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Thiruvananthapuram

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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Three Indians killed in Sri Lanka blasts

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Three Indians are among those killed in the suicide bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced.
 
The Minister quoted the Indian High Commission as saying that it had been informed by the National Hospital in Colombo about the death of three Indian nationals: Lokashini, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh. 
 
"We are ascertaining further details," the Minister said.
 
Earlier, an IANS report from Thiruvananthapuram said a Kerala woman holidaying in Colombo was among those killed in suicide bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, authorities said.
 
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed condolences over the death of 58-year-old P.S. Razeena, who arrived in the Sri Lankan capital along with her husband to meet their relatives engaged in business in Colombo.
 
Razeena and her husband, who hail from Kasargode in Kerala, live in Dubai and were staying at one of the three hotels in Colombo targeted on Sunday by suicide bombers.
 
A spokesperson for the state agency of the Kerala diaspora told the media that they were talking to the Indian High Commissioner's office in Colombo to see that Razeena's body was brought to Kerala.
 
IANS
 

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Congress' Wayanad message is appeasement: Modi

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Slamming Congress President Rahul Gandhi for contesting from Wayanad in Kerala, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed out that the only message that's being sent out is appeasement politics.
 
Modi arrived in the state capital on Thursday night to campaign for the NDA candidates contesting in Kerala.
 
Taking on Gandhi, Modi said what's happening now is not politics, it's only self-interest and opportunistic politics.
 
"The Congress says there is a message behind his (Rahul Gandhi) choosing to contest from Wayanad. But the message could have been sent if the contest was from Thiruvanathapuram. If not, the contest could have taken place in Pathanamthitta (where Sabarimala temple is located). Had it happened, an even bigger message could have been sent out," said Modi.
 
Modi assured the gathering that when votes are counted on May 23 and the new government assumes office, the faith, culture and traditions will be protected through democratic means.
 
"The BJP stand is very clear while the Congress is playing a double game. They say one thing in Delhi and another in Kerala. The CPI-M has no belief in faith, culture or tradition. What they have done here is to register false cases against those who protested to protect the culture and tradition. As long as I am the 'chowkidar', I will not allow these to be destroyed ," said Modi.
 
He also took on the Pinarayi Vijayan government and pointed out that it's a corrupt one.
 
"Even the Chief Minister is caught in the midst of the Lavalin case and so are other ministers. It has now come out that the floods that hit the state were manmade. Even the compensation for those affected has been diverted. Such a government cannot remain in office any more," said Modi.
 
He also reminded the people that his government in the past five years has put country on the fast track of development, be it in land, sea, air or space.
 
"The 'chowkidar' of the country has empowered the scientists of the country who have come out with technology which will ensure the country's protection. The Congress never had the courage to take such decisions and when it came to hounding scientists, they did that. Your own scientist Nambi Narayanan was a victim of the Congress party," said Modi.
 
He pointed out that the elections are not meant for just putting up a new government.
 
"This election will determine the aspiration of building a new India. It's whether India should pave the way forward or it should follow others," said Modi.
 
Modi said for a strong government which will protect the country, a 'chowkidar' is needed and for that, all should vote for the NDA.
 
Modi arrived almost two hours late and left after his speech.
 
The BJP does not have a single Lok Sabha member from Kerala. It is expecting to open its account this time: It has high hopes from Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency, where the party has fielded former Mizoram governor Kummanem Rajasekheran.
 
He is pitted against Congress leader Shashi Tharoor who is aiming for a hat-trick of wins. Also in the fray is senior CPI legislator C. Divakaran.
 
In 2014, BJP candidate O. Rajagopal finished a close second, while in all the remaining 19 constituencies , the NDA candidates finished a distant third.
 
IANS

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Nirmala Sitharaman visits Shashi Tharoor in hospital

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Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday visited Congress leader Shashi Tharoor in the hospital where he was admitted after suffering an injury in a freak accident a day earlier.
 
Tharoor was performing a ritual at a temple in the Kerala capital on Monday when he injured himself.
 
Praying while seated on the weighing balance, the chains holding the balance broke and fell on Tharoor's head, requiring him to get eight stitches.
 
The Congress MP said he was touched by Sitharaman's gesture of civility, which he called a rare virtue in Indian politics.
 
"Touched by the gesture of Nirmala Sitharaman, who dropped by today (Tuesday) morning to visit me in the hospital, amid her hectic electioneering in Kerala. 
 
"Civility is a rare virtue in Indian politics -- great to see her practice it by example," Tharoor tweeted.
 
Tharoor is engaged in a tough three-way electoral battle for the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat with former Mizoram Governor K. Rajasekheran of BJP and CPI's C. Divakaran, a sitting legislator and former state Minister.
 
IANS
 

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Shashi Tharoor injured as chain in temple gives way

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Shashi Tharoor, aiming for a hat-trick of wins as the Congress candidate for the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat, suffered a freak accident while performing a ritual at a temple near here on Monday, leading to eight stitches on his head.
 
After preliminary celebrations at his home here on Vishu, the traditional New year festival, Tharoor left for the popular Gandhari Amman temple.
 
Praying while seated on the weighing balance, as part of a temple ritual, the chains holding the balance broke and fell on Tharoor's head. He was rushed to the state-run general hospital. 
 
