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Stalin holds talks with Sonia, Rahul ahead of opposition meet

Ahead of the crucial meeting of opposition parties in their bid to forge an anti-BJP front, DMK President M. K. Stalin met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Sunday and discussed a range of issues.

DMK President M K Stalin with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on December 9, 2018.
DMK President M K Stalin with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on December 9, 2018.
Ahead of the crucial meeting of opposition parties in their bid to forge an anti-BJP front, DMK President M. K. Stalin met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Sunday and discussed a range of issues.
 
Informing about Stalin's visit on micro-blogging site Twitter, Rahul Gandhi said: "We had a warm and cordial meeting and discussed a range of issues. 
 
"I look forward to continuing our dialogue and to strengthening our alliance that has stood the test of time." 
 
Stalin met Sonia Gandhi on the day of her 72nd birthday along with former Union Minister D. Raja and Kanimozhi. 
 
The December 10 meeting in the national capital has been called by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu, aimed at brainstorming over a possible front to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
 
A host of opposition leaders are expected to participate in the meet that was earlier scheduled for November 22 but was postponed because of the Assembly polls to the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Mizoram and Rajasthan.
 
IANS
 

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Four held for Bulandshahr violence, police mum on killers' links

Four people have been arrested in connection with the killing of Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a young man in violence in Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh after cow vigilantes went on a rampage, police said on Tuesday.

Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh who was attacked and shot dead by a mob protesting against alleged cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr on December 3, 2018. (File Photo: IANS)
Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh who was attacked and shot dead by a mob protesting against alleged cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr on December 3, 2018. (File Photo: IANS)
Four people have been arrested in connection with the killing of Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a young man in violence in Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh after cow vigilantes went on a rampage, police said on Tuesday.
 
The police, however, maintained it would be too early to conclude about the involvement of any organisation in the violence although local officials linked the mayhem to right-wing Hindu groups.
 
The police said the main conspirator behind Monday's mob violence was Yogesh Raj, who is on the run and is said to be a Bajrang Dal activist. 
 
Additional Director General (Law and Order) Anand Kumar said those arrested were Chaman, Devendra, Ashish Chouhan and Satish, who have been named in the FIR, while the prime suspect was Yogesh Raj.
 
"Those arrested have been found to be leading the crowd after being identified in a video. About 40-50 others who are unidentified were involved in the incident and police is confident of identifying them with the video evidence," he said.
 
The official parried questions about the political links of the three key accused who are also said to include an activist each from the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
 
"Yes, Yogesh Raj is the main conspirator," he said, adding that he was yet to be arrested. 
 
He said six teams have been formed to probe the incident and an SIT has been constituted to investigate the matter.
 
On allegations that policemen fled the spot leaving the slain Inspector alone, Kumar said the circumstances in which police personnel left the place would be analysed and till then no action would be taken against anyone.
 
He said the Inspector was first injured by a stone.
 
"He fell unconscious and was taken in a vehicle which was attacked by a mob with stones and gunfire," he added. Videos which went viral showed the Inspector dead with a bullet wound near the vehicle and several activists running around in circles.
 
A .32 bore bullet was found lodged in the head of Subodh Kumar Singh.
 
Earlier reports said the Inspector was killed when he tried to reason with the Hindutva activists blocking a busy road with carcasses of animals they claimed were of cows.
 
About the death of the youth, Sumeet, only a probe can reveal whether he was killed in cross-firing or police firing, Kumar said.
 
A view of vehicles that were damaged after violence erupted on Monday in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr in violence by a mob protesting against alleged cow slaughter, on December 3, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
A view of vehicles that were damaged after violence erupted on Monday in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr in violence by a mob protesting against alleged cow slaughter, on December 3, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
He said a bullet had been recovered from the body of Sumit. 
 
The officer said the dead officer was being treated as a "martyr" and full state honour was given to him in Meerut in the presence of the police brass.
 
The body was taken to his village in Etah where he would be cremated with full honours.
 
In his village, his family broke down on seeing the mortal remains. His wife rued that he had sought leave but it was not granted. If he had been given leave, he would have been alive, she said.
 
His two teenage sons paid glowing tributes to their father, saying he never discriminated people on the basis of religion.
 
The officer's elder son Shreya is studying MBA while his younger son Abhishek is a student of engineering.
 
The uncle of the dead Inspector said the family won't accept the compensation of Rs 40 lakh announced by the government and instead wanted the presence of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in the village. 
 
The government has formed a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the violence, the circumstances leading to it and to identify the people and groups involved. 
 
Meanwhile, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati blamed the state government for the violence in Bulandshahr, saying the "lawlessness" in the state was a result of its "faulty and wrong policies".
 
In a statement, the four-time Chief Minister said that government was now faced with the same mobocracy it inculcated to make political gains over the past many years.
 
IANS
 

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Polling begins for Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram Assembly elections

Polling began amidst tight security on Wednesday morning to choose new legislative assemblies in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram -- two of five states where crucial elections are being held just months ahead of the all-important 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

 
MP Assembly Elections: 5 cr voters to decide fate of state as polling begins
Polling began amidst tight security this morning to choose new legislative assemblies in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram -- two of five states where crucial elections are being held just months ahead of the all-important 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
 
In Madhya Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a fourth consecutive term in office and the Congress is making a strong bid to return to power after a gap of 15 years.
 
In Mizoram, the Congress is looking for a third successive term in the face of a stiff challenge from the Mizo National Front.
 
Polling began at 7 a.m in three constituencies of Maoist-affected Balaghat district in Madhya Pradesh amid tight security, while in the remaining 227 of the 230 Assembly seats polling began at 8 a.m.
 
The polling will end in the three constituencies -- Baihar, Lanji and Paraswada -- at 3 p.m, while it will continue till 5 p.m in all the other constituencies.
 
In Madhya Pradesh, though the contest is mainly between the BJP and the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) are also in the fray. 
 
Among the 2,907 candidates in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has fielded candidates in all 230 seats, while the Congress is contesting in 229 seats leaving one seat, Jatara in Tikamgarh district, for the Sharad Yadav-led Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD).
 
The BSP has fielded 227 candidates and the SP is contesting in 51 seats. There are 1,102 independent candidates.
 
In the last polls, of the 230 seats, the BJP won 165, Congress 58, BSP four and Independents three. 
 
Over five crore registered voters in Madhya Pradesh -- 2,63,01,300 men, 2,41,30,390 women and 1,389 of the third gender -- are eligible to vote in today's polls.
 
In Mizoram, polling began at 7 a.m. for all 40 seats in the Assembly and will end at 4 p.m.
 
According to senior police officials, around 11,100 security personnel comprising central paramilitary and state security forces have been deployed across the state to ensure smooth polling and prevent any untoward incident.
 
In all 768,181 voters, including 393,685 women, would decide the electoral fate of the 209 candidates in the state, of whom 15 are women. In 2013, only six women had contested and none were successful. 
 
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Besides the two national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), many regional and local parties have fielded candidates in most of the 40 assembly constituencies. They include the main opposition Mizo National Front (MNF), People's Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram (PRISM), Zoram People's Movement (ZPM) and Meghalaya-based National People's Party (NPP). 
 
However, the main contest is likely to be between the ruling Congress and the MNF. Both the parties have fielded 40 candidates each. 
 
The BJP, which is trying to make inroads in the state, has fielded candidates in 39 constituencies. 
 
Except for 10 years -- 1998-2003 and 2003-2008 -- the Congress has been in power in Mizoram since it became a full-fledged state in 1987. 
 
Counting of votes in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram will be taken up on December 11 along with Chhattisgarh, where polling was held on  November 12 and 20, and Rajasthan and Telangana, where voting will be held on December 7.
 
The term of the Assembly in Chhattisgarh is due to expire on January 5, 2019; Madhya Pradesh on January 7, 2019; Rajasthan on January 20, 2019 and Mizoram on December 15, 2018.
 
In Telangana, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) decided to go in for early polls and, accordingly, the Governor of the State had dissolved the Assembly with immediate effect on September 6, 2018, nearly nine months before its term was to end.
 
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Kartarpur corridor: Foundation stone replaced amid row over credit

A massive political slug-fest was played out on Monday in full public view, shoving protocol to the side in the presence of Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, as political leaders from opposing sides in Punjab bared it at what was meant to be solemn celebration related to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara corridor project.

 
Naidu lays foundation stone for Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib corridor
A massive political slug-fest was played out on Monday in full public view, shoving protocol to the side in the presence of Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, as political leaders from opposing sides in Punjab bared it at what was meant to be solemn celebration related to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara corridor project.
 
Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday laid the digital foundation stone of a road project that will link the Kartarpur corridor (in Pakistan) by pressing a button.
 
The actual foundation stone was removed by the authorities just three hours before the event after Punjab cabinet Minister and local legislator Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa objected to the names of former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Minister Harsimrat Badal on the foundation stone.
 
A clearly upset Randhawa announced that he would 'boycott' the foundation stone ceremony and even put black tape on the stone where the names of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Punjab PWD Minister Vijay Singla and his own (Randhawa) were put on the foundation stone along with the names of the Badals.
 
Officials of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), sensing that the situation could get unpleasant in the presence of dignitaries, removed the foundation stone and replaced it with the digital one.
 
The foundation on the screen carried the names of Vice President Naidu, Punjab Governor V. P. Singh Badnore, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.
 
