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Bharat Mata ki Jai row: Three boys allegedly beaten up in Delhi after refusal to chant slogan

New Delhi: An 18-year-old boy and two of his friends alleged that they were beaten up by three youths when they refused to chant a religious slogan at a park outside their school in outer Delhi’s Begumpur area, police said on Tuesday.

However, the police said that the boy did not mention any such thing in his statement on the day of the incident and there were “inconsistencies” in his versions.

Representational image.Representational image.

Representational image.

According to police, the incident took place on 26 March, when three boys called up the police control room complaining about a fight.

When a police team reached there, it was told that they were allegedly beaten up with sticks by three other youths,
aged between 18 and 21, at a park near a madrasa in the area.

The three boys were taken for medical check up, following which no injuries were found on the bodies of two and one had a fracture. An X-ray has confirmed the fracture.

The injured boy later told police that he was asked to chant “Jai Mata di” and his statement was recorded again.

After the police had recorded his second statement, they said they got to know from sources that the boy told others that he and his friends were asked to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.

However, the boy has not mentioned about having been asked to chant the slogan to the police yet, the official said.

A case has been registered under IPC sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 325 (voluntarily causing grievous
hurt) and 341 (wrongful restraint) and investigation is on.

PTI

NDA will stop infiltration into Assam from Bangladesh: Rajnath Singh

Duliajan: Accusing the Congress government in Assam of having failed to stop infiltration from Bangladesh, Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday said that the NDA government at the Centre will completely seal the Indo-Bangladesh border to stop intrusion.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh. PTI

Home Minister Rajnath Singh. PTI

“Intruders have been continuously entering India since the day Bangladesh was created. Bangladeshi intruders are coming to India through the Indo-Bangladesh border. What is the reason, why didn’t you (Congress) stop them? Why didn’t you completely seal the Indo-Bangladesh border?” he asked at an election rally in Duliajan.

Highlighting the steps taken by his government in this regard, Singh said that a few months ago he had visited the India-Bangladesh border and held “talks with the Bangladesh government”.

“We just need some time and we will seal the Indo-Bangladesh border completely so that no Bangladesh intruder can come in,” he said.

Later today, Singh will address three more election rallies for BJP candidates in Assam where Assembly polls will be held in two phases on 4 and 11 April.

Assam

The Home Minister will also attend two election rallies in West Bengal tomorrow before returning to the national capital.

PTI

Uttarakhand political crisis: Centre challenges High Court’s order to carry out floor test

Dehradun: The Centre on Wednesday moved the Uttarakhand High Court challenging an interim order by a single bench directing a floor test in the Assembly on 31 March, days after President’s Rule was imposed in the state.

A petition was mentioned before a division bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice K M Joseph and Justice V K Bisht by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi on behalf of the central government.

The petition sought clarity on whether the floor test can be held in the state Assembly after the promulgation of President’s rule when the House is in suspended animation.

File photo of Harish Rawat. IBN Live

File photo of Harish Rawat. IBN Live

After a two-day hearing on a writ petition challenging the imposition of President’s rule in the state, the single judge bench of Justice U C Dhyani in an interim order yesterday directed a floor test in the Assembly on 31 March and allowed even the nine disqualified rebel MLAs of the Congress to vote during the exercise.

Filed by former chief minister Harish Rawat through his counsel and senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the writ petition has Union of India as the respondent.

PTI

Why the govt’s plan to double farmers’ income by 2022 will be a tough task

By Abhishek Waghmare

“We are grateful to our farmers for being the backbone of the country’s food security. We need to think beyond food security and give back to our farmers a sense of income security. Government will, therefore, reorient its interventions in the farm and non-farm sectors to double the income of the farmers by 2022.” —Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, budget speech, February 29, 2016.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

After adjusting for rising costs, an Indian farmer’s income effectively rose 5% per year over a decade (2003-2013), according to an IndiaSpend analysis of various government data, calling into question Jaitley’s declaration of doubling income over the next five years.

Doubling of real incomes would be “a miracle of miracles”, as it would imply a compound growth rate of 12% per annum, Ashok Gulati, former chairman of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices and Professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, wrote in Indian Express.

The average monthly income from raising crops and rearing animals increased from Rs 1,060 in 2003 to Rs 3,844 in 2013, according to the report Situational Assessment of Agricultural Households by the National Sample Survey Organisation, a compounded annual income growth rate of 13.7%.

The 2003 report considered only land-owning farmers, while the 2013 report considered all agricultural households, including landless labourers, we will consider only incomes from cultivation and rearing animals.

To double the income of farmers by 2022, in nominal (numerical) terms—which do not take inflation into account—would require a 15% annual income growth rate (compounded), according to our estimates.

So, the government would seemingly have to ensure a marginal increase in the rate of income growth—keeping business as usual—from 13.7 % to 15% per year to deliver on the promise of doubling farmer income.

However, there are four hurdles:

* increasing input costs, such as seeds, fertilisers and irrigation
* irrelevance of minimum support price, which the government pays farmers when it buys their crops
* absence of market infrastructure, such as warehouses and cold storages, and
* the fact that 85% of farmers do not benefit from insurance.

Unless these issues are addressed, a farmer’s income will only double nominally. Real income in 2022, adjusted for inflation and increased expenditure, will still be close to 2016 income, according to this report by Devinder Sharma, an eminent food and trade policy analyst.

Rising input costs, declining profits

Profit margins of farmers are declining because of dropping farm productivity and a rise in input costs.

While income from cultivation in 2013 became 3.6 times that in 2003, input costs tripled in the same period, almost nullifying the effect of tripling income.

Does it help any longer that government buys harvests?

Started in 1965, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) is a system of artificial pricing that attempts to ensure just remuneration to farmers. The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) fixes the MSP of procurement for 23 agricultural items produced in India.

While the announcement of increases in MSP should act as an encouragement to farmers when they sow, three factors do not let this happen:

1. There is very low awareness about MSP — less than 25% of farmers on an average, while for some crops, less than 5% — know about MSP.

IndiaSpend-Logo

2. Over the last three years, the MSP for all crops increased from up to 12% per year, compared with up to 42% in 2012-13, up to 53% in 2011-12, and up to 39% in 2010-11.

3. MSP increases can fuel inflation—and, so, higher monthly expenses—in urban areas.

The MSP for ragi (finger millet) was hiked 52% in 2008-09, for tur dal (pigeon pea) 52% in 2010-11, for rapeseed/mustard 35% in 2011-12, and for jowar 53% in 2012-13.

Farmers get as little as 10% of final price

Efficient agricultural markets can also be a potent tool for poverty reduction, noted this 2012 Reserve Bank of India report.

Farmers do not get remunerative prices due to the limited reach of MSP—less than 25% farmers know about MSP—and an agricultural marketing system that delivers only a small fraction (10 to 30% of the retail price, according to this Business Standard report) of the price to the farmer, said this NITI Aayog report.

Regulatory barriers have constrained investments in agriculture markets and lowered capacity of farmers to be domestically and internationally competitive.

Multiplicity of taxes under Agriculture Produce and Marketing Committee laws in various states have undermined interests of farmers and benefitted middlemen, said the NITI Aayog report.

Only 15% farmers benefited from crop insurance

Only 19 million — or 15% — Indian farmers benefitted from crop insurance schemes announced by the government in 2014-15.

As many as 37.2 million farmers were covered under the three schemes—National Agricultural Insurance Scheme, Modified National Agricultural Insurance Scheme and Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme — but only half of them benefitted from it.

Half of those who did not use insurance were unaware of crop insurance, the NSS report said.

Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (Prime Minister’s Crop Insurance Scheme), the latest government initiative, merges existing insurance schemes, reduces the premium to be paid by farmers and removes the limit on government subsidy to insurance.

“China started off reforms with agriculture in 1978, and during 1978-84, agriculture GDP (gross domestic product) increased by more than 7% per year and farm incomes by more than 14% per year due to deregulation of prices, halving poverty in just six years,” Ashok Gulati wrote in this research paper.

With agricultural GDP in India growing 1% in 2015-16 (advance estimate), it will not be easy to increase individual farm incomes 14% per year.

(Waghmare is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)

(IndiaSpend.com is a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit.)

PM Modi arrives in Brussels to attend India-EU summit

Brussels: Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Brussels on Wednesday for a hectic day-long visit during which he will attend the India-EU Summit and hold bilateral talks with his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel.

Though terror is expected to figure prominently both at the Summit and also in the bilateral talks in the wake of the Brussels suicide attacks last week, Modi will strive to advance India’s partnership with EU in priority areas such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Smart Cities’.

“A red carpet at dawn. PM @narendramodi receives a warm welcome as he arrives in Brussels,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted soon after the Prime Minister’s arrival in the Belgian capital.

Modi’s visit comes days after the 22 March terror attack here in which at least 32 people were killed, including an Indian, Raghavendran Ganeshan, who was an Infosys employee from Bengaluru.

The 13th India-EU Summit is being held after a gap of four years. The last Summit was held in New Delhi in 2012 and negotiations remained deadlocked over several key issues.

PM Narendra Modi. AFP

PM Narendra Modi. AFP

Besides firming up India-EU counter-terror partnership, the Summit in Brussels is expected to evince interest in other projects like cleaning of Ganga on the lines of River Rhine and Danube.

EU is India’s biggest trading partner as a bloc with trade amounting to USD 126 billion and it is also India’s largest export destination with exports worth USD 65 billion. It is the largest source of FDI in India at USD 69 billion.

Soon after his arrival, Modi has a series of meetings lined up including one with indologists along with a meeting with members of the European Parliament and the Belgian Parliament.

On the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit, the EU said in a statement that “the Summit in Brussels will be an opportunity to re-launch relations and make concrete progress on areas of mutual interest, including trade and investment, energy, climate, water and migration.”

“India-EU Summit and strong economic & investment ties with Belgium will be on the agenda during my Brussels visit,” Modi had said before embarking on his visit.

He had hailed the “resilience and spirit” of its people in the wake of the horrific Brussels bombings and said India stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with them.

From Brussels, Modi will leave for Washington to attend the Nuclear Security Summit on 31 March and 1 April and from there, he will travel to Saudi Arabia on a two-day visit with a focus on boosting energy and security cooperation.

PTI

SC approves Centre’s guidelines to protect good samaritans from unnecessary harassment

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday approved the Centre’s guidelines to protect Good Samaritans, who help road accident victims, from being unnecessarily harassed by police or any other authority.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

A bench comprising justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra asked the central government to give wide publicity to these guidelines so that people who help others in the time of distress are not victimised by any authority.

Earlier this month, the apex court had said it will pass an order on the recommendations of a committee headed by its former judge on road safety which advocated that people saving lives of road accident victims need not fear harassment by police or other authorities.

The bench also took on record the guidelines placed by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways which were based on the recommendations of the three-member committee headed by former judge KS Radhakrishnan.

The committee, also comprising former Secretary of Road Transport Ministry S Sundar and Nishi Mittal, ex-chief scientist, had given 12 major recommendations including setting up of State Road Safety Councils, evolving a protocol for identification of black spots, their removal and monitoring to see the effectiveness of the action taken.

The apex court-appointed committee had also suggested strengthening of enforcement relating to drunken driving, over-speeding, red light jumping and helmet or seat belt laws.

The ministry had said in a statement that in the absence of any statutory backing, it was proving difficult to enforce these guidelines and therefore the government had approached the apex court to consider issuing these guidelines, through an order binding on all states and Union Territories, until the Union government enacts a law to this effect.

The apex court had in 2014 appointed the three-member committee to monitor steps taken by the Centre and state governments to ensure road safety.

PTI

Our demands have not been fulfilled, say unhappy sex workers in West Bengal; want concrete steps this poll season

Kolkata: As West Bengal prepares to vote in a few days, sex workers in the state despair over the unfulfilled promises made to them by political parties in the preceding elections and say they want “concrete” measures this time.

Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, representing 1,50,000 sex workers in West Bengal, said they felt cheated because no political party had kept its promise to look into their demands, let alone fulfilling them.

West-BengalWest-Bengal“Whenever elections come, political parties make tall promises, but none of them is kept. We have been regularly placing a charter of demands for the last several years, but nothing has come of it,” president of All-India Network for Sex Workers and Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee Bharati Dey told PTI.

Frustrated, the roughly five million sex workers in the country under the All India Network for Sex Workers (AINSW) want to exercise the NOTA (None Of The Above) option in ballot papers to express their disapproval, Dey said.

The AINSW is a national network of sex workers across the country spread across 16 states.

“We will send letters to political parties listing our demands and raising issues that concern sex workers and their families,” she said.

The demands that the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) has flagged over the years are: pension rights for retired sex workers, removal of Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA), legalisation of the profession, covering sex workers under labour laws and setting up of self-regulatory board for sex workers to stop minors from being forced into the profession.

“None of these demands have been met by the respective state and central governments. But these are the basic rights which a sex worker needs to be given to be able to lead a proper life,” said Mahasweta Mukherjee of the DMSC.

PTI

Tibet is seething in pain of Chinese oppression: Adityanath

Jodhpur: BJP MP Adityanath on Wednesday expressed his pain for Tibet at a religious meeting in Pokhran in Jaisalmer.

Yogi Adityanath. IBNLive

Yogi Adityanath. IBNLive

Condemning China and all the national and international human rights organisations for turning a “blind eye to the woes of Tibet”, Yogi said that Tibet is seething in “pain of Chinese oppression as well as International negligence.”

“Long ago, Tibet was also a part of India like Nepal and Sri Lanka, which are independent nations today.

“But the struggle and helplessness of Tibet gives much pain due to its victimization by China,” he said while attending a religious function of Shivsukhnatha maharaj at Aseri Math.

“Those powers or institutions, which question the ‘sanatan’ culture of India in the name of threat to secularism, are surprisingly quiet on the issue and persecution of Tibet at the hands of China,” he said.

Expressing similar observations for Pakistan, he said that “Pakistan has been afflicted with its internal conflicts and has gradually been losing its own existence.”

“Like China, Pakistan would also collapse any time soon and would not have any existence in future,” he said.

He said every citizen of India should feel proud in being its citizen and if they do not say Vandematram or “Bharat mata ki Jay”, they did not have any moral right to live in this nation.

PTI

Bharat Mata ki Jai controversy: 3 boys allegedly beaten up in Delhi over refusal to chant slogan

New Delhi: An 18-year-old boy and two of his friends alleged that they were beaten up by three youths when they refused to chant a religious slogan at a park outside their school in outer Delhi’s Begumpur area, police said on Tuesday.

However, the police said that the boy did not mention any such thing in his statement on the day of the incident and there were “inconsistencies” in his versions.

Representational image.Representational image.

Representational image.

According to police, the incident took place on 26 March, when three boys called up the police control room complaining about a fight.

When a police team reached there, it was told that they were allegedly beaten up with sticks by three other youths,
aged between 18 and 21, at a park near a madrasa in the area.

The three boys were taken for medical check up, following which no injuries were found on the bodies of two and one had a fracture. An X-ray has confirmed the fracture.

The injured boy later told police that he was asked to chant “Jai Mata di” and his statement was recorded again.

After the police had recorded his second statement, they said they got to know from sources that the boy told others that he and his friends were asked to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.

However, the boy has not mentioned about having been asked to chant the slogan to the police yet, the official said.

A case has been registered under IPC sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 325 (voluntarily causing grievous
hurt) and 341 (wrongful restraint) and investigation is on.

