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More than 700 dead as 7.9 earthquake hits Nepal, at least 34 deaths in India

A massive earthquake of magnitude 7.9 struck Nepal just before noon on Saturday, claiming nearly 700 lives in that country and leaving at least 34 dead in the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

 
More than 700 killed in Nepal quake, 34 in India
A massive earthquake of magnitude 7.9 struck Nepal just before noon today, claiming nearly 700 lives in that country and leaving at least 34 dead in the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
 
The quake caused widespread devasation in Nepal, especially in the Kathmandu valley, and the tremors were felt across several parts of north, east, north-east, west and central India.
 
The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said the temblor, with its epicentre at latitude 28.1°N and longitude 84.6°E, occurred at 1141 hours IST at a focal depth of 10 km, clearly one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit Nepal in nearly eight decades.
 
This was followed by a second quake, measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale, about 34 minutes later in the same area, about 80 km north-west of Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan country.
 
There were more than a dozen aftershocks reported over the next few hours.
 
Mr Laxmi Prasad Dhakkal, the spokesperson for Nepal's Ministry of Home Affairs, told television channels, on the basis of information received from 29 districts, that at least 686 people had died in the Himalayan country. 
 
The death toll is expected to go up as search and rescue teams dig through the rubble of collapsed buildings and reach some of the remote affected areas.
 
He said hundreds more had suffered injuries and that there was large scale devastation of public and private property.
 
At least 180 people were reported killed in Kathmandu alone, reports reaching here said.
 
At least 34 deaths were reported in India -- 23 in Bihar, eight in eastern Uttar Pradesh and three in West Bengal. Scores of people have suffered injuries, official sources said.
 
An Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft left for Kathmandu this afternoon with 45 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and with tonnes of relief material, rescue equipment, food and medicines.
 
Official sources said another plane was on standby and would leave soon, and a medical team would leave by a third aircraft later.
 
Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar told journalists that more aircraft would fly to Nepal today. At least eight helicopters would also be sent for evacuation and supplies of essential commodities, he said.
 
Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju told journalists that NDRF teams had been mobilised for rescue and relief operations in the affected areas of India. He also said that 10 NDRF teams had been kept in readiness to fly to Nepal.
 
He said that paramilitary forces and civil defence organisations were being mobilised to join the rescue and relief efforts.
 
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The earthquake caused caused widespead damage to buildings and other structures across the Kathmandu valley and many other parts of Nepal.
 
Nepalese officials told journalists that a lot of people were feared trapped under the debris of the collapsed buildings in different parts of the country.
 
The landmark nine-storeyed Dharahara tower in the centre of Kathmandu, a major tourist attraction, had collapsed in the quake, the sources said. Dozens of people were believed trapped under the debris of the structure.
 
Television pictures from the affected areas showed dozens of buildings had collapsed. Hundreds of people could be seen helping to clear the debris to search for survivors.
 
The pictures also showed some people being rescued from the rubble and being rushed to hospitals. Hospitals reported receiving scores of injured people.
 
Hundreds of tourists and pilgrims from India are believed to be in Nepal, and they have been advised to establish contact with the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu.
 
The tremors were felt in several parts of India, including Delhi, Lucknow, Patna, Kolkata, Jaipur, Bhopal and Bhubaneswar.
 
People in many parts of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Meghalaya ran out of offices and homes in panic.
 
The tremors were also felt in many parts of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, sources said.
 
The ground also shook in several parts of Bangladesh, the sources said.
 
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting of Ministers and senior officials to review the situation and directed immediate dispatch of relief and rescue teams as well as medical teams to Nepal as well as to the affected areas in India.
 
He also directed that proper arrangements be made for rendering assistance in evacuation of stranded tourists.
 
The meeting was informed that the first set of NDRF teams had aleady left for Kathmandu.
 
The meeting was attended by Union Ministers Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr Nripendra Misra, the Additional Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr P.K. Mishra, and senior officials from the Government, IMD and NDRF. 
 
The Prime Minister had earlier spoken to Nepal President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, and the Chief Ministers of the States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim and Madhya Pradesh.
 
He has assured Nepal of all assistance in dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake. 
 
Mr Modi was briefed on the inputs regarding the extent of damage to life and property received so far from various places in India and Nepal. 
 
The Union Government's Crisis Management Committee, which met earlier today, will be meeting again later today.
 
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Massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, tremors felt across north India

A massive earthquake, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, hit Nepal on SAturday and powerful tremors were felt across north, east, north-east and western India India, including Delhi, Lucknow, Assam and Meghalaya.

 
Massive earthquake hits Nepal, causes widespread devastation
A massive earthquake, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, hit Nepal today and powerful tremors were felt across north, east, north-east and western India India, including Delhi, Lucknow, Assam and Meghalaya.
 
People in their offices and offices ran outdoors in panic in many parts of Delhi and other places even as they experienced a series of aftershocks.
 
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the temblor, which had its epicentre at latitude 28.1°N and longitude 84.6°E, occurred at 1141 hours at a focal depth of 10 km.
 
IMD officials said the earthquake was followed by an aftershock of 6.6 magnitude. The magnitude of the quake felt in Delhi was around 5, they said.
 
The quake also shook several parts of Himalayan and sub-Himalayan West Bengal as well as Sikkim.
 
Reports reaching here said the tremors were also felt in several parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
 
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Modi says solution must be found to agrarian crisis, farmers' woes

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday political parties must collectively find a solution to the deep-rooted problems in the agricultural sector leading to suicides by farmers across the country and promised to consider all suggestions made by the Opposition in this regard.

 
We must find a solution to farmers' woes: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said political parties must collectively find a solution to the deep-rooted problems in the agricultural sector leading to suicides by farmers across the country and promised to consider all suggestions made by the Opposition in this regard.
 
"Farmer suicides have been a matter of concern for many years," he said in a brief intervention in the Lok Sabha, where the Congress and other opposition parties raised the issue of the suicide by a farmer from Rajasthan in full public view during a rally organised by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at Jantar Mantar here yesterday.
 
As the political blame game over the incident continued both inside and outside Parliament, Mr Modi said successive governments had tried to solve the problem in different ways over the decades.
 
Joining the members in expressing deep pain over the death of the farmer, Gajendra Singh, Mr Modi said the House must resolve to find a solution to the issue.
 
"It is a huge problem, it is an old, deep-rooted and widespread problem. It has to be addressed in that context," he said.
 
"Nothing is more important than farmers' lives. nothing is more important than a human being's life. We have to identify flaws in the system, we have to identify shortcomings in the system," he said.
 
"We cannot leave the farmers to fend for themselves in a helpless condition. We will have to be a part of his pain and sorrow. We have to be a part of his future," he said.
 
"I appeal to the House to resolve to ensure that farmers would not be allowed to die like this," he added.
 
“There should be a collective resolve in this regard. We have an open mind to consider any suggestion that is made... We cannot let the farmers die,” he said.
 
The Congress and other parties raised the issue in the Lok Sabha as soon as the House assembled but Speaker Sumitra Mahajan agreed to allow them to speak on it in zero hour, even as the government said it was prepared to discuss the matter.
 
Congress leader Mallikarjun Mansur urged the government to order a judicial inquiry into the incident, saying that the probe by the Delhi Police could not be regarded as unbiased in view of the allegations of inaction made against the police.
 
Responding to the concern expressed by the Members, Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a statement on the incident and said that the crowd at the AAP rally had clapped their hands and raised slogans as Gajendra Singh climbed the tree.
 
He said that individuals who threaten to commit extreme acts in such manner need to be handled with great care and engaged in a discussion so that he could be calmed down and what the crowd did had the exactly opposite effect of provoking him further.
 
Mr Singh said the policemen on the spot had informed the police control room of the man climbing the tree and asked for help from the fire brigade in the form of tall ladders so that he could be brought down safely. The police officers also tried to dissuade the crowd from raising slogans or egging him on.
 
The Minister gave details of how the man tied a cloth around his neck and to a branch of the tree and hanged himself. Some people reached him and tried to untie the cloth, but he fell down to the ground in the process, he said.
 
AAP leaders denied the Minister's allegations and accused him of "spreading lies". They said volunteers of the party had, in fact, climbed the tree to try and rescue the farmer, even as the police remained mute spectators.
 
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Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers staged a demonstration against the AAP rally outside Police Headquarters this morning, while members of the Youth Congress held a protest outside Delhi Chief Miniser and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal's residence.
 
Meanwhile, the body of the 42-year-old Gajendra Singh was taken to his village in Dausa district of Rajasthan, where it was cremated. A large number of political leaders reached the village to offer their condolences to the bereaved family.
 
Congress leader Ajay Maken said at a press conference here that only a judicial inquiry headed by a judge of the High Court could establish the truth in the matter.
 
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Farmer commits suicide at AAP rally in Delhi, sets off political blame game

A farmer from Rajasthan committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree in dramatic circumstances, as hundreds of people watched, at a rally organized by the Aam Aadmi Party against the Narendra Modi government's contentious land acquisition bill at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Wednesday.

 
Farmer commmits suicide during AAP rally in Delhi
A farmer from Rajasthan committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree in dramatic circumstances, as hundreds of people watched, at a rally organized by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) against the Narendra Modi government's contentious land acquisition bill at Jantar Mantar here today.
 
The man was identified as Gajendra Singh, 42, a father of three, from Dausa in Rajasthan, who left a note at the scene saying that he was in deep distress because of the loss of his crops and his inability to look after his family.
 
The man climbed the tree and put his "gamcha" (towel around his neck and tied the other end to a branch of the tree. He kept shouting slogans from there in an apparent bid to draw the attention of the crowd to the plight of farmers. Many people urged him to come down, but he stayed put. 
 
As some people climbed the tall tree to reach him and try and bring him down, the man hanged himself and soon his body became still. When the other men reached him and tried to untie the knot from the branch, it fell to the ground.
 
He was rushed to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, and the rally went ahead, with AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal stepping up to address the gathering. At the end of his address, he announced he would go to the hospital to see the farmer.
 
The body was later sent to Lady Hardinge Hospital for post-mortem examination. 
 
AAP leaders blamed the Delhi Police for remaining mute spectators and not acting in time to bring the man down and save him.
 
They also said the alleged anti-farmer and anti-poor polices of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre was leading to such tragedies.
 
They said that it was normal for people to climb onto trees to get a better view during meetings at Jantar Mantar and they could never imagine that the man would kill himself in this manner.
 
The BJP ridiculed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and other AAP leaders for continuing to make speeches even though they were aware that the man had died.
 
Doctors at the hospital said the man was brought dead. AAP leaders they came to know of the man's death only much later. They also said that a sudden dispersal of the crowd could have led to law and order problems.
 
Delhi Police said they had transferred the case to the Crime Branch, which has set up a team to establish the sequence of events.
 
As news of the tragedy spread, political leaders, including Mr Kejriwal, made a beeline to the hospital.
 
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Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who has been attacking the Modi government on the Land Acquisition Bill and related issues for the past few days, told journalists at the hospital that it was a very sad moment.
 
"We want to assure farmers and farm labourers that they should not worry, we are with them. We will help them fully," he said.
 
He also said that members of the Indian Youth Congress would provide all possible assistance to the farmer's family in the matter of transporting the body to his village.
 
"The Modi government is fuly focused on heping the corporates of the country, not all corporates, but three or four of their cronies. This is causing tremendous pain and damage to farmers and labourers.
 
"The foundation of this country has been built by farmers. The government is saying that suicides are not taking place. It is sad," he said.
 
