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Rahul Gandhi says India indebted to HAL

BENGALURU, Oct 13: Congress president Rahul Gandhi reached out on Saturday to employees of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), seeking to co-opt them in his campaign against the Rafale jet fighter deal signed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

Taking part in a discussion with former and current employees of HAL, Gandhi said the state-run military planemaker was a strategic asset and India owed it a great deal for protecting the country.

“When (former US President Barack) Obama says the only countries that can challenge the USA are India and China, that’s because of your contribution,” Gandhi said, standing in front of a model of the Light Combat Aircraft built by HAL, opposite the company’s corporate office near Cubbon Park in Bengaluru.

At the session, former employees and trade union leaders of the public sector unit said they felt insulted that a private company had been chosen as an offset partner of Dassault Aviation, bypassing HAL’s claim.

The NDA government’s decision to enter an $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by HAL.

The deal has become controversial with the Opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is Rs 1,670 crore for each, three times the Rs 526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL. The NDA has not disclosed details of the price, but the UPA deal, struck in 2012, was not a viable one, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar has previously said, implying that it would have never been closed and that, therefore, any comparison is moot.

The deal has also become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity for an offset deal. Both the government and Reliance Group have repeatedly denied this.

At the session with Gandhi, a former HAL employee and union leader identified as Sirajuddin said he felt insulted and let down that a company with 78 years of experience in manufacturing aircraft was kept out.

“We were hurt and I don’t understand why the deal was taken away from us. What we want from influential leaders is that you should please protect our honour,” he said. “We are not begging and we are capable of manufacturing Rafale in India,” he said.

The decision to invite Gandhi for the event has come under criticism. The HAL employees’ union had decided not to support the event and the company had issued a directive asking current employees to give the discussion a miss.

Explaining the decision to invite Gandhi, Anant Padmanabhan, also a member of the HAL union, said it was clear that nobody would listen to HAL employees unless a leader like Gandhi was invited. “The Opposition and ruling party are both responsible for running the country...it is my duty to approach a proper person who is capable of defending and giving us strength to defend HAL and the public sector,” he said.

Bringing the event to a close, Gandhi said a couple of points raised at the discussion had struck a chord with him.

“One, these (public sector units) are the temples of modern India and they are being destroyed and we cannot allow that. Second, you have worked for 70 years. If somebody thinks they can build their future on your graves, that won’t be allowed either,” he said.

“I can see HAL’s capabilities here, I can see 78 years of your work… You have a history. And I understand that you are pained and hurt,” he said.

In a bid to Save Ganga, Swami Sanand dies after fasting for 111 days

HARIDWAR, Oct 11: Environmental activist and rationalist GD Agarwal, a former Indian Institute of Technoloy (IIT) professor popularly known as Swami Gyanswarup Sanand, died in a Rishikesh hospital on Thursday, the 112th day of a hunger strike demanding a law to save the Ganga, scrapping of hydropower projects on the river, and free flow of its waters.

Agarwal, who was 86, was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, by the administration of neighbouring Haridwar in Uttarakhand on Wednesday, a day after he stopped drinking even water. He had been accepting water with honey during the duration of his hunger strike, which he started on June 22.

“The seer is dead. On October 9 he declared (his intention) to quit water, following which the next day we admitted him at AIIMS on Wednesday afternoon,” said Deepak Rawat, district magistrate (DM) of Haridwar. Dr Ravi Kant, the director of AIIMS, Rishikesh, said Agarwal died of cardiac arrest coupled with arrhythmia at around 2pm. “His potassium levels were low and his blood pressure was high,” he said.

Agarwal was a professor at the IIT-Kanpur, and also served as a member-secretary of the anti-pollution watchdog the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Since renouncing the materialistic world seven years ago, he was staying at Matri Sadan, the epicentre of an agitation for cleansing the Ganga of pollution. Matri Sadan founder Swami Sivananda has himself been on fast several times.

It was not the first time that Agarwal had gone on hunger strike.

His fast in 2009 led to the scrapping of two dams - Bhairon Ghati (380 Mw) and Pala Maneri (480 Mw) - on the Bhagirathi river, a tributary of the Ganga in higher reaches of Uttarakhand. His fast in 2016 forced the Haridwar administration to crack down on illegal mining in the area.