PTI

Firstpost Ground Report: Sold at 2 for Rs 200; why Sunitha’s story must distract us from the meta-nationalism of Bharat Mata

by Rahul Pandita 

Telangana: In January this year, the Ministry of Home Affairs advised state governments to launch an operation to trace and rescue children caught in perilous and illegal situations such as trafficking or forced labour. In that month alone, the police in Telangana’s Ranga Reddy district rescued over 300 children. In February, they found a girl who was two when, eight years ago, her father sold her into servitude for two hundred rupees.

Beyond the meta-nationalism of Bharat Mata, here is Sunitha’s story. It is what Roland Barthes called “the third meaning” – something that goes beyond the informational and the symbolic, something that pricks you.

Sunitha at the shelter home. Rahul Pandita/FirstpostSunitha at the shelter home. Rahul Pandita/Firstpost

Sunitha at the shelter home. Rahul Pandita/Firstpost

Sunitha wants to look at you properly. But she doesn’t. It is as if she fears that you will go away if she does that. She wants you to be around. She wants your arm around her; the packet after packet of biscuits she has been consuming at a children’s home in Hyderabad has satiated the pangs of hunger, but she is still hungry for love, or at least some display of it.

The children’s home is quite depressing. The building itself is old; it is bereft of colour or anything else that could bring cheer. Unkempt corridors lead to locked gates. The main cemented courtyard looks like a jail compound. In the reception, above the main door, a picture of Rabindranath Tagore is tilted on a damp, flaky wall and has perhaps remained so for years. This is what will remain home for Sunitha till June after which she will be shifted to another government shelter in Telangana’s Ranga Reddy district. It is in Ranga Reddy where the police rescued Sunitha a few months ago. But her story begins eight years ago; it is when a woman called Basamma and her husband took a train from the district’s Basheerabad to Mumbai.

Basheerabad is the largest mandal (tehsil) in Ranga Reddy, around 130 kilometres from Hyderabad. On its west lies Karnataka’s Gulbarga district. Basamma, who is from Gulbarga, was ten when she was married to a man from Basheerabad. The couple was poor and worked as agricultural labourers in Andhra Pradesh. But it did not bring them enough money. In 2008, Basamma and her husband decided to look for work in Mumbai. They took a train from Wadi junction in Gulbarga that falls in the Mumbai route. They spent a few days begging around the Mumbai railway station.

One day, Basamma says, a man approached them at the station. He said he had heard them speaking in Telugu and that he was from Andhra, too. And then he pointed towards a young girl child, about two years old, whose hand he held. He said his wife had died and that he wanted Basamma to have his daughter. “He said he hadn’t eaten anything for days and that we should give him some money,” says Basamma. They felt bad for the man, she says, and her husband gave the man two hundred rupees. “He thanked us and said that they should consider this money as the price of the girl,” says Basamma.

After the man left, Basamma and her husband stayed in Mumbai for another two months where they taught the girl to beg. The girl’s father had said she was named Sunitha. Basamma decided to call her Puja.

At the children’s home in Hyderabad, Sunitha says she does not like it at all. “I do not feel good,” she says. After she was ‘bought’ by Basamma and her husband, the three of them returned to Basheerabad. Sunitha was delegated to Basamma’s old in-laws in Basheerabad’s Manthati village. “She [Basamma] said I have to serve them if I have to have a roof over my head and one meal a day,” recalls Sunitha. She was told that her mother had abandoned her. So, at the age of two, Sunitha learnt how to fight sleep and wake up at four every morning. She washed clothes and cleaned the house, and then went out in the village from house to house to beg for leftovers. She cooked for the family upon her return and then went to the nearby Tandur town to beg the entire day. On a good day, she returned with hundred rupees.

Basamma in a file photo. Rahul Pandita/FirstpostBasamma in a file photo. Rahul Pandita/Firstpost

Basamma in a file photo. Rahul Pandita/Firstpost

Basamma has two grown-up children. After the boy who Sunitha calls brother got married, Basamma was sent with the couple to Hyderabad to serve them. But after a few months, the wife asked her husband to get rid of Sunitha. So she was sent back to Manthati where her servitude continued. This remained her life for eight years till one day when the Ranga Reddy police received a call on its child rescue helpline.

When Ranga Reddy’s Superintendent of Police, Rema Rajeshwari, came to know about Sunitha in February this year, Operation Smile had been on for almost two months. In January itself, her teams had rescued over 300 children, about half of them working as bonded labourers in brick kilns. The call on the helpline came from someone from Tandur bus stand. It said that a girl named Puja was in bad shape as she had been forced to beg by a family. Sub-Inspector Abhishek Chaturvedi went to the bus stand and spoke to her. But she could not tell him much. He spoke to her anyway and asked her if she wanted to study. “She said yes, so we got her admitted into a government school,” says Chaturvedi.

But the very next day, Sunitha was back at the bus stand. This time, Chaturvedi followed her to her home and came to know the whole story. He arrested Basamma and her husband and her father-in-law, while Sunitha was sent to the children’s home in Hyderabad. The three accused are out on bail now.

In Manthati, Basamma says it was a mistake taking ‘Puja’ from that unknown man in Mumbai. At the children’s home, Sunitha says she does not want to go back. Referring to Basamma’s in-laws as her grandparents, she says they must hate her because of this case. Also, she says, her mother (Basamma) hit her badly.

Sunitha wants to look at you. After an hour or so, she does; but she does not want you to know that she is looking at you. So her gaze remains fleeting. As of now, she wonders if she could become a doctor. Somehow it seems important to her. “That way I can trace my parents,” she says.

“Will you come again to meet me?” she asks. It is then that she looks at you properly.

Rahul Pandita is a 2015 Yale World Fellow and the author of, among others, Our Moon has Blood Clots : The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits. He tweets @rahulpandita.

PM Modi leaves for Brussels, says ‘strong economic ties’ with Belgium will be on agenda

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi late Tuesday night left for Brussels as part of the three-nation tour.

“An invigorating mix of bilateral & multilateral diplomacy in the offing as PM @narendramodi departs on 3 nation tour,” MEA Spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted.

From Brussels, Modi will leave for Washington to attend the Nuclear Security Summit on 31 March and 1 April and from there, he will travel to Saudi Arabia on a two-day visit with a focus on boosting energy and security cooperation.

In Brussels, Modi will attend the 13th India-EU Summit.

In a pre-departure statement, he said it will advance multifaceted engagement across a whole range of sectors and described the 28-member bloc as a “vital trading partner”.

PTI

Tata Steel says puts entire UK business up for sale | Reuters

MUMBAI India’s Tata Steel (TISC.NS), Britain’s largest steelmaker, is considering the sale of its entire UK business to stem heavy losses, a move that would draw a line under its almost decade-long foray into Britain.

After a marathon board meeting in Mumbai, the steel giant said in a statement in the early hours of Wednesday that the financial performance of its UK arm had deteriorated substantially in recent months, after years of weak conditions.

Blaming high manufacturing costs, domestic market weakness and increased imports into Europe from countries like China, the company said it saw little change ahead for its UK plants.

Tata said its European arm would now “explore all options for portfolio restructuring, including the potential divestment of Tata Steel UK, in whole or in parts”.

“Given the severity of the funding requirement in the foreseeable future, the Tata Steel Europe Board will be advised to evaluate and implement the most feasible option in a time-bound manner,” it added.

Tata Steel bought Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus in 2007 and has since struggled to turn the giant around in the face of a deteriorating market, slashing costs and thousands of jobs.

The company said it remained in talks with the UK government and with investment firm Greybull Capital over the sale of its British long products unit, which makes steel for use in construction. Talks with Greybull were announced last year.

(Reporting by Clara Ferreira Marques; Editing by Stephen Coates)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Tata Steel to sell entire UK operation – BBC | Reuters

Britain’s largest steelmaker Tata Steel Ltd (TISC.NS) is expected to announce the sale of its entire UK business, BBC reported citing union sources.

Tata Steel’s decision was made at Tuesday’s board meeting in Mumbai, BBC said.

Britain’s steel industry has been struggling since European Union steel prices hit their lowest since 2004.

Earlier in January, Tata Steel said it would cut 1,050 UK jobs including 750 jobs at Port-Talbot-based operations in Wales.

About 4,000 British steel jobs were lost in October 2015 alone, equivalent to about a fifth of the sector’s workforce.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Cautious Yellen pushes back on Fed officials eying hike | Reuters

NEW YORK Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Tuesday the U.S. central bank should proceed only cautiously as it looks to raise interest rates, pushing back on a handful of her colleagues who have suggested another move may be just around the corner.

In her first comments since the Fed decided to hold rates steady two weeks ago, Yellen said inflation has not yet proven durable against the backdrop of looming global risks to the U.S economy, including still-low oil prices and concerns over China.

The comments, which boosted stocks and bonds and hit the dollar, come as healthier measures of U.S. inflation and manufacturing have prompted some other Fed officials to say another policy tightening could come as soon as April.

But Yellen was not about to change tack just yet.

“Given the risks to the outlook, I consider it appropriate for the Committee to proceed cautiously in adjusting policy,” she said of the Fed’s policy-making Federal Open Market Committee.

At its March policy meeting, the Fed had nodded to an overseas slowdown and early-year market turmoil in justifying a pause to its policy tightening. At the time, Fed officials also downgraded economic expectations and predicted only about two more rate hikes this year, down from a December prediction of four.

Yellen said she still expected that headwinds from weak growth abroad, low oil prices and uncertainty over China would abate and allow the U.S. recovery to continue alongside a “gradual” series of rate hikes.

But, she added, the overseas developments “imply that meeting our objectives for employment and inflation will likely require a somewhat lower path for (rates) than was anticipated in December,” when the Fed hiked for the first time in a decade.

In response to her comments at the Economic Club of New York, the dollar dropped to a one-week low while equities and gold rebounded.

U.S. inflation measures have shown some recent strength, with the Fed’s preferred annual measure flat at 1.7 percent in February, though still below its target of 2 percent. Another closely watched 12-month measure was up 2.3 percent from a year ago.

That, along with a partial rebound in oil prices and relative tranquility in global markets, appear to have given some other Fed officials confidence that the economy can soon absorb tighter policy after seven years of near zero rates.

San Francisco Fed President John Williams, a close ally of Yellen who is usually among the core of decision-makers, said earlier on Tuesday in Singapore that the U.S. central bank should stay on track with its tightening plan.

That echoed public comments last week by Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, another centrist, and James Bullard of the St. Louis Fed, who has a vote on policy this year. Those so-called hawkish views had convinced some investors that the Fed was poised to raise rates at policy meetings in April or June.

On the other hand, sluggish consumer spending and a large trade gap last month has slowed the Atlanta Fed’s closely watched estimate of economic growth to only 0.6 percent in the first quarter of the year.

Diane Swonk, founder of DS Economics in Chicago, said Yellen’s “key points today emphasize her bias to raise rates later, not sooner, and more importantly, to sideline inflation hawks who want to raise rates in April.”

Futures traders expect the Fed to wait until November to raise rates another 0.25 percent, from around 0.37 percent now, according to CME Group.

Yellen, who has run the Fed for more than two years, said policymakers held rates steady this month in part to “get ahead” of an overseas slowdown even though the U.S. economy has so far proven “remarkably resilient.”

On a busy day for the world’s most influential central bank, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan used similar language to describe his outlook, saying the Fed should proceed gradually and cautiously on rate hikes.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Masayuki Kitano in Singapore, Jennifer Ablan in New York, and Lindsay Dunsmuir and Howard Schneider in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Oil prices fall 3 percent as investors focus again on glut | Reuters

NEW YORK Oil prices fell about 3 percent on Tuesday, reflecting growing concern that a two-month rally was fading as demand fails to keep up with swelling global supply, including new output from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Prices bounced, but only briefly, after U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen made remarks that investors saw as dovish for the U.S. interest rate outlook.

Brent LCOc1 futures settled down $1.13 at $39.14 a barrel while U.S. crude CLc1 settled $1.11 lower at $38.28 per barrel.

Prices rebounded marginally in post-settlement trading after data from industry group American Petroleum Institute showed a 2.9 million barrels rise in crude stocks last week, less than the 3.3 million barrels analysts had expected. API

The decision by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to resume oil production at the jointly operated 300,000-barrel-per-day Khafji field, at a time when production is supposed to be frozen, triggered the selloff in oil, traders said.

“The capacity of that field in the Neutral Zone is more than what Ecuador produces. If they do freeze, it will not be at the January levels but at a lot higher figure,” one trader said, referring to the Kuwait-Saudi border area where Khafji is located.

Yellen told the Economic Club of New York the Fed should proceed “cautiously” with interest-rate hikes because inflation has not proven durable against the backdrop of global risks to the U.S economy.

Hawkish comments from Fed officials last week triggered a widespread correction in commodities and bolstered the dollar.

“The comments today suggest that it (next rate hike) may be more delayed and the dollar getting whacked is providing support to oil, although oil is still trending to the downside in the short term,” Energy Management Institute analyst Dominick Chirichella said.

The dollar index .DXY slipped to an eight-day low following Yellen’s comments, making greenback-denominated commodities cheaper for holders of other currencies.

Oil prices have risen more than 30 percent since mid-February, ahead of an April 17 meeting in Doha where the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major suppliers including Russia will discuss an output freeze aimed at bolstering prices.

But with global inventories swelling and signs some OPEC members are losing market share, the meeting is unlikely to do much to prop up prices, analysts and traders said.

Rising gasoline demand in the United States is not seen keeping pace with the increased worldwide supplies. API data showed a smaller-than-expected draw in gasoline stocks in the week to March 25.

Oil prices sank early after a source familiar with Iranian thinking said Tehran would attend the Doha meeting, but not necessarily take part in negotiations over production freezes.

Market watchers have said the rebound in U.S. crude from 12-year lows touched in February was due more to short covering, rather than improving fundamentals.

(Additional reporting by Amanda Cooper in London and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by Fiona Ortiz, Paul Simao, Alan Crosby and David Gregorio)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Oil prices sharply lower despite Yellen comments | Reuters

NEW YORK Oil prices fell 3 percent on Tuesday, reflecting growing concern that a two-month rally was fading as demand fails to keep up with swelling global supply, including new output from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Remarks by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, which were seen as generally dovish for the interest rate outlook, sparked a brief rebound before prices slumped again.

Both oil contracts were down more than 3 percent by 1:31 p.m. EST (1731 GMT). Brent futures fell $1.20 to $39.07 a barrel and U.S. crude was down $1.22 to $38.17 per barrel, a 3.1 percent loss.

The decision by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to resume oil production at the jointly operated 300,000-barrel-per-day Khafji field, at a time when production is supposed to be frozen, triggered the heavy selloff in oil markets, traders said.

“The capacity of that field in the Neutral Zone is more than what Ecuador produces. If they do freeze, it will not be at the January levels but at a lot higher figure,” one trader said, referring to the Kuwait-Saudi border area where Khafji is located.

Earlier, Yellen told the Economic Club of New York that the Fed should proceed “cautiously” as it looks to raise rates again because inflation has not yet proven durable against the backdrop of looming global risks to the U.S economy.

Hawkish comments from several Fed officials last week put investors on guard for the likelihood of two rate hikes this year, triggering a widespread correction in commodities and bolstering the dollar.

