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Nirbhaya of Hathras killed by insensitive government: Sonia Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Sept 30: Congress president Sonia Gandhi said the people of the country are sad and angry over the gruesome incident and said the ‘Nirbhaya of Hathras’ did not die but was killed by a “cruel and insensitive” government and its administration.

In a video message, she said the country will speak up against this injustice and not allow the BJP to divide the country and violate the Constitution.

“This incident is a blot on our society. I want to ask is it a sin to be a girl? Is it a crime to be the daughter of a poor? What was the UP government doing? For weeks, the family’s cry for justice was not heard. There was an attempt to cover up the issue. The girl was not given proper treatment. Today, our daughter has left us. I want to say that the Nirbhaya of Hathras did not die, she was killed by an insensitive government and its administration,” Gandhi said.

“Even after her death, the girl was denied dignity and not handed over to her family. A weeping mother could not see her daughter for the last time. This is a grave sin. Her body was cremated by force. There is dignity in death. Our Hindu religion is clear about it. But she was cremated like an orphan by the police,” she added.

“What kind of justice is this? What kind of a government is this? You think you can do anything and the nation will sit and watch. Never, the nation will speak against your injustice. On behalf of the Congress party, I demand justice for the family. India belongs to everyone. Everyone has the right to live with dignity. The Constitution has given us this right. We will not allow the BJP to break the country and violate the Constitution,” the Congress president said.

Earlier in the day, her daughter and Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi took on Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath for the death of Hathras rape victim, saying he doesn’t have any moral right to continue as chief minister.

The 19-year-old woman from Hathras died in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital on Tuesday morning, nearly two weeks after she was allegedly gang raped and tortured by four men from her village on September 14.

In UP Gang-Rape Tragedy, 2.30 am Cremation By Cops, Family Kept Out

HATHRAS (Uttar Pradesh), Sept 30: A 20-year-old woman, who died on Tuesday in Delhi two weeks after she was gang-raped and tortured in Uttar Pradesh's Hathras, was cremated by policemen last night, allegedly as her family and relatives were locked up in their homes.

A disturbing sequence of events captured in overnight visuals shows the family arguing with cops, female relatives throwing themselves on the hood of the ambulance carrying the body and a mother weeping helplessly as cops insist on taking her daughter straight to cremation, without allowing a last look.

The woman died in Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital yesterday morning. She had suffered multiple fractures, paralysis and a gash in her tongue in the horrific assault that drew parallels to the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape. But long after her death, her family had to endure a night of unending horror.

As protesters outside the Delhi hospital chanted "hang the rapists", the woman's brothers complained that her body had been whisked away by the UP police without their knowledge.

Her father and brothers sat on protest but they were taken away by the cops in a black Scorpio with UP plates.

The woman's body was taken to her village in Hathras, about 200 km from Delhi, after midnight. As her family and villagers suspected the UP police wanted to complete the last rites right then, in the middle of the night, they insisted that this was "against their tradition"; the woman's father pleaded with the police to be allowed to take her home and cremate her in the morning.

"We wanted the last rites to be performed according to the Hindu traditions. Despite our protests, the cremation was performed. They took the body forcefully. We couldn't see our daughter's face for the last time," said the woman's father.

At the village, female relatives tried to block the vehicle by hugging the bonnet. A woman, believed to be the mother of the 20-year-old, sat on the road sobbing and beating her chest.

The police vehicle was stopped at multiple points before the cops allegedly pushed the protesters away and drove towards the funeral ground.

Appeals were also made to District Magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar to take her body to her home for last rites after daybreak.

At 2:30 am, while most of her family was home, the police cremated the body.

Continuing their inexplicable acts, the Hathras police formed a human chain to keep reporters, the family and villagers away. Only cops were present. Her family could not see her one last time. They were allegedly locked up at home.

Amid spiraling outrage, the Hathras police claimed the cremation was carried out with the family's consent and some members were present. It turned out to be one uncle - not her parents - who was called and shown the cremation.

"We have videos of family members present there. I will be happy to share with media. We performed the cremation after the family's consent. Some members of the family were present at the cremation. The media reports are not true," District Magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar said today.

All four attackers, upper caste men from the woman's village, are in jail. They will now also be charged with murder.

The UP police, which is under scrutiny over alleged lapses throughout the case, has been accused of rushing the cremation in a desperate cover-up attempt.

According to the family, the police had at first accused the woman of lying about her injuries. The police had initially registered an attempted murder case but added rape charges only after the woman's formal statement a week after the incident, when she was able to speak. Yesterday, a senior officer said rape had not been confirmed and they were waiting for a forensic report.

After 28 years, all 32 acquitted in Babri demolition case

LUCKNOW, Sept 30: A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Wednesday acquitted all 32 persons accused of conspiring to demolish the 16th century Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 -- an event that sparked a deadly cycle of riots and communal violence across India, leaving thousands dead.

