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Minister warns of blackout in Delhi as power consumption rises due to heat wave

NEW DELHI, May 26: A power crisis owing to alleged “coal shortage” looms over Delhi at a time when the city’s daily consumption is clocking a high of 6,000 MW for the past four days. Warning of a “blackout” in Delhi, power minister Satyendar Jain said on Friday that thermal power stations in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri and Jhajjar and in Delhi’s Badarpur are not generating enough electricity because of shortage of coal.

“For the past 15 days, thermal power plants in Delhi-NCR are operating below their capacity as wagons to transport coal to the stations are not available with the Indian Railways. I wrote to Union railways minister Piyush Goyal on May 17, but till date no reply has come,” Jain said.

In his letter to Goyal, Jain sought the Union minister’s intervention and wrote that some of these power stations have coal stocks that would last only for a day or two, whereas, the usual norm is to keep at least 14 days of supply in stock.

A railway spokesperson denied the allegation saying there was no wagon shortage with the Indian Railways. “On May 18, Goyal held a meeting where railway officials were directed to improve the turn-around time of rakes by better scheduling of trains and optimum utilisation of traffic blocks. He also stressed on reducing terminal detention of wagons (carrying coal) inside power plants and coal sidings to generate extra capacity,” the official said.

Delhi’s daily allocation from the three coal-based power plants is 2,325 MW, but at present, it is getting only 1,355 MW, according to government data. To add to the problem, two main lines which supply power to Delhi from the national grid are also temporarily shut, officials said.

Government officials and discoms said the deficit in electricity has forced power utilities to buy expensive power through inter-state exchanges.

“Due to insufficient power coming from coal-based plants, discoms are procuring power through alternate arrangements such as bi-laterals and exchange. But, the problem is it is very expensive with the cost going up to Rs 10 per unit,” said an official privy to the development.

On Friday, Delhi’s power demand was 6,008 MW.

It is for the first time that the city has seen the peak power demand jump over 6,000 MW four times in May. In May 2017 and 2016, the demand crossed the mark only twice.

This year, the highest consumption, so far, was on May 22 when the demand reached 6,122 MW. On June 6 last year, the city’s power demand touched 6,526 MW, breaking records.

Though not widespread and prolonged, several parts of the city are facing power outages either due to planned shutdowns or local faults.

Kumaraswamy wins Karnataka assembly floor test

BANGALURU, May 25: Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy won a floor test in the assembly on Friday after the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) walked out, capping 10 days of dramatic political developments after election results delivered a hung house.

The confidence motion was passed in favour of the three day-old government, a post-election coalition between the Congress and the Janata Dal Secular, by a voice vote.

Prior to the trust vote, Congress MLA KR Ramesh Kumar was unanimously elected as the speaker after BJP MLA S Suresh Kumar, who had also submitted his nomination for the post, withdrew. BJP leader Yeddyurappa said the withdrawal was to “maintain the dignity of the speaker’s post”. Kumaraswamy called it “escapism.”

Before his walkout, Yeddyurappa termed the Congress-JD(S) coalition a sinking ship that would not be able to fulfil its poll promises. The BJP leader also reiterated that the party would launch a party-wide stir if the ruling alliance did not waive farmer loans within 24 hours.

In his speech, Kumaraswamy said his government would carry all sections together, and would take into consideration suggestions made by the Opposition. He also said he was conscious that he was not running a majority government.

“I am also pained that the people have not placed their trust on me,” he said as he moved the motion seeking the vote of confidence, apparently referring to his party JD(S) not being given a clear mandate by the voters. “We will be stable for five years. We will work for the people. We are not here to fulfil our personal interests,” he said.

The chief minister said there was a “blot” on JD(S) supremo and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda after he (Kumaraswamy) joined hands with the BJP to form a coalition government in 2006.

Kumaraswamy said he was now relieved as that “blot” on his father’s reputation caused by his act of aligning with the BJP has been removed (with the formation of a secular government). Deve Gowda had strongly opposed Kumaraswamy’s decision to form a coalition government with the BJP.

He also said the government was committed to waiving farm loans, as promised during the elections.

He also criticised the BJP over its role in events that followed the declaration of assembly elections results on May 15.