“The comments today suggest that it (next rate hike) may be more delayed and the dollar getting whacked is providing support to oil, although oil is still trending to the downside in the short term,” Energy Management Institute analyst Dominick Chirichella said.

The dollar index slipped to a one-week low following Yellen’s comments, making greenback-denominated commodities cheaper for holders of other currencies.

Oil prices have risen more than 30 percent since mid-February, ahead of an April 17 meeting in Doha where the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major suppliers including Russia will discuss an output freeze aimed at bolstering prices.

But with global inventories swelling and signs some OPEC members are losing market share, the meeting is unlikely to do much to prop up prices, analysts and traders said. Rising gasoline demand in the United States is not seen keeping pace with the increased worldwide supplies.

Oil prices sank further after a source familiar with Iranian thinking said Tehran would attend the meeting in Doha, but not necessarily take part in negotiations over production freezes.

Market watchers now believe the rebound in U.S. crude prices from 12-year lows touched in February was more the consequence of a major short covering rally and less to do with improving fundamentals. [O/ICE]

The oil market is also bracing for American Petroleum Institute inventory data due at 1630 EDT (2030 GMT), which is expected to show that U.S. commercial crude stock piles have reached record highs for a seventh straight week, while refined product inventories likely fell.

(Additional reporting by Amanda Cooper in London and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by Susan Thomas, Fiona Ortiz and Paul Simao)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

EgyptAir hijack ends with passengers freed unharmed, suspect arrested | Reuters

LARNACA, Cyprus/CAIRO An EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus on Tuesday by a man with what authorities said was a fake suicide belt, who was arrested after giving himself up.

The passengers and crew were unharmed. Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, were on board the Airbus 320, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement.

Conflicting theories emerged about the motives of the hijacker, an Egyptian. A senior Cypriot official said he seemed unstable and the incident did not appear related to terrorism. The Cypriot state broadcaster said he had demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt.

In the midst of the hijack, witnesses said he threw a letter on the apron at Cyprus’s Larnaca airport, written in Arabic, and asked that it be delivered to his Cypriot ex-wife.

After the aircraft landed at Larnaca, negotiations began and everyone on board was freed except three passengers and four crew, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fethy said.

Soon afterwards, Cypriot television footage showed several people leaving the plane via the stairs and another man climbing out of the cockpit window and running off.

The hijacker then surrendered to authorities.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the hijacker had threatened to blow himself up and demanded that the aircraft be refueled and head to Istanbul.

“It looks like he realized his demands would not be met, allowing the last two hostages, Britons, to flee the aircraft. He also tried to leave, running out. He was arrested,” said Kasoulides.

“The explosives on him were examined. They weren’t explosives, but mobile phone covers.”

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the hijacker would be questioned to ascertain his motives. “At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport but there was nothing specific,” he said.

“ABNORMAL” HIJACKER

Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said the pilot, Omar al-Gammal, had told authorities that he was threatened by a passenger who claimed to be wearing an explosive belt and forced him to divert the plane to Larnaca.

Reached by telephone, Gammal told Reuters that the hijacker seemed “abnormal”. Sounding exhausted, he said he had been obliged to treat the man as a serious security threat.

Photographs on Egyptian state television showed a middle-aged man on a plane wearing glasses and displaying a white belt with bulging pockets and protruding wires.

Television channels showed video footage of the hijacker, identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, 59, being searched by security men at a metal detector at Borg al-Arab airport in Alexandria.

Interior Ministry officials said he was expelled from law school and had a long criminal record, including robberies.

Fethy, the Egyptian minister, said authorities suspected the suicide belt was not genuine but treated the incident as serious to ensure the safety of all those on board.

“We cannot say this was a terrorist act… he was not a professional,” Fethy told reporters after the incident.

EgyptAir delayed a New York-bound flight from Cairo onto which some passengers of the hijacked plane had been due to connect. Fethy said it was delayed partly due to a technical issue but partly as a precaution.

The hijacked plane remained on the tarmac at Larnaca throughout the morning while Cypriot security forces took up positions around the scene.

EGYPT’S IMAGE

The incident will deal another blow to Egypt’s tourism industry and hurt efforts to revive an economy hammered by political unrest following the 2011 uprising that ousted veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak.

The sector, a main source of hard currency for the import-dependent county, was already reeling from the crash of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai peninsula in late October.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said the Russian plane was brought down by a terrorist attack. Islamic State has said it planted a bomb on board, killing all 224 people on board.

The latest incident raised renewed questions over airport security, though it was not clear whether the hijacker was even armed. Ismail said stringent measures were in place.

Passengers on the plane included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, an Italian, a Syrian and a French national, the Civil Aviation Ministry said.

Cyprus has seen little militant activity for decades, despite its proximity to the Middle East.

A botched attempt by Egyptian commandos to storm a hijacked airliner at Larnaca airport led to the disruption of diplomatic relations between Cyprus and Egypt in 1978.

In 1988, a Kuwaiti airliner which had been hijacked from Bangkok to Kuwait in a 16-day siege had a stopover in Larnaca, where two hostages were killed.

(Additionaly reporting by Michele Kambas in Athens and Mostafa Hashem, Ahmed Mohammed Hassan, Amina Ismail and Lin Noueihed in Cairo, Writing by Lin Noueihed, Editing by Michael Georgy and Mark Trevelyan)

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Fed should proceed ‘cautiously’ given global risks, Yellen says | Reuters

NEW YORK Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Tuesday the U.S. central bank should proceed “cautiously” as it looks to raise interest rates again, because inflation has not yet proven durable against the backdrop of looming global risks to the U.S economy.

In her first comments since the Fed decided to hold rates steady two weeks ago, Yellen again sounded cautious tones about threats to the recovery of the world’s biggest economy, appearing to push back on more hawkish recent comments from a handful of her colleagues.

“Developments abroad imply that meeting our objectives for employment and inflation will likely require a somewhat lower path for the federal funds rate than was anticipated in December,” when the Fed raised rates for the first time in a decade, Yellen said at the Economic Club of New York.

“Given the risks to the outlook, I consider it appropriate for the Committee to proceed cautiously in adjusting policy,” Yellen said, referring to the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee.

At its March policy meeting, the Fed had nodded to an overseas slowdown and early-year market turmoil in justifying a pause to planned policy tightening. Fed policymakers at the time also downgraded economic expectations and predicted only about two more rate hikes this year.

On Tuesday Yellen said she still expected that headwinds from weak growth abroad, low oil prices and uncertainty over China would abate and allow the recovery to continue.

“This expectation of fading headwinds,” she said, is a key reason policymakers expect that “gradual increases” in rates will be appropriate. “The overall fallout for the U.S. economy from global market developments since the start of the year will most likely be limited,” Yellen said.

U.S. stocks and Treasury securities prices turned positive while the dollar dropped to a one-week low after Yellen’s comments. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note traded at 1.82 percent.

U.S. inflation measures have shown some strength, with the Fed’s preferred annual measure flat at 1.7 percent in Februarythough still below its target of 2 percent. Another closely watched 12-month measure was up 2.3 percent from a year ago.

Yellen however remains cautious. “It is too early to tell if this recent faster pace will prove durable,” she said, echoing her concerns from March 16.

The decent economic data at home, the rebound in oil prices, and relative tranquility in global markets have prompted some other Fed officials to suggest another rate hike could come in April or June. San Francisco Fed President John Williams, a close ally of Yellen, said earlier on Tuesday the central bank should stay on track with its tightening plan.

(Additional reporting and writing by Howard Schneider; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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India approves foreign investment in e-commerce sector | Reuters

MUMBAI India on Tuesday approved 100 percent foreign investment in marketplace e-commerce companies, formalising rules for the first time for the multi-billion dollar sector.

After years of protectionist policies, India started opening up its retail sector in 2011 but so far had not laid down explicit rules governing foreign investment in the fast-growing e-commerce segment.

In a notification on Tuesday, India’s commerce ministry said it would allow 100 percent foreign direct investment in marketplace e-commerce companies, which would also be allowed to provide services including warehousing, inventory and payments processing to merchants.

However, the notification said e-commerce companies would not be allowed to influence prices of the goods sold on their website, and that not more than 25 percent of goods sold can come from a single merchant.

The ministry also said foreign investment in inventory-based e-commerce companies, where goods sold are owned by the online retailer, would still not be allowed.

Global e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc along with home grown but foreign-funded rivals Flipkart and Snapdeal have been operating marketplace e-commerce companies that do not own inventory, but instead act as platforms connecting buyers and sellers through support services and for a commission.

“An explicit position from the government on where it stood with reference to e-commerce has been long overdue. In that sense, it is good that some clarity has been provided,” said Vivek Gupta, a partner at BMR Advisors.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch has forecast Indian e-commerce will surge to $220 billion in value of goods sold by 2025 from about $11 billion last year, outpacing growth in bricks and mortar retail.

(Reporting by Himank Sharma; editing by Susan Thomas)

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American actress Patty Duke has died at age 69 | Reuters

Oscar-winning American actress Patty Duke, widely known for the 1960s show “The Patty Duke Show,” died on Tuesday, her representative told Reuters. She was 69 years old.

Duke died Tuesday morning in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho from sepsis due to a ruptured intestine, her spokesman Mitchell Stubbs said.

“She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a mental health advocate and a cultural icon. She will be greatly missed,” Stubbs said.

The actress began working as a teen and won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in 1962’s “The Miracle Worker” at age 16. She starred in her own sitcom, “The Patty Duke Show” from 1963 to 1966, and had a role in 1967’s “Valley of the Dolls.”

She later became president of the Screen Actor’s Guild in the 1980s, and also became an advocate for mental health issues after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy and Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Diane Craft)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke dies, age 69 | Reuters

Oscar-winning American actress Patty Duke, widely known for the 1960s show “The Patty Duke Show,” died on Tuesday, her representative told Reuters. She was 69 years old.

Duke died Tuesday morning in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho from sepsis due to a ruptured intestine, her spokesman Mitchell Stubbs said.

“She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a mental health advocate and a cultural icon. She will be greatly missed,” Stubbs said.

Born Anna Duke in New York in 1946, the actress began working as a child in commercials, television and on stage.

She won a best supporting actress Oscar for playing deaf-blind author and activist Helen Keller in 1962’s “The Miracle Worker” at age 16, and later won an Emmy for playing Keller’s instructor Annie Sullivan in 1979’s TV movie of the same name.

The actress also starred in her own sitcom, “The Patty Duke Show” from 1963 to 1966, and had a role in 1967’s “Valley of the Dolls.”

She later became president of the Screen Actor’s Guild in the 1980s, and also became an advocate for mental health issues after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982.

The actress was married four times and has three children, including “Lord of the Rings” actor Sean Astin and “The Facts of Life” actor Mackenzie Astin.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy and Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Diane Craft)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Narendra Modi makes statements full of lies, has lowered PM’s post, says Tarun Gogoi

Guwahati: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi lashed out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of lying and making statements against him “without basis”.

File image. PTIFile image. PTI

File image. PTI

Rubbishing Modi’s claim that the state had not given an account of Rs 1.8 lakh crore to the Comptroller and Auditor General, the chief minister said, “This is just a lie. I never got so much money from the Centre in my entire tenure. I challenge him to prove it. The PM is making statements without any basis.”

The CAG has never said there is any misappropriation of funds in Assam. It has only said that some funds are being utilised and they suggested some corrections. If the Assam government is misusing funds then why was the Centre sending more money without reducing the state’s share as claimed by the Prime Minister in his rallies, he told reporters. “Have you ever seen a PM making statements with lies, lies, lies and full of lies? I have not seen it in the world. He has lowered the dignity of the PM’s post. There should be a limit of telling lies by a PM. Modi alleges that there has only been destruction in Assam in the last 15 years. That means, the condition of Assam was better in 2001 and it has worsened since then,” he added.

Referring to the issue of infiltration raised by BJP, he said it is the Centre’s duty to stop it and it was the Congress government which took up fencing and installing flood-lights on the Indo-Bangla border.

“When (L K) Advani was the (union) home Minister, why did you (BJP) not do anything? What have you done in the last two years? They (BJP) raise this issue every time before election. They raised it in 2014 Lok Sabha polls also,” he said.

Gogoi also questioned Modi over his silence on withdrawal of special category status. “If you care for Assam so much then why was there nothing for the state in the Budget? Now you are announcing everything for Assam.

“What have you done in the last 22 months? You sought 60 months for India’s development,” he said, adding there was only price rise and inflation.

PTI

Gujarat HC orders independent probe into MLA Radadiya’s alleged assault on shopkeeper

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday ordered an “independent investigation” by police into an alleged assault by BJP MP from Porbandar Vitthal Radadiya and others of a shop-owner at Dhoraji in Rajkot district last year.

Police are accused of not registering an FIR in the case.

Gujarat High Court. PTIGujarat High Court. PTI

Gujarat High Court. PTI

Justice Sonia Gokani ordered that the case be investigated independently by the Superintendent of Police (Rajkot rural) and the IG (Rajkot range) should supervise it.

A report should be filed by 15 June, the HC said.

Radadiya, then a Congress MP, had rented out a shop at Dhoraji to Sharifbhai Shakariyana, a party worker.

On 12 October, 2015 Radadiya and his men allegedly beat up Rajesh Mehta, who ran the shop on Shakariyana’s behalf, to get it vacated.

When Mehta approached the police, they only registered a non-cognisable offence and not an FIR.

Mehta then moved the local court at Dhoraji, which too ruled that the offence being non-cognisable, no FIR could be filed.

He then moved the HC, seeking a CBI probe. The HC refused to order a CBI probe but ordered an independent probe by the DSP.

Mehta’s lawyers argued that Sharifbhai, the tenant, had occupied the shop for a long time, he had the telephone connection in his name and he was in “settled possession”, so he cannot be dispossessed without due legal procedure.

Radadiya is in news at present after a video showing him beating up an elderly man at a religious function at Jamkandorna in Rajkot district went viral some days ago.

PTI

This is laughable: After Cong and AAP, ally Shiv Sena joins anti-govt chorus over Pak JIT probing Pathankot

Mumbai/New Delhi: Key BJP ally Shiv Sena on Tuesday joined Congress and AAP in attacking the government over a Pakistani team being allowed to visit an IAF base in Pathankot to probe the terror strike, calling it “wrong”.

Mounting a fresh offensive over the visit today, Congress said the Modi government has set a “wrong precedent” and wondered why ‘biryani’ was being served to the JIT which also includes an ISI representative.

The Pakistan investigative team that has come to India for probing the Pathankot attack. IBNLIVE

The Pakistan investigative team that has come to India for probing the Pathankot attack. IBNLIVE

As a political storm over the visit of a five-member Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) raged, the BJP fended off opposition criticism, saying the trip strengthens government’s stand that Pakistani territory was used to carry out the strike. It also accused Congress of criticising the visit due to “political malice”.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut while terming the government’s decision as “wrong” said rather an Indian team needs to be sent to Pakistan to probe those behind the terror strikes.

Raut also reminded the Centre that not India, but Pakistan is an accused in the Pathankot strike. “On top of that, we have provided high security to the Pakistani team. Who are they scared of? The entire matter is laughable,” the Sena MP told PTI in Mumbai.

He sought to know if the Centre will manage to get permission from Pakistan to get an Indian team to investigate in the neighbouring country.

