groups of Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) protesters who were threatening to have a go at each other. There were minor scuffles.

At around 9.45 pm, Chidambaram was hustled out of his house, bundled into a car – he sat in the middle on the rear seat of an Innova, between two CBI officials -- and driven away.

CBI is expected to produce him in a special CBI court on Thursday and could ask for at least 7-10 days custody, agency officials said.

Legal experts said that now that Chidambaram has been arrested, his petition in the Supreme Court is infructuous and he will have to apply for bail in the special court.

Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram took to Twitter to express his dismay at the events. “The drama and spectacle being enacted by the agencies is to simply sensationalise and satisfy the voyeuristic pleasure of some,” he wrote.

Singhvi, Chidambaram’s lawyer and Congress colleague said soon after the arrest: “It is sad and distressing to see the urgency and the eagerness of the CBI and ED to arrest P Chidambaram, a 73-year-old man, with no flight risk and no evidence of trying to tamper evidence. Irrespective of the merit of the case, arrest must be done only when there is any chance of a person trying to flee or tampering evidence. And I respect Chidambaram’s courage because despite not being required to speak to the nation he did so and held his head high.”

The Congress party closed ranks behind Chidambaram, for whom lookout notices at airports and immigration desks to prevent him from leaving the country.

“Modi’s Government is using the ED, CBI and sections of a spineless media to character assassinate Mr Chidambaram. I strongly condemn this disgraceful misuse of power,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote on Twitter His sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said Chidambaram was being “shamefully hunted down”.

The party is planning to take out a protest march to the home minister’s residence on Thursday.

Earlier on Wednesday, as teams from both CBI and ED periodically visited the Jor Bagh residence of Chidambaram, a nerve-wracking day in court for Chidambaram’s legal team ended when it was told the by the court registry that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi had slotted his anticipatory bail hearing on Friday, August 23.

After filing his petition at 10 am, Chidambaram’s legal team, Sibal and Indira Jaising, first mentioned the matter at 10.30 am before a bench comprising justices NV Ramana, M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi, which sent it to be placed before CJI Gogoi to decide whether it should get an urgent hearing.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta opposed Chidambaram’s plea and said it was a case of “monumental magnitude”.

Taking a chance, the lawyers at 10.45am rushed from the court of Justice Ramana to that of the CJI to catch his eye and air their grievances over the non-listing of their petition for an urgent hearing. Justice Gogoi, along with four other judges, is hearing the contentious Ayodhya title suit, and according to the rules, a case for urgent hearing cannot be mentioned before a five-judge bench.

After waiting for a while and not getting the attention of the CJI, the lawyers decided to try their luck at 2 pm after the lunch break. Meanwhile, around noon, the CBI and ED filed caveats in the case, which means that no orders could be passed by the court without hearing them first.

In the meantime, Chidambaram’s legal team was informed by a registrar that their petition had not been allotted a case number and therefore could not be placed before the CJI for an urgent listing. Sibal once again went before the bench of Justice Ramana at 2 pm, telling the judges they had not been left with no option but to approach the court again.

Sibal told the court that “we will give an undertaking that he [Chidambaram] will not go anywhere”. But the petition could be listed in the registry only later - after certain procedural defects in the plea were fixed, and a case number was assigned.

At 4 pm, Sibal went back to Court 1 to catch the attention of the CJI. This attempt, too, proved unsuccessful as the court rose for the day without saying anything. Left with no option, the lawyers once again went to the registrar, who on instructions from the CJI informed them that the case had been ordered to be listed on Friday.

The INX Media case relates to alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the media group for receiving foreign investment to the tune of R305 crore in 2007, when Chidambaram was finance minister. The CBI registered a first information report on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in the manner the clearance had been awarded and the ED filed a money laundering case a year later

INX Media co-founders Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani Mukerjea have been charged with entering into a criminal conspiracy with Karti Chidambaram to get foreign investment approvals and evade punitive measures for not having the necessary approvals from FIPB.

In March 2018, Indrani Mukerjea told CBI in a statement that a deal of $1 million was struck between Karti Chidambaram and the Mukerjeas to secure approval from the FIPB in favour of INX Media. Last month, a Delhi court allowed Indrani Mukerjea, who is a prime suspect in the murder of her daughter Sheena Bora, to turn approver in the INX Media case.

Chidambaram and Karti have consistently denied all allegations and said they were motivated by “political vendetta” by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad detained in Delhi for temple protest

NEW DELHI, Aug 21: Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad was among over 50 persons detained after clashes broke out between the police and hundreds of protesters in South Delhi’s Tughlaqabad on Wednesday evening where people were protesting the demolition of a temple, police said.

Chinmoy Biswal, deputy commissioner of police (south-east), said that Azad would be questioned in the night about the clashes that left many among the police and the protesters injured.

While the protesters pelted stones and vandalised vehicles, the police responded by firing tear gas shells and lathi charging them.

Biswal said that a case of rioting and damaging public property was being registered against the people involved in the violence.

The officer said that the detained people included a man who was found carrying a pistol. “It seems to be a licensed weapon, but we are still probing it and checking if it was violating any licensing rules,” said Biswal.

Ghulam Nabi Azad can’t enter J&K, sent back this time from Jammu airport

JAMMU, Aug 20: Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad who was stopped at Jammu Airport on Tuesday afternoon for nearly two hours before he was sent back to Delhi at 4.10 pm, described his face off with the local administration as a sign of intolerance.

“It’s not right for democracy. If mainstream political parties won’t visit, then who will go? Three former CMs J&K are already under house arrest and one former CM of J&K not being allowed to enter the state, it is a sign of intolerance,” ANI quoted Azad as saying.

Azad’s entry to Jammu and Kashmir was foiled for the second time since August 8 when he was stopped at the Srinagar airport and sent back to Delhi.

On that trip, Azad had planned to interact with Congress workers and assess the situation in the valley after the Narendra Modi government scrapped Article 370 and split the state into two union territories - Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee’s chief spokesperson and former MLC, Ravinder Sharma told Hindustan Times that Azad who is also a Congress general secretary was detained for two hours at the airport before being sent back to Delhi.

“He arrived at 2.30 pm from Delhi, detained for two hours and sent back at 4.10 pm. Senior leaders Madan Lal Sharma, Tara Chand, Jugal Kishore and me, who had gone to receive him, were not allowed to enter inside the airport. We also made a formal request to airport authorities but to no avail,” said Sharma.

Sharma regretted raw deal to the leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and one of the senior leaders of the Congress by the BJP government.

“He just wanted to meet party leaders. If administration says that section 144 Cr PC has been lifted and the situation is normal across Jammu region then why he wasn’t allowed to visit Jammu. He is the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and he was visiting his home state. It was most unfortunate. This kind of situation was unprecedented,” said Sharma,

The former Congress MLC said that denying access to the home state to the leader of opposition and former CM was “murder of democracy”.

“We are nationalist party. They are (BJP government) stifling the voice of opposition,” Sharma said.

Jammu and Kashmir Congress unit chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir and senior leader Raman Bhalla remain under house arrest.

Restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir which were imposed ahead of the Centre abrogating Article 370 have gradually lifted in some areas in Jammu region and the Kashmir Valley, but the curbs are in still place in several areas.

21 killed after heavy rain in Himachal

SHIMLA, Aug 18: At least 21 people have been killed in the last 36 hours across Himachal Pradesh as relentless rains continue to hammer the hill-state causing widespread damage to roads, buildings and water supply schemes.

Nine people have died in Shimla and five in Solan. Four of a family, including a couple and their two girls died after they were hit by a landslide near the Regional Transport Office (RTO) office in Shimla on Sunday. The two teenage girls—Diya, 18, and Vishaka, 15, and their father Haridas, 46, who was pulled out from mounds of debris, were rushed to the Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital (IGMC).The girls were declared dead on arrival while the father succumbed to injuries during treatment. The woman identified as Krishna was later found dead under the rubble. Another person, who was trapped under the debris, was rescued and is undergoing treatment.

In another incident, a labourer was killed and six others injured when a retaining wall collapsed and broke into their room following heavy rains at Lower Cemetery area of the town. The deceased has been identified as Shah Alam, a native of Kishanganj, Bihar.

Seventy-year-old Kanth Singh and his granddaughter Palvi were killed as the wall of their house collapsed following heavy rains in Lona Gram panchayat of Chamba district. A similar incident claimed the life of a 29-year-old in Baddi of Solan district. The deceased, identified as Vicky, 29, of Bihar, was an employee of Dabur India Ltd.

In another incident, a man was killed after a landslide hit his truck on the national highway near Hatkoti Kenchi in Shimla’s Rohru subdivision. In a similar accident at Swarghat in Bilaspur district, a driver was killed after he was buried under landslide debris. The deceased has been identified as Ajinder Singh, a resident of Zirakpur, Punjab.

Two labourers died and five people sustained serious injuries when a tree fell on their makeshift house at Konthru near Narkanda in Shimla district. The deceased—Arjun Budha, 19, San Bahadur, 52, were residents of Nepal.

A 22-year-old tourist from Telangana, identified as Raghav, was killed after being hit by a boulder in Balarga area between Manikaran and Barsheni in Kullu district. He was returning after a trek on the Kheerganga route in Parvati Valley.