As no political party or pre-poll alliance secured a clear majority, the Congress and JD(S) came together to stake claim to power in the state under Kumaraswamy. High drama followed, with governor Vajubhai Vala inviting BJP’s Yeddyurappa to become the chief minister as the nominee of the single-largest party with 104 seats.

The JD(S)-Congress combine, however, challenged the decision saying that they had the required numbers.

The Congress won 78 seats, JDS 37, including the two won by Kumaraswamy, and ally Bahujan Samaj Party one. The alliance also claims the support of two more lawmakers, including an independent.

The Supreme Court later ruled that the trust vote be held on May 19 (as opposed to the governor-granted period of 15 days), forcing Yeddyurappa to step down in the face of certain defeat.

The governor then invited Kumaraswamy to become the chief minister. The swearing-in ceremony on May 23 was attended by prominent leaders opposed to the BJP, including Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Congress leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, Samajawadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, BSP supremo Mayawati and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury. The event was largely seen as a display of Opposition unity in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls next year.

Even though the JD(S)-Congress combine was assured of a positive result in the trust vote, they kept their MLAs sequestered in resorts to prevent alleged poaching attempts by the BJP.

The BJP indicated that it would continue to maintain pressure on the Kumaraswamy government.

“We walked out on the issue of farmers’ loan waivers. We will hold a state-wide bandh May 28. We will be aggressive now,” said party legislator R Ashoka.

9 killed as police fire on anti-Sterlite protesters in Tamil Nadu

CHENNAI, May 22: Nine people were killed on Tuesday during a protest seeking the closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin.

The protest turned violent with agitators pelting stones and toppling police vehicles after they were prevented from marching towards the plant. As the violence spiralled, police opened fire, killing a man.

Police said section 144 of CrPc has been invoked in and around the Sterlite unit as per the orders of the Madras High Court.

However, angered over not being allowed to take out a rally, the slogan-shouting protesters forcibly tried to push back the security personnel in riot gear.

They then started hurling stones at police and also overturned a vehicle after which the security personnel lobbed teargas shells to disperse them, they said.

While more than 20 people suffered minor injuries in stone-pelting incident, some vehicles were set on fire, leading to tension in the area, they added.

Meanwhile, a state minister said though the government appreciated the sentiments of the protesters, police firing had become “unavoidable”.

“Entering the collector’s office and (perpetrating) violence is not acceptable.... (police) firing became an unavoidable,” fisheries minister D Jayakumar told reporters in Chennai.

He said chief minister K Palaniswami was “concerned “ over today’s incidents and discussed the matter with officials.

In April, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had rejected the company’s application seeking renewal of consent to operate the plant.

Board norms were not “properly fulfilled,” by Sterlite, Mohammed Nazimuddin, TNPCB chairman had said in an official release.

The development comes after about a two month long protest by locals against Sterlite over pollution and resultant serious health hazards to the people.

Meanwhile, a peaceful demonstration was held near the old bus stand in the town, also demanding the closure of the Sterlite unit and stopping the proposed expansion of the plant.

Several shops in this town, Srivaikundam and Oddapidaram remained shut in support of the protest, police said.

The district has been witnessing several protests by locals and others against the Sterlite Copper plant here and its proposed expansion.

Protesters have alleged that the plant was polluting ground water in their area.

Sterlite Copper represents the copper unit of Vedanta Limited which operates a 400,000 tonnes per annum-plant in Tuticorin.

Incurable 'bat virus' Nipah kills 12 in Kerala

KOZIKODE, May 22: A deadly and contagious virus is suspected to have killed 12 people in Kozhikode in north Kerala, leading to hundreds of people with symptoms of fever into rushing to hospitals in panic, and forcing the central government to send a team of experts to monitor and control the spread of infection.

The Pune-based National Institute of Virology on Sunday confirmed three deaths, and a fourth illness from the same family, as caused by the Nipah virus. The surviving member of the family is critical and on ventilator support.

Humans get infected by consuming fruit- or date-palm sap contaminated by infected bats but while human-to-human transmission through body fluids is rare, it was recorded in Siliguri district in West Bengal in 2001 and is being suspected in Kerala. Four deaths were reported on Monday, including of a nurse who treated the three initial infections at the EMS Cooperative Hospital in Perambra . At least six persons are in critical condition and another 20 are under observation, state health officials said.

