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Stranded migrant workers, students can go home

NEW DELHI, April 29: A month after millions of people, mostly migrant workers were stranded without work in different parts of the country, the Union home ministry on Wednesday finally allowed states to repatriate them to their respective states.

The central government has, however, so far refused to run special trains to take them home as demanded by some states such as Maharashtra.

They would have to travel in buses.

The only condition that the home ministry has imposed for such inter-state travel is that the government of states, from where these people begin the journey and the government in the destination state, should clear the trip.

Besides, only people who do not have symptoms of Covid-19 would be allowed to travel. They would also be subject to health check ups by health authorities of states which they cross.

Several states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh had already started bringing back people from other places though the central guidelines till this evening did not permit such travel. This had put chief ministers of states such as Bihar under immense pressure.

Nitish Kumar, who has been battered by the opposition in his state for sticking to the rulebook, had insisted that he would not take any step that violated the central guidelines and had asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order the home ministry to set the ground rules for this trip. Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik had made the same request at last week’s interaction of chief ministers with PM Modi.

It will be a mammoth task working out the logistics of arranging thousands of buses to what state governments have estimated would imply transporting five million workers.

On arrival at their destination, “such persons would be assessed by the local health authorities, and kept in home quarantine, unless the assessment requires keeping the persons in institutional quarantine. They would be kept under watch with periodic health check-ups. For this purpose, such persons may be encouraged to use the Aarogya Setu app through which their health status can be monitored,” the home ministry’s guidelines said.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla’s order on Wednesday is in contrast to the Centre’s stand before the Supreme Court just a few days earlier when it told a three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramana that “there is no necessity” to shift the migrant workers from their place of occupation to their home in villages.

“Their daily needs are being taken care of wherever they are working and the daily needs of their family members are being taken care of at their respective villages,” the status report filed by the Centre had said.

That is not how many migrant workers perceived their status.

2 sadhus killed in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr

MERRUT, April 28: Two sadhus were killed in Pagona village in Anoopshahar area of Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district on Monday night.

The police have arrested a youth in connection with the case. According to police, the youth had altercation with sadhus over stealing their ‘chimta’ (tongs).

“The youth Raju had altercation with sadhu two days ago who charged him of stealing their chimta. He has been arrested from a neighbouring village and has confessed to his crime,” said Santosh Singh, SSP, Bulandshahr.

“The arrested man was under influence of some toxic substance therefore further interrogation would be conducted soon after he resumes his senses,” Singh added.

The priests were attacked with a sharp-edged object. Their bodies were found by the villages inside the local temple

They have been identified as Jagdish or Rangidas (55) and his disciple Sher Singh (46). Police have been deployed in the area around the temple, Live Hindustan reported.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has directed senior officials to visit the village and send him a detail report on the incident.

The incident comes more than a week after two sadhus and their driver were lynched by a huge mob outside Gadhchinchale village, 110 kilometre from Palghar in Maharashtra. They were attacked on the suspicion of being child-lifters.

The incident in Palghar took place on April 16.

It later emerged that the sadhus - 70-year-old Swami Kalpvriksha Giri and 35-year-old Sushil Giri - belonged to Varanasi-based Juna Akhara and were on their way to Gujarat to attend the last rite of their guru Mahant Shri Ram Giri.

Asserting that nobody involved in the Palghar mob lynching incident would be spared, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a high-level probe by Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra demanded that the truth should come out and that the issue should not be politicised. “Today in Bulandshahr, two sadhus were murdered while they were sleeping. The truth must come out after investigation in this heinous crime and at this stage no body should politicise this issue,” she tweeted in Hindi.

4.0 magnitude earthquake hits Chamba in Himachal Pradesh

NEW DELHI, April 28: An earthquake of magnitude 4.0 hit Chamba region in Himachal Pradesh this afternoon.

The quake occurred 22 kilometres West-Northwest of Dharamshala in the territorial limits of Chamba at 12:17 pm. The epicentre of the quake was at a depth of 19 kilometres.