Tharoor's wounds needed eight stitches and he was taken for scanning, the doctors said, adding that the Congress leader's condition was now normal. 
 
Tharoor is engaged in a tough three-way electoral battle with former Mizoram Governor Kummanem Rajasekheran of BJP and CPI's C. Divakaran, a sitting legislator and former state Minister.
 
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Tharoor scraped through with a margin of around 15,000 votes aginst BJP's O. Rajagopal, who is now an MLA.
 
IANS
 

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Rahul to be on two-day whirlwind campaign in Kerala

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Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who arrives here on Monday night, will campaign across the state for two days, where he will also cover his constituency -- Wayanad -- on Wednesday.
 
Kerala goes to the polls on April 23 to elect 20 Lok Sabha members.
 
Releasing details of Gandhi's tour programme, the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee on Friday said he will arrive here on the night of April 15.
 
The following morning, he travels to Pathanapuram in Kollam district to address a party rally in the constituency where Kodikunnil Suresh, a former Union Minister and the sitting member from the Mavelikera Lok Sabha constituency, is seeking re-election.
 
At 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday, Gandhi is scheduled to reach Pathanamthitta district -- where the famed Sabarimala temple is located -- to campaign for Anto Antony, who is seeking a hat-trick of victories from the Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha constituency.
 
At 4 p.m., he will arrive in Alappuzha to campaign for Shanimol Usman, a former Mahila Congress Chairperson, from where he returns to the state capital to solicit votes for party candidate Shashi Tharoor.
 
Gandhi travels thereafter to Kannur in north Kerala, and the following day he will reach his constituency Wayanad.
 
His election campaign programme in Kerala concludes with a road show on Wednesday.
 
Of the total representation from Kerala in the outgoing Lok Sabha, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has 12 seats, while the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) has eight. 
 
IANS
 

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CPI-M slams Rahul's Wayanad foray, vows to defeat him

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The CPI-M, the main force in Kerala's ruling Left Democratic Alliance (LDF), on Sunday reacted sharply to the Congress's announcement that party President Rahul Gandhi would contest from the state's Wayanad parliamentary constituency and vowed to defeat him.
 
Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) former chief Prakash Karat said the Congress's decision went against the party's "stated commitment" to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 
 
"In Kerala, it is the LDF, which is the main force that can fight the BJP. And Rahul Gandhi is going to Kerala to fight the LDF, which means we have to take on the United Democratic Front (UDF), of which he will be a candidate.
 
"The UDF consists of not only Congress but Muslim League and other parties which have a dubious reputation. And we shall work to defeat the UDF in all constituencies including Wayanad," he said in a video message.
 
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also said that Gandhi's contesting from Wayanad was not "symbolic".
 
"In Kerala, as we all know, the fight is between the Left and the Congress, with the BJP not in the picture at all. He should have fought against the BJP. Now that he has decided to contest from Wayanad, we, the Left will see to defeat him," he told the media in Thiruvanthapuram.
 
State CPI-M Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said Gandhi's move to Wayanad will ensure a Left victory on all the 20 seats in the state. 
 
"He is coming here because he is not confident of his win in Amethi. And the Left will show Gandhi what our power here is," he said, adding that the Left was confident of repeating its 2004 performance when they won 18 out of the state's 20 seats.
 
The Wayanad seat has been allocated to the Communist Party of India (CPI) and its candidate P.P. Suneer said that he was not alarmed by the stature of his opposing candidate.
 
"The candidate does not matter, as elections are fought on issues. By now I have already completed three rounds of my campaign and I am on a strong footing as the backing that I have is of the Left forces, which has a good chemistry with the electorate in the Wayanad constituency," he said.
 
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Gandhi's contesting from Wayanad was greeted with excitement in Malappuram, the stronghold of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), UDF's second biggest constituent in Kerala - and where three of Wayanad's assembly segments fall in. 
 
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has given the Wayanad seat to ally Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), however, poked fun at the Congress President's shift to the southern state. 
 
"It's a shame for the Congress chief to run away from Amethi and seek solace in the arms of the IUML, which is strong in Wayanad," said state BJP President P. S. Sreedharan Pillai.
 
Senior Congress leader and former Defence Minister A. K. Antony on Sunday announced Gandhi's decision to contest from Wayanad.
 
Making the announcement in New Delhi, Antony said Gandhi was not keen to contest on a second seat. "But there was a tremendous pressure from the south Indian states, the Congress party as well as from the allies that he should contest."
 
Wayanad became a Lok Sabha constituency in 2009, and M. I. Shanawaz of the Congress won it that year by a margin of 1,53,439 votes. However, his margin dropped to 20,870 in 2014, and last year he passed away after a long illness. The seat has been lying vacant since then.
 
Considered a safe seat for the Congress, there was a scramble between the party's various factions for a ticket to Wayanad and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had even managed to swing it in favour of his close confidante T. Siddique.
 
However, Chandy was the first to speak of the possibility of Gandhi contesting from Wayanad last week. 
 
Wayanad will vote on April 23 and Amethi on May 6. The counting of votes for the country will be held on May 23.
 
IANS

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Three die of suspected sun stroke in Kerala

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With the mercury rising, three suspected sun stroke deaths were reported in Kerala, officials said on Sunday.
 
Karunakaran (42), a state government employee from Parasala in the southern suburb of the state capital, fainted while working in his paddy field on Sunday morning.
 