The verdict by judge Surendra Kumar Yadav ended a 28-year-long legal fight, and brought relief to senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti, but raised serious questions about the investigation into a high-profile case by pointing out that several pieces of evidence were either inconclusive or unauthenticated.

The 2,300-page judgment ruled out any criminal conspiracy behind the razing of the disputed structure and said it was a “spontaneous act”.

“The incident was not pre-planned,” Yadav said, reading out his verdict in open court in Lucknow. “The leaders present there actually tried to control and pacify the mob... anti-social elements brought the structure down.”

Twenty-six of the accused were present in the court, while six -- Advani, Joshi, Bharti, Kalyan Singh, Ram temple trust chief Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, and former Shiv Sena leader Satish Pradhan-- followed the proceedings on video conference. Though 49 people were accused in the case, 17 died during the litigation process.

Opposition parties criticised the verdict, describing it as a “black day” for justice. Experts said that the decision showed the judge was not convinced of the proof of conspiracy given by the CBI. And All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) member Zafaryab Jilani said the verdict will be challenged in high court.

Yadav said in his judgment that CBI could not produce any conclusive evidence against any accused and refused to accept newspaper reports, documents and video cassettes as evidence. It was Yadav’s last working day in judicial service after being on extension for a year.

Reading out the operative part of the verdict at 12.15pm, the judge said he did not accept newspaper reports as evidence as their original copies were not produced and proved. He also did not rely on the photos of the incident as their negatives were not produced.

“The video cassettes were not sealed and even the videos were not clear and as such the same cannot be relied (on),” he observed, adding that they were not certified by any forensic laboratory to ascertain authenticity. The CBI produced 351 witnesses and 600 pieces of document in court.

“Even VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) leader late Ashok Singhal was trying to stop the kar sevaks from demolishing the disputed structure because the idol of Lord Ram was also inside the structure,” the judge wrote, concluding that the event suggested that the demolition was not planned in advance.

As soon as the judge cleared the accused of all charges, chants of “Jai Shri Ram” filled the courtroom. Outside, celebrations began as Hindu groups distributed sweets and flowers.

Supreme Court senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said there were various instances in which conspiracy charges had been applied when, at the spontaneous call of one person, others have joined in to injure a person or beat another to death.

“We do not know on weighing of the evidence, how the judge has approached the task. But in other normal conspiracy and unlawful assembly cases, we have many times seen that when one person gives a call and three or fours other persons use sticks and somebody dies, then they all get roped in under criminal conspiracy read with Section 149 of Indian Penal Code (which makes every member of an unlawful assembly guilty of an offence committed in pursuance of a common object by one person of that). But that standard does not seem to have been applied here,” said Hegde.

The verdict comes roughly 11 months after the Supreme Court last November paved the way for the construction of a Ram temple at the 2.77 acre site in Ayodhya and ordered that land for a mosque be given to the Muslim parties at an alternative spot. The ground-breaking ceremony for the temple was performed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 5.

CBI said it will decide on filing an appeal after consulting the legal department. “After a copy of today’s verdict is received, it would be sent to the CBI headquarters where it would be studied by the legal department and a decision on filing an appeal would be taken as per its suggestion,” CBI counsel Lalit Singh said.

Senior lawyer and AIMPLB member Zafaryab Jilani said the verdict will be challenged in high court. “The special CBI court says that there is no evidence which prove that Babri Masjid demolition was a conspiracy but we say there is plenty of evidence,” he said.

The verdict was welcomed by the accused persons, who said their faith in religion and Ram was vindicated.

“The judgment vindicates my personal and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s belief and commitment towards the Ram Janmabhoomi movement,” said Advani, who joined the proceedings via video conference. Joshi said truth has triumphed.

Another accused, BJP leader Vinay Katiyar who was present in court, said: “We never had any role in the demolition. We were actually on stage that was away from the site where the demolition took place.”

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and defence minister Rajnath Singh hailed the verdict. “I welcome the acquittal of all the 32 accused in the case. This shows, that though delayed, justice eventually triumphed,” said Singh.

The Congress expressed its disappointment with the verdict. “The decision of the Special Court to acquit all the accused in Babri Masjid demolition case runs counter to Supreme Court judgment as also the Constitutional spirit,” the party said in a statement.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi called the judgment “obnoxious” and said it contradicted the Supreme Court’s observations in its verdict on November 9 last year that the demolition of the Babri mosque was a violation of law. “This verdict will mark a black day in history,” he added.

A key Muslim litigant in the title suit case, Iqbal Ansari, welcomed the verdict. “The entire world saw what happened in Ayodhya…I respect the court’s verdict.”

