- India A digital daily of things that matter. python-feedgen - India en Fri, 26 Feb 2021 10:09:40 +0000 Fri, 26 Feb 2021 00:00:00 +0000 Tigress Avni killed on court’s order, says SC, refuses to take contempt action CJI SA Bobde said that trophy hunting was a serious matter, but added that the court cannot interfere at this stage.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to take action on a contempt plea filed against Maharashtra government officials for the killing of Avni, an adult tigress, reported Bar and Bench. The bench observed that the tigress was killed on the court’s order, and allowed wildlife researcher Sangeet Dogra to withdraw her petition.

Avni, believed to be a man-eater, was killed in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district in 2018. In her petition, Dogra had alleged that a reward was granted for the killing of the tigress flouting court orders. In 2018, the Supreme Court had said that no reward or incentive should be given for the killing of the tigress. Dogra also claimed that Avni was killed on baseless allegations that she was responsible for the death of 13 people. The Supreme Court had on February 10 issued notice to Maharashtra Principal Secretary Vikas Kharge and eight other officials.

On Friday, Chief Justice SA Bobde said that the state government informed the bench that the tigress was killed on the court’s order, and the forest officials did not participate in any celebrations after the death, according to India Today.

Bobde said that the villagers celebrated because they were happy that the tigress was killed, and asked how the conservator of forests was responsible for it.

“Officers may not have celebrated but they did not object to it,” said Dogra in the plea. “Trophy hunting is a crime. The villagers might not know that, the officials know it. The person who shot the tiger was celebrating while the investigation into the incident was going on.”

Bobde, however, refused to take up the matter, saying that trophy hunting was a serious matter, but the court cannot interfere at this stage.

On February 10, the petitioner had also submitted an autopsy report of the tigress in the court, saying that it shows that Avni was not a man-eater. “How does a post-mortem show if an animal is a man-eater or not,” Bobde had asked.

The petitioner told the court that a man-eater would have nails and hair in the intestine for six months but Avni’s stomach was empty. The bench was not convinced with the explanation and had sought more clarity on the matter.

Earlier, questions were raised on the killing of the tigress. Multiple reports had found discrepancies between what the hunting team had said about the animal’s death and its autopsy. The team had claimed Avni was killed in self-defence, while evidence showed otherwise. Forest department officials were told to shoot the animal only if the tranquillisers failed, as per Supreme Court orders. She was also shot at night, which is against the norms, and with a weapon that was not prescribed for killing such tigers.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 09:37:02 +0000 Scroll Staff
Covid-19: WHO chief thanks PM Modi for sharing vaccines with other countries under ‘COVAX’ Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the vaccines given by India will help over 60 countries to start their inoculation drive.

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for providing coronavirus vaccines to other countries under the COVAX initiative, the global health body’s vaccine sharing scheme.

Tedros said that the vaccines given by India will help over 60 countries to start their vaccination drive by inoculating their healthcare workers and other priority groups. “I hope other countries will follow your example,” the WHO head wrote on Twitter.

COVAX is co-led by the WHO, the GAVI vaccines alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and UNICEF. It was launched in June in an attempt to prevent poorer countries being pushed to the back of the queue as wealthier nations bought billions of doses for their populations.

The COVAX initiative brings together both self-financing countries, who are wealthy enough to purchase their entire vaccine supply, and low-income ones who will need support including funding to inoculate their populations. Two-thirds of COVAX’s two billion doses will go to low-income countries among its 190 participating countries.

On February 24, India delivered its first 6,00,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, to Ghana’s capital Accra under the COVAX initiative. The shots, part of an initial tranche for low and middle-income countries, will be used by Ghana to start a vaccination drive from March 2 that will prioritise frontline health workers and others at high risk, according to Reuters.

India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, has shipped over 1.7 crore vaccine doses to more than two dozen countries, including around 60 lakh as gifts to partners such as Bangladesh and Nepal.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 09:21:59 +0000 Scroll Staff
Domestic flight passengers with no check-in baggage to get fare discount To make flight tickets more affordable, the DGCA allowed unbundling of services such as preferential seating and meals and drinks.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation on Friday allowed domestic flight operators to provide fare concessions to passengers who do not carry check-in luggage and travel only with cabin baggage, ANI reported. The travellers will be required to declare their luggage details at the time of booking their tickets.

“As part of airline baggage policy, scheduled airlines will be allowed to offer free baggage allowance as well as zero baggage/no check in baggage fares,” the aviation regulator said in an order. “This will be subject to the condition that the passenger booking ticket under such fare scheme is made aware of the charges that shall be applicable if the passenger turns up with the baggage for check in at the airline counter.”

DGCA added: “These applicable charges shall be reasonable; prominently displayed to the passenger at the time of booking of ticket and also to be printed on the ticket.”

Under the existing rules, domestic flight passengers are allowed to carry 15 kilograms of check-in baggage. Extra charges become applicable when baggage weight exceeds this limit.

To make flight tickets more affordable, the DGCA has also allowed “unbundling” of services such as preferential seating, meals and drinks and access to the airport lounge. “On the basis of various feedback received, it is felt that many times these services provided by the airlines may not be required by the passengers while travelling,” DGCA said.

However, the new rule will become applicable when fare bands on domestic flights are removed , The Times of India reported.

Also read: Air travel to become expensive as Centre raises caps on domestic fares by up to 30%

Earlier this month, the Centre had increased the upper and lower limit on domestic air fares by 10% to 30%. However, it said that airlines will continue to operate at 80% of their pre-Covid levels till March 31 or till the summer schedule begins.

The order was issued a day after Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told the Rajya Sabha that the fixed fare bands for domestic flights cannot be permanent. He added that a cap on airfares will not be required when flights begin operating at full capacity.

The government had earlier imposed a cap on domestic airfare after flights resumed on May 25, following a two-month suspension of services because of the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

Besides the increase in limits of airfares, the government had also grounded both domestic and international flights, as part of the countrywide lockdown. The Centre had allowed domestic flight services to resume on May 25, but at only one-third of its capacity. The cap was later increased to 45% and then to 60%. It was then gradually increased to 80%.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 09:15:22 +0000 Scroll Staff
Watch: The unique swinging flute emits music when it is swung in the air ‘There are tigers, cheetahs, and bears in the jungle. But if you were to swing this, they would stay away from you,’ said Maniram Mandawi, 42.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 08:44:32 +0000 Scroll Staff
Punjab ground report: Six months on, farm protest remains strong – and united. Where is it headed? Anger over Modi government’s farm laws is rooted in a deeper disquiet that cuts across community lines. Left unresolved, it could take a dark turn.

The white hatchback slowed down as it approached the toll plaza. At the wheels was a middle-aged Sikh man and in the passenger seat an old woman with flowing grey hair. Seated behind were three more women, one middle aged and the other two much younger, who looked barely out of their teens.

Toll plazas in Punjab – sites of permanent sit-ins by farmers protesting against the new farm laws – have been closed for months, free for vehicles to pass through without paying any fee.

Yet, the man stopped and gestured at the protesting farmers camping on one side of the highway, trying to catch their attention. One of them came over to the passenger seat window. The old woman thrust a Rs 500 note in his hands and caressed his head affectionately. Barely any words were exchanged. The car zoomed past soon after.

This was in Mehal Kalan at the border of Ludhiana and Barnala districts. But it could have been anywhere in Punjab, as found while travelling through five districts across the state’s three regions of Malwa, Majha and Doaba.

It is nearly six months since protests first erupted across Punjab against the three new farm laws of the Modi government. The andolan seems to be showing no signs of abating anywhere. It continues to rage like wildfire across villages and towns and cities.

The Kisan-Mazdoor Ekta flag is as ubiquitous as mustard fields, colouring the winter landscape of the state a bright protest yellow. The flags and stickers in support of the farmers are everywhere – on car bonnets, in balconies, at highway dhabas, outside shopping malls. Almost every railway station in the state has people camping outside, day and night.

If the mornings are about marathon meetings with rousing speeches in the villages, the evenings see young boys on their gediyan – evening rounds – break into impromptu bike rallies in the cities, boisterously vowing their support to the protests. The fires in the langars, the traditional Sikh community kitchens, never really go off.

Most Punjabis – whatever their religion, caste, class, profession – not only support the ongoing protests, but are deeply invested in them.

“We will fight till our last breath,” said Gurdev Singh, a farmer from Tarn Taran district. “We fought a long battle for our independence from the British. This, too, is a fight for independence, economic independence.”

Nothing, people insist, would deter them. No price, they say, is too big to pay. “Whenever there is a war, there are personal losses and people have already died in the cold in Delhi, but this is a fight for our survival,” said Raghubir Kaur, a retired professor of Punjabi in Jalandhar’s Guru Nanak Dev University. “And each family in Punjab is part of this fight. There is no going back from this.”

Anxieties about a changing economic order lie at the heart of the protests. But the depth of support for them stems from a deeper source. Not Khalistan or Sikh secessionism as the Modi government has tried to insinuate. Instead, conversations with people in the state reveal deeper undercurrents of resentment against a government that is seen as majoritarian and dictatorial.

The resentment is so visceral and omnipresent that it is difficult to imagine in today’s India, barring possibly Kashmir.

‘Rogue, thug, fraud’

On the foggy morning of February 16, around 100 farmers and retired soldiers from Punjab’s border villages gathered in Atari village in Tarn Taran district for a meeting christened Jai Jawan Jai Kisan.

It was held at the memorial of Sardar Sham Singh Attari, a Sikh general who died fighting the East India Company. The occasion was the birth anniversary of Sir Chhotu Ram, a Hindu Jat leader widely revered by the peasantry in Punjab. The theme this year, the organisers said, was anti-communalism.

Speaker after speaker tore into the government, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular. Nothing escaped the speakers’ fury: the government’s (now-shelved) plans of preparing a nation-wide National Register of Citizens, revoking of Article 370 in Kashmir, arbitrary internet blockades and more.

“This government has sold out,” said one of the speakers as the crowd nodded in agreement.

But the most popular slogan of the day was rather individualised, “Modi tere teen naam: luccha, gunda, bemaan” – Modi, you have three names: rogue, thug, fraud.

“This is not so much about the BJP as it is about Modi, Amit Shah and Piyush Goyal,” explained a farmer from a village in Tarn Taran, referring to the home minister and railway minister seen to be the closest confidantes of the prime minister. “There are others in the BJP who understand [the concerns of farmers], but these three have no understanding of agriculture, yet they are telling us what is good for us.”

‘Laws framed for corporates’

The Modi government has claimed the three farm laws, first introduced as ordinances in July, then rushed through Parliament in September, will unshackle India’s beleaguered agricultural sector by enabling farmers to sell their produce to private companies without any restrictions. But many agricultural economists disagree. They say the laws could reduce market transparency and leave farmers at the mercy of corporations.

In Punjab, talk to any farmer – small, big, medium, marginal – and they will deconstruct the laws clause-by-clause. Their biggest anxiety is what they claim is unstated but implicit in the laws: the end of the minimum support price regime under which the government buys certain crops at predetermined rates to cushion farmers against market volatility. Since most farmers in Punjab and Haryana sell their wheat and paddy to the government at such prices in state-run markets called mandis, they fear a rise in private transactions outside the mandis will weaken them and ultimately lead to their demise.

“First the mandis will go,” said a farmer in Barnala district, “then the corporates will tell us, ‘sell us at whatever price we are offering you’ and we have to also because where else will we go.”

Farmers believe these legal changes are being driven by two corporations, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group and Gautam Adani’s Adani Group, which are patronised by the Modi government. Both the companies have denied the accusations – to little effect. “This is not a people’s government. This is a government for and of big corporates,” alleged Davinder Singh, a 32-year-old farmer from Raikot.

“This government is taking dictations from Ambani and Adani,” said another farmer from Amritsar. “Modi wants to sell the country to the corporates, we in Punjab will not let that happen.”

Without minimum support prices, say farmers, it would be impossible to make ends meet. In a normal year, five acres of the land yield around 150 quintals of rice and 100 quintals of wheat, worth a little over Rs 5 lakh at the government-fixed prices. Having invested nearly one lakh rupees in seeds, fertilisers, machinery, “a family of four which owns five acres of land is just living hand-to-mouth,” said Balwant Singh Uppli, a farmer leader in Barnala.

Supporters of the farm laws argue the support prices had created perverse incentives to grow water-guzzling, environmentally unsustainable crops. But Uppli pointed out that growing other crops was economically risky because of market uncertainty. “Sometimes, the price goes up to Rs 50 [per quintal], sometimes it is not even Rs 2. How does one survive then?”

Political scientist Jagroop Singh Sekhon said crop diversification in Punjab was “not possible if you don’t extend MSP to other crops”.

Besides, as many in the state point out: farmers here were drafted into large-scale commercial wheat and paddy farming for the purpose of state procurement by the government itself as part of the Green Revolution when India started using high-yield seeds and chemicals in a bid to be food-sufficient in the 1960s.

“People here feel they have been taken for a ride,” said Anirudh Kala, a psychiatrist based in Ludhiana. “For decades, you depended on Punjab’s farmers to supply grains to the rest of the country and with these laws, it’s like they are not needed now.”

A feeling of discrimination

Outside Ludhiana, in Gahlewal village, former sarpanch Avatar Singh echoed this sentiment – and even added why he thought that was the case. “For years we have fed this country, all we ask for now is some gratitude. But Modi and RSS hate the Sikhs, instead he is trying to teach us a lesson.”

Sikhs form 60% of the population of Punjab. As historian Harjeshwar Pal Singh explained, the perception that “Punjab has been discriminated against by Delhi” easily segues into Sikhs feeling persecuted.

“Ever since Modi came to power in 2014, Hindutva has become more pronounced in Indian polity,” said Pal Singh who teaches history at Chandigarh’s Guru Gobind Singh College. “In response, anxiety of the Sikhs is definitely increasing.” Indeed, according to a survey carried out before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, fewer Sikhs were favourably disposed towards Modi than even Muslims and Christians.

Gursevak Singh, a farmer from Raikot, reflected this dual concern: “For sure, this is a farmers’ issue, but at the end of the day we are Sikhs, aren’t we? And we all know Modi and RSS want to turn Hindustan into a Hindu Rashtra.”

Said Pal Singh: “The farmers’ movement led by the unions is strong by itself, but Sikh sentiment gave it an even bigger impetus, making it a mass movement. A section sees the laws as an attack on the way of life in Punjab, or you could say, the Sikh way of life.”

Parminder Singh, a retired professor of English from Amritsar, however, does not agree. The current anger, he said, had indeed transcended the farm bills, but it did not draw from Sikh anxieties as such. Instead, it flowed from Punjab’s legacy of standing up to rulers and dispensations seen as unjust. “Punjabis tend to see the Modi dispensation as tyrannical,” he said when we met at his home in Amritsar. “So, whenever movements of this scale arise, cultural and historical memories always pop up.”

The account of the ninth Sikh guru, Teg Bahadur, standing up to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, and paying for it with his life, for instance, is often invoked in conversations about the current agitation.

Kaur, the retired professor Punjabi from Jalandhar, explained: “There is nothing religious about this andolan, but we are obviously drawing inspiration from our glorious history.”

Several Sikh farmers interviewed for this story tended to broadly share this idea. “Punjab has always defended this country whether the enemy was Aurangzeb or the British,” said Nirmal Singh, a sexagenarian farmer from Barnala. “We are doing the same now.”

In the border village of Naushera Dhalla in Tarn Taran, Harpal Singh, a well-off farmer who owns 17 acres of land, said the prime minister’s zidd (stubbornness) in refusing to repeal the laws was a “textbook example of autocratic behaviour”. “Isn’t that what dictators believe – that everyone else is wrong except them?” he asked.

In Tappriana, a picturesque village of just 250 people near Ludhiana’s Samrala, sarpanch Gurpreet Singh declared that “Modi is running a dictatorship”. “There is no democracy left in India,” he insisted.

As the Punjabi poet Gurbhajan Gill who lives in Ludhiana put it, “It may have started with farmers, but now this has become an outburst of anger against [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s arrogance by all sections of the society in the state.”

Cross-cutting support

Support for the movement cuts across community lines in the state – most of the Punjab’s upper-caste Hindus and, increasingly, Dalit labourers have joined ranks with the Jatt Sikhs.

“What happens when the corporates take over?” asked Shivinder Lal, a businessman in Jalandhar city. “Things are cheap for a while, then prices hit the sky.”

“So how can this just be the fight of the Jatt Sikhs?” he continued. “We are all going to be affected, after all.”

Dalit leaders say the community’s participation was largely because of the influence of left-leaning unions that have over the years stood by them in times of crisis and injustice, shunning caste loyalties. “Yes, there are caste contradictions between malik-kisani [upper-caste landed farmers] and Dalit labourers,” said Harmesh Malri of the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, a union of landless agricultural labourers. “But the andolan is now starting to transcend that because the Dalits know these new laws will also harm them.”

Indeed, contrary to what is perhaps the popular perception in the rest of India, the movement in Punjab is not being led by large and affluent farmers, but by farmers with small and medium holdings – with financial support of the large farmers, of course.

“This is no spontaneous uprising,” said Parminder Singh, the retired professor of English in Amritsar. “For the past thirty years, many grassroots organisations have been working hard to organise peasants on matters of indebtedness, suicides, land acquisition by government for private purposes, and forceful confiscation of indebted land.”

As political scientist Sekhon pointed out when we met at the strikingly good-looking campus of Amritrsar’s Khalsa College where he now teaches: the state has a long history of peasant uprisings. “Peasant movement is in the blood of Punjab,” said Sekhon. In 1907, for instance, there was the Pagdi Sambhal Jatta agitation, which had much in common with the current protests. The movement, led by the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s uncle Ajit Singh, was against three laws brought in by the British colonial government in 1906, also ostensibly to “reform” the farm sector.