“Our team needs to be sent there to investigate the role of Hafiz Saeed and Azhar Masood in terror strikes in our country. But will we get permission? We need to remember we are not culprits but Pakistan is,” he said.

Congress accused the government of compromising the country’s sovereignty and setting a “wrong” precedent.

“It is known all over that the Pakistan’s ISI is behind the terror attacks in India, including the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes, and still we are serving biryani to the JIT which also includes an ISI representative,” party spokesman P L Punia told reporters in Delhi.

Replying to a question, he said the Narendra Modi dispensation has set a “wrong” precedent by allowing the JIT to visit India.

BJP said the government has “adequate evidence” that Pakistani territory was used and terrorists based there were involved in the attack.

“They (Pakistan) said they want to send an investigation team. It only strengthens our case and does not weaken it,” party National Secretary Shrikant Sharma told reporters.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said only time will tell whether the visit will benefit India or not. He, however, said “the way Pakistani team came for probing the Pathankot attack and was allowed, Indian team should be allowed to (investigate) Mumbai and other such attacks (in Pakistan)”.

Striking a tone different from other opposition parties, Omar’s father and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah backed the government over the visit, saying it was a “very good step” and that it was time for the two neighbouring countries to give up animosity and push friendship.

Waving black flags and placards, scores of Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers stood outside the IAF base protesting against the visit and shouted anti-Pakistan slogans.

PTI

Kanhaiya, Rohith Vemula are Bhagat Singhs of today, says family

New Delhi: Kanhaiya Kumar, Rohith Vemula and every youth who is concerned about the issues in the country and raises his voice is present era’s Bhagat Singh, the martyr’s nephew Jagmohan Singh said here on Tuesday.

“They all are Bhagat Singhs. Kanhaiya, Rohith and every youth who is concerned about the country and raises the issue has every right to be compared to him. This is what disturbs the government and they fabricate cases against those who raise their voices,” he said on sidelines of a lecture at JNU.

Asked about Congress leader Shashi Tharoor’s remarks comparing Kanhaiya to Bhagat Singh, which kicked off a controversy, he said, ” I agree with him (Tharoor). Kanhaiya is following the ideology of Bhagat Singh and performing well intellectually and politically by raising issues concerning the society. Rohith also turned a martyr doing so”.

JNUSU leader Kanhaiya Kumar. Reuters

JNUSU leader Kanhaiya Kumar. Reuters

Jagmohan, who is a human rights activist and has digitized most of the essential writings of Bhagat Singh, was here to address the JNU students on the topic “Sedition law and freedom struggle: Bhagat Singh’s point of view”.

“Sedition is the last resort for every government. When they have no answers to the questions being raised by certain people who are seen as activists in the society, the government uses the sedition law then,” he said during the lecture.

Former professor at Punjab Agricultural University, Jagmohan, who was also charged with sedition two decades back when he published a report on 1984 anti-Sikh riots, said, “Bhagat Singh used to say that government always has a notion that people are in habit of raising the issues and its sedition law which balances the act. I cannot agree more with him on this”.

“They talk of installing flagpoles everywhere but RSS headquarters doesn’t have one. They want to give respect to the national flag but not to the Preamble of the constitution. They talk of subsidies to university but never talk of subsidies that have never reached the poor,” he said.

“BJP today wants to celebrate Bhagat Singh but is hindering them to name an airport in his name. Why is this happening primarily because all our decisions are taken somehwere in Nagpur,” he added.

Jagmohan, was speaking during the “Azaadi lecture series” at JNU’s administration block which has been the venue of protest ever since its student union president Kanhaiya was arrested in a sedition case over an event against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru during which anti-national slogans were allegedly raised.

PTI

Andhra Pradesh first state in India to link rivers, claims CM Naidu

Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh has become the first state in the country to achieve inter-linking of rivers Godavari and Krishna through the Pattisam Lift Scheme, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu said on Tuesday.

However, Leader of Opposition YS Jaganmohan Reddy said the state government had wasted Rs 1,600 crore as Pattisam did not have any storage capacity.

The chief minister made a suo motu statement in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday afternoon on the Pattisam scheme under which 8,500 cusecs of water from Godavari river would be lifted into the Polavaram right main canal and diverted to Krishna river through the Prakasam Barrage.

Chandrababu Naidu. APChandrababu Naidu. AP

Chandrababu Naidu. AP

“Pattisam scheme has been completed in a record time of just one year. By interlinking Godavari and Krishna, crops in the Krishna Delta region are saved by timely supply of (8.8 tmc ft) water. We spent Rs 1,300 crore on Pattisam but the crops saved in the first year itself were worth Rs 2,500 crore,” Naidu said.

About 80 to 100 tmc ft of water from Godavari river could be diverted into Krishna river on the upstream of Prakasam Barrage through the Pattisam scheme.

“Krishna water to this extent can be saved in Srisailam reservoir and used for the benefit of farmers in the parched Rayalaseema districts of Kurnool, Anantapuramu, Kadapa and Chittoor besides other needy areas in the state,” Naidu added.

Taking part in the discussion on the subject, the opposition leader, however, said Rs 1,600 crore was sent down the drain as Pattisam scheme did not have any storage capacity.

“Krishna Delta requires 180 tmc ft of water but the government is claiming to have done wonders by pumping just four tmc ft. It was my late father (YS Rajasekhara Reddy) who completed 70 percent of works related to the Polavaram right main canal,” Jagan pointed out.

He questioned why the Chandrababu Naidu government remained silent after the Telangana government invited tenders for the Palamuru-Ranga Reddy lift irrigation scheme to divert Krishna water.

“You don’t even have the guts to face KCR (Telangana chief minister). He (KCR) is talking to Maharashtra chief minister over sharing of river waters,” the YSR Congress president said.

For most part of the debate, there was a humorous duel between Chandrababu and Jagan as the former claimed the latter probably never understood the irrigation subject properly.

“Hope you people have understood what I said. Your leader seems to have not got it. I will take a class for you all if you did not understand,” Chandrababu remarked, pointing to the YSRC MLAs.

The chief minister then read out portions of his statement again and stressed that his government would complete the Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project as well by 2018.

PTI

Was sent to jail when I tried taking up issues of backward classes: Kushwaha accuses BSP govt

Sonbhadra (UP): Former Uttar Pradesh Minister Babu Singh Kushwaha on Tuesday accused Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of doing nothing for backward classes and conspiring to send him to jail when he tried championing their issues.

Former BSP leader Babu Singh Kushwaha. IBNLIVE

Former BSP leader Babu Singh Kushwaha. IBNLIVE

“BSP government did nothing for backward classes and when I tried taking up their issues, a conspiracy was hatched and I was sent to jail,” he alleged while addressing a public meeting here.

Kushwaha was the minister for family welfare in the Mayawati government and expelled from BSP after the murder of two medical officers in Lucknow exposed the National Rural Health Mission scam.

“In reality, there was no issue concerning NRHM… It was a matter related to law and order which was under the purview of chief minister,” he said.

Once a close aide of BSP chief Mayawati, Kushwaha said the party has “deviated from its policy of ‘jiski jitni sankhya bhari uski utni bhagidari‘ (representation of each (caste) according to its percentage of population) and has adopted ‘jiski jitni thaili bhari uski utni hissedari‘ (representation of each according to its percentage of money power).”

PTI

Air India’s Hong Kong-Delhi flight makes emergency landing at Kolkata

Kolkata: An Air India Delhi-bound flight from Hong Kong with around 154 passengers on board was diverted to Kolkata, where it landed under emergency conditions after the pilot detected a snag in the aircraft engine.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The snag-hit Boeing 787-800 (Dreamliner) plane is now grounded at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport here, sources said.

An Air India spokesperson in Delhi said that the aircraft made a precautionary landing at around 2015 hours, and all passengers have been deplaned safely.

Air India is making arrangements to fly the stranded passengers to their destination in its Kolkata-Delhi flight, the spokesperson said.

PTI

Some students, professors at JNU are anti-national, they malign the institution’s image: ABVP

Mumbai: ABVP’s JNU unit secretary Lalit Pandey said some students and professors were running “anti-national activities” inside the campus, even as he hailed the varsity as a top institution.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

“The reality of JNU is that some students and professors were running anti-national activities. But all students and professors are not like that. Most of the students are here for study,” Pandey said.

He was addressing the students of Mumbai University on its campus in Kalina in suburban Santa Cruz during an event titled ‘Truth of JNU’.

The function witnessed sloganeering by ABVP activists who chanted ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ while the members of Students’ Federation of India (SFI) raised slogans against RSS and BJP.

Pandey said that though JNU is a premier educational institution, its image is getting maligned due to some people. “We will go to each and every corner of the country to save JNU,” he said.

Pandey said the controversial event on 9 February to mark the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru held on the JNU campus was “anti-national”. “The High Court in its observation has mentioned that the event was an anti-national incident. Hence, there should be no doubt that sloganeering took place there,” he said.

Pandey said there were two doctored videos of the JNU incident. “However, rest (of videos) were clear. Videos are not the only evidence, there are posters and pamphlets as well,” he added.

Pandey said the ABVP will vehemently oppose those forces who talk about dividing the nation.

PTI

Telangana legislators to double their salaries as Assembly unanimously passes Bill

Hyderabad: The salaries and allowances of MLAs and MLCs in Telangana are set for a more than two-fold hike as the Assembly on Tuesday passed a bill in this regard.

The passage of Telangana Payment of Salaries and Pension and Removal of Disqualifications (Amendment) Bill-2016 came close on the heels of the Committee on Amenities of the Telangana Legislature unanimously deciding to recommend to enhance the salary and other allowances on 21 March. It is estimated that the hike would cause a recurring expenditure of Rs 42.67 crores per annum, according to the Financial Memorandum in the Bill.

The legislators’ gross salary would now go up to Rs 2.30 lakh per month from the present Rs 95,000 per month (including allowances), chief whip Koppula Eswar earlier told PTI.

Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao. AFPTelangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao. AFP

Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao. AFP

A pension of Rs 30,000 has also been proposed for ex-legislators.

Legislature Affairs Minister T Harish Rao, who moved the Bill, said the hike is being made as per requests made to the government in last one-and-half year by MLAs and MLCs.

Observing that the hike is necessary for people like him who came from humble back ground, Congress member Sampath Kumar said his party welcomed the bill.

BJP member Ch Ramachandra Reddy also sought a hike in the vehicle loan.

Noting that economic dynamics have undergone a sea change over the years, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao said the legislators have to bear costs for attending a number of meetings of the government, zilla parishad and others and for taking care of number of visitors everyday.

They also have to bear the costs involved in travelling within the constituency, to the district headquarters and also the state capital city, he said.

Referring to the debate in media on salary hike for MLAs and MLCs, Rao also made an appeal to the mediapersons to understand the prevailing situation.

The estimated expenditure of Rs 42 crores does not constitute even the perceptible percentage of the state budget (of more than Rs one lakh crore), he said.

Earlier, the Assembly passed the Dr BR Ambedkar Open University (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

Congress, BJP, TDP and others voiced opposition to government’s move to appoint vice chancellors by allegedly taking away the powers from the governor.

The government should nominate deserving persons to a search committee for selection of vice chancellor, they said.

CM Rao, however, recalled that there were instances when VCs indulged in corruption and that the VCs should be appointed in the context of new state of Telangana.

Alleging that the government’s move would lead to dilution of autonomy of universities, Congress staged a walk out.

Another bill, the Telangana (Agricultural Produce and Livestock) Markets (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was also passed.

The Bill would provide reservations in appointment of Market Committees and the state stood as an ideal for states, Marketing Minister T Harish Rao said.

On a suggestion by senior Congress MLA G Chinna Reddy, the chief minister agreed to have quota for women as well in the Bill.

PTI

11 police personnel protect bodies of four Pathankot terrorists since Air Force base attack

Pathankot: Eleven policemen have been on duty round-the-clock at the civil hospital morgue here for the past almost three months to protect the bodies of four terrorists killed after they attacked the Air Force Base here in January.

An NIA official said the hospital authorities have been asked to preserve the bodies as they are “evidence for us”, and this has kept the policemen on their toes.

The visiting JIT from Pakistan did not examine the bodies on Tuesday, officials said.

Representative image. AFPRepresentative image. AFP

Representative image. AFP

“It has been 80 days now. I cannot afford to lower guard even for a minute,” constable Dalbir Singh, whose job, along with his colleagues’, is to protect the morgue in the only government hospital here, said.

Head constable Vinod Kumar is on alert whenever anybody approaches the morgue.

“We have clear instructions not to allow anyone near the room. If terrorists could come till the airbase, then this place cannot be beyond their reach. Our senior officers conduct daily rounds to check on the bodies and a van from the police control room is also stationed near the boundary wall every night,” Kumar said.

The terrorists were eliminated in a counteroffensive by security forces on January 2. The bodies were handed over to the hospital on January 7, the hospital authorities said.

Senior medical officer at the hospital, Dr Bhupinder Singh said, “Since we got the bodies four-five days after the encounter, there were some changes in them.”

They are being preserved in deep freezers at temperatures between minus three and four degrees Celsius, he said.

But with only two freezers available, two bodies share space in each compartment.

The bodies have started to decompose, the policemen on duty confide. It is a challenge to keep them intact as grenade explosion had also caused considerable damage to them, they say.

A policeman posted at the morgue said unbearable stench comes out whenever power goes off.

“It becomes difficult to even stand here. When there is no electricity, the freezer stops working. The ice melts and stinking water comes out. Forget the stink it is also harmful for health as it contains hazardous fluid of the dead bodies,” the policeman said.

When the bodies were brought they were covered with dry blood and had bullet holes all over, said Chaman Lal, the attendant at the morgue.

Lal has been assisting doctors in conducting autopsies at the hospital since 1991.

There are maggots all over the bodies, he said. “I have to clean them at regular intervals. It has been so many days, it’s difficult to clean the maggots,” Lal added.

PTI

Government permits 100 per cent FDI in e-commerce

New Delhi: The government today permitted 100 per cent FDI in the market place format of e-commerce retailing with a view to attract more foreign investments.

ECOMMERCEECOMMERCEAs per the guidelines issued by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) on FDI in e-commerce, foreign direct investment (FDI) has not been allowed in inventory-based model of e-commerce.

At present, global e-tailer giants like Amazon and Ebay are operating online marketplaces in India while homegrown players like Flipkart and Snapdeal have foreign investments even as there were no clear FDI guidelines on various online retail models.

To bring clarity, the DIPP has also come out with the definition of ‘e-commerce’, ‘inventory-based model’ and ‘market place model’.

Market place model of e-commerce means providing of an IT platform by an e-commerce entity on a digital and electronic network to act as a facilitator between buyer and seller.

The inventory-based model of e-commerce means an e-commerce activity where inventory of goods and services is owned by e-commerce entity and is sold to consumers directly, according to the guidelines.

A market place entity will be permitted to enter into transactions with sellers registered on its platform on business-to-business basis, DIPP said.

It said that an e-commerce firm, however, will not be permitted to sell more than 25 per cent of the sales affected through its market place from one vendor or their group companies.

“In order to provide clarity to the extant policy, guidelines for FDI on e-commerce sector have been formulated,” DIPP said.

The government has already allowed 100 per cent FDI in business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce.

As per the guidelines, e-commerce means buying and selling of goods and services, including digital products over digital and electronic network.

