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Twin earthquakes rock Delhi NCR

NEW DELHI, May 29: A 4.5 magnitude earthquake occurred in Haryana’s Rohtak district on Friday that was felt in neighbouring Delhi and adjoining districts of the national capital region.

According to the National Center for Seismology, the first quake of medium intensity one of 4.5 magnitude, hit the Haryana city at 9.08 pm at a depth of 5 km.

The epicentre of the earthquake is about 50 km from Delhi.

The second quake was of lower intensity of magnitude 2.9 and occurred at the same location at 10 pm, the NCS said.There were no immediate reports of any loss of life or property.

The earthquakes reported on Friday evening, like the last few quakes felt in Delhi and adjoining areas, were shallow quakes which often lead to greater damage than more powerful deep ones.

The quakes in Rohtak were assessed to have occurred at a depth of 5 km.

This was the fourth quake in or around Delhi this month.

A 2.5 magnitude earthquake with its epicentre in Faridabad district was recorded by the National Centre for Seismology at 4.24 pm on Thursday evening.

There was another mild quake on May 15 measured to be of 2.2 magnitude with its epicentre at 9 km from central Delhi.

On May 10, people in Delhi and nearby areas felt tremors when a 3.4 magnitude earthquake occurred with its epicentre in Sonia Vihar.

Two earthquakes were also reported on two consecutive days in Delhi last month.

Seismologists say it is not unusual for the epicentre of these relatively small earthquakes to be in Delhi and neighbouring Haryana, seismologists said.

Also, a larger proportion of people have been feeling the earthquake because most people are at home and there is far less noise associated with traffic movement due to the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown.

Modi's lockdown strategy has failed: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, May 26: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initial plan to defeat coronavirus in 21 days has failed and that has pushed him on the backfoot, said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, urging the PM to play on the front foot.

Stressing his point further, the Congress leader said there has been one lockdown after another, but that has not helped check the spread of the disease. The country is presently in the fourth phase of lockdown, which will end on May 31.

“The PM will accept that his first plan failed. The PM has gone on back foot, I request him to play on the front foot,” said the Congress leader during a press interaction.

Gandhi said he is not going to criticise what happened in the past as he has an interest in today and what will happen tomorrow.

“Two months ago the PM said that we were going to fight a 21-day fight against Covid-19. It was his expectation that we would defeat the virus in 21 days,” said the Congress leader.

The Wayanad MP said the aim of lockdown has not been achieved and the coronavirus cases are on the rise. He exhorted the government to tell the country what is the new strategy.

“We need an injection of money and capital, it will be fatal if we do not do it. The unemployment situation in the country has been compounded by the coronavirus problem,” said Rahul Gandhi.

Speaking about the migrants’ situation, the Congress leader said in his meetings with them he was told that they have lost faith.

“They have a sense of hopelessness, they have been left alone. They have told me ‘hamara bharosa toot gaya (Have lost faith)’. I don’t like hearing those words. I don’t want a single Indian person to say those words. They are saying it more and more. Nobody should lose their faith. We can take action even now. Rs 7,500 should be given to workers every month,” said Gandhi.

Priyanka Gandhi targets Adityanath over migrants

NEW DELHI, May 20: Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi on Wednesday targeted the Uttar Pradesh government for not allowing the buses arranged by the party to ferry migrants enter the state.

She said that the Yogi Adityath government insisted on producing the papers of the vehicles, and delayed the initiative by wasting time in communication.

“If you had allowed these buses to run, around 72,000 people would have been home by now. But they were engaged in politics. The buses were are standing at the Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh border since yesterday and are not being of any help,” Gandhi said at a digital press conference.

She said that the Congress wants to help in a positive way and doesn’t want to indulge in politics.

“I request you to let these buses enter Uttar Pradesh,” she said addressing the chief minister. “This is not a time to play politics, all parties should set aside politics and help people.”

She also said that the buses will remain at the Uttar Pradesh border till 4 pm on Wednesday.

Priyanka Gandhi and the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh are at loggerheads over her plan to send 1,000 buses to help transport migrants in Uttar Pradesh.

The offer was made on Saturday, and accepted on Monday. But by Tuesday evening, the state government said only 879 of the 1,000 vehicles were buses, and the rest three-wheelers and other vehicles, triggering angry reactions from the Congress.

“UP government has crossed all the limits. When there is an opportunity to do away with political differences and serve helpless migrant labourers it has caused all the hindrances. @myogiadityanath ji you can use BJP flags and your posters on these buses, but don’t reject our feelings of service,” she had said in a tweet on Tuesday.

The Congress had on Tuesday accused the BJP and Adityanath of indulging in “cheap politics” and “doublespeak” by not letting in its buses to ferry migrants.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala held a press conference on Tuesday where he said that the chief minister was “insensitive as he was embroiling migrants in cheap and petty politics”.

Migrant workers travel with dead bodies of those killed in UP’s Auraiya

PRAYAGRAJ, May 18: The bodies of migrant workers who were killed in Uttar Pradesh’s Auraiya road accident last week were stuffed in a truck with the workers and sent to West Bengal and Jharkhand late on Sunday night.

On being tipped off, the Prayagraj police intercepted the truck near Nawabganj and arranged for separate vehicles.

According to information, bodies of at least 17 workers who belonged to West Bengal and Jharkhand were loaded on a DCM truck with some labourers.

IG Range Prayagraj KP Singh said the bodies were sent separately in air conditioned ‘dead body van’ and arrangements were made to send the workers to their native places in another vehicle.

The authorities said that there are only two hearses in the entire district. Therefore, the bodies were transported in a truck with the injured, a senior official said.

It remains unexplained as to why hearses were not requested from adjoining districts like Kanpur, Etawah, Kannauj, Kanpur Dehat.

