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

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

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Sabarimala becomes a police fortress

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

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

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

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

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

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Rahul takes Rafale battle to HAL doors

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

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Cyclone Titli triggers flood-like situation in Odisha

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

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8 die as cyclone Titli batters Andhra, Odisha coast

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

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

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

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SC opens Sabarimala gates to women of all ages

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

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SC upholds Aadhaar but with modifications

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

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

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

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

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

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Jaitley helped Mallya to flee, must quit: Rahul

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

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After years of battle by activists, SC decriminalises homosexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Our News Desk can be contacted at desk@netindian.in)

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Five injured as bridge collapses on tracks in Mumbai, rail traffic disrupted

Five persons suffered injuries after a part of a road overbridge collapsed on the tracks near Andheri station here on the Western Railway early Tuesday morning, bringing rail traffic on the section to a complete halt for several hours.
 
Part of road bridge collapses on railway tracks in Mumbai
 
 
Five persons suffered injuries after a part of a road overbridge collapsed  on the tracks near Andheri station here on the Western Railway early Tuesday morning, bringing rail traffic on the section to a complete halt for several hours.
 
Western Railway sources said the mishap occurred on the south end of the station, towards Vile Parle, around 7.25 am.
 
Luckily, there was no train passing passing at that time under the nearly five-decade-old Gokhale Bridge, which connects Andheri East to Andheri West.
 
The overhead electrical equipment on the tracks was damaged and traffic on all  lines was held up, they said.
 
The injured were rushed to Cooper Hospital, where a team of Railway doctors were treating them.
 
The sources said train services were suspended between Bandra and Goregaon. Local train services from Churchgate to Bandra and from Goregaon to Virar have been resumed, they said.
 
Western Railway officials said efforts were on to restore traffic on the lines at the earliest. 
 
Personnel of the Mumbai Police, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Fire Brigade, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and the Western Railway, among other agencies, were working at the spot to clear the debris and restore rail traffic.
 
The Western Railway advised commuters to avoid travelling on its lines unless it is absolutely necessary. Extra buses have been arranged from Borivali to South Mumbai.
 
The Mumbai Police said there would be heavy traffic on various roads. "Commuters might face traffic congestion on roads leading to the Airport. Plan your journey accordingly so that you are in time to catch your flight," it said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
With traffic on the affected bridge stopped, the police advised commuters to consider alternative routes to reach their destinations.
 
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The Western Railway has set up the following helplines for passengers: Andheri - 022676 30054; Churchgate - 02267622540; Borivali - 02267634053; Mumbai Central - 02267644257; and Surat - 02602401791.
 
The Western Railway also said that the Commissioner, Railway Safety, Western Circle will conduct an enquiry into the collapse of a part of the bridge.
 
It said food packets and water bottles were being arranged for passengers of long distance trains stranded at various stations because of the incident.
 
Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said he had directed officials to speed up the repair works and rapidly restore traffic in close coordination with other departments. "I have also ordered an enquiry by Commissioner of Rail Safety," he said on Twitter.
 
Mumbai's famed Dabbawalas suspended their tiffin box deliveries on the affected Western Railway routes for the day but would continue normal services on other routes, sources said.
 
The Western Railway said the Harbour  Line was expected to be restored by this afternoon. The Up/Down fast lines and Suburban Track Avoiding (STA) lines are expected to be open by 1900 hours and the Up/Down slow lines by midnight tonight.
 
Following the incident, the Western Railway has cancelled, regulated and short-terminated some trains for today.
 
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Five killed, two injured as chartered plane crashes in Mumbai suburb

At least five persons including a pedestrian were killed and two injured when a small chartered plane crashed in the thickly populated suburb of Ghatkopar in north-east Mumbai on Thursday, officials said.
 
Chartered plane crashes in Mumbai, 5 dead
 
 
At least five persons including a pedestrian were killed and two injured when a small chartered plane crashed in the thickly populated suburb of Ghatkopar in north-east Mumbai on Thursday, officials said.
 
