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Modi launches world's largest healthcare scheme

RANCHI, Sept 23: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday launched his government’s flagship Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojna (AB-PMJAY) billed as the world’s largest public health insurance scheme in Ranchi, calling it a “game changer”.

Modi who also launched 10 wellness centres in Jharkhand and laid the foundation stones of medical colleges in Chaibasa and Koderma, said the scheme was a step towards serving the poor people of the country.

“Today the focus of the entire nation is on Ranchi. In over 400 districts of the country, a similar event is taking place. Even the last person standing should get better health facility. More than 50 crore people will get insurance up to Rs 5 lakh. This is the world’s first such scheme. No other country has a scheme like this. The number of people who are to benefit from this is almost equal to the population of the entire European Union,” Modi said at a rally while launching the scheme.

The scheme was launched simultaneously in 476 districts across the country for the benefit 10.74 crore families. Modi described Ayushman Bharat as a miracle and assured beneficiaries that the scheme would take care of them in case of any misfortune.

“This work wasn’t easy or small. It was all done within 6 months. It is a miracle in itself and that is why I want to congratulate my entire team,” he said. “Even while inaugurating this scheme I would want hospitals to remain empty as I do not want any of my countrymen to suffer. But if something like that ever happens to you, Ayushman Bharat will take care of you.”

Thirty-one States and Union territories are already on board and have signed an MoU with the central government to implement the scheme.

Another component of the Ayushman Bharat scheme is launching 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres across the country. According to the National Health Agency (NHA), which is the central implementing agency for the scheme, two more states are in the process of signing the required MoU with the Centre for the scheme.

The states that have been openly reluctant to join Ayushman Bharat are Odisha and Delhi.

While the scheme beneficiaries have been selected on the basis of socio-economic caste census-2011 (SECS-2011) data, the government has decided to also extend the scheme additionally to those families that were availing of the government’s earlier Rashtrya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY).

“On the basis of census 2011 data, there are about 10.74 crore beneficiary families but we have decided to add those also who used to get cover under the RSBY as we don’t want to take away the benefits from anyone,” said Indu Bhushan, CEO- AB-PMJAY.

The number of beneficiary families will now go up to 12 crores after two more states joined the scheme.

An estimated Rs 12,000 crores will be spent under the Ayushman Bharat mission with 60% being borne by the Centre and 40% by state. Beneficiaries can avail hospitalization treatment for 1350 pre-identified diseases.

“Our aim is to screen 30 and above people for non communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancers of oral cavity, breast and cervix at the primary level. It will be door-to-door screening and will also include screening for TB and Leprosy,” said Union health minister JP Nadda.

Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

NEW DELHI, Sept 22: Congress president Rahul Gandhi asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday to clear the air over India’s purchase of 36 Rafale jets from France and demanded a joint parliamentary committee probe into the deal a day after former French president Francois Hollande fuelled controversy by saying Reliance Defence’s choice as an offset partner of Dassault Aviation, (which makes the aircraft) was India’s.

The principal Opposition party has alleged that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government chose Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group over state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for an offset deal in the $8.7-billion purchase initiated in 2016.

The ministry of defence said on Saturday that “unnecessary controversy” was being created by the opposition parties.

“The government has stated earlier and again reiterates that it had no role in the selection of Reliance Defence as the Offset partner,” it said, explaining that offset partners are chosen by the supplier and that neither France nor India, in this case, had a role to play.

“As per Defence Offset Guidelines, the foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) is free to select any Indian company as its offset partner,” the ministry said.

A report in a French investigative website on Friday quoted the former French president as saying that the Indian government proposed the name of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group as Dassault Aviation’s offset partner.

“We had no say in this regard. The Indian government proposed this service group (Reliance Defence), and Dassault Aviation negotiated with (Anil) Ambani. We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us,” the website Mediapart quoted Hollande as saying.