Both commissioner Kanpur division SK Bobde and DM auraiya Abhishek Singh were not available despite repeated attempts.

In a development, DM Auraiya has suspended five lekhpals Ankit Agarwal, Lalit Pratap, Shashikant Porwal, Bhupendra Pal and Rocky.

These lekhpals were given the responsibility of transporting the bodies of migrant workers.

Twenty-four migrant workers had died and 36 injured on Saturday early morning when a trailer truck carrying sacks of lime, along with 43 people, rammed the back of a stationary truck with many other migrant workers sitting in it on the national highway in Auraiya.

A police sub-inspector and seven constables were suspended for negligence in discharging duty in connection with the incident.

Stimulus package totally inadequate: Chidambaram

NEW DELHI, May 18: Former finance minister P Chidambaram on Monday expressed “deep regret” that the government’s fiscal stimulus package has “left high and dry” several sections, including 13 crore families in the bottom half of the population, migrant workers and farmers.

“We express our thorough disappointment and request the government to reconsider the stimulus package and announce a revised and comprehensive fiscal stimulus package of not less than Rs 10 lakh crore of real additional expenditure, equivalent to 10% of GDP,” he told a news conference via video conference.

The senior Congress leader said a fiscal stimulus of Rs 1,86,650 crore, amounting to barely 0.91% of GDP, will be “totally inadequate given the gravity of the economic crisis and the dire situation” in which people find themselves because of the Covid-19 crisis.

“Most analysts, rating agencies and banks have placed the size of the fiscal stimulus at between 0.8 to 1.5%,” he said.

Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a Rs 20-lakh crore stimulus package on May 12, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman gave details of that package in five tranches over as many days.

Chidambaram said he and the Congress have carefully analysed contents of the five tranches and looked into analyses put out by economists, experts, agencies and banks.

“We note, with deep regret, that the fiscal stimulus package has left several sections high and dry, including the bottom half of the population (13 crore families), migrant workers, farmers, landless agricultural labour, daily wage non-agricultural labour, workers who have been laid off or retrenched, workers in unorganised or unregistered businesses and units who have lost their jobs, self-employed who have no work, seven crore shopkeepers, lower middle class families who have run out of cash and are forced to borrow, and 5.8 crore MSMEs,” he explained.

Chidambaram said the finance minister had acknowledged that additional expenditure must be financed by additional borrowing.

“The true value of the fiscal stimulus package will be known when we know what is the additional borrowing in 2020-21 to finance the additional expenditure over and above the expenditure budget of Rs 30,42,230 crore. The truth cannot be hidden for long,” he said.

“Let me state categorically that there can be no fiscal stimulus to the economy without additional expenditure over and above the budgeted expenditure,” he added.

India exends lockdown till May 31

NEW DELHI, May 17: The Indian government today extended the lockdown for the third time till May 31 to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Lockdown 4 would have "new rules" formulated with the suggestions of state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced in an televised address.

The new rules allow movement of people during the daytime, and inter-state transport -- buses and public vehicles. It will, however, retain the key bars on air travel and metro rail, malls and gyms and big gatherings.

People above the age of 60 and children below 10 should not go out of doors, the government said.

It said that prohibition on all public gatherings, closure of schools, malls and restaurants, and suspension of flight and Metro services will remain in force till the last end of this month.

Read full text of government statement on fourth lockdown in the country here:

- Lockdown extended upto May 31, 2020

- States to decide various zones and activities to be allowed in these zones

- Certain activities to remain prohibited through out the country

- National Directives for COVID 19 Management continue to be in force through out the country

- Night Curfew to continue to remain in force

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India (GoI) issued an order, today, under the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005,along with new guidelines that are in supersession of earlier guidelines and orders of MHA.

2.The Lockdown measures in place since March 24, 2020 have helped considerably in containing the spread of COVID-19. It has therefore been decided to further extend the Lockdown till May 31, 2020.

3.Under the new guidelines, States and Union Territories (UTs) will now delineate Red, Green and Orange zones taking into consideration the parameters shared by the Health Ministry.

4.The zones can be a district, or a municipal corporation/ municipality or even smaller administrative units such as sub-divisions, etc, as decided by States and UTs.

5.Within the Red and Orange Zones, containment and buffer zones will be as demarcated by the local authorities, after taking into consideration the Health Ministry guidelines. Within the containment zones, only essential activities shall be allowed. Strict perimeter control shall be maintained, and no movement of persons would be allowed across the zones, except for medical emergencies and for maintaining supply of essential goods and services. Buffer zones are areas adjoining the containment zones, where new cases are more likely to appear. In the buffer zones, more caution needs to be exercised.

6. A limited number of activities will continue to remain prohibited throughout the country. These include all domestic and international air travel of passengers, except for domestic medical services, domestic air ambulance and for security purposes or purposes as permitted by MHA; metro rail services; running of schools, colleges, educational and training/coaching institutions; hotels, restaurants and other hospitality services, except for the running of canteens in bus depots, railway stations and airports; places of large public gatherings such as cinemas, shopping malls, gymnasiums entertainment parks, etc.; social, political, cultural and similar gatherings and other large congregations; and, access to religious places/places of worship for public. However, online/ distance learning shall be permitted and encouraged; and, restaurants will be allowed to operate kitchens for home delivery of food items.

7.Sports complexes and stadia will be permitted to open only for sports activities. However, spectators will not be allowed in these complexes.

8.In order to facilitate the movement of persons, various modes of transport have already been opened up. Movement of individuals by trains has been permitted earlier by MHA through an order dated 11.5.2020. Further, evacuation of foreign nationals from India, return of stranded Indian nationals from abroad, sign-on and sign-off of Indian seafarers, and intra-State and inter-State movement of stranded persons by bus and train, will continue to be allowed.