Though the ceremony was to celebrate the approval of the governments of India and Pakistan to allow the Kartarpur corridor to enable people to pray at the gurdwara in Pakistan, leaders of the Akali Dal and its ally BJP on one side and Punjab's ruling Congress on the other not only indulged in running each other down and claiming credit for getting the project cleared but even raised slogans against each other in the presence of the Vice President.
 
Harsimrat Badal, in her address at the function, took a dig at the Congress leaders over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. There was immediate sloganeering against her by Congress leaders and activists.
 
When Gurdaspur MP and Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar was giving his vote of thanks, he hit back at the Akali Dal leadership by making Punjab a drugs hub. This led to protests and sloganeering by Akali Dal leaders, including Harsimrat's brother and former Minister Bikram Singh Majithia.
 
Earlier, Randhawa was seen speaking and gesturing angrily to officers while they made arrangements for the high-profile function.
 
The Minister, the Congress legislator from Dera Baba Nanak, was visibly disturbed and shouted at officers. He later told a TV channel: "I will not boycott the function but I will boycott the foundation stone itself. I cannot see my name and those of my ministerial colleagues along with the Badals."
 
"The Badals have no contribution in getting the Kartarpur corridor project cleared. They ruled Punjab from 1997 to 2002 and again for 10 years (2007-17). Did they come here to offer prayers while in power? They are only trying to take credit (for the Kartarpur corridor) just because they (Akali Dal) have an alliance with the BJP," the Minister said.
 
Randhawa blamed the NHAI officers for the foundation stone controversy. He said that he had serious objections to the foundation stone carrying the names of the Badals. 
 
"The sanctity of the function should have been kept. The foundation stone should have carried only the names of the Vice-President and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh," Randhawa said.
 
The Minister was also upset that the Congress leadership in Punjab, including him (as the local minister and legislator), Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar (the Punjab Congress President) and cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu were being deliberately ignored for the function while all attention was being given to the Badal family.
 
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Randhawa's outburst came even as the SAD-BJP and Congress leaders in Punjab were in the midst of a major controversy in claiming credit for getting the Kartarpur corridor project cleared by the governments of India and Pakistan.
 
The NDA government at the Centre, of which the SAD is a part, approved the project in Punjab linked to the Kartarpur corridor on November 22. The date of the foundation stone was hurriedly decided for November 26 to ensure that it was done before Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the actual Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan on November 28 (Wednesday).
 
The Congress government in Punjab was going to hold its own function here this week but Chief Minister Amarinder Singh decided to be part of the central government function itself.
 
The SAD-BJP combine leadership has also been trying hard to take the credit away from state cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu who in August went to Pakistan for the swearing-in of his cricketing friend Imran Khan and was the first to announce that Pakistan was keen to open the Kartarpur corridor for devotees from India.
 
The Akali Dal leadership, including Harsimrat Badal, branded Sidhu as a 'traitor' for hugging Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the swearing-in function. They questioned his statements regarding Pakistan's move on the Kartarpur corridor.
 
Harsimrat Badal is now herself headed to Pakistan as the central government's representative for the foundation stone ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor on Wednesday. Sidhu is also going for the same event.
 
It was at the Kartarpur gurdwara, which is located around two to three kilometre from the India-Pakistan border and is situated right opposite the border belt in Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab's Gurdaspur district, that Sikhism founder, Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539), spent 18 years of his life till he died in 1539.
 
The gurdwara, which fell in Pakistan territory following the partition of India in 1947, has major significance in Sikh religion and history.
 
For the past 71 years, ever since partition, Sikhs have been offering prayers near the international border.
 
IANS
 

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C. P. Joshi apologises for remark, BJP demands his expulsion

Rebuked by his own party and facing backlash from the BJP, former Union Minister and Congress veteran C. P. Joshi on Friday apologised for his remarks that "only Brahmins can speak about Hindu religion, not Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Uma Bharti".

C. P. Joshi (File photo)
C. P. Joshi (File photo)
Rebuked by his own party and facing backlash from the BJP, former Union Minister and Congress veteran C. P. Joshi on Friday apologised for his remarks that "only Brahmins can speak about Hindu religion, not Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Uma Bharti".
 
In a video gone viral, Joshi is seen saying: "It is strange that Uma Bharti, who is of the Lodhi community is talking about Hindu religion, Narendra Modi is of some other religion and he talks about Hindu religion.
 
"In this country, if anyone knows about religion, it is the pandits and the Brahmins." The video has been shared by several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and Ministers on social media, condemning Joshi and the Congress. 
 
Strongly disapproving the comments, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said Joshi's remarks were against the ideology of the party and he should apologise for them.
 
"Respecting the principles of the party and sentiments of its workers, Joshi would definitely realise his mistake. He should express remorse for his statement," said Gandhi and warned party leaders to refrain from making any statements which may hurt sentiments of any section of the society.
 
Soon after Gandhi's rebuke, Joshi issued an apology. 
 
"Respecting the ideals of the Congress and the sentiments of the party workers, I express remorse for my statement if it caused any hurt to the sentiments of any section of the society," he said in a brief statement.
 
Taking strong offence to the remarks, the BJP accused the Congress of indulging in casteist and divisional politics and demanded Joshi's expulsion from the party. 
 
"Joshi's remarks reflect the Congress' casteist and communal politics. Joshi has mentioned Uma Bharti's caste, he has mentioned Modi's caste, don't people from the Lodh community deserve respect. The Congress' strategy of dividing people will not yield any results," said BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra. 
 
Describing Gandhi's admonition of Joshi as "merely a drama", Patra dared the Congress chief to expel him. 
 
"If Gandhi is really hurt by the comments as he says, then he should immediately expel Joshi from the Congress," added Patra. 
 
Sharing Joshi's video on Twitter, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan accused the Congress of pursuing the politics of "divide and rule". 
 
"The Congress which claims to have fought against the British is following their footsteps and pursuing the politics of divide and rule," said the Petroleum Minister. 
 
IANS
 

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SC takes exception to 'leak' of Verma's response, adjourns CBI hearing to Nov 29

Taking exception to a leak of CBI Director Alok Verma's response to the CVC's report submitted in a sealed cover before it a day ago, the Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned hearing of the case till November 29.

Taking exception to a leak of CBI Director Alok Verma's response to the CVC's report submitted in a sealed cover before it a day ago, the Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned hearing of the case till November 29.
 
A visibly unhappy Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, in a brief order, said "for reasons not to be recorded, we are not inclined to hear the matter today (Tuesday)" after a news portal carried extracts of Verma's response.
 
Gogoi also said one of the two judges on the bench -- Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice K. M. Joseph -- "will be away from tonight".
 
Venting its anguish over the manner in which applications mentioned before the court on Monday reached the media, CJI Gogoi said: "This court is not a platform. This is a place where adjudication of rights takes place. We intend to set it right." 
 
The CJI also referred to the mentioning of the application by CBI DIG Manish Kumar Sinha who was supervising the probe into allegations of corruption against Special Director Rakesh Asthana. 
 
DIG Sinha, while questioning his dramatic transfer to Nagpur on the night of October 23, has pointed a finger at National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval for allegedly interfering in the investigation against Asthana. 
 
At the outset, the Chief Justice, disallowing the customary mentioning, asked senior counsel Fali Nariman to look at a report which was given to him.
 
"It is only for you (Nariman) to read yourself, it is not for the counsel for Alok Verma" (Nariman is appearing for Verma)," Gogoi told the senior counsel.
 
Addressing him as the "most respected senior member of the institution", Gogoi added: "If you wish to respond to this, we will adjourn the hearing from an hour or so." 
 
However, Nariman expressing his ignorance over the publication, said: "I was also disturbed on seeing it. I will request the court to summon the person who carried this report."
 
He also added while the "media is free, but at the same time it has to be responsible. It has to be both. It is my reading of the media. Responsible means responsible and not responsible to someone".
 
Referring to the media reports that a mentioning was made on Monday seeking more time to file Verma's response to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)'s report, Nariman clarified that the lawyer who made the request was totally unauthorised and he (Nariman) was not even informed about it.
 
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"It was not informed to me. I was not aware. Nobody asked him to make mentioning. We worked whole night to prepare (Verma's) response. It was totally unauthorised."
 
"I was as disturbed," Nariman said when he saw newspaper reports in the morning.
 
Later in the day, Nariman told the court the report that appeared in the news portal was of November 17, whereas we filed the response on November 19.
 
Refusing to moderate its position on papers meant for the court reaching the media even before it could be dealt with by them, CJI Gogoi said: "We expect high a degree of confidentiality." 
 
The court was apparently perturbed over the "integrity" of the investigating agency getting "compromised" due to wide media coverage of the DIG Sinha's application naming high and mighty in the matter relating to Special Direrctor Rakesh Asthana. 
 
Even as advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanan, who had sought accommodation of a few hours in filing the reply of Alok Verma to "not so complimentary" findings of the CVC, tried to explain the position, Nariman said that he had approached the court a day before without any authorisation. 
 
The CJI was so irked with the situation that had emerged by the alleged "leak" of Verma's response to court and the contents of DIG Sinha finding space in media columns that he refused to hear any one including Solicitor General till the issue before the court is sorted out.
 
IANS
 

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Three killed, 15 injured in grenade attack near Amritsar

Three people were killed and at least 15 others injured when two motorcycle-borne masked youths threw a grenade at a religious congregation in Rajasansi area in Punjab's Amritsar district on Sunday, police said.

 
3 killed, 20 injured in grenade blast in Amritsar
Three people were killed and at least 15 others injured when two motorcycle-borne masked youths threw a grenade at a religious congregation in Rajasansi area in Punjab's Amritsar district on Sunday, police said.
 
