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Indian Govt snaps internet at all three protest sites

NEW DELHI, Jan 31: Shortly after a video of a weeping Rakesh Tikait went viral on social media galvanising more farmers from Haryana and western UP to join the protests, the Ministry of Home Affairs Saturday extended the suspension of the internet in the capital’s border areas to include all protest sites: Singhu, Ghazipur, Tikri and their adjoining localities.

The ban, ostensibly to “maintain public safety and avert emergency,” will be until 11 pm on January 31. On January 26, internet services here had been suspended from 12 noon to midnight.

Telecom service providers are bound by their licence agreements to comply with such government orders.

The January 26 ban had been extended until January 27. Following this, the internet speed had been significantly reduced in these areas. But after the Ghazipur tension and the fact that farmers’ ranks have only swelled after Tikait’s outburst, the net has been suspended again, sources said.

This has been coupled with heavy deployment of security forces at Singhu and Ghazipur borders which have also seen clashes between “locals” and protesters in the last couple of days.

Internet, voice, as well as other broadband telecom services, can be suspended citing public safety and security, either by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) or by the order of an officer of the rank of Joint Secretary or above, authorised by the Centre or the state home secretary in case of “unavoidable circumstances”.

Apart from Delhi, internet has also been suspended in at least 17 districts of Haryana, including the Delhi-bordering districts of Jhajjar, Palwal and Sonipat, all within a 2-hour driving distance from Central Delhi.

Internet services in the NCR were last suspended in December 2019, during the anti-CAA protests. Acting on a Delhi Police order, telecom operators had snapped all services, including voice and SMS, for four hours, between 9 am and 1 pm, on December 19, 2019.

Snapping the internet will hit the protests. For, all coordination between villages and the protest site, mobilisation of events and personnel are done via videos on social media or sent via WhatsApp.

The Tikait video set off mobilisation across Haryana prompting several khap panchayats to give a call for farmers to move to Delhi in large numbers. In Punjab, too, several panchayats passed resolutions asking people to send one person from every village. In all these cases, WhatsApp messages, audios and videos have played a key role.

Indeed, since the sit-in started in November, protesters at the three sites have also used social media to fight what they call “misinformation” and “biased” coverage in sections of the media. Young men and women recording Facebook lives is a common sight at the protest sites, and several Twitter handles from among the protesters have become popular online sources on the protests with addresses by farm leaders being streamed in real time.

“Many media houses run state-sponsored propaganda. There are senior journalists with a large numbers of followers putting up misinformation through their online handles. In that situation, social media is our only way to communicate with a large number of people to counter this,” said Garamneet Mangat, a committee member of the Ghazipur Kisan Andolan Committee.

There’s a personal purpose, too. Many have been at the protest sites for almost two months now and they say video calls with families back home are the only way to stay connected. That has been interrupted, they said.

After Politicians Meet Rakesh Tikait, Farmers’ Group Read Out Rulebook

NEW DELHI, Jan 31: The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a conglomerate of farmers' groups, today signalled its disapproval of farmer leader Rakesh Tikait's meeting with political leaders, saying politicians are only allowed to "sit with the protesters".

Asked about the meeting this evening, the Morcha leader and a representative of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda), Buta Singh Burjgill, told reporters, "If politicians address from the stage, then it is violation of our orders. Politicians can come and sit with the protesters".

The BKU's reaction came amid questions about the farmers' stance on sharing stage with political leaders. With the government repeatedly linking the movement with opposition politics, the farmers had made it a point not to allow political leaders near their rally.

That came undone after Thursday as BKU leader Rakesh Tikait broke down in full view of television cameras as the Uttar Pradesh government made an effort to push put farmers from the border with Delhi at Ghazipur.

Videos of his emotional assertion that he would "face bullets" but not budge from the site -- termed a turnaround moment in the protest -- drummed up a huge support for the protest, which many had condemned after the violence at the tractor rally on Republic Day.

Thousands of farmers from Uttar Pradesh started moving towards Ghazipur and on their heels, came the opposition leaders.

With just a year to go for the state elections in Uttar Pradesh, opposition leaders from across party lines -- Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejaswi Yadav, Rashtriya Lok Dal's Ajit Singh, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and other political leaders dialled Mr Tikait.

Others made it a point to visit him at the protest site.

Among the first to come was Jayant Chaudhary, grandson of former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh. Uttar Pradesh Congress president Ajay Kumar Lallu, Delhi Congress leader Alka Lamba and Congress MP from Haryana, Deepender Singh Hooda were on the list as well.

Today, Tikait said that the farmers will honour the dignity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said on Saturday that the government's offer to suspend the contentions farm laws for 18 months and conducting negotiations, still stands.

But he made it clear that he was also committed to protecting the farmers' self-respect.

Farm agitation swells after surge in Jatland

NEW DELHI, Jan 30: Thousands of farmers poured into Ghazipur on the eastern fringes of Delhi on Friday after an emotional appeal for support by farm leader Rakesh Tikait, indicating that the government crackdown on the two-month-old agitation following violence on Republic Day may have partially backfired.

Farmers from 10 districts in western UP, a stronghold of the influential Jat community, congregated at a massive gathering in Muzaffarnagar, where they announced the social boycott of anyone not backing the movement.

In Haryana, khaps, or clan-based bodies, vowed to send at least one person from each family to bolster the ongoing stir against three agriculture laws passed in September.

Throughout the night, cultivators took tractors, trucks and motorbikes to reach the Delhi border, where numbers swelled and morale mounted with the arrival of a new contingent of protesters determined to defend the honour of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Tikait.

While just about a thousand farmers had gathered at Ghazipur on Thursday, the number swelled around 10,000 on Friday.

“If the police use force on us for not leaving, it is not a problem. But if some political organisations attempt to trouble us, that is unacceptable...Now, I will not surrender (to the police), we’ll continue to protest here,” Tikait told the gathering.

It was a dramatic reversal from Thursday afternoon, when dwindling numbers, bitter public fallout of violence by farmers at the Republic Day tractor rally, and increasing police presence, left the protesters demoralised.

The Ghaziabad administration served Tikait, son of legendary farm leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, with an ultimatum to vacate the site or face penal consequences, part of a wider crackdown on the agitation since January 26. Farmers also said that the authorities cut off their water and power supply to the site.

But instead of caving in, Tikait broke down in front of television cameras and vowed to not leave the site until the government repealed the laws. “If the farm laws are not repealed, Rakesh Tikait will commit suicide,” he had said, biting back tears.

These visuals were beamed on television channels and went viral on social media, triggering calls for mobilisation from temples, mosques and panchayats across western UP throughout the night.

Tikait’s resolve to not drink water unless it was brought from his village in particular touched a chord with the people, who carried water in bottles and pouches from their homes in the heartland to the Capital’s edge.

Prabhjeet Singh, a farmer from Muzaffarnagar who returned to Ghazipur a day after he left for his home, said, “We couldn’t leave him (Tikait) to battle it alone when he needed us the most”

By morning, the agitation seemed to have regained some of the momentum it lost when on Republic Day, farmer groups broke through barricades, clashed violently with police, ran riot on the Capital’s streets, and stormed the Red Fort, hoisting the Nishan Sahib, the flag of the Sikhs, on its ramparts.

The violence and vandalisation were widely condemned and sparked statements of remorse and anguish from farm groups across north India, even as unions leading the stir blamed fringe elements, a government “conspiracy”, and Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu for stoking passions.

The improvement in morale was visible in the principal protest site at the Singhu border despite violence by a mob of around 200 people earlier in the day. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body leading the stir, said farmers will hold a one-day hunger strike to mark Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary on January 30.

“Today, we just saw farmers arriving in Ghazipur. In a couple of days, more protesters will arrive at Tikri, Singhu, and Shahjahanpur border from Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan,” said Darshan Pal, president of Krantikari Kisan Union Punjab.

Ghazipur is the smallest of the three protest sites — after Singhu and Tikri on the Capital’s northwestern and western borders respectively — where farmers have camped since November.

But on Friday, it was the focal point of the agitation as politicians, journalists, ordinary people made a beeline to meet Tikait, and union leaders scrambled to put up more tents, and set up community kitchens for the incoming crowds.

Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia met Tikait and extended unconditional support on behalf of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. “It is in such tough times that one aandolankari (protesters) come to help other aandolankari (protesters),” Tikait responded.

Other politicians to visit were Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary, UP Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu, and Congress leader Deepinder Singh Hooda. Opposition politicians across the country also extended their support.

“I want to tell the farmers, don’t retract even by an inch. These laws will give a shock to middle class too, as food prices will skyrocket. The only solution is to repeal these laws,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said.

