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Pranab Mukherjee, ex-president and Congress veteran, is dead

NEW DELHI, Aug 31: Pranab Mukherjee, India’s former president and one of the country’s most admired political leaders, died on Monday. He was 84.

Mukherjee had suffered a fall at his Rajaji Marg house and had been operated to remove a blood clot in his brain on August 10. Doctors on Monday morning warned that there was a decline in his condition and he was in septic shock due to infection in his lung. Soon after, his son Abhijit Mukherjee also tweeted a request to people, asking them to pray for his father. “He is a fighter & with all your good wishes & prayers , He will surely recover !” Abhijit tweeted.

Three hours later, Abhijit made the announcement on social media.

“With a Heavy Heart, this is to inform you that my father Shri #PranabMukherjee has just passed away in spite of the best efforts of Doctors of RR Hospital & prayers ,duas & prarthanas from people throughout India !,” Abhijit tweeted about the veteran politician who would often speak of his humble beginnings and his amazing journey from the flickers of a lamp in a small Bengal village to the chandeliers of Delhi.

A quintessential Congressman for five decades, the seven-time parliamentarian had worked as a teacher and journalist before taking his first steps in politics. His first stop in Delhi was the Rajya Sabha in 1969, the House that re-elected him four more times before he won his first Lok Sabha election from Bengal’s Jangipur in 2004. He was re-elected in 2009.

Mukherjee, who was seen as a formidable political strategist, draftsman and parliamentarian with an astute legal mind, prospered in Delhi. He first made it to Indira Gandhi’s council of ministers in 1972 and never looked back, going on to hold some of the most powerful portfolios - finance, commerce, external affairs and defence - in Congress governments. Pranab Mukherjee was considered the sharpest mind and the prime troubleshooter in the government led by Manmohan Singh, who he had appointed as RBI governor in the 1980s.

His last stop in public life was Rashtrapati Bhavan. Mukherjee, a nominee of the Congress-led UPA coalition, was elected India’s President in 2012. By the time he exited Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2017, he left the legacy of a president who spoke his mind to the government and yet, kept the bridges and friendships intact.

Like when President Mukherjee, six months before his term was to end in 2017, accepted the mercy petitions of four death-row convicts for the 1992 Bara massacre against the advice of the home ministry, the Centre honoured his decision. In January 2019, Mukherjee was also named for the country’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who described him as the “outstanding statesman of our times”.

As news of Pranab Mukherjee’s death emerged, Prime Minister Modi paid tributes to the veteran politician who had guided him when he first came to Delhi from Gujarat in 2014, ready to take charge as prime minister. “He has left an indelible mark on the development trajectory of our nation. A scholar par excellence, a towering statesman, he was admired across the political spectrum and by all sections of society,” PM Modi tweeted.

President Ram Nath Kovind described Mukherjee’s demise as “passing of an era”.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi also condoled his death.

Unlock 4.0: Schools, colleges and other educational institutions to remain closed till September 30

NEW DELHI, Aug 29: Ministry of Home Affairs on Saturday released the Unlock 4.0 guidelines. It notified that schools, colleges and other educational institutions will remain closed up to September 30 in view of Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, students of classes 9 to 12 may be allowed to visit schools outside Containment Zones on voluntary basis with parents’ written consent, for taking guidance from their teachers.

“States and UTs may permit upto 50% of teaching and non- teaching staff to be called to the schools at a time for online teaching/ tele- counselling related work in areas outside containment zones only with effect from 21st September 2020 for which SOP will be issued by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,” the guidelines read.

Skill or entrepreneurship training will also be permitted in National Skill Training Institutes, Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), short term training centres registered with National Skill Development Corporation or State Skill Development Missions or other ministries of Government of India or state. National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development (NIESBUD), Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE) and their training providers will also be permitted from September 21 for which SOP will be issued by MoHFW.

Higher Education Institutions only for research scholars (PhD) and post-graduate students of technical and professional programmes requiring laboratory or experimental works will also be permitted by the department of higher education in consultation with MHA, based on the assessment of the situation in states and UTs.

Covid-19 ‘Act of God’, may result in contraction of economy: Nirmala Sitharaman

NEW DELHI, Aug 27: The government said on Thursday that the coronavirus pandemic has hit the Goods and Services Tax (GST) collection where the shortfall is Rs 2.35 lakh crore. The announcement was made after a GST Council meeting chaired by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

Interacting with media after the meeting, Sitharaman referred to the coronavirus pandemic as an ‘Act of God’ and said it may result in contraction of the economy this fiscal.

“The annual GST compensation requirement is estimated to be around Rs 3 lakh crore, and cess collection is expected to be around Rs 65,000 crore, leaving us with an annual compensation gap of Rs 2.35 lakh crore,” said Ajay Bhushan Pandey, Revenue Secretary at the Finance Ministry.

He added that during the April to July quarter, total GST compensation to be paid is Rs 1.5 lakh crore. “This is so because there was hardly any GST Collection in April and May,” said Pandey.

The five-hour-long meeting was attended by representatives of all states, who held deliberations via video conferencing on ways to make up for the shortfall in states’ revenues.

While Congress and the states ruled by non-NDA parties pushed for the Centre meeting its statutory obligation of covering the deficit, the Union government cited a legal opinion to say it had no such obligation if there was a shortfall in tax collections.

The Centre was of the opinion that the states should borrow to make up for the shortfall in the tax revenues that have been compounded by the Covid-19 crisis.

Setting the tone for the meeting, West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra had written to Sitharaman on August 26 saying states should not be asked to borrow from the market to make good the shortfall in GST revenue collection.

