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Kerala

10 dead in Kerala, TN, several fishermen missing as cyclone Ockhi heads for Lakshadweep

Heavy rains lashed many parts of south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu and at least 10 people have died since yesterday as cyclone Ockhi intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm and hurtled past the coasts of the two states towards Lakshadweep Islands on Friday.

 
Cyclone Ockhi: 8 killed, several fishermen missing
Heavy rains lashed many parts of south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu and at least 10 people have died since yesterday as cyclone Ockhi intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm and hurtled past the coasts of the two states towards Lakshadweep Islands today.
 
Four people were killed in south Kerala and five in south Tamil Nadu in rain-related incidents yesterday even as the authorities mounted a massive search and rescue operation for scores of fishermen reported missing at sea.
 
One fisherman, who was among those rescued today, died in hospital here today, taking the toll in Kerala to five, official sources said.
 
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a warning of a very severe cyclone for Lakshadweep Islands this evening and said the system was likely to intensify further in the next 24 hours.
 
In a Red message issued at 1730 hours today, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the system, now over the Lakshadweep  area and adjoining southeast Arabian Sea, continued to move west-northwestwards with a speed of 15 kmph during the past six hours and intensified further into a "Very Severe Cyclonic Storm".
 
It lay centred at 1430 hours IST today near latitude 9.1º N and longitude 73.0º E, about 90 km north of Minicoy and 220 km south-southeast of Amini Divi. 
 
"The system is very likely to intensify further during next 24 hours. It is very likely to continue to move west-northwestwards across Lakshadweep Islands during next 24 hours and then move north/ northeastwards during the subsequent 48 hours," the bulletin said.
 
The IMD warned that, under the influence of the system, heavy to very heavy rainfall was very likely at most places over Lakshadweep area during the next 24 hours, with isolated extremely heavy falls. There could be isolated heavy to very heavy falls during the subsequent 24 hours, it said.
 
The bulletin also said that rainfall was very likely at many places over Kerala during the next 24 hours, with heavy rainfall at isolated places.
 
According to it, gale winds, with speed reaching 120-130 kmph, gusting to 145 kmph, were very likely over and around Lakshadweep Islands during the next 24 hours and gradual decrease thereafter.
 
Squally winds, with speed reaching 45-55 kmph, gusting to 65 kmph, were very likely along and off Kerala during the next 24 hours and along and off Karnataka coast during the next 24 hours, it said.
 
The bulletin said sea conditions would be phenomenal over and around Lakshadweep Islands during the next 24 hours and very high during the subsequent 24 hours.
 
Sea conditions would be high to very high along and off the Kerala coast during the next 24 hours and along and off the Karnataka coast during subsequent 24 hours.
 
The cyclone could cause damage to power and communication lines due to breaking of tree branches and uprooting of large avenue trees; major damage to thatched houses, huts and kutcha houses; some damage to pucca roads; flooding of escape routes; and damage to banana and papaya trees and standing crops.
 
Storm surge of about one metre above astronomical tides was very likely to inundate low lying areas of Lakshadweep Islands, the bulletin said.
 
Fishermen along and off Lakshadweep Islands were advised not to venture into the sea during the next 48 hours. Similarly, fishermen were advised not to venture into the sea along and off the Kerala and Karnataka coasts during the next 48 hours.
 
Ships and aircraft of the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) were involved in the rescue efforts at sea while teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were deployed in the affected areas in the two states and units of the Indian Army were on standby to come to the aid of the civil adminstration, if necessary.
 
Official sources here said more than 220 people had been rescued from the sea by the Navy, ICG and IAF. Many of them were admitted to hospitals here for treatment, they said. 
 
Some of the fishermen were rescued by a Japanese cargo ship in the area. As many as 37 people were rescued by Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs) of the Indian Navy which flew between Thiruvananthapuram and the sea.
 
The ICG said it had deployed nine ships and two Dornier aircraft in the area and rescued as many as 52 fishermen so far.
 
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The International Safety Net (ISN) had been activated to advise Merchant Traffic to render assistance to stranded fishermen, it said.
 
Among others, Indian Naval Ships Sagardhwani, Jamuna and Nireekshak were in the affected areas in the Arabian Sea. INS Sharda and Shardul are also sailing out soon to augment the search effort. Both ships were in final stages of embarking HADR items for assistance at Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, Indian Navy sources said.
 
In Poonthura, a coastal village near here, angry groups of fishermen and their families staged protests, alleging that the government had not acted in time and not done enough as far as the rescue efforts were concerned. 
 
Former Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, both senior leaders of the Congress, visited the area today to listen to the woes of the villagers.
 
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told newspersons that the state government had received an alert about the cyclone only on Thursday afternoon. He said the rescue efforts were also hampered by the bad weather conditions.
 
Mr. Vijayan said all possible efforts were being made to locate and rescue the missing fishermen. He said the state government had urged the Ministry of Defence to deploy more aircraft for the search and rescue operations.
 
In Lakshadweep, the authorities had issued orders for the evacuation of people from low-lying areas in Kalpeni, Minicoy, Kavratti, Agatti, Androth, Kadamath and Amini islands.
 
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Congress wrests Gurdaspur in Punjab from BJP, its ally IUML retains Vengara in Kerala

In a morale booster for the party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat from the BJP by a huge margin and its ally, the IUML, retained the Vengara Assembly seat in Kerala in bye-elections held on October 11.

 
Congress' Sunil Jakhar wins Gurdaspur LS bye-election
In a morale booster ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha  seat from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by a huge margin and its ally, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), retained the Vengara Assembly seat in Kerala in bye-elections held on October 11.
 
Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar drubbed Mr. Swaran Singh Salaria of the BJP by a record margin of 1,93,219 votes in Gurdaspur.
 
In Vengara, Mr. K. N. A. Khader, the candidate of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), who is a member of the IUML, won from Vengara, defeating his nearest rival, P. P. Basheer of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), by a margin of 23,310 votes in the October 11 bye-election.
 
Counting of votes was taken up in both constituencies this morning, and the results were out by noon.
 
Gurdaspur had fallen vacant following the death on April 27 of well-known Hindi film actor Vinod Khanna, who represented the constituency in the Lok Sabha as a candidate of the ruling BJP.
 
Mr. Jakhar polled 4,99,752 votes against the 3,06,553 votes secured by Mr. Salaria. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Suresh Khajuria got just 23,579 votes.
 
Considering the fact that Mr. Khanna had won the seat by an impressive margin of 1.35 lakh votes in 2014, the bye-election ended up being a cakewalk for Mr. Jakhar, 63, the Congress Punjab unit chief and son of late Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar.
 
In between, in March this year, the Congress won a resounding victory in the elections to the Punjab Legislative Assembly and its leader Amarinder Singh returned as Chief Minister of the state. The bye-election had turned into a battle of prestige for both sides.
 
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had ended up on the losing side in all the nine Assembly segments in Gurdaspur. Mr. Jakhar has managed to turn this around, winning from all the nine segments this time.
 