The grenade attack took place on the Nirankari Satsang Bhawan of the Nirankari sect in Adliwala village, about 15 km from Amritsar. The sect campus is located in Amritsar's rural belt.
 
The injured were rushed to hospitals in Amritsar. A few of them were in serious condition, police said. All victims were sect followers from nearby villages who had gathered for the Sunday weekly religious meeting.
 
Witnesses told the police that two youths on a motorcycle, their faces covered, forced entry to the sect campus by pointing a pistol at a woman volunteer at the gate.
 
"Everything happened within a couple of minutes. They got in, threw the grenade and fled," one man told the police.
 
The attack came amid a high alert issued on November 14 by the Punjab Police regarding the movement of 6-7 terrorists in the state. 
 
Punjab Police Inspector General (Border Range) S.P.S. Parmar confirmed to the media that three people were killed in the grenade attack.
 
Asked if it was a terror attack, Parmar said that all angles were being investigated.
 
"The people had gathered for prayers. There were around 200 people. Preliminary reports suggest that the two persons threw one grenade. Three people have been killed and 15 to 20 are injured. No firing took place," Parmar said.
 
"We are investigating the incident from all angles," Parmar said.
 
Senior police officers rushed to the village following the grenade attack.
 
Congress legislator Raj Kumar Verka told the media that no compromise would be made by the Congress government in Punjab on terrorism.
 
"We will deal with it strictly," Verka said, admitting that the incident showed intelligence failure on the part of the Punjab Police.
 
The Punjab Police, along with the Jammu and Kashmir Police, had recently busted two modules of Kashmiri students who were studying in institutions in Punjab and having links to terrorist outfits in troubled Kashmir.
 
Posters of Kashmiri terrorist Zakir Mussa had mysteriously appeared in Punjab's Gurdaspur district on Friday saying that he had been seen in Punjab.
 
The Nirankari sect has millions of followers across the country and abroad. The sect has its headquarters in Delhi.
 
IANS
 

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Death toll in Tamil Nadu due to cyclone Gaja rises to 33

The death toll due to cyclone Gaja, which hit Tamil Nadu's coastal districts on Friday, has increased to 33, Chief Minister K. Palaniswami said on Saturday.

 
Coast Guard conducts aerial survey of Cyclone Gaja affected areas
The death toll due to cyclone Gaja, which hit Tamil Nadu's coastal districts on Friday, has increased to 33, Chief Minister K. Palaniswami said on Saturday.
 
Speaking to reporters at Salem, about 350 kilometres from here, Palaniswami said that 20 men, 11 women, and 2 children died due to the cyclone that crossed the Tamil Nadu coast between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam districts between 12.30 a.m. and 2.30 a.m. on Friday.
 
The cyclone left a trail of destruction in Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, Cuddalore, Pudukkottai and Ramanathapuram districts, damaging houses, huts and crops.
 
Palaniswami said about 70 livestock and several goats, poultry and deer have also died due to the cyclone.
 
Some 127,000 trees were uprooted by the strong cyclonic winds that touched a maximum speed of about 120 kmph, the Chief Minister added.
 
He said supplies of water, milk and food were being distributed to the people affected by the calamity.
 
About 177,500 people are staying in 351 relief camps in the cyclone-affected areas.
 
The Chief Minister said about 30,000 electricity poles were broken, and 105 power sub-stations affected. About 10,000 personnel have been sent to the cyclone-affected coastal districts to repair the installations.
 
Meanwhile, actor Rajinikanth appreciated the members of his Rajini Makkal Mandram for their work in providing relief to the cyclone-affected people.
 
IANS
 

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Cyclone Gaja claims 13 lives, leaves trail of destruction in TN

Severe cyclonic storm Gaja battered the Tamil Nadu coast on Friday, leaving at least 13 people and several livestock dead and a trail of destruction in several districts.

 
Cyclone Gaja wreaks havoc in TN’s Nagapattinam
Severe cyclonic storm Gaja battered the Tamil Nadu coast on Friday, leaving at least 13 people and several livestock dead and a trail of destruction in several districts.
 
Authorities said the cyclone crossed the coast between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam districts between 12.30 a.m. and 2.30 a.m. with wind speeds of about 110-120 kmph.
 
So powerful were the gales that the roof-sheets of the Nagapattinam railway station were damaged. Thatched and tiled roofs of several houses were also damaged in the strong cyclonic winds.
 
A ship was grounded in Karaikal Port in Puducherry.
 
Traffic on the highways was affected owing to fallen trees while communication links in Vedaranyam were also affected.
 
Traffic out of hill station Kodaikanal was affected due to fallen trees.
 
In some places like Pudukottai walls of houses collapsed due to rains.
 
Apart from fallen 12,000 electricity poles in seven districts, 102 power sub-stations in districts like Nagapattinam, Thanjavur and Thiruvarur were affected.
 
According to the state power utility, about 500 km of power supply lines were affected by Gaja. Officials said it would take at least two days to restore power supply in full in districts like Nagapattinam and Thiruvarur.
 
Chief Minister K. Palaniswami said in Salem, some 350 km from the state capital, that 13 persons had lost their lives in the cyclone.
 
He said a sum of Rs 10 lakh would be paid to each family of the dead. For those severely injured, a sum of Rs 100,000 would be paid and those who suffered minor injuries would get Rs 25,000.
 
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About 82,000 people living in low-lying areas have been sent to 471 relief centres, the Chief Minister said, adding the preventive measures helped keep the death toll low.
 
Relief centres were set up in Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Ramanathapuram, Thanjavur, Pudukottai and Thiruvarur on Thursday itself.
 
According to officials, 28 livestocks were killed in cyclone.
 
Owing to strong winds, an Indigo Airlines Chennai-Trichy flight was not able to land in Trichy and was sent back.
 
R. B. Udhyakumar, Minister for Revenue and Disaster Management, said all the trees felled by the cyclone were being removed.
 
Piles of felled trees blocked traffic in parts of Nagapattinam and Vedaranyum.
 
Several universities in Tamil Nadu have postponed their examinations slated for Friday. Schools remained closed on Friday in Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Thiruvarur and several other districts in Tamil Nadu and in Puducherry, including Karaikal.
 
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast scattered heavy to very heavy rain over Tiruchirapalli, Namakkal, Dindigul, Madurai, Theni, Karur, Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Nilgiris and Virudhunagar districts of Tamil Nadu.
 
According to Chief Minister Palaniswami, the Fisheries Department will estimate the damage to the fishing boats before paying compensation to the fishermen.
 
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Chief Minister Palaniswami and enquired about the cyclone damage.
 
IANS
 

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Sabarimala becomes a police fortress

With the Lord Ayyappa shrine opening for a day on Monday, Sabarimala town has been virtually taken over by some 2,300 Kerala Police personnel after protests marred the last pilgrimage season.

 
Security tightened ahead of reopening of Sabarimala Temple
With the Lord Ayyappa shrine opening for a day on Monday, this temple town has been virtually taken over by some 2,300 Kerala Police personnel after protests marred the last pilgrimage season.
 
The pilgrims will be allowed to go up the pathway only on Monday afternoon, an official said.
 
The temple opens its door at 5 p.m. and closes on Tuesday at 10 p.m.
 
Pathanamthitta District Collector P. B. Nooh has declared prohibitory orders in and around the temple town banning the gathering of four or more persons to foil street protests.
 
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous Hindu groups are up in arms against the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court that allowed women of all age groups to enter the temple.
 
The Kerala government has said it will implement the ruling, pitting it against the protesters.
 
All the roads leading from Nilackal to the base camp of the temple town Pamba are barricaded and have been declared out of bounds till Monday morning by the police.
 
The police are checking each and every vehicle that passes in and around the temple town. On Sunday, after protests, the police allowed the media to travel till Nilackal.
 
Kerala BJP spokesperson M. T. Ramesh warned the police against examining the holy kit (Irrumudi Kettu) that is carried on the head by the pilgrims.
 
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Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that there appeared to be some shady goings on as the media had never before been banned into the temple town.
 
"If the media is kept away, then the authorities want to hide something," he said.
 
State Congress President Mulapally Ramachandran said: "Parties like CPI, academics, intelligentsia and socio-cultural icons should prevail upon (Chief Minister Pinarayi) Vijayan to see that he handles this very sensitive issue in a more mature way." 
 
The Sabarimala Karma Samithi has written to media groups not to depute lady journalists to cover Monday's events at the temple that are generally out of bounds for women in the age group 10 to 50.
 
The Samithi is angry that when the temple opened for the monthly prayers last month, attempts by two women journalists to do their job from the temple top were thwarted by protesters. 
 
The representatives of the Pandalam Royal family, the custodian of the jewellery of the Sabarimala temple, said the temple was passing through "tough times" as the temple town had been taken over by the police. 
 
"We will hold a special prayer and singing of hymns when the temple opens," said Sreekumar Varma.
 
Pathanamthitta district Superintendent of Police T. Narayanan said on Sunday that, as of now, there had been no request from women to enter the shrine.
 
As of Sunday , the police have registered 545 cases and arrested 3,731 persons who protested last month when the temple opened for six days. 
 
Only around 100 are still in jail, while the rest have secured bail.
 
IANS
 

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Modi won't survive if Rafale probed, says Rahul; Reliance rebuts charges

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday alleged that French defence major Dassault Aviation had paid "kickback" to Reliance to secure the Rafale deal, and claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not survive if the "huge corruption" in the purchase was probed.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on November 2, 2018.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on November 2, 2018.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday alleged that French defence major Dassault Aviation had paid "kickback" to Reliance to secure the Rafale deal, and claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not survive if the "huge corruption" in the purchase was probed.
 