9.Inter-State movement of vehicles and buses has also been allowed with mutual consent of the concerned States/ UTs. Intra-State movement of vehicles and buses can be decided by the States and UTs.

10.The guidelines specify the National Directives for COVID-19 management, which shall apply to public places and work places. Under these guidelines, wearing of face covers is compulsory; spitting will be punishable with fine as may be prescribed in accordance with its laws, rules or regulations by the State/ UT local authority; and social distancing is to be followed by all persons in public places and in transport. Marriage related gathering shall not have more than 50 guests. For funerals/ last rites, the maximum number of persons allowed has been kept at 20. Consumption of liquor, paan, gutkha and tobacco etc., is not allowed in public places.

11.The National Directives also stipulate additional requirements for work places. The practice of work from home (WfH) should be followed to the extent possible; and staggering of work hours should be adopted in respect of all offices and other establishments. There should be provision for thermal scanning, hand wash and sanitizers at all entry and exit points and common areas; and all work places and other sensitive locations are to be sanitized regularly. In work places, social distancing would also need to be ensured through adequate distance between workers, adequate gaps between shifts, staggering the lunch break of staff and so on.

12.Local authorities should ensure that shops and markets open with staggered timings, so as to ensure social distancing. All shops shall also have to ensure six feet distance (2 gaz ki doori) among customers and also not allow more than 5 persons at one time.

13.Night Curfew shall continue to remain in force on the movement of individuals, for all non-essential activities, between 7 pm and 7 am.

14.Vulnerable persons, i.e., persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, pregnant women, and children below the age of 10 years, shall stay at home, except for meeting essential requirements and for health purposes.

15.All other activities will be permitted except those which are specifically prohibited under these guidelines.However, in containment zones, only essential activities shall be allowed, as mentioned earlier.

16.States/ UTs, based on their assessment of the situation, may prohibit certain other activities in the various zones, or impose such restrictions as deemed necessary.

17.The Aarogya Setu mobile application is a powerful tool built by Government of India to facilitate quick identification of persons infected by COVID-19, or at risk of being infected, thus acting as a shield for individuals and the community. With a view to ensure safety in offices and work places, employers on best effort basis should ensure that the application is installed by all employees having compatible mobile phones.

18.District authorities have been asked to advise individuals to install theAarogya Setuapplication on compatible mobile phones andregularly update their health status on the app. This will facilitate timely provision of medical attention to those individuals who are at risk.

19.State/ UT Governments shall continue to strictly enforce the lockdown guidelines and they shall not dilute these guidelines issued under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in any manner.

24 migrants killed in road accident in Uttar Pradesh

AURAIYA (UP), May 16: More than 20 migrant labourers were killed and dozens were injured after the truck they were travelling in collided with another vehicle in Auraiya district of Uttar Pradesh early on Saturday, reports said.

The trailer truck, carrying around 50 migrant labourers, was coming from Rajasthan when it collided with a van coming from Delhi in Auraiya district’s Mihauli area, reports said.

“The incident took place at around 3:30am… Most of them are from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal,” according to Abhishek Singh, Auraiya’s district magistrate.

“Twenty-four people were brought dead, 22 have been admitted and 15 who were critically injured have been referred to Saifai PGI,” Archana Srivastava, Auraiya’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), said.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath has taken note of the accident in Auraiya and expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the labourers who lost their lives, Awanish Awasthi, the additional chief secretary (home), said.

The chief minister has also directed that all the injured must be provided with medical care immediately and the commissioner and inspector general of police (Kanpur) to visit the site and give a report on the cause of the accident immediately, Awasthi said.

Tens of thousands of people have been walking home from big cities after being laid off because of the lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) since late March.

Millions of workers were left without work across cities and towns in India when the lockdown was announced on March 24, resulting in the first wave of workers going back to their villages.

Every phase of the extension has seen a new wave—the lockdown was extended twice, from April 14 to May 3 and then May 3 to May 17.

Before this, 15 migrant workers on their way back home were killed in three accidents, one each in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar earlier this week.

On May 8, 16 workers sleeping on tracks were run over by a goods train in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district.

On May 9, five workers were killed in Madhya Pradesh’s Narsinghpur district when the truck in which they were travelling hit the central verge of the road.

Police have said close to 100 were also injured in road accidents across states on Thursday, as migrant workers continue to seek rides on trucks, cycle, or just walk on the country’s highways in a struggle to return home.

The government, starting May 1, announced special trains for migrant workers, but there are still far too few of them and far too many workers wanting to return home. Some of the workers do not have the documentation required to travel; others have not registered for the trains or buses being run.

Priyanka Gandhi seeks nod for 1,000 buses to send migrants home in UP

NEW DELHI, May 16: In a letter to chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi has sought permission for 1,000 buses to send migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh back to their state.

“We want to run 500 buses from the Ghazipur border in Ghaziabad and a similar number of buses from the Noida border. The Congress party will bear the expense for the same. We will observe all the protocols while helping these migrant workers reach home. We seek permission to run these 1,000 buses,” read a statement from Priyanka Gandhi’s office.

In a separate development, the Centre said it has developed an online national migrant information system to capture the movement of stranded labourers heading home and to further facilitate their travel.

CM Yogi Adityanath on Friday asked state officials to set up teams in every police station area to ensure that no migrant worker travels on foot or bike or in any unsafe mode in Uttar Pradesh.

The directive came amid rising cases of migrants losing their lives in road accidents while marching back home.

The CM said food and water should be provided to the migrants as soon as they enter the state and added that they should be medically screened. Arrangements for a vehicle to send them to their respective destinations should be made if they are found fit, the CM told officials.

Sitharaman announces 'one nation, one ration card' for migrants

NEW DELHI, May 14: Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman listed out details of the second tranche of the Centre's Rs 20-lakh-crore special economic package on Thursday, which included nine measures for migrant workers, street vendors and small farmers, among others.