"We are going to fight the new ordinance of theirs," he said, referring to the Congress' opposition to the government's Bill to replace the ordinance on land acquisition issued by it.
 
"We are not going to let the BJP government to take away the land of the poor farmers," he added.
 
Mr Modi condoled the death of Gajendra, saying it had saddened the nation.
 
"We are all deeply shattered and disappointed. Condolences to his family. At no point must the hardworking farmer think he is alone. We are all together in creating a better tomorrow for the farmers of India," he said.
 
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Canada to supply uranium for civilian nuclear power plants in India

India on Wednesay signed an agreement in Ottawa on procurement of uranium from Canada for its civilian nuclear power plants, launching a new ero of bilateral cooperation.

 
Modi meets Canadian PM Stephen Harper in Ottawa
India today signed an agreement on procurement of uranium from Canada for its civilian nuclear power plants, launching a new ero of bilateral cooperation.
 
"It also reflects a new level of mutual trust and confidence. Further,it will contribute to India's efforts to power its growth with clean energy," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper after their talks in Ottawa.
 
"Prime Minister Harper and I are absolutely committed to establish a new framework for economic partnership.I am pleased that we have made rapid progress on long pending agreements," he said.
 
Mr Modi said he was confident that the two countries could conclude the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement very soon. They will also implement the road map to conclude the Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement (CECA) by September 2015, he said.
 
Mr Modi said he attached the highest importance to India's relatins with Canada, which had been reinforced by his excellent experience with that country as Chief Minister of Gujarat.
 
"Our relationship had drifted in the past. In recent years, Prime Minister Harper's vision and leadership changed the course of our relations. I am consciousof the significance of this visit in the history of our relations," he said, referring to the fact that his was the first standalone Prime Ministerial visit to Canada in 42 years since the last such visit in 1973.
 
"I have come at a time when the importance of this relationship for our two countries has never been stronger. We are two major democracies with deeply shared values. Few countries in the world can match Canada's potential to be a partner in India's economic transformation. And, it exists in a new environment in India, which is open, predictable, stable and easy to do business in," he said.
 
"Equally, the vast scale of India's transformation, and our rapid economic growth, offers immense opportunities for Canada," he said.
 
Mr Modi sought Canada's cooperation and investment in every area of India's national development priority -- energy and infrastructure, manufacturing and skills, smart cities and agro-industry, and research and education.
 
He said the agreements on skill development signed today reflected his commitment to empower the youth of India with world class skills for India and the global economy.
 
He said that, as the agreement today on space highlighted, the two countries had strong synergy for cooperation in areas of advanced technologies.
 
He said that, to support greater engagement and people-to-people contacts, his government had  liberalised its visa policy for Canada. He said India would issue Electronic Visa Authorisation for tourist visa for Canadian nationals. They will also be eligible for ten-year visas now.
 
Mr Modi said Mr Harper and he agreed that a strong bilateral relationship would provide a solid foundation to pursue their common international interests. They also agreed that, in the troubled world of today, their cooperation would help advance their shared values and peace in the world.
 
"We in India felt Canada's pain when this city was struck by a senseless act of terrorism. The threat of terrorism is growing; its shadow extends over cities and lives across the world," he said.
 
He said the two countries would deepen their cooperation to combat terrorism and extremism. They would also promote a comprehensive global strategy, and consistent policy and action against all sources of terrorism and its support.
 
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"We also agree on the need to enhance our defence and security cooperation. I welcome our recent agreement on cyber security," he said.
 
Mr Modi said both countries recognised that peace and stability would make them safer at home, so would Afghanistan's successful transition.
 
"I believe that Canada is a major Asia Pacific power and should play a more active role, including in regional institutions, in promoting a stable and prosperous future for the region. I look forward to our continued partnership in G 20.
 
'In conclusion, let me say that ours is a natural partnership of shared values. It is an economic partnership of immense mutual benefit. It is a strategic partnershipthat can help address many of our shared global challenges. And, it is a relationship nurtured by the emotional bonds of a vibrant Indian community of 1.2 million," he said.
 
"I am confident that this visit will be a springboard for a new strategic partnership between our two democracies," he added.
 
Mr Harper said the initiatives taken today would help to further advance bilateral relatins between the two countries.
 
"The initiatives announced today will promote greater collaboration in the areas of civil aviation, railway transportation, education and skills development, space, social security and maternal, newborn and child health," he said.
 
“The historic visit by Prime Minister Modi to Canada combined with the number and scope of agreements signed today between our governments clearly demonstrate the commitment of both countries to taking bilateral relations to new heights," he added.
 
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Modi says judiciary has "divine role" in ensuring rule of law, delivering justice

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that the judiciary should be both empowered and capable to play its "divine role" in ensuring the rule of law and delivering justice to the common man.


 
Judiciary must be powerful, perfect: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said the judiciary should be both empowered and capable to play its "divine role" in ensuring the rule of law and delivering justice to the common man.
 
Addressing the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of States and Chief Justices of High Courts, he said that while the executive was under constant assessment and scrutiny in public life, through various institutions, the judiciary normally did not face any such scrutiny.
 
Mr Modi said judiciary had built up an enormous faith and reputation among the people of India, and should evolve its own in-built systems for self-assessment, so that it could live up to the high expectations placed on it by the people. 
 
He said good infrastructure for the judiciary was a priority for the Government, and an amount of Rs. 9749 crore had been earmarked for strengthening the judiciary under the 14th Finance Commission. 
 
Mr Modi said that under the Digital India Programme, technology should be deployed to bring about a qualititative change in the judiciary. He stressed that quality manpower was required for the judiciary and said the government was as concerned about human resources as it was about physical infrastructure.
 
Without going into the details of pendency in litigation and corruption in the Judiciary, the Prime Minister hoped that the forum would suggest some fresh approaches to deal with such issues. He said Lok Adalats were an effective way of dispensing justice for the common man, and this mechanism should be strengthened further. Similarly, he stressed the importance of "Family Courts." 
 
He also called for a comprehensive review of the system of Government-appointed tribunals, to assess their efficacy and effectiveness. 
 
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Mr Modi said laws were sometimes not drafted well, and therefore lead to multiple interpretations. He said there should be minimum grey areas, and therefore, drafting of laws required special attention. He said he was committed to removal of obsolete laws. 
 
He stressed the need to prepare for emerging areas of litigation such as maritime law and cyber crime. He said acquaintance with forensic science was now a must for those associated with the legal profession. 
 
Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu, and Union Minister for Law and Justice D.V. Sadananda Gowda were amongst those present on the occasion.
 
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Coal blocks allocation: SC stays summons for Manmohan Singh, others

The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the order issued by a special court here on March 11 summoning former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an accused in a case related to allocation of coal blocks to Hindalco, a part of the Aditya Birla Group of companies.

File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
The Supreme Court today stayed the order issued by a special court here on March 11 summoning former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an accused in a case related to allocation of coal blocks to Hindalco, a part of the Aditya Birla Group of companies.
 
Along with him, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, former Coal Secretary P C Parakh and three other officials were also summoned as accused in the case for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
 
All of them were asked by Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar to appear in court on April 8. While doing so, the court rejected the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) finding in its final report that there was "no prosecutable evidence against anyone".
 
A bench headed by Justice V Gopala Gowda also stayed the summons issued against Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and the others.
 
Senior Congress leader and advocate Ashwani Kumar told newspersons that the court felt that there were some important and substantive questions of law and processes that had been raised and it would like to decide on them.
 
He said that, in the meantime, the apex court had stayed the orders summoning Dr Singh and the others as well as the proceedings in the trial court.
 
Acting on six petitions filed by Dr Singh and the others in the case, seeking quashing of the summons, the court also issued notices in this regard to the CBI and others and gave them three weeks to file their replies.
 
Dr Singh was Prime Minister from May 2004 to May 2014 at the head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government.
 
He was reportedly questioned by a team of CBI officials in January this year at his Motilal Nehru Marg residence here in connection with the allocation of the Talabira II block to Hindalco when he was also holding the portfolio of Coal.
 
The former Prime Minister is understood to have defended the decision and stressed that it was made after due deliberations.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio between 2006 and 2009, which is part of the period that is being probed by the CBI.
 
Dr Singh's tenure in office was marred by the finding of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that the delay in introduction of the process of competitive bidding in the allocation of coal blocks to private companies for captive mining had led to likely financial gains of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to them.
 
The CAG had, in his report tabled in Parliament on August 17, 2012 said that a part of this financial gain could have accrued to the national exchequer by operationalising the decision taken years earlier to introduce competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks.
 
The CAG estimated the financial gains to the private coal block allottees on the basis of the average cost of production and average sale price of opencast mines of the public sector Coal India Limited (CIL) in 2010-11.
 
The CBI had earlier sought closure of the case, in which Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and others were named as accused. The court directed it to carry out further investigations and submit a report on January 27. It also said that it would be appropriate if the then Coal Minister were examined first.
 
 
SC stays summons issued to Manmohan Singh in coal blocks case
The CBI had registered the case in October 2013, following which the Prime Minister's Office had, on October 18, 2013, issued a detailed statement saying that Dr Singh was satisfied that the final decision taken in the matter relating to the allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and Hindalco was entirely correct and based on the merits of the case placed before him.
 
On September 24, 2014, the Supreme Court had scrapped 214 of the 218 coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2010, sparing only four  -- two allocated to an ultra mega power project (UMPP) and two to public sector companies, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and NTPC.
 
The Government put up more than 30 of those blocks for auction recently.
 
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16 trapped in landslide in J&K as authorities issue flood alert in state

At least 16 persons were believed trapped after a landslide buried several houses in the Chadoora area of Budgam district of Jammu & Kashmir on Monday even as the authorities issued a flood alert after incessant rains in the state since Saturday.

 
Water level in Jhelum rises in Kashmir, rescue efforts underway
At least 16 persons were believed trapped after a landslide buried several houses in the Chadoora area of Budgam district of Jammu & Kashmir today even as the authorities issued a flood alert after incessant rains in the state since Saturday.
 
The police and the army, along with the people of the area, have launched a major effort to rescue those feared trapped under the tons of mud in Laiden village of Chadoora area, official sources said.
 
The continuous rains of the past few days have raised fears of a repeat of the devastating floods that hit the state in September last year -- the worst in six decades.
 
But officials said the rain gods had relented a bit today and they were hopeful of an improvement in the situation.
 
However, the Jhelum was flowing close to the danger level in many areas and the authorities have alerted those living on its banks to be vigilant and be prepared to move to safer areas if necessary.
 
Schools have been closed for the next two days as a precautionary measure, they said.
 
In New Delhi, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it was in touch with the state government and closely monitoring the situation of increasing water levels in the Jhelum. No breach of embankment has been reported, it said.
 
'However, as a precautionary measure, to assist the state government authorities, two teams of NDRF have been deputed and another four teams kept stand-by. 
 
"The state government has been asked to indicate the assistance required by them," an official press release added.
 
Officials said they had learnt from last year's disaster and are taking several precautionary steps to prevent a repeat of that kind of tragedy. Boats, sandbags and other facilities are being made available in all the vulnerable areas.
 
In particular, a close watch is being kept on the embankments of the river, which had suffered breaches at many places last year and which were not plugged fully yet.
 
"There is no reason for panic, but we have asked the people to be alert," the officials said.
 
Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed went around some parts of Srinagar to take stock of the situation.
 
Meanwhile, with the meteorological department forecasting more rains over the next few days, the civil administration has reached out to the Arm for rescue and relief efforts in Srinagar and Pulwama districts.
 
The Army is keeping a close watch on the situation and 20 columns with rescue boats and other equipment have been kept on alert.
 