Reliance has, however, rubbished the allegations as "blatant lies".
 
Rejecting Gandhi's allegations, Reliance accused the Congress of resorting to "blatant lies" and "distorted facts" to mount an "unwarranted campaign of calumny and falsehoods" against the Group and its Chairman Anil Ambani. 
 
"If an inquiry starts on this (Rafale deal), Modi is not going to survive it, guaranteed," Gandhi said here alleging the deal to procure 36 Rafale jets was "done by Modi to give Ambani Rs 30,000 crore".
 
Gandhi cited two reasons for his claims: "One, because of corruption. Two, because it is very clear who the decision maker was. 
 
"Nobody would be able to say that some General in the Air Force or the Defence Minister or some bureaucrat from the Defence Ministry (was the decision maker)."
 
Gandhi said that if there was nothing to hide, Modi would have ordered an inquiry into the decision to purchase the fighter jets from France.
 
"But Modi is silent. He has lost his sleep because of tension as he knows he will be caught."
 
Claiming Dassault Aviation "invested Rs 284 crore" in a "loss making" Indian company, Gandhi said it was the "first installment of kickback" that was paid by the French defence major to secure the deal.
 
He said that Dassault CEO Eric Trappier's claim that his company chose Reliance as its offsets partner because it had land available next to an airport, had been belied as it had been revealed that the land was bought by the money that was "invested by Dassault".
 
Gandhi alleged Trappier was "lying" to save Modi who in April 2015 had announced the inter-governmental deal to buy the jets in "complete violation" of defence procurement policies.
 
He also alleged that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Kumar Verma was "removed" because he was looking into the documents pertaining to the deal that could "nail" Modi.
 
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"It is obvious that there is enough material in public domain to nail Modi," he said alleging that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's recent visit to France was a part of a cover-up which the Modi government was indulging in to prevent the truth from coming out.
 
Gandhi also said that Modi was "terrified" and would never agree for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal. 
 
Strongly denying Gandhi's allegations, Reliance Infrastructure said it was "deeply unfortunate" that the group and its chairman were continuously being dragged into a political battle ahead of the state and general elections.
 
It said that Dassault's investment in Reliance Airport Developers Ltd (RADL) had no link with the Rafale contract.
 
"Congress attacks on Anil Ambani in his individual capacity are shameful and deplorable," the company said in a statement, adding that Anil Ambani had not entered into any transactions personally with Dassault nor had he derived any personal benefit from any transactions.
 
It said that RADL transaction was completed in full compliance with applicable FDI and all other regulations and that the information was in public domain since December 2017, nearly a year ago. 
 
"It is clear that the Congress' consistent allegation that Anil Ambani has received contracts worth Rs 30,000 crore is a blatant attempt to mislead the public for their own political gains and is a concoction of lies," it said rejecting Congress' allegation that "land at Mihan, Nagpur was bought from funds provided by Dassault". 
 
"Any suggestion of any payment to Anil Ambani is absolutely false and mischievous," it said, adding that payment for the land at Mihan was made from 2015 to 2017, much before the investment by Dassault in RADL. 
 
The company said the Indian and French governments, Dassault and Reliance have clarified on multiple occasions that there was no offset contract for Rs 30,000 crore to Reliance, related to purchase of 36 aircraft.
 
IANS

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58 dead, 72 injured as train mows down Dussehra revellers in Amritsar

As many as 58 people were killed and 72 others injured after a speeding train mowed down a large group of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks at Joda Phatak, a level crossing, during Dussehra celebrations here this evening, sources said.

A view of a train crashing through a crowd of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks during Dussehra celebrations at Joda Phatak in Amritsar, Punjab on October 19, 2018. Photo taken from a video posted on Twitter by an eyewitness.
A view of a train crashing through a crowd of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks during Dussehra celebrations at Joda Phatak in Amritsar, Punjab on October 19, 2018. Photo taken from a video posted on Twitter by an eyewitness.
As many as 58 people were killed and 72 others injured after a speeding train mowed down a large group of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks at Joda Phatak, a level crossing, during Dussehra celebrations here this evening, official sources said.
 
There were conflicting reports about what exactly happened but it appeared that, as the effigy of Ravana was set ablaze and fire crackers flew all around in the dark, several people from the crowd unwittingly moved on to the railway tracks, close to the venue of the celebrations, to avoid being singed by the fire crackers.
 
The loud noise and the blinding lights appeared to have prevented the people from noticing that a train was speeding towards them. Before the people, engrossed by the spectacle before them, realised what had happened, the Jalandhar-Amritsar train went by in a flash, running over several of them.
 
Amritsar Police Commissioner S. S. Srivastava told reporters that 58 people had died and 72 had suffered injuries in the incident.
 
The injured, many of them in a critical condition, were rushed to the Civil Hospital, the Medical College Hospital and other hospitals in the city.
 
Hundreds of people gathered at the scene. While many of them were grieving for their near and dear ones, others were angry with the authorities for failing to ensure the safety of people participating in the celebrations. Similar crowds also gathered outside the hospitals.
 
Senior officials from the district administration, the police and the Northern Railway had reached the spot and were supervising the rescue and relief efforts.
 
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said on micro-blogging site Twitter that he was rushing to Amritsar to personally oversee the relief effort. He was due to leave on a visit to Israel later tonight but the trip has now been called off.
 
Capt. Amarinder Singh also announced that the Punjab government would give Rs. 5 lakh to the next-of-kin of those who were killed in the incident and free treatment for the injured.
 
"Rushing to Amritsar to personally supervise relief & rescue in tragic rail accident on Dussehra in Amritsar. My govt will give Rs 5 lakh to kin of each deceased & free treatment to injured in govt & pvt hospitals. District authorities have been mobilised on war footing," he said.
 
"We will do everything possible to assist the injured. Have directed the district administration to leave no stone unturned to ensure the best possible treatment for them," he said, adding that a Crisis Management Group had been set up to monitor the relief and rehabilitation efforts.
 
"The state will remain in mourning tomorrow in view of #Amritsar train mishap. All offices & educational institutions will remain closed," he added.
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the loss of lives in the accident.
 
"Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar. The tragedy is heart-wrenching. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required," he said.
 
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said, "The train accident in Punjab in which over 50 people have died is shocking. I urge the state government & Congress workers to provide immediate relief at the accident site. My condolences to the families of those who have died. I pray that the injured make a speedy recovery."
 
Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, who was on an official visit to the United States, is flying back to India after cancelling his remaining engagements.
 
IANS adds:
 
A large number of some 700 people were watching the huge Ravan effigy in flames amid exploding crackers while on the tracks at Joda Phatak near Dhobi Ghat within the city when the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU passenger train coming to Amritsar from Hoshiarpur came hurtling down around 7 p.m.
 
It took just about 10-15 seconds for the train to pass -- and leave behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies.
 
Amritsar Police Commissioner S.S. Srivastava told reporters that 58 people have died and 72 have been rushed to hospitals in the city. The toll could go up, Srivastava said. 
 
Video clips posted on social media showed some people who had apparently seen the approaching train trying to run away from the site. A few of them were also mowed down.
 
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Wails and cries filled the air as people frantically looked for their near and dear ones. Severed bodies, including those of children, were lying at the accident site hours after the incident with angry people not allowing authorities to remove them.
 
"I have lost my child. I want him back," an inconsolable mother was wailing at the disaster spot.
 
Most people reportedly could not hear the hooting of the train due to the exploding crackers.
 
"Out of nowhere came the train," said a man, while speaking to journalists. "Before anyone could realise what was happening, it ran over scores of people."
 
"When the effigy started to burn in full flow, people began running away from it fearing it may fall over them," said another man. "They did not realise that a speeding train was coming and the train did not sound its hooter."
 
Another man felt that the tragedy would have claimed at least 100 lives. The dead included several children, another witness said.
 
Ironically, moments before the tragedy, another train passed the area but there were no casualties, a railway official said.
 
A local resident, Nirmal Jit Sindhu, alleged that the Dussehra celebrations were organised by forcing the local administration to grant permission near the railway tracks.
 
He said last year the administration had not granted permission for the use of this venue for Dussehra celebrations owing to its proximity to the tracks.
 
Some people blamed Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur, who was the Chief Guest at the celebrations, saying her late arrival delayed the burning of the effigy by more than half an hour.
 
Sidhu told a news channel on telephone from Bengaluru that the death toll was alarmingly high.
 
BJP leader and former local bodies minister Anil Joshi blamed Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur for running away from the Dussehra celebrations site soon after the train accident.
 
"The Dussehra celebrations were organised without the local administration permission. She (Navjot Kaur) disappeared midway during the ceremony when she was apprised about the disaster," Joshi told reporters.
 
"The driver didn't slow down the train and was watching towards the burning Ravana," said one of the witnesseses.
 
Another woman was inconsolable as she said her son was missing.
 
"The administration and the Dussehra committee are at fault as they should have informed the railways authorities about the celebrations", said another eyewitness.
 
Eyewitnesses said there were no barricading near the railway tracks and the people were forced to see the Dussehra ceremony by standing on tracks.
 
The effigy of Ravana was being burnt around 200 feet away from the railway track.
 
A railway official said in New Delhi that the drop gates at the spot were down but people still massed on the tracks in violation of railway rules.
 