Gurdaspur was considered a Congress stronghold for long years, with its candidate Sukhbuns Kaur Bhinder winning the seat five times in a row from 1980 to 1996 before the BJP brought in Khanna, a top Bollywood actor, as its candidate in 1998. The actor-turned politician was re-elected from the seat in 1999, 2004 and then in 2014. In 2009, former Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa by a thin margin of 8,359 votes.
 
Mr. Jakhar described the bye-election result as a "referendum" on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance's government at the Centre and said the people of the constituency had sent a "strong message of resentment" over its policies.
 
"Congratulations to @sunilkjakhar ji for his impressive win in #Gurdaspur bypoll, it's a victory for @INCPunjab policies & development agenda," Mr. Amarinder Singh on microblogging site Twitter.
 
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"Assure people of #Gurdaspur that every single promise made by @sunilkjakhar will be fulfilled and all development works will be fast-tracked," he added.
 
Congress leader and Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu said, "This is a beautiful Diwali gift, packed with a red ribbon, for our would-be party president Rahul Gandhi."
 
In Vengara, Mr. Khader polled 65,227 votes against 41,917 secured by Mr. Basheer, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the main constituent of the ruling LDF in the state.
 
Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) candidadte K. C. Naseer ended up third with 8,648 votes while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee K. Janachandran  Master, finished fourth with 5,728 votes in the results announced today.
 
The bye-election in Vengara was necessitated by the resignation of IUML leader P. K. Kunhalikutty, who was elected to the Lok Sabha on April 12 from the Malappuram seat that fell vacant following the death of former Union Minister E. Ahamed.
 
While the UDF celebrated the victory, the LDF drew satisfaction from the fact that they had reduced the IUML candidate's victory margin from 38,057 votes in the 2016 Assembly elections, when Mr. Kunhalikutty had won, to 23,310 votes in this bye-election.
 
Today's results have come just three days after the Congress swept the municipal elections in Nanded-Waghala in Maharashtra, considered a stronghold of the party. The party won 67 of the 81 seats, while the BJP won four and its ally Shiv Sena got just one.
 
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Mukherjee says tragic to see universities caught in vortex of violence, disquiet

Declaring that there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian, President Pranab Mukherjee said on Thursday that the country's premier institutions of higher education must resound with creativity and free thinking.

President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ at Kochi in Kerala on March 2, 2017.
President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ at Kochi in Kerala on March 2, 2017.
Declaring that there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian, President Pranab Mukherjee today said the country's premier institutions of higher education must resound with creativity and free thinking.
 
"Those in Universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet," he said while delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ in Kochi.
 
"India was a world leader in the field of education when our Universities like Nalanda and Takshshila were at the height of their glory. Nalanda and Takshshila are not mere geographical expressions but representations of the idea for free thought which flourished in these great Universities of the past.  Our premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society.  These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free thinking," he said.
 
"There should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian.  India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression.  Our society has always been characterized by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion.   Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent," he said.
 
Mr. Mukherjee began by speaking about Kerala, which has been the gateway to India for traders and religious missionaries from different parts of the globe. He said the people of Kerala were known for their progressive thinking and the State's impressive achievements in the field of literacy, education, health, gender equality, tourism and culture had brought it global acclaim.
 
Turning to the topic of the lecture, India@70, he said that for 50 years before independence in 1947 the economic growth rate of India was 0% to 1%. "In the fifties, our growth rate rose to 1 – 2%, the sixties 3 – 4% and in the 90s, with economic reforms, to 6 to 7%.  In the last decade, our growth rate has averaged around 8%, making us the fastest growing large economy of the world," he said.
 
"India’s population in 1950 was 360 million. Today, we are a 1.3 billion strong nation.  Our annual per capita income has gone up from Rs. 7,500 at the time of independence to over Rs. 77,000. GDP growth rate has risen from 2.3 percent to 7.9 percent in 2015-16.  Poverty ratio has declined from over 60 percent to less than 25 percent.  Average life expectancy has gone up from 31.4 to 68.4 years. Literacy rate has gone up from 18 to 74 percent. Food grains production has gone up from 45 million to an estimated 272 million tonnes in 2016-17," he said.
 
Mr. Mukherjee spoke about the progress achieved by the country in the field of food and industrial production, as well as in areas such as space, information technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. He said that, in the last 70 years, India had transformed itself from a poor, under-developed nation into the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity.
 
He said equally important was India's success in consolidating the unity of its nation and democracy in the midst of extraordinary challenges and tremendous diversity.  
 
"We have firmly established within our country the rule of law, an independent judiciary and vibrant media as well as civil society.  We have also created strong institutions like the Election Commission and the CAG who stand as pillars of our political system.  Every known religion in the world, over hundred different languages used in everyday life, 1600 dialects and multiple cultures are united under one flag and one Constitution. Around 553 million people voted in the 2014 General Elections, an exercise matched in scale and scope by none else in the world," he said.
 
The President said the most important legacy bequeathed to the nation by its founding fathers was its Constitution.
 
"A Constitution is a charter for the governance of a nation. The notion of what is good governance must be defined by the need of the times and enriched by the experience of the decades. Yet, the Constitution enshrines certain timeless values that should never be compromised. It is against the touchstone of these values that we must constantly measure our performance," he said.
 
"The Preamble records the resolve of the people of India to secure to all citizens justice - social, economic and political as well as liberty, equality and fraternity.  It also establishes the principle of secularism. Justice - social, economic and political - is in the life of any nation a journey more than a destination. To achieve social justice requires not mere governance but a recasting of mindsets and the transformation of social ethos.  That is the job not just of the legislature, the executive or the courts, but of each one of us.
 
"The ultimate goal of any democracy is the empowerment of the individual, irrespective of his economic, religious or social standing. This may appear to be a utopian dream for many, but the strength of a system lies in its capacity to ceaselessly work for its accomplishment.  The goal of political justice requires the continuous empowerment of marginalised sections of our society. We owe ourselves to create a system in which access to politics is not limited to a privileged few but an average Indian also feels empowered enough to contribute," he said.
 
Mr. Mukherjee said economic development was vital to good governance but stressed that this must be imbued with the principle of equality on which there could be no compromise.
 
"An egalitarian society can only be created when growth is inclusive. It is important to ensure that there is justice and equality of opportunity and the state does not create conditions in which the privileged few gain at the cost of the multitudes who suffer endemic poverty. A sustainable society can only be based on the principles of equity and justice," he said.
 
He said democracy required constant nurturing and at no cost should the exploitation of fault lines be allowed. In this context, he underlined the importance of protection and safety of women and children.
 
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Mr. Mukherjee said the country's leaders and political activists must listen to the people, engage with them, learn from them and respond to their needs and concerns. "Our law makers must never take the people for granted. They must focus on the fundamental task of law making and raising of issues of concern to the people as well as finding solutions to their problems," he said.
 
"Legislation is the first and foremost responsibility of a Parliamentarian. It is most unfortunate that time devoted towards legislation has been gradually declining in our Parliament," he said, citing figures for time lost due to interruptions and adjournments.
 