There are undoubtedly people who have a less rosy view of this “people’s revolution” – as many in Punjab describe the current movement. The fiery Punjabi poet and writer Desraj Kali, for instance. He largely saw the movement as a protest by the landed Jatt Sikhs’ efforts to “safeguard their economic interests.”

But even cynics like Kali acknowledge that new solidarities are building. Over the course of a long late-evening conversation in his one-room office behind a medical diagnostic centre, he conceded: “At the gatherings at the Delhi border have broken down some old barriers and made people realise that they are all farmers. Win or lose, I believe people will come back home changed for the better whenever this ends.”

The bogey of Khalistan

In Punjab, the solidarities are deepening. But people are keenly aware of the growing attempts elsewhere to highlight differences.

On January 26, when a section of protestors taking part in a tractor rally on the outskirts of Delhi smashed police barricades, stormed the Red Fort and hoisted the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh religious flag, detractors of the protest wrongly claimed it to be a flag of the secessionist Khalistani movement. The misinformation, much of it deliberate, people in Punjab believe, was part of the Centre’s attempts to delegitimise the protests by painting it as being driven by pro-Khalistani elements.

In Punjab, almost everyone believes that the entire sequence of events the day was orchestrated by the Centre. “How do people just enter the Red Fort without someone in the establishment guiding them?” asked Harpal Singh, the Tarn Taran farmer.

This has made the effort to delink the protests from Sikhism even more pronounced on the ground, not just by ideologues and union leaders, but also by a large section of the Sikh cadre. “We know that Modi wants to suppress minorities, but we do not want to make this movement about our religion – we want to keep it about farmers,” said Mukhtar Singh Mahawa, a farmer from a village called Mahawa in Amritsar, when we met at the Jai Jawan Jai Kisan meeting in Attari.

Most fear any acknowledgement of the role of Sikhism in the protests could be misconstrued as an endorsement of Khalistani ideas. “According to the current pro-Modi media narrative, Sikhism is equal to Khalistani,” said a government veterinary doctor in Jalandhar who did not want to be identified.

The political scientist Sekhon explained, “People know that the government will try and put words in their mouth, and the media will join unconnected dots to try to project their Sikh identity as Khalistani.”

Sekhon said while religion was certainly “a powerful mobilising factor in the movement”, it was the benign artefacts of Sikhism such as the langars – community kitchens – that were aiding the movement.

Indeed, even people who do openly invoke Sikhism and acknowledge its role in the current protests show little enthusiasm for anything remotely Khalistan-related. “Khalistan is dead. No one cares for it now,” said Avatar Singh, the former sarpanch from Ludhiana. “Our gurus have taught us to hold on to our ground come what may, and we are doing that to safeguard our lands.”

Across the five districts of the state where travelled, person after person in village after village expressed a decided disdain for the idea of Khalistan. “What will we do with Khalistan?” asked a farmer in Taran Tarn, once the hotbed of Sikh extremism. “All we want is to be able to sell our produce at a fair price and get on with our lives.”

The historian Pal Singh also agreed that Khalistan was an idea of the past. “You will hardly find anyone who talks about it in Punjab. The few political parties who contest elections on that plank barely win a couple of hundred votes,” he said. “It is kept alive by NRIs [non-resident Indians] sitting in Canada and UK and is used by the government agencies whenever they want to divert attention from a genuine people’s movement.”

Yet, many including chief minister Amarinder Singh have cautioned that an obstinate and hardline stance by the Centre could have dangerous repercussions in Punjab. “No one in Punjab wants Khalistan, but this government is doing the same mistake the Congress did that led to terrorism in the state,” said Darbari Lal, veteran Congress leader and a former deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly. “At the time, Delhi did not listen to us despite us trying to reach out. The same seems to be happening again.”

A senior BJP leader from the state admitted as much. Speaking in private at his home in Jalandhar – which has round-the-clock police presence since the protests broke out – he said the state unit’s attempts to impress upon the Central leadership that the mood of the people was emphatically against the laws went unheard. “There is a saying in Punjabi that even if you discuss something with a wall, there will be some introspection because the walls will reflect back your words,” he said. “So if not us, the leadership should think out loud at least.”

A challenging future

Pal Singh believes Khalistan is more of a manufactured threat but if the government chose to not accede to the “reasonable demands” of the farm unions, it was only natural the more radical strands would get emboldened. “I don’t think there’s much of a leadership to revive Khalistani sentiments, but the overall mood could become more radical forcing the moderate politicians of the state to take more radical positions,” he said.

The political scientist Sekhon also warned that the situation could take a “challenging” turn if the government did not accept the unions’ demands. “Kisan bhi humare, jawan phi humare – the farmers are from Punjab, so are the soldiers,” he said. “And if our boys in the forces come back home to empty homes for too long a period with their parents camping at Delhi’s borders, it will be bad for the country given our history. Let me just say that.”

There are other fears too. The psychiatrist Anirudh Kala said he was not concerned so much about terrorism as about deteriorating mental health and a resurgence of drug addiction, a major problem that has plagued the state for years. Although the protesting farmers vehemently deny it, Kala said he suspected a feeling of despondency was starting to creep in. “We have the addiction problem under control for now, but I fear we could be in trouble if the farmers don’t get anything from the Centre after months of agitating and so many people dying in the cold,” said Kala.

Few people on the ground, though, even want to discuss the possibility of a bad ending. As a farmer from Barnala, who has been camping in the highway the Mehal Kalan toll plaza for nearly 150 days, said: “Punjab never loses – history is testament to that.”

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 08:37:58 +0000 Arunabh Saikia
Rahul Gandhi, Adityanath same when it comes to criticising the Left: Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan Vijayan responded in kind after the Congress and BJP leaders attacked the ruling Kerala government ahead of the state’s elections.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday hit back at his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Adityanath and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi after both leaders criticised the Left government during separate rallies in the state, reported NDTV.

Kerala elections will be held this summer.

“Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath may have different perspectives about Kerala but have the same feelings against the Left,” he said. “They are united in that.”

In Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday, Gandhi had hit out at the Left government, raising several matters, including “lack of jobs for the youth”, and alleging that the livelihood of fishermen was being destroyed.

In response, Vijayan said Gandhi should have first researched the main crops of Wayanad, his constituency, before criticising the state government, reported India Today. Coffee and pepper, the main crops in Wayanad, suffered losses of Rs 6,000 crore between 2000 to 2005, according to senior journalist P Sainath. After this, thousands of farmers had committed suicide. “Without realising these facts, Rahul Gandhi can’t understand why farmers are protesting at the capital despite the severe cold,” Vijayan said.

The chief minister alleged that the policies of the Congress had led to farmers’ suicide in India. “Farmer suicides in India startled the world following the neo-liberal policies in the 1990s,” he said. “Farmers could not keep up with the unfair competition of the market. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, more than 3,00,000 farmers committed suicide during that period. It continues to the present day.”

Vijayan called these policies “anti-farmer” and said Gandhi should apologise to the farmers on behalf of his party. The chief minister, however, praised the Congress leader, for showing interest in the state.

“Rahul Gandhi came to Kerala and made some unusual interventions,” he said. “He drove a tractor for farmers, swam for fishermen in the sea, ignoring the protests in other parts of India... Anyway, the large-heartedness of Rahul Gandhi is to be appreciated.”

On Thursday during a press conference, Vijayan also criticised Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, who had alleged that the youth in Kerala were leaving the country to find jobs.

To this, Vijayan said that educated young people can look for jobs anywhere in the world because they have the ability. “But 15% of the migrant labourers in Kerala are from Uttar Pradesh,” he said. “And the Kerala government provides them excellent facilities including insurance coverages.”

On Adityanath’s allegation that the government was trying the divide the people of the state, Vijayan said that there have been no communal riots in Kerala for five years. “Uttar Pradesh is the state with the highest number of communal riots in the country,” he said. “UP is also the state with the highest number of murders and violence against women. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2017 report, 4,324 murders happened in Uttar Pradesh in a year.”

Vijayan said that people were criticising the Left government without knowing any facts. He said that Kerala is a model state for eradicating corruption. “According to a Corruption Survey conducted by the Centre for Media Studies and Transparency International in 2019, Kerala is the least corrupt state in the country,” Vijayan said. “But BJP [Bharatiya Janata party] MLA Shyam Prakash said that UP has the highest level of corruption in India. Last month, UP electricity Minister Shrikant Sharma commented that most of the corruption is prevalent in his department.”

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 08:34:51 +0000 Scroll Staff
Sensex crashes over 1,800 points on weak global cues, Nifty also down by 3.33% The drop came after rising US bond yields sparked a sell-off in global equities.

Indian markets recorded a sharp fall on Friday as rising United States bond yields sparked a sell-off in global equities, reported Mint. In the intra-day trade, the Sensex plunged by over 1,800 points, and the 50-share NSE Nifty went below the 14,600-mark. The losses were led by the banking and financial stocks.

At 1.48 pm, the Sensex was trading 3.34% lower at 49,344.45 (or around 1,668 points lower). The broader 50-share NSE Nifty was also performing poorly at 14,618.55, down by 478.80 points, or 3.10%.

In both the Sensex and Nifty, banking and financial stocks such as IndusInd Bank, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, HDFC, and HDFC Bank incurred the losses. Stocks of Maruti, Dr Reddy, Sun Pharmaceuticals, Bharti Airtel and NTPC performed well on both indices.

“The sell-off in the US market yesterday [Thursday] was the market’s response to 10-year yield touching 1.6%,” Chief Investment Strategist at Geojit Financial Services VK Vijayakumar told Mint. “The Fed’s interpretation of the rising yield is that it is discounting better growth prospects while the market typically discounts stock prices at a lower PE [private equity] when interest rates rise. Fed’s declared commitment to inject liquidity and keep rates low through 2023 can ensure a buoyant market this year.”

The impact of the US bond yields also affected Asian markets. China’s Shanghai SE Composite Index ended the day 2.12% lower than the previous day’s close, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was trading 3.43% lower. Japan’s Nikkei 225 ended the day’s trade 3.99% lower, and Taiwan’s TSEC 50 Index closed after falling by 3.03%.

The Indian rupee also recorded a significant fall of 67 paise, and slipped below the 73 per US dollar mark. This was caused by weak Asian currencies, and sharp selling in the domestic equities. As of 12.58 pm, the rupee was trading at Rs 73.10 – as much as 0.5% higher than the previous closing.

Meanwhile, the National Statistical Office will release Gross Domestic Product growth estimates for the third quarter of October-December 2020’-21 after the market hours on Friday.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 08:33:49 +0000 Scroll Staff
Covid-19: India reports 16,577 new cases, TN orders quarantine for those from Maharashtra, Kerala Of the new cases reported, 86.18% are from six states, with Maharashtra leading the pack, followed by Kerala and Punjab.

India on Friday registered 16,577 new coronavirus cases, taking the overall count to 1,10,63,491. The new cases were marginally lower than Thursday’s count of 16,738. The country’s toll rose to 1,56,825 as 120 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours.

The number of active cases stood at 1,55,986 while the number of recoveries reached 1,07,50,680. So far, more than 1.34 crore health and frontline workers have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Amid the surge in cases, Tamil Nadu made seven-day home quarantine mandatory for passengers from Kerala and Maharashtra, The Hindu reported. After the completion of the quarantine period, they will have to closely monitor their health for seven days.

Of the 16,577 cases reported on Friday, 86.18% are from six states, according to the health ministry. Maharashtra continued to report the highest daily new cases at 8,702, followed by Kerala with 3,677 new infections, while Punjab had 563 daily infections.

Kerala also reported the maximum number of single day recoveries with 4,652 newly recovered cases. As many 3,744 people recovered in Maharashtra in 24 hours, followed by 947 in Tamil Nadu, the health ministry said.

Meanwhile, six states accounted for 85.83% of the 120 new deaths. Maharashtra saw the maximum casualties at 67. Kerala reported 14 deaths and Punjab reported 13 deaths. This was followed by Chhattisgarh, where eight people died from Covid-19, and Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, which recorded a toll of seven and five, respectively.

The second phase of the vaccination drive, which will cover people above the age of 60 and those over 45 with comorbidities, will also begin from March 1. Eligible beneficiaries will be able to register themselves on the CO-WIN application on the same day, ANI reported.

RS Sharma, the chairperson of the Empowered Group on Covid-19 Vaccine Administration, told the news agency that the beneficiaries can also get registered at the vaccination site.

People with comorbidities will require a doctor’s certificate to get vaccinated. NK Arora, head of the Operations Research Group of the Covid-19 Task Force, told The Hindu that comorbidities will include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, kidney and lung diseases, hypertension and cancers. “A full list will be provided soon,” he added.

The Kerala government urged the Centre to provide it more coronavirus vaccines amid a surge in infections in the state, ANI reported. The state registered 3,677 new cases and 14 deaths on Thursday.

Maharashtra is another state witnessing a huge increase in daily coronavirus cases. The authorities have imposed strict restrictions in several places to contain the infection. In Mumbai, the iconic Oval Maidan will be closed from Friday, PTI reported.

Authorities in Palghar district of Maharashtra have banned weekly markets and mass marriages in view of the increasing coronavirus cases, reported PTI. District Collector Manik Gursal said only 50 people can attend a wedding.

Meanwhile the Ministry of External Affairs said that India had provided 361.94 lakh vaccines doses to other countries, PTI reported. Of these, 67.5 lakh doses were shipped as grant assistance, while 294.44 lakh doses were exported under various commercial contracts.

World updates

  1. The coronavirus has infected 11.29 crore people across the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 25 lakh people have died of the infection. The number of recoveries has gone up to 6.37 crore.
  2. The United Kingdom lowered its coronavirus alert level one notch from five – the highest. The level was changed because of a reduction in the number of hospitalisations, BBC reported.
  3. China approved two more vaccines for public use, Reuters reported. They have been manufactured by CanSino Biologics Inc and Sinopharm affiliate Wuhan Institute of Biological Product.
  4. Brazil’s toll crossed 2.5 lakh, according to the Johns Hopkins University. The country has reported over 1.03 crore cases so far. The country has signed a contract to buy 2 crore doses of Covaxin – the jab manufactured by India’s Bharat Biotech, Reuters reported.
]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 08:29:34 +0000 Scroll Staff
Watch: Actor Vivek Oberoi jumps on the ‘pawri’ bandwagon with notice for traffic violations ‘This is me, these are my bikes...’


Actor Vivek Oberoi charged for not wearing a mask or helmet in Valentine’s Day bike video

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 08:18:00 +0000 Scroll Staff
Caught on camera: Man lies down in front of incoming train. Policeman saves him The incident took place on February 24 at Virar station, Mumbai.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 08:10:40 +0000 Scroll Staff
Indian’s advertising council wants online influencers to clearly label promotional posts By April 15, the guidelines will be applicable to all paid content.

Indians will soon know for sure if their favourite social media influencers actually like the products they vouch for or if they are getting paid just to promote them.

On February 22, the Advertising Standards Council of India released draft guidelines stating that the onus is on influencers and brands to add prominent disclosure labels to all sponsored content.

The advertising council has been working on rules for social media influencers promoting brands since 2019. The latest draft is open to feedback until March 8 and the final guidelines will be issued by March 31. By April 15, the guidelines will be applicable to all promotional posts.

“Consumers may view promotional messages without realising the commercial intent of these, and that becomes inherently misleading,” the authority said in its latest draft, adding that it’s critical that consumers “be able to distinguish when something is being promoted with an intention to influence their opinion or behaviour for an immediate or eventual commercial gain”.

To make sure the labels are universally understood, the advertising council has allowed only five hashtags to mark paid content: #ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored and #partnership.

Additional rules state filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making such as “makes hair shinier” or “makes teeth whiter”. And the burden falls on the influencer to do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims – like “2X better” or “fastest speed” – made by brands.

Making influencer ads mainstream

India’s influencer marketing sector is estimated to be worth $75 million-$150 million.

The reach of influencers spans far and wide. For instance, beauty e-tailing unicorn Nykaa has been using influencers in a big way for a while now and deems it “critical”. Grooming startup Bombay Shaving Company also credits much of its success to such campaigns. Even ed-tech firm upGrad has leveraged influencers to create buzz.

It’s not just online businesses using social media platforms for promotions. In a Covid-world, the Rs 18,300-crore Hindi film industry is also banking on influencers to boost movies on the silver screen. Instead of splurging on billboards, TV spots, and ferrying stars to malls and events in far-off cities, they are investing in social media campaigns.

Digital could make up almost 60% of movies’ marketing spends, according to Siddharth Anand Kumar, films and television vice-president at Saregama India who leads boutique studio Yoodlee Films.

“When a major industry body such as the ASCI [advertising council] deems that there is a need to introduce guidelines for influencers and the influencer marketing community, it shows how the market has evolved and has assumed a mainstream stature in the larger advertising space,” according to Kunal Kishore Sinha, co-founder of artificial intelligence-driven influencer marketing platform ClanConnect.

As the industry grows, these rules will serve as a “guiding light” for content creators, he added.

This article first appeared on Quartz.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 08:00:00 +0000 Ananya Bhattacharya,
Transporters, traders call Bharat Bandh to protest fuel price rise, GST amendments The strike will not hinder the functioning of medical shops, milk booths and other essential services.

Transport and trade union on Friday observed a “Bharat Bandh” or countrywide shutdown to protest the rising fuel prices and “draconian” amendments to Goods and Services Tax rules, PTI reported.