In a press briefing, Sitharaman announced a Rs 70,000 crore boost to the housing sector through one-year extension of subsidised loan for affordable houses for the middle-income group with an annual income of Rs 6 lakh to Rs 18 lakh.

Sitharaman announces one nation, one ration card for migrants, loans for street vendors and farmers in 2nd tranche; key takeawaysNirmala Sitharaman addressed a press conference on Thursday.

The credit-linked subsidy scheme was operationalised from May 2017 and extended up to March 2021. She said the scheme is being extended by one year to benefit 2.5 lakh middle income families.

She also announced a Rs 6,000 crore employment push for members of the Adivasi community, using Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds.

Sitharaman also announced a Rs 3.16 lakh crore package, the biggest chunk of the second tranche, to provide concessional credit to farmers, working capital loan for street vendors and free food grains for migrant workers.

As part of the measures for migrant workers, the finance minister said that eight crore migrant workers will get 5 kilogrammes of grains and 1 kilogramme of pulses free for two months.

Sitharaman also said that the Centre will bear the cost of Rs 3,500 crore to give free food grains and pulses to migrant workers. State governments will be responsible for implementation, identification of migrants and full distribution.

Also, to benefit of migrant workers, the government plans to allow inter-state portability of ration cards under the public distribution system (PDS) so as to allow them to use their cards anywhere to get food grains.

Sitharaman said that the measure, dubbed 'One Nation, One Ration Card', is expected to benefit eight crore migrant labourers by August 2020 and will be extended to 100 percent coverage by March 2021.

She added that the Centre will launch a scheme for affordable rental housing for migrants and the urban poor. "This is to provide ease of living by converting government-funded housing in cities into Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHC) under PPP mode through concessionaire," she said.

For small businesses, Sitharaman announced a two percent interest subvention under MUDRA-Shishu loans of up to Rs 50,000. This will cost the government Rs 1,500 crore, she said.

She also announced measures for street vendors, saying that the 50 lakh street vendors rendered jobless by the lockdown will be given a working capital loan of Rs 10,000 each. For street vendors, the working capital loan will cost Rs 5,000 crore.

As many as 2.5 crore farmers will be provided Rs 2 lakh crore of concessional credit through Kisan Credit Cards, Sitharaman said on Thursday.

Also for post-harvest (Rabi) and current Kharif crop requirements in May and June, NABARD will provide Rs 30,000 crore additional emergency working capital funding for farmers through rural cooperative banks and regional rural banks.

NABARD will extend additional refinance support of Rs 30,000 crore for crop loan requirement of rural co-op banks and regional rural banks.

Centre's Covid-19 Economic Package Has Nothing for Migrant Workers: Chidambaram

NEW DELHI, May 13: Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Wednesday expressed disappointment with the finance minister's announcements, saying the Centre's COVID-19 economic stimulus package has nothing for lakhs of poor and hungry migrant workers who have been walking to their home.

Addressing a press conference through video conferencing, he said the central government announced Rs 3.6 lakh crore of collateral-free loans for small businesses, but 'where is the remaining Rs 16.4 lakh crore?'

"Except for the modest MSME package, we are disappointed with today's announcements," Chidambaram said, adding there was nothing for the poor or the middle class in the package.

Asked if the measures announced would help propel demand, he said, "I do not find anything in this package that could stimulate the demand.

The former finance minister also said changes in labour laws by some BJP-ruled states was done at a wrong time, saying they have set a 'wrong precedent'. He said Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced some support measures for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), although the measures were skewed in favour of the larger MSMEs (about 45 lakh such units).

"I think the bulk of the 6.3 crore MSMEs were left high and dry," he said. Noting that the "devil is in the detail", Chidambaram said he welcomes the offer of subordinate debt (Rs 20,000 crore) and equity corpus fund (Rs 10,000 crore), but will await the 'terms and conditions'.

On the credit guarantee fund, he said the expenditure will be limited to the extent of non-performing assets (NPAs) in outstanding guaranteed credit to MSMEs. Assuming an NPA level of 20-50 per cent, the actual expenditure over the period of loans (which may be years) will be a maximum of Rs 3,00,000 crore, he said, adding after counting the Rs 30,000 crore credit guarantee to NBFCS, the total comes to only Rs 3.6 lakh crore.

"Where is the rest of the Rs 16.4 lakh crore? This government is a prisoner of its own ignorance and fears. The government must spend more, but it is not willing to do so. The government must borrow more, but it is not willing to do so. The government must allow states to borrow more and spend more, but it is not willing to do so," he asserted.

The senior Congress leader said the first thing the government needs to do is to put money in the hands of 13-crore families in the bottom of the population that will cost the government only Rs 65,000 crore, if Rs 5,000 is given to each family.

"There is nothing in what the FM said today for the lakhs of poor, hungry and devastated migrant workers who have walked - and many thousands are still walking - back to their home states. This is a cruel blow dealt to those who toil every day," he said.

Chidambaram noted that there is nothing by way of cash transfer to the bottom half of the population (13 crore families) who have been pushed into destitution.

He also cited French economist Thomas Piketty's suggestion to India that cash transfers need to be made to the poor to make the lockdown work.

On Prime Minister Narendra Modi's talk about life and livelihood, he said there is no contradiction between the two.

"We must protect our lives, but millions of people have been pushed to destitution," he said.

The former Union minister also called upon the government to address the issue sectorally and provide fiscal support to each sector of the economy, 'as Congress would have done'.

He said the prime minister announced an economic stimulus package to re-start the stalled economy and stated that its size will be Rs 20 lakh crore.

"As expected, and as perhaps it was intended by the government, it grabbed the headline. The page, however, was blank," he said.

Chidambaram said even as lockdown will continue in a different form, the broad contours will be laid by the central government and the rest will be done by states.