"No one who holds any elected office has been invited by the voters to occupy that office.  Each one has gone to the voters and pleaded for their votes and support.  The trust placed by the people in the political system and those elected should not be betrayed. Our Legislatures and Parliament must not turn into arenas for combat.  Floor tests are not meant to be muscle tests.  The opportunity to represent the people is not a right or entitlement but a moral obligation and duty.  Our elected representatives owe it to the people of our country to act as models of exemplary conduct," he said.
 
Mr. Mukherjee said Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies were central pillars on which the edifice of democracy   rested. 
 
"They are the supreme institutions comprising of members directly elected by our people.  It is through them that governments are held accountable by the people.  If they become dysfunctional, it results in not just paralysis of those institutions but creates an adverse impact across the system.  The debate and discussions which ought to take place in the open in the House of Parliament and Assemblies cannot be replicated elsewhere.  When they cease to function effectively, issues spill out onto the streets.  The very basis of our democracy gets undermined," he said.
 
The President said the time had come for collective efforts to re-discover the sense of national purpose and patriotism that alone can lift the nation on to the road of sustained progress and prosperity.
 
"The nation and the people must always come first.  Let us strive to arrest the moral decline in our society and ensure that our core civilisational values find firm root.  Let us exert ourselves to strengthen India’s pluralism and diversity.  Let us be uncompromising in rooting out violence, prejudice and hatred.  
 
"Let us strive for rapid progress but even as we do so, ensure that the benefits of economic progress percolate down to the poorest of the poor and those living in the furthest corners of our country.  Let us make the poorest in our land part of the story of a rising India.  Let us embrace education, skill development and innovation which will enable us catapult India into the future and build a knowledge economy, riding the technological wave of the 21st century.
 
"I see a very bright future for India. Our Constitutional values, young population and entrepreneurial abilities as well as capacity for hard work provide us the fundamentals required for rapid progress as well as the building of a caring and compassionate society. India has changed dramatically in the last 70 years.  I am confident that in the next ten years, we will see even greater progress as we steer our nation, focused on further strengthening our open, democratic and inclusive society," he added.
 
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Kerala: Court orders probe against CM Oommen Chandy, Minister Aryadan Mohammad

A Vigilance Court in Thrissur on Thursday ordered registering of an FIR and initiating a probe against Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his cabinet colleague Aryadan Mohammad on the bribery allegations raised against them by Saritha S Nair, main accused in the "solar scam".

 
Kerala solar scam: FIR ordered against CM; protestors lathicharged
 
A Vigilance Court here today ordered registering of a first information report (FIR) and initiating a probe against Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his cabinet colleague, Electricity and Transport Minister Aryadan Mohammad, on the bribery allegations raised against them by Saritha S Nair, main accused in the "solar scam".
 
Saritha and her associate Biju Radhakrishnan are accused of having cheated several businessmen and non-resident Indians (NRIs) of large sums of money promising them partnership in a company floated by them, Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions Pvt Limited, which offered solar energy solutions to institutions and households. 
 
They had also boasted of close connections with Mr Chandy and other ministers and even produced letters on official letterheads to support their claims. The scam came into light when an NRI, Sajad, filed a police complaint accusing them of having defrauded him of Rs 40 lakh. Subsequently, 33 cases were registered against them on various complaints.
 
Saritha, while deposing before the Justice Sivarajan Commission in Kochi yesterday, had alleged that she had paid a bribe totalling Rs 1.90 crore to an aide of the Chief Minister and Rs 40 lakh to Mr Mohammad. Both have denied the charges.
 
However, Inquiry Commissioner and Special Judge S S Vasan, taking cognisance of a private complaint, asked the Vigilance Director to file an FIR and complete the probe as early as possible. The court rejected the contention of the government counsel seeking a quick probe into the allegations before initiating proceedings against the Chief Minister. Justice should be equal for all, for the common man as well as Chief Minister, the court observed.
 
The judge said he was not looking into the merits of the complaint against the Chief Minister which is to be considered by the investigating officer. The report is to be submitted to the court on April 14. The court also rejected the submission of the state counsel regarding jurisdiction of the court since the alleged bribery took place in Thiruvananthapuram. However, the court upheld the contention of the complainant P D Joseph, a social activist, that it had also occurred in Kochi, which fell within the purview of the court.
 
Reacting to the court order, Mr Chandy told reporters in Kozhikode that he was prepared to face any inquiry and rejected the opposition demand for his resignation. “My conscience is clear and both of us have done nothing wrong,” he said, speaking on behalf of his ministerial colleague, too.
 
In a related development the Kerala High Court stayed the Thrissur Vigilance Court order of registering an FIR against Mr K Babu, who had resigned his post as Minister following the court order. 
 
Passing the order, High Court Judge P Ubaid observed that the vigilance court had acted in unnecessary haste without waiting for the order of the division bench of the High Court. The stay will be applicable for two months. In the meantime, the court directed the Vigilance Director to conduct a quick probe and submit a report within ten days.
 
Earlier, on January 25, Mr Chandy had deposed before the judicial commission. The deposition, that went on into the night, was completed only in the early hours the next day. He reportedly told the commission that he had met Saritha only three times and came to know about the financial dealings only after her arrest. He had acknowledged receipt of a contribution of Rs 2 lakh to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund in a letter drafted by his office under his letterhead. The letterhead was later found to be misused. He also denied that he had met Saritha in his office along with Sreedharan Nair, a quarry owner and one of the complainants in the scam, as stated by Intelligence ADGP A Hemachandran.
 
The Chief Minister later told reporters that he had refused to undergo a lie-detector test as he had not lied or acted against his conscience. Neither has the state exchequer incurred any loss nor the accused obtained any monetary advantage, he added. 
 
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Kerala: Four female rowers attempt suicide in SAI hostel; one dead, three hospitalised

A 15-year-old rower died and three female athletes were hospitalised in a serious condition after they consumed poisonous fruit on Wednesday in an alleged suicide attempt at their hostel at the Sports Authority of India's Water Sports Centre at Alappuzha in Kerala.

 
Kerala suicide attempt: DG SAI says priority to save lives of girls
A 15-year-old rower died and three female athletes were hospitalised in a serious condition after they consumed poisonous fruit yesterday in an alleged suicide attempt at their hostel at the Sports Authority of India's (SAI) Water Sports Centre at Alappuzha in Kerala.
 
The decased was identified as Aparna Ramachandran, a resident of Avalookunnu in Alappuzha district, official sources said. The three others are also from Kerala, they said.
 
The four athletes allegedly consumed the fruit of cerbera odollam (Othalanga in Malayalam) sometime during the afternoon yesterday and were rushed to the Alappuzha Medical College Hospital, about 150 km from here, in the evening after they started showing symptoms of food poisoning.
 
While Aparna failed to respond to treatment and breathed her last around 4 am today, the other three girls were said to be in a serious condition.
 
The reason for the extreme step taken by the rowers could not be ascertained immediately, but parents and relatives of the girls said they were subjected to mental and physical harassment at the hostel in recent times.
 
The hostel authorities, however, denied these allegations and said there were no complaints of any harassment. Media reports quoted them as saying that the girls had recently been caught consuming beer and were questioned about it, and they must have resorted to the extreme step fearing further action.
 
The State Government as well as the Sports Authority of India have ordered inquiries into the incident.
 
Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chenithala told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram that he had asked Inspector General of Police (Kochi Range) M R Ajithkumar to conduct an inquiry into th incident and the officer would reach Alappuzha later today.
 
In Delhi, SAI Director General Injeti Srinivas said SAI had taken an extremely serious view of the incident and he had submitted an initial report to Union Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. He said SAI would conduct a probe into all aspects of the incident.
 
Mr  Sonowal said in a statement later that he had asked the Director General of SAI to rush to the spot and give a factual report on the incident.
 
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“I am deeply aggrieved by the incident that has happened in Kerala. The young girl who has died was a very promising sportsperson. It is a big loss to the country in general and Sports Authority of India and sports fraternity in particular. I convey my condolences to the bereaved family. We will give all possible help to the bereaved family," he said.
 
"Three girls are still undergoing treatment. I pray for their speedy recovery. To provide them the best possible treatment is our top priority," he said.
 
"Local police is investigating the matter. I have also directed the Director General of SAI to rush to the spot and give me a factual report. I have specifically directed him to ensure that the best possible treatment is made available to the three girls who are undergoing treatment. 
 
"While law will take its own course, at this stage I would only like to say that if anyone from Sports Authority of India is found guilty in connection with this tragic incident, strictest possible action will be taken against him or her," he added.
 
Mr Srinivas told newspersons in Delhi that it was the most shocking and tragic incident in the three-decade-old history of SAI, which is tasked with nurturing sports talent in the country.
 
He said he had been informed of the incident around midnight last night and has been in touch with Kerala government and local SAI officials since then.
 
"Our immediate priority is to deal with the medical emergency, to save the lives of the three trainees" he said. He said he had been told that there was no real antidote for the poisonous fruit and that, since the entire matter came to light only after some hours after they had consumed the fruit, the poison appeared to have entered their bloodstream and complicated matters.
 
Mr Srinivas said the four girls had reportedly left a suicide note jointly signed by them. One of the three girls in hospital, who is conscious and is able to speak, has deposed before the sub-divisional magistrate, he said. "All these matters will be investigated," he added.
 
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10 dead, 50 hurt as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails near Hosur

At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed on Friday morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.

 
10 dead, 50 injured as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails
At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed this morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.
 
The mishap occurred at around 7.45 am between Anekal Road and Hosur stations on the Bangalore-Salem section of South-Western Railway, they said.
 
Prima facie, the derailment occurred after the train hit a boulder that had rolled down onto the tracks in the ghat section, the sources said.
 
The train had left Bangalore at 6.15 am for Ernakulam in Kerala. Nine coaches and the engine of the train went off the rails, and one coach in particular, D8, a second class chair car, was badly affected, they said.
 
The derailed coaches included two air-conditioned chair cars and six second class chair cars, but they did not suffer much damage.
 
A pantry car and four second class chair cars were not affected by the derailment, the sources said.
 
South-Western Railway spokesperson Chandrasekhar Gupta told NetIndian over the telephone that ten bodies had been extricated from the mangled coaches.
 
He said 18 of the injured passengers had suffered severe injuries and were undergoing treatment in the Narayan Hridalaya, Sparsh and Anekal General hospitals nearby.
 
Police and emergency personnel, including railway officials and staff, from nearby areas in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka rushed to the spot with ambulances and medical equipment. The Railways rushed medical vans and accident relief vans to the spot.
 
Efforts were being made to restore rail traffic on the section at the earliest, the sources said.
 
In Delhi, Minister for Railways Suresh Prabhu said he was rushing to the scene of the accident and that he had directed the Chairman of the Railway Board, the General Manager of South-Western Railway and other senior officials to reach the spot.
 
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He said all possible help would be rendered to the affected passengers and families. He also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 200,000 for the next-of-kin of each of those killed in the accident, Rs 50,000 for the grievously injured passengers and Rs 20,000 for those with minor injuries.
  
Union Minister D V Sadananda Gowda, a former Minister for Railways and former Karnataka Chief Minister, was among those who reached the scene of the accident. 
 
"I am personally monitoring it and in touch with State and local administration. All Sr rail officials are directed by me to be on job," Mr Prabhu said.
 
"Condolences to all the  unfortunate members of the families who lost lives. Directed to provide best possible medical care to the injured," he said.
 
"Ordered enquiry to fix responsibility and for corrective action to prevent such unfortunate accidents. Monitoring action regularly," he added.
 
The Railways have set up the following helplines to provide information and assistance to victims and their relatives: 0948090599,  08022371166, 09731666751.
 
Besides, the Railways have set up the following helpline numbers in Kerala:
 
Trivandrum: 0471-2321205, 2321237, 09746769960
Ernakulam Jn.: 0484-2100317, 0813699773
Ernakulam Town: 0484-2398200
Trichur: 04877-2424148, 2430060
Aluva: 0484-2624143
 
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Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns, may return to Delhi politics

Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit said on Tuesday she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.

 
Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns
Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit today said she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.
 
Ms Dikshit, 76, who was Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years over three consecutive terms, had taken over for a five-year term as the 22nd Governor of Kerala only on March 11 this year after she and her Congress party suffered a humiliating defeat in the December 4, 2013 elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
 
She had lost in her own constituency of Gole Market by a huge margin to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, who went on to serve as Chief Minister of Delhi for 49 days before he resigned. The Congress had managed to win only eight seats in the 70-member house.
 
Ms Dikshit was among the Governors appointed by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre who had refused to heed clear signals from the new Modi government, which assumed office on May 26, that they should hand in their papers.
 
There were also reports in the media suggesting that she might be shifted to a North-Eastern state if she refused to quit.
 
Ms Dikshit met President Mukherjee and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh here yesterday. 
 
"I have only one thing to say. The news flashing on television channels is correct. I have submitted my resignation yesterday," she told newspersons.
"This is what I wanted to say, and I wanted to say it myself."
 
"I don't have anything more to say right now. After my resignation is accepted, I'll say whatever I have to say," she said.
 
To repeated queries about her views on the way the Modi government had handled Governors and about her future plans, Ms Dikshit said that she would not like to say anything further.
 
"Let my resignation be accepted, after that I promise you that I will talk to you," she added.
 
Asked if she had been under pressure from the Modi government to resign, Ms Dikshit said, "I have nothing to do with all that. I did what my heart told me to do."
 
She is now expected to plunge back into active politics in Delhi, where Assembly elections may be held in the next few months if it is not possible to form a viable government within the present Assembly in which no party has a clear majoirty.
 
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With this, eight of the Governors appointed by the previous government have resigned so far, while two were sacked.
 
Soon after the new government started nudging them, five Governors -- B L Joshi in Uttar Pradesh, M K Narayanan in West Bengal, Ashwani Kumar of Nagaland, Shekhar Dutt of Chhattisgarh and Bharat Vir Wanchoo of Goa, all of whom are former police officers -- resigned.
 
Mr Vakkom Purushothaman, a senior Congress leader from Kerala, who was shifted from Mizoram to Nagaland after then Gujarat Governor Kamala Beniwal was moved to Mizoram, resigned in protest against the manner in which he was transferred without consulting him.
 