The Confederation of All India Traders said that 40,000 traders’ associations were expected to back the protest call at 1,500 places across the country. All India Transporters Welfare Association also said that it will observe a “chakka jam” or road blockade.

All commercial markets would remain closed during the bandh. Visuals from West Bengal’s Birbhum district showed shuttered shops and empty markets.

Road transport services were also affected in some places. In Bhubaneswar, fewer vehicles were seen plying on the roads.

The strike will not hinder the functioning of medical shops, milk booths and other essential services, Mint reported.

Confederation of All India Traders Secretary-General Praveen Khandelwal had said last week that there were 950 amendments to GST rules over the last four years. “Issues related to glitches in GST portal and the continuous increase in compliance burden are the major lacunae in the tax regime,” he had said.

Also read:

Centre and states need to act in coordination to reduce tax on fuel, says RBI governor

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of farmers’ unions, also extended support to the countrywide shutdown. “We highly regret such a dismal attitude and picture of the GST, which has compelled the trade union leaders attending the conference to call for a Bharat Trade Bandh,” the organisation said, according to Hindustan Times. The organisation urged farmers to peacefully join traders and transporters in their protest.

Associations of chartered accountants, tax advocates and small industries also extended support to the protest.

Protests by Opposition parties

Opposition parties also staged protests against the fuel price rise in several places. In Patna, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav rode a bicycle in protest.

In Jammu, Shiv Sena members set a scooter on fire to register their protest against the rise in fuel prices, ANI report.

The prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas have been rising sharply over the last few weeks. On Thursday, the price of domestic liquified petroleum gas cylinders was again increased by Rs 25. This was the third hike in the cost of cylinders in a month.

Opposition parties have blamed the Centre for the exorbitant fuel prices, accusing it of raising taxes to scoop out the benefit reaped from international oil rates plunging to a two-decade low in April and May. They also accused the government of profiting off the suffering of people amid the coronavirus crisis.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 07:46:24 +0000 Scroll Staff
Activist Nodeep Kaur gets bail in third case by Punjab and Haryana High Court The Dalit activist had alleged that she was severely beaten and tortured in police custody.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Friday granted bail to labour rights activist Nodeep Kaur in the third case lodged against her, Bar and Bench reported.

Kaur, a member of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, was arrested on January 12 for mobilising workers near the Singhu border, the epicentre of the farmer protest against the three new agricultural laws. The Dalit activist and her colleagues staged a demonstration in the Kundli industrial area, near Singhu, outside a factory that had not paid wages to its workers.

Friday’s hearing was taken up by Justice Avneesh Jinghan, who was hearing Kaur’s bail plea as well as a suo motu case taken up by the High Court regarding the activist’s alleged illegal confinement, reported Live Law. The arguments were, however, only limited to the bail and the suo motu case will be heard later.

Senior Advocate RS Cheema contended that Kaur is not a flight risk. He also cited the principle of “bail is rule, jail is exception” before the court. The judge granted bail upon a prima facie observation that there was nothing to substantiate the allegations of attempt to murder levelled against Kaur, among other reasons, reported Bar and Bench.

The court also sought to examine if allegations that the activist was being tortured in custody were true. Judge Jinghan had earlier asked for her medical records. After the hearing, Kaur’s lawyer Harinder Deep Singh Bains said that the court will look at the medical records at a different date, reported NDTV.

“It [the bail] is with a restraint that no law and order situation be created,” Bains said. “That is the only restriction.”

Currently lodged in a jail in Haryana, Kaur was facing three separate cases that included charges of attempt to murder and extortion. She was granted bail in the first two cases on February 12 and February 15, respectively.

In her third bail plea, Kaur had alleged that she was severely beaten and tortured in police custody. The activist stated that she was “targeted and falsely implicated” because she had been successful in generating support for the farmers’ movement against the Centre’s new agricultural laws.

The plea alleged that the mobilisation of local labourers in support of farmers “annoyed the administration”, which then devised a plan to stifle the demonstrations that have persisted for over two months.

The plea said that Kaur was taken to the police station in the absence of any woman police personnel, and was beaten up by police officials. Kaur also alleged that her medical examination was not conducted in violation of Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Earlier this month, Kaur’s family had alleged that she was sexually assaulted by the police. However, the police have refuted it.

The arrest and the alleged torture of Kaur had gained attention after Meena Harris, the niece of United States Vice President Kamala Harris, tweeted about her. “Weird to see a photo of yourself burned by an extremist mob but imagine what they would do if we lived in India,” Meena Harris had tweeted. “I’ll tell you—23 year labor rights activist Nodeep Kaur was arrested, tortured and sexually assaulted in police custody. She’s been detained without bail for over 20 days.”

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 07:42:12 +0000 Scroll Staff
After disengagement, India and China must ‘quickly resolve’ other matters, Jaishankar tells Beijing In a telephone call, Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi also agreed to a communication hotline to continue their dialogue.

Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi agreed in a telephone call on Thursday that after the completion of disengagement of troops from in Pangong lake area, both sides should “now quickly resolve the remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh”.

The ministers also agreed to establish a communication hotline to continue their dialogue and exchange opinions in a timely manner. This direct telephone line will be in addition to the military hotline between India’s Army’s Director General of Military Operations and China’s Western Theatre Command.

In a 75-minute long conversation, the two sides discussed the situation along the LAC and also issues related to overall India-China relations, according to a statement by India’s foreign ministry. Jaishankar told Wang that it was necessary for New Delhi and China to work towards an early resolution of remaining problems, as a “prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side”.

The foreign minister reiterated India’s concerns, which he first expressed when the two ministers met in Moscow in September, about the “provocative behaviour and unilateral attempts of the Chinese side to alter status quo”. He noted that the bilateral relations have been impacted severely over last year, and observed that even though the boundary question may take time to resolve, “disturbance of peace and tranquility including by violence, will inevitably have a damaging impact on the relationship”.

The minister recalled that during his meeting with Wang in Moscow, both ministers had agreed that the situation in the border areas was not in the interest of either side and decided that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage and ease tensions.

Jaishankar noted that both sides had kept their word, and had maintained continuous communication since then through both the diplomatic and military channels. This had led to progress as both sides had successfully disengaged in the Pangong Tso Lake area earlier this month, the minister said.

“EAM [External Affairs Minister] emphasised that both sides should now quickly resolve the remaining issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh,” the MEA quoted Jaishankar as saying. “EAM said that once disengagement is completed at all friction points, then the two sides could also look at broader de-escalation of troops in the area and work towards restoration of peace and tranquility.”

Also read:

India-China ties: Disengagement is good but long way to go for full de-escalation, says Army chief

The foreign minister added that it was necessary to disengage at all friction points, as that “alone will lead to the restoration of peace and tranquility and provide conditions for progress of our bilateral relationship”.

Almost nine months after the standoff began, both countries announced earlier this month an agreement on for soldiers to disengage on either side of the Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh, where the first clashes occurred in May 2020. Thousands of soldiers from the rivals sides have been deployed on the Himalayan frontier since April on the Line of Actual Control.

The disengagement process along the Pangong Tso began on February 10, as military commanders began pulling out troops, tanks and artillery from the area in the first step towards full withdrawal. On February 20, India and China held commander-level talks to discuss pulling back from other areas.

The Ministry of External Affairs said that Chinese minister Wang had on his part,expressed satisfaction at the progress made so far. He said that the disengagement was an important step forward for restoration of peace and tranquility in border areas, according to the statement, adding that “ both sides should make efforts to consolidate outcomes”.

‘Must cherish hard-won progress’

In a separate statement released by the Chinese foreign ministry, Wang called upon both sides to “improve the border control mechanism” as well as “advance the border negotiation process” to resolve the boundary dispute, according to official Xinhua news agency.

He said “both sides must cherish the current hard-won situation, jointly consolidate existing results, maintain the momentum of consultation, according to the statement.

Wang claimed that it was India that had “vacillated and even moved backward over its policy on China, which has affected and disrupted bilateral pragmatic cooperation”.

He added, “Experience over the past few decades has repeatedly demonstrated that acts of highlighting differences will not help resolve the issue, but erode the foundation of mutual trust.”

Both sides should also improve the border control mechanism, advance the boundary negotiation process and continuously accumulate mutual trust to achieve peace and tranquility in the border areas, Wang said.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 07:16:17 +0000 Scroll Staff
Election Commission expected to announce dates for Assembly polls in 4 states, Puducherry today Elections will be held for 294 seats in West Bengal, 234 in Tamil Nadu, 140 in Kerala, 126 in Assam and 30 in Puducherry.

The Election Commission of India is expected to announce the dates for Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry at 4.30 pm on Friday, ANI reported. The four states and one Union territory are due for polls in April-May.

This will be the first set of major elections to take place in the country amid the coronavirus crisis, after the Bihar Assembly polls in October-November last year.

Elections will be held for 294 seats in West Bengal, 234 in Tamil Nadu, 140 in Kerala, 126 in Assam and 30 in Puducherry.

In West Bengal, the stage is set for a high-stakes contest between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In Puducherry, the recent collapse of the Congress government led to the imposition of President’s Rule on Thursday. The BJP said it will not stake claim to form a government, but expressed confidence that the party will win in the Assembly election.

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP will contest elections with its ally All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, while the Congress is expected to ally with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

In Assam, the BJP has been campaigning aggressively to retain power. It had defeated Congress in Assam for the first time in 2016. The BJP is also preparing to the challenge the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 07:07:22 +0000 Scroll Staff
India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement a ‘positive step towards greater peace’, say US, United Nations There were 5,133 ceasefire violations along the India-Pakistan border in 2020, which led to 46 deaths, according to the Indian government.

The United States and the United Nations on Thursday welcomed India and Pakistan’s announcement of a ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control, calling it a positive step that will encourage dialogue between the two neighbouring countries.

“This is a positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia, which is in our shared interest,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing. “And we encourage both countries to keep building upon this progress.”

Responding to a question about whether Pakistan was doing enough to combat terrorism, Psaki said the US remained closely engaged with leaders from the country. “But in terms of an assessment of that, I would point you to the State Department or the intelligence department,” she added.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said India and Pakistan’s announcement was encouraging. “The Secretary-General is encouraged by the joint statement issued by the militaries of India and Pakistan on their agreement to observing the ceasefire at the Line of Control in Kashmir and engaging through established mechanisms,” Guterres’ Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric was quoted as saying by PTI. “He [Guterres] hopes that this positive step will provide an opportunity for further dialogue.”

Also read: India and Pakistan agree to stop ceasefire violations along Line of Control

Volkan Bozkir, president of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, also appreciated the ceasefire agreement. “I wholeheartedly welcome today’s [Thursday’s] ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan,” he tweeted. “Their stated commitment to achieve sustainable peace through addressing each other’s core issues and concerns sets an example for other countries and demonstrates UNGA values.”

India’s Ministry of Defence announced on Thursday that New Delhi and Pakistan had reached a ceasefire agreement during talks between the director generals of military operations.

The countries said they will address each other’s “core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence”. The announcement was welcomed by political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir.

There has been an increase in incidents of ceasefire violations along the LoC over the last few years. The Centre had told Parliament earlier this month that there were 5,133 ceasefire violations along the India-Pakistan border in 2020, which led to 46 deaths.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 06:36:12 +0000 Scroll Staff
Activist Nodeep Kaur gets bail in 1 of 3 cases filed against her, to remain in jail She was arrested on January 12 during a protest for demanding wages for workers.

Jailed Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan activist Nodeep Kaur on Thursday got bail in connection with an extortion case, reported The Tribune. However, Kaur, who has been in custody for a month for protesting against the new farm laws, will remain in prison for two more cases against her.

Superintendent of Police Jashandeep Singh Randhawa confirmed that the court had accepted the activist’s bail plea in the case.

The extortion case was registered at Kundli police station on December 28. The case in which she has been granted bail pertains to an incident in December when she along with protestors from her organisation had gheraoed an industrial unit, demanding wages for workers, reported The Quint. The police has claimed that Kaur and her associates had indulged in violence and attacked officials present at the site to control the situation.

Kaur was arrested on January 12, and produced before a magistrate court that sent her to judicial custody. The charges against the activist include Indian Penal Code Sections 384 (extortion), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), and 149 (unlawful assembly), according to The Tribune. The two other cases were also registered against her on January 12.

On February 3, Kaur was denied bail by a Sessions Court in Sonipat, Haryana. The family of the jailed activist had said they will move the High Court of Punjab and Haryana for her release. They have alleged that she was sexually assault by the police. However, the police have refuted these claims.

The arrest and the alleged torture of Kaur gained attention last week after Meena Harris, the niece of United States Vice President Kamala Harris, tweeted about her. “Weird to see a photo of yourself burned by an extremist mob but imagine what they would do if we lived in India,” Meena Harris tweeted. “I’ll tell you—23 year labor rights activist Nodeep Kaur was arrested, tortured and sexually assaulted in police custody. She’s been detained without bail for over 20 days.”

Shiromani Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal said two former ex-servicemen booked for the Republic Day tractor rally were also granted bail. “Happy to learn that after Nodeep Kaur was granted bail in one case, two ex-servicemen Gurmukh Singh Ji (Sangrur) and Jeet Singh Ji (FatehgarhSahib), booked in January 26 incident, have also got bail today due to the efforts of DSGMC [Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee] legal team,” she tweeted.

Also read:

Family of jailed activist Nodeep Kaur to move HC seeking her release

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 06:20:22 +0000 Scroll Staff
Coronil row: IMA has trouble accepting truth, claims Patanjali Indian Medical Association has raised serious questions about the pill, which Patanjali claims is the ‘first evidence-based medicine’ for Covid-19.

Patanjali Ayurved on Thursday hit out at the Indian Medical Association for raising questions about its product Coronil, which the company claims is the “first evidence-based medicine” for the coronavirus.

The company’s spokesperson, SK Tijarawala, said in a tweet that the medical association had trouble accepting the truth. “It would have been better if the IMA curbed the looting of patients and put an end to commission in the medical profession,” he said.

The IMA had on Monday taken strong exception to the Centre’s endorsement of “an unscientific product” like Coronil. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had attended an event last week where Yoga guru Ramdev, the founder of Patanjali, released a research paper on Coronil.

In a letter to Vardhan, the IMA had said that the “false and fabricated projection” of an unscientific medicine by the country’s health minister, and its eventual rejection by the World Health Organization was “a slap and insult to the people of country”.

Ramdev had claimed that Coronil was WHO-GMP certified, meaning it held a certificate of pharmaceutical product and is recognised by the global health agency’s Good Manufacturing Practices. Rakesh Mittal, one of the top executives at Patanjali Ayurved, also repeated Ramdev’s claim.

In an interview with News Nation, the yoga guru even claimed that a WHO team had visited his company and given Coronil the licence for sale in more than 150 countries. Several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders also backed Patanjali’s claim.

However, WHO later clarified that it had not reviewed or certified the effectiveness of any traditional medicine.

On Wednesday, Patanjali said it was “appalled” by the IMA’s opinion on Coronil and again claimed that Coronil had been “thoroughly reviewed and scrutinised” by competent licensing authorities.

The company claimed it had been awarded the CoPP (Certificate of Pharmaceutical Product) licence. This license was issued by the AYUSH section of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and not the WHO.

Meanwhile, Patanjali’s Chief Executive Officer Acharya Balkrishna extended an invitation to IMA officials for a discussion on Coronil. “Let us discuss in front of nation or apologize for the baseless non-scientific allegations,” he said in a Facebook post. “We at Patanjali are pro-science but anti-conspiracy!”

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 05:49:00 +0000 Scroll Staff
Fuel prices: Centre, states should talk to each other about reducing taxes, says Nirmala Sitharaman Petrol and diesel prices, which have been soaring over the past few weeks, have remained steady for three consecutive days.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday said that the Centre and states should talk to each other about reducing taxes on fuel, reported PTI. The prices of petrol and diesel have risen sharply in recent days.

When asked if the Centre was thinking about reducing cess or other taxes on fuel, she said that the question has put her in a dilemma.

“No hiding of the fact that the Centre gets revenue from it,” she said at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. “Same is the case with states. I agree that there should be less burden on the consumers. For that, both the Centre and states should talk with each other.”

Earlier in the day, Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das had also said that the Centre and states needed to act in a coordinated manner to reduce taxes on petrol and diesel.

The RBI governor also said that revenue pressures on the government were completely understandable, since they had to spend more to tide over the impact of the coronavirus crisis. “But having said that, the impact on inflation also is something which comes in from the fact that petrol and diesel prices do have an impact on the cost of manufacturing, production,” Das said.

Petrol and diesel prices, which have been soaring over the past few weeks, have remained steady for three consecutive days, reported NDTV. Petrol cost Rs 90.93 in Delhi, while the price of diesel was Rs 81.32 on Friday. In Mumbai, petrol was priced at Rs 97.34, while diesel cost Rs 88.44.

States such as Rajasthan, Nagaland, West Bengal and Assam have cut taxes on fuel to provide some relief to the people.

Opposition parties have blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for the exorbitant fuel prices, accusing it of raising taxes to scoop out the benefit reaped from international oil rates plunging to a two-decade low in April and May. They have been accusing the government of profiting off the suffering of people.

As per an analysis by BloombergQuint, the key factor for costlier petrol and diesel are taxes that account for about 55% to 60% of what consumers pay at the petrol pump. In the last year, the two fuels have turned costlier by Rs 17.35 and Rs 15 a litre, respectively.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last week blamed earlier governments for the skyrocketing fuel prices. He claimed that if the previous governments had focussed on reducing the country’s energy import dependence, the middle class would not have been this burdened today.