The death of the nurse triggered panic among hospital staff who have had their leaves cancelled to treat the sick. Three more nurses from the EMS Co-operative Hospital in Perambra are under observation at Kozhikode Medical College Hospital after they developed fever and headache, but whether they are suffering from Nipah is yet unconfirmed. All three had looked after the sick from the Moosa family, who have since then been identified as the first human cases of the virus in the state.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has asked people not to panic as the situation is under control.

He has sought the help of private hospitals to tide over the crisis following reports that some private hospitals refused to admit people with Nipah-like symptoms and agreed only after the state government offered to pay the medical bills.

Of the 12 suspected deaths, six are from Kozhikode and the others from Malappuram. All the dead exhibited symptoms of fever, severe headache, and respiratory illness, and blood and fluid samples have been sent to NIV, Pune for confirmatory diagnosis. The results are expected by Tuesday, state health secretary Rajeev Sadanandan said.

The three confirmed deaths from Nipah virus infection are all from the same family in Kozhikode district’s Changaroth village, Kerala health minister KK Shailaja said.

There is no vaccine for Nipah, which has a mortality rate of 70% in India.

“Health officials have found a large number of bats in the family’s well and we suspect these bats are primarily responsible for the virus,” said Shailaja. The well has been sealed and authorities are checking other wells in the neighbourhood.

At least 30 families in neighbourhood of the Moosa home have been evacuated while 150 persons from Cheruvanoor and Perambra villages moved out on their own. Culling of bats is on to check the spread of virus, which was identified in Malaysia’s Kampung Sungai Nipah in 1998.

A team from the National Centre for Disease Control in Delhi reached Kozhikode and has set up control rooms in all government and private hospitals in the district to monitor the spread of the infection.

Karnataka CM-designate Kumaraswamy meets Sonia, Rahul Gandhi, discusses govt formation

NEW DELHI, May 21: The Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) on Monday decided to set up a joint coordination committee and formulate a common minimum programme for the smooth functioning of their coalition government in Karnataka over the next five years, said a Congress leader who was part of the deliberations.

This was decided at a 20-minute meeting between JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Monday evening.

According to the leader quoted above, the JD(S) has also agreed to leave the speaker’s post for the Congress. Seventy-one-year-old leader RV Deshpande, a Brahmin, is among the front runners for the post.

On the deputy chief minister’s post, Kumaraswamy told reporters after the meeting that Rahul Gandhi has authorised Congress general secretary in-charge of Karnataka KC Venugopal to discuss all the modalities related to government formation with the JD(S) leadership and the party’s local leaders.

A combined meeting of the Congress and JD(S) legislators has been called in Bengaluru on Tuesday.

After those meetings, the two sides will announce decisions regarding the swearing-in and other formalities.

“There is no bargain. We will cordially work things out. We must work together. I am here to take the advice of Congress leaders,” Kumaraswamy said when asked how the two sides are going to address the sticking points related to government formation.

“We are going to give a stable government. All these issues are not yet discussed. We have not discussed any future course of action,” he said.

The chief minister-designate also said that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi agreed to attend his swearing-in ceremony on May 23.

“I had a warm and cordial meeting this evening, in Delhi, with Kumaraswamy ji. We discussed the political situation in Karnataka and other matters of mutual interest. I will be attending his swearing-in as CM of Karnataka, on Wednesday, in Bengaluru,” the Congress president later tweeted.

A Congress functionary, familiar with the developments, said the function will be short as only a few leaders from both sides are expected to take the oath of office. However, the full-fledged cabinet expansion will take place after Kumaraswamy wins the floor test he is expected to take within 24 hours after being sworn-in as the chief minister for the second time in 12 years.

Earlier, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that he along with general secretaries Ashok Gehlot and Venugopal, who all played an important role in stitching the alliance, had briefed the Congress chief about the developments in the state before his meeting with Kumaraswamy.

There is also an internal tussle going on in the Karnataka Congress with a section suggesting that the party should have two deputy chief ministers given that it has more number of legislators than the JD(S), said a Congress leader from the state.