In Jibhi area of Kullu district, a man, identified as Chunni Lal, was washed away in a swollen rivulet when locals were trying to rescue him and is feared dead while Hoshyar Singh, 38, of village Kandalu of Jogindernagar subdivision of district Mandi was trapped under rubble and rescued. However, he was declared brought dead at the civil hospital in Manali.

Eight families were rendered homeless when a massive landslide hit Kathaalag village in Ghumarwin sub-division of Bilaspur district. The families have been moved to safer places.

Kullu deputy commissioner Richa Verma said that as many as 25 tourists were rescued from a hill top at Bakrathach valley. The tourists, who were without a professional guide, were en route to Beas Kund and were trapped on the hill top. Locals and experts of an adventure sports company initiated a rescue operation and shifted the tourists to civil hospital Manali.

As many as 887 roads, including 13 national highways, across the state are blocked fully or partially due to landslides. Traffic on the Chandigarh-Manali national highway was blocked near Bilaspur town, leaving hundreds of commuters stranded. Traffic from Mandi to Kullu has been diverted through the Kataula-Bajaura road as the highway along the swollen Beas River is submerged in water.

Kullu deputy commissioner Richa Verma informed that as many as 60 roads were damaged during the last 12 hours due to incessant rains in Kullu.

There was also a landslide at Jarol near Sundernagar in Shimla district which disrupted the traffic on the busy highway for several hours on Sunday morning.The Hindustan-Tibet national highway (NH5) remains blocked at Siaskhad Bridge near Spillow, Ribbah and Nathpa.

The Kalka-Shimla highway was also damaged at several places. Traffic movement on the highway was hampered at Taradevi, Chharabra and Fagu, disrupting transportation of apple. A bridge near Kullu town was washed away due to flashfloods.

Over 1,000 people are stranded in Kodksar, Chhota Dara and Chandertal area of Lahaul-Spiti and Leh-Manali highway owing to landslides.

The rains adversely impacted electricity supply in Shimla town. More than a dozen localities in town went without electricity for several hours. Superintendent of police Omapati Jamwal said several people have been rescued and the police are continuously engaged in rescue work.

Schools, colleges to remain closed in five districts on Monday

All educational institutions in Himachal Pradesh’s five districts will remain closed on Monday as heavy to extremely heavy rains continue to lash the state, district officials said. Shimla, Kullu, Solan, Bilaspur and Sirmour district magistrates on Sunday issued orders to all schools, colleges, universities, ITIs, polytechnics and Anganwadi centres to remain shut for the safety of students.

“In view of heavy rains, blockages and damage caused to roads, it has become necessary to order closure of all the educational institutions in Shimla district on August 19 for the safety of students,” Shimla deputy commissioner cum district magistrate Amit Kashyap said.

The railway traffic on Shimla-Kalka, Joginderngar-Pathnakot and Una-Nangal lines also remained disrupted.

Keylong, the administrative headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti, Chandertal and 3978 metre high Rohtang pass experienced around 3cm snowfall on Sunday.

In Mandi town the ancient Panchvaktra temple, located on the banks of the Beas River, was partially submerged in the floodwaters. Several vehicles were also washed away in the gushing waters of Beas. In Chamba, a 60 metre portion of the Chamba-Bharmour highway was washed away in the swollen Ravi river. A threat also looms over the new bus stand of the town.

Wealth creators will not be viewed with suspicion: Modi

NEW DELHI, Aug 15: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday reiterated his government’s resolve to make India a $5 trillion economy in the five years through several initiatives, including Rs 100 lakh crore investment in infrastructure, making policy environment more predictable and pushing for ‘Make in India’ with special emphasis on rural economy, and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

“In the last 70 years we became a 2 trillion-dollar economy, but in the last five years, we added 1 trillion dollars to the economy. This gives me the confidence of becoming a $5 trillion economy in the coming years,” Modi said in his Independence Day speech.

He said fundamentals of the Indian economy are “very strong”, the reason for his confidence to achieve the target. “Today, the government in India is stable, policy regime is predictable...the world is eager to explore trade with India. We are working to keep prices under check and increase development,” he said.

Modi hinted at major economic reforms in future based on global best practices that would hasten the growth. “India does not want incremental progress. A high jump is needed; our thought process has to be expanded. We have to keep in mind global best practices and build good systems,” he said.

He stressed on the need to boost exports by utilising local strengths. “Time has come to think about how we can boost exports. Each district of India has so much to offer. Let us make local products attractive,” he said. He said that the local exports strengths could be harnessed through export hubs.

Underscoring importance of tourism is developing local economy, he urged citizens to visit domestic tourist destinations. “I know people travel abroad for holidays but can we think of visiting at least 15 tourist destinations across India before 2022, when we mark 75 years of freedom,” he said.

Recognising importance of entrepreneurship he said “Wealth creation is a great national service. Let us never see wealth creators with suspicion. Only when wealth is created, wealth will be distributed.

Wealth creation is absolutely essential. Those who create wealth are India’s wealth and we respect them.”

He said the recent economic development has created positivity among the people who are aspiring for more. “If a decision to set up a railway station is taken, people now demand, when will Vande Bharat Express come to my area? People do not want only good railway stations or bus stations, they demand a good airport. “If we install an electricity tower, they ask when will we have 24-hour power?” Modi said.

Restrictions in Kashmir being eased out in phased manner: Govt

SRINAGAR, Aug 13: The Jammu and Kashmir government on Tuesday said that restrictions are being eased out in a phased manner in the Kashmir valley, a day after the valley residents marked a sombre Eid.

“The restrictions are being eased out after an assessment by relevant local authorities of different areas and localities of the Kashmir division in a phased manner,” said Rohit Kansal, government spokesman and principal secretary planning.

In comparison to the first day of Eid on Monday when authorities imposed strict curbs, the restrictions were mildly eased in many parts as the day progressed on Tuesday across Kashmir. On normal days, Eid celebrations continue for three days in Kashmir.

There was no Eid revelry on the streets, which continued to be blocked by concertina wires, and the public spaces were mostly deserted. The Srinagar air was eerily calm without any bustle or sound of fire crackers as is the norm on Eid.

Abdul Hanief, a cab driver from the frontier northern district of Kupwara, reached Srinagar with a pregnant lady who was to be admitted in Lal Ded maternity hospital.

“The restrictions were strict in Kupwara while they were eased in Sopore and Baramulla,” he said.

Kansal said that there were no reports of any untoward incidents in the past 24 hours.

“Local authorities are continuously watching the situation and taking appropriate decisions in relaxation of restrictions. And relaxation in prohibitory orders has indeed been given in most places. I told you in the morning that prohibitory orders having been relaxed in almost the entire Jammu division and many parts of Kashmir,” Kansal said in the evening.

“We have had difficult situations in past. We have seen 2008 or 2016. In 2016 (protests), we have had 37 deaths in the first week. By imposing reasonable restrictions there has been no loss of human life. We are doing everything possible to ease the restrictions,” he said.

Kashmir has been under curbs since August 5 when the Centre abrogated the special status of the state and divided it into two union territories - Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Expecting a backlash, the government had brought thousands of central security forces into the valley to impose restrictions. Road blocks and concertina wires dot the roads every few hundred metres and the movement of people is strictly restricted. Mobile, landline and internet facilities have been blocked since then.

“We are conscious and sensitive to the difficulties being faced by everybody as a result of restrictions, but I wish to emphasise the reasonable restrictions may be necessary to stop mischief mongers from carrying out any untoward incident,” Kansal said on communication blockade.

The government spokesman claimed that the medical services continue “unhindered” in Srinagar and all other districts of the valley.

“Routine OPDs, admissions and surgical procedures continue to be carried out. Medicines, both emergency and normal, and life saving drugs are available in adequate supply,” he said.

He gave figures for last week in Srinagar district and said that there have been “nearly 13,500 OPDs, 1400 new admissions, 600 medical procedures”.

“On the main national highway, in the past 24 hours alone, we have had movement of 100 heavy vehicles including trucks with supplies, oil tankers, gas tankers, LPD trucks. Similarly, there was movement of 1400-1500 light movement vehicles as well as buses. Flight operations continue to be normal,” he said at 12 pm.

The officials and security forces held full dress rehearsal for Independence Day in all districts, including Srinagar.

Many Dogri, Punjabi, Ladakhi, Gojri and Kashmiri cultural programmes were held during the rehearsal.

DGP Dilbag Singh, who also took part in the rehearsal, thanked people for peaceful Eid.

“Yesterday was good. Eid prayers were held and people participated in good numbers. We want to thank people that yesterday passed off well. At the same time the preparations for August 15 are going on and we believe it will pass off smoothly. The preparations for that are going on at all places and its rehearsal was held in Srinagar,” Singh said.

Kansal said that they are already making plans of moving on towards investment, employment and prosperity.

“For this purpose we have decided to hold the first-ever global invest summit in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh region from October 12 to 14,” he said.

Rahul Gandhi declines Governor offer of free plane; Says allow Opposition freedom to visit J&K

NEW DELHI, Aug 13: Taking on the invitation of J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said he along with a delegation of opposition leaders would accept the invitation to visit J&K and Ladakh. However, he said, they did not need an hospitality of an aircraft, but freedom to move in the State.

Writing on social media, Rahul Gandhi said: “Dear Governor Malik, A delegation of opposition leaders & I will take you up on your gracious invitation to visit J&K and Ladakh.” Gandhi wrote on social media.