“The Centre must pay the compensation from the different cesses that it collects, as it is not getting devolved to the states. In case of a shortfall it is the responsibility of the Centre to garner resources for fully compensating the states, as per the formula agreed upon with the states,” Mitra wrote in his letter.

In 2017, 28 states agreed to subsume their local taxes such as VAT into the new, nationwide Goods and Services Tax (GST), in what was hailed as the biggest tax reform.

At that time, the Centre had promised to compensate states for any revenue loss for five years from a pool created by levying cess over and above the GST on luxury and sin goods.

CWC meeting ends, Sonia Gandhi to continue as Congress president for now

NEW DELHI, Aug 24: The meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) ended on Monday, after deliberating on the turmoil within the party for seven hours, with a resolution that Sonia Gandhi will continue to lead the party.

The members of the CWC, the party’s highest decision-making body, also decided to form a committee to help Gandhi in day-to-day functioning of the organisation.

A session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) will be called within six months where future course of action will be decided.

Sonia Gandhi, who was adamant on quitting the post of party president, agreed to continue. She said after the marathon meeting, “Congress is one big family and I don’t hold anything against anyone. But all, especially senior leaders should raise concerns at the party forum only.”

The crisis was triggered by a letter written earlier this month by a group of Congress leaders - 23 of them - who suggested complete overhaul of the party, including full-time president, a parliamentary board if a non-Gandhi become the party chief and collective leadership.

In her response, Gandhi asked the CWC members to begin the process of electing the next party president. She also presented a statement which was read out by KC Venugopal. Many leaders, including former prime ministr Manmohan Singh, urged Gandhi to continue.

Three of the 23 dissenters - Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik - also lauded her contribution to the party and insisted that their letter was not intended to question the leadership of the Gandhi family.

Explaining the reasons for writing the letter to the Congress president, Azad made it amply that it was not directed against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as “misconstrued” and alleged by some people.

Party general secretary Ambika Soni, meanwhile, demanded action against the dissenters, saying rules are equal for both seniors and juniors in the party.

Former union minister RPN Singh praised Sonia Gandhi for being available 24x7 to guide the party during Jharkhand elections.

“We won the elections. Secondly, I want to tell all CWC members that we should all learn from Sonia Gandhi,” he told the CWC. Singh also wanted Sonia Gandhi to continue on the post till a new president is elected.

Sonia Gandhi completed one year as the party’s interim chief on August 10. She was a full-fledged party president for over 19 years from May 1998 to December 2017 when Rahul Gandhi took over the reins from her and resigned in May 2019 owning moral responsibility for the party’s rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Don’t hold anything against anyone: Sonia Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Aug 24: Congress’ interim president Sonia Gandhi on Monday said that she doesn’t hold anything against anyone, as the working committee of the party urged her to continue as party chief.

“Congress is one big family and I don’t hold anything against anyone. But all, especially senior leaders should raise concerns at the party forum only,” Gandhi said after a seven-hour-long meeting of the CWC, the party’s highest decision-making body.

The CWC meeting was called to find a way out of the internal crisis triggered by a letter from 23 Congress leaders seeking overhaul of the organisation. Some of the demands of these leaders included choosing an active, full-time and visible president.

A large section of the leaders backed Sonia Gandhi at the virtual meeting. Led by former prime minister Manmohan Singh and AK Antony, these leaders attacked the group which wrote the letter. Antony dubbed the letter as “unfortunate and cruel”.

One of the senior Congress leaders Kapil Sibal, who is also among the signatories of the letter, created a flutter when he tweeted against Rahul Gandhi over purported remark linking them to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He withdrew his tweet after a clarification from Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala. “Was informed by Rahul Gandhi personally that he never said what was attributed to him. I therefore withdraw my tweet,” he said on Twitter.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, one of the dissenters, too attempted to set the record straight.

The leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha said, ‘A section of media is wrongly attributing that in CWC I told Rahul Gandhi to prove that the letter written by us is in collusion with BJP. Let me make it very clear that Rahul Gandhi has neither in CWC nor outside said that this letter was written at the behest of BJP.”

Part of under construction flyover at Gurugram’s Sohna road collapses

GURUGRAM, Aug 22: A section of the under-construction flyover in Gurugram’s Sohna Road collapsed on Saturday night. The incident occurred at 9.47 pm when three girders installed recently between two pillars came crashing down in front of Vipul Greens condominium. At least two people have been injured in the incident.

The police confirmed that two labourers were injured but a serious accident was averted as it was night time and traffic volume was low since markets and offices were closed on Saturday as part of the weekend restrictions enforced by the state government to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Aman Yadav, assistant commissioner of police (Sadar), said they received information within few minutes of the collapse and a patrolling car and along with riders reached the spot in five minutes. No casualty was reported. “Two labourers at the site have suffered minor injuries,” he said.

The 21.66 km-long Sohna road project is being constructed in two packages. The first part comprises an underpass and an elevated road from Subash Chowk towards Badshahpur covering 6 km. The section that collapsed was a part of the first package.

The second part comprises the expansion of 12.72-km road from Badshahpur to Sohna and involves construction of flyovers and underpasses at major crossings to ensure smooth movement of vehicles on the entire stretch. The deadline for both these projects is July, 2021.

National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) officials confirmed the collapse and said that a team reached the spot to assess the situation. The area has been sealed off.

Ashok Sharma, project director, NHAI said, “We sent a team of officials immediately to.the spot after the incident. No work was going on today and the area was secure and barricaded. Normally such incidents don’t happen and there must be a technical reason which caused this. The technical team will probe it.”

A senior official from Oriental Engineering, the contractor on condition of anonymity said it primarily appears that stressing wire which bears the load of the girders had some problem. “The real reason for this collapse will need a structural probe,” he added.

Locals said they heard a loud bang at around 9.50 pm and rushed outside.