Why didn’t UPA bring MSP under purview of law, asks Sitharaman

On those demanding that the Minimum Support Price, or MSP, regime be brought under the purview of law, the finance minister asked why it was not done when Congress-ruled United Progressive Alliance was in power at the Centre before 2014.

“The [farm laws] protest is about the three laws which were passed [in Parliament in September last year]... these laws have to do nothing with MSP,” she said. “And since MSP is not a part of the three laws, to come and protest against the three laws and then raise [the matter of] MSP does not add up.”

Sitharaman said that though MSP is offered on 22 items, farmers are not coming to take it. “Because, outside the market, they get much higher rates than the MSP.” she said. “This actually shows that MSP held strongly, prices are above it and farmers benefit from that.”

‘Will achieve disinvestment target set for FY22’

The finance minister said that the Centre would be able to achieve the disinvestment target set for Financial Year 2022. She said that the target could not be achieved in previous years because of different reasons.

“Last year it was Covid-19, and the year before that the economy was slowing down and there was no appetite for the market for disinvestment,” Sitharaman said. “So, no hesitation in saying we could not achieve our [previous] targets. But now, there is an appetite and I am sure we will achieve.”

She called loss-making public sector undertakings “laggards” and said the government wanted to run profitable state enterprises in a professional manner by way of disinvestment.

“For the new India, just the public sector will not be sufficient to meet the growing demands,” she said. “So when we are talking about bare minimum presence [of PSUs], we are going to ensure big, scaled up bare minimum presence. In this sense, even if they are one of two, they will be well managed. We should not continue with laggard PSUs. They can not be laggards and be in the public sector also, because they are run by tax payer’s money.”

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 04:38:40 +0000 Scroll Staff
A year after the Delhi riots, a Muslim lawyer surveys India’s distorted democracy I grew up reading Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar. This is not the path they set for us.

On September 23, 2020, as I was working as usual in the office for human rights law at the Karwan e Mohabbat group that campaigns for communal harmoney, my senior said that a family wanted to meet us. That’s how I came to hear 20-year-old Abid Iqbal (name changed to protect his identity) tell his story.

On December 13, 2019, violence had occurred in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university. Even a year after the incident, the Delhi Police was still arresting and harassing students. On December 20, Iqbal, a distance school student at the institution, had been detained while he was at a bicycle repair shop in the Batla House area.

Two policemen in plainclothes grabbed him. They took him to a backroom at the New Friends Colony police station, Six other police persons, all without badges, came in and started raining blows on his legs with lathis while crushing his genitals with their shoes, Iqbal said.

All the while, they taunted and abused Iqbal, he said. “Tum katwo ko azadi chahiye hum denge azadi,” the said. If you circumcised Muslims want freedom, we will give you freedom. They used obscenities to refer to Iqbal’s mother, sister and fiance. They kept pressing him to sign blank papers and reveal names of people who had participated in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act last winter.

Despite the assault he was facing, Iqbal refused.

Dire warnings

The police warned that if he did not sign and tell them who had participated in the protests, they would implicate him in an offence so severe offence, it would would be impossible for him to get bail.

Failing to get anything out of him, they forced him to strip naked, Iqbal said. One of the policemen had two stars on his uniform. He looked at Iqbal and told the other policemen, “How smooth his skin is.” He started touching Iqbal’s chest. He told the men that all of them would have sex with Iqbal that night, the young man alleged.

But at 10.30 that night, one of the policemen came into the room and told Iqbal that he could leave. However, they withheld his phone and his ID cards. Whenever they summoned him, he would have to present himself, Iqbal said.

When Iqbal got home, he told his father what had happened. Struck with fear, they did not even go to a doctor to get examined and get a medical certificate describing Iqbal’s injuries.

Many questions

Iqbal came to us as lawyers he could trust. He had many questions. “Is this how an investigation is supposed to be held?” he asked.

We too had questions. The police keep on harassing the citizens like Iqbal who were merely exercising their constitutional rights by peacefully protesting at the Shaheen Bagh protest site in Delhi against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens, which they said discriminated against Muslims. Was there still place left in the chargesheet related to the violence in Jamia and the Delhi riots of February 2020?

Worried that Iqbal would be arrested, his father approached the trial court for anticipatory bail. The public prosecutor on behalf of the police claimed that Iqbal had been brought in to the police station for an investigation into a case of chain snatching.

Some days after Iqbal was detained, the police went to the home of Iqbal’s relatives in Shaheen Bagh. For three hours, they threatened the family, demanding that they call Iqbal and his father there. When they did not come, they picked up one of his relatives at Madangir Police station and released him only at 11 pm after forcing him to sign blank papers.

On one hand, the police had informed the court that there was no FIR against Iqbal. But on the other, the police were harassing him and his family by visiting their home every now and then.

Abandoning procedure

We are haunted by the big question Iqbal had asked us: is this how an investigation is supposed to be conducted by the police?

In the landmark judgment of Dilip K Basu v. State of West Bengal in 1997, the Supreme Court of India clearly stated that if the police detains someone for interrogation, the family or a close friend of the detenue should be informed. But even on repeated and sometimes desperate requests by Iqbal to the police to call his family, they did not listen to him. Nobody was officially informed about his detention –- neither his family nor the courts.

According to the DK Basu verdict, the police are also required to make an entry in their official records about the details of detenue and a list of persons who have been informed about his detention. But in Iqbal’s case, they never made any of these entries.

Should this not be considered contempt of court?

Who do they serve?

In 2012, when the Delhi Police moved swiftly to arrest the accused in the horrific gang rape case, they had played a commendable role. What has happened to that same police force now? Have they lost all sense of responsibility, and their commitment to the Constitution, the law and the directives of the Supreme Court? In the recent past, the very process of investigation has repeatedly come under question. Who do they serve –-the people of India or the government, even when it issues illegal, unjust orders?

Does the absolutely wrongful persecution of an Indian bother them – an Indian who was just a regular Muslim student?

Increasingly, Muslims are being arrested for merely protesting – a completely constitutional way of expressing disagreement with the government in this democracy. What does this do the voices of conscience in the Muslim community in the country? How will they ever raise their voices? Who is listening to them?

Iqbal was not the only case of this sort I saw. The police have illegally detained many people and acted in the same manner. But they have been too afraid to tell their stories.

Now, the police are alleging he is complicit in a dacoity.

As a Muslim, it pains me to see an India like this. I grew up reading Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar. This is not the path they set for us.

Today, I realise that being a Muslim, I may have no option but to to live with this new reality, this distorted democracy, this crushed republic. But I have heard that where nothing else survives, God does.

Adil Amaan is a human rights lawyer with the Karwan e Mohabbat

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 03:30:03 +0000 Adil Amaan
Safoora Zargar and Disha Ravi: Similar cases, vastly different verdicts The state case in each case was remarkably similar but the verdicts reflect two starkly opposed judicial approaches to the question of personal liberty.

The order granting bail to environmental activist Disha Ravi in a sedition case is remarkable not so much because of its outcome, but because of the short shrift that it gives to the state’s hysterical accusations of conspiracy-by-Google-Docs.

In ordinary circumstances, this would not be remarkable either – judicial scepticism towards the state’s claims of far-reaching conspiracies to justify keeping people in jail, when there exists no evidence linking them to actual violence, should be par for the course. However, that has conspicuously not been the case in recent times, at all levels of the judiciary.

Consequently, what makes the bail order remarkable is how (sadly) uncharacteristic it is. Indeed, the order stands in stark contrast to the order of June 4, 2020, that denied bail to Safoora Zargar, in what have come to be known as “the Delhi Riots cases.” A comparison between the two, therefore, merits scrutiny.

In the aftermath of Disha Ravi’s bail, it did not escape public attention that both orders were handed down by the same judge. It is important to clarify, however, that the purpose of this post is not to serve up some kind of a gotcha! conclusion, or point to judicial hypocrisy. As all human beings, judges themselves evolve over time and reflect on their own judgments and orders, and one can hope – in light of Tuesday’s order – that future cases before the same judge would follow his more recent convictions on liberty, free expression, and scepticism of state power, rather than his older ones.

The comparison is merited, however, because the underlying state case in both circumstances was remarkably similar (and indeed, appears to be following a specific legal “toolkit”, if one may use that word), and the verdicts in both cases reflect two starkly opposed judicial approaches to the question of personal liberty.

Significant difference

Admittedly, there is a significant legal difference between the two cases, in that while Disha Ravi was “only” accused of sedition, Safoora Zargar was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, whose Section 43(D)(5) throws up significant barriers to granting bail, barriers that have been made worse by the Supreme Court’s notorious Watali judgment.

A perusal of the two bail orders reveals, however, that in this context, the distinction is largely irrelevant. Even though Disha Ravi’s counsel specifically argued that sedition is a milder offence that – even on conviction – allows judges to levy only a monetary fine by way of sentence, this did not form the basis of the bail order.

Even the classic bail conditions – whether the accused is a flight risk, and whether the accused can tamper with the evidence or the witnesses – occupy only a small space in the Disha Ravi bail order. For the most part, the learned additional sessions judge focuses on whether, on the facts presented by the prosecution, a prima facie case of sedition is made out or not (and finds that it isn’t). This is exactly how he proceeded in the Safoora Zargar case – and indeed, under 43(D)(5) of the UAPA, bail can be granted if no prima facie case has been made out.

Important similarities

This is where the similarities between the two cases become important. In both cases, there were certain incidents of violence. Neither Disha Ravi nor Safoora Zargar had engaged in violence, been present at the scene of the violence or incited violence (there were vague claims that Safoora Zargar had given “inflammatory speeches”, but these were not adverted to by the court, and did not form part of its order).

For this reason, in both cases, the prosecution attempted to pin the actions or speeches of others onto the accused, by alleging the existence of an overall conspiracy, of which the accused were a part.

How did the court deal with this? In Disha Ravi’s case, it very correctly noted that “conspiracy cannot be proved merely on the basis of inferences. The inferences have to be backed by evidence” (para 22). Dealing with the prosecution’s contention that Disha Ravi was in contact with secessionists, the court then noted:

“… it is not mere engagement with persons of dubious credentials which is indictable rather it is the purpose of engagement which is relevant for the purpose of deciding culpablity. Any person with dubious credentials may interact with a number of persons during the course of his social intercourse. As long as the engagement/interaction remains within the four corners of law, people interacting with such persons, ignorantly, innocently or for that matter even fully conscious of their
dubious credentials, cannot be painted with the same hue. In the absence of any evidence to the effect that the applicant/accused agreed or shared a common purpose to cause violence on 26.01.2021 with the founders of PJF, it cannot be presumed by resorting to surmises or conjectures that she also supported the secessionist tendencies or the violence caused on 26.01.2021, simply because she shared a platform with people, who have gathered to oppose the legislation.” (para 22)

Active association

Now this is entirely correct, and follows a long line of Supreme Court precedent that has clarified that if you’re going to damn someone by association, it has to be active association (in UAPA cases, active membership of banned organisations). This is crucial, because without limiting the chain of association, just about anyone who has ever shared a platform or interacted in any form with any dubious individual can be brought into the net of criminality through the legal device of a “conspiracy”, and incarcerated for years without trial. But this is also what the court very conspicuously did not do Safoora Zargar’s case; in fact, in that case, the court said:

“Further, even if no direct violence is attributable to the applicant/accused, she cannot shy away from her liability under the provisions of the said Act [UAPA]. When you choose to play with embers, you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark a bit too far and spread the fire.”

But this is precisely the endlessly extendable guilt-by-association doctrine that the court (correctly) rejected in Disha Ravi’s case. Safoora Zargar was damned specifically for (allegedly) having associated with people who engaged in violence, without any evidence against her – either by way of commission of violence, or by way of incitement.

In Disha Ravi’s case, the court (correctly) insisted that allegations of conspiracy require evidence, and found evidence lacking, as there was no common intention and no proof of anything beyond allegations of mere association. Iin Safoora Zargar’s case, the court began by accepting the allegations of conspiracy, and then, on that basis, imputed the actions of some of the alleged conspirators to Safoora Zargar as well, because of their mere association.

Ultimately, the issue boils down simply to this: in one case, the court insisted that the state back up its claims against the specific, criminal culpability of an accused, including as part of a larger conspiracy; in the other case, it didn’t.

180-degree turn

The difference in the two approaches is particularly stark on the key legal issue of the relationship between disaffection in violence. In Disha Ravi’s Case, after citing the judgment in Kedar Nath Singh, the Court noted:

Evidently, law proscribes only such activities as would be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence. ‘Violence’ seems to be the gravamen of the charge. (para 20)

In Safoora Zargar’s case, after citing the judgment in Kedar Nath Singh, the court noted:

Therefore, evidently, law frowns upon any act which has a tendency to create disorder or or disturbance of law and order or incitement to violence. Therefore, mere violence is not the gravamen of the charge under u/s 2(o) of the UAPA.

The substitution of the word “any” with “only”, and the removal of the word “not” led the court to a 180-degree turn, when considering the same judgment (Kedar Nath Singh) and the same legal term (disaffection, albeit in different laws). The distinction is crucial, because how strongly the court requires the causal link to be established between the accused and the act of violence is the fact upon which everything else turns.

Disha Ravi was (correctly) granted bail because the court asked for evidence. Safoora Zargar was (wrongly) denied bail because the court relied on a metaphor.

As I clarified at the beginning, the point of this post is not to play gotcha! games; at the same time, inconsistency in judicial pronouncements in matters relating to personal liberty presents a serious challenge to the rule of law.

The Disha Ravi case shows that notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s Watali judgment, it is entirely possible for a trial court judge to examine the basics of the state’s “conspiracy” claim, and find them utterly lacking in evidence or particulars, thus completely breaking the chain of causation between the accused and the act of violence.

All it needs is a dose of judicial scepticism, some probing questions, and clarity on the legal position that whether it is sedition of the UAPA, violence (and incitement thereof) is the gravamen of the charge, and even the prosecution’s prima facie case requires to pass at least that basic threshold before the bar under 43(D)(5) is invoked. If that is done consistently, then we will have no more Safoora Zargar cases, and no more imprisonment by metaphor.

This article first appeared on the Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy blog.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 02:00:00 +0000 Gautam Bhatia
In Kashmir, a temple reopens old schism within Pandit community – and shines light on BJP's politics The BJP government has failed to improve the lives of Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir, but continues to project false success, say community members.

On February 16, a temple in Srinagar became the subject of national news in India. Several media outlets reported that the Sheetal Nath temple in Kralkhud locality had reopened after a period of 31 years, with special prayers held on the occasion of Basant Panchami. The reports claimed the temple dedicated to Shiva had remained shut since 1989 when an armed militancy against Indian rule had erupted in Jammu and Kashmir.

The early years of the militancy saw a massive exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley to Jammu after militants targeted and killed prominent members of the community. Most estimates suggest 76,000 Pandit families left the Kashmir valley in the 1990s.

As a result, the reports about a temple reopening in Srinagar after more than three decades sparked substantial commentary on social media. A leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Jammu region, who is also a minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Jitendra Singh, drew attention to it.

In Srinagar, the city’s mayor Junaid Azim Mattu visited the temple and offered assistance with its reconstruction.

The Basant Panchami ceremony was organised by Shri Sanathan Dharm Sheetal Nath Ashram Sabha, a government-recognised body which administers the temple. “Around 30-32 Kashmiri Pandits participated in the special prayers,” said UK Handoo, a spokesperson and member of the management committee of the Sabha. A chartered accountant by profession, he lives in Jammu.

Handoo claimed a priest appointed by the Sabha six months ago had been opening the temple every morning and offering prayers. But what was special about the February 16 ceremony, he said, was the presence of Kashmir Pandits from Jammu: “On the eve of Basant Panchami, we thought why not go to Kashmir and hold prayers at the temple.”

Reopening replay

Less than two kilometers from the temple, Sanjay Tickoo laughed off Handoo’s claims. “It’s all lies,” he said. “This temple was reopened by us in 2010 and we held a havan at the temple in July 2011.”

Tickoo, in his fifties, heads Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, a group that advocates on behalf of Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in the valley during the 1990s. He lives in an old family home in Srinagar’s Barbar Shah locality, and until the Covid-19 pandemic struck, worked in an electronics company.

“If you Google about the temple, you will find its reopening was covered by the media at that time as well,” Tickoo said. A Press Trust of India report from 2010 credited the reopening to the temple – incidentally, on Basant Panchami that year – to the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti.

Nisar Ahmad Bhat, who lives in the neighborhood where the temple is located, has clear memories of the 2010 ceremony. Bhat’s father, Ali Mohammad Bhat, had voluntarily looked after the temple for more than two decades after Kashmiri Pandit families left the area until he died in 2014.

But Handoo, the spokesperson of the Shri Sanathan Dharm Sheetal Nath Ashram Sabha, dismissed the 2010 ceremony as illegitimate. “The people who held that event in 2010 at the temple are not recognised by the government or any court or administration.” The Sabha had been administering the temple for 150 years, he said. “Legally, the reopening or restoration can be done only by us.”

Tickoo, in turn, contested the legitimacy of the Sabha’s current members. “Can they explain who has elected them for this body?” he asked. “Where were these people when there were at least four attempts to burn this temple? They are themselves living in Jammu and they think the temple will be thronged by devotees.”

‘Where are Kashmiri Pandits?’

Tickoo’s activism is widely recognised in Jammu and Kashmir. It was his petition before the High Court in 2007 that compelled the government to take steps for the protection and restoration of temple properties to the Kashmiri Pandit community.

“The Sheetal Nath temple has been under police protection since last 15-16 years,” he said. “I pressed upon the government to keep security there. I still have that government order with me.”

The Sheetal Nath temple was one of the 35 temples that his organisation, with active support of local Kashmiri Muslims, reopened across the Valley between 2010 and 2015, Tickoo said. But the project failed.

