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House standing committees steer clear of online meetings because of rules

House standing committees steer clear of online meetings because of rules

The Rajya Sabha secretariat has issued an eight-point protocol for MPs ahead of meetings of the standing committees on science and technology and home affairs on July 10 and 15.

The protocol, which has been set keeping in mind the Covid-19 pandemic, demand the MPs to sit 6ft apart, and not more than two witnesses from the ministry concerned can appear before the panel at a time.

Chairman Anand Sharma had convened the meeting of the standing committee on home affairs on June 3, but it had to be called off as members had expressed their inability to attend it in view of the prevailing situation.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who is the chairman of the standing committee on science and technology, environment and climate change, had written to Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu to allow virtual participation of members in the meeting because of the quarantine restrictions and curbs on travelling.

As members were facing difficulty in travelling,   the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha had earlier deliberated on the issue of holding virtual panel meetings.

The Rajya Sabha has eight departments related to the parliamentary standing committees of the House, of which two are chaired by Congress leaders Sharma and Ramesh.

“Respected M. Venkaiah Naidu garu, Standing Committee on Science & Technology is scheduled to meet on July 10th. MPs across parties have asked for virtual sitting of Committee to discuss S&T issues related to COVID-19. I hope you will allow. Where there is will, there is skill,” Ramesh said on Twitter.

In his letter to Naidu, Ramesh said the panel would discuss ongoing S&T-related issues concerning the pandemic and current and future S&T programmes to enhance resilience and capacity to deal with such crises.

“Many members of the Committee have expressed their inability to attend this meeting because of travel restrictions, quarantine and other constraints. I am doubtful if we can muster up a quorum.

“But every member irrespective of party affiliation has asked for a virtual sitting of the Committee. Surely, this can be arranged — a number of other countries have held even full Parliament sessions in a virtual mode. I once again request you to allow virtual meetings of the Standing Committees,” Ramesh wrote.

The Rajya Sabha secretariat had discussed the protocol to be followed on May 28, anticipating meetings of some committees after the restrictions on domestic air travel were lifted on May 25.

Officials discussed the issue again and announced the updated protocol ahead of the two scheduled meetings.

The protocol also stated that materials related to the meetings would be supplied to members as soft copies, and reporters would be accommodated in the well of the committee rooms for taking verbatim note of the proceedings.

While the participation of officials related to the committees will be restricted, the participation of members in the meetings would be ascertained in advance so as to ensure necessary logistics.

Hand sanitisers, disposable masks and gloves for the members, witnesses, officers and staff of the secretariat will be ensured at the entrance of the committee rooms and their attendance will also be taken outside under the new protocols, the sources said.

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Rahul Harvard jab at Modi govt

Rahul Harvard jab at Modi govt

Rahul Gandhi kept up his relentless attack on Narendra Modi’s performance as Prime Minister, tweeting on Monday: “Future HBS (Harvard Business School) case studies on failure: 1. Covid-19. 2. Demonetisation. 3. GST implementation.”

The tweet came with a graphic that showed rising infections in India along with visuals of Modi claiming (in March) that the battle against the coronavirus would be won in 21 days. The Prime Minister’s call to people to use “thaali”, “taali” “diya” and “mombatti” got pride of place in the illustration.

India now has the third largest number of coronavirus cases in the world — over seven lakh cases — behind the US and Brazil, despite the most prolonged lockdown and accompanying humanitarian crisis.

Demonetisation, announced in 2016 as suddenly as the lockdown, is widely acknowledged as a disaster that played havoc with the Indian economy.

Contrary to Modi’s promises, economic growth never picked up after that debilitating shock.

The GST, too, was hurriedly imposed without setting up the requisite infrastructure, triggering chaos in the country that put small businesses in deep trouble for the first few months.

In case of all the three — Covid-19, demonetisation and GST — the Centre’s lack of planning was exposed as new circulars changing rules and regulations kept coming out almost on a daily basis.

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Cop alerted gangster. I was with him when call came: Retainer

Cop alerted gangster. I was with him when call came: Retainer

A “policeman” had tipped off gangster Vikas Dubey about Thursday night’s cop raid during which eight policemen were killed, a domestic worker at the home of the fugitive accused said on Sunday.

“A policeman alerted him (Vikas) over the phone about an hour before the raid. I was with him when the call came,” an injured Daya Shankar Agnihotri, 45, told reporters from his hospital bed in Kanpur.

“He (Vikas) then called his associates (gang members) and they took position at various points in the village, lying in ambush for the police.”