Digital and electronic network will include computers, TV channels and other Internet application used in automated manner such as web pages, extranets and mobiles.

DIPP said that e-commerce marketplace may provide support services to sellers in respect of warehousing, logistics, order fulfilment, call centre, payment collection and other services.

However, such entities will not exercise ownership over the inventory. “Such an ownership over the inventory will render the business into inventory based model.”

DIPP said that in marketplace model goods/services made available for sale electronically on website should clearly provide name, address and other contact details of the seller.

“Post sales, delivery of goods to the customers and customers satisfaction will be responsibility of the seller,” it said adding in marketplace model, payments for sale may be facilitated by the e-commerce entity in conformity with the RBI rules.

In this model, any warrantee/guarantee of goods and services sold will be responsibility of the seller. “E-commerce entities providing marketplace will not directly or indirectly influence the sale price of goods or services and shall maintain level playing field,” it said. Further the guideline said “subject to the conditions of FDI policy on services sector and applicable laws/regulations and other conditonalities, sale of services through e-commerce will be under automatic route”.
PTI

Assam will be run from Nagpur if BJP comes to power, says Rahul Gandhi

Diphu (Assam): Asking voters in Assam to reject BJP in the Assembly polls, Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said if the party came to power, the state will be run from the RSS headquarters in Nagpur or the PMO.

He also warned the people that BJP will only stoke violence in the state and end the atmosphere of peace ushered in by Congress.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi

“We want everyone should think and should act for one’s culture, language and that no one is suppressed in the country. What does BJP want in Assam. First they will come and ask for your votes and then Assam will not be run from here, but will be run from Nagpur or the Prime Minister’s Office,” he said addressing a poll rally here in Karbi district.

Gandhi said wherever BJP has gone it has brought violence and has disturbed peace and cited the example of Haryana where within months of its coming to power there was violence between jats and non-jats.

“The truth is wherever BJP goes, it tries to make people fight with each other. For example in Haryana, for 10 years there was peace and no violence or anger was there when Congress was in power, but within months of BJP coming to power there was violence and jats and non-jats are fighting with each other.

“You have seen what has happened in Gujarat. In Bihar they tried to bring violence before polls and in Assam too they are trying to spread violence. They will end the peace that has come here after violence stopped. They don’t think about you or Assam, they just want to impose one ideology and thought on the entire country, what RSS people say,” he said.

Gandhi also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of making false promises and said the people of Bihar have sent him packing in a “direct flight” from the state as he failed to fulfil any of the promises made to them during Lok Sabha polls.

While BJP wanted one kind of thought to be imposed across the country it was Congress that took everyone along and did not want anyone to be suppressed irrespective of one’s religion, caste or area, he said.

“If one thought is imposed across the country, what will happen to your language, what will happen to your customs, your history. Because this country is not of anyone or one thought, but crores of people of different languages, history live here and this country belongs to all.”

Attacking the Prime Minister and asking people to reject BJP as they did in Bihar, Gandhi said, “the next time Modiji comes to Assam, ask him about the promises he made to you for bringing back black money, tackle price rise, funding of Assam and providing MSP for farmers, ask him as to which promise he has fulfilled.

“Because this question was posed to him by people of Bihar, as he made a lot of promises during Lok Sabha polls and when he returned during assembly polls a few months later, people of Bihar asked about these promises none of which were honoured and said he is ‘deceiver’ and decided to teach him a lesson. They sent him packing to Delhi in a direct flight. Now people of Assam also have to do the same.”

Rahul accused Modi of not fulfilling his promises of bringing back black money, bringing down prices or addressing the plight of farmers and the poor and instead allowing people like Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi, who possessed black money, to escape from the country.

“When I asked him in Parliament about his unfulfilled promises, he did not answer me,” Gandhi said, asking people to pose these questions to Modi now when he comes to seek their votes.

Rahul, however, made a host of promises himself from providing 10 lakh jobs to youth, filling up all vacant government posts, giving jobs to 2 lakh teachers, providing rice at Rs 2 a kilo, cold storage facilities and agriculture banks to farmers and housing for all.

Apart from Rs 1,000 crore package announced by Tarun Gogoi, he also promised to open a medical, engineering and nursing college in the area.

“We make promises and fulfil them. In the last 15 years, Congress party and Tarun Gogoi has worked for you and will work faster in the next 5 years. We will not leave behind anyone, be of any religion, caste or region or place and our government will be of all religions, castes and places and will take everyone along,” he said.

PTI

Inoperative PF accounts to earn interest from April 1

New Delhi: Retirement fund body EPFO today decided to provide interest on inoperative accounts from April 1, a move which will benefit over nine crore such account-holders having total deposits of over Rs 32,000 crore. The decision was taken by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation’s (EPFO) apex decision making body Central Board of Trustees’ headed by Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya. “UPA government stopped interest on inoperative accounts. Now we have taken a pro-worker decision. The UPA government which was claiming to be a pro-worker, stopped the interest on inoperative accounts.

ThinkstockThinkstock

Thinkstock

“Now, we have decided to credit interest in inoperative accounts. There will not be any inoperative accounts,” Dattatreya told reporters after the CBT meeting here.

He also informed that interest on deposits in inoperative accounts will be credited from from April 1.

Inoperative accounts are those wherein the contribution has not been received for 36 months. EPFO had stopped payment of interest to such accounts from April 1, 2011. The move was aimed at discouraging parking of funds with EPFO in these dormant accounts.

The decision will benefit over nine crore such account holders having total deposit of around Rs 32,000 crore. When asked about a proposal on enhancing proportion of incremental investments of the EPFO in government securities (G-Sec) from 50 per cent to 65 per cent, Labour Secretary Shankar Aggarwal said, “It has already been decided by the Ministry of Finance.”

The Secretary said that the limit of 50 per cent was enhanced as they were getting good offers but unable to invest in such instruments as the limit had been exhuasted.

“If we get higher returns in G-Secs then we should be allowed to invest more in these instruments,” he said further. The Board also gave in-principle approval to restructuring of the EPFO as recommended by a sub-committee.

“We have taken decision regarding (cadre) restructuring of the EPFO. There will be a Career Advancement Scheme for over 20,000 employees of EPFO. They are waiting their due promotions for 19 years,” Dattatreya said.

Dattatreya said that an implementation and anomalies committee has been formed which will look into grievances of employees. “The implementation of the scheme will be started within one month and will go very fast. A small committee under the Central Provident Fund Commissioner will address all anomalies in a month’s time,” he said.

About the CBT’s decision to provide 8.8 per cent rate of interest on PF deposits for current fiscal, the Labour Secretary said, “The decision taken last month at CBT’s meeting at Chennai has been sent to Finance Ministry and their approval is awaited.”

On the proposal to provide insurance cover to EPFO’s subscribers for three years after cessation of employment, he said, “The proposal is deferred.”

The proposal to introduce voluntary retention of EDLI membership to subscribers at reduced rate of contribution for three years after cessation of employment was also on agenda of the CBT meeting today.

At present, the EPFO subscribers get an insurance cover of up to Rs 3.6 lakh crore under the Employee’s Deposit Linked
Insurance (EDLI) Scheme for which their employers contribute 0.5 per cent of basic wages as premium.

About the CBT’s decision in September last year to increase maximum sum assured under the scheme from Rs 3.6 lakh to Rs 6 lakh, Aggarwal said, “All decision of the CBT are vetted by Law Ministry. We will see where it is (status) and it will be implemented.”

The CBT had also decided in its meeting held in September last year, to abolish the condition of continuous employment
of 12 months under the current employer for employees to be eligible for insurance benefit under the EDLI scheme.

On EPFO investments in various instruments, the Secretary said, “We had allowed to invest 5 per cent in equity. Now out
of remaining 95 per cent, we can invest up to 65 per cent in government securities. Thus share of private and public sector
bonds will go down correspondingly.”

The CBT members, particularly workers representatives, raised the issue of EPFO earning negative returns on investments in exchange traded funds (ETF).

Responding to the reservations, the Labour Minister said that there would be a review of investments in ETFs made by EPFO since August last year.

“Labour Minister said that the Finance, Audit and Investment Committee of the EPFO will review the investments in the exchange traded funds (ETFs) in view of the sentiments expressed by the CBT members,” All India Trade Union Congress
Secretary D L Sachdev told PTI.

He further said, “The review of EPFO’s investments in ETFs was listed on the agenda of the CBT meeting today. The trustees’ including all workers’ representatives registered their protest against investments in stock markets.”

EPFO had decided to invest only 5 per cent of its investible deposits in the current fiscal in ETFs, which are considered as a more safe bet than pure equity investments. An EPFO analysis revealed that the body earned a negative return of 9.54 per cent on its Rs 5,920-crore investment in ETFs since August 2015.

Market value of investments of Rs 5,920 crore in the ETFs this fiscal was Rs 5,355 crore on February 29, 2016, as per an analysis of equity investment by EPFO.
PTI

How many more widows will this country make because of tobacco: Victims’ wives write to PM

Kota (Rajasthan): Widows of tobacco victims, including a former minister’s wife, have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking implementation of a doctors’ recommendation for 85 per cent pictorial warning on tobacco products.

In March, a parliamentary panel had expressed

In March, a parliamentary panel had expressed “disappointment” with the recommendations for larger pictorial warning on tobacco products. AFP

Nearly 653 doctors and office bearers of medical societies across the country had recently urged Modi to implement the new set of 85 per cent pictorial warning on tobacco product packages from April 1, to save millions of lives.

The letters to the prime minister’s office (PMO) by the widows were written with concern about rising rate of tobacco consumption among minors and youngsters, project officer of ‘Voice of Tobacco Victims Campaign’ Ashima Sarin said on Tuesday.

“If tobacco products are with larger pictorial warning and in non-glorified packs, the minors and youngsters are less likely to get attracted to them,” Sarin said.

Sumitra Pednekar, wife of former Maharashtra minister Satish Pednekar who died of oral cancer in 2011, along with four other widows of tobacco victims yesterday wrote letters to the PM appealing to him to take stern action to check tobacco consumption and for implementation of 85 per cent pictorial warning on such products.

“I am shocked to hear that a parliamentary panel has once again stalled the implementation of the pictorial warning from April 1 this year,” Pednekar told PTI over phone.

A parliamentary panel earlier this month had expressed “disappointment” with the recommendations for larger pictorial warning on tobacco products.

“What has been lost (death of husband) is lost, but we should check tobacco consumption among youngsters and minors,” Pednekar said.

Selling tobacco products in non-glorified packets with larger pictorial warning rather than in toffee-like attractive packs would certainly keep the youngsters and minors away from purchase, she said.

“We were aghast to read in the newspapers that the parliamentary committee has given more importance to loss of livelihood than loss of lives of innocent Indians, one of which was my husband.

“How many more widows will this country make because of tobacco? Government must take wise decision to save Indians from tobacco than (accept) recommendations made by such a committee,” the widows wrote in their letter to Modi.

PTI

Centre releases 50 more declassified files about Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

New Delhi: The central government on Tuesday released 50 more declassified files related to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

This was posted on the web portal netajipapers.gov.in by culture minister Mahesh Sharma.

A Subhas Chandra Bose portrait on display at the Netaji Research Bureau in Kolkata. ReutersA Subhas Chandra Bose portrait on display at the Netaji Research Bureau in Kolkata. Reuters

A Subhas Chandra Bose portrait on display at the Netaji Research Bureau in Kolkata. Reuters

Among the files released on Tuesday include matters pertaining to Netaji’s ashes and the probe into his disappearance following the controversial air crash of 1945, in which he is believed to have perished.

An official source said that the latest release of files will “further meet the continued public demand to access these files” and this will also help scholars carry out further research on Bose’s role in India’s freedom movement.

The new batch of files consists of 10 files from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), 10 from the Home Ministry and 30 files from the External Affairs Ministry, pertaining to the period from 1956 to 2009.

The first batch of 100 files relating to Netaji, after their preliminary conservation, treatment and digitisation, was put in the public domain by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 23, the occasion of the 119th birth anniversary of the freedom fighter.

In 1997, the National Archives of India had received 990 declassified files pertaining to the Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj) from the Defence Ministry, and in 2012, 1,030 files/items pertaining to the Khosla Commission (271 files/items) and Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry (759 files/items) from the Home Ministry.

IANS

Judge for yourself: Sushma asks twitterati to respond to Manish Tewari’s jibe about crucified Indian priest

New Delhi: A tweet by Congress leader Manish Tewari on Tuesday asking why the BJP government “did nothing” about the alleged crucifixion of an Indian Catholic priest by Islamic State jihadists in Yemen attracted a lot of censure on the social media platform, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj asking twitterati to “reply” to Tewari.

Tewari tweeted: “So ISIS allegedly crucified Father Thomas Uzhunnali  BJP Govt did nothing. Why because he was a Christian? Mr PM he was also a fellow Indian.”

Sushma Swaraj, who has been active on twitter in reaching out to Indians abroad in need of help, tweeted: “Friends – I have liked some tweets. Please see them and judge for yourself. Then reply to @ManishTewari.”

A Catholic priest on Tuesday said there is no confirmation yet about the “crucifixion” of the Indian priest, Father Thomas Uzhunnallil.

However, Tewari’s tweet attracted a lot of flak.

One twitterati asked: “What has the BJP got to do with this? And if your memory still works, remember how you people let Sarabjeet (Singh) die in Pakistan.”

Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. PTIUnion External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. PTI

Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. PTI

Another reasoned: “That’s ok..He’s clutching at straws ….Very few straws left…Even he knows it’s a ridiculous thing to say.”

Another twitterati remarked sarcastically: “Please tell the entire nation what the Congress would have done to save the Father? So that India & also the world can follow your strategy.”

Social media and media houses have disseminated news on the alleged crucifixion of Uzhunnallil by IS terrorists on Good Friday, 25 March, after they abducted him from a home for the elderly in Aden, Yemen.

The Indian priest was kidnapped on March 4 after IS terrorists barged into the care home for the elderly set up by Mother Teresa in Aden in 1992, and shot dead many people, including four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, one of them from India.

The external affairs ministry has said there is no confirmation of the news of the alleged crucifixion.

IANS

Pakistan probe team at Pathankot airbase, Punjab’s Opposition parties threaten protest

Pathankot: A five-member Pakistani joint investigation team (JIT) accompanied by Indian officials on Tuesday visited the “sanitised” areas at Pathankot airbase in connection with probe into the January 2 terror attack targeting the strategic installation.

The JIT members, who arrived in New Delhi on Sunday and had day-long meetings with National Investigation Agency (NIA) officers, left for Amritsar on Tuesday morning en route to Pathankot.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Tight security arrangements have been made in and around the frontier IAF base in view of the visit and likely protests against the visiting Pakistani investigation team.

Punjab Opposition parties, the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have said that they will hold protests near the AFS against the visit.

Authorities at Pathankot airbase said that the visiting Pakistan probe team will be taken only to specific and limited areas within the sprawling Air Force Station (AFS) complex.

The JIT members will be kept away from the AFS’ technical area and shown only those areas where security forces engaged the Pakistani terrorists in the first week of January.

“We have, physically and visually, barricaded the airbase. Tent walls have been erected around the crime scene (shootout site) and nothing else will be visible to the JIT members. Their entry will also be through a special gate through the rear portion of the airbase,” an IAF officer told IANS.

Punjab Police DIG (deputy inspector general) Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh said that the Pakistan JIT will be taken by the NIA to the site of the gunbattle.