On December 6, 1992, tens of thousands of kar sevaks, or Hindu religious volunteers gathered in Ayodhya – the result of a months-long political and religious mobilisation programme. As the day progressed, the crowd swelled, and shortly after noon, the kar sevaks broke through the police barricades and charged towards the three domes of the mosque.

Armed with pickaxes, shovels and ropes, many young men scaled the domes. By evening, the structure was rubble and the state government had been dismissed. The criminal case originates from two police complaints lodged at 6.15pm and 6.25pm against unnamed kar sevaks and senior political leaders, respectively, at the Ram Janmabhoomi police station.

Dispute over the structure, built on what Hindus believe as the birth place of Ram, dates back to the late 19th century. For roughly two decades, two separate criminal trials ran – one against unnamed kar sevaks in Lucknow, and another against political leaders in Rae Bareli – until the apex court clubbed the two in 2017.

Allahabad high court lawyer Anurag Dixit said he thought that the prosecution failed to substantiate the evidence charges against the accused. “Moreover as we saw it, most of the evidence was in the form of newspaper reports which clearly was not a strong point,” Dixit said.

Amnesty Halts India Operations, Alleges Government 'Witch-Hunt'

NEW DELHI, Sept 29: Amnesty International has halted its operations in India and said it had to let go of its staff after its accounts were frozen earlier this month as part of what it called a "witch-hunt" by the government over its adverse reports.

The government, however, says the global rights watchdog has been receiving foreign funds illegally and that it never registered under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.

In a press statement, Amnesty said "the complete freezing of Amnesty International India's bank accounts by the government of India, which it came to know on 10 September, brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt." The organisation said it had been compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work.

"This is the latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations," said Amnesty, claiming that it had complied with all Indian and international laws.

Amnesty linked all government action to its reports critical of the government; its recent reports had raised questions on alleged rights violations during the February Delhi riots and in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370.

"The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts is not accidental. The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency in the government, more recently for accountability of the Delhi police and the government of India regarding the grave human rights violations in Delhi riots and Jammu and Kashmir. For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent," said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

Denying allegations of hounding out the rights watchdog, top government officials said Amnesty is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate over alleged irregularities in receiving foreign funds.

According to the home ministry, the organization "got money into India through the FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) route," which is not allowed in the case of non-profits.

Amnesty India did get the government's permission to receive around ₹ 1.69 crore from Amnesty UK in 2011-12. But since 2013, that permission has been denied, say sources.

In 2018, the Enforcement Directorate froze their accounts, after which Amnesty approached the court and won reprieve. But their accounts were sealed. Last year, the CBI also registered a case a based on a complaint that Amnesty International UK allegedly transferred ₹ 10 crore to Amnesty India entities as FDI without the ministry's approval.

"Another ₹ 26 crore has been remitted to Amnesty (India) primarily from UK-based entities without the home ministry's approval. All such receipts have subsequently been expended on Amnesty's NGO activities in India in violation of the FCRA," the complaint states.

Sonia Gandhi urges Congress-ruled states to override Centre’s farm laws

NEW DELHI, Sept 28: Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday advised party-ruled states to explore the possibilities to pass legislations under Article 254(2) to negate the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government’s “anti-agricultural laws” and prevent the “grave injustice” being done to farmers.

The opposition party is citing the BJP government’s move in 2015 when it asked party-ruled states to bring their own laws to override the land acquisition act of 2013 passed during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) tenure for boosting infrastructure development.

“Congress president has advised Congress ruled states to explore the possibilities to pass laws in their respective states under Article 254(2) of the Constitution which allows the state legislatures to pass a law to negate the anti-agriculture central laws encroaching upon state’s jurisdiction under the Constitution,” Congress general secretary in-charge of organisation KC Venugopal said in a statement.

“This would enable the states to bypass the unacceptable anti-farmers’ provisions in the three draconian Agricultural laws including the abolition of MSP and disruption of APMCs in Congress-ruled states,” he added.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government pushed three bills to deregulate agricultural trade, which were passed controversially by Parliament, overriding demands by the Opposition for greater scrutiny and voting.

Big farmers’ groups, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, are protesting the bills, fearing deregulation will leave them vulnerable to powerful corporate agribusinesses and in an even weaker negotiating position than before.

The reforms have cost the BJP one of its oldest allies, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which has quit the ruling alliance.

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance, Farm Services Bill, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 seek to liberalise farm trade, enable modern supply chains, allow agribusinesses and farmers to enter into contracts, break interlocked markets and create a seamless commodities trade, currently fragmented.

The ‘Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020’ allows barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade of primary agricultural commodities, bypassing notified markets under the agricultural produce market committees. The bill will enable food traders to buy farmers’ produce from any market, rather than bind them to the specific markets where they are licensed to operate.

Farm bills anger spills onto Indian highways, railways

NEW DELHI, Sept 25: Farmers across several states protested over key farm reform laws passed by Parliament this week, leading to disruption of life in Punjab, Haryana and parts of western Uttar Pradesh, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the opposition parties of spreading “lies” and misleading the farmers for their own political benefit in a video message, the third time he has had to defend the legislations.

