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Congress launches nationwide protest against farm bills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rahul Gandhi Slams Modi Govt for Neglecting Healthcare Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Congress Shake-Up, Team Rahul Scores

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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