In Haryana, khaps held meetings across the state and decided to send members to the farmer protests, and socially boycott leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). Haryana is governed by a BJP-JJP coalition. The move came even as the Haryana government suspended mobile internet in 17 districts.

In Muzaffarnagar, Tikait’s brother Naresh Tikait organised a show of strength attended by tens of thousands of farmers. “The ongoing movement is a battle for the honour of farmers and, if it ends, it will damage our very existence,” said Naresh Tikait after the seven-hour mahapanchayat.

In the face of increased mobilisation, police retreated from the Ghazipur site even as UP additional director general of police (ADG), law and order, Prashant Kumar said they were in touch with farmer leaders to find an amicable solution through talks.

Minor Blast Near Israel Embassy In Delhi

NEW DELHI, Jan 29: A "very low-intensity" IED (improvised explosive device) was detonated near the Israeli embassy in the heart of central Delhi at 5.05 pm on Friday, the police said, adding that no injuries or property damage, apart from shattered windscreens of nearby cars, had been reported.

"A very low intensity improvised device went off... No injury to any person was reported... nor was there any damage to property, except the glass panes of three vehicles parked nearby," said Anil Mittal, a Delhi Police spokesperson.

The blast took place 1.4 kilometres from Vijaya Chowk, where President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior members of the government had gathered, amid extremely heavy security, for the Beating Retreat ceremony that follows the Republic Day parade.

Home Minister Amit Shah has been briefed on the situation, and Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava has visited the site.

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar tweeted to say he spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, and assured him of "the fullest protection for the Embassy and diplomats".

"Spoke just now to Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi about the explosion outside the Israeli Embassy. We take this very seriously. Assured him of the fullest protection for the Embassy and Israeli diplomats. Matter is under investigation and no effort will be spared to find the culprits," he said.

Ashkenazi said his government would cooperate fully to identify those involved.

"The Indian Foreign Minister assured me that the Indian authorities are committed to the security of all Israeli diplomatic staff and will continue to act resolutely to locate all those involved in the explosion. I thanked him and promised full cooperation and any help required from Israel," he said.

A statement from the Israeli government also confirmed no injuries or damage to its property.

"An explosion occurred a short while ago, close to the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi. There are no casualties and no harm was done to the building. All diplomats and staff are safe," a statement said.

As part of the SOP (standard operating procedure) in such situations, an alert has been issued at all airports, important installations and government buildings in the country, and "enhanced security measures have been put in place", the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force), which guards civil airports, nuclear and aerospace installations, the Delhi Metro and central government buildings, said.

Police sources said the explosive, which an initial probe suggests had ball bearings as part of the IED's makeup, had been wrapped up in a plastic bag and left near a tree on the pavement outside a nearby building that is just metres away from the embassy.

Samples of dust and grass have also been collected, the source said, adding that CCTV footage of the area was being studied for further clues.

The entire area - the embassy is located on Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road - has been cordoned off and senior Delhi Police officers, as well as those from the Special Cell and other intelligence agencies, have reached the spot.

Visuals from the area showed a heavy deployment of police and security personnel standing outside the embassy, with yellow Delhi Police barricades set up at both ends of the road.

The blast comes on a day the two nations marked the 29th anniversary of their diplomatic relations.

It also comes days after Amit Shah met with the Delhi Police Commissioner and the heads of intelligence agencies to discuss security in the national capital. This was in the aftermath of violence on Republic Day between police and groups of farmers protesting the agriculture laws.

After that meeting additional paramilitary forces were positioned in the city. An unnamed senior official as saying 15 companies of paramilitary forces - including 10 from the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) had been sent in and five more were on standby.

This is the second blast to take place involving the Israel embassy; the first was in February 2012, when a bike-borne attacker planted a 'sticky bomb' on an embassy vehicle at a traffic junction.

The explosion took place just 300 metres from the Prime Minister's residence. Four people, including the wife of an Israeli diplomat, were injured.

That today's blast, albeit a minor one, took place despite increased security in the national capital and after an earlier such incident involving the Israeli embassy, is something that security and intelligence agencies will be investigating very closely.

Big Crowd At Farmer 'Mahapanchayat' After Viral Clip Of Leader In Tears

MUZAFFARNAGAR, Jan 29: A massive crowd gathered today for a farmers' "Mahapanchayat" or meeting called by Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Naresh Tikait in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, less than 150 km from the Ghazipur border near Delhi where Tikait's brother Rakesh is leading a protest against farm laws.

Visuals taken from a drone camera showed crowds surging at the college grounds where the meeting was held. The Mahapanchayat was called after a tense standoff last night when the UP administration tried to evict the protesting farmers from Ghazipur.

A huge build-up of policemen led to speculation that the farmers' protest would be broken up by force. Yesterday, electricity and water supply had been cut off at the protest site, but it was restored later.

As farmers were driven out, Rakesh Tikait , an influential farmer leader from western UP, wept on camera and declared he would not budge.

"They want to destroy farmers, we will not allow this to happen. Either the laws will be taken back, or Tikait will kill himself. This is a conspiracy against farmers...," he said.

The video clip went viral and resulted in hordes of farmers making an about-turn and returning to Ghazipur to rejoin the protest.

Prashant Kumar, a senior Uttar Pradesh police official, said that UP cops had no intention of evicting the protestors at Ghazipur. "The force build-up last evening at Ghazipur was not to evict anyone but to ensure that no anti-social elements infiltrated the protest. But some people twisted the developments out of proportion," Kumar said.

This afternoon, there was another flare-up at Singhu at the Delhi-Haryana border, the epicenter of the protests, when a group of over 200 people barged into the protest site, threw stones and vandalized the tents of the protesters.

Two policemen were injured in the sudden violence.

The farmers are demanding that the government cancel three new laws that they believe will hurt their income by taking away guaranteed minimum prices and by leaving them vulnerable to corporates. The government says the laws bring long overdue reforms in the agriculture sector, and will allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country for competitive prices.

Farmers call off Feb 1 march to Parliament; 2 unions withdraw from protests

NEW DELHI, Jan 27: Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Balbir S Rajewal on Wednesday said that the farmers’ march to Parliament planned for 1 February (Budget day) has been postponed due to the violence on Republic Day.

“On Martyrs' Day, we will hold public rallies across India on behalf of the farmers' agitation. We will also keep a one-day fast,” he said.

Earlier, in a significant development, two major farmers’ unions -- the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) and the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee -- have condemned the violence and vandalism that shamed the nation on Republic Day and decided to withdraw from farmers’ protests with immediate effect.

Meanwhile, Delhi Police have filed an FIR mentioning the names of 37 farmer leaders, including Medha Patkar, Buta Singh, Yogendra Yadav, Rakesh Tikait and Darshan Pal, holding them responsible for January 26 violence.

The FIR states that acts like not following mutually agreed route and timing of farmers' rally to disrupt R-Day parade were done. Farmer leaders Rajinder Singh, Balbir Singh Rajewal, Buta Singh Burjgil & Joginder Singh Ugraha too have been named in the FIR for breach of NOC issued regarding farmers' tractor rally.

Cops wanted to malign farmers, hence they didn't fire at those who stormed the Red Fort, claims Tikait

Rakesh Tikait, the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, today claimed that the tractor rally held by farmers on Republic Day in Delhi was ‘successful’.

He also said that it was a conspiracy hatched by the police to discredit the farmers' movement which is why not a single bullet was fired to stop those who desecrated the Red Fort.

“If there was any incident that took place, the Delhi Police is responsible for it. How is it that just about anybody can storm the Red Fort and the police doesn’t even fire a single bullet? This was just a conspiracy to malign the farmers’ unions. The farmers’ agitation will continue,” he said.

Farmers' tractor rally enters Red Fort; hoists religious flag

NEW DELHI, Jan 26: Unprecedented chaos was unleashed upon Delhi on the 72nd Republic Day as the tractor rally by protesting farmers went off the designated course and rolled into the Iconic Mughal-era Red Fort in the Old City. A protester died on the way, the police said it was an accident.

The farmers entered the forecourt of the fort, climbed its ramparts, and hoisted a religious flag on a mast outside. The police, wielding batons, managed to remove them from inside the fort. The violence started in the morning as farmers broke barricades and entered Delhi ahead of time. One of the key farmer groups has called off the tractor rally, accusing anti-social elements of being responsible for the violence.

Union Home minister Amit Shah held a high-level meeting this evening where a decision was taken to deploy additional paramilitary forces in Delhi. Punjab and Haryana have been placed under high alert.