In the truncated session, Parliament approved the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, leading to a protest by farmer bodies and opposition political parties.

The primary points of contention are the absence of any mention of a minimum support price (the government-decided floor) and the freedom given to private players and others to operate in areas beyond the physical boundaries of Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs).

Close to 250 farmer bodies came together under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee on Friday for a national strike between 10am and 4pm, terming the laws as “anti-farmers” and asked the government either to withdraw these legislations or at least provide minimum support price (MSP) protection in them.

The government has maintained that MSPs will stay and there was no reason for farmers to worry. It has already announced MSPs for some winter-sown crops to reassure farmers who continue to insist that the support price protection be written into the law.

Farmers blocked road traffic at several places in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh, only allowing movement of emergency services such as ambulances. Road blockades in several places forced people to walk long distances to reach their destinations. The protest called by 185 farmer bodies was more or less peaceful with no major untoward incident reported from anywhere.

According to Punjab government officials, a complete bandh was observed in all 22 districts, except the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stronghold of Pathankot, with business establishments and public transport not functioning. Railways had already suspended about two dozen trains originating from or passing through the state in view of the three-day rail blockade observed by farmer groups from September 24 to 26.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh said he will not allow implementation of the laws in Punjab and directed the police not to book farmers for violation of Section 144 of CrPC imposed across the state for Covid management.

In Haryana, a near complete bandh was observed in farmer dominated districts of western and central parts of the state with not much impact seen in the northern parts. Traffic was blocked on the Rohtak-Chandigarh, Rohtak-Delhi, Jind-Chandigarh and Ambala-Hisar highways. Additional police force was deployed at Ambala and Panipat railway stations, officials said.

In western UP, farmer organisations blocked major highways including the Yamuna Expressway in the national capital region and Agra-Lucknow expressway. Road blocks were also reported from Ayodhya and some parts of eastern UP. Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (KMS) and Rashtriya Kisan Sabha members demonstrated at various places.

Political parties such as the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Trinamool Congress and the Left parties supported the strike and their workers participated in the bandh.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters in Jaipur that the Modi government has launched a brutal attack on the livelihood of 620 million people linked with farming at the time the country has been attacked by the Corona virus and China.

Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav said the laws would enslave farmers to corporates and claimed that farm incomes have fallen in recent years instead of increasing as promised by the Prime Minister.

Modi asked the BJP workers to reach out to farmers on the ground and inform them about details and benefits of the new agriculture reforms and how these will empower them.

“They (Opposition) are spreading rumours. Saving farmers from such rumours and explaining the importance of the agriculture reforms is the responsibility and duty of all BJP workers because we have to make the future of farmers bright,” Modi said at a function organised to celebrate the birth anniversary of party’s ideologue Deendayal Upadhyay.

The PM said small and marginal farmers, who constitute 85% of the peasant community, will benefit the most from these reforms as they would get better price for their produce.

BJP leaders also held press conferences at various states capitals saying that farmers were being misled by the Opposition. “The Rabi crop has not been harvested yet and they are saying farmers will not get the minimum support price,” said BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra in Kolkata. “This kind of smear campaign will not work. The BJP government is committed to protecting the interest of farmers.”

Outside the food bowl of northern India, protests were also reported from West Bengal and Bihar. The ruling Trinamool Congress and the Left partied led the protests in West Bengal. Traffic was blocked in Hooghly, North 24 Parganas, Nadia, South 24 Parganas, Burdwan, East Midnapore and other districts where farming is the main source of income for the rural population.

In Bihar, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav led a protest in Patna. Roads were blocked at Ara, Purnia, Samastipur, Bhagalpur, Begusarai and Hajipur districts, officials said.

However, there was not much impact of the bandh in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, from where only sporadic protests were reported. Farmer bodies burnt copies of the laws at several locations and in Karnataka, entry of traffic into Bengaluru was blocked.

Farmers have lost all faith in Modi-led govt: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Sept 25: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Friday farmers do not trust the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as thousands of agriculturists participated in a ‘Bharat Bandh’ to protest the farm bills that were recently passed by Parliament.

“One thing was clear after talking to the farmers - they do not have any faith in the Modi government. All our voices are also together with the loud voices of the peasant brothers and today the whole country is opposing these agricultural laws,” Gandhi’s tweet roughly translated from Hindi read.

The former Congress president also shared a three-and-a-half-minute video speaking to farmers from several states via a video conference call. Gandhi, who was hosting the talk, was heard asking farmers to explain how the new farm bills would affect them. Farmers were heard explaining their apprehensions regarding the minimum support price (MSP) and food procurement practices.