The 66-year-old state Congress chief G Parameshwara, a Dalit, is a strong contender for the post.

Former minister DK Shivakumar, who was instrumental in keeping the Congress flock together in the run-up to BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa’s trust vote, is also fancying his chances. But that possibility appears to be dim given that he is a Vokkaliga, a community to which Kumaraswamy belongs.

If he doesn’t get the deputy CM’s post, he is demanding that he should get the home minister’s portfolio along with the post of the state Congress chief, said a leader close to Shivakumar.

Two Congress MLAs, Shivanand Patil and Yashvanthraya Goud, are also threatening to resign if MB Patil, the former Congress minister who led the demand for separate status to Lingayats, is made deputy CM or given a cabinet berth.

In the wake of internal differences, and to avoid desertions, both the Congress and the JD(S) have decided not to lower their guards and confine their respective legislators to hotels till the floor test.

A Karnataka Congress office-bearer said his party will give representation to all sections of society in the next council of ministers. It has also been decided that the Congress will get a share of five seats in the upcoming legislative council elections as compared to three for the JD(S).

Sonia Gandhi, who was initially scheduled to meet Kumaraswamy at her residence, later decided to meet him at Rahul’s 12 Tughlak Lane residence in the Capital.

Prior to his meeting with the Gandhis, Kumaraswamy met Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and discussed the role of regional parties in stopping the BJP from coming back to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

A JD(S) leader said the two leaders also discussed the shape of the Congress-JD(S) government and the possibility of sole BSP legislator N Mahesh getting a cabinet berth. The BSP and the JD(S) had a pre-poll alliance in the state.

Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony will be a show of strength by opposition parties. Apart from Mayawati, the JD(S) has also invited chief ministers Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), V Narayanasamy (Puducherry), N Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh), K Chandrasekhar Rao (Telangana), Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala), and Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi). Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury are also likely to attend.

Supreme Court asks Yeddyurappa to prove majority by Saturday

NEW DELHI, May 18: All eyes shift back to Bengaluru after the Supreme Court refrained from getting into the legality of Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala inviting BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa to form the state’s government, but reduced the time the chief minister should get to prove his majority to Saturday, 4 pm.

A Supreme Court hearing on Friday saw senior lawyers Mukul Rohatgi and Abhishek Manu Singhvi arguing over Vala’s decision. Rohatgi was representing three BJP MLAs, who have said that Yeddyuruppa had staked claim as it was the single largest party.

Singhvi, who was representing petitioners challenging Yeddyurappa’s appointment, argued that Vala ought to have invited the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance which said their letter to Governor Vala listed MLAs who supported them.

Rohatgi, however, disputed the authenticity of the Congress-JD(S) MLAs named in the letter. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta too said Vala had not received signed letters from the Congress-JD-S alliance.

A three-judge bench decided that the legality of Governor Vala’s action can be determined later, and for now, the urgency was to have a floor test. Singhvi agreed but said there should be videography and proper security for MLAs to vote fearlessly.

The court ordered the Karnataka police to make arrangements for floor test on Saturday. It also told Governor Vata not to nominate any Anglo-Indian community member as MLA till the floor test is over.

The BJP’s options in Karnataka

In the house of 224, the Karnataka assembly currently has 221 MLAs--elections in two seats were deferred, and JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy won in two constituencies.

The BJP has 104 seats of its own and claims to have the support of one Independent MLA. It has to either get 111 votes--which would entail engineering a split of two thirds of the MLAs of Congress or the Janata Dal (Secular). BJP leaders admit this would be almost impossible in the current political circumstances.

Their second option, thus, would be to get a set of 13 MLAs from either the Congress or the JD(S) or a mix of both to resign or abstain. This would reduce the strength of the house, and the BJP would then need just the majority of the strength to be able to win. It is this scenario the party is working on.

The BJP is tapping the Lingayat network, including mutts, to work on Congress’ MLAs from the community to ensure that some of them switch loyalties. The BJP has rejected the Congress and JD(S)’s allegations that it is trying to bribe their MLAs. One Congress MLA has already switched, and an independent MLA appears to be vacillating.

The court has thrown back the ball in the political court. It is now up to Yeddyurappa to show the numbers.