On Saturday morning, when news agency AFP asked Hollande whether India had put pressure on Dassault to pick Reliance, the former French President, who was in Canada at the time, said he was unaware of this, and that “only Dassault can comment on this”.

Hours after Hollande’s remarks on Friday, French aerospace major Dassault said it had made the decision to partner with Reliance Defence Ltd for the deal. The French government also released a statement, saying it was not involved in the choice of the Indian partner and that French companies had complete freedom to select Indian firms for the offset part of the deal.

The Congress’s attacks on the government began within hours of the Mediapart story being published, with Gandhi tweeting on Friday that Modi had “personally negotiated & changed the #Rafale deal behind closed doors”.

He renewed his attack on Saturday morning, saying Modi and Anil Ambani had carried out a “a One Hundred & Thirty Thousand Crore, SURGICAL STRIKE on the Indian Defence forces”.

On Saturday, he addressed a news conference where he said: “What I am surprised with is that PM is completely silent. Not one word has come out from the PM’s mouth on this. This is from a President of France, who had a one-to-one meeting with PM where the Rafale deal was decided”, referring to Hollande’s remarks.

Modi announced the deal to buy 36 Rafale jets after holding talks with then French president Hollande on April 10, 2015 in Paris.

The Congress president said Modi should clear his stand over the issue. “We are absolutely convinced that PM of India is corrupt. I’m trying to help him protect his office,” he said. “A joint parliamentary committee should be formed for the truth to come out,” Gandhi added.

Home minister Rajnath Singh said the verification of the French media report will reveal the truth. “One should think four times before levelling any baseless allegation. One should not make allegations without proof,” Singh said in reaction to Gandhi’s remarks.

Accusing Gandhi of helping Pakistan, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asked why Gandhi was “playing into the hands of the enemy by insisting that India disclose details of the weapon system that will be added to Rafale aircraft”.

Prasad called the Gandhi family the “source of corruption” in the country, and alleged that the UPA government had decided to re-examine the Rafale deal in 2012, perhaps because the company had refused to pay bribe.

He called Gandhi’s attack on the Prime Minister “shameful and irresponsible”. “What else can you expect from someone who has become president of the Congress party not because of his capabilities, but because of his dynasty,” Prasad said.

He said each aircraft, without the weapon, was 9% cheaper than the rate negotiated by the UPA government and that the fully loaded aircraft was 20% cheaper.

BJP president Amit Shah, too, attacked Gandhi over his remarks. “Rahul Gandhi says ‘Modi Hatao’. Pakistan says ‘Modi Hatao’. Now Pakistan also supports Rahul Gandhi’s baseless allegations against PM Modi. Is Congress forming an International Mahagathbandhan against PM Modi?”

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the PM should call a special session of Parliament to discuss the issue.

Hollande’s comments published on Friday contradict the government’s position that it had nothing to do with Dassault Aviation selecting Reliance Defence as one of the companies that would implement its offset obligations in the Rafale deal. This has also been Ambani’s position on the matter.

NDTV later reported that Hollande’s office said he stood by his remarks made to Mediapart.

The NDA government’s decision to enter the government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

The deal has become controversial with the Opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is Rs 1,670 crore for each, three times the Rs 526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL.

The controversy is also regarding the offset deal signed by Dassault with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity. Both the government and Reliance have repeatedly denied this. The government has also said the two deals are not comparable, that cost- and timing-issues would have ensured the older deal never closed, and that the planes it has ordered come with customized weaponry. It has, however, declined to provide the exact costs for them, citing a confidentiality agreement with France, and larger, security concerns.

T Suvarna Raju, who was heading HAL till three weeks ago, had said on September 19 that the public sector undertaking could have built Rafale fighters in India had the government managed to close the original negotiations with Dassault for the 126 fighters and that there was a work-share agreement between the two companies. However, he admitted that it would have cost HAL more to make the aircraft.

