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Atal Bihari Vajpayee is no more

NEW DELHI, Aug 16: India’s former prime minister and one of the country’s most-loved and respected leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, died on Thursday evening, uniting an otherwise deeply divided political class in grief.

Vajpayee, three-time PM, 12-time parliamentarian, former president of both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its earlier avatar, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and a popular mass leader who brought both respectability and power to the BJP for the first time, passed away at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at the age of 93.

“It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of former Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee at 5.05 pm,” Aarti Vij, who heads the media and protocol division of AIIMS, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated over the last 36 hours and he was put on life support systems. Despite the best of efforts, we have lost him today. We join the nation in deeply mourning this great loss,” Vij added.

A galaxy of political dignitaries including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, LK Advani, an associate of Vajpayee’s for seven decades, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, visited AIIMS before the announcement was made.

Vajpayee’s overall health had deteriorated after he suffered a stroke in 2009. He was admitted to AIIMS on June 11 with infection of the kidney and urinary tracts, and chest congestion. On Wednesday, AIIMS said his condition had worsened over the past 24 hours.

Vajpayee’s death led to tributes from across the political spectrum, with everyone from Prime Minister Modi to Congress president Gandhi expressing their sadness.

“I am speechless...I feel a deep void...He lived for the nation and served it assiduously for decades. My thoughts are with his family, BJP Karyakartas and millions of admirers in this hour of sadness,” Modi said in a Twitter post. “it was Vajpayee’s exemplary leadership that set the foundations for a strong, prosperous and inclusive India in the 21st century. His futuristic policies across various sectors touched the lives of each and every citizen of India.”

Modi said Vajpayee’s death was a “personal and irreplaceable loss” for him.

“I have countless fond memories with him. He was an inspiration to karyakartas (functionaries) like me,” he said. “I will particularly remember his sharp intellect and outstanding wit.”

Gandhi said in a Twitter post, “Today India lost a great son. Former PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji, was loved and respected by millions. My condolences to his family & all his admirers. We will miss him.”

“I am at a loss of words to express my deep grief and sadness today as we all mourn the passing away of one of India’s tallest statesmen, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. To me, Atalji was more than a senior colleague -- in fact, he was my closest friend for over 65 years,” said Advani.

Vajpayee’s singular contribution to Indian politics was making a party like the Jana Sangh and then the BJP, which had misgivings about India’s liberal and secular constitutional project, more mainstream, while forcing the existing political mainstream, represented by those who had apprehensions about the BJP, to give space and respect to his party through his sheer force of personality and the electoral successes it scored. It was this balancing act that made Vajpayee a unique figure in the annals of Indian political history, but also often led to questions about his own political identity.

Born in Gwalior in 1924, Vajpayee was politically socialised in the pre-Independence era and joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He eventually joined the Jana Sangh, when RSS seconded a set of pracharaks and swayamsevaks to the then-new party in 1951. Vajpayee worked as a close aide to the Jana Sangh founder, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who died early, aged 52.

The Jana Sangh was then led by Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, who provided it both the larger ideological orientation as well as led the organisational effort of the party. But the star of the party’s rather tiny parliamentary wing was Vajpayee, who first entered the Lok Sabha in 1957 and quickly made a name for himself as a fiery debater, earning the praise of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Vajpayee’s transition to the organisational leadership position took place after Upadhyaya’s assassination; he became the Jana Sangh president in 1968. It was a time of great tumult in Indian politics. The Congress had lost power across north Indian states. Socialists and the Jana Sangh had come together to form the government in many of these states, but the coalitions did not last.

Indira Gandhi returned to power with a bigger majority in 1971; the subsequent Bangladesh war made her appear even more invincible, although the jury is still out on whether Vajpayee called her ‘Durga’ in recognition of the win, as urban legend has it.

Within a few years, Indira Gandhi declared Emergency rule. Vajpayee, along with the rest of the Opposition leaders, was arrested. The Emergency ironically energised the Opposition. Congress dissidents, socialistsand the Jana Sangh eventually merged to form the Janata Party and dislodged the Congress in 1977. Twenty years after becoming an MP, Vajpayee now became India’s external affairs minister in the Morarji Desai cabinet, and displayed a surprising flair for diplomacy.

But despite being a member of the first non-Congress cabinet, he retained respect for Nehru. In a parliamentary debate two decades later, Vajpayee was to recall that he once saw Nehru’s portrait removed from the ministry -- and immediately got it put back on.

The coalition collapsed soon after. The other components of the Janata Party insisted that the former Jana Sangh members either remain with the party or with the RSS, a section chose to walk away. Vajpayee was among those, in a clear illustration of his abiding commitment to the Sangh. He formed the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980, with ‘Gandhian socialism’ as one of the precepts, which was seen as a departure from the orientation of the Jana Sangh.

Vajpayee’s biggest electoral setback came in 1984. Soon after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, a sympathy wave swept through India. In a last-minute surprise nomination, Congress leader and member of the Gwalior royal dynasty, Madhavrao Scindia, filed his nomination papers against Vajpayee. Vajpayee’s loss was symbolic of the larger setback for the new party, which only had two MPs in the house.

But this was temporary.