“The team will be provided access to the area of the encounter,” Singh said.

Informed defence sources here said the team members could also be shown the bodies of the killed terrorists kept in a government mortuary.

NIA officers will accompany the JIT members.

The JIT will not get to interact with IAF or other defence and security officials and personnel involved in the 80-hour counter-operation by security forces against the terrorists who attacked the airbase in the early hours of 2 January.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Monday in Panaji (Goa) that the Pakistani team would not have access to the operational area of the airbase, but only the isolated “crime scene”, which has been completely barricaded and fenced.

All the terrorists and seven security personnel were killed at the base.

The January attack on the IAF base was the second one by suspected Pakistani terrorists. A group of three Pakistani terrorists had attacked Dinanagar town in adjoining Gurdaspur district on 27 July last year, leaving seven people dead.

IANS

Even Congress leaders have lost faith in Rahul Gandhi, alleges BJP

New Delhi: Amid political turmoil in Uttarakhand and talk about instability in Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh, the BJP on Tuesday stepped up attack on the Congress, saying even “elected leaders” in the party seem to have lost faith in Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi‘s leadership.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

“You have lost ground, people had deserted you long back. Now the situation is such that your own elected people are deserting the party because they have lost faith in your leadership,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national secretary Shrikant Sharma said, referring to Rahul Gandhi.

Joining issue with Rahul Gandhi for his “continued attack” on the Narendra Modi regime, the BJP leader said the Congress should rather focus on managing their own house instead of directing the tirade against the government. “You manage your own house. Your failures will not be forgotten by simply attacking the Modi government,” he said.

The remarks come amid reports that political instability could hit Himachal Pradesh. The Congress party has lost power owing largely to defection from its camp in Arunachal Pradesh and in Uttarakhand, where President’s Rule was imposed on Sunday.

Referring to Rahul Gandhi’s election campaign in Assam, Sharma said, “Rahul has continued baseless allegations without doing homework about his own party’s performance in the state.”

In the last 15 years in Assam, he alleged, the Congress party’s name in the poll-bound state has become synonymous with “corruption and misgovernance”. “You have nothing to speak on Assam,” he said, lashing out at the Congress for pursuing “vote bank politics” in the northeastern state.

“Congress has rather shown love for infiltrators and not for natives,” Sharma said, alleging that the party has played vote bank politics by favouring infiltrators and betrayed the cause of the local inhabitants.

The BJP leader alleged that in the last 15 years as many as 32,000 small industrial units have been closed in Assam.

Referring to the National Herald case, he said, “It is a matter of sadness that a party which ruled India for the longest period, its president (Sonia Gandhi) and vice president (Rahul) are on bail today.”

He also dubbed beleaguered liquor baron Vijay Mallya a “baby of Congress” and asked how was the owner of Kingfisher Airlines given a bailout package in 2012.

IANS

BJP spent ‘hundreds of crores’ in attempt to topple Assam government: Tarun Gogoi

Guwahati: Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Tuesday accused BJP of spending “hundreds of crores” of rupees in an attempt to topple his government with the help of Governor, echoing allegations of his Himachal counterpart that BJP was trying to destablise Congress governments in states.

“BJP spent lots of money. They wasted hundreds of crores before the Bihar elections to topple the government in Assam. They tried it by taking Himanta (Biswa Sarma) and other MLAs,
but they could not do it,” Gogoi told a press conference here targeting the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had launched a blistering attack on the Congress leader during the recent poll rallies in Assam.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. PTI

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. PTI

Sarma, once a trusted Congress minister of Gogoi who is presently in BJP, had almost garnered the support of 35 MLAs and tried the same tactics used in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand of shifting the base to BJP, he claimed.

“The Governor (Padmanabha Balakrishan Acharya) was also involved in this. Without his support how is it possible? That is why, the Centre is not appointing a permanent Governor in Assam. That is why they are appointing all RSS people as Governors,” Gogoi alleged.

He further said if the 35 MLAs, whose support was shown to be withdrawn from Gogoi’s leadership in front of the Congress High Command, had really shifted their allegiance to BJP, the government would have fallen instantly.

Gogoi also regretted his decision to trust Sarma during his tenure with the Congress.

“Yes, I trusted him a lot. He betrayed a simple man like me. Himanta and all his supporters were not original Congressmen. They come and go. Himanta was with ULFA, then AASU, AGP, Congress and now (a) BJP man,” he said.

Talking about the Uttarakhand crisis, the Chief Minister said the entire development is “just a murder of democracy”.

“You did it in Arunachal and now Uttarakhand. The government was to test its majority next day and you (Centre) toppled it. (This is) Hitler in India! This is dictatorial and a murder of democracy,” he alleged.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh had accused the Modi dispensation of trying to “destabilise and topple” his government by using central agencies. He alleged the Centre has been destabilising Congress-ruled states one by one and cited examples of Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand where President’s Rule was imposed.

PTI

Widespread sexual harassment still persists in Delhi despite tougher laws, says study

Washington: Sexual harassment remains a pervasive problem in Delhi despite tougher laws being enacted after the gruesome December 2012 gangrape and murder case, according to a new study that found 40 percent of female respondents were sexually harassed in the past year.

About 40 percent of women surveyed in Delhi said they have been sexually harassed in a public place such as a bus or park in the past year, with most of the crimes occurring in the daytime, researchers said.

Representational image. AP

Representational image. AP

Further, 33 percent of women have stopped going out in public and 17 percent have quit their jobs rather than face harassment in public places.

“What this means is that women, despite Nirbhaya, are still afraid,” said Mahesh Nalla, from the Michigan State University in US.

Nirbhaya became the pseudonym given to the gangrape victim whose death in 2012 brought worldwide attention to violence against women.

“Women in India do not feel safe being in public spaces, which is clearly a human rights issue,” Nalla said.

While sexual harassment is a problem experienced by women worldwide, it may be more prevalent in emerging democracies such as India and other countries in South Asia where women are becoming more involved in the workforce, said Nalla.

“The problem is intensified by the existence of a cramped, inadequate public transportation system, massive youth migration to urban areas and the fact that India is a traditional patriarchal society where many still believe a woman’s place is in the home,” he said.

Nalla and Manish Madan, assistant professor at Stockton University, surveyed about 1,400 men and women in the capital city of New Delhi on a host of issues including perceptions and history of sexual harassment, use of public transportation, safety in public spaces and police effectiveness in dealing with these concerns.

Researchers found that 40 percent of female respondents were sexually harassed in the past year and 58 percent were sexually harassed at least once during their lifetime.

Respondents were asked to gauge the seriousness of sexual incidents ranging from whistling to asking a woman for sexual favours to patting her buttocks or squeezing her breasts.

While both men and women generally considered all incidents serious, men considered them considerably less serious, illustrating “a disjunction between how males and females think,” Nalla said.

Sexual harassment of women in public spaces in India and elsewhere in South Asia – known as “Eve teasing” – has long been a common occurrence, particularly by groups of young male perpetrators, he said.

The 16 December, 2012 gangrape and murder by a group of men on a moving bus in Delhi brought about new laws for rape and criminalised voyeurism and stalking.

However, despite these efforts, sexual harassment continues on a broad scale, the study suggests.

The research was published in the journal International Criminal Justice Review.

PTI

Environmental conservation efforts also have to address the developmental needs in Arunachal Pradesh: Pul

Itanagar:  Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Kalikho Pul has stressed on the need for striking balance between conservation of environment and development interest.

“Conservation of environment is always our top priority but development interest should also be taken care of,” Pul
said during a meeting with top forest officials on Monday in Itanagar.

The forest officials met him to discuss on the growing conflict between the rights of the people and the conservation created through protected areas, a CMO release informed on Tuesday.

A file photo of Kalikho Pul. PTIA file photo of Kalikho Pul. PTI

A file photo of Kalikho Pul. PTI

The chief minister pointed out that many protected areas in the state were created through arbitrary demarcation of the forest reserve violating the Wildlife Protection Act.

“The inhabitants in the area were not consulted and their consent was not obtained. Boundaries were demarcated sitting on a table with the lines running across settled villages and towns,” he said.

“As a result many big towns, villages, agriculture and jhum areas have come under the protected areas limiting the scope for taking up development projects,” he said noting that the scope to find possible ways for co-existence between wildlife habitats and human settlement were limited.

“Moreover, many of the protected areas are now barren lands without forest cover and wildlife. It is neither serving the purpose of conservation or development. So these are the areas where we hope to find a middle ground,” said Pul.

On the need to find a middle path, the chief minister said the state has to first address the key issues of development with respect to conservation.

“Arunachal cannot be looked only through the lens of environment conservation. With growing population and modernisation, there is growing pressure for socio-economic growth. So conservation efforts also has to address the developmental needs, else it will lead to conflict,” said Pul.

He hoped that if a successful compromise could be made and a middle path chosen where development and conservation could go hand-in-hand, it can be used as a model to open up larger areas for conservation- conscious developments in the state.

“We have low revenue base and our scope for trade with outside countries or state is limited as all our boundaries
are sealed. If we think of setting up industries, we have limited raw materials, labours and market within the state.

The only viable option we can think of is opening up of investment sector,” the chief minister added.

PTI

Mumbai blasts of 2002-2003: POTA court convicts 10 accused, acquits three for attacks that left 12 dead

Mumbai: A Special POTA Court on Tuesday found 10 accused guilty and acquitted three others for the triple bomb blasts that shook Mumbai between December 2002 and March 2003 killing at least 12 people and injuring scores of others.

File photo of policemen standing guard after a blast outside a McDonalds restaurant on 6 December, 2002. ReutersFile photo of policemen standing guard after a blast outside a McDonalds restaurant on 6 December, 2002. Reuters

File photo of policemen standing guard after a blast outside a McDonalds restaurant on 6 December, 2002. Reuters

POTA Special Judge PR Deshmukh posted the hearing on the quantum of sentence for the 10 accused to Wednesday.

The first blast occurred near the McDonald’s eatery in the main building of Mumbai Central Terminus on 6 December, 2002, followed by another in a market in Vile Parle on 27 January, 2003 and the third in a crowded ladies first class compartment of a suburban train near Mulund on 13 March.

The prosecution said the accused, mostly members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), wanted to avenge the razing of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 and the communal riots of Gujarat in 2002.

IANS

Hyderabad university row: Students return to classes, 40 faculty members go on mass leave to protest

Hyderabad: A number of Hyderabad Central University students joined classes on Tuesday after the Joint Action Committee urged students and faculty to return to classes wearing blue ribbons on their sleeves as mark of protest.

A section of teachers at the university, however, went on mass leave to protest police brutality on students on 22 March.

About 40 faculty members belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes proceeded on one day’s mass leave to condemn the police crackdown on the campus.

Protest by students of Hyderabad Central University opposing VC Appa Rao. AFPProtest by students of Hyderabad Central University opposing VC Appa Rao. AFP

File photo of protest by faculty and students of Hyderabad Central University opposing VC Appa Rao. AFP

The teachers said their protest was also against Vice Chancellor P Appa Rao, whose return triggered fresh bout of violent protest on the campus last week.

Stating that Appa Rao’s return has disturbed the academic life, the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice urged the students and faculty to resume their academic activities and classes alongside the protests.

The JAC, which comprises 14 student groups, said it was the end of the semester and an important time for many students for their future.

“We appeal to the students to use blue ribbons as a means of protest, declaration and reminder of the fact that our fight is still on while going about their classes, labs and other activities,” a JAC statement.

The university has witnessed turmoil since 17 January when Rohith Vemula, one of the five Dalit students suspended by the university, committed suicide.

Appa Rao had gone on leave after he was named in the First Information Report (FIR). The students had lost classes for two weeks due to the protests.

Appa Rao’s return on 22 March sparked massive protest by the students, who ransacked VC Lodge. In the subsequent police action, 22 students and two faculty members were arrested and sent to jail.

A city court on Monday granted bail to them. They are expected to be released later on Tuesday.

IANS

Uttar Pradesh: Minor Dalit girl raped by policeman in Mainpuri

Mainpuri: A minor Dalit girl was raped in Mainpuri allegedly by a policeman following which the accused has been arrested, police said on Tuesday.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

The 14-year-old girl was raped by Constable Rajesh Yadav (48) on Holi on 24 March, it said.

Next day when the condition of the girl deteriorated, she narrated the entire incident to her mother, who took her to police station but her complaint was not lodged.

Meanwhile, the accused allegedly put pressure on the family to settle the matter.

The victim’s father then lodged a complaint to Additional Superintendent of Police Digamber Kushwah on whose direction an FIR was lodged at Kotwali.

Inspector Kotwali Rakesh Kumar Singh, who arrested Yadav on Monday evening, said the accused will be produced in court on Tuesday.

PTI

Jayalalithaa condoles death of Infosys employee in Brussels

Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on Tuesday condoled the death of Infosys employee Raghavendran Ganeshan in the terror attack in Brussels, saying he symbolises hard work and spirit of enterprise that characterise knowledge workers from the state.

Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa. AFP

Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa. AFP

“It is extremely tragic that Thiru (Mr) Raghavendran Ganeshan who was working in Brussels fell an innocent victim to a mindless act of terrorism,” she said in a statement in Chennai.

His death was “an irreparable and immense” loss to the family, including his parents, young wife and infant child, she said, adding that “in this hour of grief our thoughts and prayers are with the family”.

“Ganeshan will always symbolise the hard work, diligence and spirit of enterprise that characterises knowledge workers from Tamil Nadu serving the global community,” Jayalalithaa said.

Ganeshan, a native of Tamil Nadu and Infosys employee from Bengaluru, had been missing since the deadly Brussels bombings on 22 March. He was yesterday confirmed dead in the blast in the metro at Maelbeek station.

His body is being brought to Chennai from Amsterdam by a flight.

At least 35 people were killed and over 300 were injured in the attacks at Brussels Airport and Maelbeek metro station.

PTI

India, US have seen fascinating transformation in their ties, says Indian envoy

Washington: Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s third trip in Washington in less than two years, India’s envoy to the US has said that the two countries have experienced a fascinating transformation in relations which was “simply unthinkable” three decades ago.

Representational image. IBNLive

Representational image. IBNLive

“Our partnership did not always appear so destined. Indeed, just three decades ago, such an alignment of interests between the two countries was simply unthinkable. This makes the transformation of India-US relations in the last three decades so fascinating,” Indian Ambassador to the US Arun K Singh said in his address at the 20th Wharton-India Economic Forum on ‘Evolving India-US Relations’ over the weekend.

President Barack Obama has characterised the India-US relationship as a “defining partnership of the 21st century”, while Modi has termed the partnership as a “natural alliance”.

“The strategic convergence and the global importance of this convergence are captured in our diplomatic moniker: a ‘Global Strategic Partnership’,” he said.

“Since his election in May 2014, Prime Minister Modi has visited the US twice and is going to be back here next week for the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC,” Singh told the audience.

Modi is scheduled to be in the American capital to attend the two-day Nuclear Security Summit hosted by Obama on 31 March and 1 April.

“The first-ever vision statement of our countries was issued in September 2014, during the Prime Minister’s visit.

“A Delhi Declaration, adopted during President Obama’s visit further elevated our strategic partnership. A Joint Strategic Vision unveiled at that time reflected their common goals for the dynamic Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region, building on the congruence of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and the US ‘re-balance’ to Asia,” he said.