Ms Beniwal, who had a few run-ins with then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is now the Prime Minister, was sacked on August 6. Earlier, on July 11, Mr Virendra Kataria had been removed as Lt Governor of Puducherry.
 
On Sunday, another senior Congress leader from Kerala, Mr K Sankaranarayanan, resigned after he was transferred as the Governor of Mizoram from Maharashtra.
 
The Governor of Uttarakhand, Mr Aziz Qureshi, has meanwhile filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that he had received calls from the Union Home Secretary suggesting that he resign. He contended that only the President could remove him.
 
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Bail plea of two jailed Orthodox priests dismissed

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A magisterial court near here on Thursday denied bail to the two jailed Malankara Orthodox Church priests named in a case for sexually abusing a woman parishioner.
 
Of the four accused Kerala priests, Father Job Mathew and Father Johnson V. Mathew, who were arrested last week, had moved the Thiruvalla Magistrate Court for bail. Both are currently lodged in the Pathanamthitta district jail. 
 
A woman who regularly visited the Malankara Orthodox Church had accused five priests of sexually abusing her for a decade. Her husband had complained that she came under duress from at least five priests.
 
It was one priest in the beginning who first exploited his wife and then started blackmailing her. When she sought help from another priest, he too, threatened her and shared her contact with a fellow priest and she was eventually victimised by five of them, the complaint said.
 
The National Commission for Women is monitoring the case. One of the priests escaped action as the victim had mentioned only four names, according to the police.
 
The other two priests -- Father Sony (Abraham) Varghese and Father Jaice K. George -- are on the run. Their bail plea was due to be heard in the Supreme Court on Thursday.
 
IANS
 
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Central Kerala badly hit by rains, 16 dead

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The death toll in Kerala in the heaviest rains in five years and floods has touched 16, with unabated rains badly affecting life in the central districts of Kottayam, Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Idukki.
 
The toll went up on Wednesday following the death of a person, Subramanion, after his canoe overturned, and another man, Bejoy, who died when he fell into an overflowing paddy field near Thrissur.
 
The Met office has predicted more rains in the next four-five days and it may advance towards the northern parts of the state.
 
The authorities are carrying out relief work on a war footing.
 
Around 10,000 people have been put up in relief camps in Kottayam, Ernakulam and Alappuzha.
 
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan ordered district officials on Wednesday to immediately release an amount of Rs 1,000 each to all those who are in these camps on or before July 17 even if they have gone home.
 
The cabinet also directed Chief Secretary Tom Jose to see that an immediate assessment was made of the damages caused by the heavy monsoon.
 
On Wednesday night, Vijayan wrote to the Centre to see that a Central Team was sent to assess the extensive damage that has occurred to life and property besides loss of crops.
 
On account of the overflowing Meenachil river in Kottayam, the Southern Railway decided to cancel 10 trains on Wednesday. Most of these were short distance trains between Ernakulam to Kollam.
 
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There were less rains on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Thiruvananthapuram district witnessing a bright sunny day. Kollam reported less rains.
 
At Kottayam, the worst affected were the low-lying areas. Residents and rescue teams transported more than 50 people to relief camps on boats from these areas.
 
"A funeral was conducted with great difficulty as there was no place in the house to place the body," a villager in Kottayam told the media.
 
A busy entrance exam coaching centre in Pala near Kottayam was flooded and closed for a week.
 
Compared to the past five years, Kerala has received 18 per cent more rains in 2018 and has now recorded the highest in the five year period, the Met figures showed.
 
Leader of Opposition R. Chennithala, who is part of an all-party delegation led by Vijayan that will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, said the state government must seek urgent release of funds to mitigate the loss suffered due to the heavy rains.
 
IANS
 
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Key suspect in Kerala SFI leader's murder nabbed

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After being on the run for more than two weeks, the prime suspect in the brutal murder of an SFI member in a Kerala college has finally been nabbed, police said on Wednesday.
 
Mohammed Ali was nabbed from the Kerala-Karnataka border on Tuesday and was being interrogated, a police officer said here.
 
According to the police, Ali was involved in the stabbing of 19-year-old Abhimanyu, when the Students' Federation of India and the Campus Front of India groups clashed late on July 2, over graffiti space on the walls of the Maharaja's College here.
 
Both Abhimanyu and Ali, the Alappuzha district president of Campus Front of India and its unit secretary studied at Maharajas College.
 
Soon after the July 2 incident, Ali along with his parents, had gone missing from their home in Alappuzha.
 
The police had earlier pointed out that there were 15 people who were directly involved in the murder and had arrested four. Another six who were arrested had helped the main culprits.
 
Trouble had started after both groups wanted to put up their wall graffiti ahead of the commencement of the new academic year. The scuffle led to one death while another student was injured.
 
IANS
 
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SC to hear anticipatory bail plea of Kerala priest accused of rape

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The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an anticipatory bail plea of one of the Malankara Orthodox Church priests who is on the run after facing charges of sexual abuse of a parishioner.
 
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud posted Sony (Abraham) Varghese's plea hearing for Tuesday.
 
Another accused, Father Jaice K. George -- currently stationed in Delhi -- will file a petition on Monday.
 
Varghese has challenged the order of the Kerala High Court which had denied three priests including him, anticipatory bail.
 
A woman, who regularly visited the Malankara Orthodox Church, has accused five priests of sexually abusing her for a decade. Her husband has complained that she was subjected to sexual overtures by five priests.
 
Initially, it was only one priest who first exploited the woman. When she sought help from another priest, he too threatened her and shared her contact with a fellow priest and she was eventually victimised by five of them.
 
One priest, however, escaped action as the victim mentioned only four names.
 
The National Commission for Women is monitoring the case.
 
IANS
 
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Heavy rains in Kerala disrupts normal life

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Heavy rains pounded Kerala on Monday disrupting normal life with more rainfall predicted till Wednesday, weather officials said.
 
In Alappuzha district's Chandriroor, an uprooted tree fell on top of the last bogey of the Thiruvananthapuram-bound Mangalore Express, but there were no reports of any injuries.
 
The train resumed its journey after a three-hour delay.
 
It has been raining in several districts for the past 36 hours and as a result more than 3,000 people have been accommodated in relief camps.
 
All educational institutions in eight of the 14 districts were closed on Monday and most of the university examinations were postponed.
 
The worst affected districts include Alappuzha, Idukki, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kottayam, Kollam and Kochi.
 
The Met Department has issued an alert for the coastal districts, warning fishermen not to venture in the rough seas.
 
Alerts were also issued in the hilly areas warning of possible landslides.
 
Buses to Karnataka via Wayanad district have been suspended.
 
State Revenue Minister E. Chandrasekheran has directed his department and the district authorities to take stock of the estimated loss.
 
So far three deaths have been reported.
 
IANS
 
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One Kerala rape-accused priest moves SC for relief from arrest

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One of the two Malankara Orthodox Church priests who are on the run, facing charges of sexual abuse of a parishioner, approached the Supreme Court on Saturday seeking relief from arrest, while the other will do so on Monday, said an official.
 
Speaking to IANS, a key investigating officer seeking anonymity said Father Sony (Abraham) Varghese on Saturday filed his petition in the apex court, which will be heard on Monday, while another accused, Father Jaice K. George -- currently posted in Delhi -- will file a petition on Monday.
 