The BJP slowly shifted track and under Advani, who took over the party, became closely associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The party did well in the 1989 elections and became a supporting pillar of the VP Singh-led National Front government. This eventually led to a fault-line surfacing between supporters of Mandal -- the report of a commission headed by BP Mandal, who backed reservations for other backward classes in government jobs and educational institutions -- and Mandir, those who invested their passion in the Ram temple movement. This was Advani’s moment as he led a Yatra (road journey) for the cause.

Vajpayee was relevant, but not the central decision-maker in the party at this stage. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 made him deeply uncomfortable.

But while the BJP under Advani was becoming organisationally robust, its most popular and acceptable face remained Vajpayee. He was projected as the party’s PM face in the 1996 elections. The rub was this -- Vajpayee had come so close to power because BJP had grown. The BJP had grown because of aggressive Hindu cultural and nationalist politics, from which Vajpayee had stayed away from to some extent. And it was this distance that then enabled Vajpayee to become more acceptable to a wide range of non-core voters of the party.

Thus began the final stage of Vajpayee’s political career.

The BJP emerged as the single-largest party. Vajpayee was sworn in as PM, but the party’s “communalism,” which political rivals accused it of, prevented it from getting the numbers. He resigned in 13 days.

“The BJP isn’t a party that has cropped up like a mushroom, it has worked for 40 years among the masses to make its place,” Vajpayee said during the debate, adding that even in the opposition, the party will continue to play critical role in nation-building.

But in 1998, after mid-term polls, Vajpayee was back -- and this time, he was able to prove his majority. Vajpayee’s second term in office was marked by three significant events -- the nuclear tests of May 1998, the Lahore visit in early 1999, and the Kargil war in the summer of 1999. This helped project him as a leader committed to national security, though there were a range of critics on all three issues. “Kargil has once again shown that whenever our patriotism is aroused, all of us stand as one with full confidence and determination, as a fist clenched in conviction. We face our challenges unitedly. Our adversaries should beware of this,” he said during the Independence Day address in 1999 after the war.

In April 1999, his government lost a no-confidence vote in the Lok Sabha by a single vote after the withdrawal from the coalition of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, whose leader J Jayalaithaa was upset because the government had refused to dismiss the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu. This Vajpayee government lasted 13 months.

After the 1999 elections, Vajpayee mobilised support from a range of parties and the National Democratic Alliance stayed together until the end of its term.

In his third term, Vajpayee came to be identified with ambitious infrastructure projects, particularly the Golden Quadrilateral highway initiative. It was also a reformist government which had an ambitious disinvestment agenda. Vajpayee also remained personally invested in foreign policy. He began a process of rapprochement with Pakistan with the Agra summit in 2001 that collapsed; had to face a terrorist attack on Parliament; mobilised forces at the border and came close to a war. Eventually, Pakistan was forced to accept the existence of terrorism and categorically commit to stop supporting it. But he also dealt with bigger powers, laying the foundations of a deep strategic partnership with the US and striking a deal with China wherein Beijing accepted Sikkim as a part of India while India reiterated that Tibet was a part of China.

The PM had one difficult moment -- in 2002, when the Gujarat riots took place. He encouraged the then chief minister Narendra Modi to follow his ‘rajdharma’, and was inclined to remove him, but did not do so based on the mood of the party and his senior colleague Advani.

But Vajpayee’s political gamble of calling elections early backfired in 2004. The ‘India Shining’ plank did not resonate with voters. The NDA had shrunk, with key partners switching sides. And Congress eventually ended up becoming the single-largest party -- and forming a United Progressive Alliance government with the support of the communists. The Vajpayee era ended with the defeat in 2004. He stayed on as a parliamentarian, but it was never the same. Age and health had caught up with the man known for his ability to also enjoy a good time. A series of medical setbacks led to his complete withdrawal from politics.

Vajpayee has died at a time when the party he helped found is in its most dominant position ever. What he thought of the current trajectory of the BJP will never be known -- but the fact that the party owes him an enormous debt is acknowledged by all. Vajpayee’s contribution will go beyond what he did for his party alone. He ranks as one of India’s finest prime ministers.

As PM Modi put it, “India grieves the demise of our beloved Atal ji. His passing away marks the end of an era.”

Kerala floods death toll crosses 100

KOCHI, Aug 16: More than 40 people were swept away on Thursday by rising waters as the worst flood in Kerala in nearly a century, which has claimed more than 100 lives, threatened to sink neighbouring other southern Indian states, where dams neared maximum capacity and rivers in spate.

The airport in Kochi, the state’s largest, was declared shut till August 26 and Southern Railway and Kochi Metro suspended their operations. More than 150,000 people jostled for space in relief camps as their houses collapsed under heavy rainfall or were cut off by surging waters that have damaged more than 10,000 kilometres of roads.

“Kochi Airport operations is temporarily suspended up to 2 pm on August 26 due to very high flood situation and key essential facilities like runway, taxiway and apron are under submerged condition,” an airport statement said.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan warned of a grimmer situation as more rain has been forecast till Saturday. “The Centre has sanctioned more men and material,” Vijayan said after a conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other central leaders.

Thursday saw 10 more helicopters joining the existing fleet in the massive rescue operation while 40 additional teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and a team of marine commandos also arrived. Thirty three of the state’s 39 dams have opened their sluice gates to discharge water, adding to the surge in already overflowing rivers.