“A flawed GST destroyed MSMEs. The new agriculture laws will enslave our Farmers,” the Congress lawmaker from Kerala’s Wayanad had tweeted earlier in the day with a hashtag ISupportBharatBandh.

Farmers from Bihar, Maharashtra, Haryana and other states who joined Gandhi for the discussion also highlighted that they will have no recourse when private players, who they fear that the bills empower, take over the agricultural sector.

Farmer groups across the nation have called for strikes against the three bills passed by both the Houses of Parliament during the Covid-19 hit monsoon session.

The three bills which were passed are Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

The Congress has announced it will stage marches in every state after which memorandums will be submitted to the respective governors on September 28 against these farm bills, which it says are against the interests of farmers and farm labourers.

Bihar Assembly elections from Oct 28

NEW DELHI, Sept 25: The crucial Bihar assembly elections will be conducted in three phases from October 28 and the votes will be counted on November 10, the Election Commission of India announced on Friday.

The Bihar assembly election 2020 will be the first poll to be conducted since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the country.

Here are Bihar assembly elections in numbers:

* The 243-member assembly is slated to lapse on November 29 this year.

* Bihar has an electoral poll of more than 72 million voters and the state saw a turnout of over 58% in the last elections held in 2015.

* The Bihar Assembly Elections 2020 will be conducted in three phases – on October 28, November 3 and November 7. The state polls were held in five phases in 2015.

* In the first phase 71-assembly constituencies will go to polls with 31,000 polling stations set up for it. In the second phase, 94 assembly constituencies with 42,000 polling stations dedicated for it. In the third phase, 78 constituencies will have 33,500 polling stations.

* Chief election commissioner Sunil Arora said that as per reports from Bihar’s chief electoral officer more than 700,000 units of hand sanitisers, 44.6 million masks, 600,000 personal protective equipment suits, 760,000 face shields, and 2.3 million gloves have been arranged for the polling staff. The commission has also acquired another 7.2 million single-use hand gloves for use by electors to cast their vote at the polling station.

* Arora said with the updation of the electoral rolls, 230,000 migrant voters, who have returned to the state, have been added to the list.

* The polling time has also been increased by an hour from 7am to 6pm in the Bihar Assembly Election 2020.

* The number of tables in a counting hall has been slashed by half—from 14 to seven. A maximum of 1,000 people will be allowed to vote at a polling station. It is a significant reduction from the earlier figure of 1,500.

* The voters will to have stand six feet apart at polling booths, where soaps, water, and hand sanitisers will be made available at the entry points.

Congress launches nationwide protest against farm bills

NEW DELHI, Sept 23: The Congress has decided to launch a nationwide protest from Thursday against the two agricultural reform bills passed by Parliament recently.

The decision for a nationwide agitation was taken at a meeting of general secretaries and in-charge of states which was held at Congress party’s headquarters in Delhi.

“From September 24 onwards, Congress will launch an all-India agitation asking the government to repeal the black laws,” Congress leader AK Antony told media after the meeting on Wednesday.

The two bills - the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 - were passed by the Rajya Sabha despite uproar and strong protest by the Opposition parties in the house.

These bills have already received Lok Sabha’s nod and are now with President Ram Nath Kovind. The Opposition parties have urged the President to not give approval to these bills. They want the government to take back the bills.

Several leaders and different party workers along with farmers have taken to street across India to protest against the bills.

The Opposition on Tuesday even boycotted Parliament over Centre’s refusal to accept its demand for withdrawal of the bills.

Rs 1,350 cr economic package for Jammu and Kashmir announced

SRINAGAR, Sept 19: Jammu & Kashmir lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha on Saturday announced a Rs 1,350 cr economic package for the business sector and a 50% rebate on electricity and water bills for a year for all sectors in the Union territory.

“I have met almost 35 delegations from various sectors... a committee was framed which was headed by my advisor KK Sharma. The committee submitted its report on time...on the recommendations of the committee, the package [has been announced]...” said Sinha. “This is a beginning and more things are in the offing.”

Sinha’s announcement comes as businesses in the region are reeling under massive losses since August 2019 when a lockdown and communications blackout were imposed to prevent protests against the Centre’s move to divest Jammu & Kashmir of its special status and to split it into two Union territories. Mobile internet services continue to remain restricted in the region even as other restrictions have eased.

Covid-19 and the lockdown imposed this summer to check its spread turned out to be a double whammy for the businesses. Restrictions on mobile internet have hurt e-commerce that has gained elsewhere in the world during the pandemic.

Sinha said the package is apart from the Rs 1,400 crore announced for Jammu & Kashmir under the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (self-reliant India campaign). He said a separate package will be announced for transporters, taxi-drivers, autorickshaw drivers, houseboat and shikara owners who have faced problems. He added there will be stamp duty exemption till March 2021 for all borrowers. “From October 1, Jammu & Kashmir Bank will set up special desks for young people.”