Raju’s statements became the basis for a sharper attack by the Congress, with party chief Gandhi demanding defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s resignation for “lying” about the capability of HAL to build the fighter aircraft and the latter claiming the Congress-led UPA was responsible for HAL’s decline, and that the decision to drop the state-owned aircraft maker from the deal was taken during the UPA’s rule.

Congress to fight local polls in Jammu and Kashmir amid boycott calls

SRINAGAR, Sept 19: The Congress on Wednesday announced its participation in the local bodies’ elections being held in Jammu and Kashmir from October to December days after saying the situation was not conducive for the polls amid a spike in militant violence in the state.

“We cannot leave the field open for the BJP and the RSS," said state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir.

He said the secular forces should have joined hands to stop the “communal forces”.

“The BJP was happy that some parties are not participating," said Mir, while referring to the poll boycott of the state’s two main parties, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The two parties are boycotting the polls to protest against the Centre’s unclear stand over the attempts to undo the state’s special constitutional status. A bunch of petitions challenging the validity of the Constitution’s Article 35A, which prevents outsiders from buying property in Jammu and Kashmir, is pending before the Supreme Court.

The Congress held a series of meeting over the last week to take a call on whether to contest the polls. Mir said the participation was necessary as the Congress is a national party with much responsibility.

“…(We will) foil the designs of the BJP. We (the Congress) gave Article 35 A to Jammu and Kashmir and if our party will come to power, we will safeguard it."

The Congress decided to contest the polls even as the party’s leaders in the Kashmir Valley were in favour of boycotting them, said leaders aware of the discussions within the party.

The view that the Congress should not offer a walkover to the BJP, especially in Jammu where the two parties compete for influence, eventually prevailed. A section of the party felt that the BJP could exploit the boycott against the Congress at the national level.

An organisation of former panchayat members had earlier on Monday announced that its members will contest the rural bodies’ polls to be held in the state in November and December amid calls to the people from militants and separatists to boycott the elections.

PDP spokesman Tahir Sayeed said the Congress is a national party and must have taken the decision keeping in view the national politics.

“We took the decision keeping in view aspirations of the state’s people.”

NC spokeswoman Sarah Hayat said the elections without two parties will look like a mockery. “It will make no sense as the NC and PDP take most seats in the state. It is like a (national) election (without) the Congress and BJP’s participation.”

BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur said Congress. as a national party, could not have stayed away from the polls. “Other parties like the Janata Dal (United), the (former separatist Sajad Lone)’s Peoples Conference will also take part in these polls."

Unidentified arsonists have tried to set ablaze panchayat buildings in South Kashmir since the rural poll schedule has been announced.

The announcement for the civic election schedule on Saturday coincided with the killing of a civilian in clashes following a gunfight between militants and security forces in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district.

Five militants were also killed in the gunfight.

As many as 16 sarpanches (panchayat heads) and panchs (rural bodies’ members) have been killed over the last four years after a record 75% voter turnout was recorded when rural polls were last held in 2011.

The government has deputed over 15,000 additional paramilitary forces to conduct the polls.


Rahul Gandhi demands Jaitley's resignation over Vijay Mallya

NEW DELHI, Sept 13: The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party continued to target each other over the flight of businessman Vijay Mallya from India in 2016, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday reiterating his demand for the resignation of finance minister Arun Jaitley, accusing him of “colluding with” Mallya and “allowing the criminal to flee”.

Dismissing the charges, union minister Piyush Goyal countered that it was the Gandhi family’s “relations” with Mallya that caused banks to loan money to Mallya in violation of all norms.

Mallya, who fled India even as a debt court in Bangalore was set to act against him for defaulting on loans issued by several banks led by the state-owned State Bank of India, is in London where a court will pronounce its verdict in an extradition hearing against him on December 10. The court finished hearing the case on Wednesday.

Addressing a news conference at the Congress headquarters in Delhi, Gandhi also referred to his party colleague PL Punia, who alleged that he had seen Mallya in conversation with Jaitley on March 1, 2016, a day before the Kingfisher Airlines chief fled the country.