"But life and economy has to start," he added.

India announces Rs 20 lakh crore financial package

NEW DELHI, May 12; Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a financial package for various sectors dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

“This package is worth Rs 20 lakh crore, or 10 per cent of India’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It will empower various different sectors of the society. Rs 20 lakh crore package in 2020 will speed up India’s journey to become self-reliant,” Modi said in his address to the nation.

He said that the Finance Ministry will give details about the package in coming days.

“This package focuses on land, labour, liquidity and law. It will help small industries and MSMEs,” he said.

He also said that the coronavirus pandemic has taught India a lesson - to become self-reliant - as this is the only way forward. “India’s way of becoming self-reliant is beneficial for the world. For example, if our country becomes Open Defecation Free (ODF), it also impacts the world,” said Modi.

He also hailed the patience shown by India’s workforce during the Covid-19 lockdown. The Prime Minister also said that local manufacturing has helped India during this crisis. “The crisis has taught us that local is going to help us. So, we should become vocal for local - not only buy local, but advertise it too.”

This was Modi’s fourth address to the nation since mid-March. He had first announced the lockdown in his televised address to the nation on March 24, then announced its extension on April 14. Apart from this, the Prime Minister had also addressed the nation as he asked the country to observe one-day Janta Curfew in March to break the cycle of infection.

Modi held a meeting with the chief ministers on Monday where he said that states will have greater say in determining the extent of restrictions and relaxations after May 17.

He also emphasised that social distancing remains the “biggest weapon” against the virus till a vaccine is found, and suggested that the lockdown may not be lifted entirely.

In his fifth interaction with chief ministers on the pandemic, according to participants at the meeting, the PM said that India now had a good sense of the spread of the disease. He also urged states to carefully examine specific geographical areas to come up with a roadmap for the next phase of lockdown and highlighted the importance of green zones in restarting economic activity.

The Prime Minister also underlined that the full resumption of rail travel would not be possible and pointed out that India will have to use technology in imparting education.

16 migrant workers run over by goods train in Aurangabad

AURANGABAD, May 8: Sixteen migrant workers were mowed down by an empty freight train in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district in the early hours of Friday. While 14 of them died on the spot, two of them later succumbed to injuries.

The workers, who were walking to Bhusawal from Jalna to board a “Shramik Special” train to return to Madhya Pradesh, were sleeping on the railway line when the mishap occurred between Badnapur and Karmad stations in Nanded Division.

Inspector Satish Khetmalas of Aurangabad rural police said the migrant workers must have fallen asleep on the tracks due to exhaustion.

“All the 20 workers were walking from Jalna to Bhusawal, which is about 150 kilometers. They stopped after walking for about 45 kilometers for some rest and fell asleep on the tracks. A goods train ran over them at around 5.15 am,” he said.

The empty train was heading from Cherlapally Station near Hyderabad to Panewadi Station near Manmad in Nashik. The motormen tried to bring the train to a halt but failed to do so, an official said.

“The loco pilot noticed some persons along the tracks. He honked and also tried to stop the train but failed to contain the speed before hitting those lying on the tracks,” Chief Public Relations Officer of South Central Railway Ch Rakesh said. He added that an inquiry has been ordered under the Commissioner of Railway Safety, SCR.

Will Lose If Coronavirus Fight Restricted To PM's Office: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, May 8: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said today that the government needed to "give transparency" on an exit plan after the coronavirus lockdown due to end on May 17. He also said the country needed not just a "strong PM" but also "strong Chief Ministers". The country would lose the coroanavirus fight if it was restricted only to the PM's Office, he said.

"If we keep this fight only in PMO, we will lose; PM must devolve power," the Congress leader said in a video interaction with the media.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said, had a style of working and that "may be effective" in other circumstances. "It may work for him, but when the country is facing such an unprecedented crisis, we don't need just one strong PM... we need many, many strong leaders, strong CMs (Chief Ministers) and strong DMs (District Magistrates). We need a strong patriotic Indian leader at the panchayat level, district level, state level... we need to tackle the problem and finish it at a local level, not at the national level," he said.

For example, the grading of red, orange and green had been done at the national level, but should have been done at the level of the DM as they have the most ground information, he said.

Gandhi also "advised" PM Modi to talk to Chief Ministers more often, and as a colleague, not as a boss.

On the lockdown, Gandhi said the government should be transparent about an exit plan.

"We need to understand when they will open, what are the criteria, what are the boxes they need to check off. The government should spell out the criteria," the Congress leader said.

"We simply cannot continue without providing support to people who are suffering because of the lockdown. A lockdown brings a psychological change. It is not an on-off switch. Currently, the people are very scared of this disease, so we are going to have to make psychological changes in the minds of the people. The government, if it wants to open up, has to turn this fear into a sense of confidence," he added.

"We are in an emergency and idea of injecting a sum of Rs 7500 directly into hands of poor is critical."

The Congress MP said massive transition was needed and coordination between the government and states, and the government and the people.

To a question about the state of migrants stranded by the lockdown, either forced to survive without jobs, shelter and food or walking hundreds of km with their families, Gandhi said this was "not the time to criticize the government" on the crisis.

"Our supply chain and the health system of red, orange and green is clashing. The migrants and the poor need money immediately. The MSME need money immediately, otherwise the lack of jobs will become a tsunami," said the Congress leader.

He was also asked about his new series of talks with experts like Raghuram Rajan and Abhijeet Banerjee on the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown.

"I speak to a lot of people. A lot of conversations are interesting. I thought I would like to give a glimpse of these conversations to the people of India. There is no other strategy," he replied.