Following the flash floods in Kedarnath in June 2013, Agarwal staged a 105-day fast, citing inactivity by National Ganga River Basin Authority, which is meant to protect the Ganga from pollution and overuse. “I had resigned from authority in support of Swami Sanand (Agarwal) over the then government’s apathy. Swami Sanand was quite concerned about the Ganga and was first to present himself for agitation,” said Rajendra Singh,a Magsaysay awardee and close associate of Agarwal.

His latest hunger strike started after he failed to receive any response from the central government to a letter seeking enactment of the Ganga Protection Act as drafted by retired judge Giridhar Malaviya, which sought a total ban on quarrying and stone crushing on the Ganga river bed and scrapping of all hydel projects on the river in Uttarakhand.

His died a day after the environment ministry issued a notification for the free flow of 20-30% of water in river Ganga in the next three years.

Agarwal is the second activist to have died while on hunger strike for efforts to save the Ganga. In 2011, Swami Nigmananda Saraswati died after a fast of 115 days in Haridwar protesting against illegal mining in the Ganga’s environs.

“For hundred days at 86 years of age, being on agitation without food intake is nothing but a miracle,” said Swami Harichetnanand, who was with Agarwal at Matri Sadan. “He was an IIT professor, it is hard to believe in less than a decade of taking up sainthood, he assumed such power and will.”

Reliance pact was ‘imperative’ and ‘mandatory’ for Dassault: Report

PARIS, Oct 11: A French media report on Wednesday suggested that a senior official in Dassault Aviation saw the partnership with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group as “imperative and mandatory” to getting the “export contract” with India for the Rafale aircraft.

Mediapart quoted an internal Dassault Aviation document detailing a presentation that deputy chief executive officer Loïk Segalen gave to worker representatives explaining the rationale for setting up a joint venture in Nagpur with Reliance Aerospace.

During the presentation, the report said, Segalen described the joint venture as a “contrepartie” to getting the “export contract India”.

Contrepartie roughly translates to “compensation” or to refer to something given as compensation. This could be a reference to the offsets.

The NDA’s decision to enter an $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy the 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

The deal has become controversial with the opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is ₹1,670 crore for each, three times the ₹526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL.

The deal has also become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity for an offset deal. Former French President Francois Hollande has said that Reliance was made Dassault’s offset partner at India’s insistence.

On Rafale deal, SC asks Centre to submit details of decision-making process

NEW DELHI, Oct 10: The Supreme Court on Wednesday told the government to provide details of the decision-making process leading to the purchase of the Rafale but made it clear that this did not construe to be a formal notice on the two petitions it had taken up.

“It is only for the purpose of satisfying ourselves,” the judges said, underlining that it had not taken into account any of the points made about the deal in the two petitions “that appear to be grossly inadequate”.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Rajan Gogoi also ordered that the centre’s report “would not cover issue of pricing or suitability of the equipment for Indian Air Force, keeping in mind the sensitive nature” of the information.

The bench had earlier agreed to hear two petitions, one seeking the details of the agreement India has entered into with France for buying 36 Rafale Fighter Jets and the other seeking setting up of a special investigation team under the supervision of the apex court to probe the deal.

This information is to be filed with the top court’s registrar general in sealed cover.

The Centre had earlier asked the court to dismiss the petitions, insisting that these were “politically motivated”.

The petitions have been filed close to election time and should not be entertained as they do not involve public interest.

Arguing for dismissal of the petitions, the government’s top law officer, Attorney General KK Venugopal said the case pertains to national security and even he would not be supplied with any information pertaining to the deal.

Apart from petitioned by two lawyers Vineet Dhanda and ML Sharma, Aam Admi Party’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh had also moved the top court. He had sought orders to form a special team to probe the matter and that the apex court monitor it. The AAP leader’s plea sought that the SIT should probe “as to how the figure of 36 fighter jets was arrived at without the formalities associated with such a highly sensitive defence procurement”.

Gujarat remains on edge as migrants face backlash

AHEMADABAD, Oct 7: Migrant workers in Gujarat remained on the edge on Sunday amid alleged threats and violence they have been facing after a 14-month-old was “raped” in the state’s Himmatnagar district last month.

Raghuvir Sahu, a ceramic factory worker from Bihar, has been arrested for allegedly raping the baby.