Sarika Jindal, who lives in Tower 7 of Vipul Greens, which is adjacent to Sohna Road said she heard a loud noise and felt it was a major earthquake. Her family came down and saw that the elevated road had collapsed. “My children got so scared and asked us to vacate the building and go down. It was scary,” she said.

Puneet Ambwani, another resident of Vipul Greens, said it was around 9.47 pm when he thought it was an earthquake. “Our furniture literally shook for a few seconds,” he mentioned.

Haryana deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala tweeted that the injured have been admitted and are undergoing treatment. NHAI team, SDM, and civil defense team are at site, he added.

Kashmir leaders resolve to fight for restoration of Article 370 and J-K statehood

SRINAGAR, Aug 22: Top Kashmiri leaders, who signed the Gupkar declaration last year, have decided to strive for the restoration of Article 370 and 35A, the constitution of J&K and its statehood.

National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, Congress state president Ghulam Ahmad Mir, CPI (M) general secretary M Y Tarigami, Peoples Conference chairman, Sajad Gani Lone and vice president Awami National Conference Muzuffar Shah have stated so in a joint statement issued on Saturday.

The first such joint statement signed by mainstream parties after the revocation of Article 370 also hints at launching a joint struggle for restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood.

“We all reiterate that we are bound, wholly, by the contents of the Gupkar declaration and will unwaveringly adhere to it. We are committed to strive for the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A, the Constitution of J&K and the restoration of the State and any division of the State is unacceptable to us. We unanimously reiterate that there can be ‘nothing about us without us’”, the joint statement said.

Panchayat polls have been held in Jammu and Kashmir after it was reorganised as a Union Territory and the Centre has stated that it will soon have a government elected by people once assembly elections are held after the ongoing delimitation exercise. However, the joint statement was silent on this.

The statement said the signatories to the Gupkar declaration of 4th August 2019 have barely managed to establish a basic level of communication with each other in the face of a series of “prohibitive and punitive” curbs imposed by the government, aimed at “impeding” all social and political interactions.

“The limited confabulations held within the constraints imposed have resulted in this unanimous resolution that the unfortunate events of 5th August 2019 have unrecognizably changed the relationship between J&K and New Delhi. In a spitefully shortsighted and unconstitutional move, Articles 370 and 35A were abrogated and the State was bifurcated and relegated to the status of two Union Territories and its Constitution tried to be made unenforceable.”

The Centre has maintained that the provisions removed by it on August 5 were temporary and were partly responsible for breeding terrorism in the region and preventing its growth.

The statement signed by the parties, however, states that the Centre’s move to abrogate Article 370 and bifurcate the erstwhile state into two union territories was a challenge to the basic identity of the people of J&K.

“The measures attempt to redefine who we are. These changes were accompanied by repressive measures meant to silence people and coerce them into submission, and continue unabated,” the statement said.

The statement also stresses on a collective political fight for the demands raised therein.

“We want to assure the people that all our political activities will be subservient to the sacred goal of reverting to the status of J&K as it existed on 4th August 2019,” the statement further said.

The statement also expresses gratitude to people, political parties, the intelligentsia and other civil society groups for opposing the changes made on 5th August 2019 and standing with the people of J&K. Several petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court against the change effected in the status of Jammu and Kashmir.

The leaders also called attention to the recent skirmishes at the LAC (Line of Actual Control) and the LOC (Line of Control) that have resulted in casualties on both sides and said there was a need to work for enduring peace in the region.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti could not attend the meeting since she continues to be in detention. However, her daughter tweeted to express her support for the principle of a ‘joint struggle’ as expressed in the statement.

“Ms Mufti appreciates the statesmanship shown by Dr Farooq sahab in forging a collective response to Delhi’s onslaught on J&Ks special status. It’s time we forego political differences & stand together,” tweeted Iltija Mufti.

Hotels to reopen in Delhi

NEW DELHI, Aug 19: The Delhi State Disaster Management Authority on Wednesday gave nod to reopen hotels in Delhi. The agency also allowed reopening of weekly markets on a trial basis. However, gymnasiums will continue to remain closed.

The Delhi government led by Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal had been advocating the reopening of hotels, gyms and weekly markets in the national capital since the start of Unlock 3.0 in the country. It had sent a proposal for this twice to the Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, who also heads the SDMA, citing the decline in the number of Covid 19 cases in the national capital.

However, the LG’s office had indicated that relaxations such as allowing local weekly markets and gymnasiums to operate may lead to a resurgence in the number of cases and, therefore, rejected Kejriwal government’s insistence on that count.

Wednesday’s decision to reopen hotels is likely to benefit around four lakh people employed in the hotel industry in the national capital.

Senior government officials said that the trial period for re-opening weekly markets is likely to be anywhere between one week to 10 days.

However, gymnasiums and yoga centres cannot open in Delhi as of now. A decision on this will be taken at a later stage in another meeting of the SDMA.

Senior government officials said that a major concern expressed by the LG was the number of fresh cases Delhi continues to witness on a daily basis. According to the last one week’s data, Delhi on an average is getting 1,033 cases every day.

Seven of Gurugram’s 11 underpasses drown in rainwater

GURUGRAM, Aug 19: At least seven out of city’s 11 underpasses were heavily flooded on Wednesday after a spell of heavy rainfall lashed the city. Most of of the underpasses remained shut for commuters till late Wednesday evening.

Three underpasses on Golf Course Road (at DLF Phase 1, Genpact Chowk and Bristol Chowk), two in Cyber City next to Shankar Chowk, and two others at Iffco Chowk and Rajiv Chowk on the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway were submerged in rainwater and were closed for commuter use at various points, starting 10 am, officials said.