Several senior railway officials were set to fly by an Indian Air Force plane to Amritsar to help oversee the relief and rescue effort.
 
NNN

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Rahul takes Rafale battle to HAL doors

Taking the Rafale battle to the doors of HAL, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said that the Modi government has "insulted, hurt and destroyed" the future of the public sector undertaking by depriving it of the offset contract with the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault.

 
Rahul Gandhi interacts with HAL employees in Bengaluru
Taking the Rafale battle to the doors of HAL, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said that the Modi government has "insulted, hurt and destroyed" the future of the public sector undertaking by depriving it of the offset contract with the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault.
 
In an hour-long interaction with about 100 former and present employees of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), who were directed by the management to keep away from it, he also questioned the credibility and the experience of the private company that got the Rs 30,000 crore offset contract.
 
Gandhi said firms such as HAL, ISRO and DRDO were the "temples of modern India" which were being "destroyed" by the Modi government that was indulging in corruption. 
 
"A very senior person in the government has raised questions over the 'capacity' of HAL. I ask them as to what is the capacity of Anil Ambani's company that has got the contract? What exactly is the experience this person has (in aeronautics)? The HAL's capabilities are all in front of us. You (HAL) have built HF-24, MiGs, Sukhoi and Tejas. The public sector is the backbone of the country and the defence sector," Gandhi said.
 
He said it was "completely ridiculous" to say that HAL does not have any experience. The person who got the contract has zero experience. 
 
"Does HAL have debt? No. But the person who got the contract has Rs 45,000 crore debt," he added.
 
Gandhi said, "You are the only company with the requisite experience to build that aircraft (Rafale). You are the people who built Tejas, MiG, Sukhoi. How can anybody say that you are not experienced? The forces trying to take away your future are quite powerful, quite connected," he said, adding that concerted efforts would be needed to save HAL and other public sector companies.
 
"I have come to give a message that we are going to protect your future. We are going to fight for your rights. Rafale is your right. The decision (to give offset contract) should be done only on merit. Nobody in the world who thinks objectively and takes decisions on merit can take away the offset contract from HAL."
 
He said when the Congress comes to power at the Centre its government would ensure that HAL got more orders to make aircraft. "We will not allow this government or anyone to destroy HAL or take away orders from it.
 
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Referring to the circular directing employees to keep away from the interaction with him, Gandhi said the management must have been under "pressure" from the government but "we are fighting for you too".
 
He said the HAL fraternity has been insulted and hurt. "Their hard work of the last 78 years, their patriotism, has been insulted and questioned by the government through the Defence Ministry. The gentleman who has got the contract has worked only for 12 days. The temples of modern India are being destroyed," the Congress President said.
 
Taking a jibe at the media, he said: "You (HAL employees) called me here because you feel the media is not listening to your voice. But media does not listen even to us these days. The media bosses don't want these types of conversations."
 
Gandhi said he was 100 per cent with the employees of the defence public sector undertakings and told them they were free to call him anytime 24/7 to voice their grievances. 
 
Replying to questions by reporters on Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman saying that the government of India had no role in deciding the offset partner, the Congress chief said the defence minister was "lying". 
 
"The former president of France (Francois Hollande) has said that the Government of India told him to give the contract to Ambani. Documentation has also come out that Dassault has said this."
 
Before interacting with the employees, Gandhi said "We are in opposition but if there is something we can do to help you we would like to do it. When we come to government we would like to do even more aggressively."
 
Mirajuddin, a former trade union leader of HAL, said the company was capable of manufacturing Rafale in India and they were agitated over the offset contract going to a private company. 
 
"We felt let down...we were not only surprised but felt insulted. We are not begging. We are demanding that our rights based on merit should be protected," he said.
 
IANS
 

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Cyclone Titli triggers flood-like situation in Odisha

Heavy rains triggered by the severe cyclonic storm Titli have caused flood-like situations in several districts of Odisha on Friday.

 
Cyclone Titli makes landfall in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
Heavy rains triggered by the severe cyclonic storm Titli have caused flood-like situations in several districts of Odisha on Friday.
 
The situation remains vulnerable, especially in Ganjam, Rayagada and Gajapati districts where the remote areas have been cut off due to the incessant rains after Titli hit the Odisha-Andhra Pradesh coast on Thursday morning.
 
During a review meeting via video conferencing, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Friday directed the three district collectors to closely monitor the situation and shift the people living in vulnerable areas to safer places.
 
He directed them to focus on early restoration of power supply and emergency services.
 
The Chief Minister has also asked the collectors to submit crop and house damage assessment reports within seven days.
 
Chief Secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi said two Indian Navy choppers from Vishakapatnam will be pressed into action in Ganjam district to expedite the relief and rescue operations.
 
"The two choppers are on their way to Ganjam. They will carry out relief and rescue operations in Aska and Puroshotam areas," said Padhi.
 
He said 14 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and 12 Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) have been deployed in various districts.
 
Road and electricity restoration works were also in full swing in the affected districts.
 
Reacting to casualty reports, the Chief Secretary said: "We have seen media reports of the deaths of two or three persons in these districts. We are verifying it."
 
The water is flowing above danger level in Vansadhara, Rusikulya and Jalaka rivers. 
 
A total of 16 blocks have received about 200-300 mm rainfall in the last 24 hours while 60 blocks received 100-200 mm rainfall in the state. 
 
Some blocks received more than 300 mm of rainfall.
 
IANS

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8 die as cyclone Titli batters Andhra, Odisha coast

A very severe cyclonic storm, Titli, unleashed havoc in north coastal Andhra Pradesh and south coastal Odisha on Thursday, claiming eight lives in Andhra and causing widespread destruction, officials said.

 
Cyclone Titli makes landfall in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
A very severe cyclonic storm, Titli, unleashed havoc in north coastal Andhra Pradesh and south coastal Odisha on Thursday, claiming eight lives in Andhra and causing widespread destruction, officials said.
 
The cyclone, which made landfall between Andhra Pradesh and Odisha early on Thursday, triggered widespread rains in the two states, uprooted trees, electricity poles, communication towers, damaged houses and crops and snapped electricity supply.
 
Srikakulam and Vijayanagaram districts of Andhra Pradesh were affected by the cyclone, which hit the coast near Palasa close to the border with Odisha. Srikakulam district bore the brunt as the strong winds uprooted a large number of coconut trees.
 
Officials said five deaths were reported from Srikakulam district while three persons were killed in neighbouring Vijayanagaram district. Six fishermen were among the dead.
 
According to the Visakhapatnam Cyclone Warning Centre, Titli crossed between North Andhra and South Odisha coast near Palasa with wind speed of 140-150 km per hour.
 
Parts of the two Andhra districts received heavy rainfall triggered by the cyclone. A few places in Srikakulam district got over 20 cm rainfall, flooding the low-lying areas and roads.
 
Uprooted trees fell on the roads, disrupting vehicular traffic. The state-owned road transport corporation suspended all bus services on the Andhra-Odisha border area.
 
Several trains were cancelled or diverted due to the cyclone.
 
According to East Coast Railway, railway stations were damaged at several places. The station at Palasa suffered massive damage. Teams of railway officials were studying the impact of cyclone between Palasa and Brahmpur.
 
Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu reached Visakhapatnam on Thursday evening and left for Srikakulam by road to review the situation.
 
Titli triggered heavy rainfall in eight districts in Odisha. However, there was no loss of life in the state.
 
Heavy rains lashed Ganjam, Gajapati, Khurda, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak and Balasore districts as Titli left behind uprooted trees and displaced three lakh people.
 
Odisha is facing a possible flood in its coastal belt on Thursday, an official said.
 
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said that heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places and extremely heavy rainfall at isolated places were very likely in Odisha in the next 24 hours.
 
"We believe that the entire state, except some western parts, is likely to receive rain throughout the day. Depending upon the rainfall, we may see some flood in coastal Odisha. However, there is no flood-like situation as of now," said Chief Secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi.
 
"There may be flooding of the Vansadhara river as Gajapati and Rayagada districts received heavy rainfall due to the cyclone," he added.
 
The officer said that Gajapati district, which was most affected, received more than 200 mm of rainfall while Mohana block in the district received the maximum rainfall of 315 mm.
 
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Thursday reviewed the cyclone situation.
 
Around three lakh people have been evacuated in the coastal state and 1,112 relief camps set up for the evacuees. As many as 105 pregnant women in Ganjam and 18 in Jgatsinghpur were shifted to hospitals.
 
All schools, colleges and anganwadis would remain closed on Thursday and Friday. Trees have been uprooted in large numbers in the coastal belt.
 
The system is very likely to move northwestwards for next 12 hours and then re-curve northeastwards towards Gangetic West Bengal across Odisha.
 
The coastal alert has been put at 10 -- the highest with fishermen prohibited from venturing into the sea for the next few days.
 
IANS
 

Govt. mum on allegations against Akbar, Congress demands his resignation

The government on Wednesday continued to maintain silence on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Union Minister M.J. Akbar even as the Congress sought his resignation.

M J Akbar (File photo: IANS)
M J Akbar (File photo: IANS)
The government on Wednesday continued to maintain silence on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Union Minister M.J. Akbar even as the Congress sought his resignation.
 
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who briefed reporters about cabinet decisions, refused to answer any question other than those pertaining to cabinet decisions, including that on Akbar and the #MeToo campaign. 
 
"Today the issue is cabinet decisions, please concentrate on that," he said in response to a question about allegations against Akbar. 
 