He was rushed to a local hospital where he was declared dead. The body was later shifted to the state-run Medical College for post-mortem examination. After preliminary examination, the doctors suspected it to be a case of sun stroke as there were burn marks on the deceased's shoulders.
 
In Kannur, an elderly person named Narayanan suffered sun burns and fell unconscious. He was later declared dead. A third case was reported from Maramon in Pathanamthitta district where a 60-year-old hotel employee named Shahjahan was found dead on the road side.
 
In Punalur in Kollam district, while campaigning for Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) candidate N. K. Premachandran, RSP leader Nasar Khan fell unconscious and had to be rushed to a hospital. His condition is stated to be stable.
 
According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast for the coming two days, the mercury in 11 out of the 14 districts of the state is expected to rise by 2 to 3 degree Celsius above the normal for this time of the season.
 
Since the beginning of March, around 100 people have suffered sun stroke in the state, the Health Department pointed out. The department has also issued an advisory for people on how to tackle the heat.
 
IANS

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Kerala: Relatives of youth who died in Saudi Arabia receive wrong body

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In an embarrassing mix-up, relatives of 28-year-old Rafeeq, who died of heart attack in Saudi Arabia last month, got the shock of their lives when they opened the casket -- it had the body of a woman.
 
The family discovered the horror when the casket reached Konni, about 90 km from the state capital.
 
A police official attached to the Konni police station confirmed the mix up.
 
"The body of Rafeeq, who passed away on February 28 in Saudi Arabia, arrived late last night. When the family opened the casket, they found the body was of a lady, believed to be a Sri Lankan. The police have been notified." 
 
The woman's body is being moved to the Kottayam Medical College Hospital mortuary and arrangements are being made to send it back, said another police officer who did not wish to be identified.
 
IANS
 

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Kerala: Congress leader Mullapally Ramachandran won't contest this time

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Outgoing Lok Sabha member and state Congress President Mullapally Ramachandran said on Tuesday that he will not contest the Lok Sabha elections in Kerala.
 
The 74-year-old seven-time Lok Sabha member told reporters here that despite making his stand clear, he was again being asked if he will contest this time.
 
"I wish to make things clear that I am not contesting this time and this was my condition when I was asked to take over as the new president of the state unit," said Ramachandran.
 
Ramachandran represented Kannur Lok Sabha constituency five times and in 2009 he was elected as the MP from Vadakara.
 
The CPI-M has fielded former legislator and senior CPI-M leader P. Jayarajan from Vadakara.
 
Ramachandran wondered why the CPI-M had fielded a person who is an accused in two murder cases and was in jail.
 
"Am really surprised that the CPI-M failed to get another candidate and had to field a person tainted like Jayarajan," said Ramachandran.
 
IANS
 

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Goyal lays foundation stone for new coaching terminal at Nemom in Kerala

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Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal laid the foundation stone for a new coaching terminal at Nemom, near Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, and unveiled the WAP-7HS passenger locomotive through video conferencing from here on Thursday.
 
Railway Board Member (Traction) Ghanshyam Singh, Member (Rolling Stock) Rajesh Agarwal and Member (Engineering) Vishwesh Chaubey and other senior railway officers were present on the occasion.
 
Speaking on the occasion, Goyal said that the present Government has consistently focused on development for all areas in the country. Focus has been on large scale infrastructure creation, both physical and social, he said.
 
He said the new coaching terminal at Nemom in the Thiruvananthapuram Division of Southern Railway would help in decongesting the already overloaded current coaching terminals. With the commencement of work at this new coaching terminal, Indian Railways can start providing large number of new trains which will either originate or terminate in Thiruvananthapuram, he said.
 
The Minister said there were no Unmanned Level Crossings in the entire state of Kerala and all the stations have been converted to 100 % LED lighting. 
 
He said Indian Railways were committed to faster development of Kerala and to make the state a better tourism destination which will help transform the local economy and give a big boost to the generation of employment and improve customer amenities and facilities for all the people using trains in Kerala. 
 
The high-speed WAP-7 HS locomotive has been indigenously developed at the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) in West Bengal.
 
“The most powerful passenger locomotive over the Indian Railways which will be capable of hauling 24 coaches instead of 140 Kmph now at 160 kmph has been designed and manufactured at CLW by our own engineers and by our own workers, making the entire nation proud of the Indian engineering talent and Indian skilled manpower talent. This new engine will help us serve the larger distances much faster and will reduce pollution level and will improve the operation initially of the premium trains.”
 
WAP-7 is the most powerful passenger locomotive over Indian Railways capable of hauling 24-coach high speed trains. However, the maximum service speed of locomotive is 140 kmph. 
 
Railways have undertaken a project for upgradation of speed potential of WAP-7 locomotives from 140 kmph to 160 kmph. It will be put into service after statuary tests and trials. The new type of locomotive is expected to facilitate operation of premium trains such as Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duranto at higher speed.
 
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Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan resigns, likely to return to active politics in Kerala

Kummanam Rajasekharan
Kummanam Rajasekharan
Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan has resigned from his position amidst speculation that he is likely to return to active politics in his home state of Kerala.
 
"The President has accepted the resignation of Shri Kummanam Rajasekharan as Governor of Mizoram," a press communique from Rashtrapati Bhavan said here today.
 