Sinha said the 50% rebate on electricity and water bills for a year is going to all sectors including common households, businessmen, industrial unit holders, farmers and others. “...for this, the government will be spending 105 crores. This has been done for all,” Sinha said. He added the Centre is also working on a new industrial policy for Jammu & Kashmir.

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries president Sheikh Ashiq said Sinha has kept his promise and announced the package and that the business community appreciates the gesture. “We are going through the components of the package. If there will be any shortcoming, we will again meet [Sinha]. We are really thankful.”

He cited Sinha’s promise for more help and said they are hopeful that these initiatives will be helpful for the business community.

Anil Dhasmana is new chief of NTRO, spy agency that keeps an eye from the sky

NEW DELHI, Sept 18: Former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) chief Anil Dhasmana has been appointed as National Technical Research Organisation, India’s technical body that is responsible for geospatial intelligence and satellite imagery.

The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cleared the appointment and the decision was formally conveyed to the retired Indian Police Service officer on Friday.

Dhasmana succeeds former Intelligence Bureau officer Satish Jha who demitted office on Thursday.

Dhasmana, a 1981 batch Indian Police Service officer, is a Pakistan expert and was the lead planner of the Balakot air strikes in February 2019 after Pakistan-backed terrorists killed 40 CRPF soldiers in the Pulwama car bombing.

Dhasmana had stepped down a few months later when his extended term due to the general elections ended in June 2019.

The top police officer returns to the center of action 14 months later at a time the NTRO is playing a crucial role, tracking movements of the China’s People’s Liberation Army near the many friction points along the Line of Actual Control that have seen heavy deployment of soldiers and support elements from both sides. The two countries have been speaking to each other at military and diplomatic levels to resolve the stand-off but there are some indications that the stand-off would continue for some time.

Dhasmana had joined R&AW, India’s external spy agency in 1993 from his parent cadre Madhya Pradesh and had worked extensively with the agency’s Pakistan desk.

Rahul Gandhi Slams Modi Govt for Neglecting Healthcare Workers

NEW DELHI, Sept 18: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday, 18 September, attacked the Centre, accusing it of neglecting the frontline healthcare workers.

Tagging a report on government having no data on the healthcare workers who lost their lives, he tweeted:

“An adverse data-free Modi government! The beating of 'thali' and the lighting of a lamp is more important than security and respect. Modi Government, why are corona warriors being insulted?”

The Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday, 16 September, said that the government does not have data on the death of health workers who died due to COVID-19.

Soon after health minister’s statement on health workers, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said the government has lost its moral authority to administer the Epidemic Act and the Disaster Management Act after it failed to reveal the data on the number of healthcare staff who have been affected by and died from COVID-19, even as at least 382 doctors across the country have lost their lives in the line of duty so far.

The apex body of medical associations also stated that healthcare workers' sacrifice is as great as the sacrifice of the soldiers, as both can lose their lives in the line of duty. It also added that treating these martyrs indifferently is national sacrilege and injustice of the highest order.

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package

On 30 March when nationwide lockdown was imposed due to coronavirus pandemic, the government launched Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package Insurance Scheme, which covers healthcare workers (including community health workers) who may have to come in contact with a corona patient, therefore being at risk of getting infected.

The healthcare workers get an insurance cover of 50 lakh rupees. This includes death caused by COVID-19.

The scheme also includes the staff of the private hospitals, retired people, volunteers, urban local bodies, daily wage workers etc.

Union minister Harsimrat Badal resigns over Centre’s new farm bills

NEW DELHI, Sept 17: Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal on Thursday quit the Modi government opposing the farm bills that seek to liberalise the agriculture sector. The move came shortly after Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal announced in the Lok Sabha that the minister will quit protesting the Centre’s anti-farmer move.

Harsimrat Badal is the only SAD representative in the Modi government. The Punjab party is the oldest BJP ally.

While announcing the SAD’s decision to withdraw their minister from the Modi Cabinet, Sukhbir Badal said the SAD would continue to support the government and BJP, but will oppose the anti-farmer policies.

The Congress government in Punjab had passed a resolution in the Vidhan Sabha against the ordinances, prompting the SAD to fiercely oppose the bills after initially supporting it.

The SAD had been requesting the Centre not to go ahead with the three agriculture-related bills for approval of Parliament “until all reservations expressed by farmers’ organisations, farmers and farm labourers” are addressed.

On Tuesday, the SAD voted against the contentious farm bill that was passed in the Lok Sabha.

Sukhbir Singh Badal, participating in the debate, had described the bills as anti-farmer and said that the Centre never consulted his party before the ordinances were framed.

Three farm sector-related ordinances were cleared by the Union cabinet recently and the corresponding bills were tabled in Lok Sabha on Monday. One of them -- the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 -- was taken up for a discussion and passed by a voice vote.