Gandhi added that the opposition wouldn’t need an aircraft but permission to travel freely in the state that has been under a security lockdown even before the twin legislations to strip the state of its special status under Article 370 and to carve it into two union territories were introduced in Parliament on August 5.

“We won’t need an aircraft but please ensure us the freedom to travel & meet the people, mainstream leaders and our soldiers stationed over there,” Gandhi tweeted.

Gandhi’s sarcastic remark for freedom to travel comes against the backdrop of the Jammu and Kashmir government turning back several opposition leaders from the Srinagar airport, including the Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad and prominent Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja.

Jammu and Kashmir Governor had accused Gandhi of speaking irresponsibly about the situation in the Kashmir valley.

“You are a responsible person and you should not speak like this,” Governor Malik said on Monday, his comment aimed at Congress’ Rahul Gandhi who had spoken about reports of violence in the Kashmir valley. Rubbing it in, Malik had gone a step ahead and offered to send a plane to get Rahul Gandhi to the valley.

“I have invited Rahul Gandhi to come here. I will send you a plane, to observe (the situation) and then speak up,” Malik had announced on Monday.

Rahul Gandhi had spent most of the last few days in Kerala where his constituency, Wayanad, is one of the worst-affected areas due to the monsoon rains. Back from Kerala, he delivered his comeback.

Leaders of the two mainstream regional parties, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party are among the scores of political leaders detained to forestall protests and rallies.

Responding several hours later, Governor Malik asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to examine if they can accept Rahul Gandhi’s request received via Twitter to visit the state. But Malik’s office also has made it clear that it believed the former Congress president had imposed too many conditions.

Gandhi’s wish-list was a counter-attack too, considering that the government had turned back opposition leaders from national parties who had landed at Srinagar airport over the last few days. It was also an opportunity to highlight a demand first made by the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, on Saturday when it demanded that a delegation of opposition parties be permitted to visit Jammu and Kashmir.

Raj Bhavan accused Gandhi of “politicizing the matter by seeking to bring a delegation of opposition Leaders to create further unrest and problems for the common people.

“He has put forth many conditions for visiting J&K, including meeting mainstream leaders under detention,” the Governor’s office said in a statement. Scores of separatists and leaders of mainstream political parties have been under detention including two former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

“As Hon’ble Governor had never invited him with so many pre-conditions, he has referred the case to the local Police and administration to examine the request further,” Raj Bhavan’s statement said.

Discontent has simmered in Kashmir since the early hours of August 5, when phone and Internet lines were suspended and restrictions on movement and assembly of people clamped.

Since the clampdown, rumours and standalone accounts of violence and retaliation by security forces have swirled in the Valley but almost all of them have been denied by the government.

In a statement, the Union home ministry on Monday admitted to “isolated stone pelting incidents” but added that they were “insignificant”.

“In Srinagar, keeping in view the possibility of terrorists, militants and mischievous elements trying to disturb public order and peace, reasonable restrictions were imposed on large gatherings in sensitive areas,” the ministry added.

Home Minister Amit Shah had defended the restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir during the debate on the passage of the two laws, underlining that these had been placed as a preventive measure so that there was no loss of lives as against the past when such measures were only taken after people died.

Delhi says pay nothing for Rs 800 power bill

NEW DELHI, Aug 13: The Delhi government will extend its 100% power subsidy scheme to those domestic consumers who manage to keep their power bills to at most Rs 800, senior government officials working on the plan said on Monday.

The government will also offer a flat Rs 800 discount to those who consume a maximum of 400 units of power, the officials added.

Soon after the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC), a quasi-judicial independent body, announced new tariffs effective from August 1, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had offered a power subsidy scheme for domestic consumers who consume a maximum of 200 units of power every month, with the additional caveat of a maximum 5kW sanctioned load. Kejriwal further said that households consuming anything between 201 and 400 units per month will have to pay their electricity bill but approximately 50% of the full bill amount will be subsidised by the government.

The new plan prepared by the power department, however, expands this.

Officials, while providing details of the revised scheme, said monthly electricity bills will be effectively nil for even those households which consume up to 208 units as their bill would come to about Rs 800 - the maximum a consumer can avail of the subsidy.

The newly introduced cap has rather turned in favour of mostly those consumers who have a consumption pattern ranging from 201-208 units a month with a sanctioned load between 1-2 kW. Electricity for such consumers too will be free of cost.

“It is a misconception that only those consuming up to 200 units will get a full waiver on their electricity bills. Under the new scheme, even those households who have a consumption of say, 204 units with a low sanctioned load, will have to pay nothing. For the rest who consume up to 400 units, those households will get a subsidy of flat Rs 800 on their bills,” said a senior official in the power department on condition of anonymity.

Besides, the scheme will also benefit consumers whose properties are not occupied. Also, the subsidy has no cap on the sanctioned load of a household, as against the cap of 5kW that was announced earlier.

“There are many farmhouses and bungalows that have relatively higher sanctioned load but have no energy consumption as the owners stay out. Or for that matter, any family that has gone for a holiday and has not consumed any electricity for a month, will have to pay either nothing or a negligible amount. This is because the government, for the first time, will be paying for the fixed charges and surcharges in electricity bills up to certain units,” another official said.

Calculations done by the power department show if a household has a sanctioned load of 5kW or 7kW will also have to pay nothing if there is no energy consumption. Those consuming say 208 units with 1 kW will pay Rs 0 even as their actual bill would amount to Rs 798.71.

In 2018-19, there were around 2.6 million consumers using up to 200 units electricity, while those consuming more than 200 and up to 400 units numbered around 1.4 lakh. Delhi has about 4.9 million domestic electricity consumers as of now.

The total expenditure to be incurred for the revised subsidy is still unknown even as officials are estimating that the cost may increase by at least Rs 300 crore. This is the second time that the Delhi government has tweaked it power subsidy scheme which was first launched as a flat 50% subsidy for those consuming up to 400 units in the year 2015.

Last year, in March, the government had changed the scheme after the DERC had increased fixed charges across all slabs. As per the previous subsidy scheme, which was applicable between March, 2018 and July 31 this year, those who consumed between 0-200 units were charged Rs 1 per unit instead of Rs 3, and those using 201-400 units were paying Rs 2.5 instead of 4.5.

In 2015-16, the first year of the scheme, the government had allocated Rs 1,690 crore for the water and power subsidy scheme collectively. Out of this, the power subsidy bill was around Rs 1,200 crore.

The following year saw the power subsidy outlay rise to Rs 1,577 crore; which further rose to Rs 1,676 crore in 2017-18. In 2018-19, Rs 1,699 crore was set aside for the scheme and in the budget for 2019-20, an allocation of Rs 1,720 was made which was slated to be revised to Rs 1,850 crore until the new scheme was announced.

Modi recalls ‘first lesson’ Sushma Swaraj taught him

NEW DELHI, Aug 13: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday that Sushma Swaraj as external affairs minister transformed her ministry from being bound to protocol to one oriented to “people’s call” and recalled she had urged him to deliver his first UN speech from a prepared text and not speak impromptu.

Joined by leaders from all major parties, Modi paid rich tributes to the BJP stalwart, who died last week, at a condolence meeting here.

The prime minister said he learnt a lot from her and then spoke about his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in 2014, months after he had assumed the office for the first time.

After she received him, he suggested that they sit together as he had to deliver his speech the next day, Modi said.

Swaraj enquired where his speech was and he said he never writes his speeches as he finds it difficult.

“She said, ‘aisa nahi hota hai bhai’ (It does work like this brother). ‘You have to speak about India to the world. You cannot speak as you wish’. I was prime minister and she was my colleague minister taking care of the external affairs ministry...,” Modi said.

The prime minister said he had undertaken a long travel and was also on fast due to ‘navratra’ but she insisted he share his thoughts.

The ministry prepared a draft speech for him, he said.

“It was her request...One may be a fine orator but there are some forums which have their own traditions. This was the first lesson Sushma ji had taught me,” he said, adding that she had the courage to speak what she believed to be right.

Referring to Swaraj’s prompt response to Indians facing problems abroad or related to the ministry, he said she transformed the ministry.

“She changed this whole thrust in the ministry about protocol into people’s call... India is with all Indians living abroad in their pain irrespective of the colour of their passports,” he said.

The number of ‘Passport Seva Kendra’ rose to 505 under her from around only 77, he said.

Remembering her, Modi said the BJP leader also had a “Haryanvi touch” as she put across her points forcefully if she believed she was right. Noting that she died hours after expressing her joy as Parliament passed the government’s resolution to abrogate provisions of Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the prime minister said.

Swaraj had tweeted on August 6 that she had been waiting to see this day in her life. Hours later, she suffered a massive heart stroke and passed away. BJP leaders, including Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and party’s working president J P Nadda, besides Anand Sharma of the Congress, Rajiv Ranjan of JD(U) Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool Congress, Pinaki Misra of the BJD, LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan, Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant and opposition leader Sharad Yadav were among others who spoke at the condolence meeting. Representatives of AIADMK, DMK and TRS also spoke.

Must partly delink CBI from govt’s control: CJI

NEW DELHI, Aug 13: Why is it that whenever there are no political overtones to a case, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) does a good job, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi asked on Tuesday.

Delivering the 18th DP Kohli memorial lecture at Vigyan Bhawan, Gogoi said given the superintendence and control of the agency continues to, in large measure, lie with the executive by virtue of Section 4 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, the possibility of it being used as a political instrument remains ever present.