"The President of India is pleased to appoint Prof. Jagdish Mukhi, Governor of Assam to discharge the functions of the Governor of Mizoram, in addition to his own duties, until regular arrangements for the office of the Governor of Mizoram is made," the communique added.
 
Rajasekharan, 66, who was the president of the BJP's Kerala unit, was appointed as the Governor of Mizoram in May last year.
 
There has been media speculation for some time that the state unit of the BJP was keen on Rajasekharan's return to active politics in Kerala. The reports also suggested he could contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, possibly from Thiruvananthapuram, held currently by former Union Minister Shashi Tharoor of the Congress.
 
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Infrastructure development a priority for government, says Modi in Kerala

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at the inauguration of the Kollam Bypass on NH 66, in Kollam, Kerala on January 15, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at the inauguration of the Kollam Bypass on NH 66, in Kollam, Kerala on January 15, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said infrastructure development was the priority of his government and the 13 km, two-lane Kollam bypass on National Highway (NH)-66 in Kerala that he dedicated to the nation earlier in the day was an example in this regard.
 
Kerala Governor Justice P. Sathasivam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Union Minister of Tourism K J Alphons along with other dignitaries were present at the dedication ceremony.
 
Addressing a gathering at he Asramam ground in Kollam later, Modi said the project had got the final sanction in January 2015 and it had now been completed.
 
He said his government believed in "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" for ease of living for the common man and appreciated the contribution and cooperation of the Kerala government in completion of the project.
 
The Kollam Bypass will reduce travel time between Alappuzha and state capital Thiruvananthapuram and decongest the traffic in Kollam town.
 
Talking about the projects in Kerala, the Prime Minister said that about 500 km of national highway has been added in Kerala since May 2014. He added that under Bharatmala, a detailed project report for the Mumbai-Kanyakumari corridor is under preparation. 
 
Modi said that the government is committed to ensure timely completion of all the projects.  He said that through PRAGATI, more than 250 projects worth Rs. 12 lakh crore have been reviewed at his end.
 
Highlighting the progress in road connectivity, Modi said that compared to the previous Government, the pace of construction in national highways and rural roads has almost doubled. More than 90% of rural habitations have been connected today compared to only 56% under the previous government.  He expressed hope that the government will reach the target of 100% rural road connectivity soon.
 
Regional air connectivity and expansion of railway lines have shown marked improvement resulting in creation of job opportunities, he said.
 
“When we construct roads and bridges, we do not only connect towns and villages. We also connect aspirations with achievements, optimism with opportunities and hope with happiness," he said.
 
About Ayushman Bharat, he said that 8 lakh patients have been benefitted under this scheme while the government has sanctioned more than 1100 crores rupees till date for the scheme. He urged the Government of Kerala to expedite the implementation of Ayushman Bharat scheme, so that the people of Kerala can be benefitted.
 
Modi said tourism is the hallmark of Kerala’s economic development and a principal contributor to the state’s economy. He added that recognizing the tourism potential of Kerala, the government has sanctioned seven projects in the state under the Swadesh Darshan and PRASAD schemes with funds worth Rs. 550 crore.
 
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He said India posted a growth of 14% over 2016 in the tourism sector while the world grew at an average of 7%. He added that India now stands at third place in Power Ranking in the 2018 report of the World Travel & Tourism Council. Foreign tourist arrivals in India increased by 42% from around 70 lakh in 2013 to about 1 crore in 2017. The foreign exchange earned by India due to tourism witnessed a jump of 50%, up from $ 18 billion in 2013 to $ 27 billion in 2017. He described the introduction of the e-Visa as a game changer for Indian tourism which is now available to nationals of 166 countries. 
 
Earlier in the day, Modi visited Odisha where he said the government was committed to the all-round development of the state and of eastern India as a whole.
 
He visited Balangir, where he launched several development projects worth Rs. 1500 crores and laid foundation stones of various projects.
 
He dedicated a Multi-Modal Logistics Park (MMLP) at Jharsuguda to the nation. The MMLP will make Jharsuguda the prime hub of logistics in the region. 
 
He also inaugurated the Balangir-Bichhupali railway line built at an estimated cost of Rs. 115 crore.
 
Noting that it was his third visit to Odisha in the past three weeks, he told a gathering at the Railway Yard in Balangir that his government was making continuous efforts for the development of the state and eastern India.
 
He also dedicated to the nation the new bridge over Nagavali River, doubling of railway lines between Barpali-Dungaripali and Balangir-Deogaon and electrification of 813 km of Jharsuguda-Vizinagaram and Sambalpur-Angul lines. 
 
He laid the foundation stone of Kendriya Vidyalaya in Odisha's Sonepur at an estimated cost of Rs. 15.81 crore. 
 
“Education leads to human resource development. But it is connectivity that transforms such resources into opportunity. Inauguration of 6 railway projects is an effort of our endeavour to enhance connectivity. It will facilitate movement of people, make mineral resources more accessible to industry and help farmers to take their produce to far-off markets, furthering ‘Ease of Living’ for Odisha’s citizens," he said.
 
Citing his commitment for the preservation of culture and heritage, the Prime Minister said that it would strengthen cultural links and enhance the tourism potential in the state. He expressed his happiness over the renovation and restoration works at the Nilamadhav and Siddheswar temples in Gandhaharadi (Boudh). 
 