The context was a statement by Mallya on Wednesday, claiming that he met Jaitley before leaving India and offered to settle his dues. Jaitley immediately rebutted Mallya’s claim and maintained that he had not given the businessman an appointment since 2014, but that the latter used his privilege as a Member of Parliament (MP) and accosted him in Parliament. Mallya too admitted as much subsequently.

“Mr Jaitley is lying, the government is lying on Rafale and the government is lying on Vijay Mallya. A meeting was held with Mr Arun Jaitley and Vijay Mallya. The logistics of Mr Mallya leaving the country were discussed in that meeting,” Gandhi told reporters.

Describing it as an “open and shut case of collusion”, the Congress chief said there was some deal between Jaitley and Mallya, and demanded the finance minister’s resignation and a probe into the matter.

Later in the evening, Gandhi reiterated on Twitter his demand for Jaitley’s resignation.

Punia, who was present in the news conference, claimed that he saw the finance minister and Mallya in conversation in the Central Hall of Parliament on March 1, 2016 and two held an elaborate 15-20 minute meeting.

“On March 3, we heard from the media that he (Mallya) fled the country on March 2. I have clearly stated about this in each of my media interviews and TV discussions that I saw the two talking to each other. There are CCTV cameras. We can all see the CCTV footage of March 1, 2016 for the proof. If I am wrong, I will resign from politics. Otherwise Mr Jaitley should quit politics,” Punia said.

But the BJP rejected Punia’s claim. “Where was he for the last two-and-a-half years? Why was he silent for so long?” Goyal asked at a news conference at the BJP headquarters in Delhi.

“The finance minister has made it clear that he snubbed Mallya. Now the Congress got Punia to say he heard and saw the conversation. Why after two years did he suddenly remember the incident and decide to disclose it?” he said.

Goyal said Mallya was a criminal, had no credibility as he was under the “glare of law” and his words could not be taken seriously. He asked Gandhi to resign, claiming that due to his family’s “relations” with Mallya, banks were pressurised by the UPA government to sanction loans to the fugitive businessman bypassing all norms, laws and regulations.

Goyal alleged that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told the media of his efforts to bail out private airlines making losses, in an apparent reference to Kingfisher.

“On August 18, 2010, a company-specific letter was sent to RBI (Reserve Bank of India) and the issue was resolved on August 27. In October 2011, Mallya thanked Manmohan Singh and said he needed more help and subsequently RBI was forced to come to their aid again,” the minister claimed.

Charging the Congress with spreading lies, Goyal said, “When they broke all laws with the help of banks and RBI and gave special allowances to Kingfisher, then people lost their money. Now, when they are being exposed, they are crying foul.”

He claimed that the Modi government had never extended any loans to Mallya or helped him in the recovery process, and alleged that “the (Gandhi) family and the (Congress) party that wasted people’s money is now trying to cover up its sins.”

The to-and-fro allegations also saw another one, regarding the Central Bureau of Investigation, which was investigating Mallya in connection with an IDBI Bank loan default, and dating back to 2015 being recirculated. The agency had issued a Look Out Circular for Mallya, asking for his detention in October that year but subsequently changed it to a circular that merely entailed being informed of his movements in November.

On Thursday, a CBI official who asked not to be identified repeated the agency’s March 2016 clarification (soon after Mallya fled) that the original circular, seeking his detention was a mistake; that Mallya had, after the dilution of the circular, travelled in and out of India four times; that Mallya had, since the dilution, been questioned thrice; and that there was no inkling that he would flee.

ABVP wins 3, NSUI 1 in DUSU election

NEW DELHI, Sept 13: The RSS-backed Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) made a comeback in the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections, winning three out of four posts on the panel, including those of the president, vice-president and joint secretary. The Congress’ student wing NSUI had to settle only for the secretary’s post.

Last year, both the student groups had won two seats each.