“It is not only about reopening the temple but sustaining it,” he explained.

Before the exodus of the 1990s, each temple in Kashmir had an assigned priest and a management committee made up of local Kashmiri Pandits to look after its properties and administration. That is no longer possible, because of the community’s dwindling numbers, Tickoo said.

In 1998, his organisation found 4,500 Kashmiri Pandit families living in the Valley. By 2010, the number had dropped to 808.

“Tell me where are Kashmiri Pandits who will take care of all these temples once they are reopened?” asked Tickoo. “Even if some migrant Kashmiri Pandits claim to have reopened the temple, they won’t be able to keep it open for long because they will eventually go to Jammu.”

Split within the community

Successive state governments have announced plans for the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits, but failed to make them a reality. Since August 2019, when Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special status and split into two union territories, the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Centre has been directly administering the Valley. One and a half years of its direct rule has not translated into any change on the ground as far as the return of Kashmiri Pandits is concerned.

The BJP government’s inability to effect actual change, however, does not stop it from projecting success – the news about a temple reopening after 31 years is part of this propaganda, many say.

In fact, the contestation over the temple reopening reflects a deeper schism within the Kashmiri Pandit community, split between migrants and non-migrants, BJP supporters and others.

Several migrant Kashmiri Pandits have used Jammu and New Delhi as a base to voice their demands before different governments. Both within and outside India, the discourse about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley has been shaped by those who left.

Many Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back feel this discourse has not addressed their concerns. In recent years, they say it has been hijacked by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In August 2019, when Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status, the split in the community was more than apparent: many migrant Kashmiri Pandit organisations celebrated the Modi government’s move, while those within the valley echoed the sentiment of the region’s Muslim-majority, saying it would deepen the communal divide.

Economic anxieties

Shishant Chaku, 22, lives in Srinagar’s Habba Kadal area with his parents. A graduate in computer applications, he has no interest in politics. Instead, the young Kashmiri Pandit is preoccupied with the bleakness of his future prospects.

“I don’t see any job opportunity for myself,” he said.

The Chaku family is among those who did not leave Kashmir in the turbulent 90s.

In April 2008, when Shishant Chaku was just nine years old, the Manmohan Singh government announced a Rs 1,600-crore relief package for the resettlement and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. Apart from allocating funds for the construction of 6,000 new homes – every family was to receive Rs 7.5 lakh – the package promised government jobs for 6,000 youth.

Kashmiri Pandit organisations within the Valley demanded a share in the package. Tickoo’s organisation went to the High Court in 2013, which ruled in its favour three years later. In 2017, the organisation asked for 500 jobs to be reserved for non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits.

But twelve years later, those jobs are yet to materialise.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration claims of the 6,000-jobs promised as part of the 2008 package, 3,841 had been filled. But not a single vacancy has opened for the local Kashmiri Pandit community.

In September, the Jammu and Kashmir government led by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha had announced around 2,000 vacancies for Kashmiri Pandits under the prime minister’s package.

But Shishant Chaku and other Kashmiri Pandits staged protests to draw attention to the fact that many in the community had grown overage while waiting for the jobs. They asked for the age criteria to be relaxed to accommodate them, when the jobs opened.

‘BJP exploited us’

The situation is bad, if not worse, for many Kashmiri Pandit migrants.

In Jammu’s Jagti migrant camp, where at least 20,000 migrant Kashmiri Pandits live, the residents have been protesting for the past 146 days. Under the central government’s assistance to the migrants, each migrant family is given a monthly assistance of Rs 13,000. “This amount is not enough. We are demanding that this amount should be raised to Rs 25,000 per month as the cost of living has gone up,” said Shadi Lal Pandita, who heads Jagti Tenement Committee, an elected body of the migrant camp.

The migrants are also demanding a relief package on the lines of the 2008 package. “The Congress government’s package had given 6,000 jobs to our youth and made provisions for their accommodation in the valley,” said Pandita. “We want a similar package from the current government in which our youth will be given 20,000 jobs and accommodation in the valley.”

In the aftermath of the dissolution of Jammu and Kashmir as a state with a special status, the Jagti migrant camp was one of the spots which had erupted into jubilation over the centre’s decision.

One and a half years later, many at the camp are having second thoughts. Their anger is directed at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. “The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits was a mobilising tool for the BJP,” said Pandita. “When we left our homes, BJP and RSS did propaganda and said they will resettle us. They raised funds from across the world and as a result became strong enough to rise to power at the Centre.”

But after coming to power, Pandita said, the BJP backtracked: “All the promises they made to us remain unfulfilled and if we try to raise these issues with them, they ignore us.”

“They exploited some of our community members,” Pandita continued, “who ran a campaign across the world that BJP is everything and they will settle Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir. But nothing of that sort has happened.”

The perception that all Kashmiri Pandits are closer to the Bharatiya Janata Party is misleading and false, said Tickoo. “Everyone thinks the BJP is our party,” he said. “It is true BJP has used our suffering and pain to get votes. But the reality is that whatever Kashmiri Pandits have got so far or are getting is because of the UPA-II government. BJP has done zero for us.”

Tickoo even went to the extent of claiming that the Kashmiri Pandit groups outside the valley have been attempting to convert the Sheetal Nath temple into the regional headquarters of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP. “When Jammu and Kashmir was a state, there were attempts like that,” he said. “We complained before the Prime Minister’s Office as well as the Chief Minister.”

Handoo denied knowledge of any such attempt. “Why should it become a headquarter [of the RSS]? People can imagine a lot of things,” he said.

He said the temple reopening was an important confidence building measure towards the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandit migrants. “Due to the publicity, many tourists are arriving at the temple to pray,” he said. “Many Kashmiri Pandit brothers living outside might also come and offer prayers here.”

When visited the temple on February 22, a tourist family came to the temple to take a look. They couldn’t offer prayers as the door leading inside the temple was locked.

]]> Fri, 26 Feb 2021 01:00:01 +0000 Safwat Zargar
Centre opposes same-sex marriage, says it ‘can’t be compared to Indian family unit’ In its response to a batch of petitions, the government told the Delhi High Court that same-sex marriage was not a fundamental right in the country.

The Centre on Thursday told the Delhi High Court that in spite of decriminalisation of homosexuality under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, same-sex marriage was not a fundamental right in the country, Bar and Bench reported. In an affidavit on a batch of petitions on the matter, the Centre also submitted that a same-sex couple living together as partners and having a sexual relationship was not comparable with an “Indian family unit”.

A bench of Justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Amit Bansal had asked the Centre to file its response against three petitions seeking recognition of same-sex marriages under the Special Marriage Act, Hindu Marriage Act and Foreign Marriage Act. On Thursday, four more people from the LGBTIQ community approached the Delhi High Court seeking similar provisions, according to PTI.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, submitted the affidavit in response to the earlier pleas and sought time to respond to the fresh petitions.

The matter will next be heard on April 20.

Opposing same-sex marriages, the Centre in its affidavit said that while marriage dealt with two private individuals, “it cannot be relegated to merely a concept within the domain of privacy of an individual,” the Hindustan Times reported. The Centre went on to define what an “Indian family unit” meant, and contented that a same-sex couple did not fit that definition.

“Living together as partners and having sexual relationship by same sex individuals is not comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, a wife and children which necessarily presuppose a biological man as a ‘husband’, a biological woman as a ‘wife’ and the children born out of the union between the two,” the affidavit stated, according to Bar and Bench.

It further said that a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution was subject to procedure established by the law, and same-sex marriages were “neither recognised nor accepted in any uncodified personal laws or any codified statutory laws”, according to Bar and Bench. Furthering this argument, the Centre submitted that in a same-sex marriage, it was not possible or feasible to term one of the partners as “husband” and the other as “wife” and so, “the statutory scheme of many statutory enactments will become otiose”, the Hindustan Times reported.

The government further said that in India, marriage had “sanctity” attached to it and the relationship between a “biological man” and a “biological woman” depended upon “age-old customs, rituals, practices, cultural ethos and societal values”, Bar and Bench reported.

“It is submitted that any interference with the same would cause a complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws in the country,” the affidavit stated.

The petitions

In separate pleas filed last year, two same-sex couples had sought that the Special Marriage Act and the Foreign Marriage Act should be interpreted to also apply to the marriages of same-sex couples.

Vaibhav Jain and his partner Parag Mehta were denied a certificate of registration of their marriage under the Foreign Marriage Act by the Consulate General of India in New York, while Dr Kavita Arora and her partner Ankita Khanna were not allowed to enter the south district magistrate’s building in East Delhi to seek solemnisation of their marriage under the Special Marriage Act.

Another petition seeking the recognition of same-sex marriages under the Hindu Marriage Act had been filed by Abhijit Iyer Mitra, according to PTI. In October, the Delhi High Court had held that these laws were “gender-neutral” and sought Centre’s response on the matter.

On Thursday, another couple, Meghna Mishra and Tahira, filed another petition seeking that the Special Marriage Act, which requires a “male” and a “female” for solemnisation of a marriage, be declared as unconstitutional unless they are read as “neutral to gender identity and sexual orientation”, PTI reported.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 19:11:57 +0000 Scroll Staff
Nirav Modi can be extradited to India to stand trial, rules UK court Modi is accused of duping the Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 13,000 crore.

The Westminster Magistrates’ Court in the United Kingdom on Thursday ordered that fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi can be extradited to India to face trial, ANI reported.

Modi is accused of duping the Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 13,000 crore. He was arrested on March 19, 2019, and has been lodged in London’s Wandsworth jail.

“I am satisfied that Nirav Modi’s extradition to India is in compliance per human rights,” District Judge Samuel Goozee said, adding that the businessman had the right to appeal the order, according to NDTV. “There is no evidence that if extradited Nirav Modi will not get justice.”

The judge added that prima facie there was a money laundering case against him. “Many of these are a matter for trial in India,” he said. “I am satisfied again that there is evidence he could be convicted.”

He said there were clear links between Modi and other connivers, including Punjab National Bank officials, in clearing Letters of Undertaking that facilitated huge unpaid loans.

“Mr Modi personally subsequently wrote to PNB [Punjab National Bank] acknowledging the debt and promising to repay,” the judge added. “The CBI is investigating that Nirav Modi firms were dummy partners. These companies were shadow companies operated by Nirav Modi.”

Therefore, the court said, it did not accept the argument that Modi was involved in a “legitimate business”. “I find no genuine transactions and believe there is a process of dishonesty,” the judge added.

Reacting to the judgement, the Central Bureau of Investigation said the ruling was “significant” and that it should serve as a reminder to all fugitives, who have indulged in large value frauds, that they cannot escape the law merely by changing their countries of residence, PTI reported.

In a statement, the CBI said the court order vindicated the painstaking probe carried out by the agency especially since Modi had raised various issues on admissibility of evidence, fairness of investigation, trial, prison conditions, availability of health facilities in India and extraneous consideration, with a view to divert attention from his own acts.

Modi is facing two sets of criminal proceedings. The Central Bureau of Investigation case relates to the large-scale fraud upon PNB through the fraudulent obtaining of “Letters of Understanding”, while the Enforcement Directorate is investigating the laundering of the proceeds of that fraud.

He also faces two additional charges of “causing the disappearance of evidence” and intimidating witnesses, or criminal intimidation to cause death added to the CBI case.

Throughout the proceedings of the case, which went on for two years, Modi has denied the charges and opposed the efforts to extradite him from Britain to India. But his multiple attempts at seeking bail was repeatedly turned down as he was deemed a flight risk.

The hearing so far

The Crown Prosecution Service, arguing on behalf of the Indian government, had sought to establish a prima facie case against Modi and also to establish that there were no human rights issues blocking his extradition to India, according to PTI. CPS barrister Helen Malcolm has argued that the jeweller presided over a “ponzi-like scheme where new LoUs were used to repay old ones”.

A Ponzi scheme is “an investment fraud that involves payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors,” according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Barrister Malcom argued that Modi used his firms – Diamonds R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds – to make fraudulent use of PNB’s Letter of Undertakings in a conspiracy with banking officials.

On the other hand, Modi’s defence team, led by barrister Clare Montgomery, alleged that the entire matter was a commercial dispute involving “authorised though ill-advised lending” that took place in “broad daylight”. It is also claimed that none of Modi’s actions adhere to the legal threshold of perverting the course of justice, or amounted to fraud.

Besides, the defence had also relied on arguments around Modi’s precarious mental health condition, as someone who has a family history of depression and suicide.

During the last hearing, on January 8, Modi’s lawyer argued that the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai did not have arrangements or plans to deal with his mental health problems, including the risk of suicide. Claire Montgomery also claimed that her client would not receive a fair trial in India as the case was being politicised by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Crown Prosecution Service had challenged the stance, and had called for an independent evaluation of medical records by a consultant psychiatrist for appropriate assurances that he would be taken care of in India.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 19:02:34 +0000 Scroll Staff
Car containing explosives found near Mukesh Ambani’s house, investigation underway The police said it was not an assembled explosive device.

An abandoned vehicle with explosives was found near Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani’s residence in Mumbai on Thursday evening, said the police. The explosive material was found to be gelatin sticks.

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said the Mumbai Crime Branch was conducting an investigation into it. “The truth will come out,” he told NDTV.

In a tweet, the Mumbai Police said that the vehicle was found on Carmichael Road. The police’s bomb detection and disposal squad and other teams reached the spot and confirmed that it was not an assembled explosive device.

The police said that according to CCTV footage, the car was parked around 1 am last night, according to NDTV.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 17:32:44 +0000 Scroll Staff
Covid-19: Rajasthan makes negative RT-PCR report mandatory for travellers from Maharashtra, Kerala Several states have imposed similar restrictions on those travelling from the two states.

The Rajasthan government on Thursday said that those travelling to the state from Maharashtra and Kerala will have to provide a negative RT-PCR test report for coronavirus, ANI reported. The report should not be more than 72 hours old, said the state government.

Maharashtra and Kerala have been logging the highest number of coronavirus cases among all states in the country, over the past few weeks. On Thursday, Maharashtra, which has witnessed a sudden spike in cases, reported 8,702 new infections and 56 more deaths, PTI reported. 229 students tested positive at a single school in the state’s Washim district on Thursday. The state government imposed a ten-day lockdown in Yavatmal on February 18, and on February 21, it announced a strict week-long lockdown in Amravati.

Meanwhile, Kerala reported 3,677 fresh cases and 14 more deaths on Friday, according to PTI.

Apart from Rajasthan, multiple states, including Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Delhi, have imposed restrictions on people travelling from Maharashtra and Kerala, the Hindustan Times reported.

On Thursday, India reported a total of 16,738 new coronavirus cases, of which 89.57% were from just seven of the states. The country’s toll climbed to 1,56,705 as 138 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 17:32:02 +0000 Scroll Staff
Tamil Nadu: Six dead, many injured in fire accident at Sivakasi firecracker factory The cause of the the fire has not been ascertained yet.

Six people were killed and several injured following a fire accident in a firecracker factory in Tamil Nadu’s Sivakasi city on Thursday, ANI reported, quoting the joint director of health services of the Virudhunagar district.

Rescue officials were waiting to clear debris at the Thangaraj Pandian fireworks, as chemicals were still bursting inside the factory on Thursday late evening, according to The Hindu. While 15 of the injured were admitted to the local government hospital, one of them who had suffered fractures was shifted to a hospital in Madurai.

The cause of the the fire could not be ascertained yet, however, tin sheds where chemicals had been stored were razed to the ground, according to India Today. Fire officials had reached the spot soon after the incident.

Less than two weeks ago, another fire accident was reported at a firecracker factory near Sattur city of Tamil Nadu. On Thursday, the toll in the accident rose to 23, according to The Hindu.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 17:10:07 +0000 Scroll Staff
A British Army officer’s wife’s account of a route march in colonial India Troops moving between garrisons in the colony took a route march when there was no available railway.

Edith E Cuthell was a well-known author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of her stories drew on her experiences as the wife of a British Army officer serving in India. In Up to the Hills, published in 1893, Cuthell described a long march involving women and children.

How troops moved

Troops moving between garrisons in India took a route march when there was no available railway. They set off very early each morning in order to reach the shelter of the next camping place before the full heat of the day struck. About ten miles were completed each day. Troops never marched on a Sunday.

At the head of the march were the soldiers – a kaleidoscope of blue, red, green and khaki uniforms. They were followed by bullock carts carrying married women and children. Cuthell commented: “The soldier’s wife in India is a great grumbler, notwithstanding the comforts and even luxuries, she enjoys in that land of extra pay and of many and cheap servants.”

However, the wives might have had fair reason to complain when being jolted for days in bullock carts slowly creaking through the dust. At the bottom of the carts was a layer of boxes with a couple of mattresses on top, all covered by thatched straw. From time to time a wheel fell off and pots, pans, baggage and children went flying in all directions.

Next came the sick and lame, laid on straw in bullock carts or carried along in canvas-hooded doolies. They were tended by a doctor and an apothecary.

Baggage animals accompanied the column. Elephants and camels were loaded with tents and mules carried the soldiers’ kit bags. Cleared camping places were available at regular intervals by the roadside with trees planted by the government to shade them.

Luxury of tent

Tents were quickly erected on arrival, including one used as a hospital. Indian cooks built fires and earth stoves to perform “culinary wonders”. Some of the soldiers played cards, whilst many took the opportunity to sleep.

An officer’s wife would enjoy the luxury of a tent serving as a dressing and sitting room with servants to attend her and provide a hot bath and a separate bedroom tent furnished with a folding camp bed and washstand. There was also a mess tent with waiters freshly dressed in clean white outfits and turbans after their march.