Noting that defence is an area where the impact of a robust India-US partnership has been obvious, Singh said the two countries have started the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative to foster collaboration in transformative defence technology, co-production and co-development.

India has contracted nearly USD 14 billion worth of defence items from the US in the past few years.

The armed forces of India and the US now conduct more exercises with each other than they do with any other country bilaterally, he said.

PTI

Congress’ Videsh Singh passes away at 65; becomes second legislator to die of heart attack in 3 months

Ranchi: Congress legislator Videsh Singh died of a heart attack in Jharkhand’s Palamu district late Monday night, his family said on Tuesday. He is survived by wife and two sons.

Congress legislator Videsh Singh. Image courtesy: Facebook

Congress legislator Videsh Singh. Image courtesy: Facebook

The 65-year-old suffered a heart attack at midnight and was rushed to Medininagar Hospital of Palamau district. He died around 1.30 a.m., the family said.

Singh, a legislator from Panki assembly constituency, was for the first time elected as legislator in 2000. He won all the elections after becoming the legislator except for once.

Jharkhand assembly Speaker Dinesh Oraon, Chief Minister Raghubar Das and senior Congress leaders expressed grief over Singh’s death. He is the second legislator to have died of a heart attack in last three months.

Last year, BJP legislator from Godda constituency Raghunandan Mandal died due to a heart attack.

IANS

SC to hear PIL against President’s Rule in Uttarakhand next week

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will hear next week a PIL challenging imposition of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand.

“Let it be listed next week,” a bench comprising Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justices R Banumathi and UU Lalit said.

The court’s observation came when advocate ML Sharma sought urgent listing of the public interest litigation (PIL) on the issue.

PTI

Pathankot probe: Congress leaders in Punjab protest JIT’s visit with black flags near airbase

Pathankot: Protests erupted near the Pathankot airbase on Tuesday morning as Pakistan’s Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the terror attack on the air base headed to Pathankot town in north Punjab.

Activists of Punjab’s main opposition Congress party held the protest near a road which is to be taken by the Pakistani probe team. They carried black flags and banners.

The banners named officials of the Pakistani team, especially those from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence.

Security agencies deputed additional personnel outside the rear part of the air base following the protests to strengthen security.

Punjab opposition parties, the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), had said that they protest against the Pakistan team visit to the AFS.

The JIT members, who arrived in New Delhi on Sunday and had day-long meetings with National Investigation Agency (NIA) officers, left for Amritsar on Tuesday morning en route to Pathankot.

Tight security arrangements have been made in and around the frontier IAF base in view of the visit and likely protests against the visiting Pakistani investigation team.

Protesters holding banners at the Pathankot airbase, 29 March. IBN Live

Protesters holding banners at the Pathankot airbase, 29 March. IBN Live

Authorities at Pathankot airbase said that the visiting Pakistan probe team will be taken only to specific and limited areas within the sprawling Air Force Station (AFS) complex.

The JIT members will be kept away from the AFS’ technical area and shown only those areas where security forces engaged the Pakistani terrorists in the first week of January.

“We have, physically and visually, barricaded the airbase. Tent walls have been erected around the crime scene (shootout site) and nothing else will be visible to the JIT members. Their entry will also be through a special gate through the rear portion of the airbase,” an IAF officer told IANS.

Punjab Police DIG (deputy inspector general) Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh said that the Pakistan JIT will be taken by the NIA to the site of the gunbattle.

“The team will be provided access to the area of the encounter,” Singh said.

Informed defence sources here said the team members could also be shown the bodies of the killed terrorists kept in a government mortuary.

NIA officers will accompany the JIT members.

The JIT will not get to interact with IAF or other defence and security officials and personnel involved in the 80-hour counter-operation by security forces against the terrorists who attacked the airbase in the early hours of 2 January.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Monday in Goa that the Pakistani team would not have access to the operational area of the airbase, but only the isolated “crime scene”, which has been completely barricaded and fenced.

All the terrorists and seven security personnel were killed at the base.

The January attack on the IAF base was the second one by suspected Pakistani terrorists. A group of three Pakistani terrorists had attacked Dinanagar town in adjoining Gurdaspur district on 27 July last year, leaving seven people dead.

IANS

Pakistan investigation team heads to Pathankot, Punjab’s Opposition parties threaten protest

Pathankot: Pakistan’s Joint Investigation Team (JIT) for the Pathankot air base attack headed to Pathankot town in north Punjab on Tuesday amid tight security in view of Punjab’s Opposition parties threatening to protest against the visit.

The JIT members, who arrived in New Delhi on Sunday and had day-long meetings with National Investigation Agency (NIA) officers, left for Amritsar on Tuesday morning en route to Pathankot.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Tight security arrangements have been made in and around the frontier IAF base in view of the visit and likely protests against the visiting Pakistani investigation team.

Punjab Opposition parties, the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have said that they will hold protests near the AFS against the visit.

Authorities at Pathankot airbase said that the visiting Pakistan probe team will be taken only to specific and limited areas within the sprawling Air Force Station (AFS) complex.

The JIT members will be kept away from the AFS’ technical area and shown only those areas where security forces engaged the Pakistani terrorists in the first week of January.

“We have, physically and visually, barricaded the airbase. Tent walls have been erected around the crime scene (shootout site) and nothing else will be visible to the JIT members. Their entry will also be through a special gate through the rear portion of the airbase,” an IAF officer told IANS.

Punjab Police DIG (deputy inspector general) Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh said that the Pakistan JIT will be taken by the NIA to the site of the gunbattle.

“The team will be provided access to the area of the encounter,” Singh said.

Informed defence sources here said the team members could also be shown the bodies of the killed terrorists kept in a government mortuary.

NIA officers will accompany the JIT members.

The JIT will not get to interact with IAF or other defence and security officials and personnel involved in the 80-hour counter-operation by security forces against the terrorists who attacked the airbase in the early hours of 2 January.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Monday in Panaji (Goa) that the Pakistani team would not have access to the operational area of the airbase, but only the isolated “crime scene”, which has been completely barricaded and fenced.

All the terrorists and seven security personnel were killed at the base.

The January attack on the IAF base was the second one by suspected Pakistani terrorists. A group of three Pakistani terrorists had attacked Dinanagar town in adjoining Gurdaspur district on 27 July last year, leaving seven people dead.

IANS

What goes around comes around: President’s Rule in Uttarakhand a not-so-gentle reminder of Congress’s polity

New Delhi: The state of Uttarakhand has been placed under President’s Rule, within two months of dismissal of the Arunachal Pradesh government on 26 January.

Dismissing Harish Rawat’s regime in Dehradun under Article 356 of the Constitution appears to be yet another addition to the catalogue of constitutional sins committed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government at the Centre.

By doing so, Modi has followed the footsteps of the Congress reign at the centre. Yet, he had promised a different kind of polity.

The provisions of the Article 356 ─ giving sweeping powers to the central government ─ is essentially aimed at restoring constitutional propriety after breakdown of governance in a state, Justice VR Krishna Iyer had once observed.

But settling partisan scores seems to have become the order of the day under the present disposition.

Abuse of Article 356, though, is nothing new in Indian politics. A few BJP leaders have tried to build up an argument that the Congress had no business to talk about constitutional decorum as the grand old party had several times dismissed non-Congress governments across the country and era.

“Congress is forgetting how many state governments it has dismissed in the last 60 years,” Bharatiya Janata Party leader Justice VR Krishna Iyer said.

In 1992-93, the PV Narasimha Rao government at the Centre dismissed four BJP governments ─ in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh ─ following the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December.

After the Rao regime dismissed the Nagaland government led by Vamuzo in 1992, the chief minister said that the imposition of President’s Rule did not surprise him. “After all, the Congress has always considered itself as imperial power and treated the states as colonies,” the late Vamuzo was quoted as having said.

Harish Rawat. Getty Images

Harish Rawat. Getty Images

In 2005, during Manmohan Singh‘s regime, Goa Chief Minister Manohor Parrikar ─ now the Defence Minister – was dismissed by Governor SC Jamir.

Incidentally in 1990, Jamir, then Nagaland Chief Minister, was himself dismissed by Governor M. M. Thomas after 12 ruling Congress legislators defected from the Congress camp.

Like Rawat, Jamir had demanded trial of strength in the assembly and had managed the backing of the Speaker, late TN Ngullie.

However, Governor Thomas, during the VP Singh regime at the Centre did not summon the assembly and had even declined to meet two Congress observers, Rajesh Pilot and SS Ahluwalia, saying the views of Congress MPs were not required on a political situation in Nagaland.

Even a government led by hardcore socialist Chandrashekhar at the Centre was no different. In 1990, it dismissed the DMK ministry of M Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu, despite lack of any adverse report from the state governor, to seek support from Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress which was wooing Karunanidhi’s rival, J Jayalalitha of the AIADMK.

Ironically, the Congress party is now at the receiving end of the imperial character of governance, protesting “murder of democracy”.

That brings to fore the debate whether Article 356 allowing the Centre to dismiss state governments should have some legal restraints.

By its action, the Modi government and the Bharatiya Janata Party have put other Congress governments ─ in Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Karnataka on notice – that it will practice the same art that the regime before it did.

Modi may do well to recall that the 2014 the mandate was also about ushering in change in way of politics.

Voters may have hoped that a proponent of development would care about constitutional propriety since the BJP is fond of talking about “Cooperative Federalism” with the states.

But their action in Uttarakhand, and Arunachal Pradesh, seems to have belied that hope.

IANS

Peta sends legal notice to Kerala govt over issue of ownership of illegally held captive elephants

Thiruvananthapuram: Peta India has sent a legal notice to the Kerala government seeking withdrawal of its 26 February order allowing the state Chief Wildlife Warden to give ownership certificates for 289 illegally held captive elephants.

Through this order, the Chief Wildlife Warden provides an opportunity to people keeping captive elephants in illegal custody to be issued ownership certificates, Peta said in a statement in Thiruvananthapuram.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Peta said this contradicts the spirit of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which prohibits illegal capture, trade and custody of wild animals such as elephants, and the purpose of the 18 August, 2015 interim order of the Supreme Court.

Through the 26 February order, Kerala had acted in favour of illegal owners of elephants, it said and asked the state government to withdraw it and also withdraw the ownership certificates issued as per the order.

The state should penalise owners of the 289 elephants in Kerala who do not have valid ownership certificate, Peta said.

The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, had allowed the declaration of captive elephants either within 30 days of its enactment or during the period of an amnesty scheme notified by the central government in 2003, the animals rights body said.

The 2003 amnesty scheme was offered through Declaration of Wildlife Stock Rules, 2003, which required wildlife articles to be declared within 180 days from the date of notification of the Rules (ie, 18 April to 18 October 2003).

Though the Kerala government on 3 February, 2012 had asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change for an extension of the amnesty period, the request was denied, it said.

“By providing amnesty to owners of ill-gotten elephants, Kerala is propping up the cruel and illegal elephant trade and making a mockery of the Wildlife Protection Act,” said Peta India Director of Veterinary Affairs Manilal Valliyate.

“The Supreme Court has ordered Kerala to take action against these law-violating elephant abusers, and that’s exactly what Peta is calling on the government to do.”

Capturing an elephant is prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Yet many captive elephants are thought to have been captured illegally from the wild, separated from their mothers as babies,beaten into submission and transported to Kerala for to be used as tourist attractions and in temples.

PTI

More transparency, speed: Manohar Parrikar unveils new defence procurement policy

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar unveiled the much-awaited Defence Procurement Procedure, saying it will ensure transparency and speed in acquisition process and boost the ‘Make in India’ initiative to reduce dependence on imports.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. AFPDefence Minister Manohar Parrikar. AFP

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. AFP

“The Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) can push the agenda of’Make in India’ and India’s target of achieving defence industry network,” Parrikar said at the inauguration of four-day Defence Expo in Betul-Naqueri village, about 50 kms from Panaji.

With the new DPP, it will be ensured that there is greater transparency and faster clearances, he said.

The DPP has been loaded online on the Defence Ministry’s website and would be made available in hard copy format after 15 days. Parrikar said certain concerns of foreign companies which were expressed in the past, would be addressed through this policy in next three to four months.

The new policy has introduced an Indian Designed, Developed and Manufactured (IDDM) category which will benefit the local units, he said.

“We have increased the Foreign Direct Investment (in Defence sector) to 49 percent which will be through automatic route,” the minister pointed out. Parrikar said defence export clearances are to be granted online.

He said the policy will also include ‘Start-up India’ initiative. Technology is changing every year and India has the capability to use it in defence production, he observed.

“We expect that new policy will make the world take advantage of technological revolution across India,” he said.

Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu, AYUSH Minister Shripad Naik, Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh and Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar were present at the function.

The new DPP would help India reduce its dependency on foreign countries and source defence equipment within the country, Singh said. “….all defence procurement, the capital side of it, is from abroad. In the years to come one hopes we will be able to source it within India, either as a partnership with foreign companies or through our own domestic industrial base which so far has been kept away from the defence spectrum,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ninth edition of DefExpo India, a biennial exhibition of land, naval and internal homeland security systems, being organised by the Defence Ministry, kicked-off in Goa. More than 1,000 companies from 47 countries are participating in the DefExpo.

Parrikar had earlier said the new blacklisting policy will also be issued separately next month and made it clear that there will be “no relaxation” for those who have already been blacklisted and “bribe givers” will be punished.

However, the existing blacklisted firms will be allowed to appeal before a vigilance committee of the Defence Ministry for delisting under the new policy.

The new category IDDM will be the first category of preference under new DPP, which will guide how India buys its arms and equipment for its armed forces.

The new DPP also allows the Defence Acquisition Council to take the “fast-track” route to acquire weapons.

“There is an impression that fast track can only be done in the event of a war but this is not the case,” Parrikar had said.

Noting that all earlier DPP was procedure driven, Parrikar had said the new document has a preamble, that will be a fall back option in case of any problem, like single vendor situation among others.

In a bid to cut down on the time taken for acquisition process, the new DPP mandates that all AONs (Acceptance of Necessity) of a particular platform will be valid only for six months as against the 12 months deadline now.

Also, no AON will be notified until it is accompanied by a finalised RFP (Request for Proposal or tender). This means that the time taken for an RFP is cut down drastically.

PTI

Unable to sell cattle, farmers have a beef with Modi’s BJP | Reuters

BELHE, India A ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter in India’s richest state is threatening to push millions of farmers into penury, deepening distress in the countryside and fanning resentment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s ruling party.

Slaughter of cows, considered sacred in Hinduism, has historically been banned in most states but was rarely enforced in India, the world’s largest exporter of beef.

But over the past year, states ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), such as Maharashtra, have broadened the ban to include other types of cattle, like bulls and bullocks, and Hindu vigilantes have stepped up attacks on traders to enforce the prohibition.

The stricter rules come as Modi and the nationalist BJP lay greater stress on India’s Hindu faith, to which the majority of the population belongs. Minority groups, including around 180 million Muslims, have expressed concern over the implications.

The impact of the beef ban has been significant. Prices of cattle have fallen across the country, India’s meat exports fell 13 percent in the April-December period and rival beef supplier Brazil is gaining from India’s loss.

It has also left millions of farmers, already reeling from bad harvests due to back-to-back droughts and unseasonal rains, struggling to sell animals they can no longer feed or water.