Pathanamthitta district in central Kerala continued to be the worst affected in the last 24 hours as thousands of people are trapped in their homes in the towns of Ranni, Aranmula and Kozhencherry.

“This sort of a situation has never been faced by the state. We are doing all that is humanly possible and rescue efforts are going on,” Vijayan added.

Visuals showed hundreds of people perched on rooftops, as attempts to airlift some marooned families failed. The worst flood in the state since 1924 has wrecked havoc across the coastal state, with damages estimated to be more than Rs 8,000 crore.

Torrential rainfall also battered neighbouring Tamil Nadu, where a 42-year-old woman died after a flash flood submerged her home in Valparai and a Tamil Nadu electricity board staff was buried under a landslide. The victims were identified as A Velankani and Vigneshwaran. But heavy rainfall has forced Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to release excess water into the Cauvery, endangering the lives and property of people residing along the river basin. “Specific spots like Mukkombu, Kollidam and Valparai have been put on alert due to excess floods and the southern districts are also now vulnerable for floods,” state revenue minister R B Udayakumar told reporters. The minister also said that all the six major rivers of Tamil Nadu including Cauvery, Bhavani Sagar, Vaigai, Thamirabharani, Kothayar and Manimuthar are in spate due to continuous rains, he said. The state sounded a flood alert for nine districts.

In Karnataka, the districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Chikkmagaluru, Kodagu and parts of Hassan and Uttara Kannada have been hammered by heavy rainfall over the past 24 hours, forcing the state government to set up relief camps and move people from low-lying areas.Two deaths in Kodagu and one each in Udupiand Shivamogga have been reported, a statement from the chief minister’s office said. Kodagu has been badly affected by flood and mudslides and many people were stranded in various places.

The northern parts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh also battled heavy showers for the second straight day. In Telangana, the Godavari river and its tributaries are in spate, disrupting normal life in Adilabad, Mancherial, Komuram Bheem, Karimnagar and Warangal districts. Several tribal villages in Komuram Bheem are marooned and in Adilabad, five people were rescued from being washed away by rising waters on Thursday. In Andhra Pradesh, rainfall has flooded several areas of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, Srikakulam, East and West Godavari districts. Seven fishermen, who ventured into sea off Kakinada coat in East Godavari district in a mechanised boat on August 7 have not returned since then.

Kerala floods toll crosses 80

KOCHI, Aug 16: Army detachments from Pune and Bhopal landed in Kerala on Thursday while the Navy deployed 21 teams as the government stepped up the fight against the devastating floods that have claimed more than 80 lives so far.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the defence ministry to step up rescue and relief operations across the flood-hit state after chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan called him this morning. Union home minister Rajnath who also spoke to Vijayan said the said the Centre was despatching additional teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to Kerala in response to the CM’s appeal.

The Indian Air Force launched rescue operations in Pathanamthitta district which is one of the worst affected places and winched people to safety. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) was in action in Thrissur district’s Arattupuzha village, rescuing people from flooded areas.

The flood situation in the state worsened on Thursday amid nonstop rain with the public transport system virtually collapsing in many parts of central Kerala after the Southern Railways and Kochi Metro suspended their operations due to floods.

Seven people were killed in a massive landslide in Palakkad this morning, taking the death toll in Kerala’s worst natural to 87. Three persons are still trapped at the site. Many areas of the state remain marooned with rail, road and air services severely crippled across the state. All 14 districts of the state are under red alert as heavy rain continued in many parts of the state.

As many as 82 tourists are stranded inside a bus in Munnar. All routes are either flooded, or blocked due to mudslides.

The floods have affected the transport system to the Kochi city.

“Due to rise in water level at Bridge No 176 on Downline between Angamali and Aluva, The services on this bridge is suspended,” a Southern railway spokesman said in a statement on Thursday.

The Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) also suspended its operations this morning after flood water submerged its yard in Muttom near Aluva.

“Kochi Metro train operation is suspended as the water level rises in Muttom yard area,” KMRL said in a statement.

The service will be resumed once the water comes down and the systems are back in good condition, its spokesperson said.

Bus services to Kochi were also affected after National Highways connecting the city submerged in Kalamassery area, officials said.

State revenue officials said many areas remain without power and drinking water sparking fears of an epidemic outbreak, officials said.

On Wednesday, the Cochin International Airport shut down flight operations till Saturday as water entered in the airport area following continuous rains and the opening of dam shutters in Periyar river.

People in downstream areas have been severely affected after shutters of all major dams including Mullaperiyar, Cheruthoni, part of Idukki reservoir, and Idamalayar were opened.

More than 1.5 lakh people are now living in relief camps.

In Malappuram nine members of a family perished after their house collapsed on Wednesday in landslide and Idukki and Wayanad reported three casualties each. Idukki, Ernakulam and Pathanamthitta districts are among worst affected.

India aims to send astronauts into space by 2022: Modi

NEW DELHI, Aug 15: India will send an astronaut into space by 2022, the country’s prime minister has claimed during an annual independence day speech.

Narendra Modi announced the target from the ramparts of the 370-year-old Red Fort in Delhi on Wednesday morning. “We have decided that by 2022, when India completes 75 years of independence, or before that, a son or daughter of India will go to space with a tricolour [Indian flag] in their hands,” he said.

Modi also set a 25 September launch date for a national medical insurance scheme, dubbed “Modicare”, and defended his government’s record, in his last independence day address before general elections expected early next year.