Yeddyurappa sworn-in Karnataka CM

BENGALURU, May 17: BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa took oath as the 23rd chief minister of Karnataka at the Raj Bhavan in Bengaluru on Thursday morning, hours after the Supreme Court rejected a petition seeking a stay on the ceremony.

This is the third time BSY, as he is popularly known, has taken over as the chief minister. In 2007, he ruled for seven days before BJP’s then coalition partner Janata Dal (Secular) refused to support his government over disagreement on sharing of ministries and withdrew support. In 2008, he again took over as the chief minister but lasted only 39 months before he was arrested on corruption charges.

Sporting a green shawl, that symbolises the farmers’ movement, Yeddyurappa took oath in the name of God and farmers amid chants of ‘Modi, Modi’ by jubilant cadres. Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala administered the oath in the presence of senior state BJP leaders and Union ministers, even as JD(S) and Congress leaders protested outside. Heavy police security was put in place to ensure that no untoward incident occurs on the occasion.

Yeddyurappa (75) takes over as the chief minister after two days of uncertainty since the votes were counted on May 15, when the BJP emerged as the single-largest party in the state with 104 seats but fell short of reaching the half-way mark of 112 in the assembly. The Congress and the JD(S) joined hands in the hours that followed, and approached the governor with a request to let them form the next government in the state with HD Kumaraswamy as the chief minister. They also submitted a letter with the signatures of 116 legislators to Vala.

This was preceded by Yeddyurappa also staking claim.

On Wednesday night, Vala invited Yeddyurappa to form the government in the state -- prompting the Congress to challenge the decision in Supreme Court. While the apex court did not dismiss the petition, it permitted Yeddyurappa to take oath as the chief minister. It will hear the Congress’ plea at 10.30 am on Friday.

Vala has given Yeddyurappa 15 days to prove his majority on the floor of the House, prompting analysts to fear that the BJP will use this period to convince legislators of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) to abstain from voting. The Congress also objected to the length of time provided to the BJP.

“This morning, while the BJP celebrates its hollow victory, India will mourn the defeat of democracy.” Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted as the new chief minister took oath.

Mockery of Constitution: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, May 17: The Constitution is under “severe attack” and there is an atmosphere of fear in the country, said Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday, referring to the political drama in Karnataka where the governor invited BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa to form the next goverment in a hung assembly.

“The RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] is making way into all institutions in the country. This happens in Pakistan or in a dictatorship,” Gandhi said in Chhattisgarh, where he launched his party’s election campaign.

Early this morning, Gandhi criticised the governor’s decision asking Yeddyurappa to take over as chief minister and prove his majority in 15 days.

“The BJP’s irrational insistence that it will form a Govt. in Karnataka, even though it clearly doesn’t have the numbers, is to make a mockery of our Constitution. This morning, while the BJP celebrates its hollow victory, India will mourn the defeat of democracy,” said Gandhi on Twitter.

Centre wants to demolish democracy, misusing ED to threaten Karnataka MLAs: Kumaraswamy

BENGALURU, May 17: Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy on Thursday said the Narendra Modi government wants to demolish democracy in the country and accused the Centre of using agencies like the Enforcement Directorate to threaten MLAs of the Congress-JD(S) combine in Karnataka.

Addressing reporters after the BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa was sworn in as Karnataka chief minister, he also reached out to non-BJP parties to join hands and bury their differences if any to “protect the interest of the country”.

Terming governor Vajubhai Vala’s decision to invite Yeddyurappa to form the government “unconstitutional”, the former chief minister lashed out at the Centre and said, “How is this Central government behaving? This Narendra Modi government wants to demolish democracy in the country.”

Kumaraswamy, whose claim to form the government was ignored by the governor, added that giving a party without majority the opportunity to form government and giving it 15 days for a floor test was probably a first in the country.

“What was the reason for 15 days...is it for business?” he asked.

Responding to a question, Kumaraswamy said the Modi government was misusing central government agencies. “They are threatening and putting pressure on MLAs,” he alleged.

SC collegium stands by decision to recommend Justice KM Joseph as apex court judge

NEW DELHI, May 11: The Supreme Court collegium on Friday decided to back Uttarakhand high court Chief Justice KM Joseph for elevation to the top court despite the government spurning his nomination last month. The move is certain to further strain the already frayed relationship between the executive and the top judiciary.