An official spokesperson said the Army was assisting the civil administration in flood control measures in Baramulla since yesterday and a relief operation is under progress in South Kashmir to rescue people trapped in collapsed houses. 
 
Army engineers are also undertaking strengthening of identified weak spots on the bunds of Jhelum river near Sonwar in Srinagar. 
 
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh discussed the situation in the state with Mr Sayeed and assured him of full Central assistance to tackle any eventuality.
 
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A meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) was held here today under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary, Ajit Seth to take stock of the situation and to review the arrangements made or required to be made to deal with it.
 
The meeting was attended by the Secretaries and other senior officers of the relevant departments of the Government of India. The Chief Secretary of Jammu & Kashmir and other officers of the State Government participated through video conferencing. 
 
The Chief Secretary gave an account of the ground situation indicating that the Jhelum is flowing above the danger mark at certain places and as a result, flood alert has been issued by the State Government.
 
He said the State Government was geared up to deal with the situation and all steps had been taken to safeguard life and property from the flood waters. They have adequate sand bags and river bank reinforcement material. As a precautionary measure adequate quantities of rice, potable water and medical supplies are being stocked at various locations. There is no shortage of various types of fuel as there is a minimum stock level of all varieties of fuel for 10 days. 
 
The National Highway 1-A between Jammu and Srinagar, which is blocked due to landslides, is likely to be cleared for vehicular traffic later today.
 
Mr Seth reviewed the preparatory arrangements made to handle the flood situation and issued necessary directions to all departments of the Government of India to provide all possible assistance to tide over the crisis. 
 
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AAP removes Bhushan from disciplinary panel, replaces Ramdas as Lokpal

In its continuing drive against dissidence, the Aam Aadmi Party on Sunday removed its founding leader Prashant Bhushan from its disciplinary committee even as it named a new internal Lokpal in place of former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (Retd.) L Ramdas.

 
AAP removes Bhushan from disciplinary panel
In its continuing drive against dissidence, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) today removed its founding leader Prashant Bhushan from its disciplinary committee even as it named a new internal Lokpal in place of former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (Retd.) L Ramdas.
 
At a meeting of its national executive (NE) here, the party reconstituted its Lokpal panel, saying the term of the rpevious panel headed by Admiral Ramdas had ended.
 
The new Lokpal panel comprises former Indian Police Service (IPS) oficer N. Dilip Kumar, former Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) Deputy Inspector General Rakesh Sinha and educationist S P Verma.
 
The party's reconstituted three-member national disciplinary committee will now be headed by Mr Dinesh Waghela and include Mr Pankaj Gupta and Mr Ashish Khetan.
 
The latest moves came a day after the party's National Council had yesterday, amidst acrimonious scenes, removed Mr Bhushan, Mr Yogendra Yadav, Prof Anand Kumar and Mr Ajit Jha from its National Executive for alleged anti-party activities.
 
Admiral Ramdas said he was greatly surpised and saddened tohear from a journalist that the party no longer required his services as its internal Lokpal.
 
"I am disappointed that the leadership of the party did not accord me the courtesy of informing me first before making this decision public. I still await their phone-call," he said in a statement.
 
"I am surprised because less than two weeks ago the party publicly reaffirmed its confidence in me.  At no point in my tenure did the party express to me any dissatisfaction with my service.  Neither did its leaders question my neutrality or my objectivity in this position. As recently as January 2015, I was asked to investigate complaints against potential electoral candidates. I took it as a sign of the party's confidence in me when on February 15th, at an informal meeting at the home of Mr Kejriwal, in the presence of many other senior leaders of the party, including members of the executive committee, I was actually requested to consider serving an additional five years as Lokpal.
 
"I am, however, more sad than surprised. It was with a sense of excitement and hope that I became part of this movement to bring a new kind of politics to India.  I believed in the ideals of transparency, accountability and fairness that was encapsulated in the institution of the Lokpal. And, I was honoured to be the first person to serve in this capacity," he said.
 
Admiral Ramdas said he had tried to discharge his duties and responsibilities to the best of his abilities. 
 
"My two previous letters, one which became public, the other which was intended to be public, reflected my effort to encourage the various leaders of the party to work together to remember the principles on which it was founded and to make sure that the promises made to the electorate - to the people- were fulfilled. Unfortunately I did not succeed in that effort.
 
"I still hope that the party which has fired the imagination and hopes of so many Indians will be able to fulfill its promises of good governance, both internally and externally, in the exercise of political power in its new capacity as the government of Delhi. I wish them well in this endeavour," he added.
 
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AAP removes Yadav, Bhushan, two others from National Executive

In a bitter denouement to the behind-the-scenes intrigue and open full-scale war that had broken out within the top leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party, four of its senior leaders -- Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha -- were removed from its National Executive on Saturday.

 
Yadav, Bhushan, 2 others expelled from AAP National Executive
In a bitter denouement to the behind-the-scenes intrigue and open full-scale war that had broken out within the top leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), four of its senior leaders  -- Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha -- were removed from its National Executive today.
 
The decision was taken at an acrimonious meeting of the party's National Council here this morning.
 
"The National Council hereby resolves that Mr Yogendra Yadav, Mr Prashant Bhushan, Mr Anand Kumar and Mr Ajit Jha be removed from the National Executive for their anti-party activities," the resolution adopted by the meeting said.
 
The move came a day after Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan had come out openly against the party's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at a press conference here yesterday and the Kejriwal camp responding in kind a little later.
 
While Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan had accused Mr Kejriwal, among other things, of wishing to exercise sole control over the affairs of the party and brooking no dissenting views, leaders from the rival camp -- Sanjay Singh, Ashutosh and Ashish Khetan -- denied the charges and gave details of the extent to which they had gone to keep the party united but to no avail.
 
At the fag end of the day yesterday in yet another sign of the unease and distrust within the leadership, an audio tape emerged in which Mr Kejriwal was heard telling a member of AAP, ostensibly trying to make peace between the two camps,  that Mr Bhushan and Mr Yadav had left no stone unturned to ensure the defeat of the party in the recent elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
 
He also told the member that Mr Bhushan and Mr Yadav were welcome to take over the party and that he was prepared to move out with its 66 other MLAs in Delhi and form a new outfit.
 
"Any other party would have kicked them out long ago," he was heard telling Umesh Singh of AAP's Varanasi unit on the tape, the contents of which could not be independently verified.
 
Both Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan were visibly upset at the proceedings at the National Council today and its decision to sack them from the National Executive.
 
"I am very sad to say this, democracy was murdered in the National Council today," Mr Yadav said.
 
He said that only Mr Kejriwal spoke at the meeting and nobody else was allowed to speak. He alleged that some members who wanted to have their say were escorted out by "bouncers" and several MLAs kept shouting that "the traitors should be kicked out of the party".
 
Mr Yadav said that, as soon as Mr Kejriwal ended his speech, he asked Mr Gopal Rai to chair the proceedings as he had to leave. A resolution was then moved and approved by voice vote, without any discussion, he alleged.
 
He said that the manner in which the meeting was conducted and the resolution adopted made it clear that the entire affair was "pre-scripted".
 
Mr Bhushan also said he was very sad at the day's developments. He said the manner in which the meeting was conducted showed the "mentality of Mr Kejriwal and his coterie".
 
All indications are that the issue of the alleged anti-party activities of Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan will now be referred to the disciplinary committee of AAP as a prelude to their formal expulsion from the party.
 
Prof Anand Kumar told journalists that they continued to be in the party and would continue their fight for internal democracy. "We willl neither leave the party nor break it; we will reform, and reform the party," he said.
 
Leaders of the Kejriwal camp told a press conference later that 247 members of the National Council had voted in favour of the resolution to expel the four dissidents and eight against it. They also denied that there was any scuffle at the meeting.
 
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There was some drama before the meeting began, with Mr Yadav staging a brief demonstration, alleging that many members were not allowed to attend the meeting of the National Council.
 
The developments will come as a huge disappointment to the thousands of AAP supporters around the country, especially in Delhi where it won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly in the February 7 elections.
 
There hectic negotiations between the two sides in the past fortnight but they did not help to narrow the rift that had developed.
 
Earlier this month, the Kejriwal camp had succeded in getting Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan removed from the Political Affairs Committee of the party.
 
At yesterday's press conference, Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan said Mr Kejriwal had gone back on the founding principles of the party and stifled internal democracy. They reiterated their readiness to quit all positions in the party if the five demands they had made were accepted.
 
They said they were repeatedly pressured to resign and made it clear that they had never raised the issue of the national convener, a position being held by Mr Kejriwal.
 
Mr Bhushan said that while Mr Kejriwal had many strengths, including good political judgement, he also had two fatal flaws which could lead to disaster for the party. He said Mr Kejriwal wanted to always have his way within the party and did not want around him people who would question or disagree with him.
 
He said Mr Kejriwal had told him that he had never been part of any organisation where his writ did not run.
 
The duo said that any issue raised by them was portrayed as an attempt to question Mr Kejriwal's leadership and to remove him from the post of national convener of the party.
 
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SC strikes down much-criticised Section 66A of IT Act as unconstitutional

In a landmark judgement that extends the right of free speech and expression to the Internet, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down as unconstitutional the much-criticised Section 66A of the IT Act under which the police could arrest people for social media posts seen by the authorities as "offensive" or "annoying".

In a landmark judgement that extends the right of free speech and expression to the Internet, the Supreme Court today struck down as unconstitutional the much-criticised and often-abused Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act under which the police could arrest people for social media posts seen by the authorities as "offensive" or "annoying", among other things.
 
"Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2)," a two-judge bench comprising Justices Jasti Chelameswar and Rohinton Nariman said.
 
The court held that Section 69A and the Information Technology (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 were constitutionally valid.
 
It said Section 79 was valid subject to Section 79(3)(b) being read down to mean that an intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge from a court order or on being notified by the appropriate government or its agency that unlawful acts relatable to Article 19(2) are going to be committed then fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to such material.
 
Similarly, the Information Technology “Intermediary Guidelines” Rules, 2011 are valid subject to Rule 3 sub-rule (4) being read down in the same manner as indicated in the judgement, it said.
 
The court also struck down Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act for being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved by Article 19(2).
 
The ruling came in a verdict on a batch of writ petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, incuding one filed by Shreya Singhal, a law student, challenging hte validity of Section 66A of the IT Act.
 
The judges noted that the petitions filed raised very important and far-reaching questions relatable primarily to the fundamental right of free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
 
Section 66A of the IT Act of 2000 was not in the Act as originally enacted, but came into force by virtue of an Amendment Act of 2009 with effect from 27.10.2009. 
 
Section 66A reads thus: 
 
“66-A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. 
—Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or 
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication
device; or 
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such
messages,
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
 
Explanation.— For the purposes of this section, terms 'electronic mail' and 'electronic mail message' means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message."
 
 
SC strikes down Section 66A of IT Act, terms it 'unconstitutional'
A related challenge was also made to Section 69A introduced by the same amendment which reads as follows:-
 
“69-A. Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource.—
(1) Where the Central Government or any of its officers specially authorised by it in this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, it may subject to the provisions of subsection (2), for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block for access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.
(2) The procedure and safeguards subject to which such blocking for access by the public may be carried out, shall be such as may be prescribed.
(3) The intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable
to fine.”
 
In the Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill which introduced the Amendment Act, the Government had said that the rapid increase in the use of computer and internet had given rise to new forms of crimes like publishing sexually explicit materials in electronic form, video voyeurism and breach of confidentiality and leakage of data by intermediary, e-commerce frauds like personation commonly known as Phishing, identity theft and offensive messages through communication services.
 