Barring the underpass at DLF Phase 1, all the remaining had been cleared of rainwater by 8pm.

“The level of rainwater is extremely high at the underpass in DLF Phase 1. More than five crore kilolitres of rainwater has accumulated there. Five fire tenders have been deployed at the underpass, and it will be cleared by tomorrow (Thursday),” said Satyawan Samriwal, assistant divisional fire officer (ADFO), after a ground assessment.

Samriwal further said that a sedan was recovered from the DLF Phase 1 underpass, after its driver had got stuck midway and had to abandon his car. He said the car driver managed to swim out before the underpass was completely inundated.

The officer said that a total of 11 fire tenders were used in draining rainwater from the seven underpasses. “Drainage operations commenced around 11am. Seven fire tenders of ours and four from DLF fire services were used at different points of the city. Two each were deployed at Iffco Chowk and Rajiv Chowk. While the remaining were spread across the underpasses on Golf Course Road and Cyber City,” said Samriwal.

The underpasses at Iffco Chowk and Rajiv Chowk on the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway had been closed last year too due to flooding during the monsoon.

The closure of underpasses on Golf Course Road and Cyber City due to flooding, however, occurred for the first time this year, the officials said.

According to officials of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), rainwater from MG Road and nearby under-construction HUDA City Centre underpass and flyover flooded the low-lying Iffco Chowk underpass, while at Rajiv Chowk, a drainage issue on CH Bakhtawar Singh Road resulted in the flooding of the underpass.

“At both the underpasses, we installed four pumps each, to drain out rainwater along with the deployment of four fire tenders, two at each of the underpass. At the IFFCO Chowk underpass, there was additional rainwater from nearby construction at HUDA City Centre which was diverted towards it, as a result of which it got flooded. At the Rajiv Chowk, rainwater from nearby residential areas as well as the disadvantage of the underpass being located on a slope, led to flooding. After intensive clearing operations, the two underpasses were free of rainwater by the evening,” said a NHAI official.

“Flooding was observed at MG road underpass, Medanta underpass and Hero Honda Chowk, all of which were tackled well in time by the NHAI, GMDA and MCG jointly, with assistance of local police. While the MG road underpass is already open for public use, at Medanta underpass rainwater was cleared by the evening. However, it likely to be functional by midnight as cleaning of mud is required,” said Ashok Sharma, project director of NHAI.

In August, 2018, the Hero Honda Chowk underpass was closed for more than 50 hours after 50 million litres of rainwater had accumulated there. The problem is recurrent due to uncontrolled rain water hitting NH8 at these locations, said experts. Until some permanent arrangement is done by local agencies to control rain water from hitting NH8, it will continue.

Officials from DLF, the caretaker of the underpasses on Golf Course Road and Cyber City, declined to comment on the matter.

As per Samriwal, the underpasses in these two areas were flooded as the main HSVP drainage line flowed back.

“In both these areas, the main drainage line through which the underpasses were connected, was either choked or filled to its maximum capacity. As a result, it flowed back and flooded the underpass. With no outlet for rainwater to get cleared, the volume of rainwater accumulation kept on increasing at the underpasses and eventually they were totally submerged,” said Samriwal.

Sewa Ram, an urban transport systems design expert and a faculty member at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi said that the drainage of underpasses in the city, needs a complete overhaul.

“It is not the first time that underpasses have been flooded with rainwater in the city. It is obvious that an underpass is located in a low-lying area, hence it will remain vulnerable to waterlogging. The main reason why they get flooded is due to either poor linkage to the main drains or the master drain itself has a low capacity. The entire drainage system needs to be reworked and capacity increased or else this will remain a continuous problem,” said Sewa Ram.

Indians Must Question: Rahul Gandhi Shares Congress Letter To Zuckerberg

NEW DELHI, Aug 18: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi today shared the party's letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg amid a raging row over an article in US publication Wall Street Journal, which said Facebook deliberately ignored disruptive content from members of the ruling BJP and right-wing leaders. The party has demanded a time-bound high level inquiry into the conduct of Facebook India executives over what it called its "blatant biases and dubious practices".

The letter also named senior executive Ankhi Das, who WSJ said, was instrumental in making the policy of giving a go by to divisive content despite the issue being flagged by Zuckerberg in an internal townhall.

"We cannot allow any manipulation of our hard-earned democracy through bias, fake news & hate speech. As exposed by @WSJ, Facebook's involvement in peddling fake and hate news needs to be questioned by all Indians," Gandhi's tweet accompanying the letter read.

The Congress letter, signed by the party's senior leader KC Venugopal, mentioned that the findings of the WSJ published in the article of August 14, "was not a surprise revelation".

Facebook "May be a willing participant in thwarting the rights and values that the founding leaders of the Congress sacrificed their lives for", the letter read but added it was not too late for "course correction".

The first step, it said, should be a time-bound inquiry and the report should be completed within a month or two and made public. The company, the Congress said, should remove the Facebook India team meanwhile. Facebook, the Congress also said, should also publish all instances of "hate speech posts since 2014 that were allowed on the platform" .

A police case has been filed against Ankhi Das, Facebook's policy chief in India, for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and inciting people.

Over the last two days, the Congress and the BJP have been targetting each other over the WSJ report. Gandhi was the first to tweet the WSJ report. The accompanying comment read, "BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India.They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate. Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook".

His tweet triggered angry retaliation from the BJP, which cited the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, in which it was alleged that the UK-based firm offered Congress Facebook data to influence voters in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress had denied the allegations.

Dubbing the Congress "losers", Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted: "You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica & Facebook to weaponise data before the elections & now have the gall to question us?"

Yesterday, parliamentarians Shashi Tharoor and Nishikant Dubey clashed on Twitter over the Joint Parliamentary probe the Congress has demanded into the Facebook issue.