The officer said: "We have got information that one of the accused has already approached the apex court and the other will do it on Monday. We are keenly watching the people harbouring these two priests. Such people will definitely run into trouble."
 
On Friday, the Crime Branch police probing the case arrested Father Johnson V. Mathew from a house near Thiruvalla. Both him and another priest Father Job Mathew, who was arrested on Thursday, have been remanded to judicial custody.
 
"We have gathered crucial evidence with regard to the crime that the two arrested priests have committed. These will definitely help us shape up the case," the officer added.
 
While the four priests have been made accused in the case, Johnson V. Mathew has not been charged for rape but "for outraging the modesty of a lady".
 
The arrest of the accused priests became a certainty after the Kerala High Court on Wednesday rejected the anticipatory bail plea of three of them.
 
A woman, who regularly visited the Malankara Orthodox Church, has accused five priests of sexually abusing her for a decade. Her husband has complained that she was subjected to sexual overtures by five priests.
 
Initially, it was only one priest who first exploited his wife and then started blackmailing her. When she sought help from another priest, he too threatened her and shared her contact with a fellow priest and she was eventually victimised by five of them.
 
One priest, however, escaped action as the victim mentioned only four names, the investigating officer said.
 
The National Commission for Women is monitoring the case.
 
IANS
 
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Qatar Airways flight skids off runway in Kerala

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A Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Kochi skidded off the runway while landing at the Cochin International Airport early on Friday due to heavy rains, an airport official and the airline said.
 
Airport Director A.C.K. Nair told IANS that all the passengers were safe.
 
The airline said: "Qatar Airways flight QR516 from DOH to COK skidded during landing roll due to heavy rain and water on the runway, damaging a few runway lights. The aircraft taxied normally to the stand. Due to this incident the return flight ... was cancelled.
 
"All passengers were accommodated on later flights," an airline statement said. "Qatar Airways is fully cooperating with local authorities. The safety and security of our passengers is our top priority."
 
The Airbus 330 missed the alignment while landing as some lights on the runway were broken due to cross wind conditions, Nair said earlier.
 
"The aircraft was well on the runway but missed the alignment... All the passengers are safe," he said. 
 
IANS
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Once in a blue bloom: Kerala's famed neelakurinji set for rare mass bloom

The kurinji bloom in the shola-grassland ecosystem in 2014. (Photo by Prasad Ambattu/IANS)
The kurinji bloom in the shola-grassland ecosystem in 2014. (Photo by Prasad Ambattu/IANS)
Starting late July, the Anamalai hills near Munnar in Kerala will be resplendent, clad in a purplish blue carpet. The famed neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) will burst into flower - a phenomenon that occurs once in 12 years. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to flock to the Munnar hills to behold the spectacle that lasts up until October.
 
Munnar is home to the highest concentration of neelakurinji plants in the country - spread over 3,000 hectares of rolling hills. Each shrub reproduces once in its life time and dies after flowering. It takes another 12 years for the seeds to sprout again and grow up to 30 to 60 centimetres high, for another glorious bloom.
 
The neelakurinji belongs to the genus Strobilanthes, which is a tropical plant species found in Asia and Australia. There are about 450 species of Strobilanthes in the world, of which 146 are found in India and of them, about 43, in Kerala.
 
The blooming of neelakurunji this year has ensured the fourth most important place for the Western Ghats in the Lonely Planet's 2018 Best in Asia.
 
According to Prasad Ambattu, a journalist and a resident of Munnar, there are two 12-year cycles simultaneously going on in the Anamalai hills. In one cycle, the last neelakurinji bloom was in 2006 and the next one is now, in 2018. In the other cycle, the last bloom was in 2014.
 
The mass flowering neelakurinji provides a feast for butterflies, honeybees and other insects. The purple flowers hold a large amount of nectar, which especially attract the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana).
 
"This honey from the neelakurinji is very special. It lasts for about 15 years without getting spoilt," said G. Rajkumar, chief coordinator of the NGO Save Kurinji Campaign Council. He added that the honey is supposed to have medicinal properties.
 
Rajkumar also said that the ecosystem that supports the kurinji plants plays a major role in bringing water to the Amaravati river which is a tributary of the Kaveri river, a main water source for Tamil Nadu. "The Kurinji reserve is in the catchment area of Amaravati river," he said.
 
The tourist boom begins
 
The forest department expects a large number of tourists to arrive in Munnar during this season, said Lekshmi Rajeshwari, forest range officer at Devikulam, which is part of the Eravikulam National Park, the prime destination where neelakurinji will bloom.
 
"One million tourists, including travellers from Europe and the United States, are expected to visit this amazing place this year," she said. 
 
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Last October, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had communicated through a social media post that around eight lakh (0.8 million) tourists are expected for the bloom season and the state government aims to introduce a series of measures to protect the Eravikulam National Park. As an unprecedented number of tourists will visit the region, the government plans to restrict the numbers entering the park and the amount of time they spend there, said Vijayan's post. Action on waste management and required tourist facilities are to be in place to safeguard the national park.
 
Encroachment on the neelakuri habitats
 
The Kurinjimala Sanctuary was declared in 2006, during the previous mass flowering to protecting the neelakurinji and its habitat. "This sanctuary gives the rarest, most spectacular view of neelakurinji," said G. Baburaj, an environmentalist. "But it is eyed by many," he added, elaborating that the area is being encroached on by resorts, hotels, plantations and small farms.
 
To put an end to the encroachments, the Kerala government passed an ordinance in 2006, for protecting the Kurinjimala Sanctuary. Since a number of settlements came under the area in the sanctuary, which was raising a stir among locals, the government, in the ordinance, authorised a sub-collector to adjudicate land claims after hearing complaints.
 
The proposed land that came under this ordinance included 2,041 houses, more than 53 government offices, 12 schools, 62 temples, churches and even banks. There were allegations against local politicians for forging title deeds of land ownership in the areas declared as protected.
 
However, for Kurinjimala to be declared as a wildlife sanctuary permanently under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, there is need for the settlement officer (in this case the Devikulam sub-collector) to go through the settlement of rights process for those who have inhabited or have rights over the land. This has now happened.
 
In November 2017, the Kerala Government decided to redraw the boundaries of the Kurinjimala Sanctuary - a move which had invited criticism alleging that it was to support the encroachers.
 
Following the controversy, Pinarayi Vijayan had promised that the reserve's area will not be reduced at any cost. He told media representatives that a committee will be formed to study the issues at the reserve and it will look in to the settlement concerns.
 
There is also a case pending in the Kerala High Court, demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry into the involvement of the local member of Parliament in fabricating documents for the land. Similarly, there are hundreds of such encroachments in the reserve, claims environmentalist G. Baburaj.
 
Protection for neelakurinji habitat finally declared
 
Now, in the latest decision as of April 2018, the Kerala cabinet has decided to ensure that the proposed Neelakurinji Sanctuary will have a minimum of 3,200 hectares. Though the cabinet had decided not to evict people with title deeds, it plans to redraw the boundaries in cooperation with the revenue department.
 