It said that, therefore, penal provisions were required to be included in the Information Technology Act, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to prevent such crimes.
 
The petitioners contended that the very basis of Section 66A -- that it has given rise to new forms of crimes -- is incorrect, and that Sections 66B to 67C and various Sections of the IPC were good enough to deal with all these crimes.
 
The petitioners’ various counsel also raised a large number of points as to the constitutionality of Section 66A. According to them, first and foremost Section 66A infringed the fundamental right to free speech and expression and was not saved by any of the eight subjects covered in Article 19(2). 
 
According to them, the causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill-will were all outside the purview of Article 19(2). Further, in creating an offence, Section 66A suffered from vagueness because unlike the offence created by Section 66 of the same Act, none of the aforesaid terms are even attempted to be defined and cannot be defined, the result being that innocent persons are roped in as well as those who are not.
 
The counsel argued that it was open to the authorities to be as arbitrary and whimsical as they liked in booking such persons under the said Section. In fact, a large number of innocent persons had been booked and many instances were mentioned in the form of a note to the court.
 
They said the enforcement of the Section would really be an insidious form of censorship which impairs a core value contained in Article 19(1)(a). In addition, the said Section has a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression, they argued. Also, the right of viewers is infringed as such chilling effect would not give them the benefit of many shades of grey in terms of various points of view that could be viewed over the internet, they said.
 
The petitioners also contended that their rights under Articles 14 and 21 were breached inasmuch there was no intelligible differentia between those who use the internet and those who by words spoken or written use other mediums of communication. To punish somebody because he uses a particular medium of  communication is itself a discriminatory object and would fall foul of Article 14 in any case, they said.
 
Mr. Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General, defended the constitutionality of Section 66A. He argued that the legislature is in the best position to understand and appreciate the needs of the people. The court could, therefore, interfere with the legislative process only when a statute is clearly violative of the rights conferred on the citizen under Part-III of the Constitution. 
 
Mere possibility of abuse of a provision cannot be a ground to declare a provision invalid, he argued. He said loose language may have been used in Section 66A to deal with novel methods of disturbing other people’s rights by using the internet as a tool to do so. Further, vagueness is not a ground to declare a statute unconstitutional if the statute is otherwise legislatively competent and non-arbitrary, he said.
 
The judges, in their verdict, discussed the content of the expression “freedom of speech and expression”. They said there were three concepts which were fundamental in understanding the reach of this most basic of human rights. The first is discussion, the second is advocacy, and the third is incitement. 
 
"Mere discussion or even advocacy of a particular cause howsoever unpopular is at the heart of Article 19(1)(a). It is only when such discussion or advocacy reaches the level of incitement that Article 19(2) kicks in. It is at this stage that a law may be made curtailing the speech or expression that leads inexorably to or tends to cause public disorder or tends to cause or tends to affect the sovereignty & integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, etc.
 
"Why it is important to have these three concepts in mind is because most of the arguments of both petitioners and respondents tended to veer around the expression 'public order'," they said.
 
The judges noted that Section 66A had been challenged on the ground that it cast the net very wide – “all information” that is disseminated over the internet is included within its reach.
 
'Two things will be noticed. The first is that the definition is an inclusive one. Second, the definition does not refer to what the content of information can be. In fact, it refers only to the medium through which such information is disseminated. It is clear, therefore, that the petitioners are correct in saying that the public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A.
 
"Information of all kinds is roped in – such information may have scientific, literary or artistic value, it may refer to current events, it may be obscene or seditious. That such information may cause annoyance or inconvenience to some is how the offence is made out. It is clear that the right of the people to know – the market place of ideas – which the internet provides to persons of all kinds is what attracts Section 66A. That the information sent has to be annoying, inconvenient, grossly offensive etc., also shows that no distinction is made between mere discussion or advocacy of a particular point of view which may be annoying or inconvenient or grossly offensive to some and incitement by which such words lead to an imminent causal connection with public disorder, security of State etc. 
 
"The petitioners are right in saying that Section 66A in creating an offence against persons who use the internet and annoy or cause inconvenience to others very clearly affects the freedom of speech and expression of the citizenry of India at large in that such speech or expression is directly curbed by the creation of the offence contained in Section 66A," the judgement said.
 
One of the challenges to Section 66A made by the petitioners’ counsel was that the offence created by it had no proximate relation with any of the eight subject matters contained in Article 19(2). 
 
"We may incidentally mention that the State has claimed that the said Section can be supported under the heads of public order, defamation, incitement to an offence and decency or morality. Under our constitutional scheme, as stated earlier, it is not open to the State to curtail freedom of speech to promote the general public interest," the judges said.
 
The Additional Solicitor General argued that a relaxed standard of reasonableness of restriction should apply, regard being had to the fact that the medium of speech being the internet differs from other mediums on several grounds. 
 
Whle repelling an Article 14 challenge by the pettioners, the judges said they did not find anything in the features outlined by the Additional Solicitor General to relax the Court’s scrutiny of the curbing of the content of free speech over the internet. 
 
"While it may be possible to narrowly draw a Section creating a new offence, such as Section 69A for instance, relatable only to speech over the internet, yet the validity of such a law will have to be tested on the touchstone of the tests already indicated above," they stressed.
 
Testing the Section from various standpoints, the judges said it was clear that it had no proximate relationship to public order whatsoever. 
 
"Under Section 66A, the offence is complete by sending a message for the purpose of causing annoyance, either `persistently’ or otherwise without in any manner impacting public order," they noted.
 
"Viewed at either by the standpoint of the clear and present danger test or the tendency to create public disorder, Section 66A would not pass muster as it has no element of any tendency to create public disorder which ought to be an essential ingredient of the offence which it creates," the verdict said.
 
On defamation, the judgement said Section 66A did not concern itself with injury to reputation. "Something may be grossly offensive and may annoy or be inconvenient to somebody without at all affecting his reputation. It is clear therefore that the Section is not aimed at defamatory statements at all," it said.
 
Equally, the judges said, Section 66A had no proximate connection with incitement to commit an offence.
 
"Firstly, the information disseminated over the internet need not be information which 'incites' anybody at all. Written words may be sent that may be purely in the realm of 'discussion' or 'advocacy' of a 'particular point of view'. Further, the mere causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger etc., or being grossly offensive or having a menacing character are not offences under the Penal Code at all. They may be ingredients of certain offences under the Penal Code but are not offences in themselves. For these reasons, Section 66A has nothing to do with 'incitement to an offence'. As Section 66A severely curtails information that may be sent on the internet based on whether it is grossly offensive, annoying, inconvenient, etc. and being unrelated to any of the eight subject matters under Article 19(2) must, therefore, fall foul of Article 19(1)(a), and not being saved under Article 19(2), is declared as unconstitutional," they said.
 
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The judges said what had been said with regard to public order and incitement to an offence equally applied to decency and morality.
 
"Section 66A cannot possibly be said to create an offence which falls within the expression ‘decency’ or ‘morality’ in that what may be hrossly offensive or annoying under the Section need not be obscene at all – in fact the word ‘obscene’ is conspicuous by its absence in Section 66A.
 
"However, the learned Additional Solicitor General asked us to read into Section 66A each of the subject matters contained in Article 19(2) in order to save the constitutionality of the provision. We are afraid that such an exercise is not possible for the simple reason that when the legislature intended to do so, it provided for some of the subject matters contained in Article 19(2) in Section 69A. We would be doing complete violence to the language of Section 66A if we were to read into it something that was never intended to be read into it. Further, he argued that the statute should be made workable, and the following should be read into Section 66A:
 
“(i) Information which would appear highly abusive, insulting, pejorative, offensive by reasonable person in general, judged by the standards of an open and just multi-caste, multireligious, multi racial society;"
 
"What the learned Additional Solicitor General is asking us to do is not to read down Section 66A – he is asking for a wholesale substitution of the provision which is obviously not possible," they said.
 
Counsel for the petitioners had argued that the language used in Section 66A was so vague that neither would an accused person be put on notice as to what exactly is the offence which has been committed nor would the authorities administering the Section be clear as to on which side of a clearly drawn line a particular communication will fall.
 
Going by the standards laid down in various judgements, the judges said it was quite clear that the expressions used in 66A were completely open-ended and undefined. 
 
They noted that the narrowly and closely defined contours of offences made out under the Penal Code were conspicuous by their absence in Section 66A which in stark contrast uses completely open ended, undefined and vague language.
 
",,, every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another. What may cause annoyance or inconvenience to one may not cause annoyance or inconvenience to another. Even the expression 'persistently' is completely imprecise – suppose a message is sent thrice, can it be said that it was sent 'persistently'? Does a message have to be sent (say) at least eight times, before it can be said that such message is 'persistently' sent? There is no demarcating line conveyed by any of these expressions – and that is what renders the Section unconstitutionally vague," they said.
 
The Additional Solicitor General argued that expressions that are used in Section 66A may be incapable of any precise definition but for that reason they were not constitutionally vulnerable. 
 
The judges said it was clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invaded the right of free speech and upset the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right.
 
"In point of fact, Section 66A is cast so widely that virtually any opinion on any subject would be covered by it, as any serious opinion dissenting with the mores of the day would be caught within its net. Such is the reach of the Section and if it is to withstand the test of constitutionality, the chilling effect on free speech would be total," they said.
 
"... not only are the expressions used in Section 66A expressions of inexactitude but they are also over broad and would fall foul of the repeated injunctions of this Court that restrictions on the freedom of speech must be couched in the narrowest possible terms," they said.
 
"We, therefore, hold that the Section is unconstitutional also on the ground that it takes within its sweep protected speech and speech that is innocent in nature and is liable therefore to be used in such a way as to have a chilling effect on free speech and would, therefore, have to be struck down on the ground of overbreadth," they said.
 
The Additional Solicitor General cited a large number of judgments on the proposition that the fact that Section 66A was capable of being abused by the persons who administered it was not a ground to test its validity if it is otherwise valid. He further assured the court  that this Government was committed to free speech and that Section 66A would not be used to curb free speech, but would be used only when excesses are perpetrated by persons on the rights of others.
 
"In this case, it is the converse proposition which would really apply if the learned Additional Solicitor General’s argument is to be accepted. If Section 66A is otherwise invalid, it cannot be saved by an assurance from the learned Additional Solicitor General that it will be administered in a reasonable manner. Governments may come and Governments may go but Section 66A goes on forever. An assurance from the present Government even if carried out faithfully would not bind any successor Government. It must, therefore, be held that Section 66A must be judged on its own merits without any reference to how well it may be administered," the bench said.
 
Mr Mehta had also submitted that if the court were not satisfied about the constitutional validity of either any expression or a part of the provision, the Doctrine of Severability as enshrined under Article 13 may be resorted to.
 
"The submission is vague: the learned Additional Solicitor General does not indicate which part or parts of Section 66A can possibly be saved. It has been held by us that Section 66A purports to authorize the imposition of restrictions on the fundamental right contained in Article 19(1)(a) in language wide enough to cover restrictions both within and without the limits of constitutionally permissible legislative action. We have held ... that the possibility of Section 66A being applied for purposes not sanctioned by the Constitution cannot be ruled out. It must, therefore, be held to be wholly unconstitutional and void," the judges said.
 
The judges held that no part of Section 66A was severable and the provision as a whole must be declared unconstitutional.
 
Having struck down Section 66A on substantive grounds, the judges felt they need not decide the procedural unreasonableness aspect of the Section.
 