Terming the victory as a prelude to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the victorious ABVP candidates began celebrating as soon as the results were announced. “The results indicate the electoral mood of the young voters. The youth is with the BJP,” said Ankiv Baisoya, the newly elected DUSU president.

The results, declared a day after polling on Wednesday, were marred by unusual delays and allegations and counter-allegations as members of all political student groups alleged ‘tampering’ of the electronic voting machines (EVMs). The counting was halted three times and was finally suspended by the university’s election commission in the afternoon. However, it resumed around 5:30pm after all the candidates reached an agreement.

The new panel comprises ABVP’s Baisoya, Shakti Singh and Jyoti Chaudhary, as president and vice-president and joint secretary, respectively, and the NSUI’s Aakash Chaudhary as secretary. The NSUI had won the top two positions last year.

The newly-formed alliance of the Left-backed AISA and Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) youth wing CYSS could not win on any positions. The CYSS this year was contesting students elections after a gap of two years. “We have got around 8,000 votes. We demand a high-level judicial enquiry in the poll mismanagement and EVM,” said AISA DU president Kawalpreet Kaur.

In a statement, CYSS said that they are encouraged to have won several positions in college panels.

The winning margins of Baisoya and Singh were 2,000 and 8,000 votes in this year’s elections that had recorded a 44.5% turnout, highest in the last 11 years. Out of around 60,000 votes, 27,739 opted for NOTA (None of The Above).

The NSUI, however, alleged that EVMs were ‘tampered’ with the election officers at the behest of the ABVP. “We have come to know that the data of seven EVMs is missing. We will raise this issue with the administration on Friday,” Chaudhary said. The NSUI will hold a press conference on Friday where Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken will address the issue.

The DU election committee, however, said that they carried out a “free and fair” election and asked the NSUI members to check the EVMs. “Though there was a glitch in one EVM, but the committee has maintained high standard of discipline and conducted free and fair election,” said DU chief election officer VK Kaul.

“The EVMs in question is not of the Election Commission as no such machines had been allotted or issued to DU… It seems that DU has procured these machines privately. A detailed report in this regard will be sent subsequently,” said Manoj Kumar, chief election officer (EVM).


In a first, TDP ready for alliance with Congress to fight Telangana election

HYDERABAD, Sept 11: Three opposition parties in Telangana — the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) — on Tuesday announced the formation of “Maha Kootami” (grand alliance) with the sole objective of defeating the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in the ensuing assembly elections, although the exact contours of the alliance are still a work in progress.

This is for the first time that the TDP, which was founded on an anti-Congress plank in 1982, will be joining hands with the Congress party. The CPI has allied with both the parties in the past.

On Tuesday, the heads of the three opposition parties in Telangana, Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president Captain N Uttam Kumar Reddy, Telangana TDP president L Ramana and CPI state secretary Chada Venkat Reddy, along with other leaders from their parties, discussed the alliance at a hotel in the city’s Banjara Hills area for nearly four hours.

“We have decided in principle to form into a grand alliance or Maha Kootami for the coming elections. We are working out the modalities for the same. We are also trying to rope in other like-minded parties like Telangana Jana Samithi and CPI (M) into the alliance,” the PCC president said after the discussions.

Though there has been talk of a possible alliance between the Congress and the TDP for some time, Tuesday marked the first time leaders of both parties sat at the negotiation table.

The talks followed a series of discussions the Telangana TDP leaders had with party president and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu during his visit to Hyderabad on September 8 and 9.

He directed them to form an alliance with the Congress in Telangana to prevent splitting of anti-establishment votes, but left it to the Telangana TDP leaders to arrive at a seat-sharing formula.

“While there is a general consensus on the issue of forming a grand alliance, the parties are working out the finer details, such as identifying the strength of each party in various assembly constituencies and the chances of their victory in the event of an alliance. The number of seats to be shared has not yet been discussed,” a senior Congress leader familiar with the development said on the condition of anonymity.