As Tharoor said the parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology that he heads may summon Facebook executives, BJP's Nishikant Dubey declared that the Congress MP has no right to do it without authorization. Trinamool Congress's Mahua Moitra has backed Tharoor.


Rahul Gandhi lands another jibe on Modi over China

NEW DELHI, Aug 16: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has led his party’s relentless attack on the government over the border stand-off with China, hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue on Sunday once again.

“Everybody believes in the capability and valour of the Indian army. Except the PM: Whose cowardice allowed China to take our land,” Gandhi tweeted.

Gandhi and the Congress have been critical of the government over the handling of the situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China after 20 Indian Army soldiers, including an officer, were killed on June 15 by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. He and his party have been questioning the government over its claim that China did not occupy or intrude into India.

Congress had criticised Modi for not naming China in his Independence Day speech on Saturday, asking the government to tell people how it proposes to push back Chinese forces occupying Indian territory.

“We all are proud of our armed, paramilitary and police forces. We 1.3 billion Indians and all Congress workers are proud of them. Whenever there has been an attack on us, they have given a befitting reply to the attackers,” Congress’ chief spokesperson, Randeep Singh Surjewala, told reporters after the flag hoisting ceremony at the party headquarters.

“But we must also think why our rulers are scared of taking China’s name. Today, on the Independence Day, when China has occupied our territory, every Indian should ask the government how it proposes to push the Chinese forces back and protect our territorial integrity. Why are those who are sitting in power scared of mentioning China’s name?” he asked.

Surjewala’s comments came after the Prime Minister, in his Independence Day speech, delivered a sharp message to China and Pakistan, declaring that the armed forces deployed along the borders with the two countries have given a fitting reply to those who sought to challenge India’s sovereignty. However, he did not name the two countries.

On Friday, Gandhi had claimed that the country will have to pay a “huge price”.

“GOI is scared to face up to Chinese intentions in Ladakh. Evidence on the ground indicates that China is preparing and positioning itself. PM’s personal lack of courage and the media’s silence will result in India paying a huge price,” he had tweeted.

New focus of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is ‘make for world’: Modi

NEW DELHI, Aug 15: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said major global firms are looking at India as a major investment destination, which is reflected by a robust inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) last financial year, and through ‘Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ (self-reliant India initiative) the country is shifting its focus from ‘Make in India’ to ‘Make for world’.

Addressing the nation on the country’s 74th Independence Day, the prime minister said that the country has made a series of economic reforms, such as ‘one nation one tax’, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and the bank merger, which have caught attention of the global investors. As a result, he said, India attracted huge amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) last year. According to the latest FDI data issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), overall FDI flow in India in 2019-20 was about $74.4 billion in 2019-20, a 20% jump over the same period last year.

He said Independent India should be “vocal for local” and asked citizens to glorify Indian products to promote ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. He gave the example of N-95 masks, personal protective equipments (PPEs) and ventilators - how Indian entrepreneurs came up at the time of global Covid-19 urgency and not only met the domestic demand but also exported them to the world.

He said that the country is striving to achieve overall economic growth and become self-reliant, but humanity remains its ethos. “India has always believed that the entire world is one family. While we focus on economic growth and development, humanity must retain a central role in this process and our journey,” he said.

Unveiling his vision of a self-reliant India, the Prime Minister said that the government has unveiled over Rs 110 lakh crore National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) to boost the economy and create jobs. “In order to rapidly modernise India, there is a need to give a new direction to overall infrastructure development,” he said, adding that over 7,000 projects under NIP have been already identified.

“This will be, in a way, a new revolution in the field of infrastructure. This is the time to end silos in infrastructure. There is a plan to connect the entire country with multi-model connectivity infrastructure,” he said.

NIP will play a crucial role in overcoming the adverse impact of Covid-19 on the economy and catapult the economy in a higher growth trajectory, he said.

Covid-19 pandemic and a 68-day nationwide lockdown to check the spread of the virus since March 25 adversely impacted the country’s economic growth, which was already subdued. India’s gross domestic product (GDP) slowed to 4.2% in fiscal 2019-20, the lowest in 11 years. It followed precipitous growth contractions reported by the US and European countries after the pandemic closed shops, factories and restaurants, signalling a period of recession. The US economy posted a second-quarter contraction of 9.5%, the worst figure on record.

India is expected to report its April-June GDP numbers by the end of this month. Economists expect its economy to contract by at least 5% this year (2020-21) especially because the country had seen a hard lockdown for two full months of the quarter (April and May).

The government on December 31 last year unveiled the NIP with an aim to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25. The focus of the infrastructure pipeline is to accelerate growth and create employment in both urban and rural areas. The NIP is already under execution as 40% of the projects worth Rs 44 lakh crore are at various stages of implementation, government officials said requesting anonymity.

Giving emphasis to import of raw material and export of value-added products to make India a manufacturing hub, PM Modi said, “How long can the raw material be sent out of our country and finished products imported?. “Atmnirbhar Bharat doesn’t mean only reducing imports, it means to enhancing our capacity, our creativity, our skills,” he added.

Ladakh, Leh, Kargil to be India’s first carbon neutral region: Modi

NEW DELHI, Aug 15: A 7500 MW solar park is being built in Ladakh for electricity and infrastructure development in the region. The Ladakh, Leh and Kargil region will be developed and declared to be a carbon neutral region, PM Modi said in his Independence Day speech on Saturday.