“I wonder what the government wants – our survival or the cattle’s?” said farmer Revaji Choudhary, standing next to a pair of bulls he has been trying to sell for weeks in a cattle market in Maharashtra.

Traditionally, farmers have sold cattle in a drought year to butchers, mostly Muslims, and bought new ones when their earnings rise after monsoon showers.

That cycle has been broken and could leave farmers with little money to buy seeds or fertiliser ahead of the next sowing season, starting in June. Farmer suicides have nearly doubled in the drought-hit Marathwada region of Maharashtra.

TO BAN OR NOT TO BAN?

Their predicament is causing concern within the BJP, which has been trying to bolster its credentials in the countryside, where most of India’s 1.3 billion people live.

Rural distress contributed to an embarrassing defeat for the party last year in a state election, and more state polls are due over the coming year.

In the annual budget last month, Modi’s government pledged nearly $13 billion on rural development, aiming to double farmer’s incomes by 2022.

Maharashtra BJP legislator Bhimrao Dhonde said the government’s priority should be to support farmers, and they should be allowed to sell their cattle to whomever they want.

“It is time to withdraw the ban,” Dhonde told reporters.

Madhu Chavan, a spokesman for the BJP in Maharashtra, said Dhonde’s view did not reflect that of the party.

“The party thinks the ban is necessary,” he said, adding that more money would be made available to alleviate the effects of drought if needed.

MILLIONS OF COWS

Maharashtra, home to India’s financial hub Mumbai, has been particularly badly hit by drought.

In one district the government imposed rules that prevent assembly of more than five people around a water tanker or borewell to prevent riots. Cows and buffalos need 70 litres of water per day.

Many farmers are simply abandoning their cattle.

The state has opened hundreds of temporary shelters to house around 250,000 heads of cattle until their owners are ready to take them back, but experts say at least another 4 million animals need to be looked after in Maharashtra.

Hindu groups such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) that had promised to build shelters said they, too, were short on cash and the government should do more.

Laxmi Narayan Chandak, head of the Maharashtra unit of VHP’s cow protection committee, said his organisation has been able to start only one facility that holds 150 cattle.

“Nearly 700,000 cows and bulls … will starve to death or will be smuggled to slaughter houses. We have to save them,” said Chandak.

He added that only pure Indian breeds “that are worthy of worship” should be sheltered.

Every Monday, hundreds of farmers like Choudhary travel to a weekly cattle market in Belhe village, around 200 km (124 miles) east of Mumbai, but with so few people buying, it is more in hope than expectation.

Cattle prices in the state have fallen 40 percent to 60 percent.

Choudhary, who earns around 200,000 rupees ($3,000) in a good monsoon year, said he has incurred losses as his crops wilted due to drought.

He paid 40,000 rupees for his pair of bulls a year ago, and is willing to sell them for 20,000 rupees now. He still cannot find a buyer.

“We are forced to depend on tankers for drinking water. How can we supply water to cattle?” Choudhary asked.

(Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Mike Collett-White)

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Universal LA theme park hopes fans buy into new ‘Harry Potter’ world | Reuters

LOS ANGELES From the cobblestone alleyways to the snow-capped roofs, fans of “Harry Potter” will be able to immerse themselves into a new “Wizarding World” attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, and the theme park is betting on their purchasing power.

“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” opening April 7, brings to life the quaint town of Hogsmeade from author J.K. Rowling’s seven-part “Harry Potter” books and subsequent films, and it caps off a five-year revamp across the park.

Comcast Corp-owned Universal Studios Hollywood has introduced new rides capitalizing on the box office success of franchises “Transformers,” “Despicable Me” and “Fast & Furious,” as well as expanding “The Simpsons” attraction.

But the “Wizarding World” is what the theme park is banking on. Comcast reported a revenue increase of 27 percent to $3.3 billion from its Orlando, Florida, and Hollywood, California locations in its 2015 year-end report.

The company said revenues were bolstered by Orlando’s new “Harry Potter” world, which features two lands, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, connected by the Hogwarts Express train. An additional ticket is required to visit both lands in one day.

Hollywood’s “Wizarding World” features two rides, one within the castle-like structure of the Hogwarts school and the other an outdoors rollercoaster, alongside intricately detailed shops and restaurants such as Honeydukes sweets, Ollivanders wands and The Three Broomsticks.

Visitors can purchase a vast assortment of “Harry Potter” merchandise, from quills for under $10 to interactive wands for around $50 and full Hogwarts school robes from around $100.

“We’ve always aimed to be as authentic as we can be, even down to the name of the shops. They’re called shops, not stores,” supervising art director Alan Gilmore told Reuters.

“It has to be an experience of stepping into Scotland and England.”

“Harry Potter,” about an orphaned boy wizard in a magical world hidden within present day England, has sold more than 450 million books globally. Warner Bros’ eight-part film franchise has grossed more than $7 billion worldwide.

Tickets for Universal Hollywood, which cover all the park’s attractions, range from $90 to $239 for front-of-line passes, varying according to seasonal demand.

Overall attendance at Universal Hollywood, visited by 6.8 million in 2014 according to figures from the Themed Entertainment Association, trails far behind Walt Disney Co’s Disneyland in Anaheim, Southern California, which drew nearly 17 million that year.

Disneyland is building a new “Star Wars” land after the success of December’s “The Force Awakens,” the third highest-grossing film worldwide in history.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Amla secures South Africa’s dead rubber win | Reuters

NEW DELHI Hashim Amla struck an unbeaten 56 to guide South Africa to a comprehensive eight-wicket victory over champions Sri Lanka in a low-scoring World Twenty20 dead rubber on Monday.

With both teams out of contention for a place in the semi-finals, the Group One match was of no real consequence and South Africa’s second win in four matches helped them finish third in the group.

Sri Lanka, who lost for the third time in four games, finished level on points with Afghanistan. The top two, West Indies and England, qualified for the last four.

Chasing a target of 121, South Africa lost opener Quinton de Kock in the second over but Amla and skipper Faf du Plessis (31) shared a stand of 60 to take the game away from their opponents.

Du Plessis was unlucky to be given out leg before wicket to Suranga Lakmal after an inside edge crashed into his pad.

AB de Villiers (20 not out) smashed Lakmal for a six to seal South Africa’s win with 14 balls to spare.

Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews sat out the match with a hamstring injury suffered in the previous game against England.

Asked to bat first, Sri Lanka could not make the most of the breezy start they received from stop-gap captain Dinesh Chandimal (21) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (36) who put on 45 for the first wicket.

Aaron Phangiso claimed two wickets in two balls to trigger a collapse and Sri Lanka were eventually bowled out for 120 in 19.3 overs.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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Emergency and fascism are different, as are riots of 1984 and 2002: Kanhaiya Kumar

New Delhi: JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar on Monday compared the alleged onslaught on varsities with Gujarat riots alleging both of them were carried out “with support” from state machinery even as he stressed that there is a fundamental difference between “emergency” and “fascism”.

Asserting that there is a difference between 2002 riots and 1984 Sikh massacre Kanhaiya alleged that Gujarat
violence was carried out through state machinery while the other was caused due to mob frenzy.

Kanhaiya Kumar. PTIKanhaiya Kumar. PTI

Kanhaiya Kumar. PTI

“There is difference between emergency and fascism. During emergency, goons of only one party were engaged into goondaism, in this (fascism) entire state machinery is resorting to goondaism. There is difference between riots of 2002 and 1984 Sikh riots,” he said.

“There is a fundamental difference between a mob killing a common man and massacring people through state machinery,” he mentioned.

“Therefore, the threat of communal fascism we are faced with today, there is an attack being launched on universities, because like Hitler, Modi ji doesn’t have support from intellectuals in India. No intellectual is defending Modi regime,” he added.

Noting the present time is an era of “Islamophobia” , Kanhaiya underscored a need for understanding history first before reaching a conclusion on any issue.

“Today it’s an era of Islamophobia. Leave aside the words of terrorism and terrorist. The moment these words will come to your mind, imprints of face of a Muslim person will be there in your mind. This is Islamophobia,” he said.

“Connotations, meaning of a word change. Hence, it is important for us to understand history before we reach to conclusion on anything,” he said.

Kanhaiya was addressing the gathering during a panel discussion on “Voices of Azaadi” during the “Jashne-e-azaadi” festival which was organised to celebrate the birth anniversary of the late historian Professor Bipan Chandra.

The celebration comes at a time when JNU students have kick started a “nationalism and azaadi debate” across the country after it came under attack for an event on campus against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru during which anti-national slogans were allegedly raised.

PTI

Pakistan plans new paramilitary crackdown after Easter bombing kills 70 | Reuters

LAHORE, Pakistan Pakistan has decided to launch a paramilitary crackdown on Islamist militants in Punjab, the country’s richest and most populous province, after an Easter Day bombing killed 70 people in the provincial capital Lahore, officials said on Monday.

Sunday’s suicide bombing at a public park was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban’s Jamaat-ur-Ahrar faction, which once declared loyalty to Islamic State. The group said it was targeting Christians.

The brutality of the attack, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar’s fifth bombing since December, reflects the movement’s attempts to raise its profile among Pakistan’s increasingly fractured Islamist militants.

At least 29 children enjoying an Easter weekend outing were among those killed when the suicide bomber struck in a busy park in the eastern city of Lahore, the power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan is a majority-Muslim state but has a Christian population of more than two million.

Pope Francis condemned the attack as “hideous” and demanded that Pakistani authorities protect religious minorities.

It was Pakistan’s deadliest attack since the December 2014 massacre of 134 school children at a military-run academy in the city of Peshawar that prompted a government crackdown on Islamist militancy.

Security and government officials told Reuters the decision had been made to launch a full-scale operation involving the paramilitary Rangers, who would have powers to conduct raids and interrogate suspects in the same way as they have been doing in the southern city of Karachi for more than two years.

The move, which has not yet been formally announced, represents the civilian government once again granting special powers to the military to fight Islamist militants.

“The technicalities are yet to be worked out. There are some legal issues also with bringing in Rangers, but the military and government are on the same page,” said one senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to share details of the plan.

One other military official and two government officials confirmed the decision on condition of anonymity.

“The PM ordered a joint operation of ‎the counter-terrorism department and Rangers in the border areas of Punjab against terrorists and their facilitators,” said one government official who attended a meeting with Sharif and Punjab officials on Monday.

The move is likely to be controversial in Punjab. In Karachi, the Rangers’ crackdown has drawn accusations of human rights abuses and the targeting of opposition politicians, though the rate of militant and criminal violence has dropped sharply since the paramilitary force arrived.

Sharif’s own party has long opposed any militarised operation against militants in its Punjab heartland.

“FAILURE IS THEIR FATE”

Military spokesman Gen. Asim Bajwa said intelligence agencies, the army and Rangers had already launched several raids around Punjab following the attack, arresting an unspecified number of suspects and recovering arms caches.

Sharif visited the wounded in hospitals and described the attackers as a “coward enemy trying for soft targets”.

“Terrorists should know that failure is their fate,” he said in a television address to the nation, vowing to crush them.

Claiming responsibility on Sunday for the attack on behalf of Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan issued a direct challenge to the government: “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore.”

Rescue services spokeswoman Deeba Shahnaz said at least 29 children, seven women and 34 men had been killed and about 340 people wounded, with 25 in serious condition.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar has claimed responsibility for several big attacks since it split from the main Pakistani Taliban in 2014.

While it mostly focuses attacks in its base of the northwestern Mohmand tribal area, it has previously carried out at least two major attacks in Lahore: one in 2015 that targeted two Christian churches and another at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan in late 2014.

Pakistan has been plagued by militant violence since it joined a U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy after the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

While the army, police, government and Western interests have been the prime targets of the Pakistani Taliban and their allies, Christians and other religious minorities have also been attacked.

Security forces have killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants under an earlier crackdown launched after the 2014 Peshawar school massacre. Militant violence eased, but groups retain the ability to launch devastating attacks.

Most militants, like the Pakistani Taliban, want to topple the government and introduce a strict version of Islamic law.

(Additional reporting by Asad Hashim.; Writing by Asad Hashim and Kay Johnson.; Editing by Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)

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Belgium frees charged suspect in blow to bombing investigation | Reuters

BRUSSELS Belgian prosecutors on Monday released a man they had charged in connection with last week’s deadly Brussels bombings, saying they did not have enough information to justify holding him.

The man, named only as Faycal C., had been accused of taking part in the activities of a terrorist group and actual and attempted terrorist murder after being detained on Thursday. His home had been searched but no weapons or explosives had been found.

“The evidence which led to the arrest of the man named as Faycal C has not been backed up by the ongoing investigation. As a result, the person has been freed by the investigating magistrate,” the prosecutor’s office said.

The announcement was a major blow to an investigation that had netted half a dozen people charged with lesser offences in Belgium and others in the Netherlands, Italy and France, where officials said the same network had planned another attack.

Belgian media had identified the man as Faycal Cheffou and a source close to the investigation had said officials believed he was the man caught in security camera footage at Brussels airport moments before two bombs exploded last Tuesday.

Earlier on Monday, police had issued a new appeal for witnesses, saying they were seeking to identify the man seen in the video wearing a light jacket, with a hat pulled down over his face and glasses. The suspected suicide bombers walking alongside him were dressed in black with their heads uncovered.

Police say one man left a suitcase containing a bomb at the terminal and fled while two others detonated their bombs.

The death toll from the attack on the airport, and a subsequent bombing of a rush-hour metro train, rose to 35 on Monday, excluding the three men who blew themselves up.

Around 340 people were wounded and 96 were still being treated in hospital, of whom 55 were in intensive care, a health ministry statement said.

A Europe-wide hunt for suspects has revealed links with the network that killed 130 people in Paris last November, as well as foiling a new potential attack on France last week, officials said. But several suspects are reported to be still at large.

OTHERS AT LARGE

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for both the Paris and Brussels attacks. These have exposed weaknesses within intelligence services in Belgium, where some of the Paris attackers lived, as well as insufficient cooperation between security services across Europe.

Dutch anti-terrorism police arrested a 32-year-old suspect on Sunday in Rotterdam on France’s request, and Italy arrested an Algerian on Saturday suspected of having forged documents for militants linked to the Brussels and Paris attacks.

Germany has also conducted raids but its Federal Criminal Police Office was among European security agencies still hunting for at least eight mostly French or Belgian suspects on the run in Syria or Europe, Die Welt am Sonntag newspaper said.

The U.S. State Department confirmed four U.S. citizens were among victims of nine different nationalities, including Belgian.

Belgian Health Minister Maggie De Block said more of those wounded in the attacks had since died. “Four patients died in hospital. Medical teams did everything possible. Total victims: 35,” she said in a tweet.

Other foreigners killed were British, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian and Swedish.

The airport in Brussels remained closed on Monday and the metro was running a reduced service in the capital, which was largely shuttered for the Easter holiday.

There was no sign of the nationalist protesters who clashed with police on Sunday at the Brussels bourse, where mourners have gathered and placed candles, wreaths and messages for victims.

The State Department has declined to name any of the four U.S. citizens killed, citing respect for their families.

Two of them were identified by relatives as Justin and Stephanie Shults, residents of Belgium originally from Tennessee and Kentucky who were last seen dropping off her mother at the Brussels airport before the explosion in the check-in area.

“The world lost two amazing people,” Justin Shults’ brother, Levi Sutton, said in a post on Twitter.

“It’s not fair.”

(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Writing by Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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