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Fire breaks out in Parliament House complex, no one injured

A major fire broke out on the periphery of Parliament House complex, near one of its boundary walls and at quite some distance from the main building, in the national capital on Sunday afternoon, fire brigade sources said.

 
Massive fire breaks out in Parliament premises
A major fire broke out on the periphery of Parliament House complex, near one of its boundary walls and at quite some distance from the main building, in the national capital this afternoon, fire brigade sources said.
 
No one was reported injured in the blaze, which started in the air-conditioning plant, located near the main reception at the southern end of the sprawling campus, and was brought under control within half an hour.
 
Fire brigade officials said some maintenance work was being carried out in the air-conditioning plant, and some insulation material like PVC cables lying around appeared to have caught fire due to sparks from a welding machine.
 
The officials said they received the first report about the fire at 2.21 pm and more than ten fire tenders and tankers were rushed to the scene. One fire tender, which is always stationed in the complex, was the first to respond to the blaze.
 
The officials told journalists that the blaze had been localised and contained within half an hour and was doused completely a little later.
 
Security personnel cordoned off the area as thick black smoke billowed into the sky from the fire and hundreds of mediapersons and onlookers gathered in the area.
 
Being a Sunday, not many people were on duty in the complex when the fire broke out, the sources added.
 
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30 dead, 50 injured as Dehradun-Varanasi Express derails near Rae Bareli

At least 30 passengers were killed and 50 others suffered injuries when the engine and two coaches of the Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express derailed at Bachhrawan in Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh on Friday.

 
30 killed, 50 injured as Dehradun-Varanasi Express derails
At least 30 passengers were killed and 50 others suffered injuries when the engine and two coaches of the Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express derailed at Bachhrawan in Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh today.
 
The mishap occurred around 9.10 am as the train was coming to a scheduled stop at the Bachhrawan station, around 30 km from Rae Bareli and 50 km from state capital Lucknow, official sources said.
 
One of the coaches, a general compartment, bore the brunt of the impact, while the other was the guard's van.
 
Northern Railway spokesperson Neeraj Sharma told NetIndian over the telephone that 30 bodies had been recovered from the affected coach and 50 others had suffered injuries.
 
Railway sources said the train had to stop at the Bachhrawan station and the locomotive driver appeared to have overshot the signal and train hit the sand hump.
 
As soon as the mishap occurred, scores of people from the nearby localities rushed to the scene and started pulling out the victims.
 
Police, fire brigade teams, medical personnel and other emergency services reached the spot soon and started rescue and relief operations.
 
Senior Railway officials were at the scene, overseeing the relief efforts as well as the operations to restore traffic on the Lucknow-Varanasi line.
 
The Division Railway Manager of Lucknow Division, along with other officers and doctors, was among those who rushed to the site immediately.
 
An Accident Relief Medical train and an Accident Relief Train were also sent immediately.
 
Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu directed Chairman, Railway Board and the concerned Member, Railway Board as well as the General Manager of Northern Railway to rush to the scene.
 
He also directed the railway administration to provide the best possible medical care and all assistance to the injured. 
 
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Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha is also visiting the accident site.
 
Mr Prabhu expressed his profound grief over the loss of innocent lives. He announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 2 lakh to the next-of-kin of the deceased, Rs 50,000 for the grievously injured passengers and Rs 20,000 for those with simple injuries.
 
The Railways have set up the following helpline numbers: 
 
Bachhravan-09794845621, Dehradun-0135-2624002, Lucknow-09794830973, Varanasi-9542-2503814, Pratapgarh-0534-2223830, Rae Bareli-0535-2211224, Haridwar-0134-226477, 226479, Barelly-0581-2558161, 2558162 
 
An inquiry has been ordered by Railways under Commissioner Railway Safety, Northern Circle, to ascertain the cause of the accident. 
 
Rescue workers had to use flame cutters and other equipment to extricated the trapped passengers from the coach.
 
Doctors from the King George Medical University in Lucknow had been rushed to the spot to treat the injured.
 
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Modi "deeply concerned", asks for report on Nadia nun's gang-rape, Hisar church attack

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced deep concern about the alleged gangrape of an elderly nun at Nadia in West Bengal recentlyand the attack on a church at Hisar in Haryana and sought an immediate report on the incidents.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced deep concern about the alleged gangrape of an elderly nun at Nadia in West Bengal recentlyand the attack on a church at Hisar in Haryana and sought an immediate report on the incidents.
 
"PM is deeply concerned about the incidents in Hisar, Haryana and Nadia, West Bengal," the Prime MInister's Office (PMO) said on micro-blogging site Twitter today.
 
"PMO has asked for immediate report on facts & action taken regarding the incidents in Haryana and West Bengal," it added.
 
A 71-year-old nun was allegedly gang-raped by dacoits at a convent in Nadia district in the early hours of Saturday. The incident has triggered protests in West Bengal and the state government has ordered a probe by the CID in the case.
 
In the second incident, a church under construction at Kaimri village near Hisar in Haryana was vandalised by a group of people on Sunday.
 
Both the incidents have evoked widespread condemnation across the country, with the Christian community expressing serious concern about the safety of churches and other institutions.
 
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Govt. denies snooping on Rahul Gandhi, accuses Congress of raising a non-issue

The Government on Monday accused the Congress of making a "mountain out of what is not even a molehill" by raising the issue of alleged snooping by the Delhi Police on its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and asserted that it was part of a routine security exercise carried out for decades.

 
Jaitley denies snooping on Rahul Gandhi by Delhi Police
The Government today accused the Congress of making a "mountain out of what is not even a molehill" by raising the issue of alleged snooping by the Delhi Police on its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and asserted that it was  part of a routine security exercise carried out for decades.
 
Responding to the concerns expressed by leaders of the Congress as well as other opposition parties, Finance Minister and Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha that the Delhi Police had been profiling protected persons since 1957.
 
He said a proforma had been introduced for the purpose in 1987, when the Congress was in power and this had been updated in 1999.
 
Using that proforma, the Delhi Police had, as of today, got profiles of as many as 526 persons on its records to be able to provide better security to them, he said. They included former Prime Ministers, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties and members of Parliament, he said.
 
The Congress had reacted angrily to the visits made by Delhi Police personnel to the residence of Mr Gandhi last week to collect information about him, terming it as a case of snooping and political espionage. 
 
The party had also alleged that it was an intrusion into Mr Gandhi's personal life and demanded explanations from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
 
Mr Jaitley said snooping was not done by sending policemen to visit somebody's house and asking them to fill out forms. "This practice was started in 1987," he said.
 
He also asked the Opposition to not make fun of the kind of queries made in the proforma about the make and size of shoes worn by protected persons. He recalled that when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, his body could be identified only because of the shoes he was wearing.
 
"Let us leave security to the experts," he said, adding that the information so collected by the police was routinely reviewed and updated.
 
He also pointed out that the policemen concerned had, on the same day as they had visited Mr Gandhi's residence, also visited the homes of several other leaders living in the vicinity. "There is no snooping, no espionage," he said.
 
Earlier, raising the issue as soon as the House assembled, Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said that, in the more than 35 years that he had been an MP and Minister at the Centre, during which period he was given the highest levels of security, he had never seen any such proforma for seeking information about protectees.
 
He said it was even more surprising that the police had suddenly woken up to the need for such information about Mr Gandhi, who has been under the protection of the Special Protection Group (SPG) since his father became Prime Minister in late 1984. 
 
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"The Delhi Police never thought it necessary all these years to collect this information," he said.
 
He said the kind of personal details sought and the information asked for about Mr Gandhi's friends, associates and aides did not augur well for Indian democracy.
 
Mr Azad said the whole exercise of collecting such information appeared to be a way of putting pressure on political parties so that they do not raise important issues of national importance and called upon the Home Minister to make an explanation in the house.
 
He said that late last year there were reports about some Ministers being put under surveillance. He said at a time when the religious freedom of the people was under threat, this kind of attack on political freedom was against all democratic norms.
 
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India backs Sri Lanka's journey of peace, reconciliation, progress

India on Friday conveyed its sincere support for Sri Lanka's new journey of peace, reconciliation and progress and its commitment to strengthening their partnership in advancing peace and prosperity in the region, including their common maritime neighbourhood.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on March 13, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on March 13, 2015.
India today conveyed its sincere support for Sri Lanka's new journey of peace, reconciliation and progress and its commitment to strengthening their partnership in advancing peace and prosperity in the region, including their common maritime neighbourhood.
 
"We stand with you in your efforts to build a future that accommodates the aspirations of all sections of society, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo after their talks.
 
"We believe that early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it would contribute to this process," he said.
 
"The meeting today has been very productive. It gives me great confidence and optimism about the future of our relations," he said.
 
Earlier, Mr Modi arrived in Colombo on the last leg of a three-nation tour of Indian Ocean countries that had earlier taken him to Seychelles and Mauritius. He was received at the Bandaranaike International Airport by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and senior officials from both sides.
 
"I have eagerly looked forward to visiting one of our closest neighbours and a nation with which we share so much. I am conscious of the significance of this visit. It is the first standalone bilateral visit to Sri Lanka by an Indian Prime Minister since 1987.
 
"Last month, President Sirisena honoured us by making India his first foreign visit as President. I am glad to be here so soon. This is how it should be between neighbours. We should meet regularly," he said.
 
"It helps us understand each other better; find solutions to mutual concerns; and, move our relationship forward," he said.
 
Mr Modi announced a fresh Line of Credit of upto $ 318 million for Sri Lanka's railways sector, saying that India is privileged to be a development partner for Sri Lanka. The line of credit will be used to procure rolling stock, and to restore and upgrade existing railway track. 
 
"Economic ties are a key pillar of our relationship. The progress we have made reflects our shared commitment to stronger economic cooperation. 
 
"Our trade has seen impressive growth over the past decade. I am aware of your concerns about trade with India. As I said in Delhi, we will try and address them," he said.
 
Mr Modi said the agreement today on cooperation between their customs authorities was a step in that direction. It will simplify trade and reduce non-tariff barriers on both sides, he said.
 
"We are not just looking at addressing problems. We are also focusing on new opportunities. Today, Lanka IOC and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation have agreed to jointly develop the Upper Tank Farm of the China Bay Installation in Trincomalee on mutually agreed terms," he said.
 
Mr Modi said a Joint Task Force would be constituted soon to work out the modalities. India stood ready to help Trincomalee become a regional petroleum hub, he said.
 
He said he also looked forward to early commencement of work on the ground in the Sampur Coal Power Project, which would meet Sri Lanka's energy needs. 
 
"The ocean economy is a new frontier that holds enormous promise for both of us. It is a priority for our two countries. Our decision to set up a Joint Task Force on Ocean Economy is a significant step, especially because of our proximity," he said.
 
He said a number of decisions had been taken to encourage people-to-people contacts, improve connectivity and increase tourism.
 
"We will extend the facility of Tourist Visa on Arrival - Electronic Travel Authorization Scheme to Sri Lankan citizens from the Sinhala and Tamil New Year on 14 April 2015. Air India will soon start direct flights between New Delhi and Colombo. We will cooperate in developing a Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka and a Buddhist Circuit in India," he said.
 
 
Modi says fishermen issue needs long-term solution
Mr Modi said a Festival of India would be organized in Sri Lanka later this year. "Sri Lanka is where Buddhism has truly flourished. We will be organizing an exhibition showcasing our Buddhist heritage as part of this festival," he said.
 
He said the memorandum of understanding on cooperation in youth affairs signed today was an important long term investment in their relationship.
 
He said India would provide assistance for the construction of the Rabindranath Tagore auditorium at Ruhuna University in Matara. 
 