The jolt was also felt in parts of Kangra district. However, no loss of life or damage to property has been reported from Chamba or Kangra.

On April 6, a 3.1 magnitude earthquake was reported in Chamba.

The state witnesses dozens of mild earthquakes every year due to its geographical location.

Chamba and Kangra region witness more tremors due to a main boundary fault that runs up to Mandi. Apart from it, there are scores of smaller faults which cause some seismic activity beneath the surface.

The national capital experienced an earthquake of magnitude 2.7 on April 13.

Rahul Gandhi emphasises on aggressive testing to beat virus

NEW DELHI, April 16: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Thursday strongly pitched for aggressively expanding coronavirus testing across the country and adopting it as a "strategic" instrument to "defeat" the pandemic.

Addressing a press conference via video conference, Gandhi also said the entire country has to fight the crisis "unitedly" and there is need to grant adequate resources to the states to help them deal with it in a "nuanced" manner.

Calling for India to fight the virus unitedly, Rahul Gandhi said that we can win against this virus together and will lose the fight if we remain divided. “I may disagree with PM Modi, but this is no time to fight; it is time to fight the virus unitedly,” he said, responding to a question.

Instead of conducting tests on the basis of suspected cases, India must adopt a strategy and bring out an architecture under which testing should be expanded exponentially and find out where the country stands, the Congress leader said. “Testing levels are too low,” he said. “I propose scaling up testing.”

While noting that the lockdown was not a solution to the pandemic, Gandhi pushed for better medical infrastructure and planning for the days ahead to deal with the economic fall out. "It is like a pause button. We need to ramp up our medical infrastructure, testing facilities...We need to develop an architecture to deal with the crisis," he said.

Gandhi insisted that there is a need for devolution of powers to states to help them effectively deal with the situation. He added that a "blunt instrument" should not be used and what is needed is a "nuanced" and strategic approach.

The Congress leader suggested that fight against the virus should be bottom-up instead of top-down.

"To fight COVID, our main force is at the district and state level. The success in Kerala's Wayanad is because of the effectiveness of district-level machinery. My one suggestion is that the fight against COVID-19 should not be top-down, it should be bottom-up. The prime minister should empower chief ministers and districts. The Prime Minister's role is to empower forces," he said.

He also said there is a need to use the available resources carefully.

Gandhi added that the government needs to show compassion at such a time and has to respond quickly to the plight of migrant workers in the country. “The government needs to act quickly on the migrant front. If it does not, there will be social unrest soon,” he said.

Rahul Gandhi also suggested that food should be distributed to the poor and marginalised who may be facing the brunt of the lockdown.

“Food supply is a critical issue. We should distribute ration to the poor and the marginalised. 10 kg of wheat and rice, one kg of sugar, one kg of pulses should be given to the poor every week,” he said.


Indian Army retaliates to Pak shelling

NEW DELHI, April 10: The Indian army has carried out precision targeting of gun areas and terror launch pads across the Line of Control from its posts in the Keran sector of Kupwara, people familiar with the development said.

The action, which came in response to unprovoked ceasefire violations by Pakistan, was designed to destroy terror launch pads close to the border. There have been multiple intelligence reports about terrorists waiting across the Line of Control to infiltrate into India.

Officials said the army targeted the Kel launching pads in Neelum Valley. According to information reaching Srinagar, officials said Pakistan’s firing ended up hitting a squad of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists

A top counter-terror operative said India was forced to retaliate in this sector because the terrain is such that if the terrorists would have crossed into the Indian side, it would have been difficult to capture or neutralise them without taking casualties.

Last week’s operation that ended on Sunday with the killing of five terrorists trying to infiltrate had also cost India lives of 5 Special Forces commandos.

The retaliatory strike at the terror launch pads comes amid a spike in ceasefire violations by Pakistan and a plan to send across over 200 terrorists.

As many as 160 terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) are ready to infiltrate into the Valley.