The cabinet decision includes appointing a settlement officer, conducting drone-based survey to identify the forest land and amending The Kerala Promotion of Tree Growth In Non-Forest Areas Act 2005 to prevent growing acacia and eucalyptus in the reserve forest area, all meant to benefit the Kurinjimala Sanctuary.
 
(In arrangement with Mongabay.com, a source for environmental news reporting and analysis. The views expressed in the article are those of Mongabay.com) 
 
IANS/Mongabay
 
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Kerala bishop accused of raping nun denies moving to Vatican

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A Kerala bishop accused of sexually abusing a Catholic nun, once again denied the charges on Thursday and the reports of his moving to the Vatican.
 
Even as a special probe team mounted a detailed investigation against Franco Mulakkal, the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar in Punjab, he dismissed any plans of going away anywhere.
 
Mulakkal told a Malayalam TV channel in his office in Jalandhar that he has not even been contacted by the police. He also said he has not applied for any anticipatory bail, "because he has done no wrong".
 
"I now hear reports that I am trying to run away to Vatican. I wish to state that I am very much here (Jalandhar) and all such reports are baseless and am not running anywhere," said Mulakkal.
 
Trouble began for the bishop when a Catholic nun alleged that she was sexually abused by him several times between 2014 and 2016.
 
An FIR was registered against the bishop and a 114-page detailed statement was taken from the nun.
 
Mulakkal, for his part, maintains that he has done "no wrong at all" and that the nun took part in several functions besides travelling with him.
 
"She also took part in the functions after the death of my mother. I have no clue on why all this has surfaced," added the bishop.
 
The probe team has so far collected evidences from a convent near Kottayam, where the bishop is alleged to have abused the nun.
 
The team will meet a few people in Kannur believed to be helpful in the case.
 
IANS
 
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One of four Kerala priests accused of rape arrested

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Father Job Mathew, one of the four Kerala priests accused of sexual abuse of a parisioner, has been arrested from a place near here, said police on Thursday.
 
The accused priest, however, denied that he has been arrested. He said he has surrendered. 
 
Mathew was taken into custody while he was on his way to a court. He was taken to the Kollam district police chief's office, where he was being interrogated.
 
The arrest of the accused Malankara Orthodox Church priests became a certainty after the High Court in Kochi on Wednesday rejected the anticipatory bail plea of three of them named in the complaint. The remaining two, Father Sony Varghese and Father Jaice K. George, are currently on the run, a police officer said.
 
A woman who regularly visited the Malankara Orthodox Church had accused five priests of sexually abusing her for a decade. Her husband had complained that she came under duress from at least five priests.
 
It was one priest in the beginning who first exploited his wife and then started blackmailing her, the man had said in his complaint.
 
When she sought help from another priest, he too threatened her and shared her contact with a fellow priest and she was eventually victimised by five of them. 
 
After pressure mounted on the police following the National Commission for Women monitoring the case, the four priests were charged with sexual assault. 
 
One of the priests escaped action as the victim had mentioned only four names, the police officer said.
 
The court last week also refused any relief to the accused, who had sought a direction that police should not arrest them till their bail petition was heard.
 
The Kottayam-headquartered church has gone into a limbo since the allegations have surfaced and using their influence, they are believed to have exercised maximum pressure on the Pinarayi Vijayan government.
 
However, with the court taking a strong position, the church authorities are understood to have informed these priests that they have no other option but to respect the law of the land.
 
IANS
 
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Kerala HC rejects anticipatory bail plea of 3 priests accused of rape

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The Kerala High Court on Wednesday rejected the anticipatory bail plea of three of the four Malankara Orthodox Church priests who have been accused of sexually abusing a woman parishioner.
 
As the bail plea was strongly opposed by the prosecution, the counsels of the three priests informed the court that their clients were willing to surrender.
 
But the court pointed out that there were enough evidence against Father Sony Varghese, Father Job Mathew and Father Jaice K. George and declined them bail.
 
The Crime Branch was expected to arrest the three, and also a fourth priest, who is on the run.
 
A woman who regularly visited the Malankara Orthodox Church had accused five priests of sexually abusing her for a decade. 
 
Her husband had complained that one of the priests, who first exploited his wife, was blackmailing her. 
 
When she sought help from another priest, he too threatened her and shared her contact with a fellow priest and, in the end, she came under duress from at least five priests.
 
After pressure mounted on the police following the National Commission for Women monitoring the case, the four priests were charged with sexual assault. One of the priests escaped action as the victim had mentioned only four names, a police officer said. 
 
The court last week also refused any relief to the accused, who had sought a direction that police should not arrest them till their bail petition was heard.
 
The Kottayam-headquartered church has gone into a limbo since the allegations have surfaced. 
 
At least two more women have come out alleging that they too were sexually abused by two other priests of the same church since this case surfaced. Both victims are expected to file complaints.
 
IANS
 
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Mohanlal's stand on Dileep fails to cut ice with women's body

Malayalam film actor Dileep
Malayalam film actor Dileep
The Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) on Wednesday said it did not agree with Malayalam movies superstar Mohanlal's explanation for revoking the suspension of actor Dileep, an accused in the actress kidnap case, from AMMA.
 
At a meeting of Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) last month, after Mohanlal took over as its new President in place of Innocent, Dileep's suspension was revoked. 
 
The WCC expressed resentment over the development and four of its supporters resigned from AMMA while another three demanded a meeting to discuss the issue.
 
On Saturday, the superstar told the media that there was no vested interest in revoking Dileep's suspension from the actors' body and the decision was taken as not even a single member was opposed to the move in the annual general body meeting.
 
The WCC, in its official Facebook page, on Wednesday said that it's "most unfortunate that Mohanlal is hanging on to technicalities and not seeing the sufferings of one of their own members, who suffered badly".
 
The WCC said it was still hopeful about the next meeting of AMMA that Mohanlal had agreed to call either by the end of this month or early next month on the matter.
 
Dileep is an accused in the kidnapping case and has remained in jail for 85 days. He is now out on bail. He was suspended from AMMA last year. 
 
IANS
 
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Next action in Kerala rape-accused priests case after court hearing: Police

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The Kerala Police is waiting for the outcome of the anticipatory bail plea filed in the Kerala High Court by two of the four Orthodox priests, accused of sexually abusing a woman parishioner, before proceeding in the case, officials said.
 
If the court, which will hear the matter on Monday, turns down the plea, the accused priests of the Malankara Orthodox Church will be arrested, said informed sources.
 
All four accused are now on the run, but the sources say that police has tracked them down and is waiting for the court verdict, which will come out on Monday, to take further steps.
 
Police have come under further pressure with the National Commission for Women monitoring the case. Even the court, when it first heard the bail petition last week, refused any relief to the accused, who had sought a direction that police not arrest till the bail petition is disposed.
 
It was alleged that five priests sexually abused a woman for a decade but police charged four of them under sections of rape and similar charges, citing the woman's complaint in which only four names were mentioned.
 
The police action came after the victim's husband complained that one of the priests who first exploited his wife was blackmailing her. When she sought help from another priest, he too threatened her and shared her contact with a fellow priest and in the end, she came under the duress from at least five priests.
 