11 die, 300 hospitalised in Vizag after gas leak from factory

VISAKHAPATNAM, May 7: A gas leak at a polymer plant in Visakhapatnam has killed 11 people and forced the evacuation of thousands of people in the 3-kilometre radius. The leakage of styrene gas, which causes nausea and dizziness, took place early on Thursday when the plant was preparing to resume production later today in view of the eased Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

In the villages closest to the plant located on the outskirts of the city, visuals on social media early this morning showed people lying motionless on the streets, at least two had fallen into the drains.

Elsewhere also, there were videos of parents carrying unconscious children in their arms on the streets and running to get medical help. Many others were seen dazed sitting on the pavements. Some more lay on the roads, a young woman among them was seen collapsing.

The municipal corporation tweeted that people in an area within approximately 3-kilometre radius of the plant were vulnerable.

The incident evoked memories of the gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal in 1984. That incident, counted among one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, had killed 3,500 people.

In Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dialled Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and promised all the help that he would need. Jagan Mohan Reddy left Visakhapatnam soon after.

Modi also called a meeting of the National Disaster Management Authority that he leads. “I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam,” PM Modi said in a tweet before the meeting started.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) chief SN Pradhan said about 1,000 to 1,500 people had been evacuated by the authorities and more than 800 taken to hospital.

Most of the people taken to hospital were later discharged.

Visakhapatnam District Medical and Health Officer Tirumala Rao told reporters, around 2 pm that 300 people were still admitted to various hospitals.

Late afternoon, Pradhan told a news briefing in Delhi that 11 people had died in the incident.

Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has announced Rs 1 crore compensation for the next of kin of the dead besides Rs 10 lakh to people who have been put on ventilator and Rs 25,000 to those who were treated as outpatients. The chief minister also announced that a committee has been set up to probe the incident and the government was prepared to have the company shift to a different location if recommended by the panel.

The gas leak is reported to have been spotted around between 2.30am and 3 am at LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd facility at RR Venkatapuram area near Gopalapatnam.

Assistant commissioner of police Swaroopa Rani said many people who woke up to the pungent smell of the gas ran out. Many, mostly children and old people, fainted at home. Police teams that went to the villages initially had to retreat for fear of being poisoned.

Andhra industries minister M Goutham Reddy said styrene gas appeared to have leaked from the storage tank of the plant. It seems the cap of the storage tank came off and by the time the engineers sealed the gap and neutralised the liquid, the damage was done.

The company had been told to adhere to all safety protocols before reopening the plant after lockdown relaxations. “It is for the company to prove that there was no negligence on its part,” Reddy said.

South Korea-headquartered LG Chem said operations at the plant had been suspended because of a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus outbreak and was preparing to resume operations.

“We are currently assessing the extent of the damage on residents in the town and are taking all necessary measures to protect residents and employees in collaboration with related organizations,” LG Chem, the owner of LG Polymers, said in a statement.

It said the spokesman separately said a night shift maintenance worker had discovered the leak from a tank. The cause of the leak is being investigated, the spokesman said.

Top Hizbul terrorist Riyaz Naikoo killed

NEW DELHI, May 6: Riyaz Naikoo, the top Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist who had never been caught, has been gunned down by security forces in a joint operation in his south Kashmir’s village on Wednesday. Naikoo had come to meet his family on Tuesday and stayed overnight at a hideout in Awantipora’s Beighbora village. This was home turf.

The 32-year-old, also known by his alias Zubair ul Islam and Bin Qasim, was counted among Kashmir’s most-experienced terrorists. On 5 June, Riyaz Naikoo would have completed eight years in the Hizbul Mujahideen, a rarity in a career where many don’t last for more than a few years. Security forces had come close to cornering him on several occasions; he managed to dodge them every time.

But on Tuesday, Kashmir Police’s anti-militancy unit Special Operations Group (SOG) had pinpointed information about his movements. He was going to be in his village to meet his family and relatives. According to one account, the SOG had an idea where he would stay overnight.

He was the chief operational commander of Hizbul Mujahideen in Jammu and Kashmir. Naikoo took command of Hizbul Mujahideen after Zakir Musa defected from Hizbul. Riyaz Naikoo used audio and video clips put out on social media to motivate youth to join terror. His audio and video messages articulated separatist ideology and praised Pakistan.

Mehbooba Mufti's Detention Under Public Safety Act Extended By 3 Months

JAMMU, May 5: Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, under detention since August 5 last year, has been booked under the stringent Public Safety Act for another three months.

She has been shifted and detained at her home for the last one month after her residence was notified as a subsidiary jail. With this extension, the Peoples Democratic Party chief would have spent a year in detention before it comes up for review again in August.

The detention under PSA has also been extended against two other leaders, Ali Mohammd Sagar of National Conference and Sartaj Madani of the PDP. Several other leaders including Shah Faesal, Naeem Akhtar and Hilal Akbar Lone were also detained under PSA.

Under the act, the person can be detained multiple times without any trial. Amnesty International has termed PSA as a lawless law which was often being used against separatists, terrorists and any potential troublemaker in Kashmir.

Ms Mufti, 60, was detained along with National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, his father Farooq Abdullah and hundreds of politicians when the government ended special status to the former state of Jammu and Kashmir and split it into two union territories. The centre had called it a preventive measure for possible backlash against the move.

Omar Abdullah, who was released from detention in the last week of March, just hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown in the country in an effort to break the chain of the virus transmission through social distancing, called the extension of Ms Mufti's extension "unbelievably cruel and retrograde".

"Unbelievably cruel and retrograde decision to extend Mehbooba Mufti's detention. Nothing she has done or said in any way justifies the way the Indian state has treated her and the others detained," he tweeted.

"For a government that is making tall claims about normality in J&K the last few days coupled with the extension of Ms Mufti's detention is proof enough that Modi ji has single-handedly pushed J&K back decades," he added.

Two weeks before Omar Abdullah, his father and former J&K chief minister Farooq Abdullah - who was under house arrest since August - too was released.