Eyewitnesses said that the plane was seen hurtling down in the narrow Jeevadaya Lane area and crashed with a deafening sound before breaking into pieces and bursting into flames around 1.15 p.m. There were two pilots and as many engineers on board.
 
The fuselage had broken into several pieces and one piece was recovered at least 50 metres away while some other portions of the plane burnt in the premises of an under-construction building. The fire was brought under control within half an hour by the fire brigade.
 
The aircraft's crucial Flight Data Recorder or Black Box was recovered.
 
A local passer-by in the vicinity of the crash was burnt fatally when some burning ATF fuel from the aircraft fell on him, said an eyewitness who was among the first to reach the spot.
 
The cause of the crash is not known and it occurred in the compound of the under construction Jagruti apartments, thereby averting a potentially major disaster.
 
There are usually at least four dozen labourers working on the premises but they had taken a lunch break when the aircraft hurtled there, creating a crater by its impact.
 
Aviation expert and Executive Airways Managing Director Pradeep Thampi said the aircraft was a 30-year-old King Air C-90, purchased from the Uttar Pradesh government by private company UY Aviation Pvt Ltd in Mumbai around a couple of years ago.
 
"Its call sign was VT-UPZ and it was a regular 12-seater on a test flight. The tragedy has claimed the pilot, co-pilot and two engineers. We cannot say immediately what may have led to the sudden crash," Thampi told IANS.
 
An Uttar Pradesh government spokesperson confirmed that the Mumbai-based UY Aviation Pvt Ltd had bought the aircraft a few years ago.
 
Union Minister for Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu, who hails from Mumbai, expressed "deep shock" over the tragedy and directed the ministry officials concerned to rush to the accident site and provide all assistance possible.
 
Prabhu said he has ordered the Director-General of Civil Aviation to conduct an investigation into the crash and a team has left for the spot for a preliminary probe.
 
Mumbai Police, fire brigade, disaster relief agencies, besides local BJP MP Kirit Somaiya, legislators and others are at the site and further details of the victim crew members and pedestrians are awaited.
 
IANS
 
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Hundreds attend slain journalist Shujaat Bukhari's funeral

Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of senior journalist and Editor-in-Chief of English daily "Rising Kashmir" Shujaat Bukhari in his ancestral hometown of Kheeri in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir on Friday.
Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of senior journalist and Editor-in-Chief of English daily "Rising Kashmir" Shujaat Bukhari in his ancestral hometown of Kheeri in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir on Friday.
 
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, state Public Works Minister Naeem Akhtar, senior Congress leader Saifuddin Soz, local journalists and other members from all sections of society attended the funeral.
 
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was also present in Kheeri.
 
Three motorcycle-borne militants killed Bukhari and two of his security guards as he was getting into his car in Srinagar's Press Enclave area at around 7.15 p.m. on Wednesday to reach home in time for Iftar.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Senior Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari shot dead in Srinagar

Senior journalist and Editor-in-Chief of English daily "Rising Kashmir" Shujaat Bhukhari was on Thursday shot dead by militants outside his office in Srinagar, police said.
Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Senior journalist and Editor-in-Chief of English daily "Rising Kashmir" Shujaat Bhukhari was on Thursday shot dead by militants outside his office here, police said.
 
State police chief S.P.Vaid said that it was around 7.15 p.m., the Iftar time, that Bukhari came out of his office in Press Enclave and was getting  into his car when he was attacked by militants.
 
"Three motorcycle-borne militants came and fired at Bukhari and his guards. Bukhari and one guard were killed and another security guard critically injured," he said.
 
The killing drew wide condemnation from politicians across India and media organisations.
 
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said: "Shocked & deeply saddened by the sudden demise of Shujaat Bukhari. The scourge of terror has reared its ugly head on the eve of Eid. I strongly condemn this act of mindless violence & pray for his soul to rest in peace. My deepest condolences to his family." 
 
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, in a tweet, recited the Muslim prayer on hearing about a Muslim's death, and said: "Shocked beyond words. May Shujaat find place in Jannat & May his loved ones find strength at this difficult time."
 