Modi also inaugurated restoration and renovation work of Ranipur Jharial group of monuments in Balangir and Asurgarh Fort in Kalahandi.
 
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Modi to inaugurate Spiritual Circuit in Kerala on Tuesday

Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram
Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the project "Development of Spiritual Circuit: Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple-Aranmula-Sabarimala” in Kerala during a day's visit to the state tomorrow.
 
The project is being implemented under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme of the Union Ministry of Tourism.
 
Kerala Governor Palanisamy Sathasivam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Union Tourism Minister K. J. Alphons are slated to be present on the occasion.
 
An official press release said the project was sanctioned by the Ministry of Tourism in 2016-17 for Rs. 92.22 crores. Most of the work under this project has been carried out at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
 
The Sree Padmanabaswamy Temple is one of the 108 divyadesams of Lord Vishnu. The temple witnesses huge footfall throughout the year. However, the temple precinct did not establish a sense of arrival to the revered destination nor were the amenities sufficient to cater to the tourists, the release said.
 
Under this project, the Ministry has developed and rejuvenated the temple and its surroundings keeping in mind the factors of heritage and socio-cultural aspects.
 
The Ministry of Tourism, recognizing the tourism potential of the State, has sanctioned seven projects in Kerala under the Swadesh Darshan and PRASHAD schemes for an approximate amount of Rs. 550 crore.
 
Talking to journalists in Thiruvananthapuram, Alphons said his Ministry had sanctioned projects worth Rs. 85.23 crore for the development of Spiritual Circuit III for Kerala under Swadesh Darshan Scheme. 
 
He said the sites identified under the circuit are spread across all 14 districts of the state and cover 133 religious places. He said the districts where the projects would be implemented are : Kasargode, Wayand, Kannur, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Malappuram, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Idukki, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Pathanamhitta, Kollam and Thiruvanathapuram .
 
The Minister said the destinations have been selected keeping in view the inherent historic, cultural and religious significance of the places. The development works include Community hall, Annadhana Mandapam, Multipurpose hall, toilets, cafeteria, parking facilities, landscaping, pathways, illuminations, signages, dustbins, and so on.
 
The circuit covers religious sites all across the state from Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the northernmost district of Kasargode to the Madre De Deus Church in Thiruvanathapuram, the southernmost district. The Circuit will cover several historical religious sites across the state like the Cheraman Jumah Masjid (Kodungallooor), Koodalmanikyam temple (Irinjalakkuda), St. Thomas Church (Malayattoor) and Thriparayar Sreerama Temple (Thrissur).
 
Alphons said that the sites had been identified after elaborate study and discussions with all stakeholders. He said 60 percent of domestic tourism is related to spiritual circuits. 
 
Swadesh Darshan scheme is one of the flagship schemes of Ministry of tourism for development of thematic circuits in the country in a planned and prioritised manner. Under this scheme, the Government is focussing on development of quality infrastructure in the country with objective of providing better experience and facilities to the visitors on the one hand and on the other hand fostering economic growth. 
 
The scheme was launched in 2014 -15 and as on date the Ministry has sanctioned 77 projects worth projects for Rs. 6131.88 crore to 30 States and UTs. 
 
As many as 30 projects / major components of projects are expected to be completed during the current financial year, of which 10 projects worth Rs.834.22 crore, covering the states of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have already been inaugurated.
 
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Modi to visit Kerala on January 15

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala tomorrow.
 
In Kollam, Prime Minister will inaugurate Kollam bypass on National Highway (NH)-66.  It is a 13 km long 2 lane bypass, with a project cost of Rs. 352 crore. It includes three major bridges over the Ashtamudi Lake, having a total length of 1540 metres. 
 
This project will reduce travel time between Alappuzha and Thiruvananthapuram, and will also decongest traffic in Kollam town, an official press release said.
 
In Thiruvananthapuram, Modi will visit the Padmanabhaswamy Temple . He is likely to unveil a plaque to mark the launch of some visitor facilities.
 
This will be the third official visit of the Prime Minister to Kollam. His first visit to the city was in December 2015, when he unveiled the statue of R. Sankar.  Subsequently, the Prime Minister visited Kollam in April 2016, hours after the fire tragedy.
 
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Police step up security for Kerala CM

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Kerala Police will step up security for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan following widespread protests in the state over the entry of two women to the Sabarimala shrine, a police officer said on Friday.
 
T. K. Vinodkumar, chief of the police intelligence wing, said though the Chief Minister will continue to be in 'Z Plus' security category, some added precautions had been taken.
 
Accordingly, whereever the Chief Minister is or when he is travelling, roads will be sanitised, cleared of obstruction and police personnel will "be more alert", said Vinodkumar.
 
On Thursday, the pilot vehicle of Vijayan hit two Congress workers waving black flags when he was returning from office to his official residence for lunch.
 
Vijayan, who is mostly based in the state capital, on Wednesday oversaw the arrests of 109 Sangh Parivar activists on charges of unleashing violence in various parts of the capital city district.
 
The last time a Kerala Chief Minister came under attack was in October 2013, at Kannur, when Oommen Chandy was targeted by stone-throwing Left supporters, injuring him in the chest and face.
 
IANS

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Widespread violence in Kerala during shutdown over Sabarimala

 
Sabarimala row: Widespread violence during Kerala shutdown
A dawn-to-dusk Kerala shutdown called to denounce the visit of two women to the Sabarimala temple saw major violence on Thursday, a rarity compared to the regular strikes the state witnesses from time to time.
 