The camp awoke whilst it was still dark. Fires were lit using straw bedding to ward off the bitter cold. At the sound of a bugle, all the tents were taken down in readiness to begin the new day’s march.

Edith’s husband was Thomas George Cuthell, an officer in the 38th Foot and then the 13th Husssars. The couple had married in Bedfordshire in 1873. They had three daughters and one son, all born in England.

Mildred Frances, known as Millie, died at Lucknow in April 1878 aged two years after suffering from convulsions. Thomas retired from the Army in 1885 and the family lived on the Isle of Wight and later in Surrey. Edith published books for adults and children as well as contributing articles to magazines.

The author is the lead curator of East India Company Records.

This article first appeared on the British Library’s Untold Lives Blog.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 16:00:00 +0000 Margaret Makepeace
The big news: Centre frames new rules for social media, digital platforms, and 9 other top stories Other headlines: A UK court ruled that Nirav Modi can be extradited to India for trial, and India and Pakistan agreed to stop ceasefire violations along LoC.

A look at the headlines right now:

  1. In new rules for social media, Centre asks platforms to name ‘originator of mischievous’ posts: This new set of rules to regulate social media, streaming and digital news content will virtually bring them under the ambit of government supervision.
  2. Nirav Modi can be extradited to India to stand trial, rules UK court: Modi is accused of duping the Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 13,000 crore.
  3. India and Pakistan agree to stop ceasefire violations along Line of Control: The decision was reached during discussions between the Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan.
  4. Centre opposes same-sex marriage, says it ‘can’t be compared to Indian family unit’: In its response to a batch of petitions, the government told the Delhi High Court that same-sex marriage was not a fundamental right in the country.
  5. Centre and states need to act in coordination to reduce tax on fuel, says RBI governor: He made the remark during his address to the Bombay Chamber of Commerce.
  6. Gujarat to bring in ‘strict laws to stop conversion of Hindu girls’, says CM Vijay Rupani: The chief minister indicated that the law will be introduced in the state’s Assembly session starting on March 1.
  7. Tamil Nadu declares ‘all pass’ for students in classes 9, 10, 11 without exams: The Federation of Private School Associations criticised the move, and asked the state to stop politicising education to garner votes for Assembly elections.
  8. Delhi HC asks Centre not to take its order on translating EIA draft in 22 languages ‘combatively’: The court said that people living in remote areas of the country might not understand the contents of the draft EIA.
  9. Indian newspapers ask Google to pay them for using their content: Meanwhile, the Australian Parliament passed a new law making it compulsory for the search giant and Facebook to pay companies in the country for content.
  10. India hits back at Pakistan at UN, says it should focus on ending state-sponsored terrorism: Islamabad had criticised India for human rights violation in Jammu and Kashmir.
]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 15:27:57 +0000 Scroll Staff
‘Tandav’ row: Allahabad HC denies bail to Amazon official, says show’s name can hurt sentiments The court said that several Hindi filmmakers have used the name of Hindu gods and goddesses and shown them in disrespectful manner.

The Allahabad High Court on Thursday rejected the anticipatory bail plea of Amazon Prime Video’s India Content Head Aparna Purohit, in relation to a First Information Report on the case against the platform’s web series “Tandav”, Live Law reported.

The court also held that that the use of the word “Tandav” could offend majority of the people in the country as it was associated to Hindu deity Shiva, according to Bar and Bench.

A bench of Justice Siddharth further observed that several Hindi filmmakers have used the name of Hindu gods and goddesses and shown them in disrespectful manner. The judge cited names of movies like “Ram Teri Ganga Maili”, “Satyam Shivam Sundram”, “PK” and “OMG: Oh My God!”, to make his point, Live Law reported.

“Efforts have been made to subvert the image of historical and mythological personalities (Padmavati),” the court order stated. “Names and icons of faith of majority community have been used to earn money (“Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram Leela”).”

The judge also referred to the recent case of stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui, who was jailed in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore for a joke he never cracked. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, the bail pleas of Faruqui were rejected multiple, stating that their release will disrupt law and order. After spending more than a month in jail, the Supreme Court on February 5 granted him interim relief by noting that the allegations against him were vague.

“Munawar Faruqui, from Gujarat, made comments on Hindu god and goddesses in a new year show at Indore and gained undue publicity on being arrested in a case [and made] money in most brazen manner taking benefit of the liberal and tolerant tradition of country,” the judge said, while rejecting Purohit’s bail plea, Bar and Bench reported.

Purohit who has been booked under multiple charges, including Sections 153-A (Promoting enmity between different groups), 295 (Defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion), 505(1)(b) (Public mischief), 505(2) (Statements promoting hatred between classes) of the Indian Penal Code, and those under the Information Technology Act, had filed a plea seeking anticipatory bail. On February 5, the Allahabad High Court had reserved the verdict and granted her interim protection from arrest.

Apart from her, the FIR filed in Lucknow also named director of “Tandav”, Ali Abbas Zafar, producer Himanshu Mehra and writer Gaurav Solanki.

On January 27, the Supreme Court had refused to grant the makers and actors of the Amazon Prime web series protection from arrest. “Your right to freedom of speech is not absolute,” the court had said.

The web series purportedly provides a commentary on India’s political scene under the Narendra Modi government. The show touches upon farmer agitations to student protests to police killings – all events that have happened under the administration of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Apart from Uttar Pradesh, FIRs against the show were also filed Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. At least three complaints are also pending in Delhi, Chandigarh and Maharashtra.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 15:12:05 +0000 Scroll Staff
President’s Rule imposed in Puducherry On Wednesday, the Centre approved the dissolution of the Puducherry Assembly.

The Union Territory of Puducherry was placed under President’s Rule on Thursday, three days after the V Narayanasamy-led Congress government failed to prove its majority in a floor test in the Assembly.

The Union home ministry on Thursday issued a gazette notification that officially announced the implementation of President’s Rule. On Wednesday, the Centre had approved the dissolution of the Puducherry Assembly.

Following a string of resignations, months before the Puducherry Assembly election, the Narayanasamy-led Congress government lost its majority on February 22. After submitting his resignation to Lieutenant Governor Tamilisai Soundarajan, Narayanasamy said that the government elected by the people had been toppled, and the Opposition will be taught a lesson in the upcoming election.

After the collapse of the Congress-led government, the BJP said it will not stake claim to form a government, but asserted that the party will win in the upcoming Assembly election.

The Congress government was reduced to a minority, following the resignation of four of its MLAs. Congress legislator A John Kumar resigned on January 16, following Malladi Krishna Rao who quit the day before. Two others, A Namassivayam and E Theeppainjan, had resigned in January.

On February 21, two more MLAs – one from the Congress and the other from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – tendered their resignations. K Lakshminarayanan, the Congress MLA, said he quit because he did not get his due recognition in the party.

Following the resignations, the number of MLAs supporting the government was reduced to 12, including the Speaker. This included MLAs from the DMK and an independent candidate. The Opposition, on the other hand, had 14 MLAs. The effective strength of the House came down from 33 to 26, while the majority mark was 14.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 14:46:47 +0000 Scroll Staff
Indian newspapers ask Google to pay them for using their content Meanwhile, the Australian Parliament passed a new law making it compulsory for the search giant and Facebook to pay companies in the country for content.

An association of India’s leading newspapers on Thursday asked search engine Google to compensate them for carrying their content online, and share 85% of the revenues from advertisements with the publications, NDTV reported.

In a letter to Google, the Indian Newspaper Society, or INS, which represents around 1,000 publishers, said the United States-based company “should pay for news generated by the newspapers which employ thousands of journalists”.

“Since the content which is generated and published by newspapers at considerable expense is proprietary, the Society pointed out that it is this credible content which has given Google the authenticity in India ever since its inception,” the INS said.

The association noted that over the past few years, publishers across the world have been raising the matter of fair payment for content. It pointed out that the company had recently agreed to better compensate publishers in France, the European Union and notably in Australia.

“Advertising has been the financial backbone of the news industry,” the letter added. “However, newspaper publishers are seeing their share of the advertising pie shrinking in the digital space, even as Google is taking a ‘giant share of advertising spends’, leaving publishers with a small share.”

The Indian Newspaper Society also sought greater prominence for editorial content from genuine news publishers in order to tackle fake news. It said that Google picks up content from sources that are often not credible, thus “amplifying misinformation and propagation of fake news”.

Also read:

  1. Australia versus Facebook: The government’s competition policy has failed to encourage competition
  2. Facebook to lift ban on Australian news pages after agreement with government on new law

Australia passes new law requiring Facebook, Google to pay for news

The association’s letter to Google came on the same day the Australian Parliament passed a new media bargaining code that will make it compulsory for the search giant and Facebook to pay media companies in the country for content, Reuters reported.

The code will be reviewed within one year of its commencement, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said “The code will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public-interest journalism in Australia,” read their statement.

Frydenberg and Fletcher said the government was pleased to see “progress by both Google and more recently Facebook” in reaching commercial arrangements with Australian news media.

Facebook had cut off news in Australia last week amid tense negotiations with the government. But it said earlier this week that it would restore them after the country made some changes to the code, including a provision that “must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses,” reported CNN.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 14:22:49 +0000 Scroll Staff
India and Pakistan agree to stop ceasefire violations along Line of Control The decision was reached during discussions between the Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan.

India’s Ministry of Defence on Thursday said that New Delhi and Pakistan had reached a ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control from February 25. The decision was reached during discussions between the director generals of military operations of India and Pakistan.

“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO [Director Generals of Military Operations] agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” the joint statement said. “Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight 24/25 Feb 2021.”

The two sides reviewed the situation along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, the statement said. “Both sides reiterated that existing mechanisms of hotline contact and border flag meetings will be utilised to resolve any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding,” the joint statement added.

The announcement came after an increase in firing along the LoC and other areas in the last few years. This declaration reaffirms the commitment of both the countries made during the 2003 ceasefire agreement.

According to the current mechanism, military officials of the two sides have weekly discussions, but the director generals establish contact when one of the sides requests dialogue, reported The Hindu.

The Indian government has informed Parliament that there were 5,133 ceasefire violations along the India-Pakistan border last year that caused 46 deaths. Till January 28, there were 299 such violations, and one death was reported till February 1.

This is the first time that a contact between the military officials of the two countries was publicised. The last time the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met was when Narendra Modi visited Lahore on an unannounced visit on December 25, 2015.

Meanwhile, speaking at the weekly press briefing, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Thursday said that India desired “normal neighbourly ties with Pakistan”, PTI reported. “We are committed to resolve all issues bilaterally in a peaceful manner,” Srivastava said.

Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir also welcomed the development. Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, saying that “dialogue is the only way forward if both countries want to stop the unending cycle of violence and bloodshed across the borders”.

The Omar Abdullah-led National Conference said it hoped that the “statement will be followed in letter and spirit”.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 14:08:40 +0000 Scroll Staff
Delhi government to switch its fleet to electric vehicles within six months It came a day after the Aam Aadmi Party government launched the ‘Switch Delhi’ campaign.

The Delhi government on Thursday announced that it will replace its entire fleet of hired cars with electric vehicles in the next six months. The announcement came a day after the Aam Aadmi Party government launched the “Switch Delhi” campaign, aimed at encouraging private vehicle owners to pledge to shift to electric vehicles and install a charging point within their premises in the next three years.

“It’s history!” Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia tweeted. “Driven by the vision of CM Arvind Kejriwal to make Delhi the ‘Electric Vehicle capital’, Delhi government today became the first in the world, not just India, to mandate its entire hired car fleet to switch to electric within a deadline – 6 months. Switch Delhi begins at home.”

More than 2,000 cars will be impacted by the government’s decision, and will transition to the electric vehicles in next six months, Sisodia said. “We hope this decision inspires cities and governments around India and the world to tackle the pollution and climate change problem with the seriousness and urgency it deserves,” he added.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also hailed the decision. “This will go a long way in curbing pollution in Delhi,” he tweeted. “Delhi is fast becoming a modern city. Every Indian is proud of Delhi.”

In August, the Delhi government launched an electric vehicle policy to tackle air pollution. Under this policy, the administration promised to waive registration fee and road tax, and provide an incentive of up to Rs 1.5 lakh for new cars in the Capital, reported PTI. According to the AAP government’s policy on electric vehicles, 12 four-wheeler models were available and eligible for purchase and scrapping incentives.

Also read:

1. Air pollution killed 16.7 lakh Indians, led to 1.4% GDP loss in 2019, shows Lancet study

2. CPCB asks Delhi to take prompt action on pollution complaints as air quality remains ‘very poor’

Delhi’s air pollution typically worsens in October and November due to farmers burning stubble in neighbouring states, unfavourable wind speed and local emission of traffic fumes in the city. Firecrackers ignited for Diwali and New Year celebrations add to the problem.

The air quality is considered in the “severe plus” or “emergency” category if PM2.5 and PM10 levels persist above 300 per cubic meter and 500 per cubic meter, respectively, for more than 48 hours, according to the Graded Response Action Plan.

Pollution in the city had almost disappeared last year, when the Centre imposed a countrywide lockdown to contain the coronavirus but has returned since the government began lifting restrictions at the end of August.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 14:06:54 +0000 Scroll Staff
BJP will make Assam, North East biggest contributors to India’s GDP, says Amit Shah The Union home minister also criticised the Congress for joining hands with the Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday said that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s journey in Assam, that began five years ago, will continue till the state along with other northeastern states emerge as the biggest contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product, reported PTI. The BJP and its allies are in power in all the eight states of the North East.

Shah said that the journey started by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was taken forward by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and state Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. “This is just the first step and the journey will continue till Assam becomes violence-free, infiltrator-free and flood-free,” he added. Shah made the comments after attending a “mahayagya” (a ceremony) at the Shivlinga-shaped Maha Mrityunjaya temple in Assam’s Nagaon district.

The home minister said that people were now investing in various sectors in Assam, such as education and tourism. Assam is likely to vote in the next few months.

Shah also hit out at the Congress for joining hands with the All India United Democratic Front. The party is led by Badruddin Ajmal, who is said to have considerable influence among Bengali-speaking Assamese Muslims, according to PTI.

“The Congress talks about providing security when it is joining hands with Ajmal,” he said. “It is only because of its lust for power that it has joined hands with Ajmal. The party did nothing to free Assam from violence and infiltration despite having a prime minister who was elected from the state.” Shah was referring to Manmohan Singh, who was a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam between 1991 and 2019.

The home minister asserted that the “greed” of the Congress to capture power in the state will remain unfulfilled. He claimed that the BJP, along with its ally Asom Gana Parishad, will win the Assembly polls with a two-thirds majority.

Shah also accused that there were political parties that were formed in the aftermath of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests for “helping the Congress which used bullets to suppress the Assam agitation against foreigners”, PTI reported. He claimed these parties were formed so they could chip away at BJP’s votes and help the Congress, but they will not succeed.

Talking about the Centre’s developmental schemes for the state, Shah said the people will weigh in the measures taken by the Modi administration in seven years against those done by the Congress in over 70 years to decide who to vote for in the upcoming polls.

Shah also attacked the parties formed in the state in the aftermath of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, accusing them of “helping the Congress which used bullets to suppress the Assam agitation against foreigners”.

“To make Congress win, agitators are contesting under different names to cut into BJP’s votes,” Shah alleged, according to ANI. “Their aim is to make Congress win. Everyone knows that they can’t form the government, they themselves know it but it’s sad that they’re trying to reduce BJP’s vote share to make Congress win.”

Earlier in February, two new parties – Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal – said they will jointly contest the upcoming Assembly elections in the state. The parties were reportedly formed in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

He further alleged that Congress leaders were seen in the state only during elections and later found in New Delhi to fulfill their vested interests. Shah said that Modi has visited different North East states at least 35 times in the last five years.

The home minister claimed that Modi will never turn his back on Assam and the North East. “The prime minister wants to take the region forward on the path of progress and make it free from corruption, violence and infiltration,” he asserted.

Shah also praised former Assam Chief Minister and Congress leader Tarun Gogoi, and pointed out that he was conferred the Padma Bhushan – the third-highest civilian award – in Modi’s regime.

Praising Sonowal and Sarma for providing an aid of Rs 2.5 lakh each to 8,000 ‘namghars’ [Vaishnavite prayer halls], Shah suggested that they should extend the benefit to 17,000 more such facilities during the remaining days of their current term in office.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 13:50:02 +0000 Scroll Staff
After Modi mocks Rahul Gandhi’s ‘fisheries’ remarks, Congress leader says ‘need dedicated ministry’ The prime minister also alleged that the Congress in Puducherry had ‘different priorities’ than public welfare.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday attacked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his remarks about creating a fisheries ministry, reported NDTV.

Gandhi had on February 17 talked about the need for a separate fisheries ministry. After this, several Union ministers, including Giriraj Singh and Kiren Rijiju, had criticised the Congress leader, pointing out that the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying already existed.

The Congress leader repeated his promise to form a central ministry dedicated to the fisherfolk of the country on Wednesday. He made the comments during a meeting with the fishing community in Kollam city’s Thangassery area.

“I was absolutely shocked to hear a Congress leader come and say they want to start a fisheries ministry because there is none,” Modi said on Thursday at a Bharatiya Janata Party rally in Puducherry. “The truth is that it already exists. The current NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government has already set up a fisheries ministry back in 2019 itself.”

At the BJP rally, Modi also took a dig at the Congress party, claiming that its functioning was similar to the British rule in India. “Our colonial rulers had the policy of divide and rule,” Modi said. “Congress has a policy of divide, lie, and rule. Sometimes their leaders put region against region, community against community.”