The five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court who comprise the collegium — Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, and Justices Jasti Chelameswar, R Gogoi, MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph — said that they had “on principle, unanimously agreed that the recommendation for appointment of Justice KM Joseph as a judge of the Supreme Court should be reiterated”.

The collegium chose not to send Justice Joseph’s name to the government immediately, noting in their resolution that “the said reiteration should also be accompanied by the recommendation of the names of Chief Justices of high courts for elevation as judges of the Supreme Court, for which detailed discussion is required”. The collegium, which decides on appointments to the higher judiciary, also considered the names of three judges from Calcutta, Rajasthan, and Telangana & Andhra Pradesh high courts, who are currently chief justices of other high courts, for elevation to the SC.

The collegium met two days after justice Chelameswar wrote a letter to the CJI asking him to convene a meeting so that it could reiterate its recommendation that justice Joseph be elevated to the Supreme Court . With the collegium clearing his name, it will be difficult for the government to say no a second time, although it can take as much time as it wants before it decides on this.

The collegium has done the right thing by deciding to reiterate justice Joseph’s name for elevation to the apex court, senior advocate KTS Tulsi said.

“The recommendation is now a binding on the government. The ball is now in the government’s court and it depends on them whether they want to intensify the standoff between the judiciary and legislature. It is for them to decide,” he added.

The Supreme Court and the government have been sparring on the issue of selection of judges to the apex court since 2014 when the government came up with a law codifying this process. The Supreme Court rejected this law in 2015 even as it admitted that the current process of selection could be improved and said that it would work with the government on a so-called Memorandum of Procedure on the selection of judges. There hasn’t been much progress on that front.

On May 2, the collegium had met to reconsider the case of justice Joseph’s elevation to the Supreme Court in the face of opposition by the government. But no decision was taken; the names of three more judges from the Calcutta high court, Andhra & Telangana high court and Rajasthan high court too were discussed at that meeting. It was decided at that meeting that the collegium would meet a week later and take a call on the four names.

Justice Joseph’s elevation to the top court has been a bone of contention between the government and the collegium, which found him to be a meritorious and eminently suitable for appointment to the Supreme Court and, recommended his name as early as January 10 to the government. But the government, after sitting on the recommendation for over three months, returned the name of justice Joseph, calling the proposed appointment as “not appropriate” and unfair and unjustified to other more suitable chief justices and judges of high courts.

SC shifts Kathua rape-cum-murder trial to Pathankot

NEW DELHI, May 7: The Supreme Court today ordered that the trial in the sensational gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir to neighbouring Punjab, holding fair trial was "sacrosanct" and cannot be allowed to "co-exist" with fear.

Directing day-to-day "in-camera" trial, the apex court asked the district and sessions judge at Pathankot to personally undertake the trial proceedings.

The order came on a petition by the victim's father seeking transfer of the case to Chandigarh on the ground that the family was receiving death threats and that they feared for their lives.

Vacating the stay granted by the top court on the trial in Kathua, a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra refrained from handing over the probe to the CBI and directed that the trial be fast-tracked to ensure there was no delay as the investigation has been conducted and charge sheet filed.

The state police's Crime Branch, which probed the case, has filed the main charge sheet against seven persons and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district last week.

The apex court bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, allowed the J and K government to appoint a special public prosecutor (SPP) to conduct the trial and ordered continuation of security provided to the victim's family members, a family friend and the lawyer representing them.

The top court also said that the trial would be carried out in accordance with the provisions of Ranbir Penal Code, which is applicable in J and K, and asked the state to get statements of witnesses and records of the case translated from Urdu to English.

The victim, who belonged to a minority nomadic community, had disappeared from near her home in a village close to Kathua in the Jammu region on January 10. Her body was found in the same area a week later.

The girl's father welcomed the Court decision and said he has full faith in the judiciary.

J and K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the court decision would boost the morale of the state police, which, she said had left "no stone unturned" to ensure that the victim's family gets justice.

The apex court emphasised that the trial must be fair to the victim's family and the accused and said that the state would facilitate transportation and accomodation to the victim's family, lawyers and witnesses to Pathankot, about 30 km from Kathua.