The Sabarimala Karma Samithi (SKS), which had the backing of the BJP and RSS, said it called the protest to oppose the role of the Kerala government which facilitated the entry of the two women inside the temple before dawn on Wednesday.
 
What began as minor skirmishes at various places between the strike organisers and its opponents aggravated during the day as more than 300 protesters were arrested, with nearly 100 people, including police officials, getting injured in the violence.
 
The worst affected districts included Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Kasargode and Kannur.
 
A number of CPI-M offices came under attack. In several places in the suburbs of the state capital, it was a free for all as rival factions took on one another. In Nedumangadu near here, crude bombs were thrown at CPI-M offices while homes of CPI-M leaders were attacked.
 
While state-owned and private buses were off the road, private vehicles, mostly two-wheelers, plied. Private cars also operated in Thiruvananthapuram and other major cities in Kerala.
 
Ten people in Kannur were arrested after they attacked vehicles that went past the BJP office.
 
Even as the two traders' body in the state announced they would open their shops, in several places shops failed to open.
 
However, in Kozhikode, traders were determined to open their shops even as the SKS and BJP activists protested.
 
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"This frequent calling of shutdown is not acceptable. We will open in future also," said a group of shopkeepers at Kozhikode.
 
After some traders opened their shops in Kozhikode, a gang of Sangh Parivar forces forcibly closed them down. In the process, numerous shops suffered damages.
 
An inter-state bus from Karnataka was stoned in Kozhikode district. Similar incidents were also reported from Kasargode and Palakkad.
 
University examinations scheduled for Thursday were postponed. All educational institutions in the state were shut.
 
Meanwhile, the Left government decided promised strong action against the trouble makers.
 
Vijayan added that there was no protest from ordinary people including women over the entry of the two women at the Sabarimala temple.
 
"The trouble started after the Sangh Parivar forces went on a rampage attacking police, damaging numerous vehicles. We have decided that at no cost will the authorities be silent and very strong action will be taken," he said.
 
At Pandalam in Alappuzha district, BJP and RSS activists took out a protest march after one of their supporters who was injured in stone throwing by CPI-M workers on Wednesday died late at night.
 
A CPI-M worker has been arrested and the wife of the deceased said the family does not believe a fair probe will happen.
 
Thursday also saw widespread attacks on the media, leaving many journalists, including women, injured and shaken. Vijayan condemned the violence.
 
"Even media personnel, including women, have not been spared by Sangh Parivar forces who are trying to take the law into their hands. This will be seriously dealt with," Vijayan said here.
 
V. Suresh, President of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, told IANS that since Wednesday journalists had been attacked by Sangh Parivar protesters.
 
"Across the state around 100 journalists have been attacked. Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode and Palakkad are the districts where our fellow journalists have been the worst hit," he said.
 
Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra said the police viewed these attacks "very seriously".
 
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said all this was bound to happen "when senseless people rule the state".
 
"Chief Minister Vijayan is solely responsible for what is happening here. He has created the platform for the Sangh Parivar forces to go berserk and create mayhem and this is the eighth shutdown called to protest the Sabarimala temple issue. 
 
"What happened was Vijayan's determination to breach the tradition and customs of the temple."
 
State RSS chief P. E. B. Menon said the way out of the present unrest was for the Centre to come out with an ordinance on Sabarimala temple entry.
 
IANS
 

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Four Congress workers hit by Kerala CM's pilot vehicle

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Four Congress workers were hit and injured by the pilot vehicle of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan when he was returning home from office for lunch on Thursday, the Congress said.
 
Congress legislator M. Vincent told IANS that the four party workers got injured in two different incidents.
 
He said some Congress activists waving black flags were hit by the pilot vehicle in what he insisted was "a deliberate attempt", injuring two of them. 
 
Later, another 200 metres from the first site, "the pilot vehicle knocked down two of our workers who were on a two-wheeler", said Vincent.
 
Congress legislator K.S. Sabarinadhan told IANS that two of them had been taken to the Medical College Hospital and two were being treated at the General Hospital.
 
"Our workers have got bruises and injuries on the shoulder, hands and legs," he said.
 
The Congress is observing Thursday as a black day to protest the manner in which the government facilitated two women to pray at the Sabarimala temple a day earlier.
 
IANS
 

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Protests as two women pray at Sabarimala, Kerala shutdown called

 
Two women under 50 enter Sabarimala temple
Protests erupted across Kerala on Wednesday after two women in the hitherto banned age group entered the Sabarimala temple before dawn, with the Sabarimala Karma Samithi (SMS) calling for a state-wide shutdown on Thursday.
 
The temple was shut for an hour to conduct "purification rituals" after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed that Bindu and Kanaka Durga had 'darshan' at 3.30 a.m., having been stopped on December 24 by predominantly male pilgrims from entering the hill shrine. 
 
The temple was reopened after an hour.
 
SKS activists vowed not to rest till Vijayan was ousted from office and called a dawn-to-dusk shutdown on Thursday.
 
Speaking to the media over telephone, Bindu said she and Durga reached the Pamba base camp around 1.30 a.m. and along with a few police officers in civilian clothes went up the pathway.
 