Tomorrow, Mr Modi will visit some of the projects being financed by India, including the housing project. "I am pleased that more than 27,000 houses have already been built," he said.
 
The Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka have agreed to enter into a Currency Swap Agreement of US$ 1.5 billion. This will help keep the Sri Lankan rupee stable. 
 
Mr Modi said and Mr Sirisena had discussed the fishermen’s issue. "This complex issue involves livelihood and humanitarian concerns on both sides. We should handle it from this perspective. At the same time, we need to find a long term solution to this issue," he said.
 
"It is also important that fishermen's associations of India and Sri Lanka meet at the earliest to find a mutually acceptable arrangement. It can then be taken forward by both governments," he said.
 
Mr Modi also took the opportunity to convey India's admiration for President Srinisena's efforts to build an inclusive future for Sri Lanka. 
 
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Coal block allocation: Former PM Manmohan Singh summoned as accused by court

In a major setback to him personally and his Congress party, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was on Wednesday summoned as an accused by a special court in a case related to coal block allocations to Hindalco, a part of the Adiya Birla Group of companies.

File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
In a major setback to him personally and his Congress party, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was today summoned as an accused by a special court in a case related to coal block allocations to Hindalco, a part of the Adiya Birla Group of companies.
 
Along with him, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, former Coal Secretary P C Parakh and three other officials were also summoned as accused in the case for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
 
All of them were asked by Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar to appear in court on April 8. While doing so, the court rejected the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) finding in its final report that there was "no prosecutable evidence against anyone".
 
Dr Singh was Prime Minister from May 2004 to May 2014 at the head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government.
 
He was reportedly questioned by a team of CBI officials in January this year at his Motilal Nehru Marg residence here in connection with the allocation of the Talabira II block to Hindalco when he was also holding the portfolio of coal.
 
The former Prime Minister is understood to have defended the decision and stressed that it was made after due deliberations.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio between 2006 and 2009, which is part of the period that is being probed by the CBI.
 
Dr Singh's tenure in office was marred by the finding of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that the delay in introduction of the process of competitive bidding in the allocation of coal blocks to private companies for captive mining had led to likely financial gains of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to them.
 
 
Coal scam: Manmohan Singh among six summoned as accused by court
The CAG had, in his report tabled in Parliament on August 17, 2012 said that a part of this financial gain could have accrued to the national exchequer by operationalising the decision taken years earlier to introduce competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks.
 
The CAG estimated the financial gains to the private coal block allottees on the basis of the average cost of production and average sale price of opencast mines of the public sector Coal India Limited (CIL) in 2010-11.
 
The report noted that the Screening Committee had recommended the allocation of coal blocks to particular allottees, out of all the applications for them, by way of minutes of its meetings.
 
"However, there was nothing on record in the said minutes or in other documents on any comparative evaluation of the applicants for a coal bock which was relied upon by the Screening Committee Minutes of the Screening Committee did not indicate how each one of the applicants for a particular block was evaluated. Thus, a transparent method for allocation of coal blocks was not followed by the Screening Committee," it said.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio himself during much of the period under review in the report in the first term of the UPA Government, prompting the opposition to hold him personally responsible for the alleged scam.
 
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had earlier sought closure of the case, in which Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and others were named as accused. The court directed it to carry out further investigations and submit a report on January 27. It also said that it would be appropriate if then Coal Minister were examined first.
 
The CBI had registered the case in October 2013, following which the Prime Minister's Office had, on October 18, 2013, issued a detailed statement saying that Dr Singh was satisfied that the final decision taken in the matter relating to the allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and Hindalco was entirely correct and based on the merits of the case placed before him.
 
The PMO had given the details of the processing of the matter at different stages of the decision-making to clarify the position.
 
The statement came four days after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a first information report (FIR) in which it named Mr Birla, Hindalco and Mr Parakh in connection with the alleged coal blocks allocation scam.
 
The FIR alleged that Hindalco was shown "undue favour" in the allocation of Talabira II and TAlabira III coal blocks in Odisha.
 
"The Talabira coal block allocation is a case where the final decision differed from the earlier recommendation of the Screening Committee, and this was done following a representation received in the Prime Minister's Office from one of the parties, which was referred to the Ministry of Coal," the PMO statement had said.
 
The following is the annexure issued by the PMO with the statement, giving details of the decision-making in the matter:
 
"1. The Prime Minister received a letter dated 7.5.2005 from Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla requesting allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to HINDALCO for its 650 MW captive power plant in its Integrated Aluminium Project in Sambalpur District, Odisha and for a 100 MW captive plant for the expansion of its Hirakud Aluminium plant in Odisha. The letter was acknowledged by the Prime Minister who noted on the letter– “Please get a report from Coal Ministry”. 
 
2. The Prime Minister’s Office forwarded the letter to the Ministry of Coal on 25.5.2005 requesting it to look into the matter and send a report. 
 
3. Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla submitted another letter to the Prime Minister on 17.6.2005 repeating the request. This letter was linked to the earlier reference and sent to the Ministry of Coal with a request to send their report on the matter. 
 
4. In August 2005, Ministry of Coal sent its file on the matter to the Prime Minister. In the file, it was mentioned that the Screening Committee had considered three major contenders for allocation of Talabira-II and decided to allocate this block to Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) as: 
 
(i) adequate coal linkages had been provided to HINDALCO from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. (MCL) a long time back and HINDALCO had not used the coal, 
 
(ii) Talabira-II & III blocks needed to be developed together to extract an additional 30 million tonnes of coal which would have gone waste otherwise at the boundaries of each block, (Talabira-III is a coal block which had been separately allocated to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd.) and
 
(iii) NLC & Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. can develop the two blocks together as one large mine through a Joint Venture (JV). 
 
Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla had requested for allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco as: 
 
(i) Hindalco was the first applicant for it as long back as 1996, 
 
(ii) the coal linkage granted earlier was not used as a bauxite mine lease relating to the aluminium plant had not materialized, 
 
(iii) in view of the current shortage of coal, Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. will not be able to supply coal as per the earlier linkage, and
 
(iv) the Government of Odisha favoured allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco in preference to NLC. 
 
While the file was being processed in PMO, the Prime Minister received a letter dated 17.8.2005 from the Chief Minister of Odisha on the allotment of Talabira-II to Hindalco. The CM’s letter mentioned that the State Government had assigned topmost priority to the allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco and had strongly supported the case in the Steering Committee meeting. The letter mentioned that aluminium plants should get higher priority over independent power plants as they generate more employment, create more wealth for the country and add to the growth of the manufacturing sector directly. Further, it stated that it is equitable to accord higher priority to units adding more value through manufacturing within the state where the coal mine is located. The letter urged that these special considerations be kept in mind and the matter examined expeditiously. 
 
6. On 29.8.2005, the Ministry of Coal file on the matter was returned with the comment that while the file was being processed, a letter was received from Chief Minister, Odisha and the Ministry of Coal may please take this letter of CM, Odisha on record, re-examine the matter in light thereof and resubmit the file. 
 
7. Ministry of Coal resubmitted the file on 16.9.2005 with the proposal that
 
i) Talabira II & III be mined as a single mine with the mining done by a JV formed between MCL, NLC & Hindalco. 
 
ii) The shareholding of the JV between MCL:NLC:Hindalco to be 70:15:15. 
 
iii) Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s equity shareholding of 70% would approximately equal Talabira-III’s extractable reserves as a proportion of the total of the two blocks. Under the sharing arrangement, 70% of the total annual production will be handed over to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. 
 
iv) The remaining 30% of the annual production will be shared equally between Hindalco and NLC with each getting 15%.
 
v) The satisfaction level of NLC would be 29% of its total requirement and of Hindalco, 81.5%. 
 
8. The reasoning given by the Ministry of Coal was that: 
 
i) Talabira-II & III combined have reserves of 553 million tonnes. 
 
ii) The total requirement of coal from these blocks from the three main contenders is 503 million tonnes, with NLC seeking 280 million tonnes, Hindalco seeking 100 million tonnes and Orissa Sponge Iron Ltd (OSIL) seeking 123 million tonnes. 
 
iii) Allocating the blocks to these three would leave little coal for Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. 
 
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iv) NLC may not be dropped as it is a Central PSU already recommended by the Screening Committee. Hindalco’s case for allocation has been strongly recommended by the State Government and it has also been an early applicant. OSIL can be accommodated elsewhere. 
 
v) It was further brought out that the Government of Odisha have indicated a clear preference for allotment of the block to Hindalco in the interest of creating more employment and growth of the manufacturing sector in the state.
 
vi) It was also pointed out that while both Hindalco and NLC get the same amount of coal, Hindalco's satisfaction level is about 80%, whereas NLC’s is much lower.. However, as NLC and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. are proposing to set up a JV power plant from the coal available from Talabira-II & III, NLC’s full requirements could be met from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s reserves in Talabira-III. This would fully meet the coal requirement of the two CPSUs to set up their power project and protect the interests of the CPSUs. 
 
9. While processing this proposal in PMO, it was noted that the ownership ratio in the JV ownership was not in congruence with the guidelines approved by PM on 09.06.2005 which required this ratio to be in proportion to the assessed requirement of coal of each allocatee. As per this guideline, the NLC:Hindalco ratio in their 30% share should be 22.5:7.5 and not 15:15 as was proposed. 
 
10. While recommending the case to the Prime Minister, it was clearly brought out that: 
 
i) The State Government of Odisha has strongly recommended allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco and supported it in the Screening Committee. Chief Minister, Odisha had reiterated this position assigning topmost priority to the allocation of Talabira-II in favour of Hindalco.
 
ii) Under the MMDR Act, the mining lease for coal is granted by the State Government with the previous approval of the Central Government. Thus, under the federal framework of sharing mining rights as provided under the Act, both the Central and State Governments need to concur before an allocatee can be granted a mining lease. Accordingly, the strong recommendation of the Government of Odisha is important and has to be given due consideration while taking a decision in the matter. 
 
iii) The Ministry’s suggestion for allocation of 30% share of production in the JV for Talabira-II & III combined to NLC & Hindalco, with the remaining 70% of the total production taken by MCL has merit and may therefore be considered for acceptance. 
 
iv) As for the NLC:Hindalco equity ratio in the JV, this would require relaxation of guidelines that were approved by PM earlier, but this could be considered as NLC and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. are sister PSUs and NLC’s requirements of coal could be met from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s 70% share of production. This would fully meet the coal requirement of the two CPSUs to set up their power project and protect the interests of the CPSUs. 
 
11. Based on these arguments, and also on the reasoning of the Ministry, it was proposed that Prime Minister may approve: 
 
i) Allocation of Talabira-II & III to a JV owned jointly by MCL:NLC:Hindalco in the ratio 70:15:15 with the other aspects as proposed by the Ministry. 
 
ii) The existing long term coal linkage of Hindalco may be reviewed and suitably reduced after taking into account Hindalco’s requirement of coal for the project and the share of Hindalco in the coal mined by the JV in Talabira-II & III. 
 
12. The Prime Minister approved the proposal on 1.10.2005."
 
On September 24, 2014, the Supreme Court had scrapped 214 of the 218 coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2010, sparing only four  -- two allocated to an ultra mega power project (UMPP) and two to public sector companies, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and NTPC.
 
In recent days, the Government has put up more than 30 of those blocks for auction.
 
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Centre not consulted, informed: Modi tells Lok Sabha on Masarat Alam's release

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Lok Sabha on Monday that the Centre was not consulted or informed by the Jammu & Kashmir government on its decision to release separatist Masarat Alam and made it clear that he shared the anger of the house on the issue.