The court while asking the district and sessions judge at Pathankot not to assign the case to other session judges said it would monitor the progress of trial and that no other courts should entertain any other plea related to the matter.

"Needless to say, a fair trial is a sacrosanct principle under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and a fair trial' means fair to the accused persons, as well as to the victims of the crime. In the instant case, direct victims are the family members of the deceased, although ultimately collective is the victim of such crime," it said.

"The fair trial commands that there has to be free atmosphere where the victims, the accused and the witnesses feel safe. They must not suffer from any kind of phobia while attending the court. Fear and fair trial are contradictory in terms and they cannot be allowed to co-exist," the court said.

"Concept of fair trial', needs no special emphasis and it takes within its sweep the conception of a speedy trial and the speedy trial meets its purpose when the trials are held without grant of adjournment as provided under the provisions contained in section 309 CrPC," it said.

The decision to transfer the trial from Kathua in Jammu to Pathankot came after deliberations during which names of several districts in the state -- Udhampur, Jammu, Ramban, Sambha, Reasi, Poonch, Rajouri and Doda -- were considered.

Initially, there was a consensus on transferring the trial to Ramban but the counsel appearing for two accused in the case objected to it saying that Ramban was far away from Kathua and was hit by terrorism and there was "polarisation of the community" there also.

At the outset, senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for victim's father, contended that they were satisfied with the probe conducted by the crime branch of J and K Police but the entire case was given a "political colour" by the accused despite the fact that it was a matter relating to rape and murder of a minor girl.

Senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, appearing for J and K government, said that police has already filed a detailed charge sheet and further probe was being carried out and the question was about having an atmosphere for fair trial at Kathua.

"We would like a fair trial to take place. Further investigation is going on at a rapid pace," he said, adding that they were opposing the transfer of the case outside the state.

Senior counsel Meenakshi Arora, appearing for the accused, alleged that the probe into the case was "botched up" and when there was no fair investigation, fair trial cannot be expected.

Modi’s economic policies disastrous: Manmohan Singh

BENGALURU, May 7: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Monday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the state of India’s economy, saying the country was facing crises that were avoidable.

“Our nation today is experiencing difficult times. Our farmers are facing an acute crisis, our aspirational youth are not finding opportunities, and the economy is growing below its potential. The unfortunate truth is that each of these crises was entirely avoidable,” he said, addressing a press conference in Bengaluru ahead of the May 12 state polls.

Singh said it pained him to see the government stifle dissent when deficiencies were pointed out, rather than stand up to challenges. The former prime minister said it was important to pay careful attention to policy making as it affected people’s lives, and, hence, it was crucial to not act on “mere whims and fancies”.

“The United Progressive Alliance delivered an average growth rate of 7.8% despite turbulent global conditions. The NDA, on the other hand, has managed lesser growth rate despite a favourable international climate and low oil prices. In fact, growth rate under the NDA is lower in spite of the change in methodology, which paints a rosier picture than reality,” Singh said.

Singh criticised the move to demonetise high-value currency and the “hasty implementation of GST (goods and services tax)”, calling them blunders that severely affect micro, small and medium enterprises, causing “the loss of tens of thousands of jobs” in the process.

He also criticised the government for not passing on the reduction in international crude oil prices to consumers. “In spite of lower global crude oil prices, petrol and diesel prices are at a historic high because Modi government chooses to levy excessive excise taxes. Instead of passing on the benefits of low prices to the people, the Modi government has punished the people,” he said.

Singh said it did not behove the office of the prime minister for Modi to make adverse comments on opponents. “No other prime minister has used the office in such a manner,” he said.

At the Bengaluru speech, Singh said since 2014, international crude oil prices had declined to 67%. “However, petrol and diesel prices have on average increased at 110% on both these products. Through constant increase in taxes and at the cost of the common man, the government is projected to have earned over Rs 10 lakh crore. India must demand answers as to what use this money was put to,” he said.

The former prime minister said banks were neither lending nor was the private sector borrowing. “The growth engines of the economy are spluttering. Perhaps it is here that the mismanagement of the Modi government is most evident,” he said.