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh termed it an "act of cowardice".
 
"The killing of @RisingKashmir editor, Shujaat Bukhari is an act of cowardice. It is an attempt to silence the saner voices of Kashmir. He was a courageous and fearless journalist. Extremely shocked & pained at his death. My thoughts and prayers are with his bereaved family," he said on his Twitter handle.
 
The Congress said it was anguished, with party President Rahul Gandhi terming Bukhari "a brave heart who fought fearlessly for justice and peace".
 
"He was a brave heart who fought fearlessly for justice and peace in Jammu and Kashmir. My condolences to his family. He will be missed," Gandhi said in a tweet.
 
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said: "Anguished beyond words. Security situation in J&K has hit its nadir. Demand the Centre to take swift action to nab the killers. They can silence us but not our thoughts." 
 
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday expressed shock.
 
"Saddened and shocked at the brutal killing of respected editor and senior journalist @bukharishujaat. With a few hours to go for Eid this is terrible," Banerjee tweeted.
 
Several journalist bodies condemned the killing and demanded swift action against the forces responsible for his killing. 
 
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Condemning what it called a "dastardly attack", the Editors Guild of India said that Bukhari was "a voice of moderation and a courageous, big-hearted editor who mentored a large cadre of young journalists from Kashmir". 
 
"The guild calls upon the government of Jammu and Kashmir to take urgent steps to bring to book the culprits and ensure safety and security for the media in the state," it said in a statement. 
 
It added that an attack on a journalist challenges the very foundations of a free press and vibrant democracy and more so in a state like Jammu and Kashmir that is going through militancy, and called upon the state and Central government to enhance security for all journalists in the state. 
 
"Recent weeks have also seen threats of violence against many journalists in different parts of the country," it added. 
 
The Press Club of India also "strongly condemned" the killing in the holy month of Ramadan and said that "forces inimical to restoring peace in Kashmir Valley had silenced a voice of reason, logic and peace".
 
"Press Club of India deeply mourns the loss of Shujaat Bukhari's life and extends its condolences to the bereaved family in this hour of crisis," it said in a statement.
 
It added that the "terror attack" showed that lives of journalists were not safe.
 
"Press Club of India has time and again underlined the threat to the lives of journalists working under difficult and challenging circumstances and demanded protection for them," it said.
 
The Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Association and Federation of Press Club of India also expressed "deep shock and outrage at the brazen murder" of Bukhari. 
 
They said that Bukhari was a respected journalist known for his wide range of analytical writings on Kashmir and that he continued to write actively despite the death threats issued to him. 
 
"His murder can only be viewed as yet another attempt to muzzle the media and the freedom of the press in the valley," a joint statement said. 
 
Bukhari started his career as a young reporter with Kashmir Times and moved to The Hindu in the 1990s. Later, he established his own English daily Rising Kashmir.
 
IANS
 
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Senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari shot dead in Srinagar

Senior journalist and Editor-in-Chief of English daily "Rising Kashmir" Shujaat Bhukhari was on Thursday shot dead by militants outside his office in Srinagar, police said.
Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Senior journalist and Editor-in-Chief of English daily "Rising Kashmir" Shujaat Bhukhari was on Thursday shot dead by militants outside his office here, police said.
 
State police chief S. P. Vaid said that it was around 7.15 p.m., the Iftar time, that Bukhari came out of his office in Press Enclave and was boarding his car when he was attacked by militants.
 
"Three motorcycle-borne militants came and fired at Bukhari and his guards. Bukhari and one guard were killed and another security guard critically injured," he said.
 
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed shock at the killing.
 
"Shocked & deeply saddened by the sudden demise of Shujaat Bukhari. The scourge of terror has reared its ugly head on the eve of Eid. I strongly condemn this act of mindless violence & pray for his soul to rest in peace. My deepest condolences to his family," she said in a tweet.
 
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also expressed shock at the gruesome murder of this senior Kashmiri journalist. Reciting the Muslim prayer on hearing about a Muslim's death, he said: "Shocked beyond words. May Shujaat find place in Jannat & May his loved ones find strength at this difficult time."
 