Internet has been suspended in parts of the National Capital Region -- including Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

The Delhi Police had allowed a rally with a fixed route and time. But the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee refused to stick to the route. By 8 am, thousands entered the national capital on foot. Dramatic visuals showed farmers breaching barriers at the Singhu border, the epicentre of protests against the farm laws that started on November 26.

Violence broke out at central Delhi's ITO, where the police headquarters is located. A farmer died there as a tractor on way to the Old City overturned, the police said. A bus was vandalized in nearby Akshardham, where the police clashed with protesters. The other flashpoint was Nagloi, where the police used teargas shells. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation shut the gates at several metro stations.

Visuals from the Red Fort showed farmers hoisting a sacred flag of Sikhs at a second flagpole. Repeated attempts were made to hoist flags on the fort's domes as well. Thousands of others, waving the national flag, stood at the huge gates of the fort. The police have managed to push out protesters from inside the fort. But many are still thronging the Ramlila grounds outside the fort.

"We came here to deliver a message to the Modi government, our job is done. We will go back now," one of the farmers said at the Red Fort. "We managed to reach the fort even though they tried to stop us. We will not stop till we reach our goal -- the repeal of the three farm laws," another farmer said.

The police have filed four cases over vandalism in East Delhi. Eight buses and 17 private vehicles were vandalised, the police said.
Despite having fixed routes, "farmers drove tractors off the routes and before the fixed time, leading to vandalism in which many police personnel were injured," said Delhi Police chief SN Shrivastava.

Overall, 83 police personnel have been injured in the violence.

A key pan-India farmers' group, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, called off the tractor rally, asking participants to return to the protest sites outside Delhi borders. The group also said anti-social elements had "infiltrated the otherwise peaceful movement".

"The long struggle for more than 6 months now, and more than 60 days of protest at Delhi borders also seemed to have led to this situation," it added.

Farmers were given police permission to hold the rally on the periphery of the city after a court battle. The rally -- to be held over 60-odd-km stretches near the Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders -- was expected to enter the city only after the traditional Republic Day parade ended around 11.30 am.

The Centre had opposed the rally in the Supreme Court, contending that its timing will make it "an embarrassment to the nation". But the court, which earlier upheld the farmers' right to hold peaceful protests, handed over the matter to the Delhi Police.

No breakthrough in the deadlock over the farm laws has been possible despite 11 rounds of talks between the farmers and the government. The farmers turned down the Centre's last offer to put the laws on hold for 18 months while a special committee conducts negotiations.

Rahul Gandhi says violence is not solution, calls for repeal of farm laws in national interest

NEW DELHI, Jan 26: As protesting farmers clashed with police at several places in the national capital, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said violence is not the solution to any problem and sought repeal of the three farm laws in "national interest".

Gandhi took to Twitter to say that if anyone gets hurt the damage will be inflicted to the country, after violence broke out during the tractor parade by protesters against the new farm laws.

"Violence is not the solution to any problem. If anyone gets hurt, the damage will be done to our country. Take back the anti-agricultural laws in national interest," he said in a tweet in Hindi.

Deviating from the designated route for the tractor parade, protesting farmers entered the Red Fort and hoisted flags from some domes of the iconic monument in the national capital.

They earlier clashed with the police at ITO while trying to enter Lutyens Delhi. The police used tear gas shells and lathi-charge to dispel the violent farmers.

The Congress also tweeted a video showing smoke from tear gas shells lobbed at farmers to stop them from entering Delhi.

"Republic Day 2021 in New India. Our national capital is up in smoke as the government attacks its own people," the party said on its official Twitter handle along with the video.

The opposition party also said that it is standing strongly behind the farmers in their protest against the farm laws.

Republic is from you, it belongs to you: Rahul Gandhi wishes people on R-Day

NEW DELHI, Jan 26: India's fate is determined by its every citizen, whether it is the 'satyagrahi' farmer, labourer, small and medium businessman, young job seeker or a housewife troubled by inflation, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Tuesday as he greeted people on Republic Day. India is celebrating its 72nd Republic Day, the day its Constitution came into force in 1950.

"Every citizen of India determines the fate of the country, whether it is the 'satyagrahi' farmer-labourer or small-medium businessman, young job seeker or a housewife troubled by inflation," Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.

"The Republic is from you, the Republic belongs to you," he said, extending best wishes to people on the occasion.

The Congress, on its official Twitter handle, said, "We shall never forget the struggles and sacrifices our brave hearts had to make to bring us freedom and our own Constitution. This Republic Day, let's renew our sacred vow to uphold justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Jai Hind!"

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also wished people on Republic Day and raised the slogan, "Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisaan".

Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also extended his wishes to people of the country on Republic Day.

Stage Set for Massive Farmers' Tractor Rally on R-day

NEW DELHI, Jan 25: Even as the Republic Day parade would be underway at Rajpath in the heart of New Delhi, farmers protesting against the three farm laws are all set to carry out a parallel 'tractor' parade at several different routes on Delhi's outskirts and a number of places across India.

All through Monday, 25 January, farmers kept arriving in their tractor trolleys from Punjab and Haryana and many more are expected to come on 26 January as well.

Farm union leaders say that this would be a spectacle that has never been seen before in India, with rallies planned in Delhi, Bengaluru, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, besides Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Unions say, the next step would be a march to Parliament on Budget Day - 1 February.

Near Delhi, tractor rallies have been planned from Singhu Border, Tikri Border, Ghazipur, Shahjahanpur, Chilla and Mewat and Palwal.

These routes have been announced by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha and approved by the respective police forces of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

However, the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee has insisted on taking out a march on Delhi's Outer Ring Road, despite not having the permission.

The organisation's general secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher said, "We respect the other unions, they have every right to carry out their parade wherever they want, we also have the right to conduct it where went want".

There is a great deal of enthusiasm among the farmers for the parade.

"The Republic is for the people and this is the people's parade," said Tarsem Singh, a protester from Punjab presently at Tikri border.

Several women protesters are also likely to take part in the parade. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan)'s tractor convoy is going to be led by its women's wing chief Harinder Bindu.

The unions say that the idea is to "win the hearts" of common citizens and sensitise them about the need for repealing the three controversial farm laws.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha is keen to ensure that the protests happen without any incident and they have issued a detailed advisory in this respect.

Farmers to march to Parliament on February 1

NEW DELHI, Jan 25: Farmers protesting against the Centre's three farm laws on Monday announced that will undertake a foot march towards the Parliament building from various locations on Budget Day, on February 1.

"On February 1, we will march on foot towards Parliament in Delhi from different locations." Krantikari Kisan Union chief Darshan Pal said here today while addressing a press conference at the Singhu border

Farmers from all across the country are marching towards Delhi to participate the scheduled tractor rally on January 26, Republic Day to protest against the Central Government's three new farm laws.

Farmers have been protesting on the different borders of the national capital since November 26 against the three newly enacted farm laws - Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and farm Services Act 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

Arnab Goswami gave me $12,000, Rs. 40 Lakhs: Former BARC CEO

MUMBAI, Jan 25: Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami paid former Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Partho Dasgupta $12,000 and Rs. 40 lakh over three years for favorable TRPs (Television Rating Points), according to a supplementary charge sheet filed in the TRP scam case.

The case had come to light last October when the BARC had alleged that certain television channels were manipulating their TV ratings.

According to The Indian Express, Dasgupta agreed to have taken money from Goswami in a handwritten note included in the 3,600-page supplementary charge sheet, filed by Mumbai Police on January 11.

Reportedly, the charge sheet also includes a BARC forensic audit report, WhatsApp chats purportedly between Dasgupta and Goswami, and statements of 59 persons, including former council employees and cable operators.

The supplementary charge sheet was filed against Dasgupta, former BARC COO Romil Ramgarhia, and Republic Media Network CEO Vikas Khanchandani.

The first charge sheet had been filed against 12 persons in November 2020.

According to the second charge sheet, Dasgupta's statement was recorded in the office of the Crime Intelligence Unit on December 27, 2020, at 5:15 pm, in the presence of two witnesses.

In the note, Dasgupta said he has known Goswami since 2004 as they used to work together in Times Now.

"I joined BARC as CEO in 2013. Arnab Goswami launched Republic in 2017. Even before launching Republic TV, he would talk to me about plans for the launch and indirectly hint at helping him to get good ratings to his channel."

Further, Dasgupta reportedly said Goswami had met him at St Regis hotel, Lower Parel, and given him $6,000 for his France and Switzerland family trip in 2017.

He had again given him $6,000 for his Sweden and Denmark family trip in 2019, Dasgupta said.