"The government had assured us all help... We, however, did not climb the hallowed 18 steps, instead went through the way normally used by VIPs," said Bindu.
 
"We did not have any problems. Barring minor protests, there was no other issue."
 
As the news spread, Sangh Parivar outfits took to the streets across Kerala blocking traffic, burning tyres on main roads and stoning buses.
 
In the state capital, the police used water canons and tear gas to disperse clashing CPI-M and Sangh Parivar activists. Protests were also reported from Kochi, Palghat, Kozhikode and Kasargode.
 
Kerala's biggest traders' body, KVVES, announced it won't shut shops on Thursday as frequent strikes were causing huge losses.
 
Once it became known that the two women had entered the temple, the chief priest and temple tantri met the Pandalam Royal family and decided to shut the shrine for "purification rituals".
 
Women and girls in the age group of 10 to 50 were barred from praying at the Sabarimala temple. This ban was struck down by the Supreme Court in September.
 
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Industries Minister E.P. Jayarajan said the tantri had no right to close the temple. "This is a challenge to the judiciary. The government only did its role in upholding the Supreme Court directive," he told journalists.
 
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala called for protests against the Left government. "Vijayan will have to pay a heavy price for this," he said.
 
Another Congress leader, K. Sudhakaran, called Vijayan "a fascist" and said the two women who entered the temple were his "puppets".
 
State CPI-M Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said there was no reason to shut the temple.
 
"Those who should observe the temple rules are themselves violating it," he said. "The role of the government is to abide by the Supreme Court order and it has done just that. The police did their job of providing security to the women."
 
Nair Service Society's General Secretary Sukumaran Nair thanked the temple priests for closing the temple for "purification rituals".
 
State BJP General Secretary M. T. Ramesh thundered that Vijayan will have to pay "a heavy price" for violating the temple traditions.
 
"What they did was to act like cowards. In pitch darkness, they took the two women," he said, adding that protests would be held in Kerala on Wednesday and Thursday.
 
BJP activists protested in front of Devasom (Temples) Minister Kadakampally Surendran when he came to attend a programme in Guruvayoor.
 
Similar protests took place when Health Minister K. K. Shailaja came for a function in her home district in Kannur.
 
The temple town has witnessed protests by Hindu groups since the September 28 Supreme Court verdict that allowed women of all ages to enter the temple.
 
Since then, around three dozen women in that age group have tried but failed to go up the pathway leading to the temple due to protests.
 
IANS
 

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Kerala church feud: Five-member ministerial panel to mediate

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A five-member ministerial committee headed by Kerala Industries Minister E. P. Jayarajan was set up on Tuesday to resolve the ongoing row between the Orthodox and Jacobite church factions.
 
The development has come a day after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the government would do its best to bring an end to the dispute. 
 
The committee led by Jayarajan, the number two in Vijayan's cabinet, also includes A. K. Saseendran, E. Chandrasekheran, K. Krishnankutty and Kadanapally Ramachandran.
 
The Syrian Orthodox Church has two factions -- the Orthodox, which forms the majority and has its headquarters in Kottayam, and the Jacobites, who consider the Patriarch of Antioch, based in Beirut, as their supreme leader.
 
Last month, tension prevailed at two prominent churches at Vaikom and Kothamangalam when angry supporters of the rival factions clashed.
 
After a court ruling handing over the control of these churches to the Orthodox faction, Jacobite faction members took out mass protests and demonstrations to stop the verdict from being implemented.
 
On Monday, Vijayan promised that the government would make necessary interventions to sort out the issue.
 
According to a source in the committee, they are first going to talk to the rival factions separately and then will invite both the factions and will try to iron out the difference between them.
 
During a brief period, between 1958 and 1970, following a Supreme Court ruling, both factions had remained under one roof with Kottayam being their headquarters.
 
However, since 1970, they have been at war over the church's control.
 
Trouble has been simmering since 2017 when, after decades of trial, the apex court in its final verdict said there were no grounds for Jacobites to claim any of the churches of the Orthodox section.
 
IANS

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Lakhs form 'women's wall' in Kerala

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A 620-km long "women's wall" that had the backing of the Kerala government was formed on Tuesday evening linking Kasargode in the north to Ayyanakali square near the Governor's residence in Thiruvananthapuram, with lakhs taking part.
 
Giving full support to the event was the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) which had vowed to gather five million women for the event.
 
Women from all walks of life stood on the side of the National Highway that runs from Kasargode to Thiruvananthapuram and took a pledge at 4 a.m. After standing for 15 minutes, the women dispersed.
 
Last month, amid the row over the Sabarimala pilgrimage, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sent out invites to social groups and it was decided to form the "women wall" so that Kerala does not become "a lunatic asylum".
 
The other objective of the event was to promote gender equality.
 
At the northern end, the first on the line was Health Minister K.K. Shailaja. At the extreme south was CPI-M politburo member Brinda Karat.
 
Later, addressing a public meeting here, Karat congratulated the women of Kerala for creating history.
 
"This wall is just not for Kerala but for all the women in the country," she said.
 
Added Shailaja: "After a few days of the announcement about this wall, we started to get numerous calls from women asking where they should stand. It has been a huge success from the way women participated."
 
Joining the human chain were women from all walks of life including from the film industry, writers and academics.
 