If successful, India would be the fourth country in the world to conduct a manned space mission, after the US, China and Russia.

The chair of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) confirmed the timeline and said the pilots and crew, often called vyomanauts – derived from vyom, the Sanskrit word for space – would spend at least seven days in space.

“[The] PM has given the target of 2022 and it’s our duty to meet it,” Kailasavadivoo Sivan said. “We have completed many technologies like crew module and escape systems. The project has been under way; now we need to prioritise and achieve the target.”

He said the mission, first proposed nearly a decade ago, would cost the famously frugal space agency less than £1.1bn. It would be proceeded by two unmanned expeditions, the first of which would launch in 2020.

The target echoed that set by John F Kennedy in 1961 to land an American on the moon by the end of the decade.

Nasa succeeded more than eight years later, reporting the overall cost of the Apollo programme at about $25.4bn in 1973 dollars – about $147bn today.

India’s space programme was established in 1962 and launched its first lunar probe a decade ago. In September 2014, Isro successfully guided a spacecraft into orbit around Mars, just the fourth space programme in the world to do so.

The Mars mission cost about $73m, nearly a 10th of the cost of a Nasa probe sent to orbit the planet the previous year. The discrepancy has led Modi to frequently joke that India can launch satellites into space for less money than it cost to make the Hollywood film Gravity.

The former air force pilot Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to go to space, in 1984 as part of a Soviet mission. Several astronauts of Indian origin have been part of Nasa missions, including Kalpana Chawla, who died in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle explosion.

The development and early years of India’s space programme were personally overseen by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, who saw an affinity between scientific advancement and the secular, rational worldview he hoped would take root in the new country.

Karunanidhi laid to rest at Marina Beach

CHENNAI, Aug 8: Five-time Tamil Nadu chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi was laid to rest with full state honours at Chennai’s Marina beach on Wednesday after a brief legal wrangle over the burial site, as a galaxy of top politicians and a massive throng of mourners turned out to pay their last respects to the Dravidian leader.

Wrapped in the Tricolour with his trademark black glasses and yellow shawl, the supreme leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was buried next to his mentor and Tamil icon CN Annadurai as hundreds of thousands of his followers chanted “Thalaivar” (leader). His sandalwood coffin bore the inscription: “A person who continued to work without rest, now takes rest.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, former PM HD Deve Gowda, chief ministers Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh), K Chandrashekar Rao (Telangana), Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi), Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala) and V Narayanasamy (Puducherry) were present at the funeral. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, and Communist Party of India I(Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury were also in attendance.

Karunanidhi died on Tuesday at the age of 94 in a Chennai hospital where he had been admitted since July 28 with fever and infection

“In Chennai, I paid tributes to an extraordinary leader and a veteran administrator whose life was devoted to public welfare and social justice. Kalaignar Karunanidhi will live on in the hearts and minds of the millions of people whose lives were transformed by him,” Modi tweeted after meeting Karunanidhi’s family.

Karunanidhi’s son and heir apparent MK Stalin was seen crying inconsolably after touching his father’s feet before the casket with Karunanidhi’s body was lowered into the grave. In keeping with his rationalist beliefs, no religious rituals were performed.

Earlier on Wednesday, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to Stalin, describing Karunanidhi as a “father figure”. “For me, Kalaignar’s loss is very personal. He always showed me great kindness and consideration, which I can never forget. He was like a father figure to me,” Gandhi wrote.

Emotions had run high since the morning amid a legal wrangle between Tamil Nadu’s AIl India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government and the DMK over the burial site. Shortly after Karunanidhi’s death was announced on Tuesday evening, the state government had rejected the DMK’s demand for a burial at Marina, citing pending litigation over ecological concerns. The DMK swiftly moved the Madras high court that began hearing the petition around midnight on Tuesday and resumed the hearing at 8am on Wednesday.

As several petitioners withdrew their objections, the high court rejected the government’s contention and said there was no legal impediment to the funeral at Marina.

“Considering the entire conspectus of the matter, the writ petition is allowed with a direction to the respondent authorities to provide a place for decent burial to lay the mortal remains of (late) Dr Kalaignar M Karunanidhi, former CM Tamil Nadu on the Marina Beach within precincts of the burial place of the founder of DMK party Anna Durai,” the order by the two-judge bench read. Stalin burst into tears as the order was delivered.

Nearby, tens of thousands of DMK supported jostled with each other to catch a glimpse of Karunanidhi, whose body was kept at the Rajaji Hall, and a stampede ensued, killing two people. The court’s order was greeted with loud chants of “Kalaignar Pugazh Onguga (long live Kalaignar’s fame)” by the cadre.

As evening fell, people lined the streets as the flower bedecked gun carriage inched its way to Marina from Rajaji Hall – the 3km journey taking more than two hours. Many crashed through the barricades while others perched precariously atop trees and lamp posts. Stalin and other male members of the family walked quietly behind the gun carriage as police threw a security cordon around them while DMK members chanted slogans in Karunanidhi’s memory.

In Delhi, as the two Houses of Parliament paid homage to Karunanidhi and adjourned for the day, the central government observed a day of national mourning. The national flag flew half-mast and all government functions were cancelled. Tamil Nadu is observing a week-long mourning period.