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh also expressed shock at the incident.
 
"The killing of @RisingKashmir editor, Shujaat Bukhari is an act of cowardice. It is an attempt to silence the saner voices of Kashmir. He was a courageous and fearless journalist. Extremely shocked & pained at his death. My thoughts and prayers are with his bereaved family," he said on his Twitter handle.
 
The murder also sent shock waves in the media fraternity.
 
IANS
 
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Varied voting in bye-elections; EVMs malfunction in UP, Maharashtra

Amid complaints of dysfunctional electronic voting machines (EVMs) in three parliamentary constituencies in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, the bye-elections on Monday to four Lok Sabha and nine Assembly seats across India saw moderate to high turnout.
 
Amid complaints of dysfunctional electronic voting machines (EVMs) in three parliamentary constituencies in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, the bye-elections on Monday to four Lok Sabha and nine Assembly seats across India saw moderate to high turnout.
 
The Congress and some other opposition parties complained to the Election Commission (EC) about "hundreds of EVMs" having malfunctioned, particularly in Uttar Pradesh's Kairana, but the poll panel said the news reports of "large scale" failure of EVMs were "an exaggerated projection of reality".
 
It said that adequate number of reserve EVMs-VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) were kept and deployed in almost half hour where there were reports of non-functioning of the machines. 
 
The poll panel said the malfunctioning could be attributed to "first-time use by polling staff, extreme heat, placement of the machine under direct sunlight and mishandling during use".
 
In Kairana, where the BJP is locked in an intense fight with combined opposition including the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, the polling percentage was 54.17 per cent till 6 p.m.
 
In the Noorpur Assembly segment of the state, the polling percentage was 61 till 6 p.m. 
 
In Kairana, there were reports of firing in Bhura village and skirmishes between supporters of the opposition-supported RLD candidate Tabassum Hasan and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Mriganka Singh, daughter of late Hukum Singh, whose death necessitated the bypoll.
 
Both the RLD and the BJP filed complaints alleging that over 100 voting machines were malfunctioning.
 
The BJP told the EC that a large number of EVMs were out of order, forcing hundreds of voters to wait outside polling booths in the scorching heat.
 
In the national capital, a multi-party delegation including Congress leader R.P.N. Singh, Samajwadi Party's Ram Gopal Yadav and RLD chief Ajit Singh met the EC officers and demanded a repoll in booths where there were reports of dysfunctional EVMs.
 
In Maharashtra, about 40 per cent polling was estimated till 6 p.m. in the Bhandara-Gondiya Parliamentary constituency. In Palghar, the polling percentage was around 47 till 6 p.m.
 
Senior Nationalist Congress Party leader Praful Patel alleged that "nearly 25 per cent of all the EVMs in Bhandara-Gondiya were defective or had malfunctioned".
 
EC officer in-charge Abhimanyu Kale told the media that around 156 EVMs were replaced or spares deployed.
 
Hundreds of voters patiently waited to cast their votes in the blistering heat as the EVMs were replaced.
 
The EC trashed reports that polling had been cancelled in 35 booths in Bhandara-Gondiya.
 
The defective machines hit polling severely, with barely 25 per cent of the electorate casting their votes by 2 p.m. in both constituencies.
 
Ruling ally Shiv Sena also strongly criticised the EC and the government for the glitches and claimed that these were reported mostly from the party's strongholds.
 
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Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the glitch is nothing but a manifestation of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' recent controversial statement on 'Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed'.
 
Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) President Prakash Ambedkar demanded cancellation of the elections in Bhandara-Gondiya while Congress state spokesperson Sachin Sawant alleged large-scale irregularities. 
 
Both elections are prestigious for the state's ruling BJP, which faces the NCP in Bhandara-Gondiya and its own ally Shiv Sena in Palghar. 
 
The bye-election in Bhandara-Gondiya was necessitated after sitting BJP member Nana Patole quit the party in December 2017 and later joined the Congress. BJP's Hemant Patle, who was earlier in the Shiv Sena, faces NCP's Madhukar Kukde, who is supported by the Congress, while there were 18 others in the fray.
 