He also alleged that the Congress in Puducherry had “different priorities’’ than public welfare, reported PTI. The prime minister alleged that the people of Puducherry do not deserve a “high command” government serving only a few Congress leaders. He assured the crowd that the National Democratic Alliance, if voted to power in the coming elections, would treat people as its high command.

‘Need dedicated ministry,’ says Gandhi

Meanwhile, Gandhi stuck to his stand and insisted on the need of a “ministry” and not a “department for fisheries”.

“Dear PM, Fisherfolk need an independent and dedicated ministry of fisheries, not just a department within a ministry,” he said in a tweet. “PS- “Hum do Humare do” obviously hurt bad (sic).”

The official website of the department of fisheries mentions that it is “is one of the two departments under the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying”. It says that the department came into existence “through carving out Fishery Division from the erstwhile Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries”.

The department is headed by Union Minister for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying Giriraj Singh, and has two ministers of state, Sanjiv Kumar Balyan and Pratap Chandra Sarangi.

PM Modi flags off number of projects

At Puducherry, the prime minister also lay the foundation stone for various projects in Puducherry. At the event, he said that his government has made efforts to improve rural and coastal connectivity that will benefit the agriculture sector. “It is our duty to ensure their [farmers’] produce gets good markets,” Modi said. “Good roads do exactly that. The four-laning of the road will also draw industries in this area and generate job opportunities for local youth.”

He said that the healthcare sector will play an important role in the coming years and the countries that have invested in it will shine. Modi said that he was inaugurating the blood centre in the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research, Puducherry, keeping the importance of the healthcare sector in mind.

“This new facility will accommodate advanced facilities for long term storage of blood, blood products and stem cells banking,” he said. “The facility will function as a research laboratory and a training centre for personnel training in all aspects of transfusion.” The prime minister also pointed out that the healthcare sector received a boost in this year’s Union Budget.

He said that India has made efforts in the last seven years to improve fitness and wellness as he laid the foundation stone for 400 meters synthetic athletic track at a sports complex in the Union Territory. “This is a part of the Khelo India scheme,” Modi said. “It will nurture sporting talent among the youth of India.”

The prime minister also laid the foundation stone for the Puducherry Port Development under the Sagarmala Scheme. He said that port, once completed, will provide connectivity to Chennai. “This will facilitate the cargo movement for industries of Puducherry and ease load on Chennai port,” he said. “It will open up possibilities of passenger traffic among the coastal cities.”

Modi also praised the Union Territory for promoting Direct Benefit Transfer to beneficiaries under various welfare schemes. “This makes people empowered in making their choices.” he said. “Puducherry has got rich human resources because of various educational institutions present, both in government and private sector.”

V Narayanasamy-led Congress, which had run the government till the past few days, was thrown into a crisis by a string of resignations just months before the elections, and lost its majority in the Assembly on Monday. Fresh elections would be held in the Union territory.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 13:48:55 +0000 Scroll Staff
Eight of 10 most polluted cities this winter season in UP, Delhi-NCR, says report The Delhi-NCR region was the most polluted cluster, the Centre for Science and Environment said.

Eight of the 10 most populated cities in India this winter season were in the Delhi National Capital Region and Uttar Pradesh, a report, released by the Centre for Science and Environment on Wednesday, showed.

In fact, eight of these were cities in Uttar Pradesh, with Ghaziabad and Bulandshahr taking the top spots. Delhi was ranked fifth, and Bhiwadi in Rajasthan, at number 10, was the only exception. Kanpur and Lucknow occupied sixth and ninth positions on the chart, according to the CSE analysis.

This analysis by CSE took into account data from 99 cities across the country, where data availability for two consecutive winters meets the minimum criteria for 75% of days between October 1 and January 31.

When ranked from the most to the least polluted cities, 23 of the places were found to be in north India. While Mysuru is the least polluted, followed by Satna in Madhya Pradesh and Kochi in Kerala, Ghaziabad is the most polluted city in the northern belt, the report said. Satna and Maihar in Madhya Pradesh and Mysuru in Karnataka were the cleanest cities in the country.

Additionally, the report identified the Delhi-NCR region as the most polluted cluster with Ghaziabad Bulandshahr, Greater Noida, Noida, and Delhi leading the pack.

Read the full report here

The levels of PM2.5, the most threatening particulate matter, worsened in 43 out of 99 cities whose winter air in two years, 2020 and 2019, was compared by the Centre for Science and Environment. Out of the 99 cities, only 19 have experienced “substantial improvement” in their winter air quality compared to the previous winter. Chennai is the only mega city included in this pool, according to the study.

The report also took into account the impact of the restrictions imposed last year to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. It said that after a countrywide lockdown was enforced in March, several cities recorded lower levels of pollution during the summer and monsoon months. But by winter, the PM2.5 concentration had back to pre-cororonavirus levels.

“This bouncing back of pollution post-lockdown unmasks the high impacts of local and regional pollution,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director in charge of research and advocacy. “This demands quicker regional reforms to curb pollution from vehicles, industry, power plants and waste burning to curb the winter pollution and also sustain annual improvement at a regional scale with speed.”

The cities which saw the worst rise in pollution levels between from 2019 to 2020 include, Gurugram, Lucknow, Jaipur, Visakhapatnam, Agra, Navi Mumbai, and Jodhpur. Kolkata is the only mega city in this group.

In about 37 cities that are otherwise showing stable or declining seasonal average, their peak pollution levels rose significantly during winter, the report said. These include Aurangabad, Indore, Nashik, Jabalpur, Rupnagar, Bhopal, Dewas, Kochi, and Kozhikode.

On the other hand, in North India, other cities including Delhi have experienced the reverse, which means, an increase in seasonal average but decline in seasonal peak, it added.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 13:33:59 +0000 Scroll Staff
Farm protest document case: Stop witch hunt, drop all false and motivated cases, says PUCL The human rights organisation demanded that the state withdraws prosecution against Disha Ravi, Nikita Jacob, Shantanu Muluk and others ‘falsely implicated’.

Human rights organisation People’s Union For Civil Liberties on Thursday condemned the “witch hunt” against climate activist Disha Ravi in the farm protest document case. On Tuesday, a Delhi sessions court granted her bail on two sureties of Rs 1 lakh each.

The human rights organisation demanded that the state withdraws prosecution against Ravi, co-accused and advocate Nikita Jacob, and activist Shantanu Muluk and others “falsely implicated” in the case. It also asked for Section 124-A that deals with sedition to be repealed.

“The Central government and other governments should immediately stop the witch hunt of young people, farmers and activists who are expressing their fundamental right to free speech, dissent and assembly seeking accountability, transparency and responsibility from the government, its agencies and officials,” the statement said.

“Laws such as UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act] which criminalise the freedom to think, express and associate must also be repealed immediately.”

The organisation noted the observations of the judge who granted bail to Ravi, and said that it hoped that the Delhi Police and the Centre viewed the order as a reminder that speaking out or doing so with a global audience was not a crime. “PUCL hopes that the Government realizes the error of its ways and withdraws this egregious prosecution against Disha Ravi, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk,” it said. “This is vital as though Disha Ravi is out on bail, this case will continue unless the government takes proactive action to stop this malicious prosecution of India’s young climate activists.”

The statement added that the first information report made a mockery of the Constitution and was an effort to “paint dissent, disagreement and protest as a grand anti-national conspiracy”.

The organisation highlighted that the sessions judge in his ruling had “vindicated the struggle of the many ordinary citizens”, who had outraged at this “executive outreach” and held protests, candlelight vigils, and wrote open letters. “The Learned Judge correctly appreciated the contours of sedition noting that, ‘imputations may be false, exaggerated or even with a mischievous intent but the same cannot be stigmatized being seditious unless they have a tendency to foment violence’,” the organisation’s statement said.

It also noted the police action against Ravi consisted of violations in the legal process of arrest. “Ms Ravi suffered a series of egregious violations including abduction by the Delhi police from her home in Bengaluru in brazen violation of all legal procedures and constitutional protections, denial of the right to legal representation and most egregious of all-invocation of the sedition law for the mere fact that she choose to exercise her right to thought, expression and association,” the statement read.

Also read:

  1. ‘Can’t jail citizens just for disagreeing with government’: What the Disha Ravi bail order says
  2. Disha Ravi released from Tihar Jail, mother says ‘she gave us strength’

The farm protest document case

Ravi was arrested by the Delhi Police earlier this month for allegedly sharing and editing a document intended to amplify the protests against the new farm laws. The “toolkit” – a common term used by social activists for campaign material – was also tweeted by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

The first information report filed by the Delhi Police against creators of the campaign document claimed that it gave “a call for economic warfare against India and certain Indian companies”. It was filed on charges of sedition, promoting enmity, and criminal conspiracy. According to the FIR, Poetic Justice Foundation “openly and deliberately shares posts on social media that tend to create disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities”.

The FIR also linked the document to the violence that erupted in Delhi during the farmers’ tractor rally on January 26. It added that the farmers march turned violent because of “said instigation by elements behind this document and its toolkit”.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 13:32:27 +0000 Scroll Staff
Gujarat to bring in ‘strict laws to stop conversion of Hindu girls’, says CM Vijay Rupani The chief minister indicated that the law will be introduced in the state’s Assembly session starting on March 1.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on Thursday said that his government will bring a law against “love jihad” to stop the “kidnapping and conversion” of Hindu girls, PTI reported. “Love jihad” is a pejorative term coined by the right-wing groups to push the conspiracy theory that Muslim men charm Hindu women into marrying them with the sole purpose of converting their brides to Islam.

“Assembly session is starting from March 1 and my government is willing to bring in a strict law against love jihad,” Rupani said at an election rally in Godhra. “Women are being lured and converted. We will not tolerate this act of kidnapping of Hindu girls.”

Earlier this month too, Rupani had made a similar announcement, while speaking in Vadodara. Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Dabhoi constituency Shailesh Mehta and the party’s Vadodara MP Ranjanben Bhatt have also called for such laws, according to PTI.

Many BJP-ruled states have decided to introduce similar laws, while Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Madhya Pradesh governments have already brought legislations aimed at preventing inter-faith marriages. The Haryana government has formed a three-member drafting committee to frame a law on the matter. Karnataka and Assam governments have made similar announcements.

However, the Centre itself told the Lok Sabha last year that no “case of ‘love jihad’ had been reported by any of the central agencies”. Investigations by the National Investigation Agency and the Karnataka Criminal Investigation Department have turned up no evidence for this alleged conspiracy either. The National Commission for Women maintains no data about “love jihad” too.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 13:10:24 +0000 Scroll Staff
Delhi HC asks Centre not to take its order on translating EIA draft in 22 languages ‘combatively’ The court said that people living in remote areas of the country might not understand the contents of the draft EIA.

The Delhi High Court on Thursday said that its order that the draft Environment Impact Assessment 2020 be translated in all 22 languages in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution should not be taken “combatively” by the Centre, PTI reported.

“View taken by the court should not be taken so combatively by the Union government,” a special bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan told the environment ministry which has been against translating draft EIA in vernacular languages.

The court said that people living in remote areas of the country might not understand the contents of the draft EIA if it was published only in English and Hindi. It further said that the “statutory scheme” as well as “principles of good governance” demand that everyone should be included in the consultative process, PTI reported.

“They [people in remote areas] are our citizens, they also need to be heard,” the bench said. “Why are you resisting it so hard?”

The court also suggested that the translation into vernacular languages can be “ordered in the peculiar facts of the instant case”, which would mean that it will not be considered as a precedent in future cases.

Representing the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma told the bench that translation to all 22 languages posed various administrative difficulties. The translations may not conform to the actual content of the draft EIA, he added.

Sharma informed the court that over 20 lakh responses had been received on the draft and so it cannot be said that the consultative process or participation by stakeholders was skewed. He also assured the court that the Centre was not being combative, PTI reported.

The court then ordered Sharma to come with instructions on the next date of hearing, March 26, on whether the draft EIA can be translated in all the 22 languages for a better consultative process.

The High Court was hearing the Centre’s plea seeking review of its June 2020 order to the Environment Ministry to translate the draft EIA notification in all the 22 languages within 10 days of the order.

In September, the Centre had filed a review petition against the June 30 order. The High Court had, during the hearing, also put on hold the proceedings in the contempt plea filed by environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad against the Centre for non-compliance of the June 30 direction.

Tongad’s plea said that the draft EIA provides for post facto approval of projects and does away with public consultation in some cases. The plea said that the draft EIA completely supersedes and replaces existing environmental norms.

The EIA, 2020

The 2020 Environment Impact Assessment draft has been widely criticised for its problematic changes in rules. Experts say most of the provisions in the new draft are a regressive departure from the earlier version.

The new updates to the draft notification prescribe the procedure for industries to assess the ecological and environmental impact of their proposed activity and the mechanism, whereby these would be assessed by expert committees appointed by the environment ministry.

It prevents the proposed activity or project from being approved without proper oversight or taking adverse consequences into account.

Some of the criticism against it includes that the draft notification does away with the requirement for public consultation for a number of projects.

Agencies affiliated with the Centre had last year blocked the websites of some environmental organisations that have opposed the draft EIA 2020.

Various environmental activists, bureaucrats and politicians, including former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, have raised objections to the draft.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 12:55:50 +0000 Scroll Staff
Apoorvanand: By playing Hindutva politics, AAP is stirring up trouble AAP has, however, now decided that it was not enough to merely look Hindu. It seeks to replace the BJP by dipping into its poisonous Hindutva lexicon.

The Aam Admi Party is provoking violence in Delhi. Violence against Muslims. It needs to be said clearly and loudly. It also needs to be countered strongly. Its spokesperson, with a straight face, on Sunday made allegations that even the Delhi Police has said are untrue. He repeated the claim that the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have now made folkloric: “If we cannot chant Jai Shri Ram in India, will it be chanted in Pakistan?”

The spokesperson, no minor figure in the party (he is after all the person in charge of the poll-bound Punjab) claimed that the murder of a young man named Rinku Sharma in Delhi’s Mangol Puri area on February 10 had a communal motivation. At his press conference, he said that the BJP was unable to protect Hindus in Delhi. “Hindus are not safe in Delhi under the rule of the BJP,” he asserted.

He went on, “A man is killed for raising the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ This is very shocking and horrifying.”

The Delhi Police, not known for any sympathy for Muslims, made it clear that the death had its roots in a business rivalry and the people accused of killing Sharma were known to him. The murder was a result of a fight at the birthday party of Sharma’s friend. Even though the accused were Muslim, the crime had no communal angle, the police explained. It asked residents not to spread rumours regarding this murder.

It was expected, in keeping with the sad reality of the Indian politics that the BJP would leave no stone unturned to give the murder a communal colour and incite hatred and violence against Muslims. The murdered young man was said to be a member of the Visha Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. BJP leaders claimed that Sharma was involved in collecting donations for the Ram temple and he had a tiff with the accused in August. This is this that led to his murder, Hindutva groups are claiming.

BJP leaders promptly paid visits to Sharma’s family and condemned the silence of Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and his organisation. Hindutva groups organised a havan in his memory. The home of one of the accused was attacked and vandalised in the presence of the police.

The Aam Aadmi Party accepted the challenge thrown at it by the BJP and demonstrated that it could be as, if not more, virulent when it comes to playing the Hindutva card.

True colours

It is not the first time it is revealing its true colours. In 2015 when Muslims were attacked in Trilokpuri in Delhi, we desperately called AAP leaders. One of them, who has since been expelled from the party, said that it would not be prudent for the party to be seen sympathetic to Muslims. It would harm its electoral prospects.

The majoritarian instinct could not be missed even in the times of the India Against Corruption agitation out of which the Aam Aadmi Party was born. But many of our friends explained it away by saying that the use of religious symbols at the time was innocuous. After AAP’s first election victory in Delhi in 2015, I got a call from the same person referred to earlier in this piece, asking me to encourage good people to join his party. He explained that the party was full of RSS-minded people. In fact, he said that they were more than 33% of the total number.

There is no gain in saying now that many of us knew this all along. That we had warned that this anti-corruption movement was driven by a lynch-mob mentality and was inherently pseudo-nationalistic. Giant tricolors tied on huge poles held by excited bike riders out to annihilate the demon of corruption were precursors to those who started brutalising Muslims in this shadow of this symbol.

A movement propped up by Ramdev and Ravi Shankar in its initial phase could not have been secular. But many of us instigated by the democratic urge to bring a change became part of it.

That is in the past. We did hope that with the extraordinary mandate that AAP was given, receiving widespread support from Muslims, it would tame its pseudo nationalist temptation. That was not to be.

The AAP and Arvind Kejriwal hinted that the Shaheen Bagh protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act were allowed to continue for weeks becase the BJP saw benefit in it. Neither he, nor his leaders visited the protesters, never publically shared their cause. Even after this distancing and slandering, the Muslims voted overwhelmingly for the party.

We talked to these Muslim voters. They told us that they understood the electoral problem of the AAP and do not mind this aloofness. They said that a visit to Shaheen Bagh by the AAP leaders would have given ammunition to the BJP and the party would have been portrayed as pro Muslims. It would have alienated Hindus from it. They said that it was good strategy to avoid this trap.

Raging fires

The strategy was however a policy. When the Citizenship Amendment Act protest sites were attacked and violence unleashed on Muslim localities in the month of February last year, Arvind Kejriwal decided not to visit them. When people were being killed and fires raging last February in violence in North East Delhi, he went to the Rajghat and observed silence.

We went to the ravaged mohallas of the North East Delhi. The Muslims told us that the attackers while assaulting, burning and looting taunted them: “Call the party you had voted for to save you.”