Karunanidhi is survived by two wives, four sons and two daughters. He had been suffering from age-related ailments and lung congestion for the past 18 months before being admitted in hospital, where he spent 11 days before his demise.

M Karunanidhi dies at 94

CHENNAI, Aug 7: M Karunanidhi, DMK president and former Tamil Nadu chief minister, died at a private hospital in Chennai on Tuesday after prolonged illness. He was 94.

The Kauvery Hospital said Karunanidhi died at 6.10pm. “Despite the best possible efforts by our team of doctors and nurses to resucitate him, he failed to respond,” said the hospital in a statement, expressing “deep anguish”.

The Madras High Court is hearing an urgent plea by DMK after Tamil Nadu’s AIADMK government refused it rival party’s request to allot space at Chennai’s Marina Beach for burying M Karunanidhi.

As many as 6,500 police personnel have been deployed in Chennai and superintendets of police in all districts have been asked to keep forces ready to maintain peace. Chief secretary Girija Vaidyanathan and Director General of Police T K Rajendran met Chief Minister E Palaniswami earlier in the day to review arrangements for Karunanidhi’s final rites. MK Stalin, Karunanidhi’s younger son and political heir, cried as an ambulance with Karunanidhi’s body left for the DMK chief’s home in Chennai’s Gopalapuram.

“Do not give room for untoward incidents. Maintain peace,” said Stalin in a statement, adding, “Hand over anti-socials to police, they may attempt to tarnish DMK.”

Two DMK workers died of heart attack in Mayiladuthurai in Nagapattinam district after getting news about Karunanidhi.

Karunanidhi was shifted to Kauvery Hospital on July 28 after being treated at home for fever and urinary tract infection. Stalin, his elder son MK Alagiri and their half-sister Kanimozhi met Tamil Nadu chief minister E Palaniswami at his residence on Tuesday afternoon.

A five-term chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi was a multi-faceted personality--a top politician, a star scriptwriter for Tamil movies, author and an impressive orator.

He is survived by sons Stalin, Alagiri, Muthu, and daughters Kanimozhi and Selvi.

Born on June 3, 1924, the iconic Dravidian leader had recently entered his 50th year as the chief of DMK, making him the longest-serving president of a political party in India.

Karunanidhi was first elected to the Tamil Nadu assembly in 1957 and last served as chief minister at the age of 82 in 2006 when the DMK-Congress alliance swept to power. He never lost an election.

The leader was visited at the hospital by several senior politicians including President Ram Nath Kovind, vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, chief minister Palaniswami, his deputy O Panneerselvam, and actor-politicians Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter he was “deeply saddened” by Karunanidhi’s death. “We have lost a deep-rooted mass leader, prolific thinker, accomplished writer and a stalwart whose life was devoted to the welfare of the poor and the marginalised,” he said.

Modi, Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will attend Karunanidhi’s last rites in Chennai on Wednesday. The state government has declared a seven-day mourning for the leader.

Women being raped ‘left, right and centre’: SC expresses concern after Bihar shelter home rapes

NEW DELHI, Aug 7: The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed concern over incidents of rape in the country and said that women are being raped “left, right and centre”.

A bench comprising Justices M B Lokur, Deepak Gupta and K M Joseph pulled up the Bihar government for funding an NGO which ran the shelter home in Muzaffarpur where girls were allegedly raped and sexually abused.

The bench referred to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data and said that every six hours, a woman is raped in India.

The court referred the NCRB data and said 38,947 women were raped in India in 2016.

“What is to be done? Girls and women are getting raped left, right and centre,” the bench said.

Advocate Aparna Bhat, who was appointed as an amicus curiae in the matter, told the court that no compensation has been paid to the alleged victims of sexual assault at the Muzaffarpur shelter home.

The lawyer also said that one of the girls, who was allegedly raped at the shelter home in Muzaffarpur, was still “missing”.

Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), which conducted an audit of shelter homes, told the court that out of 110 such institutions in Bihar, “grave concerns” have been raised about 15.

To this, the Bihar government told the apex court that nine cases of sexual abuse have been lodged involving these 15 institutions run by various NGOs.

The hearing in the matter will resume at 2 PM.

The apex court had earlier restrained the electronic media from showing, even in morphed form, images of the alleged victims of rape and sexual assault at the shelter home, observing they cannot be compelled to “relive the trauma” again and again.

The bench had said that it had not restrained the police authority from conducting probe and if they want to question the alleged victims, they would have to take assistance of professional counsellors and qualified child psychiatrist in consultation with National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences in Bengaluru and Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai.

Over 30 girls were allegedly raped at the shelter home run by Brajesh Thakur, the chief of the state-funded NGO.

The alleged sexual exploitation of the girls was first highlighted in an audit report submitted by TISS to the state’s social welfare department in April.

An FIR was lodged against 11 people, including Thakur, on May 31. The probe has now been taken over by the CBI.

In all, sexual abuse of 34 inmates out of 42 was confirmed in their medical examination, while two others who were unwell were yet to undergo medical tests.

The TISS audit report stated that many girls at the shelter home had complained of sexual abuse. A special investigation team was formed to probe the complaints.

The NGO running the shelter home in Muzaffarpur was blacklisted and the girls were shifted to shelter homes in Patna and Madhubani.

Women staff members of the shelter home and Thakur were among those who were arrested by the police in connection with the case.