In the Jammu sector, along the border, around 70 armed and trained terrorists are planning to sneak into the Indian territory through unfenced nullahs, the inputs added. Counter-terror operatives said Jaish terrorists were camping at Samani-Bhimber and Dudhnial launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. LeT has been sending its terrorists to the Leepa and Kel launching pads in Leepa Valley and Neelum Valley, respectively.

Dozens arrested in J&K’s Sopore for attending funeral of slain JeM commander

SRINAGAR, April 10: Police have arrested more than a dozen people for joining the funeral of a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) commander in Sopore area of north Kashmir in violation of government advisories against public gatherings during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The arrests were made after Jammu and Kashmir Police registered a case against those who assembled for the funeral of the JeM commander at Saidpora locality.

Sopore’s superintendent of police Javed Iqbal said more than 12 people were arrested for violating social distancing norms at the funeral. “More people will be arrested,” he said.

The JeM commander, Sajjad Nawab Dar, 23, was killed in a gun battle with security forces in Gulabad area of Sopore on Tuesday.

Soon after his body was handed over to his family, more than 1,000 people, including women, from his village and adjoining areas joined a large funeral procession. Pictures of the gathering went viral on social media and many people questioned why social distancing norms were ignored at the funeral.

A police spokesperson said on Thursday a first information report (FIR) was registered against the people who gathered for the funeral and violated Covid-19-related protocols and government advisories on social distancing.

“The legal heirs had stated in writing they would adhere to social distancing norms when the body was handed over to them after completing medico-legal formalities. The matter is under investigation and defaulters will be dealt with strictly as per the law,” the spokesperson said.

People familiar with developments said police teams conducted raids at several villages last night and arrested some people who participated in the funeral. Police are trying to identify more people who were in the gathering.

Supreme Court Orders All Coronavirus Tests To Be Made Free

New Delhi: The government must ensure coronavirus tests are conducted for free in both state-run and private diagnostic labs, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.

While coronavirus tests are already free at government hospitals, private labs cannot be allowed to charge up to Rs 4,500 for the test in the middle of the ongoing crisis, the top court ruled in response to a Public Interest Litigation or PIL.

Whether the private labs should be reimbursed by the government, will be decided later, Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat said in a hearing conducted via video conferencing.

"We find prima facie substance in the submission of petitioner that at this time of national calamity permitting private Labs to charge Rs 4,500 for screening and confirmation test of COVID-19 may not be within means of a large part of population of this country and no person be deprived to undergo the COVID-19 test due to non- payment of capped amount of Rs 4,500," the Supreme Court said.

"The private hospitals including laboratories have an important role to play in containing the scale of pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis," it added.

"We thus are satisfied that the petitioner has made out a case for issuing a direction to the respondents to issue necessary direction to accredited private labs to conduct free of cost COVID-19 test," the court said.

"The question as to whether the private laboratories carrying free of cost COVID-19 tests are entitled for any reimbursement of expenses incurred shall be considered later on," the top court added.

Maximum testing has been on top of the WHO's guidelines for detecting and stopping the spread of coronavirus for a while.

After initially lagging behind most countries when it came to COVID-19 testing, India allowed private labs to conduct the tests late last month.

However, the country still accounts for a low rate of testing, conducting just 10 to 11 thousand tests per day that have amounted to around 1.2 lakh tests till date - a small number for its 130 crore people.

With far smaller populations, countries like Germany and the US have been testing 50,000 and 1 lakh people every day.

According to the latest numbers from the Health Ministry, India has registered over 5,200 coronavirus cases and 149 deaths.

India to accept help from abroad for PM-CARES Fund

NEW DELHI, April 1: The Indian government has decided to accept contributions from abroad for the PM-CARES Fund created to fight the Covid-19 outbreak, marking a shift from its earlier position of refusing foreign donations during crises.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity the decision was in line with the unprecedented situation created by the coronavirus outbreak that has resulted in more than 912,565 infections and around 42,000 deaths globally.