"The issue is cabinet decisions," Prasad again said when reporters pressed for an answer from him on the issue.
 
On Tuesday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj did not answer media queries about allegations concerning Akbar. As reporters persisted with their questions and asked if there will be a probe, she walked past them without giving an answer. 
 
At least six women journalists have accused Akbar, a former editor, of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour.
 
Meanwhile, the Congress on Wednesday asked Akbar to either come clean about the charges against him or resign. It also sought an independent probe into the charges against Akbar.
 
"Akbar has a stature as a journalist, apart from being a Minister. He should offer a satisfactory explanation either through a statement or personally, or resign forthwith," Congress spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy told the media here. 
 
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"How can he be in the Ministry with such serious allegations levelled by responsible journalists who have worked with him. Let there be an inquiry. We demand an inquiry against Akbar," said Reddy.
 
The Congress also targeted the Modi government, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, for keeping mum on the issue. 
 
"We had hoped that women cutting across political lines will come out in support of these brave women who have now come out and revealed their ordeal and tragic stories. Unfortunately, Sushma Swaraj, to whom many look up to for inspiration, has chosen to stay quiet," said Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi.
 
"It also raises a finger at the government that talks of women empowerment and safety but maintains a dubious silence on the matter," she said.
 
Chaturvedi also demanded an apology from BJP MP Udit Raj, who on Tuesday sought to question why women were coming out with their stories 10 years after the alleged incidents and dubbed it as the "beginning of wrong practice".
 
"We strongly condemn Udit Raj's shameless comments. But considering the fact that his party (BJP) has refused to take cognisance of the remarks, it can be taken as an endorsement... Udit Raj should be made to apologise," added Chaturvedi. 
 
IANS
 

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SC opens Sabarimala gates to women of all ages

The Supreme Court on Friday opened the gates of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa to women of all ages, lifting the prohibition on women in the age group of 10-50 saying it was violative of their fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees.

The Supreme Court on Friday opened the gates of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa to women of all ages, lifting the prohibition on women in the age group of 10-50 saying it was violative of their fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees.
 
In a majority 4:1 judgment, the top court also read down the provision of Kerala laws that protected the prohibition and said it could not be covered under practices essential and integral to religious practice. 
 
Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge in the five-judges bench, gave a dissenting judgment.
 
Chief Justice Dipak Misra reading out the judgment, also on behalf of Justice A. M. Khanwilkar, said that subversion of women's rights under the garb of physiological phenomenon cannot be allowed.
 
"All devotees are equal and there cannot be any discrimination on the basis of gender," Misra said.
 
Justice Rohinton F. Nariman in a separate but concurring judgment said that people of all faiths visit the temples -- worshipers are not of separate denomination.
 
"Religion cannot become a cover to exclude and deny women their right to worship," Justice D.Y. Chandrachud also said in a separate but concurring judgment.
 
Holding that the Sabarimala temple is not a denominational temple peculiar to any sect, the court said that the Ayyappa temple belongs to Hindus and does not constitute a separate entity. 
 
The apex court also read down the provision of Kerala laws that protected the practice of prohibiting the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 years.
 
Justice Indu Malhotra said: "What constitutes essential practices of religion is to be decided by worshippers and it is not for the judiciary to adjudicate.
 
"It is not for courts to decide if such practices should be struck down. Rationality cannot be used to judge faith. All followers must be allowed to follow their own faith as per their own beliefs in a secular polity."
 
IANS
 

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SC upholds Aadhaar but with modifications

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar document but with modifications. It ruled it will not be required for opening bank accounts, admission in schools or to get mobile phone connections.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar document but with modifications. It ruled it will not be required for opening bank accounts, admission in schools or to get mobile phone connections.
 
The court said this in a majority judgment given by Justice A.K. Sikri, also speaking for Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar as they upheld the tabling of Aadhaar as a money bill.
 
Uniqueness was the fundamental difference between Aadhaar and other identity proof, the bench said.
 
Aadhaar cannot be duplicated and it was a unique identification, the judges said.
 
"We are of the view that there are sufficient safeguards to protect data collected under Aadhaar scheme."
 
The apex court struck down Section 57 of Aadhaar Act which allows private entities to demand Aadhaar to access services.
 
However, no person will be denied benefits under social welfare scheme because of the failure of authentication through Aadhaar, the judges said.
 
"We direct the government to ensure that illegal migrants are not issued Aadhaar," they said, adding that as of today they did not find anything in Aadhaar Act which violated the right to privacy of individual citizen.
 

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Modi, Hasina jointly launch work on oil pipeline, rail projects

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday jointly launched the construction works of a cross-border oil pipeline and two rail projects, with the former describing the two countries as members of the same family.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina jointly unveiling e-plaques for the ground-breaking ceremony of two projects -- India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline and Dhaka-Tongi-Joydebpur Railway Project -- via video conference, in New Delhi on September 18, 2018.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina jointly unveiling e-plaques for the ground-breaking ceremony of two projects -- India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline and Dhaka-Tongi-Joydebpur Railway Project -- via video conference, in New Delhi on September 18, 2018.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday jointly launched the construction works of a cross-border oil pipeline and two rail projects, with the former describing the two countries as members of the same family.
 
Hasina and Modi joined the event in the evening via video-conferencing from Dhaka and New Delhi, respectively.
 
The 130-km India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline connecting Siliguri in India with Parbatipur in Bangladesh will transport petroleum products from Numaligarh Refinery in Assam. Of the total length, 125 km will be constructed in Bangladesh and 5 km in India.
 
"Geographically we may be neighbours, but in our hearts we are members of the same family," Modi said while addressing the programme.
 
"We have shown the world, what can be achieved when neighbours work together," he said, adding that there had been unprecedented progress in cooperation between the two sides in the last few years.
 
At the same event, the ground-breaking ceremony of two rail projects to improve Dhaka's connectivity with Tongi and Joydebpur, two towns on the outskirts of the capital city, was also held.
 
Officials said 48.80 km of the two new dual gauge rail lines would be constructed on the Dhaka-Tongi route while a 12.28 km new dual gauge railway double line would be built on the Tongi-Joydevpur route. 
 
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The launch of the projects came a little over a week after both the Prime Ministers inaugurated two railway projects and an electricity project connecting the two countries on September 10.
 
Stating that the pipeline will further boost bilateral cooperation, Modi said that energy was the cornerstone of any country's development.
 
"The pipeline will help in the development of the northern Bangladesh. Though it is being done with grant-financing from India, the project will be dedicated to the people and government of Bangladesh once completed," he said.
 
Modi said the railway project will bring relief to road traffic in Bangladesh.
 
Speaking from Dhaka, Hasina said that ever since she formed her government in Bangladesh in 2009, she has been working relentlessly to deepen ties with India.
 
She thanked Modi for the new projects which she said will help in Bangladesh's development.
 
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan joined the video conference from Delhi and Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali from Dhaka. 
 
iANS
 

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India's PSLV-C42 launches two British satellites into orbit

India's workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C42) took off from the First Launch Pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota on Sunday night with two earth observation satellites from the United Kingdom and successfully placed them in their intended orbits.

 
ISRO's PSLV-C42launches British satellites NovaSAR and S1-4 into orbit
 
 
India's workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C42) took off from the First Launch Pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota tonight with two earth observation satellites from the United Kingdom and successfully placed them in their intended orbits.
 
The satellites, NovaSAR and S1-4, together weighing nearly 889 kg, of Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited (SSTL), United Kingdom were launched under commercial arrangement with Antrix Corporation Limited, the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  
NovaSAR is an S-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite intended for forest mapping, land use and ice cover monitoring, and flood and disaster monitoring. It will be operated from SSTL’s Spacecraft Operations Centre in Guildford, UK.
 
S1-4 is a high resolution Optical Earth Observation Satellite that will be used for surveying resources, environment monitoring, urban management and for the disaster monitoring.
 
PSLV-C42 lifted off at 10.08 pm (IST). Both satellites were injected into the Sun Synchronous Orbit, about 17 minutes later, at an altitude of 583 km.
 
This was the 44th flight of PSLV and the 12th flight of the Core Alone version of the vehicle. Core Alone is its lightest version without the six strap-on motors. It is used for launching smaller payloads.
 
The PSLV launch vehicle consists of four stages, each of which is a self-contained vehicle capable of functioning independently with own propulsion systems.
 
During the previous launch (PSLV-C41, 12 April 2018), the ‘XL’ version of PSLV with six strap-on motors was used. The vehicle successfully launched the IRNSS-1I navigation satellite to a Sub-Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit.
 
Preparations began at Sriharikota in mid-July with the process of vehicle integration setting the tone for the launch. Many centres of ISRO contributed to this mission with the vehicle being designed and developed by Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.
 
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The second and fourth stage liquid engines came from Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, Thiruvananthapuram and ISRO Propulsion Complex, Mahendragiri (TN).
 
The vehicle’s guidance system is from ISRO’s Inertial Systems Unit, Thiruvananthapuram, while SDSC SHAR was responsible for solid motor preparation, vehicle integration and launch infrastructure. ISRO’s Telemetry Tracking and Command Network provided tracking support.
 
ISRO Chairman Dr K Sivan congratulated the team soon after the successful mission.
 
“I am extremely happy that the PSLV-C42 precisely launched two of our customer satellites at 583 km orbit.  This was a unique night mission executed for the first time by us. The PSLV has proven yet again as a user-friendly vehicle in all aspects. The credit goes to the entire ISRO team and industries. This success will give added energy for industries to make PSLV by themselves. We are going to have 18 missions in the next six months, virtually one launch every two weeks,” Dr Sivan said.
 