The party made it very clear that it needed their votes but should not be expected to be seen in their company. No leader, for a very long time, visited the violated families even to console them. The state government was also not forthcoming to give adequate relief to the victims. Its officials were blatantly partisan and under-assessed the losses suffered by the Muslims. We witnessed it ourselves.

A senior national executive member of the party shared his anguish when we were in the violence-hit areas. He said that his top party leaders refused to receive calls from him when his people were being attacked. We know that the AAP government had not taken any special measures to rescue those trapped amidst the violence or to offer medical assistance to the injured.

To rub salt into the wounds, when a non-entity from the area joined the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party again humiliated Muslims by repeating its charge that the Shaheen Bagh protest was a BJP conspiracy. In short, the AAP was enjoying the plight of its voters.

Invoking of Hindu symbols to lure Hindus is now a habit with all the parties . We cannot criticise Arvind Kejriwal for thanking Hanuman for his success in the assembly elections. But he went a step ahead and asked all Delhiwalas to do a puja on the occasion of Diwali. The Delhi chief minister then led his cabinet to participate in a puja at the state expense.

All this has been ignored by our instrumental electoral reasoning. You need to assuage Hindu feelings, we are told. Nothing communal in it, we are admonished.

AAP has, however, now decided that it was not enough to merely look Hindu. It seeks to replace the BJP by dipping into its poisonous Hindutva lexicon. We know that such a language does leads to real violence. AAP needs to be told that what it is doing cannot be called abating violence. Instead, it is provoking it.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi in Delhi University.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 12:52:17 +0000 Apoorvanand
Tamil Nadu declares ‘all pass’ for students in classes 9, 10, 11 without exams The Federation of Private School Associations criticised the move, and asked the state to stop politicising education to garner votes for Assembly elections.

In Tamil Nadu, students of Classes 9, 10, and 11 were promoted to the next standard without any exams this academic year due to “unprecedented circumstances” brought on by the coronavirus outbreak, said Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, according to The Hindu.

“They have been promoted after taking into consideration the unprecedented circumstances, the request from parents and the opinions of the educationists,” the chief minister said in a suo motu statement in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. He added that the state government will release detailed guidelines for awarding the marks.

Palaniswami noted that educational institutions were shut down for the 2020-’21 academic year as the pandemic raged through the country. “Students were given multi-vitamin and zinc supplements,” he said, according to The Hindu. “They learnt through Kalvi television and internet. The syllabus was reduced in view of the difficulties faced by them.”

The students will be evaluated on the basis of their marks on internal assessments, according to The Indian Express. The marks for the pending exams will be divided into two parameters. At least 80% of marks will be assessed on the basis of students’ performance in quarterly and half-yearly tests, and 20% of it will be attendance-based.

In March, the chief minister had announced that all students of Classes 1 to 9 in Tamil Nadu schools would be passed in their annual examination in the academic year of 2020-’21 as the pandemic affected normal operation of schools.

The Federation of Private School Associations, comprised of 6,500 schools in Tamil Nadu, on Thursday criticised the state government’s decision, reported The Times of India. The association also asked the state administration to stop politicising education of school students to garner votes in the upcoming Assembly elections. The state will go to polls later this year.

The association’s president, M Arumugam, told the newspaper that the government had made scapegoats of students, and that the move would have an impact on students as this was the second year that they have been promoted without annual exams. “What is the need for such a hurried decision? Arumugam asked. “That too, days after they announced that the Class 12 board exams would be held [in] May.”

The state government should have waited till May and if the situation was not conducive to conduct the exam by then, it should have been postponed by two more months till July before cancellation, the federation said, according to The Times of India. “Now it is obvious that students till Class 7 will also declared all pass,” it said, questioning the necessity of holding classes in this academic year.

The federation also said that this decision may come as a setback to private schools dealing with surmounting expenses, and affected cash inflow.

In the Tamil Nadu Assembly, Palaniswami also declared that the retirement age of all government employees will be raised from 59 to 60 years, reported The New Indian Express. This will apply to all employees retiring from service on May 31. The order would also be applicable to all teaching and non-teaching staff in government-aided institutions, and other bodies. In May, the state had increased the retirement age from 58 to 59.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 12:35:41 +0000 Scroll Staff
Watch: Rahul Gandhi enjoys a swim with fishermen of Kerala The video was shot in Kollam.

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In new rules for social media, Centre asks platforms to name ‘originator of mischievous’ posts This new set of rules to regulate social media, streaming and digital news content will virtually bring them under the ambit of government supervision.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Thursday issued a set of sweeping rules to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content that will virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.

The “Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021”, was notified after a press conference by Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad and Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar. The Union ministers said these policies were meant to tackle the “rampant abuse of social media platforms” and spreading of fake news.

They said rules would establish a “soft touch progressive institutional mechanism with level-playing field”, which will include a code of ethics and a mechanism to report inappropriate content and ask for its removal.

‘Originator of mischief’

One of the most significant of these changes is that social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter Signal and Facebook will now have to give details about the origin of a tweet or a message on being asked by either a court or a government authority, Prasad said. This should only be in relation to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, public order, relations with foreign states, or rape, sexually explicit content.

“Who began the mischief, the social media platforms will be required to disclose the first originator of the message or tweet,” Prasad said. “If the message originated from outside of India, then give details about who first shared it in the country.”

The new rule could mean that messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Signal would have to break the end-to-end encryption in India in order to comply.

Additionally, the government will constitute an inter-departmental committee, called the Committee, consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team.

This committee will have “suo motu powers” to call hearings on complaints of violation of the code of ethics if it wants. The committee can warn, censure, admonish or reprimand violators and seek an apology besides other actions.

The government will also designate an officer of the rank of a joint secretary or above as the “Authorised Officer” who can direct blocking of content, according to the new guidelines.

Redressal mechanism

The regulation also requires social media companies to appoint a chief compliance officer, another executive for coordinating on law enforcement and a “grievance redressal officer”. All must be resident Indian citizens.

“Social media platforms have to set up a grievance redressal mechanism,” Prasad said. “This involves shooting of complaint in 24 hours, redressal within 15 days. They also have to submit a monthly compliance report to the government.”

Additionally, social media companies are also obligated to assist in investigations or other cyber security-related incidents within 72 hours of a request, the minister added. Further, if a post depicts an individual in any sexual act or conduct, then companies must disable or remove such content within a day of receiving a complaint, Prasad said.

The companies must also have provision for voluntary verification of users. “If you seek to disable access to the content of any social media user, you are required to give him reasons and also hear him,” the Union minister said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party leader said that the new mechanism will “empower the ordinary social media users”. “The government welcomes criticism and right to dissent, and social media has been used to ask questions too,” he said. “But it is very important that the users of social media may be given a forum for the resolution of their grievances against the misuse and abuse of social media.”

OTT platforms

The government has called for a grievance redressal system for OTT platforms and digital portals as well. “Every freedom has to be a responsible freedom,” Union minister Prakash Javadekar said, while making the announcements.

Under the rules, the OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon will have to set up a mechanism for addressing any grievances. While films have a censor board, OTT platforms will require to self-classify their movies and content based on age, Javadekar said. Detailed classification of content on the basis of age, sex, violence and nudity will also have to be listed.

The rules would force streaming services to submit to the authority of an appeals body headed by a retired High Court or Supreme Court justice, according to NDTV. If this body believes that the content violates the law, it would be empowered to send the content to a government-controlled committee for blocking orders to be issued.

Digital news platforms

The new rules will also regulate news media platforms through proxy.

The Rules, 2021 have defined a “Code Of Ethics And Procedure And Safeguards In Relation To Digital/Online Media” which shall apply on “applicable entities”.

These “applicable entities” include, “publishers of news and current affairs content”; and “intermediaries which primarily enable the transmission of news and current affairs content”; and “publishers of online curated content”; and, “intermediaries which primarily enable the transmission of online curated content.”

This basically would mean any and every news website in the country.

Further, the rules lay down a three-tier structure to ensure the new code of conduct is followed. This includes, self-regulation, “self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies” and an “oversight mechanism by the central government”.

The Internet Freedom Foundation pointed out, this could likely mean “government oversight and more censorship”.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 11:22:05 +0000 Scroll Staff
Watch: CM Mamata Banerjee rides pillion on electric scooter to protest against fuel hike The chief minister called the Centre ‘anti people’, and alleged the prime minister and Union Home Minister Amit Shah were selling the country.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday rode pillion on an electric scooter as a mark of protest against the rising fuel prices, reported the Hindustan Times.

Wearing a helmet, Banerjee hung a placard around her neck against the increase in fuel prices, and travelled from Kolkata’s Hazra neighbourhood to the state Secretariat, Nabanna, in Howrah. Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim drove the electric scooter as Banerjee sat on the back.

After reaching the state Secretariat, she criticised the Centre about the rising fuel rates, reported PTI. “We are protesting against the fuel price hike,” she said. “The [Narendra] Modi government only makes false promises. They have done nothing to bring down fuel prices.”

She called the Narendra Modi government “anti people”, and alleged that the prime minister and Union Home Minister Amit Shah were selling the country.

The chief minister also criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government for renaming the Sardar Patel Stadium, popularly known as the Motera stadium, in Ahmedabad as the Narendra Modi Stadium.

The price of petrol has risen to Rs 91.12 per litre in Bengal, while diesel cost Rs 84.20 per litre, according to The Indian Express. The prices for petrol and diesel remained stable on Thursday for the second consecutive day. The last increase in the prices was done on Tuesday.

However, the price of liquified petroleum gas, or LPG, cylinders was raised by Rs 25 earlier on Thursday. In Bengal, the price of LPG cylinders rose from Rs 795 a day ago to Rs 820.

The West Bengal government had on Sunday reduced the taxes on petrol and diesel by Re 1. State Finance Minister Amit Mitra had said the move would provide some respite to people affected by the rapidly-increasing prices of fuel. The reduction in taxes would remain effective till June 30.

Opposition parties have blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for the exorbitant fuel prices, accusing it of raising taxes to scoop out the benefit reaped from international oil rates plunging to a two-decade low in April and May.

While global rates have rebounded with a pick up in demand, the government has not restored the taxes, which are at a record high.

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Watch: Comedian Munawar Faruqui is back with a joke after spending over a month in prison Not surprisingly, he’s laughing at himself.

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Centre and states need to act in coordination to reduce tax on fuel, says RBI governor He made the remark during his address to the Bombay Chamber of Commerce.

Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das on Thursday said that the Centre and states needed to act in a coordinated manner to reduce tax on petrol and diesel, PTI reported. Das’ remark came amid the sharp increase in fuel prices in the country.

Das, during his address to the Bombay Chamber of Commerce, said that such coordination was important because both the Centre and states imposed taxes on fuel.

The RBI governor added that revenue pressures on the government were completely understandable, since they had to spend more to tide over the impact of the coronavirus crisis. “But having said that, the impact on inflation also is something which comes in from the fact that petrol and diesel prices do have an impact on the cost of manufacturing, production,” Das was quoted as saying by the news agency.

However, Das said India was about to witness a “turnaround in fortunes”. “In contrast to rest of the world, the caseload of Covid-19 in India has declined and it is crucial for us to consolidate this decline and capitalise on the success that has been hard-earned,” Das said during his address.

The RBI governor emphasised on the need to remain vigilant amid a surge in coronavirus cases in some parts of the country. “The Covid war continues,” Das said. “The battle of 2020 has been won, albeit with significant costs in terms of lives, livelihood and economic activity. We need to win the battle of 2021 also. Let us resolve to eventually win this war.”

Fuel price rise in India

Petrol and diesel prices across the country have soared over the last few weeks. However, states like Rajasthan, Nagaland, West Bengal and Assam have cut taxes on fuel to provide some relief to the people.

On the other hand, Uttar Pradesh on Thursday ruled out any such tax reduction, PTI reported. UP Cabinet minister Satish Mahana, while responding to Samajwadi Party Narendra Verma during the Question Hour in the state Assembly, said that the government needed revenue for development projects and the betterment of health infrastructure amid the coronavirus crisis.

Opposition parties have blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for the exorbitant fuel prices, accusing it of raising taxes to scoop out the benefit reaped from international oil rates plunging to a two-decade low in April and May. They have been accusing the government of profiting off the suffering of people.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 09:15:52 +0000 Scroll Staff
RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj gets US anti-corruption award Bhardwaj is the founder of the Satark Nagrik Sangathan, a citizens’ group working to promote accountability and transparency in governance.

Right to Information activist Anjali Bhardwaj was on Tuesday honoured by the United States with the newly-constituted International Anti-Corruption Champions Award.

Bhardwaj is the founder of the Satark Nagrik Sangathan, a Delhi-based citizens’ group working to promote accountability and transparency in government functioning. “Under her leadership, SNS created legislative report cards and tracked the performance of representatives across a series of categories, defining roles and responsibilities in their role as public servants,” the US State Department said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the award recognised individuals “who have worked tirelessly, often in the face of adversity, to defend transparency, combat corruption, and ensure accountability in their own countries”.

Besides Bhardwaj, the award recipients included Ardian Dvorani of Albania, Diana Salazar of Ecuador, Sophia Pretrick of the Federated States of Micronesia, Juan Francisco Sandoval Alfaro of Guatemala, Ibrahima Kalil Gueye of Guinea, Dhuha A Mohammed of Iraq, Bolot Temirov of the Kyrgyz Republic, Mustafa Abdullah Sanalla of Libya, Victor Sotto of The Philippines, Francis Ben Kaifala of Sierra Leone, and Ruslan Ryaboshapka of Ukraine.

Blinken said that the 12 anti-corruption activists served as inspiration for their counterparts pursuing ideals across the world. He also reaffirmed US President Joe Biden’s commitment towards combating corruption.

“Around the world, corruption threatens security and stability, hinders economic growth, undermines democracy and human rights, destroys trust in public institutions, facilitates transnational crime, and siphons away public and private resources,” Blinken said. “The Biden Administration recognizes that we will only be successful in combating these issues by working in concert with committed partners, including courageous individuals who champion anticorruption efforts and countries working to fulfill their commitments to international anticorruption standards.”

Bhardwaj took to Twitter to thank the US government for the honour. “This is a recognition of the collective effort of people and groups across the country who hold power to account,” she said.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 09:03:30 +0000 Scroll Staff
Kerala: RSS worker dies in clashes, police arrest eight SDPI members The BJP and other right wing organisations called for a 12-hour shutdown in Alappuzha district.

A Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh worker was killed allegedly by members of the Social Democratic Party of India in Alappuzha district of Kerala on Wednesday, ANI reported. Eight workers of the Kerala-based outfit have been arrested in connection with the crime.

The state police identified the deceased worker as Nandu alias Rahul Krishna, a resident of Wayalar village panchayat in Alappuzha. The incident took place after clashes broke out between some members of the RSS, which is the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Kerala-based party .

Two days ago, the Social Democratic Party of India had held a meeting as part of their statewide agitation calling for a boycott of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath’s campaign rallies, according to The Indian Express. The Bharatiya Janata Party had toured Kasaragod district last week to flag off the party’s campaign ahead of the state elections.

On Wednesday, the SDPI conducted another political march in a village in Valayar, where members of the political outfit allegedly made provocative speeches against BJP leaders. The RSS objected to this, and decided to retaliate by taking out their own procession in the area.

Clashes erupted when the two sides came face-to-face, leading to the death of the RSS worker. Three other RSS workers and six SDPI members were also seriously injured in the violence, the police said, according to ANI.

BJP observes 12-hour shutdown

The situation remained tense on Thursday, and a contingent of police was deployed in the area to prevent any further escalation of violence. The Bharatiya Janata Party and other right wing organisations called for a 12-hour shutdown in Alappuzha district to protest the alleged murder.

Visuals from Cherthala town showed shuttered shops and empty roads. “The BJP and other Hindu organisations have called for a hartal in Alappuzha district from 6 am to 6 pm to protest against the incident,” BJP district president MV Gopakumar told ANI.

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LPG cylinder prices increased by Rs 25, third hike this month A 14.2 kg cylinder will now cost Rs 794 in Delhi, as against Rs 769.

The price of domestic liquified petroleum gas cylinders was again increased by Rs 25 on Thursday. This is the third hike in the cost of cylinders in a month.

A 14.2 kg cylinder will now cost Rs 794 in Delhi, as against Rs 769 – the price at which it was available on Wednesday. Mumbai also witnessed the same price rise.

In Kolkata, the price of LPG cylinders rose from Rs 795 a day ago to Rs 820. Cylinder price in Chennai rose to Rs 810 from Rs 785.

The residents of Hyderabad will now have to pay Rs 846 for a 14.2 kg cylinder. The price a day ago was Rs 821.

LPG prices were increased by Rs 25 on February 4 and by Rs 50 on February 15. The prices of petrol and diesel have also skyrocketed over the last few days. At some places, they crossed Rs 100.

Opposition parties have blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for the exorbitant fuel prices, accusing it of raising taxes to scoop out the benefit reaped from international oil rates plunging to a two-decade low in April and May.

While global rates have rebounded with a pick up in demand, the government has not restored the taxes, which are at a record high.

On Tuesday, Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati urged the Centre to roll back the fuel price hike, saying it was wrong to put financial strain on people already suffering because of the coronavirus crisis and unemployment.

Also read:

‘Centre profiting off people’s suffering,’ says Sonia Gandhi in letter to PM Modi on fuel prices

Last week, Congress President Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to the prime minister about high fuel prices. She accused the government of profiting off people’s suffering. Gandhi also criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party for blaming its failures on previous governments.

Modi, on the other hand, claimed that if the previous governments had focussed on reducing the country’s energy import dependence, the middle class would not have been this burdened today.

]]> Thu, 25 Feb 2021 08:10:53 +0000 Scroll Staff