He added that his party is keen on contesting on not less than 90 seats in the 119-member assembly. “This is essential, if the Congress party has to win the magic figure of 60 seats to come to power independently.”

The TDP is keen on contesting in at least 25-30 seats. “If we adopt a give-and-take approach, it is not difficult to forge an alliance,” the Congress leader added.

The BJP and the TRS described the alliance between the Congress and the TDP as “unholy”. BJP state president Dr K Laxman said the TDP was going against the very principle of anti-Congressism on which it was founded. “It is purely an opportunistic alliance.”

Senior TRS leader and former deputy speaker of the state assembly Padma Devender Reddy said people would not accept the TDP-Congress alliance under any circumstances. “Let there be as many number of parties as they can in the grand alliance. We are not scared. The TRS is going to come back to power with a massive mandate,” she said.

Political analyst Akhileshwari Ramagoud said if the alliance materialises in Telangana, it would pave way for a larger alliance at the national level. “There is nothing wrong in the TDP and the Congress parties coming together. When the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party can join hands in UP, why can’t the TDP and the Congress in Telangana?”

As if to continue the alliance spirit, leaders of the three parties went in a delegation to Raj Bhawan in the evening and submitted a memorandum to governor ESL Narasimhan seeking imposition of President’s Rule in Telangana.

“The caretaker government led by chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (called KCR) has embarked on witch-hunting of opposition party leaders by digging out old cases and getting them arrested. We are afraid there will not be free and fair elections in the state if KCR continues in his seat. So, the governor should recommend the imposition of President’s Rule in the state,” the PCC president said.

52 pilgrims killed in Telangana bus accident

HYDRABAD, Sept 11: Fifty-two people were killed and several were injured after a state-owned Road Transport Corporation bus carrying pilgrims from a temple in the hills of Telangana’s Jagtiyal district plunged off a road into a 30-foot gorge on Tuesday morning.

According to police, the pilgrims were on their way back from a Hanuman temple atop Kondagattu hill. The bus was travelling from Sanivarampet village to Jagitial via Kondagattu pilgrim centre when the accident took place around 11:30am.

Police suspect failure of brakes led to the accident. The driver, who also died in the accident, reportedly lost control as he tried to avoid another bus on the route. “Most of the deaths seem to have occurred due to suffocation, as the passengers fell over one another,” police said.

Authorities recovered bodies of five children, 32 females and 15 males before calling off the rescue operation. The injured were shifted to Jagitial government hospital. The toll could go up as the condition of some of the injured was stated to be critical.

Telangana finance minister Etela Rajender told media that the bus was packed beyond capacity with 88 passengers.

In letter to Vatican, Kerala nun calls bishop accused of rape a predator

Thiruvananthapuram, Sept 11: A 43-year-old nun who has accused a bishop in Jalandhar of sexual assault on Tuesday released a seven-page letter to Vatican’s India Ambassador in which she accused church officials, including Pope Francis, of ignoring her complaints.

The nun, who now lives in Kerala’s Kottayam district, has alleged Franco Mulakkal, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar, assaulted her after summoning her on the pretext of discussing an important issue in 2014. He later allegedly raped her 13 times in the next two years. Mulakkal, 54, rejected the allegations, calling them a conspiracy against the church.

“Though the Bishop had sexually abused me several times I could not reveal the full story to my superior general or to her councilors. I only told them repeatedly that the Bishop is taking many disciplinary actions through them just because I resisted to lie down with him,” said the nun in a letter written on September 8 and released to the media Tuesday.

“As they failed to understand seriousness of these words I could not tell them more than this. And I had the fear that Bishop Franco may harm me with the support of my superiors,” she said in her letter to The Apostle Nuncio of India, the Pope’s ambassador.

She alleged that she had written to the Pope in Vatican, his ambassador in India, and other church officials but no action was taken against the bishop. In May 2018, she said, she sent three letters to Rome including Pope Francis but didn’t get any reply.