The rape has triggered attacks on workers in Mehsana, Sabarkantha and Aravali districts since September 28.

Police said two men from Uttar Pradesh were assaulted in Ahmedabad’s Ghatlodia and Sardarnagar areas on Sunday.

Migrant workers have been leaving for Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar ahead of the usual time this holiday season, with many alleging they have been asked to leave by October 8.

Uttar Bharatiya Vikas Parishad (North Indian Development Council) president Shyamsinh Thakur said they have received reports that migrants have been asked to leave by October 8.

“We fear that if this escalates, it may sow the seeds of a regional divide,” said Thakur.

Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Hasmukh Hingu echoed Thakur and said they too had been receiving reports about threats to migrant labourers. “In some cases, they have been injured also.’’

He said a large number of migrant labourers are part of the industrial workforce in Gujarat.

“The industries are running overtime to meet deadlines before Diwali. We appeal to the government to take adequate measures.”

Bhavani Lal, who lives in Ahmedabad’s Chandlodiya, said they were planning to leave for Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind around Diwali. “But due to tensions in our area in Ahmedabad, we have decided leave early. We have not received any direct threat...”

Rupesh Sikarwar of Satyam Travels in Meghaninagar said they usually run a daily bus service for Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh.

“But these days, we are running an extra bus or two due to the rush. Some are panic-stricken while others are going back for other reasons.”

Pappu Chottelal said around 1,200 to 1,400 migrants from Madhya Pradesh like him live in Chandlodiya.

“Over the last few days, some 150 of them have returned... Though police have been patrolling in the area, some people came on Saturday and threatened us to leave.”

Gujarat police chief Shivanand Jha on Sunday visited violence-hit areas and insisted that migrants were mostly leaving because of the holiday season. “…many people are leaving because of Durga Puja, Diwali and Chhath (festivals) are around the corner. I have asked policemen to talk to people and assure them of security in case they are leaving out of fear.”

Police have arrested over 300 people for the violence. “Five persons have been arrested for spreading rumours on the social media,’’ said Jha. He added they have provided security in industrial and residential areas in the affected areas.

On #MeToo allegation, author Chetan Bhagat’s apology in Facebook post

MUMBAI, Oct 7: Author Chetan Bhagat has apologised in a Facebook post after a woman journalist shared a WhatsApp chat on social media amid a #metoo movement that has seen several women accuse public figures of sexual harassment. Bhagat said in his post on Saturday that he wanted “to make a couple of points about the screenshots that someone has shared,” and that he was “really sorry.”

Bhagat also said that he put up the post after having a discussion with his wife Anusha, to whom he has been married for 20 years.

“But first of all, I am really sorry to the person concerned. The screenshots are of course real and I am sorry if you felt they were wrong. I hope you will accept my apology,” wrote Bhagat.

In the screenshots shared, Bhagat says “After a long time someone engaged me and could keep up with my pace of thought”. In his Facebook post he said “Maybe I was going through a phase, maybe these things just happen, or maybe I felt the person felt the same too based on our conversations (which I don’t need to repeat here). However, it was stupid of me, to feel that way and to even share that with her.”

He clarified that he had not sent her any obscene messages or photos and had deleted her number too after the conversation.

After actor Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment, many in the entertainment and media industry have been called out in such cases. Actor Kangana Ranaut, who accused Super 30 director Vikas Bahl of molestation, said the director had harassed her on the sets of Queen as well.

In an interview, Kangana also revealed that she even lost out on a few projects after she decided to help the girl who accused Vikas Bahl of sexual harassment.

The AIB stand-up comic Utsav Chakraborty has also been accused of sexual misconduct by several women.

Reacting to the allegations, the AIB posted an apology on social media titled “We’re sorry”, saying “we messed up” and we should have cut ties with Chakraborty immediately after complaints.

Assembly polls in MP, Rajasthan, 3 other states between Nov 12 and Dec 7, counting on Dec 11

NEW DELHI, Oct 6: Assembly elections in five states, three of them held by the ruling BJP, will be held in four phases between November 12 and December 7, Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat said on Saturday. Counting of votes for the five states, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana, will be held on 11 December.

The state elections, seen as a bellwether for next year’s national elections, will also decide the fate of the BJP’s three most prominent chief ministers: Chhattisgarh’s three-time Chief Minister Raman Singh, Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the party’s only woman chief minister, Vasundhara Raje.