 

Congress will pay for rail travel of every needy migrant worker: Sonia Gandhi

NEW DELHI, May 4: Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday attacked the government for charging train tickets from migrant labourers going back to their homes and announced that her party will bear the cost for the rail travel of all such workers stranded due to the coronavirus lockdown.

In a statement, she said it is disturbing that the central government and the rail ministry are charging them for train tickets in this hour of crisis.

“But what is the responsibility of our government? Even today, lakhs of workers and migrant labourers are languishing in different parts of the country and wish to return to their homes and families but there is neither adequate money nor provision for free transport,” Gandhi said.

Referring to the “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad on February 24, Gandhi said when the government could spend nearly Rs 100 crore on transport and food for just one public programme in Gujarat, arrange free air travel for Indians stranded abroad and when the rail ministry has the largesse to donate Rs 151 crore to the PM’s Corona fund why can’t free rail travel be provided to migrant workers at this hour of acute distress.

“Our workers and labourers form the backbone of our economy and the ambassadors of our nation’s growth. Their hard work and sacrifice are the foundation of our nation,” she added.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too attacked the central government for charging train tickets from migrants. “On one hand, railways is charging fare from migrant labourers stuck in other sates, and on the other hand, the railways ministry is donating Rs 151 crore in PM-CARES fund. Please solve this riddle,” Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter in Hindi.

Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, said in her letter that the central government barely gave a four-hour notice of the lockdown, thus denying workers and migrant labourers the opportunity to return to their homes.

“Post the partition of 1947, this is the first time India witnessed a tragedy with such a massive human cost as thousands of migrant workers and labourers were forced to walk home several hundred km on foot- without food, without medicines, without money, without transportation, without anything except for the desire to return to their families and loved ones,” she said.

“The very thought of their plight is enough to break our hearts as there was also the outpouring of support from fellow Indians for their inspiring resolve.”

Gandhi said the Congress has been raising this issue from the outset of the lockdown and sought provisions for the safe and free rail travel of migrant workers and labourers to their home-towns.

“However, despite our repeated demands, the central government and the rail ministry have chosen to completely ignore the same,” she added.

Gandhi said the Congress has taken a decision that all its state units will bear the cost for the rail travel of every needy worker and migrant labourer and take necessary steps in this regard.

“This will be the Congress’ humble contribution in service of our compatriots and to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with them,” she said.

Shortly after her letter, Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel asked all the state units to mobilise all possible local resources. “As directed by Congress President, in my capacity as Treasuer (AICC) I request Pradesh Congress Committees to mobilise all possible local resources to help migrants purchase tickets to get back home,” Patel said on Twitter.

He added that it’s time to turn this into a people’s movement.

India to begin repatriation exercise from May 7

NEW DELHI, May 4: India will begin the repatriation of tens of thousands of Indians stranded abroad from May 7, the government announced on Monday. The exercise, billed to be the largest repatriation exercise to bring civilians home, will begin from Gulf countries where 70 percent of non-resident Indians live.

Government officials said that the first phase would cover as many as 1,900,000 people. The repatriation exercise will start from the United Arab Emirates, home to 3.4 million Indians, and move next to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. An official statement said the facility, extended to Indians in distress abroad, would be available on payment basis.

India’s evacuation of 1,70,000 civilians from Kuwait during the 1990 Gulf war has been the world’s largest evacuation exercise of civilians by air. India had then operated a little less than 500 flights, mostly by Air India, over two months. More than 25 years later, the feat also inspired the Akshay Kumar-starrer Bollywood flick ‘Airlift’.

This one is going to be bigger and a lot more complicated, a senior foreign ministry official said. The government won’t just use commercial airlines to run charter flights but also deploy its largest naval warships.

Passengers will be brought to international airport closest to state Will be sent to paid quarantine facility or hospital for 14 days Will be tested for Covid-19 at end of 14 days

Scores of foreign ministry officials have been compiling details of distressed Indian citizens abroad for days, prioritising the list of people who should be put on the initial round of flights.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid down the ground rule last month when he told the foreign ministry to give blue collar workers the first priority. Among them, a foreign ministry official said, those who are facing health problems of any nature, have had a bereavement in the family or cite any other humanitarian ground would be taken in the early round of flights.

In this decision, Modi had also accounted for the fact that many of the Indians staying in the gulf countries had lost their jobs. Countries such as the UAE and Kuwait had accepted New Delhi’s requests to accommodate the Indians for some more time since the state governments weren’t prepared to deal with the large number of people.

Apart from workers in the Gulf countries, officials said, Indian missions had received requests from thousands of students who were stuck in countries across the world, ranging from the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America to Russia, Singapore and Philippines. In Russia alone, an official said, the total strength of Indian students is about 15,000.

India had suspended international flights in March and told Indians abroad to stay put as the country prepped to enter into a lockdown mode. The foreign ministry announcement came as India moved into the third version of this lockdown on Monday, with a lot more relaxations that had been available in the initial two rounds.

Maharashtra govt accuses Arnab Goswami of interfering with probe, moves SC

MUMBAI, May 4: The Maharashtra government has accused senior journalist Arnab Goswami of interfering with the probe against him by using his tweets and television debates to browbeat the Mumbai Police.

In an application moved before the top court, the state sought urgent orders to restrain the journalist from engaging in such acts that creates a “fear psychosis” among the force impeding their ability to probe the case without fear or favour.

Goswami faces multiple complaints of inciting hatred among religious groups, which are now being probed under a single complaint at the NM Joshi Marg police station in Mumbai.

What has prompted the state to approach the Supreme Court is an order of April 24 by which police cannot take any coercive action against Goswami for three weeks. The direction came on a petition by Goswami who sought clubbing of multiple cases against him along with protection from arrest.