But he had no doubt that there was more than enough strength within the organisation to deal with any such situation, he added.

“True, in a number of high-profile and politically sensitive cases, the agency has not been able to meet the standards of judicial scrutiny. Equally true it is that such lapses may not have happened infrequently. Such instances reflect systemic issues and indicate a deep mismatch between institutional aspirations, organisational design, working culture, and governing politics,” he said.

The CJI said efforts must be made to delink crucial aspects of the CBI from the overall administrative control of the government. The agency should be given statutory status through legislation equivalent to that provided to the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG), he said.

“The legal mandate of CBI must be strengthened by having a comprehensive legislation addressing deficiencies relating to organisational structure, charter of functions, limits of power, superintendence, and oversight. Further, to address an increasing incidence of interstate crimes, an argument could be made for including ‘public order’ in the concurrent list, for the limited purposes of investigating such crimes,” Gogoi said.

The CJI said an underlying weakness of public institutions was the lack of an adequately qualified and a competent workforce. The gap was both qualitative and quantitative, and the CBI was no exception, Gogoi added.

“Such gaps exist not merely on the operational end but also on the command side with 15% posts in executive ranks, 28.37% in law officers and 56.17% in technical officer lying vacant. This is a matter of concern as it results in overburdening of work, which not only reduces the effectiveness and efficiency of the agency personnel but also induces psychological distress,” he said.

Priyanka Keeps Her 'Promise', Reaches Umbha to Meet Families of Sonbhadra Massacre Victims

LUCKNOW, Aug 13: Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi reached Umbha village of Sonbhadra to meet the families of the victims, who lost their lives in the recent firing incident over a land dispute, roughly a month after she was stopped by authorities from doing so in a turn of events that sparked off a huge political row.

Discarding her visit as ‘mere drama’, BJP spokesperson Chandramohan said, “This is a perfect example of petty politics and drama. The root cause of the entire issue was laid by Congress government in 1955.”

"I had promised the members of affected families of Umbha village, who had come to meet me at Chunar Fort, that I will visit them," she said.

Later, the UP Congress tweeted photographs of her reaching the village, where armed men led by a former village pradhan had gunned down 10 Gond tribals when they resited an attempt to take control of the disputed land on July 17.

In a massacre following a dispute over a 90-bigha piece of land, at least 10 Gond tribals were killed and over 26 injured by the village head Yagya Dutt and hundreds of his accomplices in Umbha village on July 17.

When Priyanka had attempted to visit the victims’ families after the incident, she was stopped at Mirzapur by the district administration and was detained at Chunar Guest House on July 19, as Section 144 of CrPC was in force then.

Refusing to leave without meeting the victim families, she had spent the night at the guest house and finally met some of the victim families who were brought to the guest house.

While leaving for Delhi, Priyanka had promised the people of Umbha village that she will return soon. "I want to tell them that I have fulfilled my objective. I met the family members. I am leaving today, but I shall return,” she had told her party workers at the Chunar guesthouse. Following her visit, the Congress had sent Rs 10 lakh financial assistance to the 10 victim families.

Priyanka has been focussing on Uttar Pradesh lately and has been critical of the Yogi Adityanath government on several issues pertaining to the law and order situation in the state.

Prez clears bills; J&K, Ladakh UTs to Come into Existence on Oct 31

NEW DELHI, Aug 9: President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday gave assent to legislation for bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, and two Union Territories -- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh -- will come into existence on October 31.

The Parliament had earlier this week given its nod to the legislation for bifurcating the state, a bold and far-reaching decision that seeks to redraw the map and future of a region at the centre of a protracted militancy movement.

The President has given assent to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, a home ministry official said.

"In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (a) of section 2 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 (34 of 2019), the Central Government hereby appoints the 31st day of October 2019, as the appointed day for the purposes of the said Act," a home ministry notification said.

Three days after the far-reaching decision to abrogate the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and bifurcate the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a nearly 40-minute televised address to the nation on Thursday, sought to assuage concerns of the people saying Jammu and Kashmir will not remain Union Territory for long.

"As Jammu and Kashmir will see more and more development, I do not think it will remain Union Territory for long. Ladakh will remain a Union Territory," Modi said. According to the legislation, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will have a legislature like Puducherry and Ladakh will be a UT like Chandigarh, without legislature.

In both the Union Territories, key subjects such as law and order will be with the Centre.

The UT of Jammu and Kashmir will have a Lieutenant Governor and the maximum strength of its assembly will be of 107 which will be enhanced to 114 after a delimitation exercise. Twenty-four seats of the Assembly will continue to remain vacant as they fall under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

The current effective strength of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly is 87, including four seats falling in Ladakh region, which will now be a separate UT without a legislature. The UT of Ladakh will have Kargil and Leh districts. The Act said Jammu and Kashmir UT will have reservation in the assembly seats.

The Lieutenant Governor of the successor UT of J-K may nominate two members to the Legislative Assembly to give representation to women if in his opinion, women are "not adequately" represented in the Legislative Assembly.

It also said that the Lok Sabha will have five seats from the UT of J-K, while from Ladakh the Lower House of Parliament will have one seat.

Section-144 removed from Jammu

JAMMU, Aug 9: Prohibitory orders banning congregation of more than 4 people under Section-144 has been removed from Jammu paving the way for reopening of schools and colleges in the region from tomorrow as per the order released by the Deputy Magistrate of Jammu district on Friday.

Relaxation for Jammu follows an assessment that situation in the region was normal.

Additional Director General of Police, Law and Order, Muneer Khan, while talking to reporters in Kathua described the situation in Kashmir to be “under control,”

“In Jammu, situation is normal. In Kashmir, situation is under control. All steps necessary to maintain law and order will be taken,” Khan said.

Earlier in the day, restrictions were lifted in the valley allowing people to offer Friday prayers in their local mosques.

People, who have mostly been indoors because of heavy security deployment in the wake of removal of special status for Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation, were allowed to go to mosques in their localities.

A report quoted an official to suggest there were no untoward incident and the situation, as of late afternoon was fine in the Srinagar city and south Kashmir. The official, the report added, had said that reports from all areas were yet to arrive.

The report said it had spoken to officials who reported minor incidents of stone-pelting in Sopore town of north Kashmir, 50 km from Srinagar that was contained immediately and the crowd dispersed.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had directed authorities to ensure that no Kashmiris is harassed and the Prime Minister in an address to nation on Thursday had assured to slowly return Jammu and Kashmir to normalcy.

Doval, who has been camping in Kashmir since Tuesday, spoke to locals and security personnel during a quick tour of the sensitive downtown area here on Friday, said an official.

It further reported that the NSA, accompanied by his aides and senior police officers, visited the Eidgah locality and stopped at various places to interact with locals. He later spoke to police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and thanked them for their wonderful work in maintaining law and order.

Security forces have been put on high alert across the Kashmir Valley preempting possible protests against the scraping of special status to Jammu and Kashmir and dividing it into two union territories.

The clampdown in Kashmir was imposed on Monday, hours before the government gave its nod to the proposal.

During easing of restrictions in some parts of the city, especially in the civil line areas on Thursday, the movement of the people remained thin, while a few shops mostly selling vegetables and medicines opened.

Facts About Jammu & Kashmir

State of J&K Under India ( Area wise 101380 sq Km) Excluding POK.

Kashmir : 15%
Jammu : 26%
Ladakh : 59%

85,000 sq Km comprising 85% area are not Muslim Majority.

Population - 1.25 Crores

Kashmir : 69 Lakhs. (Only 55 Lakhs speak Kashmiri. Rest 13 lakhs speak Non kashmiri languages.)

Jammu : 53 Lakhs.
(Dogri, Punjabi, Hindi)

Ladakh : 03 Lakhs. (Ladakhi language)

This does not include 7.5 lakh people settled who do not have citizenship.

There are 22 districts in J&K. Out of which only 5 Districts where separatists have the say ;
Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramullah, Kulgam and Pulwama.

Other 17 districts are Pro India.
So separatist's writ runs in just 15% of the population which are Sunni Muslim dominated.

Interestingly these 5 districts are far away from Pakistan Border/LOC.

There are more than fourteen major Religious/ ethinic groups comprising 85% of the population of J&K who are Pro India.

These include:

Shias ;

Dogras: (Rajputs, Brahmins & Mahajans);

Kashmiri Pandits;

Sikhs;

Buddhists ( Ladakhis );

Gujjars;

Bakarwals;

Paharis;

Baltis;

Christians & many more.

Majority of the people in J&K do not speak Kashmiri as their mother tongue. It's Dogri, Gujjari, Punjabi, Ladhaki , Pahari etc.

Only 33 % people in Kashmir speak Kashmiri & this group controls narrative from Hurriyat to militants and from NC and PDP.

This 33% controls business, bureaucracy & agriculture. This sunni 33% is opposed to India although population of all other muslims in JK is 69 %.

Shias (12%), Gujjars Muslims (14%), Pahadi Muslims ( 8%), Buddhists , Pandits, Sufis, Christians and Jammu Hindus/ Dogras ( aprox 45%) are totally opposed to separatism and Pakistan.

Stone pelting , Hoisting of Pakistani flags & Anti India demonstrations are held in just 5 Districts in Kashmir valley.

Other 17 districts have never participated in such activities.

Poonch and Kargil have above 90% Muslim population. There has never been an Anti India or separatist protest in these districts.