These are also going to be the most-watched, given that the Congress is the ruling BJP’s main rival in these states that are crucial to the BJP’s big plan to come back to power in 2019.

These three states send 65 lawmakers to parliament. In 2014, the BJP lost out in just three seats, sweeping all 25 seats in Rajasthan, 10 out of 11 in Chhattisgarh and 27 out of 29 in Madhya Pradesh.

Chhattisgarh is going to be the first of the five to vote and the only one to do so in two phases; November 12 and 20. The Maoist-affected districts in the southern part of the state will go to polls in the first phase.

Madhya Pradesh, which has 230 seats, and Mizoram, the smallest of the five states with 40 seats, will go to polls on November 28. The 200-member Rajasthan assembly will vote on December 7 along with Telangana.

In the desert-state of Rajasthan, which hasn’t voted back any chief minister in 25 years, the BJP is seen to have come under pressure following by-poll defeat in three seats this year. Moving into damage-control mode, the BJP replaced its chief in Rajasthan but could not find an alternative to its chief minister and retained Vasundhara Raje.

Raman Singh has held the fort in Chhattisgarh since 2003 and has won all three elections with a wafer-thin margin, the last being with less than one percent. He is hoping to benefit from a divide in the opposition vote and the newly-formed alliance between Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh.

The BJP also replaced its state president in Madhya Pradesh where its campaign it led by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh for last 15 years and is perceived to be facing what some party leaders describe as a voter fatigue. The party proposes to change a large number of sitting legislators to deal with anti-incumbency.

BJP suffocating Indians: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Oct 5: Opposition parties have decided to first defeat the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and then later decide on who will be Prime Minister, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said today when asked if he will take the top job next year if his party comes to power.

But if the allies want him as the prime minister?

“If they want me, sure,” said Gandhi, 48. He was speaking at the 16th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, where he delivered a keynote address and later answered questions.

In his keynote address, Rahul Gandhi launched a scathing attack on the BJP-led government, accusing it of imposing a “single, suffocating ideology on 1.3 billion people” and going “to war with the people.”

“Reimagining India for the BJP, RSS is to shut the imaginations of Indians,” he told a gathering of business leaders, diplomats, political leaders and commentators at the summit, the theme of which is ‘Reimagining The Future’.

Attacking the government over demonetisation and GST, Gandhi also accused it of not building any institutions in the last four and a half year that it has been in power.

Underlining the difference between the Congress and the BJP, he said “India is a partnership between all its peoples” and the Congress “didn’t believe in binaries”.

Gandhi is spearheading the opposition campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre ahead of key state elections later this year and the Lok Sabha elections next year.

He said he was confident the Congress would “win in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana,” four of the five states where assembly elections will be held this year.

Speech of Congress President Rahul Gandhi at HT Leadership Summit:

India has been imagined and re-imagined for centuries. The courageous men and women who fought non-violently and justly for our liberty imagined a nation where all its children would be free, where none would be discriminated on the basis of their caste, gender, religion or creed. They imagined a tolerant and fair India, who would force no agenda on any of its friends or neighbours but guide them along the path that we had traveled: one of unity and brotherhood.

When I saw the topic of the conclave, I wondered what's happened that we need a reimagination of this beautiful ideal. True, the work of imagination is never over, it is always in constant flow and flux. But what we see today is not a re-imagining. It is a defaming, a maligning of the Indian imagination.

The Indian government has gone to war with its own people because it wants to impose one imagination on 1.3 billion of us. It wants to impose one singular, suffocating memory on our 1.3 billion memories.

What is the nature of this war?

Farmers are committing suicide by the thousands.

The economy is decimated. The rupees is on its knees. Petrol is at an all time high. The stock market has imploded. Twelve Lakh crore in non performing assets and the banking system is jammed shut.

The informal sector has been decimated as a result of demonetisation and an extremely complex multi layered GST. Millions of small and medium business have been wiped out. Public confidence is in tatters.

This my friends is the price of hatred.

Aspiration is turning into anger.

Dalits and tribals are agitating across the country. Minorities are under vicious attack.

Our friends in the media are sacked when they criticise the PM. Gauri Lankesh is shot dead because of what she wrote. Fresh thinking is unwelcome. In fact, forget about fresh thinking, they hate thinkers: Raghuram Rajan, Amartya Sen, the list goes on.