In 2018 and 2019, Goswami met Dasgupta and gave him Rs. 10 lakh cash both times, the latter said.

However, Dasgupta's lawyer Arjun Singh said, "We totally deny this allegation as the statement would have been recorded under duress. It does not have any evidentiary value in the court of law."

Goswami's lawyer refused to comment on TIE's queries.

The audit report—dated July 24, 2020—attached in the charge sheet names several news channels, including Republic, Times Now, and Aaj Tak for alleged manipulation as well as "pre-fixing" of ratings for the channels by BARC's top executives.

The charge sheet states that the evidence "indicated favoritism shown to few channels" and "in some cases, we suspect that the ratings were pre-decided."

The report mentions the alleged suppression of viewership for Times Now to boost Republic's rankings.

Six top executives of BARC were involved in the "manipulation of ratings and violation of the code of ethics" between 2018-2019, including Dasgupta, Ramgarhia, Head of Products (South) Venkat Sujit Samrat, Head of West Rushab Mehta, Vice-President of Strategy Pekham Basu, and Chief People Officer Manashi Kumar, it states.

Entire Country Will Thank You: A Farmer's Letter To PM's Mother

NEW DELHI, Dec 24: A farmer from Punjab, protesting for months along with thousands like him, has written an emotional letter to the Prime Minister's aged mother, urging her to convince her son to repeal three Central agricultural laws that have sparked a major agitation in the country. He hoped in the letter that she would use all her powers as a mother to make PM Narendra Modi change his mind.

The charged letter, written in Hindi by one Harpreet Singh of Village Golu Ka Modh in Punjab's Ferozepur district, covered several emotional points while appealing to the almost 100-year-old Heeraben Modi. This included, among others, the weather conditions under which the farmers are protesting, the popular nature of the demand to repeal the laws, farmers' contribution in wiping out hunger in the country and also in securing its borders.

"I write this letter with a heavy heart. As you would know that the annadatas who feed the nation and the world are forced to sleep on the roads of Delhi in this biting winter due to three black laws. This included 90-95-year-olds, children, and women. The cold weather is making people ill. They are even being martyred, which is a cause for worry for all of us," Singh wrote.

"This peaceful agitation along Delhi's borders has been caused by the three black laws which have been passed at the behest of Adani, Ambani, and other corporate households," he wrote.

Mr Singh is among thousands of farmers camped in and around Delhi for more than a month-and-a-half, protesting against the laws passed by Parliament last September. Several rounds of talks have been held with the government but none that led to a breakthrough.

Over 75 protesters have, meanwhile, lost their lives during the agitation, with some of them even dying by suicide.

Singh himself was arrested a few days ago for holding a protest without permission in Simla, according to a report. He was released on bail shortly after.

"I write this letter with a lot of hope. Your son Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of the country. He can repeal the farm laws that he has passed. I felt that one can refuse anyone except one's mother," Singh wrote in the letter.

"The entire country will thank you. Only a mother can order his son," he said.

Delhi police gives nod to farmers’ Republic Day tractor parade

NEW DELHI, Jan 23: The Delhi Police Saturday granted farmers permission to carry out their tractor parade in the national capital on the occasion of Republic Day on January 26. Farmers will have to confirm to the police the route of their parade tomorrow.

Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav said the farmers have been allowed to enter Delhi. “Farmers will take out ‘Kisan Gantantra Parade’ on January 26. Barricades will be opened and we will enter Delhi. We (farmers and Delhi Police) have reached an agreement on the route, final details are to be worked out tonight,” he said.

Yadav also said the parade would have no effect on the official Republic Day event or its security arrangements. Other farm leaders also appealed to those participating in the parade to maintain discipline.

“I want to appeal to the farmers participating in the parade to maintain discipline and follow the instruction issued by the committee,” Gurnam Singh Chaduni of Bharatiya Kisan Union said.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now against the recently-enacted agricultural laws. Apart from those already present, hundreds of farmers, with the Tricolour and balloons on their tractors, are heading to Delhi to join the protest against the three controversial legislations.

“Over 30,000 tractors and trolleys today moved from Khanauri (in Sangrur, Punjab) and Dabwali (in Sirsa district, Haryana) to join the tractor parade in Delhi,” said Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan on Saturday. They are expected to reach the Tikri border tonight.

Farmers are expecting representation of at least 20 states in their parade. They had earlier said the national flag would be put atop vehicles and no flags of any political party would be allowed. They also plan to display tableaux of different states during their R-Day tractor parade.

“If all goes well, we will display tableaux of all states during the tractor parade,” Chaudhary Joginder Ghasi Ram Nain, a Bhartiya Kisan Union leader from Haryana had told The Indian Express.

Earlier, the Delhi Police had tried convincing farmers to hold their protest at the border and not march inwards, but couldn’t reach an agreement.

Congress demands JPC on Arnab WhatsApp chat leak; party president to be elected by June

NEW DELHI, Jan 22: The Congress Working Committee (CWC) met Friday and passed resolutions on three issues of national importance, including farmers’ protest, coronavirus vaccine and WhatsApp chat leaks of journalist Arnab Goswami. The party also announced to hold polls for electing the new Congress president by June 2021.

Addressing a press conference, the party’s Central Election Authority headed by Madhusudan Mistry said the CWC has passed a resolution on farmers’ protest, saying the party would oppose the central government to take back the three new farm laws.

The party also adopted a resolution thanking the scientists for developing the Covid-19 vaccine in such a short period of time and appealed to the people to come forward for vaccination.

Another resolution passed by the party demanded an investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee into the purported WhatsApp conversations between Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and former CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Partho Dasgupta.

In her opening remarks, interim party president Sonia Gandhi hit out at the government over a host of issues. She said there were “many pressing issues of public concern” that needed to be debated and discussed in the upcoming session of Parliament.

On the ongoing farmers’ agitation, she said the government had shown “shocking insensitivity and arrogance going through the charade of consultations”.

“It is abundantly clear that the three laws were prepared in haste and Parliament was consciously denied an opportunity for examining in any meaningful details their implications and impacts. Our position has been very clear from the very beginning: we reject them categorically because they will destroy the foundations of food security that are based on the three pillars of MSP, public procurement and PDS,” she said.

On the purported WhatsApp conversations between Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and former CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Partho Dasgupta, she said there have been “very disturbing” reports on how national security was “thoroughly compromised”.

“Just a few days back, Antony-ji had said that leaking of official secrets of military operations is treason. Yet, the silence from the government’s side on what has been revealed has been deafening. Those who give certificates of patriotism and nationalism to others now stand totally exposed,” she said.

While the Congress is set to announce the schedule for election of a new party president, it is to be seen whether the leadership will be willing to hold elections for the CWC, a demand made by the group of 23 leaders who had written to Sonia Gandhi. There is also suspense on what the letter-writers would do — would they field or back anyone for the post of party chief or contest themselves — if elections to the CWC are held.

She said vaccination of frontline health workers had begun, and the Congress hoped the process would be completed “to the fullest extent”.

“The government has inflicted untold suffering on the people of our country by the manner in which it has managed the Covid-19 pandemic. It will take years for the scars to heal,” she said.

On the economy, Gandhi said the situation remained grim and large parts of the economy, like the MSME and informal sectors, had been “decimated”.

“When public expenditure has to be carefully prioritised, it is very painful to find huge amounts of money being allocated and spent on initiatives that can only be described as ‘personal vanity projects’. Equally anguishing is the manner in which the government has weakened labour and environmental laws and its moving ahead with selling off of carefully built-up public assets. Panic privatisation has gripped the government and this is something that the Congress party can never accept and support,” she said.

Farmers Reject Government's Proposal To Pause Farm Laws

NEW DELHI, Jan 21: Farmers protesting against the controversial farm sector laws have decided to hold out for a complete scrapping of the laws, rejecting the Centre's new proposal of putting them on hold for 18 months while negotiations continue with a fresh committee.

The government had put forward the proposal yesterday at the 10th round of negotiations with the farmers' unions. After nine rounds of inconclusive talks, it was seen as holding out hope of a breakthrough.

The farmers had given no immediate reply. Several of them later said their plans for a big tractor rally on Republic Day had unnerved the government.

As the protest outside the Delhi borders entered its 58th day, the farmers after a meeting at the Singhu border, said this evening that they want a full repeal of the three Central farm laws and a fresh law to ensure that they get Minimum Support Price for their produce.

The protesters, who had been camping at the Delhi border since November 26, said the tractor march will progress as planned. They have also turned down a police requests to cancel the rally on Republic Day.