Agnihotri said he did not know who the police mole was.

Senior officers have conceded that someone within the police must have tipped off Vikas, 45, whose gang killed 8 of the 18 raiding cops and injured 7 while themselves escaping unhurt. The police have, however, not named the mole or revealed whether they have identified him.

Agnihotri, who says he has been serving Vikas’s family since childhood, claims he was not involved in the shooting and had fled the house in Bikru village, Kanpur Rural, shortly after the massacre.

Officers said they had found a gun licence in Agnihotri’s name and that he remained a suspect in the killings.

Dinesh Kumar P, senior superintendent of police, said Agnihotri had tried to flee when a police team went to his home in Kalyanpur, 40km from Bikru, on Saturday night. The police shot him in the left leg.

Daya Shankar Agnihotri at a hospital after being arrested in Kanpur on Sunday.

“He (Vikas) had obtained a gun licence in my name and fired at the police from the same weapon. I don’t even know how to fire a gun,” Agnihotri claimed.

“Someone had locked me and his (Vikas’s) mother in a room during the shooting. So I couldn’t see what happened.”

Agnihotri claimed the gang had “25 to 30” members. Inspector Kaushalendra Kumar, one of the seven injured policemen, too, told reporters from his hospital bed that the firing had come from “all four directions” and suggested there must have been “20 to 25” shooters.

But the police have officially stuck to the assessment that the shooters were about a dozen strong and have named 11 suspects apart from Vikas.

“We have announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh for whoever helps the police arrest Vikas, and Rs 25,000 for information leading to the arrest of each gang member,” inspector-general of police Mohit Agrawal said.

Car and sticker

A police source said an abandoned SUV had been found on Sunday in Auraiya district of Uttar Pradesh, about 100km west of Kanpur. He said Vikas was suspected to have arrived in the SUV and taken another vehicle to enter Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh via Etawah.

A sticker of the Bharatiya Hindu Sangathan, a little-known organisation, was stuck on the rear windscreen of the SUV.

Vikas, who faces a string of murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping and extortion cases, is known to have helped various political parties intimidate voters against a fee

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Ladakh: NSA Doval, Chinese FM Wang agree on expeditious disengagement of troops

Ladakh: NSA Doval, Chinese FM Wang agree on expeditious disengagement of troops

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi held a telephonic conversation on Sunday during which they agreed on disengagement of troops along the Line of Actual Control at the earliest, the ministry of external affairs said.

Doval and Wang are special representatives for border talks between the two countries.

In a statement, the MEA described the talks as “frank and in-depth exchange of views” and said they agreed that both sides should complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC “expeditiously”.

The troops of India and China are engaged in an eight-week standoff in several areas in eastern Ladakh including Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and Gogra Hot Spring.

The Chinese military on Monday began withdrawing troops from Galwan Valley and Gogra Hot Spring.

The MEA said both sides agreed that it was necessary to “ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity.”

“In this regard they further agreed that both sides should complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC expeditiously. The two sides should also ensure a phased and stepwise de-escalation in the India-China border areas,” the MEA said.

It said Doval and Wang re-affirmed that both sides should strictly respect and observe the LAC and should not take any “unilateral action” to alter the status quo and work together to avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquillity in border areas.

On June 30, the Indian and Chinese armies held the third round of Lt General-level talks during which both sides agreed on an “expeditious, phased and step wise” de-escalation as a “priority” to end the standoff.

The first round of the Lt General talks were held on June 6 during which both sides finalised an agreement to disengage gradually from all the standoff points beginning with Galwan Valley.

However, the situation deteriorated following the Galwan Valley clashes that left 20 Indian Army personnel dead as the two sides significantly bolstered their deployments in most areas along the LAC.

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Taj Mahal reopening postponed

Taj Mahal reopening postponed

Agra has rolled back a plan to reopen the Taj Mahal on Monday, citing the risk of new coronavirus infections spreading in the city from visitors flocking to see the monument.

Local authorities issued a new advisory late on Sunday, ordering an extension of lockdown curbs on monuments in and around Agra.

The government order did not specify the duration of the lockdown for monuments that have been closed since March. “In the interest of the public, it has been decided that opening monuments in Agra will not be advisable as of now,” the district authorities said in a notice .

Agra, one of India’s first big clusters of the virus, remains the worst-affected city in Uttar Pradesh.

It was immediately not clear whether the Centre would scrap its plan to reopen other monuments across the country, such as the Red Fort in New Delhi.