It is only the Anti National Media and other Anti India forces who with their own nefarious designs have created an impression that "WHOLE J&K" is against India.

Whereas the truth is that just 15% of the Population comprising Sunni Muslims inhabiting 5 Districts of Kashmir province are fanning the separatist activities.

No Action On Unnao Survivor's Complaint "Under Influence" Of MLA: CBI

NEW DELHI, Aug 9: NEW DELHI: The CBI has told a Delhi court that Uttar Pradesh Police was "lackadaisical" in handling the 2017 case of a minor girl who was raped in Unnao allegedly by MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar.

In its charges filed on July 11, 2018, the probe agency said they were investigating the role of authorities of the district administration and medical hospitals in Unnao district.

"During investigation, action taken by local police on several complaints on the incidents were also collected which showed lackadaisical approach of local thana police and supervisory police officers," the charge sheet said.

The CBI added that further investigation was going on in this matter.

Sengar's accomplice Shashi Singh has also been named as an accused in the charge sheet for allegedly luring the minor into going to the legislator's residence.

The accused have been charged for the offences under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

According to the charges, on June 4, 2017, Shashi Singh had taken the girl to Sengar's residence on the pretext of getting her a job and the MLA allegedly raped her.

It said Sengar had threatened the survivor to not disclose the incident to anyone.

The charges further said though the girl tried to report the incident, no action was taken "under the influence" of Sengar.

It stated that the father of the survivor was "brutally beaten up badly by Sengar's brother Atul Singh Sengar and his henchmen" on April 3, 2018 "in public view for creating terror".

He was arrested and falsely implicated in a case of illegal firearms possession, the CBI has claimed in another charge sheet filed in the case. He died in judicial custody on April 9, 2018.

The Dirst Information Report or FIR was lodged in the case at Makhi police station, against Sengar and Singh on April 12, 2018, after the girl had tried to set herself on fire in front of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's residence.

Armed with the Supreme Court's directive, District Judge Dharmesh Sharma is hearing the Unnao cases on day-to-day basis.

The top court transferred four criminal cases from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi - the 2017 rape case; a fake matter under the Arms Act against the father of the rape survivor; his death in police custody, and the gang rape of the woman.

Kuldeep Singh Sengar was expelled from the BJP last month.

Modi reaches out to J-K on special status

NEW DELHI, Aug 8: The historic decision on Jammu and Kashmir was driven by the government’s commitment to develop the region and would not only improve its present but also secure its future, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a special address to the nation after parliament effectively scrapped Article 370 and split the state into two union territories.

The government has reasoned that the contentious articles of the Constitution were behind most of the ills of the state — from corruption and lack of development to political violence and terrorism. Modi echoed this argument that was also made in parliament.

“A new era has begun for Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh,” the Prime Minister said, underscoring that Article 370 and Article 35A had not given J&K anything other than separatism, terrorism, dynastic policies and systematic corruption.

Modi’s radio address is seen as part of a comprehensive outreach programme to ally apprehensions of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and establish to them that twin decisions would create more opportunities for them.

Article 370 has been an emotive issue in J&K, linked closely to perceptions about Kashmir’s unique identity.

But it was hurting the state and no one was even talking about it, he said.

“Surprisingly, no one could tell what was the benefit of Article 370 to the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Modi’s address attempted to contrast this point with the many benefits that would reach Jammu and Kashmir, starting from investments by the private sector, expansion of scholarships for students and more job opportunities for the youth in security forces.

He also promised that Jammu and Kashmir would remain a union territory only for a very short duration and will get back its statehood status.

“This (UT status) is a well-thought out decision and it is important to understand why,” Modi said.

The prime minister attributed the decision to centrally administer Jammu and Kashmir from Delhi to the positive impact that had been felt in Jammu and Kashmir over the last year when the state was brought under central rule.

Ever since Governor’s rule was imposed, the state administration has been in direct touch with the Centre. “Because of this, good governance and development has reached people. Schemes that had only remained on paper were being implemented on the ground... There was a new work culture in the administration,” he said.

The prime minister acknowledged that not everyone was on board with its decisions. “I respect their opposition… It is essential in a democracy,” he said, seemingly optimistic that the critics too would see reason.

Modi also alluded to the restrictions that were in place in part of Jammu and Kashmir, arguing that the government had to take certain precautionary steps.

The government clamped a communications blackout before the government moved on Monday to nullify Article 370, which accorded special status to the border state, and divide the state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir with a legislative assembly, and Ladakh without one. The government has insisted that the ground situation remains peaceful even as it has refused to clarify when the restrictions will be lifted.

The restrictions have also triggered concerns if the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley would be able to celebrate Eid over the next few days. He wished them and promised that things will slowly return to normal.

“The government is keeping in mind that people do not face any trouble…. It is also facilitating Kashmiris outside, who want to return to the valley for the festival, to come back,” he said, vowing to protect J&K which he described as the country’s crown.

Former President Pranab Mukherjee receives Bharat Ratna

NEW DELHI, Aug 8: Ex-President and veteran Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee was presented the Bharat Ratna, by President Ramnath Kovind on Thursday evening. Mukherjee was named for India’s highest civilian honour in January along with renowned musician Bhupen Hazarika and Bharatiya Jan Sangh founder Nanaji Deshmukh.

Mukherjee, 83, served the country as its 13th President for five years from July 25, 2012 and emerged in the role as a respected and admired leader whose words were heard with attention. At Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mukherjee worked with two prime ministers - Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi and showed a natural ease in his relationship with Modi who belonged to the party he had strongly opposed in his political career.

He returned to the presidential palace on Thursday evening to receive the award from President Ramnath Kovind who had succeeded him.

Mukherjee, who was seated with the other recipients, walked briskly to the centre of the hall where the investiture ceremony was being held, as his daughter, Sharmistha Mukherjee watched. The hall roared with applause.

After receiving the award, Mukherjee greeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on his way back.

The last time Bharat Ratnas were conferred was in 2015, when educationalist-politician Madan Mohan Malviya and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were the recipients. As the country’s President, Pranab Mukherjee had conferred the awards.

A total of 48 Bharat Ratnas have been conferred by India since the honour was instituted in 1954 with father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi, President S Radhakrishnan and scientist CV Raman the first recipients.

The government’s choice had come as a surprise to many within the opposition party and beyond. Modi and others from the ruling coalition often cite this decision to make the point that the Congress doesn’t credit its performers unless it was from the Gandhi family. He made the same point during a discussion on a motion of thanks to the President for his address to parliament’s joint sitting, underlining that it was his government that had conferred Pranab Mukherjee with the Bharat Ratna.

Grave Implications For National Security: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Aug 6: A day after the government announced the end of special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the constitution and the state's bifurcation into two union territories, Rahul Gandhi broke his silence. The move would have "grave implications" for national security, the Congress leader tweeted.

"National integration isn't furthered by unilaterally tearing apart J&K, imprisoning elected representatives and violating our Constitution. This nation is made by its people, not plots of land. This abuse of executive power has grave implications for our national security," Rahul Gandhi posted.

In another tweet, he also called for the release of former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, who were arrested on Monday and have been shifted to undisclosed locations.

He said in a tweet: Kashmir’s mainstream political leaders have been jailed at secret locations. This is unconstitutional & undemocratic. It’s also short sighted and foolish because it will allow terrorists to fill the leadership vaccum created by GOI. The imprisoned leaders must be released.

The response on Twitter came after a meeting of Congress lawmakers with Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi to crystalize the party's stand amid differing voices within.

Rahul Gandhi was silent as his party leaders fumbled on Monday for a response to Home Minister Amit Shah's announcement in the Rajya Sabha on the big Kashmir changes.

While Congress leaders in the Rajya Sabha aggressively opposed the changes and called them "murder of democracy", outside parliament, leaders like Janardhan Dwivedi and Deepender Hooda supported them.

Asked whether he should call an emergency meet, Rahul Gandhi had told NDTV he "cannot call a meeting as he is no more Congress president".

The 49-year-old quit as Congress chief in May, taking responsibility for the party's debacle in the national election.

This morning, his mother Sonia Gandhi, asked whether the party should oppose the measure or back it - given the support of many parties even in the opposition ranks. "We will oppose it and our opposition is based on the manner in which the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the state assembly, have not been consulted," she reportedly told Congress lawmakers.

Was Detained At Home, Home Minister Lying: Farooq Abdullah

SRINAGAR, Aug 6: National Conference patriarch Farooq Abdullah today contradicted Union Home Minister Amit Shah's comment in parliament that he has "neither been detained nor arrested". "I was detained in my house... I feel sad that Home Minister can lie like this," the 81-year-old told NDTV from Srinagar.

Minutes before, during the debate on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation bill in the Lok Sabha, Amit Shah had said Farooq Abdullah has neither been detained nor arrested. When Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule pointed out the veteran leader's absence, Amit Shah, who introduced the bill in the lower house, said: "He has neither been detained nor arrested. He is at home by his own will."

"Why would I stay inside my house on my own will when my state is being burnt, when my people are being executed in jails? This is not the India I believe in," said Farooq Abdullah, emotionally describing his emerging to speak to reporters as a "breaking the door". Then he explained how he made it outside. "I told them (the securitymen) that the home minister says I'm not detained. Who are you to detain me?"

"I don't know how many of my securitymen will be dismissed (because of this)," he added.