Contending that a protest rally on such a day will embarrass the nation, the government had asked the Supreme Court to put a stop to it. The court, which earlier upheld the farmers' fundamental right to protest, declined, saying the matter should be handled by the police.

The farmers have assured that their rally will stick to the Ring Road, which runs along the periphery of the city, and won't clash with the traditional prestigious parade held on Rajpath.

Contending that their peaceful movement is becoming a "people's movement", the farmers said on Republic Day, similar protest rallies will be held in many states, including Karnataka, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh. In Kolkata, a three-day protest will take place starting January 20.

Earlier this month, the farm laws were put on hold for at least two months by the Supreme Court, which named a special committee discusses the issue with all sides in that time.

The farmers, however, did not accept the committee, saying all four of its members are pro-government. One of the members stepped down a day after being named.

5 dead in Serum Institute fire; Covishield facility unaffected

PUNE, Jan 21: Five persons died and nine were evacuated from a building in the Serum Institute of India's Manjari premises here after a fire broke out at the facility on Thursday, police said.

Covishield vaccine production won't be hit due to the fire, Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla said.

The Manjari facility is where the Covishield vaccine used in the nationwide inoculation drive against the pandemic is made. The building where the fire broke out is part of the under-construction site of the Serum facility and is one km from the Covishield manufacturing unit, sources said.

'I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of #COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies at @SerumInstIndia,' Poonawalla tweeted.

'We have just received some distressing updates; upon further investigation we have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed,' Poonawalla added.

Mayor Murlidhar Mohol said it appears the five persons who died in the fire were working on the building floor. Fire officials recovered the bodies during an inspection, he said.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said the state government has ordered a probe into the blaze.

The fire, which broke out at 2.45 pm on the fourth and fifth floors of the SEZ 3 building in the Serum Institute premises, was brought under control in two hours, police said.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Namrata Patil said that nine people were evacuated from the spot after the fire broke out.

Viral visuals from the site showed smoke billowing out from the Serum Institute facility.

Chief Fire Officer Prashant Ranpise said cooling work has commenced at the spot. Fifteen water tankers were pressed into action and the fire was brought under control around 4.30 pm, he said.

'The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained.

Furniture, wiring, cabins were gutted. No major machinery or instruments were stored on the floors where the fire broke out,' he said.

'I have taken information from the Pune Municipal Corporation about the incident and instructed locals officials to carry out a detailed probe into the fire,' Ajit Pawar said.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray told reporters that as per initial information, an electrical fault caused the fire.

'As per initial information, the fire did not erupt at the unit where the COVID-19 vaccine is being produced, but in the unit where the BCG vaccine is produced,' Thackeray said.

Centre Ready To Pause Farm Laws For 1.5 Years

NEW DELHI, Jan 20: The government is ready to put the three controversial farm laws on freeze for one-and-half years and will convey it to the Supreme Court in an affidavit, said farmers who attended the 10th round of negotiations.

The farmer unions, which are holding out for repeal of the farm laws, said they would consider the proposal. The government, they said, has become unnerved by their plans for a big tractor rally on Republic Day.

"The government placed a new proposal before us in the tenth round meeting - it is ready to set up a special committee which will consider all our demands along with the three new laws," said Balkishan Singh Brar of the All India Kisan Sabha.

"The government also proposed that until the committee completes the review, all three new laws will be put on hold for one-and-a-half-year," he added.

The farm laws were put on hold for at least two months by the top Court in an order last week. The court had named a special committee discusses the issue with all sides, giving it two months to submit a report.

The farmers, however, had not accepted the committee, saying all four of its members are pro-government. One of the members also stepped down.

"The government is scared and is looking for ways to save its skin," Brar said. The farmers, he said, will meet the police tomorrow to discuss the programme of the January 26 protest. The farmers said they are expecting at least 1,000 tractors to take part in the rally, which roll along the periphery of the city.

The government has opposed the rally, saying such a rally on the Republic Day would embarrass the nation.

Despite an appeal by the government, the Supreme Court had refused to take a stand on the tractor rally and said the Delhi Police can take a call on the matter.

The next meeting between the government and farmers will be held on January 22.

Won't Call Off Tractor Rally On Republic Day, Say Protesting Farmers

NEW DELHI, Jan 17: The protesting farmers refused to call off their Republic Day tractor rally and said the probe by the National Investigation Agency is meant to break their big protest.

Today, as the agency summoned 40 people -- including farmer leader Baldev Singh Sirsa -- for questioning in a case related to the banned outfit Sikhs For Justice, farmers alleged that the government has resorted to "atrocities". The government is opposing the tractor rally legally -- the matter will be heard by the Supreme Court tomorrow.

"Action is being taken against those who cooperate in the movement," alleged a farmer leader. "We condemn the action the NIA is taking, we will fight against it legally, not only in the court. The government's attitude is oppressive," he added.

In a tweet, Shiromani Akali Dal leader and former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal called it an attempt to intimidate the farmers.

"Strongly condemn Centre's attempts to intimidate farmer leaders & supporters of Kisan Andolan by calling them for questioning by NIA & ED. They aren't anti-nationals. And after failure of talks for the 9th time, it's absolutely clear that GOI is only trying to tire out farmers," his tweet read.

The government has challenged the farmers' plans to hold the rally on Republic Day in the Supreme Court, saying it will be an "embarrassment to the nation".

The farmers said their rally -- in which 1000 tractors will participate -- will be peaceful and won't interrupt the day's big parade at Rajpath.

"We will not interrupt the parade on Republic Day," a farmer leader told the media at Delhi's Singhu border. The 50-km parade, they said, will be held in the Outer Ring Road, the road encircling the city.

"We hope the Delhi and Haryana Police will cooperate in this. This parade will be peaceful," the leader said.

The farmers planed the tractor rally as repeated talks with the government failed to resolve the deadlock over the laws, which they say will shrink their income and place them at the mercy of big corporates.

The government has refused to repeal the laws, which have been flagged as its big ticket reforms in the farm sector.

Last week, the Supreme Court put the laws on hold and formed a committee to discuss the issue with all sides and give a report within two months. The farmers, however, have rejected the panel, saying all the members are pro-government.

 

Farmers, Govt talks 'Fail 120%': Leader

NEW DELHI, Jan 15: The ninth round of discussion between farmers demanding repeal of the three agriculture laws and the centre -- held days after the Supreme Court stayed their enactment "until further orders" -- ended today with no progress towards ending the stalemate.

"It was a 120 per cent failure. We suggested that the government remove the changes made to the Essential Commodities Act instead of scrapping it altogether. But the Agriculture Minister has not said anything on this," farmer leader Dr Darshanpal said.

The next round of talks would be held on January 19, the day the court-appointed committee was likely to start consulting stakeholders to end the impasse.

To increase pressure on the government, the farmer unions have decided to go ahead and intensify their stir with a tractor rally on January 26. "Our proposed Tractor rally will be held, will be held, will be held," Dr Darshanpal added.

Leaders of the 40 farmers' unions negotiating with the centre also said they want continued direct communication with the centre, "not brokers". They maintain they will not appear before the panel since the members were already in "favour of the farm laws".

The government has agreed to engage directly with farmers, but said that if they want they can go to the court-appointed committee as well.

"The government and farmers should continue looking for solutions, formally and informally. Whatever we can agree on during these talks will decide the future course of action. The government is committed to follow the Supreme Court's order," Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said.

By agreeing to continue talks even after the top court's decision to appoint a committee, it appears that negotiations may be held on two separate tracks simultaneously.

During Friday's meeting farmer leaders also raised the issue of continued raids by central agencies on those supporting their movement logistically, and use of the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act against them.

The centre, which had earlier blamed the raids on the state government, has said it will look into the issue, sources said.

Meanwhile, some farmers have also started demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention to resolve the talks that are being led by the Agriculture Minister, Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab.

On January 12, the country's top court had put the three contentious laws on hold and formed a panel noting that "no solution was in sight".

Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping around Delhi since November 26 demanding repeal of three farm laws saying they would leave them vulnerable to exploitation. The centre has maintained the laws would open new markets and increase their income by eliminating middlemen.

Congress MP Questions Covaxin Rollout

NEW DELHI, Jan 13: The controversy around Covaxin, one of the two anti-COVID-19 vaccines India will deploy to fight back the pandemic, refuses to die even as the Indian government goes full-steam ahead with the mass inoculation programme.

As Bharat Biotech's product was carried to Delhi and 10 other cities this morning, the Congress party sounded another note of caution citing the Centre's supposed flip-flop on its administration.