Sukhbir Badal refuted suggestions that his party initially supported the three ordinances, which these bills seek to replace, and asserted that Harsimrat Kaur Badal had expressed her concerns in the Cabinet meeting and also wrote to agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar, highlighting “flaws” in the proposed legislations.

In Congress Shake-Up, Team Rahul Scores

NEW DELHI, Sept 11: Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad, the most prominent of the "dissent" letter writers seen to have questioned the leadership of the Gandhis, has lost his post in a major shake-up seen to promote Rahul Gandhi's squad. Ghulam Nabi Azad has been dropped as a general secretary though he remains a part of the Congress Working Committee, the party's top decision-making panel.

Motilal Vora, Ambika Soni and Mallikarjun Kharge have also been removed as general secretaries of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in the Friday shuffle by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The Congress Working Committee (CWC) has been reconstituted and P Chidambaram, Tariq Anwar, Randeep Surjewala, and Jitendra Singh have been named as its regular members.

Randeep Singh Surjewala, a Rahul Gandhi loyalist, is among the biggest gainers of the shuffle. He has been named general secretary in charge of Karnataka, a member of the special committee to oversee organizational changes and he remains chief spokesperson. Like him, KC Venugopal is also a member of most committees. Another member of Team Rahul, Jitendra Singh, is now in charge of Assam.

Tariq Anwar, who quit the Congress along with Sharad Pawar and PA Sangma over Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin but returned before the national election last year, has also been made general secretary in charge of Kerala, where elections are due next year.

The reshuffle comes a month after a group of 23 party leaders, in a stunning act of revolt, wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi calling for an overhaul of the party, internal elections and a "full-time, visible leadership". The letter also suggested that the Gandhi family would always be a part of collective decision-making.

In a token move, another leader who was among the letter-writers, Mukul Wasnik, has been made a general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh.

Mukul Wasnik has also been named among the six leaders who are to "assist the Congress president in organizational and operational matters as expressed by her in the CWC meeting on August 24". The others are AK Antony, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni, KC Venugopal and Randeep Singh Surjwala.
This special committee is the only sign of any impact of the dissent letter, which split the party down the middle and left the letter writers isolated in the party. The signatories are reportedly unhappy with what they believe are "cosmetic changes" in the party.

Jitin Prasada, another signatory to the letter, has been moved from Uttar Pradesh as in-charge of Bengal, where elections are due next year. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra remains the general secretary in charge of UP.

The dissent letter was seen to be a veiled attack on the Gandhis, especially Rahul Gandhi, who quit as president last year over the Congress's election defeat. Over the past few months, the Congress has been sharply divided with the veterans ranged against what is known to be Rahul Gandhi's core group, which is rooting for his return to the top job.

Azad and other signatories to the letter were attacked as "traitors" at the August 24 meeting of the CWC, in which both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were present.

The meeting ended with the Congress declaring that Sonia Gandhi would remain interim chief until an AICC session in the next six months. It was reportedly also decided that the party would examine the grievances of the letter writers. The special committee announced today is meant to address that promise.

India in shock over 86-year-old grandmother's rape

NEW DELHI, Sept 9: Tens of thousands of rapes are reported in India every year, but some stand out for being deeply disturbing. In one particularly shocking case, police in the capital, Delhi, have arrested a man in his 30s for the rape and assault of an 86-year-old grandmother.

"The woman was waiting outside her home on Monday evening for the milkman when she was approached by her attacker," said Swati Maliwal, head of the Delhi Commission for Women.

"He told her that her regular milk delivery man wasn't coming and offered to take her to the place where she could get milk."

The octogenarian trustingly accompanied him, said Ms Maliwal, adding that he took her to a nearby farm where he raped her.

"She kept crying and begging him to leave her. She told him that she was like his grandmother. But he ignored her pleas and assaulted her mercilessly when she tried to resist and protect herself," Ms Maliwal said.

Local villagers who were passing by heard her cries and rescued her. They handed over the attacker to the police.

Ms Maliwal, who visited the survivor at her home on Tuesday, described her meeting as "heart-breaking".

"Her hands are totally wrinkled. You get a shock when you hear what she went through. There are bruises on her face and all over her body and she told me that she had vaginal bleeding. She is suffering from extreme trauma."

Ms Maliwal has demanded the death penalty for the attacker, whom she described as "not human".

"I'm writing to the chief justice of Delhi High Court and the lieutenant-governor of the city to fast-track the case and hang him in six months," she said.

Rapes and sexual violence have been in the spotlight in India since December 2012 when a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was gang-raped on a moving bus in Delhi.

She died a few days later from injuries sustained during the assault. Four of the accused were hanged in March.

But despite the increased scrutiny of sexual crimes, their numbers continue to rise.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, police recorded 33,977 cases of rape in India in 2018 - that works out to a rape every 15 minutes. But campaigners say the actual numbers are much higher as many cases are not even reported.