In Palghar, the bye-election came after sitting MP Chintaman Vanga died. However his son joined the Shiv Sena and was given party ticket. The BJP has fielded former Congress leader Rajendra Gavit, while the Congress has put up Damoda Shingda.
 
The bye-election to the Nagaland Parliamentary seat witnessed 75 per cent polling. The seat fell vacant as sitting member Neiphiu Rio resigned after being elected to the state Assembly and becoming Chief Minister.
 
In Bihar, Jokihat Assembly seat saw nearly 55 per cent polling.
 
Bye-elections to Silli and Gomia Assembly constituencies in Jharkhand saw 75 per cent and 62 per cent voting, respectively.
 
In West Bengal, around 70 per cent of votes were cast till 5 p.m. for the bye-election to the Maheshtala Assembly constituency. In Punjab, Shahkot Assembly constituency recorded over 73 per cent voting. 
 
Chengannur Assembly constituency in Kerala saw voting percentage of 77 per cent while Meghalya's Ampati Assembly seat saw a high voter turn out of 90.42 per cent.
 
Polling was also held at Tharali in Uttarakhand.
 
IANS
 
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Yeddyurappa gets ready for cliffhanger trust vote

The BJP government led by B.S. Yeddyurappa faces a crucial trust vote on Saturday in the Karnantaka Assembly that began its new session with MLAs taking oath with numbers stacked against the ruling party on its own.
BJP's chief ministerial candidate B. S. Yeddyurappa speaking to journalists after being elected to the Karnataka Assembly from Shikaripura, in Bengaluru on May 15, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
BJP's chief ministerial candidate B. S. Yeddyurappa speaking to journalists after being elected to the Karnataka Assembly from Shikaripura, in Bengaluru on May 15, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
The BJP government led by B.S. Yeddyurappa faces a crucial trust vote on Saturday in the Karnantaka Assembly that began its new session with MLAs taking oath with numbers stacked against the ruling party on its own.
 
Governor Vajubhai Vala convened the 15th Karnataka Assembly in the Vidhana Soudha here that began with the newly-elected legislators taking oath. Pro tem Speaker K.G. Bopaiah conducted the proceedings.
 
Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa was the first to take oath followed by Congress legislature party leader and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Janata Dal-Secular's (JD-S) legislature party leader H.D. Kumaraswamy.
 
Legislators of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and JD-S were administered the oath in pairs starting with the BJP, followed by that of the Congress and JD-S as per the number of seats they all got in the bitterly fought May 12 election.
 
Among the prominent legislators present in the House were BJP leaders like former Deputy Chief Minister K.S. Eshwarappa, B. Sreeramulu, Congress legislators D.K. Shivakumar, R.V. Deshpande, M.B. Patil, Shamanuru Shivashankarappa, and JD-S lawmakers G.T. Devegowda and H.D.Revanna.
 
The oath-taking of all the legislators will be completed before 4 p.m. for Bopaiah to conduct a floor test in the House to ascertain if Yeddyurappa has majority in the hung Assembly, as directed by the Supreme Court on Friday.
 
If the opposition legislators insist on the division of votes, the pro tem Speaker will ask the members who are in favour of the motion to vote first and those against it soon after.
 
The May 12 election across the state in 222 constituencies of the 225-member assembly, including one nominated, threw up a hung House, with no party securing majority. The nominated member is yet to be decided and polls in two constituencies were deferred.
 
Yeddyurappa requires the 112-halfway mark to win the motion or one more than the half of the members present when the floor test is conducted in the House with an effective strength of 222.
 
Of the 222 seats, the BJP won 104, Congress 78, JD-S, 37 and one each by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP) and an Independent.
 
As the single largest party, the BJP is eight short of the 112-halfway mark in the House.
 
As Kumaraswamy won from both Channapatna and Ramanagaram segments, the party's effective strength in the House is 36 as he can cast his vote only once.
 