The exchange in parliament came amid opposition concerns about the mainstream leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, who have been kept in confinement since Sunday evening - hours before the government's move to end special status for the state and bifurcate it into two Union Territories.

Former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, who were initially placed under house arrest, were formally arrested yesterday. There has been no word from the government on when they would be released.

Mr Abdullah broke down while talking of the government's move. "How do you think one would feel when your body is being carved, the body that stood together in all odds, fought every evil unitedly... They divided regions, will they divide hearts too? Will they divide Hindus and Muslims? I thought my India was for all, everyone who believes in secular, unity," he said.

"It is not a small thing that we were given this state. It was not ordinary. It was given by leaders like Nehru. We will sit and take it to logical end. We won't give in," Mr Abdullah said.

Amid a huge security build-up the government has also effected a clampdown on internet and phone services in parts of Jammu and Kashmir. All public meetings and rallies have also been banned.

"What worries me is what must be the ordinary man going through. Locked up, he may not even have medicine, food in his house," Farooq Abdullah said. "I want to leave a message for people of my state and people of India - We have been with you through thick and thin, I hope you will be with us through thick and thin and pray for return of democracy, secularism in our country," he added.

Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti detained after Centre scraps Article 370

NEW DELHI, Aug 5: Former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were among four political leaders arrested on Monday, officials said.

J&K People’s Conference leaders Sajjad Lone and Imran Ansari were also arrested.

Srinagar’s executive magistrate in a notice to People’s Democratic Party chief Membooba Mufti said she was being detained because her activities “are likely to cause breach of peace”.

“Therefore, keeping into consideration the aforementioned facts and circumstance, I as executive magistrate first class do hereby immediately order your detention for preventing law and order situation and further as a preventive measure you be shifted to Hari Niwas place till further orders,” the notice said.

The arrests came shortly after Parliament passed a resolution to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The Parliament also passed a bill to divide the state into two union territories,

Earlier Monday, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah described the Centre’s move to scrap Article 370 as ‘deceit and stealth’ and warned that it will have ‘dangerous consequences’.

Membooba Mufti had tweeted that it was the ‘darkest day’ shortly after Union home minister Amit Shah moved the resolution in Rajya Sabha to abrogate Article 370.

Ahead of the arrest, authorities stepped up security in Jammu and Kashmir restricting the movement of several senior political leaders.

Authorities also snapped mobile internet services on Sunday night.

India briefs foreign envoys on scrapping Article 370, J-K bifurcation

NEW DELHI, Aug 5: India on Monday told foreign envoys, including representatives of the P5 powers, the government’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was purely an internal matter aimed at ensuring the region’s development and security, people familiar with developments said.

The envoys of the P5 or five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the US and the UK – were briefed on developments related to Kashmir by foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, while the envoys of other countries were briefed by secretaries of the external affairs ministry looking after territorial divisions.

The briefings began late in the afternoon and continued till late evening, and the envoys and diplomats were given a rundown by senior officials on proposals introduced in Parliament to revoke Article 370 of the Constitution and for the administrative reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir, the people cited above said.

Pakistan was not among the countries invited to the briefings and its mission in New Delhi didn’t seek a briefing, the people said.

Besides the P5 states, more briefings were arranged after members of the diplomatic community expressed interest in getting the Indian government’s take on the developments, the people said.

“It was highlighted that the proposals which are currently under consideration of the Parliament of India are internal to India. These are aimed at providing good governance, promoting social justice and ensuring economic development in Jammu and Kashmir,” said a person who didn’t want to be identified.

The briefings were held against the backdrop of moves by Pakistan to seek the world community’s intervention on the Kashmir issue. Pakistan’s Foreign Office rejected the Indian government’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and said such unilateral steps cannot change the state’s status as an “internationally recognised disputed territory”.

The Foreign Office spokesman said the Pakistan government would use all options to “counter the illegal steps” and foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi noted that diplomatic efforts to counter the development would be stepped up.

However, the Indian government decided not to take the bait and respond to the Pakistan Foreign Office’s statement. An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that would have meant planning into Pakistan’s hands and internationalising what the government sees as an internal issue.

Its misadventure: Chidambaram

NEW DELHI, Aug 5: Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Monday criticised the Centre over the “house arrests” of several leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been on the edge after a massive security build-up and several other restrictions in place on the state’s people.

National Conference leader Oman Abdullah had indicated in a tweet late on Sunday that he along with several local leaders were being placed under house arrested.

“I had warned of a misadventure in J&K. It seems the government is determined to embark upon one,” Chidambaram tweeted on Monday.

“The house arrest of J&K leaders is a signal that the government will defy all democratic norms and principles to achieve its objects. I condemn the house arrests,” he posted.

“Before the day is over we will know if there will be a major crisis in J&K. Keeping my fingers crossed.”

Before this, another Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also tweeted to express solidarity and said he “was not alone”.

“Every Indian democrat will stand with the decent mainstream leaders in Kashmir as you face up to whatever the government has in store for our country. Parliament is still in session & our voices will not be stilled,” Tharoor tweeted.

“What is going on in J&K? Why would leaders be arrested overnight while having done no wrong? If Kashmiris are our citizens & their leaders our partners, surely the mainstream ones must be kept on board while we act against terrorists & separatists? If we alienate them, who’s left?” he said in another tweet.

Local political leaders have accused the government of creating disquiet in Jammu and Kashmir amid intense speculation that Article 370 and Article 35A, which grant special status to Jammu and Kashmir, could be tweaked.

Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti, along with other politicians, had attended an all-party meeting on Sunday over the security situation in the state hours before being placed under house arrest.

Governor Satya Pal Malik has dismissed reports that preparations are being made for an announcement on Article 35A and Article 370 or on the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir by creating three states of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

Article 35A reserves government employment and property ownership to permanent residents of the state. Article 370 confers special status on Kashmir.

Unnao Rape Survivor Airlifted To AIIMS

NEW DELHI, Aug 5: The Unnao rape survivor, who was admitted to a Lucknow hospital with critical injuries after the car she, her family and her lawyer were travelling in was rammed by a truck with blackened number plates, has been airlifted to AIIMS in Delhi, after the Supreme Court's order today. Uttar Pradesh police created a nearly 15-kilometre-long green corridor (a stretch of road free of traffic) to transport her from the trauma centre to the airport.

The Supreme Court had initially deferred the decision on moving the rape survivor to Friday, after the girl's family said they had not reached a consensus on the matter. Soon after, however, the family's lawyer, D Ramakrishna Reddy, appeared before a bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose and said the mother wanted her daughter to be shifted to AIIMS.

Earlier today doctors at the King George's Medical University in Lucknow said the rape survivor's condition was "improving" and that the process of taking her off the ventilator had begun.

"The Unnao rape survivor (is) conscious... improving. She is following instructions and her eyes are open. Her fever has lessened. The process of taking her off ventilator has started. Blood pressure continues to be a concern," a letter released by the hospital said.

The top court's notification to shift the survivor came after her doctors, on Saturday, described her condition as "critical but stable". The doctors also said she had contracted pneumonia.

The lawyer -- admitted to the same hospital as the rape survivor -- has been taken off the ventilator but is still in a deep coma. He will also be airlifted to AIIMS, either later today or tomorrow.

The 19-year-old woman, who has accused expelled BJP lawmaker Kuldeep Singh Sengar of raping her at his residence in 2017, was travelling with her advocate and two aunts on July 28 when their car was hit by a speeding truck in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareli district. Two of her aunts - one of whom was a witness to the rape - died in the accident, which many claim was orchestrated by the politician and his brother - Atul - to get back at the rape survivor.

None of the security personnel deputed to guard the survivor accompanied her on Sunday's trip. According to a first information report filed by the her uncle after the accident, police personnel on her security detail kept Kuldeep Sengar informed about her travel plans.

The CBI, which has been spurred into action by the Supreme Court's deadline, has conducted raids across 17 places in Uttar Pradesh. A team has also gone to Sitapur Jail, where Kuldeep Sengar has been lodged for a year, to check visitors' records.

Last week, in a series of orders that highlighted its apparent distrust of Chief Minister Adityanath's government and its ability to protect the teenage rape survivor, the court ordered all cases linked to the Unnao rape survivor be shifted out of Uttar Pradesh and to Delhi. The court also demanded CRPF protection for the girl and her family and Rs. 25 lakh compensation to the survivor.

Govt advises Amarnath yatris, tourists to leave Kashmir due to terror threat

SRINAGAR, Aug 2: The Amarnath yatra ended 14 days ahead of its scheduled close on August 15 and the counter-insurgency grid in Jammu & Kashmir was strengthened with the additional deployment of security forces following the recovery of a large cache of ammunition, a Pakistan-made anti-personnel mine, and a US-made sniper rifle along the route of the yatra, and intelligence reports that highlighted the increased possibility of suicide bombing attacks in the Kashmir valley.

The cancellation of the yatra to one of Hinduism’s holiest shrines, and an alert issued to pilgrims and tourists to return home resulted in panic and a scramble for air tickets -- the road from Srinagar to Jammu is closed on account of landslides -- even as it unsettled residents of the valley and intensified speculation of a big move in the offing, perhaps the scrapping of Article 35A which restricts some benefits (such as government jobs and property ownership) to permanent residents of the state. Last weekend, the deployment of 100 companies of security forces (around 10,000 men) set off such speculation; HT learns that at least 150 more companies have now been deployed since.