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PM Modi Announces Free Ration for 80 Crore People for 5 More Months till End of November

PM Modi Announces Free Ration for 80 Crore People for 5 More Months till End of November

in his sixth address to the nation since the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced that PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, the scheme to provide free food to nearly 80 crore poor people which was put in place three months ago, will be extended till the end of November.

“Keeping in mind all the festivals that are coming up in the next few months, this scheme to provide 80 crore people with 5 kg free ration and 1 kg dal per month will now be extended till Diwali and Chhath Puja, or till the end of November,” PM Modi said in a televised address.

The Prime Minister’s direct reference to Chhath Puja, a festival majorly celebrated in Bihar, comes ahead of the assembly elections scheduled in the state. “The government will incur an expenditure of Rs 90,000 crore for extending the scheme for five months,” said Modi.

He said that if the expenditure already incurred on the free food grain scheme is added to this amount, the total expenditure on providing free food grains to the poor through the coronavirus crisis will be Rs 1.5 lakh crore.

The Prime Minister also talked about the “One Nation, One Ration Card” scheme which he said would benefit thousands of migrant workers and their families who had no fixed home or income. He credited farmers and taxpayers for bolstering India’s fight against the coronavirus that has infected 5.6 lakh people in the country.

The Prime Minister’s address came amid heightened tensions with China over the clashes in Ladakh that left 20 Indian soldiers dead, but he did not make any reference to it in the 17-minute speech.

Focusing his attention on India’s fight against coronavirus, Modi said that while the situation in India is still under control, especially when compared to some other countries, there has been increasing negligence since the ‘Unlock 1’ was announced last month.

The Prime Minister also said in his address that local administrations, in keeping a tight check on the monitoring and adherence to guidelines issued by the Home Ministry, should consider nobody above the law. He gave the example of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov who was fined around Rs 13000 for not wearing a mask at a public place.

“In India also the local administration have to work with the same zeal. We are all working on a mission to save 130 crore lives. Be it the village head or the Prime Minister, nobody is above the law,” Modi said.

He urged Indians to observe the same sort of discipline that they had showed during the initial days of nationwide lockdown.

“Today when we need to be more careful then carelessness is creeping in, which is quite worrying. Citizens have to again maintain the same sort of discipline that they maintained in the initial days, especially in containment zones. If people are not obeying guidelines, we have to stop them, and make them understand,” he said.

The union ministry of home affairs had on Monday extended the lockdown in the containment zones till July 31. Fresh guidelines for Unlock 2.0 were also issued. Schools, colleges, cinema halls, gyms will remain shut till the end of July to curb the spread of the virus.

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UN Human Rights Council demand release of CAA protesters

UN Human Rights Council demand release of CAA protesters

Experts from the United Nations Human Rights Council have demanded the immediate release of 11 people, including six students, arrested for taking part in protests against the new citizenship matrix.

One of those named in the statement, Jamia Millia Islamia M.Phil scholar Safoora Zargar who is five months pregnant, was earlier this week released on bail on humanitarian grounds after more than two months in prison. She had been booked for terrorism for allegedly inciting the Delhi riots in February by taking part in sit-ins and delivering speeches ag-ainst the Citizenship Amendment Act and allied laws.

The statement by the 13 experts, issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, said: “These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated.

“Authorities should immediately release all human rights defenders who are currently being held in pre-trial detention without sufficient evidence, often simply on the basis of speeches they made criticising the discriminatory nature of the CAA.”

Opposition parties, film personalities, European Parliament member Maria Arena, the American Bar Association, Amnesty International and several human rights groups across the world have called for the release of political prisoners, especially Zargar, after the police swoop on them during the pandemic-triggered lockdown. Many of them are charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which is invoked to prosecute acts of terrorism.

The signatories to Friday’s statement are eight UN special rapporteurs and five members of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Besides Zargar, they have demanded the release of students Meeran Haider, Gulfisha Fatima, Asif Iqbal, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, Aam Aadmi Party supporter Khalid Saifi, Jamia alumnus Shifa Ur Rehman, Gorakhpur doctor Kafeel Khan, JNU alumnus Sharjeel Imam and Assam peasant leader Akhil Gogoi.

The statement added: “Although demonstrations ended in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and India’s Supreme Court issued a recent order to decongest jails because of health concerns related to the pandemic, protest leaders continue to be detained. The reported spread of the virus in Indian prisons makes their immediate release all the more urgent.”