While the concept of carbon neutral villages have been considered in India in the past and some villages in Kerala and Manipur have adopted it, this will be the first large region to be carbon neutral. Carbon neutrality means annual zero net anthropogenic (human caused or influenced) CO2 emissions by a certain date. “By definition, carbon neutrality means every ton of anthropogenic CO2 emitted is compensated with an equivalent amount of CO2 removed,” according to World Resources Institute. Many countries have announced to be carbon neutral by 2050 as part of the Paris Agreement.

“Just like Sikkim has positioned itself as an organic state, the Ladakh, Kargil and Leh region is moving in the direction of becoming carbon neutral. This will be achieved with participation from local people,” PM Modi said adding that India now among top 5 countries in renewable energy generation.

“It is heartening to hear an environmentally conscious independence day speech. The ongoing pandemic has shown that living in harmony with nature is the only way forward. The Ladakh region is a natural carbon sink and making it carbon neutral pave the way for many other regions in India to embark on this carbon neutrality journey. It will be now interesting to see how this announcement is operationalised and replicated in other parts of the country. It will also be intriguing to see how large businesses will respond to this call.

“India leads the UN secretary general’s Industry Transitions Track along with Sweden and such domestic measures will enable enhanced global cooperation which is essential in winning the fight against climate change,” said Karan Mangotra, associate director and climate finance expert at The Energy and Resources Institute.

Modi also announced that 100 cities will be considered on a mission mode to achieve clean air through various policy, participatory and technological interventions.

Along the lines of Project Tiger, Modi said Project Lion and Project Dolphin will be rolled out soon to ensure biodiversity conservation which may also boost tourism.

India recorded a 33% increase in tiger numbers from 2014 to 2018, according to the summary of the report, All India Tiger Estimation Results, released last year. There were 2,967 tigers in India in 2018, compared to 2,226 in 2014.

In India, Gangetic dolphins are found along deep river reaches in Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. As per environment ministry’s assessment report, there are about 3700 Gangetic dolphins.

Environment ministry will be launching a ten year “Project Gangetic Dolphin” which will try to empower the river dependent population in reducing the river pollution and allowing sustainable fisheries. The project will be implemented by various ministries including jal shakti, ministry of shipping, ministry of agriculture & farmers welfare, ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying, ministries of power and rural development.

Prez Kovind hits out at China’s ‘expansionist’ designs

NEW DELHI, Aug 14: President Ram Nath Kovind indirectly hit out at China’s ‘expansionist’ designs, praised India’s response to coronavirus pandemic as an example before the rest of the world, cited the ground breaking ceremony at Ayodhya for building of the Ram Temple as example of India’s unity in diversity and hailed the new education policy as instrument of change in the country during his address to the nation on the eve of the 74th Independence Day.

The President also took note of the destruction caused by Cyclone Amphan in West Bengal and Odisha earlier this year.

“It is reassuring to note that the Central government, while anticipating the tremendous challenge, responded effectively and well in time. For a country so vast and diverse with high population density, meeting this challenge requires super human efforts. All state governments took measures in accordance with local circumstances. People also supported wholeheartedly. With our committed attitude we have succeeded in containing the magnitude of the pandemic and saving a large number of lives. This is worth emulating by the wider world,” he said lauding India’s collective response to the global pandemic.

He went on to praise the essential service providers led by the medical professionals.

“The nation is indebted to doctors, nurses and other health workers who have been continuously on the forefront of the fight against this virus. Unfortunately many of them have lost lives battling the pandemic. They are our national heroes,” he added.

President Kovind also highlighted that India had generated enormous goodwill by reaching out confidently to other countries that needed help.

“In responding to calls from countries for supplies of medicine, India has again shown that it stands by the global community in times of distress. We have been at the forefront involving regional and global strategies to the pandemic,” President Kovind said, adding that the whole world was recognizing the Indian value of considering the world as one family.

He went on to cite the overwhelming vote in favour of India’s candidature for the non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security council to reinforce his point about India’s global standing.

President Kovind also mentioned Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana announced by PM Narendra Modi as a measure that helped the poor mitigate the impact of the disease. He also took note of the Vande Bharat mission to bring back Indians stranded in foreign countries.

He also stressed on the government’s policy of self reliance to say, “India’s self reliance means self sufficiency without alienating or distancing from the world. The world now realizes what our sages had said long ago, the global community is but one family, Vasudaib Kutumbkam.”

On the Galwan Valley clashes with China, he said, “Some in our neighbourhood tried to carry out their misadventure of expansion, our brave soldiers laid down their lives defending our borders, those worthy sons of Bharat Mata lived and died for national pride. The entire nation salutes the martyrs of Galwan Valley,” he said.

President’s address on the eve of the 74th Independence Day comes in a year marked by the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the economy and other spheres of life.

Even the I-Day on Saturday will be celebrated under restrictions placed on the number of visitors at the iconic Red Fort and observance of special safety protocols during the curtailed programme to keep the highly contagious disease at bay.

Ashok Gehlot-led Rajasthan govt wins trust vote in assembly

JAIPUR, Aug 14: A month after rebellion from 19 dissident legislators of his party threatened the survival of his government, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot sailed through the trust vote in the state assembly on Friday.

The vote took place a day after Sachin Pilot attended the Congress Legislature Party meeting at CM Gehlot’s house and declared that he is determined to act in the “interest of the people of Rajasthan and in accordance with the promises made”.

The win in the House will allow CM Gehlot six months’ time to build and repair ties with the rebels who have come home.

“The vote of confidence which was brought by the government has been passed with a very good majority today in the Rajasthan assembly. Despite various attempts by the opposition, the result is in favour of the government,” said Sachin Pilot after the voting.

The leader added that this should put a full stop to all suspicions about the numerical strength of the government.

“A roadmap has been prepared for all the issues that were being raised. I have complete faith, that roadmap will be announced timely,” said Pilot, referring to the truce deal he secured with the Congress high command before he returned to the state.