 
Modi says Centre not consulted on Masarat Alam release
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today told the Lok Sabha that the Centre was not consulted or informed by the Jammu & Kashmir government on its decision to release separatist Masarat Alam and made it clear that he shared the anger of the house on the issue.
 
"There is outrage in the house and outside and I would like to add my voice to that," he said after the Congress and other Opposition parties raised the issue, demanding a statement from the Prime Minister clarifying the Government's position on Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's decision.
 
Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a partner of Mr Sayeed's People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the J&K government.
 
"This country, on the issue of separatism, terrorism, does not think in partisan terms and will not do even now," he said, noting that the house had expressed its outrage in one voice today.
 
"I wish to assure the house, the people of the country that whatever steps, decisions have been taken in Jammu & Kashmir, were not taken in consultation with Government of India  and they were done without informing the Government of India," he said.
 
He urged members not to politicise the issue, though he acknowledged that they had the right to criticise the BJP as a partner in the J&K government.
 
"But let us not speak in different voices on issues related to national security, let us not give that message to the world or to Jammu and Kashmir or to the rest of the country.
 
"That is why I would like to assure the house and the entire country that this government will not accept any such steps. We do not approve of any compromise with the unity and integrity of the country," he said.
 
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"Decisions can be taken only within the limits of the Constitution, now and in the future also," he said.
 
Mr Modi said it was wrong to suggest that he was staying silent on the issue because he had spoken about such issues only a few days ago in the house.
 
"We are those people, who for these principles, had sacrificed the life of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. Therefore, kindly do not give us lessons in patriotism," he told the Opposition.
 
Mr Modi said the Centre had sought some clarifications from the state government on the decision and would provide more information to the house as and when they are received.
 
"This is not the anger of any one party, but of the entire country...not of those benches or these benches, it is of the entire house," he said.
 
"And in one voice, we want to convey to separatist forces, their supporters and those who misuse the law, our outrage. This house is committed to the unity and integrity of the country and the government will take all the steps needed in this regard," he added.
 
The Congress was not fully satisfied with Mr Modi's statement, suggesting that, if he felt so strongly about it, the BJP should withdraw its support to the PDP.
 
Earlier, Mr Rajnath Singh said the Home Ministry had sought a report from the J&K government on the release of Alam and some clarifications.
 
He said that, after receiving the clarifications, the Centre would take appropriate steps in the matter.
 
Alam, 44, had been arrested by the previous Omar Abdullah-led government in J&K in 2010 for his alleged role in fanning trouble during street protests, in which more than a hundred people had died. He was released on Saturday from the Baramullah jail, within days after Mr Sayeed assumed office.
 
The PDP has justified the release, saying it was part of its efforts for reconciliation and that the government could not engage with separatists and bring them into the mainstream when they were in prison.
 
Mr Sayeed had caused the BJP some embarrassment within hours of being sworn in on March 1 when, addressing mediapersons, he thanked "people from across the border", which was taken as a reference to Pakistan and militants -- for allowing the smooth conduct of the recent Assembly elections in the state.
 
The Congress and other parties had raised a similar ruckus on the issue in the Rajya Sabha, too.
 
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BBC film: Govt. says will take all necessary steps against broadcast

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday the Government would take all necessary steps in the matter of the BBC's decision to air last night a documentary film featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012 despite a court order restraining its telecast.

 
Rajnath says will act against airing of Nirbhaya documentary
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said the Government would take all necessary steps in the matter of the BBC's decision to air last night a documentary film featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012 despite a court order restraining its telecast.
 
Though the Government had, on Tuesday, obtained a restraining order from a local court against the dissemination of the contents of the documentary, BBC went ahead and aired it late last night in the United Kingdom. It was also available on video sharing website YouTube.
 
Talking to reporters here today, Mr Singh said the Government had informed all television channels in the country not to telecast the interview.
 
"But the BBC told us that they were an independent organisation and had decided to go ahead with its telecast," he said. The BBC, in fact, advanced the screening of the film to last night from the original date of March 8, International Women's Day.
 
Mr Singh said the Government would take all necessary steps in this regard, including to prevent the further dissemination of the contents of the film.
 
"Whatever action we have to take, the Home Ministry will go ahead and take it," he said, adding that there had been no laxity on the part of the Government in this regard.
 
Asked about the possible steps the Government could take, he said that he would not like to make any further comment at this stage. "All I can say is that whatever is required, will be done. If conditions have been violated, there will be appropriate action," he said.
 
The Home Ministry is understood to be in touch with the Ministries of External Affairs, Information & Broadcasting and Communications & Information Technology in this regard.
 
While there was no official word from the Government on the steps it had taken in the matter, various sources said it had asked YouTube to remove the film.
 
BBC is learnt to have conveyed to the Government that it did not plan to telecast the film in India in compliance with the directive.
 
Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi told journalists that suitable action would be taken under the law, especially with regard to portions in the film which transgressed the law.
 
"We will take steps to ensure there is no further dissemination o the film, especially on (internet) portals," he said. "We are going to take action under the law," he said.
 
Yesterday, Mr Singh had told the Rajya Sabha that the makers of the film had violated the conditions under which permission had been given by the authorities to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar Jail here with convicts in cases related to atrocities against women.
 
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Mr Singh said a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar jail of cases was given by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 24 July, 2013 and thereafter the permissions were given by the jail authorities to shoot the documentary to Ms. Leslee Udwin and Ms. Anjali Bhushan.
 
He said the permission was given, subject to the following conditions:
 
(i)         Prior approval of jail authorities is to be taken for publishing the research paper or for releasing the documentary film, which is being made for purely social purposes without any commercial interest as conveyed.
(ii)        To interview only such convicted prisoners who give written consent.
(iii)       The complete unedited footage of shoot in the Tihar Jail premises will be shown to the jail authorities to ensure there is no breach of Prison security.
 
The documentary features an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case who are now facing the death sentence.
 
Certain remarks during the interview by Mukesh Singh, who was the driver of the bus in which a 23-year-old student of physiotherapy was gang-raped by six men on that fateful night, have caused outrage across the country as well in both houses of Parliament.
 
The media calls the victim Nirbhaya because she cannot be identified under the country's laws.
 
The film's makers have said that they had all the required permissions to shoot inside Tihar Jail and interview the convicts.
 
While many people have been outraged by the reported remarks of Mukesh Singh and have sought a ban on the documentary, there are others who feel such a move would be a violation of the freedom of expression.
 
Ms Udwin told the BBC that the decision to ban the film was ill-advised. "I went out there not to point a finger at India - the opposite, to put it on a pedestal, to say not in my life have I seen another country go out with that fortitude and courage the way the Indian nation did," she said.
 
"Unfortunately what this ill-advised decision to ban the film is now going to do is have the whole world point fingers at India," she said.
 
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Govt. gets court order restraining broadcast of interview with Nirbhaya case convict

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday the Government had taken legal action and obtained a restraining order from a court against dissemination of the contents of a documentary by BBC Four featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012.

Court restrains telecast of interview of Nirbhaya case convict
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said the Government had taken legal action and obtained a restraining order from a court against dissemination of the contents of a documentary by BBC Four featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012.
 
He told the Rajya Sabha in a statement that the makers of the film had violated the conditions under which permission had been given by the authorities to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar Jail here with convicts in cases related to atrocities against women.
 
Mr Singh said a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar jail of cases was given by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 24 July, 2013 and thereafter the permissions were given by the jail authorities to shoot the documentary to Ms. Leslee Udwin and Ms. Anjali Bhushan.
 
He said the permission was given, subject to the following conditions:
 
(i)         Prior approval of jail authorities is to be taken for publishing the research paper or for releasing the documentary film, which is being made for purely social purposes without any commercial interest as conveyed.
(ii)        To interview only such convicted prisoners who give written consent.
(iii)       The complete unedited footage of shoot in the Tihar Jail premises will be shown to the jail authorities to ensure there is no breach of Prison security.
 
Mr Singh said the documentary, inter alia, featured an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case who are facing the death sentence.
 
Certain remarks during the interview by Mukesh Singh, who was the driver of the bus in which a 23-year-old student of physiotherapy was gang-raped by six men on the fateful night, have caused outrage across the country as well in both houses of Parliament.
 
The media calls the victim Nirbhaya because she cannot be identified under the country's laws.
 
The film's makers have said that they had all the required permissions to shoot inside Tihar Jail and interview the convicts.
 
"It came to the notice of the jail authorities that the permission conditions have been violated and hence a legal notice was issued to them on 7th April, 2014 to return the unedited footage within 15 days and also not to show the film as it violates the permission conditions," he said.
 
"Subsequently, the documentary film was shown to the jail authorities where it was noticed that the documentary film depicts the comments of the convict which are highly derogatory and are an affront to the dignity of women.  It was also noticed that the film shown was the edited version and not the unedited as per permission conditions.  Hence, they were requested to provide full copy of the unedited film shootout for further review by the authorities and that they were asked not to release/screen the documentary till it is approved by the authorities," he said.
 
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He said it had come to the notice of the Government that BBC Four was going to telecast the documentary on March 8.
 
"The Government has taken necessary legal action and obtained a restraining order from the court disseminating the contents of the film," he said.
 
"Our Government condemns the incident of 16th December, 2012 in the strongest possible terms and will not allow any attempt by any individual, group or organization to leverage such unfortunate incidents for commercial benefit.  The respect and dignity of women constitute a core value of our culture and tradition.  Our Government remains fully committed to ensuring safety and dignity of women," he added.
 
While many people have been outraged by the reported remarks of Mukesh Singh and have sought a ban on the documentary, there are other groups who feel such a move would be a violation of the freedom of expression.
 
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Nitish Kumar returns as Chief Minister of Bihar

Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Bihar for the fourth time in Patna on Sunday evening, two days after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly on Friday.

 
Nitish Kumar takes oath as Chief Minister of Bihar
Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Bihar for the fourth time here this evening, two days after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly here on Friday.
 
Mr Kumar, 63, and 22 Ministers, including three women, were administered the oaths of office and secrecy by Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi at a ceremony that began around 5 pm today.
 
The ministers are : Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, Vijendra Prasad Yadav, Ramai Ram, Damodar Raut, Narendra Narayan Yadav, P.K. Shahi, Shyam Rajak, Awadesh Kushwaha, Lesie Singh, Dulal Chand Goswami, Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh, Shrawan Kumar, Ramlashan Ram Raman, Ramdhani Singh, Jai Kumar Singh, Manoj Kumar Singh, Javed Iqbal Ansari, Bima Bharti, Ranju Geeta, Baidyanath Sahni, Vinod Singh Yadav and Naushad Alam.
 
Of them, 20 had resigned from the Manjhi government while the other two --  P K Shahi and Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh -- had been removed by the former chief minister.
 
Mr Kumar has returned as Chief Minister nine months after he had stepped down on May 17 last year, taking moral responsibility for the defeat suffered by his party in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
 
His return ended about two weeks of political uncertainty in the state following a bitter power struggle between him and Mr Manjhi.
 
Mr Manjhi finally met Mr Tripathi and handed in his papers on Friday morning. Shortly thereafter, Mr Kumar had called on the Governor and staked his claim to form the next government. Mr Tripathi had invited him to form the new government and asked him to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly within three weeks.
 
Mr Manjhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Miister Akhilesh Yadav, former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Abhay Chautala were among those who attended the ceremony.
 
Mr Manjhi's resignation came after it became clear that he did not have the numbers to win a trust vote in the 243-member assembly even though the  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a score to settle with Mr Kumar, had thrown its weight behind him.
 