And not all make news - only the most brutal or shocking get reported in the press.

In the last few days, while India has been struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, there have been reports of an ambulance driver who allegedly raped a Covid-19 patient while ferrying her to hospital.

Last month, a 13-year-old girl was found raped and murdered in a sugarcane field and her father alleged that her eyes were gouged out and her tongue had been cut.

And in July, a six-year-old girl was abducted and raped and her attacker inflicted severe injuries to her eyes apparently so she couldn't identify him.

As women's activist Yogita Bhayana points out, no age group is safe.
"I have met a month-old girl and women in their 60s who've been raped," Ms Bhayana, who works for People Against Rapes in India (Pari), an NGO working with survivors, says.

After the global outcry over the brutality of the December 2012 Delhi bus rape, India introduced tough new rape laws, including the death penalty in especially horrific cases, and promised to set up fast-track courts to try rape cases.

But, campaigners say, things have not changed much on the ground.
"The situation hasn't changed because protecting women and girls should top the list of government priorities, but it does not even figure there," Ms Bhayana says.

"India talks about external security, but I ask them what about internal security? What are you doing to ensure the safety of women and girls?"
Ms Bhayana says over the years, she has written more than 100 letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking justice for rape victims, but hasn't received a single response.

"Why doesn't he talk about it?" she asks.

While in opposition, Mr Modi had described Delhi as "the rape capital" in several election rallies.

And after taking over as the prime minister in 2014, he appeared to make it a priority - in his first independence day speech that year, he talked about rape and offered parents some advice on how to bring up better sons.
"When we hear about these rapes our heads hang in shame," he said.

"In every home, parents ask daughters lots of questions as to where she is going, when will she return, and ask her to inform them when she reaches her destination.

"But have you ever asked your son where he is going, why is he going and who are his friends? After all, the person committing the rape is also someone's son," he said, advising parents to keep tabs on their sons.

But since then the growing cases of sexual violence, many of them involving influential people, have made news - and Modi has mostly kept silent, except for one tweet in 2018 that "India's daughters will get justice" after rape allegations involving members of his own party became headline news.

Ms Bhayana says there is "no magic wand, no one thing" that can make this problem of gender violence disappear overnight.

She says a lot needs to change - police and judicial reform, greater sensitisation of police and lawyers, and better forensic tools.

"But above all, we need gender awareness, we need to work to change the mindsets, to prevent such crimes from happening in the first place."
And that is a tough ask, she adds.

"There is no sign that any government, be it the Delhi government or the federal government, is serious about tackling gender violence.

"I've been working in the field for eight years. I've never met anyone who's really serious about the issue."

Ms Bhayana says there are hoardings in public places about all sorts of issues, about various achievements of government, about Covid-19, or cautioning people against drug use.

"But have you ever seen a hoarding in any city about rape or gender violence?" she asks.

"We often see hoardings with Modi's pet slogan, "Beti bachao, beti padhao [Educate daughters, save daughters]. I say why don't we change it to Beta padhao, beti bachao [Educate your sons, save daughters]?"


Rhea Chakraborty’s father issues statement after son Showik’s arrest: ‘Congratulations India, next on line is my daughter’

MUMBAI, Sept 6: Actor Rhea Chakraborty’s father Indrajit Chakraborty has issued a statement in which he has expresses his dejection at the arrest of his son, Showik. Rhea’s brother was arrested on Friday in Mumbai.

Indrajit, Lt Col (retd), was quoted in India Today as saying: “Congratulations India, you have arrested my son, I’m sure next on the line is my daughter and I don’t know who is next thereafter. You have effectively demolished a middle-class family. But of course, for the sake of justice, everything is justified. Jai Hind.”

His statement came after Showik and late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s house manager Samuel Miranda were arrested on Friday evening, as part of the probe into Sushant’s death by Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

Showik and Samuel were arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. As per a report, teams of NCB had searched the residences of Showik in Santa Cruz (West) area and Samuel Miranda in suburban Andheri (West) area.

The NCB on Saturday also arrested Sushant’s domestic help Dipesh Sawant in connection with the drugs probe. “NCB has arrested Dipesh Sawant, the house helper of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput, in connection with the late actor’s death case,” said KPS Malhotra, Deputy Director, NCB.

The NCB had initiated a probe after it received a communication from the Enforcement Directorate (ED), with regard to chats related to drug consumption, procurement, usage and transportation in connection with the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

Sushant died on June 14 in Mumbai, after which the Mumbai Police began investigation into the case. In July, KK Singh, father of the late actor, filed an FIR in Patna, accusing Sushant’s girlfriend, Rhea and her family, of abetment to suicide and siphoning off of funds. In her defence, Rhea refuted all charges levied against her and her family. After a Supreme Court verdict in August, the case was transferred to Central Bureau of Investigation.


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