“The proportion of gross non-performing assets (NPAs) trebled since Modi assumed office and frauds in the banking sector almost quadrupled from Rs 28,416 crore in September 2013 to Rs 1.11 lakh crore in September 2017,” Singh said, adding the “perpetrators of these frauds escape with impunity”. He said it was the government’s duty to have dealt with the NPAs, questioning why Modi attended an event in Davos where jeweller Nirav Modi was present.

Singh said the recent shortages of cash were preventable, but “instead of taking prompt corrective action, the government has been busy providing excuses and peddling conspiracy theories as to what led to the problem.”

“What took years of hard work to make the Indian economy the third largest in the world is being dismantled through systematic efforts that have no grounding in logic,” the former PM said.

“When asked to explain reasons for economic ills of the last four years, Prime Minister Modi tends to blame everything on the 70 years of Congress rule. He forgets the role of the Green Revolution. He does not mention the role of policies of economic liberalisation of the 1991-96 in transforming the industrial economy,” he said.

Singh said development of cities required sustained funds and innovation. “Instead, the Modi government has been content to simply come up with catchy tags like AMRUT and Smart Cities, which have underperformed spectacularly,” he said.

Contrary to Modi’s assurances, Singh said, in the age group of 15-24, about 7.2 million jobs were lost over the last four years.

“This usually happens when external factors are unfavourable. However, job destruction in India is due to mismanagement on the part of Modi and his team. True leadership creates opportunities, it does not destroy them,” the former prime minister said.

Singh warned that the country’s position as an IT superpower was under threat. “The situation could get worse if the Modi government fails in its duties at protecting H1, H4 and L1 visas for our professionals,” he said.

“Reduced budgets, administrative takeovers, and harassment of students and dissenting voices are a violation of our Constitutional norms. It does not help that ministers in Modi’s cabinet and even BJP chief ministers regularly make comments promoting irrationality,” he said.

Refuting the charges, state BJP spokesperson S Prakash claimed the former PM had left a depleted economy for the current government. “We have tried to rehabilitate the economy and are doing so successfully,” he said.

Prakash said Congress had no answers to Modi’s charisma and as a result was saying he was using foul language. “Indira and Rajiv Gandhi also used to campaign just as much for their parties. When it comes to language, Singh should take a look at the way the chief minister and some of his colleagues speak about the prime minister,” he said.

BJP loots in the name of fuel, collected taxes in crores: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, May 7: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Monday accused the BJP government of “loot” in the name of “fuel” by collecting Rs 10 lakh crore in taxes on petrol, LPG and diesel and not passing on the benefit of falling international crude price to the common people.

“The BJP government collected 10,00,000 crore in taxes on petrol/LPG/diesel since 2014. Yet, no relief in prices for our citizens,” he said in a tweet.

Gandhi shared a one minute forty two seconds long video on Twitter, saying “this video shows the truth about fuel prices under PM Modi”.

The video shows that “despite international crude oil prices dropping up to 67 per cent in four years of Modi government, petrol, diesel prices are skyrocketing”.

The Congress chief said that increasing prices of fuel were a symbol of the failure of the central government.

“The government that promised ‘Achhe Din’ is silent. Let’s rewind BJP’s stand on petrol-diesel prices. Increasing petrol prices are symbol of failure of central government. People are angry and it will have negative impact on other sectors.”

In the video, Rahul alleged that more than Rs 50,000 crore in taxes was collected every year but the government was not reducing the petrol prices.

“After coming to power, the Modi government has looted common people of Rs 10,00,000 crore by taxing gas, diesel and petrol. Since 2014, Modi government increased central tax on petrol by Rs 8.78 litre, diesel by Rs 10.37 litre.”

Gandhi’s video says that the people friendly Congress government in Karnataka has reduced state tax on petrol by Rs 3.11 litre, diesel by Rs 1.03 litre in the last five years.

“At least 18.11 crore LPG customers suffering under the greedy Modi government. Subsidized LPG cylinder Rs 491.35 in Delhi, Rs 427 in Bengaluru (due to reduced taxes in Karnataka). Non-subsidized LPG cylinder Rs 635.5 in Delhi, Rs 622.5 in Bengaluru (due to reduced taxes in Karnataka),” shows the video.

It further shows “BJP is cruel, they loot in the name of fuel”.

 



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