Rajasthan parliamentary affair minister Shanti Dhariwal moved a motion of confidence in the assembly.

Initiating the debate on the motion, Dhariwal blamed the Centre for trying to “topple” the governments in Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Goa, using money and power, but said a similar attempt in Rajasthan would not succeed.

Referring to Akbar, he said the Mughal emperor had to taste defeat in Mewar of Rajasthan during his quest to expand his empire. Similarly, BJP’s attempts to topple the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government were defeated, he added.

Ahead of the trust vote, CM Gehlot had said it would be “a victory of truth”.

‘Daughter for a lifetime’: SC backs women’s share in parental property

NEW DELHI, Aug 11: The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that daughters will have coparcenary rights on father’s property even if he died before the Hindu Succession (amendment) Act 2005 came into force.

The bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra was answering a reference based on conflicting decisions given by past verdicts of the top court. Although the amendment was applicable to Hindu daughters as coparceners who died after coming of the act, there was no clarity on whether it will have retrospective effect.

In 2016, the Supreme Court decided that such right will not be retrospective in Prakash v Phulwati case whiles in 2018 another bench of the court in Danamma v Amar held it to be retrospective.

Answering the reference, the bench said, “Daughters cannot be deprived of their right to equality conferred by Section 6 of the Act.”

“Daughter is always a loving daughter for the rest of their life,” Justice Mishra said.

The bench said that daughters will have the right over parental property even if the coparecenor had died prior to the coming into force of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.

The amendment came into effect on September 9, 2005. The courts considered this as cut-off date to decide please by daughters seeking equal rights as coparcerners as sons in their father’s estate.

The bench further directed that matters pending in trial courts on this issue be decided in six months.

Rajasthan truce sealed, Ashok Gehlot talks ‘peace, brotherhood’ in party

NEW DELHI, Aug 11: Peace and brotherhood will remain in party, underscored Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Tuesday, a day after Sachin Pilot sealed a truce deal with the party high command that also promised to look into the issues raised by him against the state CM.

“If any MLA is annoyed with me, then it is my responsibility to address that. I have kept doing this in the past and will do this now also,” Gehlot told reporters before leaving for Jaisalmer, where the MLAs were moved fearing poaching by the BJP.

The change in tune is in stark contrast to the belligerence shown by Gehlot while attacking his former Number 2 in the government in the not too distant past. Using particularly harsh language against the young Pilot, Gehlot called him “nikamma, nakkara”.

“I imbibed certain values from my family, no matter how much I oppose anyone, I’ve never used such language. Ashok Gehlot ji is elder to me and I respect him personally, but I have the right to raise work-related concerns,” Sachin Pilot told reporters today.

On Monday, Pilot met former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi to end the revolt in the state unit that threatened the survival of the Ashok Gehlot government. The patch up in the party came ahead of an assembly session in Rajasthan on August 14. Pilot was sacked as deputy chief minister and removed as Congress chief in Rajasthan last month after his differences with Gehlot came to a head.

“Peace and brotherhood will remain in our party. A three-member committee has been formed (by Congress) to resolve the grievances. The BJP tried its best to topple the government, but in the end, all our party MLAs are together, not even one has left us,” said Gehlot this morning.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi decided on Monday to form a three-member committee to look into grievances of its rebel leaders in Rajasthan.

The panel at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) level will have senior leaders as its members and it will “hear all the sides and also go into the details of the political turmoil” in the state.

The committee will also discuss the possible changes in the organisation and the government, a Congress leader said, adding that the names of the committee members and the timeframe will be announced soon.

Rajasthan Govt safe; Sachin Pilot calls for restraint after meeting Rahul, Priyanka

NEW DELHI, Aug 10: Hours after the Congress decided to form a high-level committee to look into the grievances of all its rebel leaders in Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot who had rebelled against chief minister Ashok Gehlot, called for restraint and humility.

“Several things were said, I heard a lot of things. I was surprised by a few things that were said. I think we should always maintain restraint and humility. There is no place for personal malice in politics. We had formed the government in Rajasthan after 5 years of hard work,” said Pilot late Monday night after a meeting with Congress leaders Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Ahmed Patel and KC Venugopal in Delhi.

Pilot, who had pitched camp in Manesar with 18 MLAs had earlier, been accused of hobnobbing with the BJP to bring down his own party’s government. On Monday, he insisted that there were issues that needed to be raised for the party’s interest.

“Since past some time some MLAs were in Delhi, there were some issues which we wanted to highlight. I did that. I’d been saying since beginning that all these things were based on principle. I always thought these things are essential to be raised in the party’s interest,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Pilot met former Congress president Rahul Gandhi to end the revolt in the state unit that threatened the survival of the Ashok Gehlot government, people familiar with the development said.

The patch up in the party came ahead of an assembly session in Rajasthan on August 14.

Pilot was sacked as deputy chief minister and removed as Congress chief in Rajasthan last month after his differences with Gehlot came to a head.

J&K BJP Sarpanch Shot Dead By Terrorists

SRINAGAR, Aug n6: A BJP leader, who was a sarpanch in Jammu and Kashmir's Kulgam district, was shot dead by terrorists this morning, officials said.
Sajad Ahmad Khanday was shot dead near his home in Kulgam's Qazigund are, about 60 km from Srinagar. He was the BJP's district vice president for Kulgam.

The BJP sarpanch was immediately rushed to a hospital in nearby Anantnag district after the attack where "he was declared brought dead", said officials.

The attack comes less than 48 hours after another BJP sarpanch - Arif Ahmad - was shot at in the same area.

Last month, BJP's Sheikh Waseem Bari, his father and brother were killed by terrorists in the union territory's Bandipore district. He was the district chief for Bandipore.