The vaccine, developed by the Hyderabad-based company in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research, has been touted as a key example of India's indigenous manufacturing and medical research muscle besides being a veritable example of the success of Make in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship programme.

However, the vaccine is yet to clear its phase-III trials, due to which the government had earlier said it was to be used only in case of emergency as a secondary option.

Yet, a report yesterday quoted Union Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan to say that such a choice won't be available to Indians immediately.
"Now the government is saying recipients won't be able to pick and choose the vaccine…When phase 3 trials of Covaxin is not complete, it raises various concerns on its efficacy," said Manish Tewari, Congress spokesperson and Sri Anandpur Sahib MP.

"You can't use rollout as phase 3 trial, Indians are not guinea pigs," Tewari said. "Till yesterday NDA/BJP claimed Covaxin has been cleared for emergency use."

On January 11, tagging Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, Tewari had tweeted asking if Bharat Biotech's vaccine was safe for human use and if the government could guarantee its safety and efficacy.

Supreme Court Puts On Hold 3 Farm Laws

NEW DELHI, Jan 12: The three new laws at the heart of massive farmer protests near Delhi will not come into force for now. The Supreme Court today pressed pause on the laws enacted in September in a huge blow to the government.

The top court also said a committee of agricultural experts would take over negotiations with farmers to end the crisis, and called it a "victory of fair play".

"We are staying three farm laws until further orders," Chief Justice SA Bobde said, announcing the order.

"While we may not stifle a peaceful protest, we think that this extraordinary order of stay of implementation of the farm laws will be perceived as an achievement of the purpose of such protest at least for the present and will encourage the farmers bodies to convince their members to get back to their livelihood, both in order to protect their own lives and health and in order to protect the lives and properties of others."

The government had told the court that the laws "were not hurriedly made", that they were the result of two decades of deliberations.

In eight rounds of talks with farmers' unions over the past month, the government had firmly ruled out withdrawing the laws but had offered to make amendments.

Noting that "no solution was in sight", the Supreme Court said it was trying to solve the problem in the best way and had the power to suspend the laws.

"These are matters of life and death. We are concerned with laws. We are concerned with lives and property of people affected by the agitation. We are trying to solve the problem in the best way. One of the powers we have is to suspend the legislation," the Chief Justice said.

"We want to solve the problem and that's why we are making the committee," he added.

The names suggested by the Supreme Court include agricultural economist Ashok Gulati, Anil Ghanwat (Shetkari Sanghatana), Bhupinder Singh Mann (former Rajya Sabha) and Pramod Joshi (International Food Policy Research Institute). All four are known to support the farm laws.

Former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha, widely tipped to head the panel, said he had declined the offer.

The top court also issued notice to farmers' unions on a Delhi Police plea to stop a tractor rally on January 26, during Republic Day parade.

The judges rebuffed the lawyer for protesting farmers, ML Sharma, as he said farmers would not participate in the committee as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had refused to talk to them. "We cannot ask the PM anything, he is not a party before us," said the Chief Justice.

"This is not politics. There is a difference between politics and judiciary and you will have to cooperate."

Yesterday, the Supreme Court had said it was "extremely disappointed" by the government's handling of the crisis.

"Each one of us we will responsible if anything goes wrong. We don't want any injuries or blood on our hands. Who is going to be responsible for bloodshed if any," the Chief Justice had said in a series of sharp comments.

The farmers, protesting on highways outside Delhi since late November, have said they will accept nothing short of the government cancelling the laws, which they believe will deprive them of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) – the guaranteed cost at which the government buys from them -- and leave them at the mercy of corporates. They have refused to buy the central government's argument that the laws will bring long-delayed reforms in the agriculture sector by doing away with middlemen and allowing farmers to sell anywhere in the country.

The court said today that with its stay order, "the Minimum Support Price System in existence before the enactment of the Farm Laws shall be maintained until further orders. In addition, the farmers' land holdings shall be protected, i.e., no farmer shall be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the Farm Laws."

Indian Government Orders 11 Million Oxford Vaccine Doses

NEW DELHI, Jan 11: The Covishield vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) will be priced at ₹ 200 a dose after a price agreement was arrived at with the government, sources have said. The first 100 million doses will be priced ₹ 200, say SII sources. Eleven million doses will be supplied to the government in the initial tranche.

With the government placing the order this evening, the drug is expected to roll out of SII's Pune facilities at 4.30 am tomorrow.

"The price is fixed in writing,'' said sources in the SII adding that exports of the life-saving vaccine are expected after January 16 as well.

"A few million doses of Covishield will be supplied every week. 11 million doses may be supplied in the initial lot," they added.

The process of administering the vaccine will start on Saturday, the government said last weekend after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's meeting to review vaccine preps. "After a detailed review, it was decided that in view of the forthcoming festivals including Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Magh Bihu, the COVID-19 vaccination will start from January 16," said a statement.

The SII vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca was cleared for emergency use along with Bharat Biotech's indigenous "Covaxin" earlier this month.

Serum chief executive Adar Poonawalla had said that the vaccine would be priced at about ₹ 1,000 rupees per dose when it is eventually available in the private market in India.

The government plans to cover 300 million people in the first part of the programme in which health workers, frontline staff such as police and people over the age of 50 and those with co-morbidities will be vaccinated first.

That will require 600 million doses and Serum, the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines, has stockpiled 50 million doses for immediate distribution.

India has said no restrictions on exports are in place, but has yet to formally announce export clearance despite pressure from Brazil that has sought 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made in India.

The Oxford shot is expected to meet 90% of India's mass immunisation programme needs.

Put Farm Laws On Hold Or We Will Do It, Chief Justice Tells Government

NEW DELHI, Jan 11: The Supreme Court today asked the central government whether it would pause the three controversial laws at the core of massive farmer protests near Delhi, and suggested a committee for negotiations.

"Tell us whether you will put the laws on hold or else we will do it. What's the prestige issue here," the court said, saying it was disappointed by the government's handling of the crisis.

The court's sharp remarks came during a hearing on petitions challenging the farm laws and the farmer agitation at the Delhi borders. The court will pass order tomorrow on whether to stay the farm laws.

"Each one of us we will responsible if anything goes wrong. We don't want any injuries or blood on our hands," Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said in a series of stern comments to the government.

As the centre asked for more time, referring to ongoing negotiations, Justice Bobde said: "We don't see you are dealing with this issue effectively. We are taking a decision today. Who is going to be responsible for bloodshed if any?"

When Attorney General KK Venugopal questioned the "hurry to pass orders", the top judge snapped: "Don't lecture us on patience. We have given a long rope."

The top court suggested that after the implementation of the laws was stayed, the protest could continue. "But decide whether you want to carry on the protest on the same site or move to other," it said.

In the previous hearing, the Supreme Court had noted that there was no improvement on the ground, and it was told by the centre that "healthy discussions" were going on between the government and the unions over all outstanding issues.

"We have asked in the last hearing but no answer. The situation has gone worse. People have committed suicide. Why are the old and the women part of the agitation in this weather?" the Chief Justice questioned the government.

The court urged the centre to set up a committee and added: "If the government is not doing it on its own, hold the implementation, we will say."

Arguing for the government, the Attorney General said: "You can form a committee but don't stay the laws." He referred to past judgments stating courts can't hold a law without going into its unconstitutionality.

Venugopal also sought to highlight that "only farmers from two or three states are protesting", that there was no participation from southern or western India.

The government has, in eight rounds of talks with farmer unions, ruled out withdrawing the laws but has reasserted that it is open to amendments.

The farmers say they will accept nothing short of the government cancelling the laws, which they believe will kill their guaranteed earnings and benefit corporates. They have refused to buy the central government's argument that the laws will bring long-delayed reforms in the agriculture sector by doing away with middlemen and allowing farmers to sell anywhere in the country.

The next meeting will be held on Friday.

7 Indian States Confirm Bird Flu

NEW DELHI, Jan 10: Uttar Pradesh (UP) became the seventh state to confirm positive cases for bird flu or avian influenza on Saturday, 9 January.

Lakhs of birds have died, including poultry, ducks, crows and migratory birds, in the country in the past 10 days. The central government, along with the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, has increased vigilance for potential hot spots after confirmed cases in six other states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat – other than UP.

The Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying have directed officials to monitor poultry and bird markets, zoos, waterbodies and other potential hotspots where the disease could spread. It has also said that PPE kits and accessories to cull birds and dispose waste safely must be made available.

The department further ordered immediate steps to control the spread of the virus, keeping in mind that it is transmissible to humans and domesticated animals.