Calling Mullakal a predator, she alleged at least 20 nuns were forced to leave the congregation due to his sexual advances.

“Bishop Franco had always an eagle’s eye on few other sisters of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation. Whichever sister he felt attracted to, he tried to put them in his trap by force or taking advantage of their weaknesses,” she alleged. She and other nuns were allegedly named in fake complaints when speak up against his sexual harassment.

“They are arranging people to attack us and Bishop Franco is using his political power and money to get higher authorities of the investigation and the government to bury legal proceedings that I have filed against him.”

Mulakkal said in Jalandhar he will cooperate with the law.

“I think some internal forces are using these nuns for some advantage. The antis in the church are pushing these nuns forward to raise their own issues. There is a conspiracy behind this. Few people are taking advantage of this. I will cooperate to all legal measures,” he said.

Nuns who are on a dharna in Kochi to press for Mulakkal’s arrest said they will shift their protests to the state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram if their protests are not heeded. They rejected allegations that external forces trying to discredit the church had fueled their protests. “The Bishop is heading the congregation so it is natural such charges will come out,” said Sister Anupama.

Congress calls for Aadhaar check after website’s security breach report

NEW DELHI, Sept 11: The Congress party on Tuesday asked the authorities to make “appropriate moves” to check Aadhaar after a website reported that its investigation has found that a “critical security features”of the identity database could have been compromised.

HuffPost India reported that its three month-long investigation had found that the Aadhaar database, which contains the biometrics and personal information of over one billion Indians, “had been compromised by a software patch which disables critical security features of the software used to enrol new Aadhaar users”.

Any unauthorised person from anywhere in the world can generate Aadhaar ID using the patch which is freely available for Rs 2,500, the website said.

“The hack of the Aadhaar enrolment software jeopardizes the sanctity of the Aadhaar database. We hope the authorities will take the appropriate moves to secure future enrolments and verify the suspect enrolments,” the Congress said on Twitter.

French security expert Elliot Alderson -- who had last month sparked a controversy by asking the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to explain why its helpline number was stored on many people’s phone without their knowledge -- also joined in the conversation asking the UIDAI to work with the hackers to plug the breach.

“I repeat it: NOTHING IS UNHACKABLE. It does apply for Aadhaar. UIDAI, it’s never too late. Listen and work with hackers instead of threatening them. History is looking to you,” he said.

According to the HuffPost report, “the [software] patch lets a user bypass critical security features such as biometric authentication of enrolment operators to generate unauthorised Aadhaar numbers”.

It also disables the GPS security feature of the software allowing anyone from any location to enrol users.

“The patch reduces the sensitivity of the enrolment software’s iris-recognition system, making it easier to spoof the software with a photograph of a registered operator, rather than requiring the operator to be present in person,” the report said.

It claimed to have the patch analysed by three internationally reputed experts and two Indian analysts, all of whom confirmed it could be used to breach the Aadhaar software.

Naxalites have now come to cities, are trying to influence people: Rajnath Singh

LUCKNOW, Sept 1: Union home minister Rajnath Singh said on Saturday that Maoist rebels, who have hitherto operated from rural and remote areas, have entered the cities because of a crackdown by the central government and are now trying to influence public opinion and spread their ideology in urban India.

“From 126 districts earlier, Naxalite activities have now been restricted to just 10-12 districts because of the action taken by us. But now they [the Maoists] are adopting a new strategy. They have come to the cities and are trying to influence people,” Singh said at the Shikhar Samagam event organised in Lucknow by Hindi daily, Hindustan, a sister publication of the Hindustan Times.

“I have received this information through intelligence agencies,” Singh said.

The arrest of five prominent human rights activists this week — P. Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad and Gautam Navalakha in Delhi — has led to the coinage of the term ‘urban naxals,’ as Maoists are known in India after the West Bengal village where a violent left-wing rebellion broke out in the 1960s.