"Terrorists fired on BJP worker Wasim Bari at Bandipora. During indiscriminate firing Wasim Bari, his father Bashir Ahmad and brother Umer Bashir got injured and shifted to hospital, but all three succumbed to their injuries," J&K Police had tweeted at the time.

A new terror group - The Resistance Front- had claimed responsibility for the attack. The police said it is a front of the Jaish, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen.

The terror attack was condemned by politicians across party lines. BJP chief JP Nadda said Mr Wasim's death was a huge loss for the party. "This is a huge loss for the party. My deepest condolences are with the family. The entire Party stands with the bereaved family. I assure that their sacrifice will not go in vain," he had tweeted.

Golden chapter, says Modi after laying foundation stone for Ram temple

AYODHYA, Aug 5: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday offered prayers and laid the foundation stone for a grand temple at the site believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya. The groundbreaking ceremony marks the formal launch of the temple’s construction promised by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party nearly three decades earlier.

LK Advani, 92, and Murli Manohar Joshi, 86, the two BJP stalwarts who had led the campaign to build the temple in its early days, are said to have watched the live telecast of the event because of the coronavirus pandemic. Home Minister Amit Shah, from his bed in a Gurugram hospital where the 55-year-old top BJP leader was admitted last week due to the virus.

“A grand temple will now be built for our Ram Lalla who had been staying in a tent for decades. Today, Ram janmbhoomi breaks free of the cycle of breaking and getting built again - that had been going on for centuries,” Modi said at the event who expressed gratitude to all the people who had made huge sacrifices for the temple moment.

“India is creating a golden chapter in Ayodhya. The wait of centuries ends today,” Modi said in his televised address at the event.

Modi used silver bricks during the rituals. But for the foundation stone, bricks donated by devouts from across the world in 1989 would be used. “There are 275,000 such bricks out of which 100 bricks with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ engraving have been taken,” the priest said as the vedic rituals, which have continued for three days, were coming to an end.

Dressed in the traditional kurta and dhoti, Modi offered prayers at the Hanuman Garhi temple soon after landing in the riverside town of Ayodhya from Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow. Anil Mishra, member of Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Tirth Kshetra Trust, said this puja was performed to “seek Lord Hanuman’s permission to start construction work of Ram Mandir”.

Modi next headed straight to the temple for the ceremony. Security has been tight for the event, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the need to adhere to social distancing.

Only 175 guests have been invited. Among them are Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the ruling BJP’s ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

But the temple trust has ordered 100,000 packets of laddus for distribution to people and dignitaries.

Modi is the first prime minister to visit the Ram Janambhoomi and offer prayers at the sanctum sanctorum where the deity has been worshipped since 1949, escalating the row over the small plot of land on which a mosque had been built in the 16th century. Hindus believe the Babri Masjid, was built over a temple dedicated to Lord Ram, whose birthplace is also considered to be at the site.

The temple construction has been made possible because of a Supreme Court verdict nine months ago that ended a legal battle lasting decades and awarded the site to Hindus. The Muslim community has been given a 5-acre plot at another location to build a new mosque to make up for the 500-year-old Babri Masjid demolished by a mob in 1992.

In Ayodhya, another priest tests Covid-19 positive

AYODHYA, Aug 3: One more priest has tested positive for Covid-19 just two days before the grand ceremony for laying the foundation stone for the proposed Ram Temple is to be held. Confirming this, the 82-year-old head priest, Satyendra Das told Hindustan Times that he was a bit worried.

“Of course it is worrying,” he said, speaking to HT on the phone. “Prem Kumar Tiwari is part of the team that conducts the daily rituals here at the site.” Just last week, another priest called Pradeep Das from the team had also tested positive and all those who were in contact with him were quarantined. Three fire officials who were posted at the temple site had also tested positive for the disease.

“We all stay in the same area in the mandir. I also have some other conditions and I’m not a young man,” he said.

According to the trust officials, there were large numbers of temple priests and other workers who were tested for Covid-19, including the head priest himself.

However, senior district officials played down the importance of today’s developments. “We have tested a large number of people and we are taking all precautions. I don’t think this event has any risks at all,” he said.

“We had all the major festivals- we’ve had Ram Navami celebrations in April, we’ve celebrated Eid, so why should we not be able to celebrate this,” said Prakash Sharma, who works with the trust.

However, Covid-19 fears have already caused others to drop out. Despite having been invited, Waqf Board Chairman Zafar Ahamad Farooqui’s spokesperson said that he wasn’t feeling well since he returned from Ayodhya the previous day.

“Yes, the chairman has got an invite. However, he returned from Ayodhya yesterday where the land papers were handed over and since then he hasn’t been feeling well. It’s not Covid-19 possibly as he had surgery, but he won’t be travelling,” said Athar Hussain.

Death toll in Punjab hooch tragedy rises to 86

CHANDIGARH, Aug 1: The death toll in the Punjab spurious liquor tragedy rose to 86 on Saturday even as Chief Minister Amarinder Singh suspended seven excise officials and six policemen, officials said.

The government also announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for each of the families of the deceased, they said.

Tarn Taran alone accounted for 63 deaths, followed by 12 in Amritsar and 11 in Gurdaspur’s Batala. Till Friday night, the state had reported 39 deaths in the tragedy unfolding since Wednesday night.

According to an official statement, the CM ordered the suspension of seven excise officials, along with six policemen.

Among the suspended officials are two deputy superintendents of police and four station house officers.

Strict action will be taken against any public servant or others found complicit in the case, said the chief minister, describing the police and excise department failure to check the manufacturing and sale of spurious liquor as shameful.

Nobody will be allowed to get away with feeding poison to our people, he added.


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