‘Dump it near Lt Governor’s house’, says Supreme Court irked at garbage in Delhi

NEW DELHI, Aug 9: The Supreme Court on Monday said that Delhi was facing an “emergency situation” due to mountains of garbage as it expressed dissatisfaction over the response of authorities on waste management.

“Will there be any person alive in Delhi in such a situation?” an irked apex court said and sought details of how plans on management of solid waste could be implemented, especially on segregation of household waste.

The bench comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta also sought details from authorities on pilot project for segregation of household waste launched in some areas like Defence Colony, Green Park and Maharani Bagh here and also about the problems being faced by the agencies in its implementation.

The court fumed at additional solicitor general (ASG) Pinky Anand’s submission on residents of Sonia Vihar objecting to a landfill site, saying the people had every right to question the decision and even went on to say that the civic body should dump the “waste on the Raj Niwas Marg”, where Delhi lieutenant governor’s official residence is located, instead of treating people like this.

It said that segregation of waste at household level was an important issue and asked the authorities to inform the apex court as to whether an awareness campaign in this regard could be started throughout the city.

“It is an emergency situation and unfortunately your reactions are not indicating any solution,” the bench told the ASG.

The bench took exception that area falling under the south Delhi municipal corporation (SDMC) was generating 3,600 tonnes of waste everyday out of which 1,800 tonnes was thrown at the landfill site.

The ASG told the bench that the authorities were working on it and taking steps in this regard and by December 2019, all the waste generated in SDMC area would be sent to waste to energy and processing plants.

“Ganga Ram Hospital has done a study which says that 50 per cent of population of Delhi has a chance of having lung cancer even if they do not smoke. The Niti Aayog says that in 2019, there will be shortage of water in Delhi. Will there be any person alive in Delhi in such a situation? 1,800 tonnes a day is huge. What will happen from now till December 2019,” the bench observed.

The ASG said that in east Delhi municipal corporation (EDMC), the issue of having a landfill site at Sonia Vihar was being opposed by residents of the area.

“Are you suggesting that people cannot raise this issue like what was done in 1975 that if you ask something, you will be put in jail?,” the bench asked.

When the ASG said that they were not suggesting anything like that, the bench said, “Then put it (garbage) on the Raj Niwas Marg. Do not treat people like this. In Sonia Vihar, perhaps the underprivileged people live.”

“Lives of people are going to be affected if you will put garbage in front of their house. They have a right to say that do not put garbage in front on my house. It is an criminal offence. People will object to it. You will have to find a solution. You cannot just shift the garbage like this,” the bench observed.

The ASG said that waste treatment and waste to energy plants have to be set up and there might be some inconvenience to the people but that have to be dealt with by the agencies.

The bench asked the authorities to apprise it about the scheme for segregation of waste and noted that there were four kinds of waste -- wet, dry, hazardous and construction and building waste.

It also sought details as to whether penalty could be imposed on people dumping construction debris or for not following plan on segregation of waste, including household waste.

“You can perhaps have some penalty if people will not follow it (segregation plan),” the bench said, adding, “People who create construction debris and a person who pulls down his house should pay for it”.

The bench also observed that the primary responsibility should be of the people to segregate waste at household level and asked why cannot solid waste management begin at home.

The apex court told the authorities to give details about issues related to segregation of waste, including manpower, vehicles to carry wastes, the people involved in the process.

It said these details should be placed before it by August 14 and posted the matter for hearing on August 17.

During the hearing, the ASG told the court about the steps being taken with regard to management of waste.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, assisting the court as an amicus curiae, said that they have conducted a study on the Ghazipur landfill site in East delhi which reflected that official data about it was “very misleading”.

When an issue was raised that the municipal corporations were dumping all types of waste in same vehicle, the ASG said different vehicles were used for collecting separate kind of wastes.

Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor (LG) had earlier told the court that his office was regularly reviewing and monitoring the garbage disposal plans and actions of municipal bodies.

The issue of waste management had cropped up when the court was dealing with a matter in which it had in 2015 taken cognisance of death of a seven-year-old boy due to dengue.

The victim had been allegedly denied treatment by five private hospitals here and his distraught parents subsequently committed suicide.

Nitin Gadkari asks ‘where are the jobs’, Rahul Gandhi says Indians asking same question

NEW DELHI, Aug 6: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Monday cited a remark by Union minister Nitin Gadkari about the paucity of jobs in India to slam the Narendra Modi government over its “unfulfilled” pre-electoral promise of employment generation.

Speaking on the Maratha community’s demand for reservation in jobs, Gadkari had told reporters in Aurangabad on Saturday that allotting quotas cannot solve India’s unemployment problem. “Let us assume that reservation is given… But even in banks, jobs have shrunk because of IT. Government recruitment is frozen. Where are the jobs?” he asked.

To this, Gandhi responded by tweeting: “Excellent question Gadkariji. Every Indian is asking the same question.” He also tagged a media report carrying the Union minister’s remarks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to provide two crore jobs to Indians if voted to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but Opposition parties have accused him of failing to create even a fraction of that number.

In his interaction with the media, Gadkari asserted that the ‘backward’ tag had become something that most communities across the country wanted to claim. “Everyone says I am backward. Brahmins in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are strong, and (they) dominate politics too. But even they say they are backward,” he quipped.