The Union home ministry on Friday issued a guarded statement, saying, “Deployment of paramilitary forces in Jammu and Kashmir is based on the security situation there and requirements of rotation, and such things are not discussed in the public domain.”

In a press conference in Srinagar, the corps commander of the strategic 15 Corps, lieutenant general Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon; J&K director general of police Dilbag Singh; special DG, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Zulfiqar Hasan; and inspector general of police, Kashmir, SP Pani presented the reasons for the scrapping of the yatra, although they sought to play down the increase in deployment.

General Dhillon said searches have underway for the past three to four days after specific inputs of attempts to disrupt the Amarnath yatra by “terrorists, the Pakistan army and Pakistan”. He said that joint teams of the army, police and CRPF carried out extensive searches on both the routes of the yatra and the adjoining areas on the highway as well as the foot track leading up to the holy cave.

“We have major successes in these searches, some improvised explosive devices and caches of weapons and explosives have been recovered on these routes. A Pakistan army mine has been recovered,” he said. The general also showed an M-24 American sniper rifle that was also recovered.

“The searches are still going on,” he said.

The mine, whose pictures were shown to media, General Dhillon said, has “Pakistan ordnance factory markings”.

The decision to curtail the yatra was taken after Indian intelligence picked up heightened activities of Pakistan-based terror groups including the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

“With major threat coming from Pakistan-based groups, particularly JeM, and recovery of M-24 sniper rifle and an anti-personnel mine along the Amarnath pilgrimage route, the government decided not to take any chance. With personnel freed from yatra duties, the security forces can now concentrate on counter-insurgency grid,” said a senior J&K police offer who asked not to be named.

According to inputs conveyed to the national security establishment, Ibrahim Azhar, elder brother of JeM chief Masood Azhar, was sighted in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) last month. He is believed to have been headed to Kashmir.
Intelligence reports indicate that Ibrahim Azhar, the main orchestrator of the Indian Airlines IC-814 flight hijacking in 1999, wanted to infiltrate into the Valley and lead attacks against the Indian establishment as revenge for the death of his son Usman Haider at the hands of security forces.

Haider infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir in October 2018 and was gunned down by the Indian security forces in Tral, Awantipora, Pulwama on October 30, 2018. Another relative Talha Rasheed, son of Abdul Rasheed, brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, was killed on November 6, 2017, at Kandi Aglar, Pulwama, by security forces.

Intelligence intercepts indicated that Ibrahim Azhar fired up the Jaish cadre by saying that he wanted to die fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir, the same way his son died.

They also indicated that Azhar may have moved to forward Pakistan army post across the Line of Control (LoC) as a precursor to entering the state.

The intelligence reports also spoke of JeM targeting the Indian security forces using IEDs in the Sopore area of north Kashmir; trained JeM cadre being readied in Peshawar to infiltrate into Kashmir and engage the Indian security forces; and other terror groups, including the Hizbul Mujahideen.

Foiled Pak Army’s bid to attack Amarnath Yatra: Indian Army

SRINAGAR, Aug 2: Indian security forces operating in Jammu and Kashmir have foiled Pakistan army’s attempts to attack the Amarnath Yatra by recovering a a mine bearing mark of a Pakistan ordnance factory from one of the two routes leading to the famous Hindu shrine located in the J&K hills.

The direct “proof” of Pakistan army’s role was shown to the media in a joint press conference by the security forces command in Srinagar on Thursday.

General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lieutenant General Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon showed pictures of the mine bearing Pakistan’s ordnance factory’s stamp and said, it laid to rest any doubts about Islamabad’s direct role in attempts to destabilise J&K.

Security forces had also recovered a cache of arms including an American sniper rifle M-24 and IEDs apart from the mine during a three-day intensive search operation conducted to sanitize the Amarnath yatra routes. Security forces had acted on specific intelligence of Pakistani army looking to target the yatra.

Further updating on the action being taken by the security forces against the continued threat of infiltration, Lieutenant General Dhillon said, “Infiltration attempts along LoC are regularly taking place and are being thwarted,” the situation was “under control” and largely “peaceful”, he added.

“On 30th July, Pakistan army indulged in unprovoked firing and it was responded to in befitting manner, they became quiet thereafter,” he said.

15 Corps commander Dhillon said that the security forces had considerable success against the militant groups operating in J&K recently and most of the top leadership of Jaish-e-Mohammaed, Lashkar-e-Taiba , Hizbul Mujahideen had been eliminated in the operations in last three months.

The 15 Corps commander said that IED threats had increased in the last year with several attempts made to blow up security forces vehicles or installations. “There was a failed IED attempt in Banihal in June and on August 2, one of the army vehicles was targeted.” Said Lieutenant General Dhillon adding that one IED expert Munna Lahori was killed by security forces last week.

Ayodhya mediation fails, SC to hear case on day-to-day basis from Aug 6

NEW DELHI, Aug 2: The Supreme Court on Friday decided to hear the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute on day-to-day basis from August 6 as three-member mediation panel has been unable to get the various parties involved in it to come to an agreement.

A five-judge constitution bench, comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, and justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, arrived at this decision after going through the panel’s report submitted on Thursday.

The report by the mediation panel, comprising former Supreme Court judge FMI Kalifulla, spiritual guru and founder of Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, a renowned mediator, came after almost four-and-a-half month-long negotiations between Hindu and Muslim litigants to explore the possibility of an out-of-court settlement to the decades-long Ayodhya land dispute.

While most Muslim parties to the case welcomed the mediation effort, the Uttar Pradesh government and Hindu parties opposed the initiative.

The Supreme Court had earlier, in response to a plea from one of the original petitioners in the case that the mediation wasn’t going anywhere, ordered the panel to “inform the Court the outcome of the mediation proceedings .”

It had requested Justice Kalifulla to apprise it by July 18 about the progress of mediation till date and its present stage. The court had made it clear that if the mediation failed, a day-to-day hearing would begin.

The panel was initially given eight weeks to explore the possibility of a settlement, but on May 10, after the panel submitted an interim report to the court, the SC granted it an extension of three months, till August 15.

Fourteen appeals have been filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya be partitioned equally among the three parties -- the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.

Without salary for 7 months, clerk seeks leave to work as labourer

BHABUA (Bihar), Aug 2: A health department clerk posted in a small Bihar town of Bhabua has submitted a unique petition to his department after not being paid for the last seven months.

Clerk Abhay Kumar Tiwary has requested the government civil surgeon of Bihar’s Kaimur district, almost 210 kms from capital Patna, for leave to work as a labourer in order to pay his children’s school fees.

The clerk’s letter, a copy of which is in the possession of HT, exposes the dismal state of affairs in Bihar’s health department that not only has huge vacancies but also fails to pay the existing employees on time.

Abhay, who is posted at the Bhabua district hospital blood bank, says he has not been paid salary since January this year despite availability of funds for the purpose.

The department, he added, had also denied him his four days of salary due for the years 2015 and 2016.

Tiwary’s letter alleges that his wife, son and daughter are at the brink of starvation since the grocery, vegetable and milk vendors had stopped lending essentials to his family due to non-payment of dues.

He adds that his 12-year old son, who studies in class 7 and nine-year old daughter Kaushiki, who is a class 5 student, are badly affected as the school has issued several memos warning to stop them from attending classes over dues.

Tiwary said he was suffering from “worst-ever” physical and mental agony and was left with no choice.

“If the department did not pay my due salary and also not sanction my leave for working as daily waged labourer, I would be left with no option other than to take some extreme step,” he said.

Civil Surgeon Dr Arun Kumar Tiwary said that the clerk’s salary will be paid as soon as funds were released for the same.

28,000 more troops being sent to Kashmir

SRINAGAR, Aug 1: Over 280 companies of security forces are in the process of being deployed in the Kashmir valley, officials aware of the development said on Thursday.

The security forces, mostly CRPF personnel, are being deployed in vulnerable spots in the city and other parts of the valley, they said.

However, no reason was given for the sudden deployment of over 280 companies (28,000 troops) late in the evening, the officials cited above said.

All major entry and exit points of the city have been taken over by the Central Armed Paramilitary Forces (CAPFs) with token presence of local police, they said.

Local residents have started panic-buying essentials as they are linking the deployment of forces to apprehension of deterioration in the law and order situation.

The Centre had earlier ordered deployment of about 10,000 central forces personnel to Kashmir in order to strengthen counter-insurgency operations and law and order duties.

Last week, there was also a note by a railway security officer on stockpiling rations.

 

Supreme Court orders Rs 25 lakh compensation, CRPF security for Unnao rape survivor

NEW DELHI, Aug 1: The Supreme Court has ordered transfer of all five cases linked to the Unnao rape survivor, including the Rae Bareli accident case, to a CBI court in Delhi. The judge who will hear the cases will be named later by the SC.

The court also ordered that the probe in the accident case be finished within seven days. However, it allowed the investigating officer to extend the probe by a maximum seven days in exceptional circumstances that too with the permission of the Supreme Court. A day-to-day trial to be completed within 45 days was also ordered.

The counsel of the survivor’s family has been asked to tell the court if the family wanted to shift the survivor from the Lucknow hospital to any other hospital in the country for better and advance treatment.

Uttar Pradesh government was ordered to pay the survivor, by tomorrow, an interim compensation of Rs 25 lakh.