IANS
 
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Congress leader and former Meghalaya Governor M.M. Jacob passes away

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Senior Congress leader and former Meghalaya Governor M.M. Jacob died at a private hospital near here on Sunday, family sources said.
 
Jacob, 90, had been suffering from age related illnesses, according to the sources. 
 
He remained active in politics by taking part in party meetings and had settled in Palai, where his last rites would be held Monday.
 
He was the Meghalaya Governor from 1995 to 2007.
 
Jacob served as the Deputy Chairperson of the Upper House for two terms -- 1982 and 1986.
 
He was also the Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Water Resources and Home Affairs in the cabinets of former Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narashima Rao.
 
The Kerala unit of the Congress party has cancelled all official programmes for Sunday and Monday.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 
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Govt. committed to smoothen immigration and visa processes, says Rajnath

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Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Friday the Government was committed to strengthening and smoothening the twin processes of immigration and visa for the Indian citizens and foreigners.
 
The Minister was addressing the Parliamentary Consultative Committee meeting on Immigration Visa Foreigners’ Registration & Tracking (IVFRT) here.
 
Underlining the importance of IVFRT, he said the Ministry was implementing the project in mission mode. “We need to facilitate safe and convenient entry inside the country to legitimate international travellers. We also need to provide all visa related and consular services to foreigners staying in India in a faster and convenient mode”, he added.
 
“We also have to keep in mind the security aspect while facilitating easier immigration. At the same, there is a need to track the movement of foreigners already present in the country.
 
“E-Visa scheme has become very popular among the foreigners. In 2015, the number of e-Visas issued was 5,17,417 which increased to 19,01,309 in 2017. This year, till July 5, 11,16,985 e-Visas have been issued,” he said.
 
“This scheme ensures that the foreigners do not have to meet any Indian official before their arrival at the designated landing port. MHA has now decided to increase the scope of this scheme to include e-Conference and e-Medical Attendant Visa also”, the Home Minister added.
 
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Giving the future projection of the e-Visa scheme, Mr Rajnath Singh said, “It is expected that in a few years’ time the number of e-Visas issued by MHA’s Bureau of Immigration (BoI) would overtake the number of regular visas issued by all the Indian missions abroad.”
 
“We are increasing the number of Departure and Arrival counters at major airports as well as providing human resource to the BoI to fast-track the immigration process,” he added.
 
The IVFRT project has been implemented in 165 Indian Missions abroad and 91 Immigration Check Posts (ICPs) and Biometrics software installation in 132 Indian Missions have been completed within the given time.
 
On November 27, 2014, the Government launched the e-Tourist Visa scheme in 44 countries. This e-Visa facility has now been extended to 165 countries. The government has installed e-Visa processing facilities at 25 airports and 5 seaports in the country. The MHA is now working to extend the e-Visa scheme to more countries in a planned manner after consulting all the stakeholders.
 
The extension of the e-Visa scheme is aimed at encouraging tourism, business travel and health tourism in the country. After the introduction of the e-Visa scheme, more than 90% visas are issued within 72 hours of application submission. The government has done away with embarkation and disembarkation cards for Indian citizens and foreigners to streamline the immigration process.
 
The MHA has also introduced e-FRRO services for those foreigners who are staying in India and who need services like visa extension, visa conversion, exit permit, registration, change of passport details, change of address and others.
 
The Parliamentary Consultative Committee meeting was attended by MoS Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Members of Parliament and senior government officials.
 
NNN
 
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Kerala TV actress jailed for printing counterfeit notes

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Kerala TV serial actress Surya and her mother and sister have been arrested for printing counterfeit currency at their residence here to make up for the losses they had incurred, police said on Thursday.
 
Surya has been a popular TV artiste featuring in several serials aired by a number of Kerala-based TV channels.
 
Circle Inspector of Police V.S. Sunilkumar, who led the police probe team and arrested Surya and her family members on Wednesday, told IANS they recovered an entire printing facility at their house. He added that two more accomplices were arrested on Thursday, taking the total number of arrests to eight.
 
All of the arrested persons were remanded to judicial custody on Thursday.
 
"We were able to recover about Rs 2 lakh counterfeit notes... We have seized papers, printers and other materials used to print counterfeit notes. It was stocked at their residence to print notes worth Rs 5 million," said Sunilkumar.
 
He said they traced a team of professionals in Idukki, who were engaged in printing counterfeit currency, who led them to the actress and her family members. He said the entire group was functioning as a "well-knit team".
 
"The actress and her family have admitted that they were into this business of printing counterfeit notes since September last year," said the police officer.
 
The actress and her family had suffered a sudden loss in their business from unexpected quarters and were in trouble since, the officer said.
 
"We believe it was their chance meeting with a 'fake godman' who led the actress and her family into the racket of counterfeit currency business," said Sunilkumar.
 
IANS
 
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Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan to visit US

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will leave here on Thursday on his first visit to the United States after assuming office in May 2016.
 
The Chief Minister's office on Wednesday said the Marxist leader would attend several functions in  the US and return on July 18.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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No relief from Kerala HC to two rape-accused Orthodox priests

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The Kerala High Court on Tuesday declined any relief to two of the four rape-accused Orthodox priests who had moved it for anticipatory bail, posting the next hearing for Monday.
 
The two priests, Abraham Varghese and Job Mathew, of the Kottayam-headquartered Malankara Orthodox Church, sought that the court prevent their arrest as they have been falsely implicated in the case of sexually exploiting a woman parishioner.
 
However the prosecution took a very strong stand that, under no circumstances, should anticipatory bail be given.
 
Counsel for the two priests raised the request that the arrest should be prevented till the court takes up the bail plea, but the court did not take it up.
 
Along with the two who approached the court, two other priests - Jayce George and Johnson Mathew - have all been chargesheeted by the Kerala Police's Crime Branch, probing the case based on the allegations made by the victim's husband, who belongs to the same church, that his wife was sexually exploited by five priests over the past one decade.
 
One priest was left out by police with a senior officer saying the woman had only named four priests in her complaint.
 
On Monday, the Crime Branch, after a preliminary probe, decided to charge four of the five priests and Tuesday they filed the charge sheet of rape and other crimes before the Thiruvalla magistrate court.
 
Inspector General of Police S. Sreejith, who leads the probe team, arrived at the headquarters of the Church at Kottayam and held a closed door meeting with its Supreme Head Baselios Marthoma Paulose II.
 
Interacting with the media after the meeting, Sreejith said that the supreme head has promised to cooperate with the probe and will be ready to help in its completion.
 
Last Friday, Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra ordered a Crime Branch probe into this case on the allegations made by the victim's husband.
 
An online portal first reported the story last week, following which tremendous pressure from several quarters, especially social media users, mounted on the Church, which then announced an internal probe.
 
The husband has said one of the priests who first exploited his wife was blackmailing her. When she sought help from another priest, he too threatened her and shared her contact with another fellow priest and in the end, she came under the duress from at least five priests.
 
The Kerala Police started its probe after the National Commission for Women took suo motu cognisance of the case and wrote to Behra, directing him to investigate the matter.
 
IANS
 
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