Sonia Gandhi, Deve Gowda and I can unite Opposition: Sharad Pawar

NEW DELHI, Aug 6: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has proposed that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda and he — three senior leaders with “no ambition to become Prime Minister” — should come together to unite the Opposition, travel throughout the country, give confidence to the people, and provide a robust counter-narrative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Pawar has also, for the first time, opened the doors of the NCP-Congress alliance in Maharashtra to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and said that while he had not discussed the issue with BSP chief Mayawati, he would be ‘happy’ since this association will pay dividends.

In an interview, Pawar laid out a detailed roadmap for the Opposition for 2019. He compared the current political situation to 1975-77; argued that disillusionment has set in against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, like it had against Indira Gandhi; and suggested that the Opposition focus should be on state-wide alliances instead of a national alliance. Pawar called for the leadership question to be left for after the elections, and while urging the Congress to adopt a “rational approach” on state partnerships, said that he has felt over recent conversations that Rahul Gandhi has “substantially improved”.

Emphasising the parallels between the current political climate and the situation in 1975-77, when he was a minister in the Maharashtra government, Pawar said that like Indira Gandhi, Modi too had “control of media, government and government agencies”.

At that time too, he said, people were pointing to the lack of an alternative platform, organisation and leader to pose a genuine challenge.

“The difference is there was one leader – Jayaprakash Narayan. Political leaders and people were willing to accept his advice. And ultimately on his advice, most leaders forgot their parties.” Pawar said that it was eventually after the election that the Janata Party came together and Morarji Desai was elected the leader.

He added, “I honestly feel that there are some leaders, like Sonia Gandhi, (HD) Deve Gowda and, while I should not say it, myself also…we have no ambition to become Prime Minister. At least I am speaking for myself. But I have ambition to bring all these forces together and provide a viable alternative. For that, some of us – the names I have mentioned – can travel throughout India and give confidence to the people of India because today, there is no JP (Jayaprakash Narayan).”

Pawar said his assessment was it was not possible to bring all forces at the National level. “Is it possible at the state level? I am in close dialogue with various state leaders and my own assessment is yes.”

Pawar then laid out the architecture of the state-wide alliances, which would have to rest on other parties conceding space to Congress where it was the dominant force and Congress recognising its era of total dominance was over and giving space to regional parties in other places. In Kerala, West Bengal and Delhi, he spoke of the Left, Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party respectively as the number one forces around which the Opposition should rally.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi had broadly agreed with him, claimed Pawar, praising Gandhi’s approach of not projecting any leader before elections as the “correct, sensible approach”.

“He (Rahul) said there are some states where it is difficult for my colleagues to accept or digest this situation, particularly Kerala and West Bengal. In Kerala, they feel our fight with the Left is equal. In West Bengal, the position is not like Kerala, but the overall thinking of the leadership of the Congress party about Mamata is such that it is difficult for them to accept her. He told me that it is difficult in these two-three states. I told him you are the leader, and it is your job to convince.”

Comparing Sonia and Rahul, the NCP chief said that even though he had fought with Sonia Gandhi, they shared an excellent equation, she tried to understand issues and gave respect to other leaders. “Rahul is also showing it. There is a definite improvement.”

Pawar also said that he had recently met Mayawati. “She has consolidated the position in UP with Samajwadi Party and others. But she expects other parties to take a rational approach in other states. She is totally for a change and she is ready to work hard.” When asked if he would be open to allying with her in Maharashtra, he replied, “I have not discussed it with her. I will be happy. Her association will pay dividends in Vidarbha region.”

Pawar categorically ruled himself out of the PM race. “Irrational thinking has no meaning in politics. There has to be rational thinking. My party will ultimately contest 30-35 seats throughout India. I may get 50 percent maximum. With that number, if anyone dreams of becoming PM of this country, he is quite away from reality.”

Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “Pawar’s assessment broadly strikes a chord with the mantra other opposition leaders have uttered: ‘localise, localise, localise.’ While the BJP pushes to nationalise and make 2019 about Modi, the best bet for the Opposition is to make this 543 unique elections. State-specific alliances avoid tricky pan-Indian questions about leadership that the opposition is in no place to answer right now.”

Vaishnav added that a big looming question is whether the Congress would be willing to take a backseat in electorally critical states. “Recent moves — Karnataka is a case in point — suggest it might be.”

Owaisi threatens accused who cut Muslim man’s beard, says will convert him to Islam

NEW DELHI, Aug 6: Few days after a Muslim man was forced to shave off his beard following an altercation in Gurugram, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi has threatened the accused that he would be “converted to Islam”.

Strongly reacting to the Haryana incident, Owaisi further said that he would make the accused grow a beard.

“Muslim man’s beard was shaved off. Those who did it, I am telling them and their fathers, even if you slit our throat, we’ll be Muslims. We will convert you to Islam and will make you keep a beard,” he said.

On August 2, Gurugram police arrested three accused after an FIR was registered by the victim, Yunus in this regard.

The incident took place in Gurugram’s Sector 29 when three people allegedly dragged a Muslim man to a salon and forced him to shave off his beard.

This has come at a time when many political parties are cornering the Centre over rampant incidents of mob lynching, alleging that atrocities against the Muslim community are on a rise across the country.

Jharkhand girl alleges rape by cops, politicians, builders

RANCHI, Aug 1: A 14-year-old girl in Jharkhand has accused two police officers, political leaders and builders of raping and blackmailing her and forcing her into sex trade for a year.