Kerala: On 5 January, it issued a state-specific disaster alert after 23,857 birds died in Kottayam and Alappuzha districts. Over 1,700 ducks died at a farm in Kottayam.

Rajasthan: In the last one week, over 600 birds have died. The government asked for vigil and monitoring of the bird flocks where there have been confirmed cases in 16 of the 33 districts.

Himachal Pradesh: The state’s Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania on Wednesday said that at least 2,403 birds have died so far in the state and that the number is expected to grow.

Uttar Pradesh: The Kanpur Zoological Park was closed for visitors for 15 days as a suspected case of bird flu was detected in the zoo.

Haryana: Over 4 lakh chickens were found dead in the state over the past month.

Gujarat: 53 birds were found dead on the shore of the Kharo dam in Junagadh’s Bantva village. The samples sent to the lab tested positive for bird flu.

Madhya Pradesh: Over 1,100 deaths have been reported in 11 districts in the state, including Indore, Mandsaur and Agar Malwa.

What is the government doing to contain the spread of infection?

A 24-hour helpline has been set up for the assistance and monitoring of the situation in Delhi. A control room has been set up in New Delhi to take stock on a daily basis of preventive and control measures undertaken by the states on Wednesday.

Multi-disciplinary teams have been deployed on 4 January to Alappuzha and Kottayam districts of Kerala and Panchkula district of Haryana to implement the health ministry’s containment plan of the bird flu.

Over 1.60 lakh poultry birds were culled at five poultry farms in Haryana’s Panchkula district on Saturday.

Kerala Animal Husbandry Minister K Raju said, “So far, 37,654 birds have been culled in Alappuzha and 7,29 birds were culled in Kottayam,” according to ANI.

Which states have banned import of poultry products?

Punjab as imposed a complete ban on the import of live birds, including poultry and unprocessed meat, till 15 January.

Delhi has banned import of live birds on Saturday and closed down the city’s biggest poultry market in Ghazipur.

Import of poultry to Madhya Pradesh, especially chicken shipments, from southern states have banned for 10 days starting Wednesday, state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had announced.

Kerala on Wednesday announced sale of poultry, meat and eggs will not be allowed in the affected areas for the next 10 days, after declaring the outbreak as a state-specific disaster.

Which states are awaiting confirmation?

Other states are still awaiting confirmation of bird flu. In Punjab, four crows and a crane were found dead in Gurdaspur district on Thursday. The state has been declared a “controlled area” in view of the outbreak affecting birds in neighbouring states.

900 chickens have died in a farm in Maharashtra’s Parbhani district, and samples of the birds from Mumbai, Thane, Dhapoli, Beed, Nandurbar and Dhule districts are being tested for bird flu after reported death of crows in the areas.

Chhattisgarh’s Balod district saw many wild birds and chicken die, and the state has formed a rapid response team to probe the matter.

Over 35 crows were found death in Delhi, including 24 at a park in Jasola, and 10 ducks at Sanjay Lake. Hauz Khas Park, Dwarka Sector 9 Park, Hastsal Park and Sanjay Lake have been closed, and Delhi zoo has tightened it’s measures and disinfects the area twice a day, reported NDTV.

What is bird flu?

Avian influenza is the disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. This is said to occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other birds and animals, explained the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Can humans contract bird flu?

According to CDC, Avian flu viruses “do not normally infect human beings”. Such an infection is rare, says Mayo Clinic website, but adds however, that if infected, the virus “can be deadly”.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), bird flu can be transmitted from one person to another, but again this is a rarity. From 2003 to 2019, the WHO confirmed a total of 861 human cases of H5N1 worldwide, of which 455 deaths were recorded.

Haryana Chief Minister Cancels Farmers' Meet After Chaos By Protesters

Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar's visit to a village near Karnal and his meeting with a gathering of farmers got cancelled after a group pf farmers protesting against the Centre's agri-sector laws ransacked the venue.

The Haryana police had started the crackdown on the protesting farmers, when they tried to enter the Kemla village, using tear gas shells and water cannons. But the farmers had managed to enter the village and reach the venue of the meeting.

Cellphone footage showed many of them on the dais, shouting, throwing down chairs and tearing up posters.

The Chief Minister was scheduled to attend the gathering of farmers at the village and speak on the benefits of the Centre's three farm laws passed in September. Anticipating trouble, arrangements were made for heavy security and a number of police personnel were deployed at the village ahead of the meeting.

BJP-ruled Haryana had made headlines in November when it decided to stop the farmers on way to Delhi from across the state as well as those in Punjab.

For days, there have been reports and video footage of the police clashing with farmers, using batons, barricades, tear gas and water cannons.

Following the huge criticism, the Central government had decided to conduct a huge outreach programme to dispel "misconceptions" about the laws.

But over the last week, the Chief Minister's outreach programme had run into trouble in this area as farmers hardened their stance in Delhi.

On Friday, the local protesters had clashed with the villagers and the local BJP workers, who are promoting the visit. The face-off started when the villagers didn't allow the farmers to enter into the village to register their protest.

Today, Congress's Randeep Surjewala tweeted: "Respected Manohar Lal ji, please stop this pretence of Kisan Mahapanchayat in Kaimla village. By playing with the sentiments of those who provide us with food, please stop meddling with the law and order situation".

"If you want to have a conversation, have it with those who have been protesting for the last 46 days," read another tweet from Surjewala.

Deadlock between Indian Govt, Farmers' continues

NEW DELHI, Jan 8: An eighth round of talks between the centre and farmer leaders protesting the agriculture laws was held on Friday but it failed to break a months-long deadlock between the parties, who remain divided on two key issues - the repeal of the laws and a legal guarantee for MSP.

Sources said the centre (represented by Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal) continues to insist the laws will benefit farmers. The farmers continue to demand the centre roll them back and allow state governments to enact their own rules.

The next round of talks will take place on January 15, less than two weeks before the farmers take out a tractor rally - on Republic Day - to enter Delhi.

"... no decision could be made. The centre urged farmer unions (to) give an option other than repealing... but no option was presented so the meeting concluded," Tomar, who met Home Minister Amit Shah before the talks, told reporters after the meeting.

The protesting farmers have given no indication of backing down, or even agreeing to the centre's request that the thousands camped around Delhi for several weeks return home.

"Our ghar wapsi (homecoming) can happen only if you do law wapsi (recall the laws)," a farmer leader said at Friday's meeting.

"It seems you (the centre) do not want to resolve the issue as talks have been happening for so many days. In that case, please give us a clear answer and we will go," another said, underlining the farmers' growing impatience with stagnant talks.

That impatience was further highlighted after placards appeared at the meeting, reading: "We will (succeed in repealing the laws) or die".

The previous rounds of talks finished on a similar note. After a meeting last month the farmers said the centre had indicated it would not repeal the laws, citing the laborious process required.

After Friday's talks one farmer leader said the centre was looking to "sweet talk" them.

"The centre is adamant it won't repeal the laws... talks are stuck. It doesn't look like there will be any results. It is possible that they will sweet talk us...," Sarvar Singh Pandhera said.

The stalemate has members from either side accusing the other of drawing out the talks.

On Thursday Punjab BJP leader Surjit Kumar Jyani hit out at "stubborn" farmers. "I think farmer unions don't want a solution. I think their plan is something else," he said.

Tens of thousands of farmers across the country are protesting against three agriculture laws that the centre says will reform the sector.

The centre says these laws will help farmers eliminate middlemen and sell at markets and prices of their choice. The farmers fear it will rob them of MSPs (minimum support price) and, by dismantling government-controlled mandis, or wholesale markers, leave them at the mercy of the corporates.

The centre's offer of a committee to mediate disputes has been rejected, as has their offer of a written (as opposed to the farmers' demand of a legal) guarantee for MSP.

Supreme Court clears redevelopment plan for Central Vista project

NEW DELHI, Jan 5: The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the road for the Central Vista project and allowed the government to go ahead with its construction in a near-unanimous decision.

The top court was hearing a slew of petitions that questioned the lack of transparency and objectivity in awarding clearances to the project by the government and the Central Vista Committee.

A three-judge bench, headed by justice AM Khanwilkar and comprising Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and justice Sanjiv Khanna, pronounced its decision on petitions focussing on various aspects of the project relating to grant of environmental clearance, violation of statutory and municipal laws, conservation of heritage, change of land use under the Delhi Development Act, and manner of inviting public hearing and objections involved with the Central Vista Redevelopment plan.

On the Centre’s grand redevelopment, the bench found itself unanimous on the aspect of notice inviting bid, appointment and consultant for the project.