Thousands of skilled personnel from ISRO and industries, including many youngsters, played a crucial role in this mission. The Project Director of PSLV is R Hutton, who was also the Mission Director.
 
 “The PSLV-C42 marks the latest technology and commercial collaboration between India and the UK with the launch of the combination of high resolution optical and radar (SAR) satellites from us,” says Sir Martin Sweeting, Group Executive Chairman, SSTL
 
As on date, ISRO has launched 239 foreign satellites of 28 countries.
 
NNN
 

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Jaitley helped Mallya to flee, must quit: Rahul

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday demanded Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's resignation after accusing him of colluding with fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya "and giving him a free passage" to flee the country.

 
Jaitley-Mallya meet: Rahul demands FM's resignation
 
 
Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday demanded Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's resignation after accusing him of colluding with fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya "and giving him a free passage" to flee the country.
 
Addressing the media at the Congress headquarters here, Gandhi asked why the Minister did not inform the investigating agencies about Mallya's plans to leave India.
 
"There is a clear-cut collusion. He (Jaitley) should have confessed (about the meeting) and he should resign," said Gandhi. 
 
At the media conference, party MP P. L. Punia claimed to give an eyewitness account of the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya in the Central Hall of Parliament before the businessman fled the country on March 2, 2016. 
 
"The Finance Minister talks to an absconder (Mallya) and the absconder tells the Finance Minister that I am going to London. The Finance Minister neither told the CBI, the ED or the police, why? 
 
"He was given a free passage to leave the country by the Finance Minister," said Gandhi and alleged that the logistics of Mallya going out of the country were discussed at the meeting. 
 
"The Finance Minister has colluded with a criminal." 
 
Punia claimed the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya lasted 15-20 minutes and alleged that Mallya took Jaitley's permission after holding consultations with him about his planned flight abroad. 
 
"The meeting happened on March 1, 2016, a day after the Union Budget was presented. In the Central Hall, initially Mallya and Jaitley were standing and were talking intently. Then they moved to the benches in the Central Hall and were seated and talking," said Punia. 
 
"Later, on March 3 morning, news appeared that Mallya left the country on March 2. My first reaction was that I had seen them together in Central Hall a day earlier," said Punia.
 
The MP said he had referred about the meeting in his interactions with the media.
 
"I am surprised that for last two and a half years, the Finance Minister never referred to this meeting. It was not a short meeting but a formal meeting. There is CCTV facility in Parliament and their meeting can be verified from the footages. 
 
"It is very clear that Mallya took his (Jaitley's) permission after holding consultations. It is our charge and inference that he (Mallya) went with his (Jaitley's) concurrence. 
 
"It is a serious issue. Either he (Jaitley) quits politics or I will quit," said Punia. 
 
Ridiculing Jaitley, Gandhi said: "Yesterday Jaitley said Mallya had approached him informally. He writes long blogs, but forgot to write about this in any of his blogs." 
 
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He also questioned why Jaitley did not inform the CBI, ED or the police that Mallya had told him about his plans to go to London. 
 
"Our first question is an absconder tells the Finance Minister that I am going to London and the Finance Minister doesn't refer it to CBI, ED or the police. 
 
"Our second question is there was a lookout notice against Mallya which was diluted to an inform notice. Who changed it? This can be done only by one who controls the CBI," he alleged. 
 
He also demanded to know if the decision was taken by Jaitley himself or the "order came from the top".
 
Referring to Jaitley claiming that his meeting with Mallya was in the corridor of the Central Hall of Parliament, Gandhi demanded to know why Jaitley did not tell the CBI about this.
 
"The Prime Minister takes the decisions and Jaitley listens to him. Did he (Jaitley) allow him to flee or the order was from the top?"
 
On a question if the meeting was a coincidence, Gandhi replied: "How can it be a coincidence? The Finance Minister is responsible for taking action against economic offenders. 
 
"It is clear-cut collusion, the Finance Minister has colluded with a criminal running away from the country. He was told by the criminal that he is going to run away but the Finance Minister did nothing. He has colluded with the criminal. whatever we can do we will do," said Gandhi, adding that the "government is lying on Rafale, they are lying on Mallya".
 
IANS

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After years of battle by activists, SC decriminalises homosexuality

In a historic verdict that the gay community rejoiced, the Supreme Court on Thursday decriminalised homosexuality between consenting adults by declaring as "manifestly arbitrary" Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the penal provision which criminalised gay sex.

LGBTIQ supporters celebrate after the Supreme Court in Delhi, in a landmark decision, decriminalised homosexuality by declaring Section 377, the penal provision which criminalised gay sex, as
LGBTIQ supporters celebrate after the Supreme Court in Delhi, in a landmark decision, decriminalised homosexuality by declaring Section 377, the penal provision which criminalised gay sex, as "manifestly arbitrary"; in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
In a historic verdict that the gay community rejoiced, the Supreme Court on Thursday decriminalised homosexuality between consenting adults by declaring as "manifestly arbitrary" Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the penal provision which criminalised gay sex.
 
In separate but unanimous verdicts, a five-judge Constitution Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Rohinton Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra struck down the British era law insofar as it criminalised consensual sexual acts of adults in private.
 
Chief Justice Misra began reading out the eagerly awaited verdict, quoting German thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who had said: "I am what I am, so take me as I am."
 
Misra said attitudes and mentality have to change to accept others' identity and accept what they are, and not what they should be. 
 
"It is the constitutional and not social morality which will prevail. An individual has full liberty over his or her body and his or her sexual orientation is a matter of one's choice.
 
"Time to bid adieu to prejudicial perceptions deeply ingrained in social mindset. Time to empower LGBTIQ community against discrimination," said the Chief Justice, giving a final ruling on an issue that has been embroiled in legal battles since 1994.
 
Section 377 will not apply to consensual same-sex acts between homosexuals, heterosexuals, lesbians, the court said, clarifying that sexual act without consent and bestiality will continue to be an offence.
 
The bench said it was no longer an offence for LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, intersex and queer/questioning) community to engage in consensual sex between two adults in private. 
 
Justice Indu Malhotra said history owed an apology to the LGBTIQ community for all that they have suffered on account of the ignorance of the majority about homosexuality. "LGBTIQ people have a right to live unshackled from the shadow."
 
In a concurring judgement, Justice Nariman said homosexuality was "not a mental disorder or disease".
 
He said the LGBTIQ community had an equal right to live with dignity and were entitled to equal protection of law. He directed the Centre to give wide publicity to the judgment to remove the stigma attached to homosexuality.
 
Justice Chandrachud said to deny the LGBTIQ community their right to sexual orientation was a denial of their citizenship and a violation of their privacy.
 
"Sexual minorities in India have lived in fear, hiding as second class citizens," he said. "The state has no business to intrude on such matters".
 
The verdict assumes significance as in an earlier round of litigation in 2013, the top court had reversed a Delhi High Court ruling decriminalising homosexuality.
 
The Delhi High Court in July 2009 legalised homosexual acts between consenting adults. 
 
But in December 2013, the Supreme Court set aside High Court ruling saying that it was for the legislature to look into desirability of deleting Section 377 of IPC. 
 
The matter was resurrected in July 2016 when a fresh petition was filed by members of the LGBTIQ community -- dancer N.S. Johar, journalist Sunil Mehra, chef Ritu Dalmia, hotelier Aman Nath and business executive Ayesha Kapur. It was marked to a Constitution Bench.
 
Thursday's verdict sparked street celebrations in the LGBTIQ community across the country. The film world and activists too expressed their joy. 
 
An overwhelmed Ritu Dalmia told IANS: "Today, for the first time, I feel we are living in a functional democracy. It is a good day for human rights, for the country and for the Constitution."
 
West Bengal's Manabi Bandopadhyay, India's first transgender college principal, said the ruling will be "helpful for the next generation of LGBTIQ (community)".
 
 
India decriminalizes gay sex
 
 
The verdict was, however, greeted in silence by most political parties barring the Congress. 
 
"We join the people of India and LGBTIQ community in their victory over prejudice. We welcome the progressive and decisive verdict from the Supreme Court and hope this is the beginning of a more equal and inclusive society," the Congress tweeted. 
 
Congress Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor said the "government has no space in bedrooms".
 
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is yet to react, its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), said it agreed with the court's view but does not endorse homosexuality.
 
"Like Supreme Court, we also do not consider this to be a crime. The same sex marriages and relations are not compatible with norms of nature. So, we do not support such relations. Indian society also does not have the tradition to recognise such relations," the RSS said in a statement.
 
Bollywood stars like Aamir Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham and Karan Johar expressed their joy.
 
Filmmaker Hansal Mehta, whose film "Aligarh" made a crucial statement on a gay professor, wrote: "The verdict is clear. Two consenting adults irrespective of sex, religion, cast and gender cannot be rendered criminals by the law."
 
National award-winning film editor Apoorva Asrani, a prominent voice against Section 377, told IANS: "Seventy-one years after a majority of Indians achieved complete independence, the LGBTIQ community is finally free. It's been a lifetime of suppressing true desires and then living in fear of criminal prosecution."
 
The UN also welcomed the verdict, saying it will help eliminate stigma and discrimination against the LGBTIQ community.
 
"LGBTIQ persons across the world continue to be the targets of violent attacks and are affected by multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination based on age, gender, ethnicity, disability and social status," the UN said in a statement.
 