"This has got nothing to do with the entry of women into Sabarimala. That's a different issue. We came to take part because we wanted to send out the message of gender equality," a women who took part in Thrissur said.
 
But the Congress-led opposition condemned the 'women wall', saying it will only whip up communal passions.
 
While the Nair Service Society (NSS), which represents the Hindu Nair community, had announced that they will not take part in the event, the SNDP Yogam - the social movement of the Hindu Ezhava community - took part in good numbers.
 
"We thank the Kerala government for allowing us to take part in this event as this is a record breaking event," said Preethi Natesan, wife of SNDP Yogam General Secretary Vellappallyi Natesan.
 
IANS
 

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Judicial probe gives Chandy clean chit in Vizhinjam port agreement

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The one-man Kerala Cabinet-appointed Justice (rtd) C. N. Ramachandran Commission, which was asked to look into the Vizhinjam port agreement inked by former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy-led government, on Monday gave a clean chit and said no corruption was involved in it.
 
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan appointed the commission in May 2017, a few days after the CAG report on it was placed in the Kerala Assembly that cited lacunae in the agreement and stated the state was in a disadvantageous position.
 
Ramachandran submitted the report to Vijayan here and later told the media that there was nothing that could point to corruption in the signing of agreement.
 
"The CAG report is a mixture of rights and wrongs...it (agreement) was not a corrupt one. Both state government and Adani Ports can go ahead with the work. We gave adequate time to all to come up with evidences, but none came. These are all very big infrastructure projects and the profitability aspect will take a while to mature," said Ramachandran.
 
The Chandy government in 2015 inked the agreement for the Rs 7,525-crore Vizhinjam project with Adani Ports, which was the lone bidder and sought Rs 1,635 crore as grant for it.
 
Adani had on December 5, 2015, when the work commenced, committed that the first phase of the port would be operational in 1,000 days from the date of commencement of work and the first ship will berth on September 1, 2018.
 
But the deadline has been missed and the reasons attributed for the delay is that the builders found it difficult to get adequate and regular supply of limestones required for building the breakwaters. Besides, the work was badly hit as the Ockhi waves last year took away 150 metres of the constructed breakwater.
 
According to the agreement, Adani would operate the port for 40 years, extendable by another 20 years, while the state government would get a portion of the revenue from the port after 15 years.
 
Once completed, the port would be able to handle movement of ships with a capacity of even 18,000 TEU (20-feet equivalent units) to dock and is located close to the busy international shipping route. It is envisaged to handle 4.1 million containers annually.
 
IANS
 

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Kerala 'super cop' files complaint against 'fake news'

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Rishi Raj Singh, Director General of Police, often referred to as a 'super cop,' on Thursday filed a complaint with the Hitech Cell of the state police that a fake news item with his picture was being circulated in social media, showing him participating at BJP-supported 'Ayyappa Jyothi', held yesterday.
 
Speaking to IANS, an official attached to the Hitech Cell confirmed Singh has registered a complaint.
 
"His complaint says that a fake news item with his picture is being circulated showing him standing in a queue along with others to take part in the 'Ayyappa Jyothi' event. We have started our probe into his complaint," said the official.
 
The 'Ayyappa Jyothi' campaign was held across Kerala and was organized by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi with the support of the state BJP, RSS and Sangh Parivar outfits to protest the Pinarayi Vijayan government's attempt to dilute the traditions of the Sabarimala temple.
 
IANS
 

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Kerala Left Front to induct four new allies

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The ruling Left Democratic Front-led by the CPI-M on Wednesday decided to induct the Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD), Indian National League, Democratic Kerala Congress and Kerala Congress (Pillai), the LDF convenor said.
 
The decision to induct the four new allies came after much dilly dallying.
 
Speaking to the media here after a LDF meeting, Convenor A. Vijayaraghavan said there were at least a dozen political outfits that work in tandem with the LDF and following discussions they have decided to give membership to four.
 
"It includes Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD), Indian National League, Democratic Kerala Congress and Kerala Congress (Pillai)," said Vijayaraghavan.
 
With this the total number of LDF allies rose to 10. The rest include the CPI-M, CPI, Janata Dal(S), NCP, Kerala Congress (Skaria Thomas) and Congress (Secular).
 
Among the new inductees, the Kerala Congress (Pillai) has just one legislator, while the other three parties do not have any legislators.
 
Incidentally, for the LJD supremo and media baron M. P. Veerendra Kumar, it was a return to the LDF.
 
The Indian National League (INL) has also been part and parcel of the LDF for a long time and in the 2016 assembly polls it was given three seats to contest, but failed to win any.
 
This comes ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls as the Communist Party of India-Marxist is determined to win as many seats as possible.
 
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the LDF won eight of the 20 seats that it contested .
 
IANS
 

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Oman-based budget airline Salam Air eyes Kerala operations

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Oman-headquartered budget carrier Salam Air is getting ready to operate to Kerala, according to an official of the airline.
 
The airline's CEO Mohammed Ahamed has said that they have started necessary work in this direction and are waiting to hear from the civil aviation authorities in Delhi. Once it is done, the date of operations would be announced.
 
Salam Air is planning to operate first to Kochi and then to other South Indian destinations, including the three other international airports in Kerala.
 
Salam Air started commercial operations on January 30, 2017 and currently operates 116 flights per week across seven destinations, besides three seasonal destinations.
 
IANS
 
 
 

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