The Supreme Court, while giving the verdict said the heritage conservation committee’s approval will be needed when construction work for Central Vista will begin.

The court has also directed project proponents to get approval from the heritage committee. The redevelopment project proponents will set up smog towers as an integral part of the central vista project, the top court ordered.

Talks fail to cut ice between Govt, Farm leaders

NEW DELHI, Jan 4: Shortly after the seventh round of talks between the farmers and the government ended without a breakthrough, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said on Monday that until the three contentious farm laws were withdrawn, the protesters won’t go home.

“Discussion took place on our demands -- repeal of the three laws and MSP... Kanoon wapasi nahi, to ghar wapasi nahi (We will not go home until the laws are withdrawn),” he said.

Tikait’s statement comes after the Centre ruled out any possibility of repealing the laws at the talks, adding that it can look into any clause the farmers had issues with. The Centre was represented by Union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Prakash.

Union agriculture minister Narendra Tomar said that he is “hopeful” that a conclusion will be found in the next round of talks which will be held on January 8.

“We wanted farmer unions to discuss three laws clause-wise. We could not reach any solution as farmer unions remained adamant on the repeal of the laws,” the minister told reporters after the meeting at Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi.

“Looking at today’s discussion, I hope that we will have a meaningful discussion during our next meeting and we will come to a conclusion,” he added. The minister also asserted that efforts need to be made from both sides for a solution to be reached. “Taali dono haathon se bajti hai (both hands are needed to clap).”

Farmers have been protesting at the gates of Delhi since November 26 last year against the newly enacted farm laws - Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance, and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

Now, the next round of talks will take place on January 8 at 2 pm. The leaders of the farm unions will have their own meeting on Tuesday to decide their next course of action.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur border points of Delhi demanding the repeal of the three laws passed in September. They have stayed put despite heavy rains and water-logging at protest sites over the last couple of days, besides severe cold weather conditions prevailing in and around the national capital.

Last month, the government had sent a draft proposal to the protesting farmer unions, suggesting some amendments to the new laws and a written assurance on the MSP procurement system. The government has ruled out a repeal of the three agriculture laws.

Farmers’ lives lost due to govt’s harsh attitude: Sonia

NEW DELHI, Jan 3: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Sunday hit out at the Narendra Modi government for not heeding the demands of farmers to repeal three laws aimed at opening up trade in agriculture that they say will harm the interests of cultivators and hurt their livelihoods.

“In this biting cold and rain, our farmers have been protesting on the borders of Delhi for 39 days now. Their plight is a concern for all the citizens and I,” Gandhi said.

“More than 50 farmers have lost their lives because of the government’s harsh attitude towards the protests. Some have even committed suicide. Neither has their decision moved the Modi government or any of its ministers, nor have they uttered a word of consolation. I offer my tribute to those who have passed away and prayers and strength to their families.”

Gandhi’s statement came a day after a farmer on the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border allegedly committed suicide because the government did not heed farmers’ demands. The farmers have demanded a repeal of the three controversial farm laws.In the latest round of talks held on December 30, the government has offered to set up a panel to examine the laws, but it has stayed firm on its decision to not repeal them.

The three farm laws passed in September essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government marketplaces, allowing traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming.

Together, the laws will allow big corporations and global supermarket chains to buy directly from farmers, bypassing decades-old regulations. Farmers say the reforms will enable large corporations to dictate prices and exploit them.

Gandhi said that the government’s inaction was tantamount to arrogance and it must recognize that the true meaning of democracy is to protect the rights and interests of the farmers and workers.

“Ever since independence, this is the first arrogant government to have come to power that doesn’t care for the farmers who feed, let alone the citizens,” Gandhi said. “It is evident that the government is practising a policy of “tire them and drive them away,” But our farmers will not bend before them. The government must let go of its ego and repeal the three farm laws and bring an end to the protests. The true meaning of democracy is protecting the interests of the farmers and workers, the Modi government should learn that.”

Attacking the Centre, senior party leader Rahul Gandhi also tweeted: “The country is facing a situation like Champaran once again. Back then, it was the British that were in cahoots with the company, now it is the Modi government. But every agitating farmer-worker is a satyagrahi, who will secure his rights.”

Police teargas Haryana farmers marching towards Delhi

CHANDIGARH, Jan 3: Haryana Police on Sunday evening fired teargas canisters to thwart a march of a group of agitating farmers towards Delhi at Masani barrage in Rewari district.

Farmers first broke police barricades put up near Bhudla Sangwari village and then started moving towards Delhi in the evening.

They have been camping at the service lane of the Delhi-Jaipur highway for the past few days, police said.

When the farmers’ group reached Masani barrage where the barricades were put up, police used teargas to disperse them.

“We have stopped them (farmers) at Masani,” Rewari Superintendent of Police Abhishek Jorwal said over the phone.

On December 31, a group of farmers had broken police barricades at the Shahjahanpur border with Rajasthan, trying to move towards the national capital.

Police had then too resorted to teargas shelling as well as using water cannons to stop them.

A large number of farmers from Rajasthan, Haryana and some other places have been protesting on the Jaipur-Delhi highway for the past several days, demanding the repeal of new farm laws.

They have been camping at the Rajasthan-Haryana border point after police had earlier stopped them from proceeding towards Delhi as part of their “Delhi Chalo” march against the new farm laws.

On Republic Day, Protesting Farmers Promise 'Kisaan Parade' In Delhi

NEW DELHI, Jan 2: Farmers protesting the contentious agricultural laws near Delhi's borders today threatened to hold a tractor rally - "Kisaan Parade" - in the national capital on Republic Day, just two days before the next round of talks with the centre to resolve nearly the deadlock.

Thousands have been camping on the outskirts of the city since late November, demanding repeal of the three laws. The protesters said they chose Republic Day "because it represents the supremacy of the people of India", and also January 26 will mark the completion of two months of the biggest protests in the farm sector in years.

"We are going to hold discussions (with government) on January 4 (Monday). The Supreme Court is going to hear the matter on January 5. If demands are not met, we will hold a tractor march on Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway in Haryana on January 6. We will protest for 15 days. On January 23, Subhash Chandra Bose's birthday, we will hold a protest outside the Governor's House," Dr Darshanpal, one of the leaders, told the reporters at a press conference held by a seven-member coordination committee of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha.

"On January 26, we will hold a massive rally in Delhi with tricolours on tractors. We give a call for countrywide protests at all headquarters (of the unions)," he added. The farmers' parade will take place after the annual Republic Day parade, the union said in a press statement.

"We intend to be peaceful and we told long ago to the government during our talks that it has only two options - either repeal the three central farm acts or use force on us to evict us," the press statement read.

The farmers' leaders also alleged that the government is misleading them over the minimum support price for their produce. "The government is misleading us... They're saying the MSP won't be abolished. But we're demanding that a law should be created for it... it's our right," another farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chadhuni told reporters.

Farmers Warn Of Tractor Rally If Demands Not Met In Jan 4 Talks

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: The protesting farmers will intensify their agitation at Delhi borders if the centre declines their demands of a repeal of the three agriculture laws and giving legal status to the minimum support price guarantee in the next round of talks, scheduled on January 4, politician Yogendra Yadav, speaking on behalf of the farmers' unions, informed on Friday.

The decision was taken today at a meeting of the joint front of 40 farmers' unions that has been leading the protests.

"The government hasn't budged on two of our demands - repealing the laws and legal status to MSP. We will intensify the protests. If nothing comes out of the January 4 meeting, then we will take out a tractor rally on the GT-Karnal road on January 6," Yadav said at a press conference at Singhu border, the epicentre of the protests.

"If the government doesn't agree to our demands, we will start marching towards Delhi from Shahjahanpur border next week," he added.

After the sixth round of the farmer-centre talks on Wednesday, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said that the two sides had arrived at an "agreement" on two of the four demands.

However, sources say, no progress had been made on the main demands of farmers -- the repeal of the laws and a legal guarantee for MSP.

On Friday, at the press conference, farmer leaders alleged that only five percent of the issues raised by them have so far been discussed in meetings with the government.

"If the January 4 meeting with the government fails to end the deadlock, we will announce dates for shutting all malls, petrol pumps in Haryana," said farmer leader Vikas.

Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and several states have been protesting the three laws in and around the national capital for over a month. They fear the laws will make them susceptible to exploitation by corporate houses. They also claim that through these laws, the centre wants to scrap the minimum support price guarantee.

The government, however, says the laws are not aimed at ending the existing system but providing better avenues to farmers to sell their crops. It has promised that the MSP system will not be scrapped.

 



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