IANS

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Kolkata bridge collapse: Rescue operations on, suo motu case lodged

Rescue operations continue on Wednesday after a portion of a 40-year-old bridge collapsed in south Kolkata a day earlier, even as a suo motu case has been lodged against the persons responsible for the accident. Two persons are still reported missing.

 
Kolkata bridge collapse: rescue efforts on
 
 
Rescue operations continue on Wednesday after a portion of a 40-year-old bridge collapsed in south Kolkata a day earlier, even as a suo motu case has been lodged against the persons responsible for the accident. Two persons are still reported missing.
 
A part of the Majherhat Bridge between Taratala and Mominpur collapsed around 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday in south Kolkata, crushing a person to death and injuring 19 others.
 
"Two persons are still missing and a suo motu case has been lodged under IPC 304 and 308 against responsible persons," police said.
 
Four teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), fire brigade and personnel of disaster management teams are at the spot.
 
Cranes have been deployed and gas cutters are being used for the rescue operation. Three columns of army personnel are also present at the spot.
 
"Our team is still working on the rescue. Overnight and this morning, we tried to dig holes in the concrete slab decks that caved in to find out whether anyone is still trapped underneath.
 
"Cameras are also being used to find out what remains below the debris. Removing the rubble would take more time," a member of the rescue team said on Wednesday.
 
The West Bengal government has initiated a probe into the incident. "Investigations are going on. At this point, we cannot come to any conclusion regarding the possible reasons behind the accident," a member of the forensic team said.
 
Pedestrians and commuters in buses and cars who were on the collapsed structure were rescued.
 
The bridge was the main connector between central and southwest part of the city. Due to the partial collapse of the bridge, traffic has been diverted. Tram services on some routes have been withdrawn, a Kolkata Traffic Control official said.
 
Goods vehicles' movement has been restricted on some of the arterial roads between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
 
State government will pay a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the family of Soumen Bagh, who died in the accident.
 
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State Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said on Tuesday that heavy construction work of the metro project beside the collapsed bridge could have weakened its pillars.
 
City metro railway authority, however, ruled out any such possibility.
 
Amid blame game over the partial collapse of the bridge, the Eastern Railway said it was not conducting any maintenance work at the accident site.
 
However, experts said the bridge was very old and as such structural defect or use of inferior quality material cannot be cited as the reason for the collapse.
 
They said the bridge has been withstanding heavy vehicles for more than 40 years and that the only reason that may have triggered the collapse could be "lack of maintenance".
 
According to a state official, the 40-year-old bridge was constructed by the Kolkata Port Trust and maintained by State Public Works Department.
 
However, a Kolkata Port Trust official said it does not have any records that show the bridge was constructed by it.
 
IANS
 

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NRC process fair, transparent, there will be no discrimination: Rajnath

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday assured Parliament that there will be no discrimination or unnecessary harassment in the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and said the entire process has been fair and transparent.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday assured Parliament that there will be no discrimination or unnecessary harassment in the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and said the entire process has been fair and transparent.
 
Reiterating that the matter pertained to national security, he condemned alleged attempts by a "few" (persons) to create an atmosphere of fear based on rumours and propaganda on the social media and internationalise the issue.
 
Responding to a Short Duration Discussion on the issue in the Rajya Sabha, which saw disruptions and adjournments for a couple of days, the Minister said the Central and Assam governments are committed to adding the names of all genuine Indians in the list in a time-bound manner.
 
"I am reiterating that it is not the final NRC. It is just a draft NRC. Adequate opportunity will be provided to everyone for making claims and raising objections. Despite this, if anybody's name remains out of the list, he can approach the Foreigners Tribunal," Rajnath Singh said.
 
He also assured that there would be no coercive action against anybody in any situation.
 
The Minister said that the NRC updation was being carried out in a totally fair, transparent, non-discriminatory and legal manner.
 
"The entire process is being carried out under Supreme Court supervision. It is monitoring on a routine basis. Nobody will be harassed. There has been no discrimination, and there will be no discrimination," he said while dismissing allegations by some opposition parties.
 
He said that the draft NRC had been published on July 30 in accordance with Assam Accord of 1985 when Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister.
 
The decision to update it was taken in 2005 by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he added.
 
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The Minister, a senior BJP leader, also hit out at some political parties, saying they are "trying to create an atmosphere of fear" among the people.
 
"It is unfortunate that some persons with vested interest are running a propaganda on the social media so that the issue can be internationalised and communal harmony affected," he said.
 
"It is a matter of national security... no attempts should be made to create communal disharmony... I expect cooperation from all," Rajnath Singh added.
 
Later, Ripun Bora of the Congress suggested in the house that the Central government convene an all-party meeting.
 
He said that a wrong message had been sent that the Congress is against the NRC. 
 
"With the Home Minister's statement, it is now clear that it was the Congress which initiated the NRC. Rajiv Gandhi understood the danger to Assam. To protect the people of the state, the Assam accord was signed," he said.
 
IANS
 

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Mamata meets Sonia, opposition leaders to stitch anti-BJP alliance for 2019 polls

Seeking to rally opposition parties, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday met UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and leaders of other parties in Delhi on Wednesday and declared that her priority is to defeat the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections next year with the issue of prime ministership to be settled collectively later.

West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee meeting Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, in New Delhi on August 1, 2018. (Photo: IANS/Congress)
West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee meeting Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, in New Delhi on August 1, 2018. (Photo: IANS/Congress)
Seeking to rally opposition parties, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday met UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and leaders of several other parties and declared that her priority is to defeat the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections next year with the issue of prime ministership to be settled collectively later.
 
She also kept up her attack on the BJP over the exclusion of 40 lakh names from the National Register of Citizens for Assam, saying they were playing with fire and were using offensive language against those excluded. 
 
Banerjee personally invited Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders for the January 19 mega rally she has planned in Kolkota.
 
The Kolkata rally is expected to help Banerjee emerge as the pivot of opposition efforts to dislodge the Narendra Modi government in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
 
"There will be collective face. Ours is a collective family. Priority is to defeat BJP. If, to defeat BJP, we can fight collectively inside Parliament then why can we not outside...I haven't come to talk about my state," Banerjee said after her meeting with Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. 
 
The meeting with the Gandhis capped a day of hectic activities in Parliament House where Banerjee met leaders of various parties including Shiv Sena, AIADMK, Samajwadi Party, TDP, YSCRP, DMK, RJD, Kerala Congress-Mani. She also called on JD-S leader and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in Karnataka Bhavan and senior BJP leader L. K. Advani in his chamber in Parliament. 
 
While Shiv Sena is a constituent of the the BJP-led NDA, AIADMK is friendly towards it. 
 
"Whenever I come to Delhi I meet Soniaji as I have very old relation with Rajivji. We have discussed political matters also. How we can fight together," she said, indicating that Congress would be part of anti-BJP front. 
 
"I don't want to interfere in Congress matter or what Congress will decide... Wherever, whoever is strong should fight," she said in reply to a question whether TMC will ally with Congress in West Bengal. 
 
Attacking the BJP, she said the BJP "is nervous politically, tense politically."
 
"The reason why it says whatever these days, because it knows it is not going to come back to power in 2019. If it talks with responsibility then we will talk to them. Not if they abuse us. I can fight against 500 parties in my state... We are all for all, everybody is everybody. PM will be decided later, first fight the election first," she said. 
 
Banerjee said she briefed Sonia Gandhi also on the problems of those excluded from the National Register of Citizens in Assam. 
 
"We discussed the fate of 40 lakh voters who have been decided to be deported, these people are from Bihar, Bengal, Gujarat, Rajasthan, UP, TN. If these people are deported, what does the BJP want? Does it want peace or civil war," she said. 
 
Earlier in her media interactions in Parliament House complex she sought to downplay questions about who will be the prime ministerial candidate of the Opposition.
 
"I am nobody. I am a very simple worker. Let me just continue as a commoner. I want that this BJP government must go. So we want that everybody should be united. Let us work together, don't think of Prime Ministerial candidate. Think of the country," she said. 
 
Banerjee alleged that BJP was "doing maximum political vendetta" and atrocities with the people.
 
She said NRC is "a global issue and not just an issue of Assam or India". 
 
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"They have deleted names of about 20-25 per cent of the total population. They are calling all of them Bangaldeshi infiltrators. Is Bangladesh a terrorist country? By saying this they are insulting both Bangladesh and India. They should not level baseless allegations against Bangladesh that they are sending infiltrators."
 
Banerjee said if states say they will not accept people from other states, there will "be a civil war" and "bloodbath".
 
"There is panic within people. Only one per cent will be illegal migrants," she said.
 
Banerjee also said that if there was infiltration, it is government's failure. 
 
She said while Home Minister Rajnath Singh had assured that there will be no harassment of people excluded from NRC, BJP chief Amit Shah made remarks against those whose names have been excluded. 
 
Banerjee met Congress leaders Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav, AIADMK leader M. Thambidurai, Kerala Congress-Mani leader Jose K. Mani, suspended BJP MP Kirti Azad, Shiv Sena member Sanjay Raut, DMK's Tiruchi Siva, Vijay Sai Reddy of YSRC Party, and Misa Bharti and Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav of RJD. She also met TDP MPs. 
 
Former Law Minister and Congress leader Ashwani Kumar also met Banerjee. 
 
Banerjee arrived in Delhi on Monday and met Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Tuesday. She also met dissident BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha and former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Ram Jethmalani.
 
She had visited the national capital in March also and met opposition leaders. 
 
IANS
 

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