This happened in Ranchi on Tuesday during Chief minister Raghubar Das’s Seedhi Baat programme, a grievance redressal session where the CM addresses public complaints every Tuesday.

The chief minister ordered an inquiry by the CID into the case on a complaint filed by Jharkhand Human Rights Commission chief Manoj Mishra. The CM has sought a report within a month.

The survivor and her patrons were present during the ‘Seedhi Baat’ and narrated her ordeal.

The survivor’s mother had filed a criminal writ petition in the high court demanding CBI probe on March 13 this year along with a list of 16 accused whom the girl had identified before the SSP during investigation, including the then MGM police station officer-in-charge Imdad Ansari and the then Patamda DSP Ajay Kerketta.

Mishra told the CM that the minor girl was gangraped and forced into prostitution and two police officers along with political leaders and builders were accused.

“Police is trying to shield the accused, particularly the police officials, and their investigation is inadequate and on the wrong direction, hence we have filed this petition with the CM for ordering CBI probe,” Mishra told the CM.

Jamshedpur senior superintendent of police Anoop Birthare, presenting police side of the case, told the CM that they have been investigating the case neutrally and arrested three named accused in the FIR Indrapal Saini, Shiv Mahato and Srikant Mahato and sent them to jail.

“We had transferred accused MGM officer in-charge and Patamda DSP to Chaibasa and Ranchi headquarters. We’ve recorded statements of 100 people but we don’t have enough evidence to send other accused, named by the victim later, to jail. We also sent the three accused for brain mapping and narco analysis to Gandhinagar (Gujarat) where brain mapping was done of all the three accused and narco analysis was done of one of the accused,” said Birthare.

The minor girl and her patrons told the CM that she identified the doctor who carried out her abortion, at a Sakchi based nursing home, and also provided video clip and audio clips of the same to the police but it has not mentioned in the charge sheet and case diary in lower court.

“We also submitted audio clips of MGM officer in-charge Imdad Ansari and Patamda DSP Ajay Kerketta offering Rs 23 lakh to shut our mouth and even city SP offered to marry her off with one of the accused,” the patron told the CM.

He also said one of the accused Aziz Mistry threatened and abused him in Mango Gramin Bank on Monday and all the influential accused are still roaming free, posing serious threat to him and his family, including the victim. Nanak had filed a complaint against Aziz with Jamshedpur city SP on Tuesday.

Tortured, injected with growth hormones: 5-year-olds among 11 rescued from Telangana brothels

HYDERABAD, Aug 1: Eleven minor girls, including five-year-olds, were rescued by the police in the famous temple town of Yadagirigutta in Telangana’s Yadadri Bhongir district from sex traffickers, who allegedly administered sex hormones to them so that they could attain early puberty and pushed into flesh trade.

Eight alleged traffickers from the Dommari community were arrested after a raid on six brothels at Ganeshnagar area of the town on Monday afternoon, Rachakonda police commissioner Mahesh Bhagawat said while speaking to reporters on Tuesday.

Bhagawat said following a tip-off from a local resident, who heard the cries of a girl from one of the brothels, the Yadagirigutta police along with SHE teams, Special Operations Team and officials from Integrated Child Development Scheme raided the house of Kamsani Kalyani and found two girls.

While one of them was Kalyani’s daughter, the authorities, on questioning the accused, found that the other girl was bought from child traffickers. Police raided five other houses following the information given by Kalyani and rescued the 11 girls, including four seven-year-olds.

The police said the children were administered hormonal injections by one Dr Swamy so that they could attain early sexual maturity. Dr Swamy charged the traffickers Rs 25,000 for each injection, Bhagawat said.

They also found that the girls were physically tortured and were not given proper food if they did not succumb to their pressures.

“They were kept in confinement and the accused were running the flesh trade for around four years. After proper inquiry, PD Act will be initiated against all the accused persons, apart from closing their houses,” the commissioner said.

The accused have been identified as Kamsani Kalyani (25), Kamsani Anitha (30), Kamsani Susheela (60), Kamsani Narsimha (23), Kamsani Sruthi (25), Kamsani Saritha (50), Kamsani Vani (28) and Kamsani Vamshi (20) – all residents of the Yadadri Bhongir district.

“The traffickers had bought some children from two agents Krishna Shankar and Kamsani Yadagiri for amounts ranging up to Rs 2 lakh each. Some others were picked up from railway stations, bus stations and other public places also,” the commissioner said.

The police booked cases against the accused under Sections 366A (procuration of minor girl), 371(1)(v) (Habitual dealing in slaves), 376 (rape) read with 114 (abettor present when offence is committed), 372 (selling minor for purposes of prostitution), 373 (buying minor for purposes of prostitution), 120(B) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

“They were also booked under Section 17 (Abetment) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act besides relevant sections of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA),” Bhagawat said, adding that the rescued minors have been sent to a home.

The National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) data for 2016 show more than 8,000 cases of human trafficking were reported in India in that year and 23,000 victims, including 182 foreigners, were rescued.

Of the total 15,379 victims in these cases, 9,034 (58%) were below the age of 18 years, stated the latest NCRB statistics on crime.

The bureau has said 63 people are rescued from human trafficker every day on across the country.

 



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