Though the Governor directed Yeddyurappa to seek a vote of confidence on the floor of the House within 15 days from the date of assumption of office as the Chief Minister (May 17), a three-judge bench of the top court ordered the floor test on Saturday, rejecting his plea for a week's time to prove his majority.
 
IANS
 
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Karnataka drama: SC orders floor test in Assembly at 4 pm on Saturday

The Supreme Court on Friday directed that a floor test be held at 4 pm on Saturday to determine if BJP leader B. S. Yeddyurappa, who was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Karnataka on Thursday morning, has the requisite strength in the state legislative assembly.
The Supreme Court today directed that a floor test be held at 4 pm tomorrow to determine if BJP leader B. S. Yeddyurappa, who was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Karnataka yesterday morning, has the requisite strength in the state legislative assembly.
 
Governor Vajubhai Vala, while inviting Mr. Yeddyurappa to form the government after the May 12 elections to the assembly threw up a split verdict, had told him to prove his majority in the house within 15 days.
 
The order by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Mr. Justice A. K. Sikri, on petitions filed by the Congress and the Janata Dal (S), said the Karnataka government could not nominate a member from the Anglo-Indian community to the assembly till the vote of confidence is held.
 
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for the petitioners, told newspersons later that the court had also made it clear that the Chief Minister could not take any major policy decisions during this period.
 
The apex court also directed the Director General of Police to ensure the security of all the newly-elected MLAs so that they can reach the Assembly safely.
 
The Governor will now appoint a pro tem Speaker, usually the senior-most among the newly-elected MLAs, who will preside over the House when the legislators take oath in the House.
 
Mr. Singhvi said the court had also agreed to address the larger question of whether the Governor had acted correctly or not in inviting Mr. Yeddyurappa to form the government as the leader of the single largest party when a post-poll alliance had claimed in writing that it had a clear majority in the House with the signatures of the members on its side. The court said it would take up this aspect after ten weeks.
 
Mr. Singhvi said the letter written by Mr. Yeddyurappa to the Governor, staking claim to form the new government, which was submitted to the court today, clearly showed that he had not given any details on how the BJP would bridge the eight-member gap between its strength and the number required for a simple majority. "He had no basis for laying claim to forming the government," he said.
 
The Supreme Court had held a rare midnight hearing on Wednesday on the petitions filed by the Congress and the JD (S) seeking a stay on the swearing-in of Mr. Yeddyurappa, pointing out that the Governor had overlooked their claim that their post-poll alliance had a clear majority in the Assembly.
 
The BJP had won 104 of the 222 seats for which polling was held on May 12, while the Congress, which was ruling the state for the past five years, ended up with 78 seats and the JD (S) with 37 seats.
 
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The Congress and JD (S) announced a post-poll alliance even as the results were coming in, and also claimed that they had the support of two of the three other members in the house, adding up to 117 in all. The Congress had agreed to let JD (S) leader and former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy to head the government in case the alliance was invited to form the new government.
 
Mr. Yeddyurappa, also a former Chief Minister, was, meanwhile, elected leader of the BJP legislature party and he, too, staked claim for forming the government, asserting that he would be able to prove his majority in the House. Late on Wednesday night, the  Governor invited Mr. Yeddyurappa to form the government and take the oath of office on Thursday morning.
 
The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court heard the appeals by the Congress and JD (S) from 2 am yesterday till about 5.30 am, when it declined to stay the swearing-in ceremony  but directed that a further hearing on the matter would be held at 10.30 am today.
 
The court had, however, sought the communications which Mr. Yeddyurappa had written to the Karnataka Governor informing him his election as leader of the BJP legislature party.
 
The court said that the swearing-in would be subject to the final outcome of the matter before it.
 
Fearing poaching by the BJP, the Congress and the JD (S) shifted their MLAs out of Karnataka to Hyderabad in Telangana overnight last night. They were lodged in a resort near Bengaluru and a hotel in the state capital for two days after the results of the elections were declared on May 15. The MLAs, who reached Hyderabad by road only this morning, will now have to make their way back to Bengaluru so as to be in time for tomorrow's proceedings.
 
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