The fresh application by the state said, “Petitioner (Goswami) considers indulgence granted by this Court as some kind of a license to indulge in unwarranted sensationalism and to ridicule, denigrate, and defame the police department and its officers.”

The application seeks a restraint order against Goswami from indulging in such acts that tantamount to interference with the investigation. A further direction has been sought asking Goswami not to abuse the indulgence granted to him by the court on April 24 and cooperate with the investigation.

The application filed by advocate Sachin Patil states that the series of tweets against the police emerged after April 26 when Goswami was called by the police to join the probe. He was upset that the police was unnecessarily questioning him in connection with the FIR against him.

He also alleged that the police did not act on his complaint of April 23 when two bike-borne men attacked his car while returning from work.

The application stated that the television show hosted by Goswami on April 28 showed the Commissioner of Police in bad light by making false charges against him. Accusing him of making a “media spectacle” of the case against him, the application said, “The act and conduct of the petitioner would tantamount to encroaching upon the area of investigation (sole prerogative of the police) as also subjecting the entire criminal justice system to ridicule.”

Goswami has also been accused of carrying out a “vicious propaganda” against the police by abusing his journalistic freedom to malign the police force and its chief using false allegations.

Incidentally, Goswami has filed a second petition in the apex court with regard to a fresh FIR lodged against him on May 2, seeking similar relief from arrest. This case emanates out of his telecast which accused people of one community crowding at Bandra on April 15-16.

Colonel, Major, 3 others killed in Handwara terror attack

JAMMU, May 3: In one of the deadliest operations for the security forces in the Valley, an Indian army colonel, a major and two soldiers, along with a Jammu and Kashmir Police sub-inspector, were killed in a counter-terrorist operation in Kashmir late on Saturday.

The 12-hour operation, which took place at Handwara in Kupwara district, also resulted in the killing of two terrorists, the Indian Army said in a statement.

Vijay Kumar, inspector general of police, Jammu and Kashmir, said that a top Lashkar-e Taiba terrorist, identified as Haider, a Pakistani national, was killed in the operation.

Following intelligence inputs that terrorists had taken civilians hostage in a house in Handwara’s Changimulla, a joint team comprising five army personnel and a J&K Police officer reached the area and managed to rescue the civilians. The security team, however, came under heavy fire and in the ensuing fire fight, all were killed, besides the two terrorists, the statement said.

The army colonel killed in the operation was the commanding officer of the Rashtriya Rifles’ 21st Battalion and his death is seen as a blow to the morale of the forces. He was a decorated officer, having been recognized at least twice for bravery in counter-terrorism operations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Rajnath Singh paid tributes to the martyrs. Singh described the deaths as “deeply disturbing and painful". “The loss of our soldiers and security personnel in Handwara (J&K) is deeply disturbing and painful. They showed exemplary courage in their fight against the terrorists and made supreme sacrifice while serving the country. We will never forget their bravery and sacrifice," he said.

In a gesture of solidarity, the Indian Air Force in a Twitter post also honoured the dead personnel. “Indian Air Force pays tribute to the brave security personnel of the Indian Army and Jammu and Kashmir Police, who were martyred in action on 2 May in J&K. We Salute the bravehearts of India."

The deaths come about a month after five commandos belonging to an elite unit were killed along the Line of Control in Kashmir’s Keran sector during a close-quarter battle with an equal number of terrorists who were trying to infiltrate into India. The five terrorists were also killed.

Indian Army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane on a visit to Kashmir last month after the Keran encounter had slammed Pakistan for “exporting terror" at a time when the world was struggling to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. The visit had come amid increasing violations of a 2003 ceasefire pact between the two countries.

Aarogya Setu app spies on citizens: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, May 2: Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said the compulsory use of the Aarogya Setu app, with no institutional checks, is bound to raise data and privacy concerns for the citizens. He added it is akin to spying on citizens.

“The Arogya Setu app, is a sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a pvt operator, with no institutional oversight - raising serious data security & privacy concerns. Technology can help keep us safe; but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent,” tweeted Gandhi this evening.

Soon after the Congress leader’s tweet, IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, dismissing the snooping charge, underlined how the app helps protect people in their fight against the coronavirus.

“Daily a new lie. Aarogya Setu is a powerful companion which protects people. It has a robust data security architecture. Those who indulged in surveillance all their lives, won’t know how tech can be leveraged for good!,” tweeted the minister.

The government, on Friday, made the Aarogya Setu App mandatory for people living in the coronavirus Containment Zones inside the 130 districts identified as the Red Zones. The government considers the App to be a handy coronavirus containment tool which can be used to assess the level of risk an individual is exposed to vis-a-vis Covid-19 infection.

The App, developed by the ministry of electronics and information technology (MEITY), uses cell phone tracking technology to put individuals in low-risk, moderate and high-risk categories by tracing if the person came in contact with a virus-infected patient or a person suspected to be infected.

Around 45 organisations and more than 100 individuals on Saturday wrote to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad against the mandatory use of the Aarogya Setu app for workers in both private and public workplaces.

“While the government initially claimed that the use of Aarogya Setu would be purely voluntary, downloading the app was soon made mandatory for all Central Armed Police Forces personnel and employees of Prasar Bharati,” the letter signed by the groups stated. The move could also violate privacy laws as well as the Puttaswamy privacy judgement, the letter says.

The government representative, however, denied that there were privacy issues.

Abhishek Singh of MyGov termed the concerns as non-issues and said that the app is mandatory only till the pandemic exists. “Till the epidemic law is in force, only those who are travelling to offices will have to download the app. Once the epidemic is over, a user can delete the app,” Singh said.

He said that due to demand from all quarters to open business, which brings in the possibility of contamination, offices were asked to ensure that the app is downloaded. “Commercial organisations have not raised the issue, neither have industry bodies like FICCI, ASSOCHAM or NASSCOM,” said Singh.

 



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