The home minister justified the arrest of the five in connection with the January 1 violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune where members of the Maratha and Dalit communities clashed.

“Such arrests have been made before. The charges are serious, like conspiracy to destabilise the government, ideology to promote violence. But now the matter is before the Supreme Court and it will take a decision on it,” Singh said.

When asked about government attempts to control social media, especially when it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that had made maximum use of it to come to power in 2014, Singh said, “We did not win because of social media but because of the work [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi had done in Gujarat. We are not against social media, but our responsibility is to stop fake news, pornography etc. How do we allow children to see such things?”

So-called fake news spread on social media and messaging platforms has been blamed for triggering mob violence in parts of the country that led to the lynching of suspected cattle thieves and smugglers and child lifters, prompting the government to intervene.

The home minister also used the occasion to highlight the achievements of the Modi government, noting that the economy had posted 8.2% growth in the first quarter of the current fiscal year -- the fastest pace in two years -- despite an adverse global market scenario, a falling rupee and rising fuel prices.

Singh said the rupee’s depreciation against the dollar had been a fallout of the sharp drop in the value of the Turkish lira. “But we will turn this situation also to our advantage and find a way out very soon by encouraging exports,” said Singh and added: “...unlike during the Congress regime, under a similar situation, investors are not wary of investing in the country.”

“Our government is moving forward by taking India’s transformation and resolve from a developing to a developed country,” he said.

“No country can guarantee zero violence. But strong measures are being taken to prevent such incidents. A committee formed by me under the Union home secretary has submitted its report on the basis of which directives have been issued to all state governments.”

“We have managed to curtail terrorist violence and check cross-border infiltration but attempts to divide and destabilise India are continuing from Pakistan,” he said.

On ties with Pakistan under Imran Khan

“India has always taken the initiative in fostering good relations with all its neighbours. He [Imran] has played good cricket. But politics is different. I wish Allah gives him strength in his new role.”

Flood-hit Kerala sounds alert for leptospirosis, 28 deaths reported

Thiruvananthapuram, Sept 1: Flood-battered Kerala has sounded a high alert for leptospirosis (rat fever) after the water-borne disease claimed 28 lives in a month, with at least nine coming in the last one week.

The state health department has sounded an alert and sought more medicines from the Union health ministry.

The possibility of contracting rat fever, a zoonotic disease (that transmits from animals to humans), is high during flooding as urine from infected rat or other rodents can contaminate water and pass on to human beings easily, according to experts, who added that the aged and those suffering from kidney or liver ailments were the easy targets. Its symptoms include high fever, headache, chills, abdominal pain and rashes.

Three relief workers were among the dead. At least 300 suspected cases were reported from the state in the last three days, said a senior health official.

The state health directorate has issued a leptospirosis alert for five districts, including Kozhikode and advised affected people to avoid self-treatment.

Many suspected cases are being reported from Kozhikode, Palakkad, Thrissur, Malappuram and Ernakulam districts, said a senior health official, adding that 28 deaths were reported since August 1.

Kozhikode district, which is yet to recover from nipah shock, reported at least 60 people with symptoms of leptospirosis, of which 28 were later confirmed.

At least 17 persons were killed in the nipah outbreak in June but later it was localized to two districts including Kozhikode.

“During monsoon, some cases usually crop up, but this time, there is a spurt in leptospirosis cases. Out of 60 people who complained of symptoms, 28 were confirmed,” said Kozhikode district medical officer Dr V Jayasree.

Worried health officials have asked people in flood-hit areas and those engaged in cleaning work to take two 100 mg doxycyline tablets after food twice a week.

In Kozhikode, excise minister T P Ramakrishnan popped a doxycyline tablet on Saturday after a press conference, urging people to take enough precautions.

“We are keeping utmost vigil. All flood-hit people and relief workers have been advised to take enough precautions. The Union health ministry has promised us all help,” said state health minister K K Shailaja.


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