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Can’t blame government, says Pawar

Can’t blame government, says Pawar

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar has refused to blame the Narendra Modi government for the alleged intrusions into Ladakh and said, referring to earlier encroachments, that “when I make an allegation, I should also see what had happened when I was there (in power)”.

Speaking to the media in Maharashtra’s Satara, the former defence minister said: “The entire episode is sensitive in nature and should not be politicised.”

To a specific question on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s attacks on Modi, Pawar said: “One cannot forget that China captured around 45,000sqkm of India’s land after the 1962 war. That land is still with China. I don’t know if they have encroached on some area now again. But when I make an allegation, I should also see what had happened when I was there (in power). If so much land was encroached upon then, it cannot be ignored.”

Pawar, who is an ally of the Congress and his party is an important constituent of the Maharashtra coalition that snatched power from the BJP, said: “It was China that played the provocateur in the Galwan Valley. India had been constructing a road in the Galwan Valley within its limits meant for communication purposes. What happened was they (the Chinese troops) tried to encroach on our road and were pushed physically. It was not somebody’s failure. If somebody comes while you are patrolling, they may come at any time. We cannot immediately say it is the failure of the defence minister sitting in Delhi.”

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Congress seeks list of BJP-RSS donors

Congress seeks list of BJP-RSS donors

The Congress on Saturday asked the government to release a list of donations made to the RSS and its affiliates instead of maligning the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation with “wild and false” allegations.

“The wild and insidious hatred of the BJP towards the Congress unfolds every day in an embarrassing and uglier fashion,” Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala said in a statement. “BJP president J.P. Nadda has lost his political balance in his attempts at distraction and diversion from the issues of national security and territorial integrity. All this is being done so that the Congress and countrymen stop questioning the (Narendra) Modi government on the Chinese transgressions.”

“The BJP leadership is also scared of the questions being asked on its deep-rooted Chinese connections, its connection to ‘China Association for International Friendly Contact’ and its persistent interactions with the ruling Chinese Communist Party.”

Surjewala said: “Will the BJP, like the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has done, ask the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to make public the list of all its donors and the amounts received, including (those) from all foreign sources including individuals, entities, organisations and governments?”

He added: “Has the BJP/RSS received funding from international foundations, funds, entities and organisations? If yes, how much amount has been received by BJP-RSS over the last 6 years (through) international funding and donors?”

“Will the BJP declare the name(s) of donors from whom it has received thousands of crores in donations through electoral bonds? Will the BJP disclose the source of funding, amounts received, name of donors (including of Chinese origin) for ‘Overseas Friends of BJP’? How much amount has been received by OF-BJP from ‘Overseas Friends of BJP-China and Hong Kong’ and when?”

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BJP trains guns on Rajiv Gandhi Foundation funds

BJP trains guns on Rajiv Gandhi Foundation funds

BJP president J.P. Nadda on Saturday fired questions at the Congress over the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation’s funds, betraying a desperation to shift the focus away from the Chinese intrusions on which the principal Opposition party has been grilling the government.

Nadda alleged that the Sonia Gandhi-headed foundation, a charitable organisation whose funding details are in the public domain and accounted for, had links with the neighbouring country.

The foundation had received donations from the Chinese embassy, from the “tax haven” of Luxembourg, corporates and NGOs with commercial interests, he said, and demanded that the Congress chief come clean.

“The RGF worked in close association with the China Association for Internationally Friendly Contact. This organisation is a vehicle used by the Central Military Commission of China. The purpose is to infiltrate and influence the voices of leaders of other countries,” Nadda said, accusing the Gandhi family of compromising national interest.

Nadda also criticised the foundation for taking money from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.

The Congress has dismissed Nadda’s allegations as a “diabolical game of deception”.

Former finance minister P. Chidambaram, who is a trustee of the RGF, on Saturday termed them as “half-truths”. “Mr Nadda, come to terms with reality, don’t live in the past that is distorted by your half-truths. Please answer our questions on Chinese intrusion into Indian territory,” Chidambaram added.

Seemingly oblivious to the fact that the PM CARES Fund is vulnerable to similar allegations, Nadda said: “Why is CAG auditing not done on accounts of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation? Why was RTI not applicable on the foundation?”

Nadda accused the RGF of “monumental loot and organised plunder of public money”, borrowing former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assessment of Modi’s demonetisation exercise.

Nadda alleged that the RGF had taken donations from fugitive diamond merchant Mehul Choksi and wanted to know what was the connection between Choksi and the foundation, again appearing forgetful of Modi once referring to the businessman as “hamare Mehulbhai”.

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