Mr Kumar has been claiming that he has the support of 130 MLAs in the House, including 99 of his own party, 24 from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and five of the Congress.
 
Ahead of his meeting with the Governor, Mr Kumar, a former Union Minister, had promised on Friday to provide good governance if given another chance to serve the people of Bihar and apologised to them for his decision to resign on May 17 last year after his party's poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
 
Mr Kumar's party had ended up with just two of the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its erstwhile partner in the state, won as many as 22.
 
The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of former Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, an ally of the BJP, got five seats. The Congress won two seats, the NCP one, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) four and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party won three.
 
On June 16, 2013, the JD (U) had formally withdrawn from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and ended its 17-year-old partnership with the BJP in Bihar after it became increasingly clear at that stage that Mr Narendra Modi would be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party.
 
Mr Manjhi, who was the Minister for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Backward and Economically Backward Classes Welfare, was handpicked by Mr Kumar to succeed him on May 19 last year.
 
"I assure the people of Bihar that if I get an opportunity again I will serve them in the same spirit I did for eight and a half years earlier. Good governance was and will remain my priority," Mr Kumar told journalists on Friday.
 
"I also apologise for my decision to quit. I will never take an emotional decision again. Now I am ready to lead from the front," he said.
 
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The JD (U) has 115 members in the assembly, and most of them back Mr Kumar. The BJP has 88 members and the support of three independents.
 
Mr Kumar had staked claim to form the next government two weeks ago after the JD (U) removed Mr Manjhi as the leader of its legislature party and elected him to the position to enable him to return as Chief Minister. Mr Manjhi had refused to oblige and was expelled from the party. He then decided to seek a trust vote, banking on the support of the BJP.
 
Mr Kumar said Mr Manjhi had decided to quit after all the efforts made by the BJP to wean away MLAs from the JD (U) had failed.
 
Mr Manjhi, however, told journalists that he had decided to quit to protect MLAs supporting him, saying they had received death threats in the past few days. 
 
Mr Kumar has a degree in electrical engineering from the Bihar College of Engineering, Patna, now the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Patna. He joined politics after a brief stint in the Bihar State Electricity Board.
 
At the Centre, Mr Kumar has handled the portfolios of Railways and Agriculture.
 
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Arrested former journalist Santanu Saikia says papers leak case is Rs 10,000 crore scam

Former journalist Santanu Saikia, who was arrested by the Delhi Police on Friday in connection with the alleged leak of confidential documents from the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas to private oil companies, created a sensation on Saturday by claiming that it was a Rs 10,000 crore scam and that he was just covering it.

 
It's 10000 crore scam: Saikia
Former journalist Santanu Saikia, who was arrested by the Delhi Police yesterday in connection with the alleged leak of confidential documents from the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (MoPNG) to private oil companies, today created a sensation by claiming that it was a Rs 10,000 crore scam and that he was just covering it.
 
"It is a 10,000 crore scam, you know. I was trying to do a cover up. I was doing a cover up operation. It is a 10,000 crore scam," he told reporters as he was led away by policemen into the Delhi Police Crime Branch office.
 
The claim came even as the Delhi Police late yesterday arrested five executives of major private energy companies as part of its investigations into the corporate espionage case.
 
Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan ruled out any suggestion that the authorities were covering up matters, and said Saikia was only trying to save his own skin.
 
Union Home Miniser Rajnath Singh said no one found guilty in the case would be spared and that strict action would be taken against them.
 
"We should be appreciated for unearthing this. We found out that this was happening. Those responsible will be punished," he told reporters, adding that the scandal would not have come to light if the government had not been vigilant.
 
The five executives arrested in the case have been identified as Shailesh Saxena of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), Vinay Kumar of Essar, K K Naik of Cairns India, Subhash Chandra of Jubilant Energy and Rishi Anand of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG).
 
Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi told journalists that the police would produce the five in a local court and seek their custody for interrogation.
 
The police had earlier arrested seven persons, including Saikia, in connection with the case. While five people, including two employees of the MoPNG, were arrested on February 17, the former journalist and Prayas Jain, an energy consultant, were arrested early yesterday.
 
Mr Bassi siad the police had questioned the recipients of the documents stolen and leaked by the five men arrested in the first instance. "The documents that have been stolen were further sold and the recipients of the stolen property have been taken in control and were being questioned by us," he said.
 
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Saikia, who used to work for a business newspaper in the capital earlier, now runs a portal on energy. Jain's firm is based in Delhi and Melbourne.
 
Saikia, Jain and two others arrested earlier have been sent to police custody till February 23. The remaining three are in judicial custody for 14 days.
 
Official sources said the stolen documents incuded inputs for the General Budget for 2015-16, due to be presented on February 28 by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, a letter from the Prime Minister's Office and documents related to the power and coal ministries.
 
According to the police, the men in the first group of arrested persons usd to enter the MoPNG offices in Shastri Bhavan with the help of forged identity cards and entry passes and open rooms of senior officias and copy papers they found there. The papers were sold to the consultants, who would pass it on for a price to energy companies, they said.
 
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Nitish Kumar to return as Bihar CM after Manjhi quits ahead of trust vote

Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar will be sworn in as Chief Minister of Bihar for a fourth time on Sunday evening after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly in Patna on Friday.

 
I accept my mistake and apologize to the people of Bihar: Nitish
Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar will be sworn in as Chief Minister of Bihar for a fourth time on Sunday evening after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly here today.
 
Mr Kumar, 63, who has the necessary numbers on his side, called on Bihar Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi, shortly after Mr Manjhi met him and handed in his papers, and staked his claim to form the next government.
 
Mr Tripathi invited him to form the new government and will administer the oaths of office and secrecy to him and his ministers at 5 pm on Sunday. He has been asked to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly within three weeks.
 
Mr Manjhi drove to Raj Bhavan to meet the Governor at about 10.15 am and submitted his resignation, shortly before he was supposed to seek a vote of confidence from the House.
 
The outgoing Chief Minister clearly seemed to have realised that he did not have the  numbers to win the trust motion in the 243-member assembly, despite the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had thrown its weight behind him.
 
Mr Kumar has been claiming that he had the support of 130 MLAs in the House, including 99 of his own party, 24 from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and five of the Congress.
 
Ahead of his meeting with the Governor, Mr Kumar, a former Union Minister, promised to provide good governance if given another chance to serve the people of Bihar and apologised to them for his decision to resign on May 17 last year after his party's poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
 
Mr Kumar's party had ended up with just two of the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its erstwhile partner in the state, won as many as 22.
 
The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of former Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, an ally of the BJP, got five seats. The Congress won two seats, the NCP one, the 
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) four and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party won three.
 
On June 16, 2013, the JD (U) had formally withdrawn from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and ended its 17-year-old partnership with the BJP in Bihar after it became increasingly clear at that stage that Mr Narendra Modi would be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party.
 
Mr Manjhi, who was the Minister for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Backward and Economically Backward Classes Welfare, was handpicked by Mr Kumar to succeed him on May 19 last year.
 
"I assure the people of Bihar that if I get an opportunity again I will serve them in the same spirit I did for eight and a half years earlier. Good governance was and will remain my priority," Mr Kumar told journalists.
 
"I also apologise for my decision to quit. I will never take an emotional decision again. Now I am ready to lead from the front," he said.
 
The JD (U) has 115 members in the assembly, and most of them back Mr Kumar. The BJP has 88 members and the support of three independents.
 
Mr Kumar had staked claim to form the next government ten days ago after the JD (U) removed Mr Manjhi as the leader of its legislature party and elected him to the position to enable him to return as Chief Minister. Mr Manjhi refused to oblige and was expelled from the party. He then decided to seek a trust vote, banking on the support of the BJP.
 
Mr Kumar said Mr Manjhi had decided to quit after all the efforts made by the BJP to wean away MLAs from the JD (U) had failed.
 
Mr Manjhi, however, told journalists that he had decided to quit to protect MLAs supporting him, saying they had received death threats in the past few days. 
 
Mr Kumar has a degree in electrical engineering from the Bihar College of Engineering, Patna, now the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Patna. He joined politics after a brief stint in the Bihar State Electricity Board.
 
At the Centre, Mr Kumar has handled the portfolios of Railways and Agriculture.
 
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10 dead, 50 hurt as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails near Hosur

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

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

Delhi Chief Minister-designate Arvind Kejriwal met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence in New Delhi on Thursday morning and raised, among other issues, the question of granting full statehood to Delhi.

Delhi Chief Minister-designate and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on February 12, 2015. Senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia is also seen.
Delhi Chief Minister-designate and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on February 12, 2015. Senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia is also seen.
Delhi Chief Minister-designate Arvind Kejriwal met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence here this morning and raised, among other issues, the question of granting full statehood to Delhi.
 
Mr Kejriwal was accompanied to the meeting by his close aide and senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Manish Sisodia, who is tipped to be the Deputy Chief Minister in the new Delhi government.
 
Mr Kejriwal invited Mr Modi for the swearing-in ceremony to be held at the historic Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on February 14, but the Prime Minister has regretted his inability to attend the event in view of prior engagements outside Delhi.
 
Earlier, Mr Modi, who had been involved in a bitter war of words with Mr Kejriwal during the campaigning for the February 7 elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, welcomed the AAP leader with a bouquet of flowers and congratulated him on his stunning victory.
 
Incidentally, Mr Kejriwal had also fought against Mr Modi in the Lok Sabha elections from the Varanasi constituency of Uttar Pradesh, though he ended up losing by a big margin.
 
AAP swept the polls, winning an astounding 67 of the 70 seats in the assembly, leaving just three for Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and blanking out all the other parties, including the Congress, which had ruled Delhi for 15 consecutive years before the last Assembly elections in December 2013.
 
Mr Kejriwal was unanimously elected as the leader of the AAP legislative party on Tuesday, following which he had met Lt Governor Najeeb Jung to inform him of the party's decision and formally stake claim to forming the next government in Delhi.
 
 
Modi not to attend Kejriwal's swearing-in ceremony: Sisodia
Mr Sisodia said Mr Modi had assured Mr Kejriwal that he would look into AAP's demand for full statehood for Delhi. Mr Sisodia said the fact that there was a government with absolute majority at the Centre and there will be a government with a strong mandate in Delhi provided a "golden opportunity" for them to push through various measures to make the national capital a world class city.
 
Mr Kejriwal had met Delhi Chief Secretary Deepak Mohan Spolia and asked him to get all departments to make presentations to him on the status of projects and programmes on February 19.
 
The Chief Secretary has also been asked to draw up an action plan to cope with any shortage of power, water, vegetables and other essential supplies during the summer months.
 
Mr Kejriwal also issued an audio message today, inviting people of Delhi to attend his swearing-in ceremony.
 
Yesterday, Mr Kejriwal and Mr Sisodia had called on President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan. They had also met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu.
 
Mr Mukherjee congratulated Mr Kejriwal on his resounding victory and gifted him a copy of the Constitution of India and one of his own book, Thoughts and Reflections.
 
Mr Sisodia said it was a courtesy call and there was "no special agenda" for the meeting. He said they thanked Mr Mukherjee for his guidance and blessings.
 
He said that they had invited Mr Singh to the swearing-in ceremony and also called for "constructive cooperation" between the Centre and the Delhi Government.
 
 
 
He said Mr Kejriwal had also sought the cooperation of the Centre in granting full statehood for Delhi, a demand that AAP has been making for a long time and had been espoused by the BJP, too, in the past.
 
Mr Kejriwal also invited Mr Naidu to the swearing-in ceremony and discussed development plans for Delhi with him.
 
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