Supreme Court also handed over CRPF the task of providing security to the survivor; her lawyer and her family members; including her mother, four siblings, uncle Mahesh Singh and his immediate kin. Court has asked to be informed by tomorrow if its security order was being complied with. Tomorrow, the SC will also hear a request, to move out the uncle of the survivor from Rae Barelli jail to Tihar, over security concerns.

Supreme Court order, however, allows the accused in all the five cases to approach it for any modification or cancellation of its order since it was delivered without hearing the accused (ex-parte) due to the peculiar circumstances of the case.

Supreme Court also ordered an inquiry into the reasons behind the delay in placing the survivor’s family’s letter written to the court, before the chief justice. The probe into the conduct and processes of the SC’s registry will be done by the Secretary General of the apex court. This inquiry will be supervised by a sitting the SC judge and will have to be completed within seven days, said the SC order.

The first case being probed by the CBI is of survivor’s alleged rape by BJP’s Uttar Pradesh MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar on June 4, 2017, when she was a minor and the second one is to investigate if Sengar had a hand in the July 28 accident in Rae Bareli that fatally injured the rape survivor and her lawyer and killed two of her aunts, including the one who was a witness in the original rape case.

The Unnao rape survivor and her lawyer, who are currently being treated at King George’s Medical University, are stable, the hospital said on Thursday.

‘Don’t take my name’: Priyanka Gandhi’s sharp message on Cong Prez job

NEW DELHI, Aug 1: Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Thursday vetoed a suggestion at a party meet that she assume the leadership role in the party after her brother Rahul, squarely telling her party that she did not want to be dragged into this. Priyanka Gandhi’s move is aimed at firmly spiking an idea that has been supported by several senior Congress leaders over the last few weeks.

A section of the Congress, including Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and Thiruvananthapuram lawmaker Shashi Tharoor, has backed Priyanka Gandhi for the post of party president.

The suggestion came up again this morning at a meeting of Congress general secretaries and in-charge of states to discuss preparations for the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on August 20.

Priyanka Gandhi’s response came when a senior Congress leader, in course of this meeting, suggested that she should come forward and assume the leadership role, a party functionary familiar with the developments said.

Priyanka Gandhi firmly told him and others present to desist from taking her name as her brother’s replacement. “Don’t drag me into this,” she was quoted as saying by Congress leader.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been in exit mode ever since he announced his decision to resign from the top post to the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body. When someone proposed that sister Priyanka replace him, he had firmly rejected the idea and said that the next president shouldn’t be from the Gandhi family.

But most Congress leaders had assumed that Rahul Gandhi could be persuaded to continue.

It took some time for party leaders to figure that the 49-year-old Congress chief was determined to stick to his decision. Rahul Gandhi helped drive this message home by putting out a four-page farewell note in early July.

The ongoing leadership crisis in the Congress forced UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to step up her own involvement in Parliament during the ongoing Budget session.

Senior Congress leaders at Thursday’s meeting decided to hold the Congress Working Committee soon after the budget session of Parliament to take a call on Rahul Gandhi’s resignation and to select his successor.

The meeting, the party functionary quoted above, said also discussed various possibilities such as having a provisional president till the next Congress chief is elected, holding elections to the top party post or accepting Rahul Gandhi’s suggestion in his July 3 farewell note to entrust a group of people with the task of beginning the search for a new president.

Electricity free in Delhi for usage up to 200 units: Arvind Kejriwal

NEW DELHI, Aug 1: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday announced that electricity will be completely free for residents who consume up to 200 units of power every month, a move which he claimed would also result in reducing the increasing peak load of the national capital.

The announcement from Kejriwal comes ahead of the assembly elections in Delhi which are scheduled early next year.

Kejriwal further said that households consuming anything between 201 and 400 units per month will have to pay their electricity bill but approximately 50% of it will be subsidised by the government.

Delhi has at least 4.9 million domestic power consumers. According to the government, in August, around 35% consumers consume up to 200 units of electricity. But in winter, the share of this category goes up to 70%.

Calling it a “free lifeline electricity of 200 units”, the chief minister said the government is giving a “basic commitment” of power through this scheme, like it did in case of water, which is also free for residents who consume up to 20,000 litres a month.

The government subsidy applies to all domestic consumers subscribed to a sanctioned load of up to 5kW load. On Wednesday, releasing the new tariff order for the current fiscal, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) had reduced the monthly fixed charges on power bills from Rs 125 to Rs 20 per kW for a sanctioned load of up to 2kW and from Rs 140 to Rs 50 for a load between 2kW and 5 kW.

Kejriwal said the extension of the subsidy was also a result of the latest tariff order issued by the power regulator apart from reduction in transmission and distribution losses.

“In 2013, for consumption of up to 200 units with a load of 2kW, people had to pay Rs 928, under the previous government. Under our government, till yesterday, people had to pay Rs 622. Now they will have to pay Rs 0. For consumption of 250 units with 2kW, before AAP government effected the subsidy, people had to pay Rs 1250. Till yesterday, people had to pay Rs 800. From today it will be Rs 252,” Kejriwal said in a press conference.

The chief minister said the amount that the Delhi government will have to bear for the restructured subsidy will be nearly the same as now. “The expenditure of Delhi government on this will be between Rs 1800 - Rs 2000 crore. There will not be any substantial increase. We have only restructured the subsidy a little,” Kejriwal said.

When asked about the timing of the announcement, he said, “It has been a journey which has taken its own time. We have worked hard over the years to ensure bill amounts go down, power companies are in better financial condition, power infrastructure is better and residents get round the clock power supply.”

The chief minister also said that electricity rates in Delhi are now the lowest across all states and cities in India.

In its 2019-20 order, the DERC kept the energy charges same for all categories, except for those who consume more than 1,200 units per month. A household whose electricity consumption crosses 1,200 units a month will have to pay 25 paise extra per unit from this month.

The 3.8% surcharge on power bills, however, which goes towards paying pension to former employees of power utilities, remained untouched. The regulatory surcharge too was retained at 8%.

Coffee Baron VG Siddhartha's Death Fuels India Inc Anger

NEW DELHI, Aug 1: The apparent suicide of coffee baron VG Siddhartha, under investigation by tax authorities, has inflamed anger towards the government among business leaders who feel it is going too far in its crackdown on fraud and tax evasion.

Drastic measures taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration include stringent action to enforce tax compliance, probes into bank lending practices and threatening auditors with five-year bans for alleged lapses in their work.

In particular the push by tax collectors has been labelled 'tax terrorism' by TV Mohandas Pai, a former director of Indian IT giant Infosys Ltd, even before the Coffee Day Enterprises Ltd founder disappeared and his body was later found floating in a river in southern India on Wednesday.

In a letter circulating on social media since Tuesday and purportedly written by Mr Siddhartha to the firm's board and employees, he said he "gave up", blaming tax authorities for "harassment" and decisions that caused a liquidity crunch as well as an unnamed private equity partner for pressuring him into a share buyback.

The letter's authenticity has not been verified and much remains unclear about his financial situation and apparent suicide. But the company's board said it is taking the letter's content seriously and will thoroughly investigate.

The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to requests for comment. The income tax department, part of the finance ministry, has said it acted as per the law in its investigation of Mr Siddhartha and the coffee chain, and its probe was based on credible evidence of transactions done in a concealed manner.

Former government officials, industry executives and their advisors, including lawyers, told Reuters that investigations conducted by government agencies and tax inspectors had often resulted in harassment for business leaders.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, managing director of biotech firm Biocon Ltd, said she knew many industrialists who have been called in by enforcement agencies but were made to wait for long periods before questioning began and subjected to "insulting kind of treatment."

"People are made to wait for 24 hours, 12 hours, 16 hours. This is not some kind of inquisition. It cannot be treated like an inquisition," she said. "Today every business person is made out to be as if there is something very crooked about them."

Since Modi came to power in 2014, he has made fighting fraud and tax evasion a top goal, saying he wanted to break previous cosy ties between policymakers and rich capitalists.

His administration has targeted banks and heavily indebted businesses and tracked down rich fugitives hiding out in other countries - popular policies that helped him win a second-term in a landslide election victory in May.

While many government officials and business leaders agree that regulations need to be more strictly enforced, they also say the government has been overzealous, making business leaders too fearful to invest and endangering the health of the economy.

In particular, they are concerned that enforcement agencies increasingly go after loan defaulters without differentiating between genuine business failures and corrupt practices.

"Any enforcement agency first looks at you as a crook," said JN Gupta, a former executive director at the country's capital markets regulator, adding that the loss of Mr Siddhartha's life was a very sad moment but one that was giving the country an opportunity to find out what had gone wrong with the system.

"We have a very thin line between duty and harassment. The enforcement agencies fail to realise that sometimes their zeal could be seen as harassment."

Tax collectors are also under pressure, government sources familiar with the matter have said, declining to be identified as they were not authorised to speak on the matter.

With economic growth at a five-year low and keen to fund more public spending, the government has set an income tax target of Rs. 13.35 trillion ($193 billion) for this fiscal year, some 15% higher than last year.

The general distrust of businesses is very high in the bureaucracy, said Pratibha Jain, a partner at law firm Nishith Desai Associates which advises corporate clients on tax and investigation matters.

"Tax authorities are keeping focus only on corporations and individuals to meet their revenue base, rather than looking at it in a fair manner which requires widening the tax base to get tax evaders to pay up," she said.

 



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