“The pandemic is unprecedented and when the prime minister spoke to envoys [via video conference on Monday], he asked them to make efforts for contributions towards this fund. A decision has been taken to accept contributions from abroad in the PM-CARES Fund,” said a person who declined to be named.

The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) Fund was set up in view of several spontaneous requests from India and abroad for making contributions to support the government’s fight against Covid-19, the people said.

Contributions to the fund can be made by individuals and organisations, both in India and abroad, in view of the expressed interest to contribute to the government’s efforts and keeping in mind the “unprecedented nature” of the pandemic, the people said.

In 2018, the government refused all foreign aid, including a reported offer of $100 million from the United Arab Emirates, for disaster relief following floods in Kerala that displaced millions of people. Offers of help from Thailand, Qatar and the Maldives too were declined.

This was in line with a long-standing policy put in place after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, and at the time, the external affairs ministry had said in a statement that the “government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts”.

The people cited above pointed out that no foreign governments had so far come forward to donate to the PM-CARES Fund, which has largely attracted pledges from NRIs and people of Indian origin based in several countries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed the heads of Indian missions around the world to explore the possibility of sourcing medical equipment needed to fight Covid-19 – especially personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, ventilators, and three-ply, surgical and N95 masks – as there is a huge shortage in the country, the people cited above said.

In the case of China, some relief materials were coming to India from independent sources as donations while the mission in Beijing is looking at procuring available equipment on a commercial basis, the people said.

“The embassy in Beijing is working on this and we are looking at various options and sources,” said a second person. “There is a huge shortage and we will source materials from wherever they are available.”

At the same time, domestic companies are being encouraged by the health and textile ministries to ramp up production of PPE and medical equipment, the people said.

India redefines Kashmir’s domicile law

NEW DELHI, April 1: Nearly eight months after the Centre scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the government has redefined domicile rules for the union territory and ordered that only people who fulfill this criteria are eligible to be appointed to junior posts in the bureaucracy and the constabulary.

The new domicile condition in the recruitment law is designed to address concerns that the union territory status for Jammu and Kashmir would lead to demographic changes since people from any part of the country could apply for jobs and settle in J&K.

The domicile rule would apply for recruitment to all posts that come with a basic salary of Rs 25,500.

Before Parliament scrapped Article 370, only people considered permanent residents of the erstwhile state could get jobs in the state government. When a delegation of Kashmiri politicians met Home Minister Amit Shah last month, he had assured them that the Centre did not intend to carry out demographic changes in the union territory.

Shah had also promised that the new domicile rule for J&K would be better than any other state.

But the new rule triggered howls of protest from Jammu and Kashmir parties.

Altaf Bukhari of the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, who had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah on his Delhi visit last month, was the first to lash out at the move. The former PDP minister who has floated a new party described the order as a casual attempt, cosmetic in nature, and designed to hoodwink the people of J&K. He asked Shah to put the notification on hold.

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah criticised the timing of the order as well. ”Insult is heaped on injury when we see the law offers none of the protections that had been promised,” he tweeted.

As evidence, Omar Abdullah pointed to Altaf Bukhari’s reaction.

“You can imagine how hollow the domicile law is from the fact that even the new party created with Delhi’s blessings, whose leaders were lobbying in Delhi for this law, have been forced to criticise the #JKdomicilelaw,” he said.

According to Tuesday evening’s notification by the home ministry, any person who has stayed in J&K for 15 years or has studied for a period of seven years and appeared in Class 10th/12th examination will be deemed as domicile.

The government order said children of central government officials, All India Services, officials of Public Sector Undertakings and autonomous bodies of central government, public sector banks, officials of statutory bodies, officials of central universities and recognized research institutes of central government who have served in Jammu and Kashmir for a total period of 10 years will also be considered to be domiciled in the union territory.

Children of residents of Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir who reside outside the union territory in connection with their employment, business or other professional or vocational reasons will also be treated to be domiciled in the UT if their parents fulfil the eligibility criteria to get a domicile certificate.


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