Institutions are being destroyed. Supreme Court judges are compelled to go public because they feel intimidated. In the same breath that they spoke of their fears, they spoke of Judge Lohiya. The sole qualification of vice chancellor after vice chancellor chosen to lead India's top universities is that they belong to the RSS.

Many of you in this room are victimised and harassed by the authorities. You face institutionalised extortion and arbitrary cases. I would like to ask how many of you are NRI's - how many of you tell your children not to come back to India after college because things have gone horribly wrong. But I won't ask you that today in sight of all these cameras. Today in India the fear is palpable.

And while India burns, all they do is talk but their slogans. But their slogans have a shelf life: Make in India. Start up India. Clean India. What exactly have they translated into? Nothing

Because the people in charge are convinced that they have a monopoly on knowledge. They are convinced that only they understand. That no one in this country understands anything about India or the dreams of its people except them.

But what is a country if it isn’t a multitude of voices? What is a country if it isn’t a conversation?

My career in politics has been about fighting for and alongside India's most vulnerable. I fight for farmers rights, for Dalits, for tribals. I dig my heels in and I have a record of delivering to these communities. I've come here because I want to be a mirror for your aspirations and voices too, for all of you in this room. I want to fight for you too.

Everyone in India is a stake holder - all of us, rich or poor, weak or strong, north or south, east or west every voice is a part of the harmony that makes India. We don't subscribe to black or white ideologies, we don't believe in binaries. India is a partnerships between all its people.

So that's why I am here. I'm here to talk but also to listen. I am here to tell you that I value what you have to say. I am here to tell you that I trust you and am extending my hand in friendship. It is time that we build our own partnership so that I can understand your battles and you can understand mine and we can fight alongside each other to protect and the incredible heritage that has brought more than a billion imaginations to light.

We must re-imagine that old India Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where knowledge is free. Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.

Congress calls for ‘freedom movement’ to oust BJP government

SEVAGRAM (Maharashtra), Oct 3: From Mahadev Bhavan in Sevagram on Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birth anniversary, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Tuesday gave a clarion call for a “second freedom struggle” against the Narendra Modi government to combat “divisive politics and the ideology of hate and violence”.

The venue was ripe with symbolism because Sevagram ashram was where the Congress had held deliberations for its ‘Quit India’ call against British rule in 1942.

A resolution adopted by the party’s highest decision-making body also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) of “hypocrisy” for “trying to appropriate” the Mahatma’s legacy for electoral opportunities.

“The Modi government indulged in divisive politics and involved in spreading hate and violence”, a CWC resolution said, while vowing to thwart the BJP’s “disruptive” policies. “Such an atmosphere and similar reasons led to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi,” it said.

The Congress Working Committee passed two resolutions, recalling the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to the “Indian thought process, its soul and body”, and late Lal Bahadur Shastri ‘s call of ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, saying it was “not just a slogan but a way of life”.

Former prime minister Shastri’s birthday also falls on October 2.

The meeting was presided over by Congress president Rahul Gandhi and attended, among others, by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.

The CWC alleged that the RSS, which “vilified and rejected” Mahatma Gandhi during his lifetime, had today “brazenly proclaimed itself to champion his ideology”.

It said that appropriating the Mahatma’s legacy may be politically expedient for some, but imbibing his principles and values in thought, word and deed was impossible for those who see in the Mahatma only electoral opportunities.

“One may borrow the Mahatma’s spectacles for publicity campaigns, but implementing his vision will remain unfulfilled unless his principles are followed in complete essence. The Congress Working Committee resolves to expose the hollowness and doublespeak of the ideologies and organisations who have never believed in, let alone followed the Gandhian path of truth, tolerance, harmony and non-violence,” it said.

“Elections will come and go. But the ideological battle has to be relentless and unwavering. The Congress Working Committee rededicates the Indian National Congress to this sacred task.”

The Congress Working Committee called upon the nation to fearlessly defend and uphold India’s foundational values and idea of India, which Mahatma Gandhi stood for, lived for, and sacrificed his life for. It also called upon people to fight what it described as the politics of fear, intimidation, lies and deception and asked them to “never bend, to never stop; till we achieve our goal”.

The Congress said it will contest the 2019 general elections on these “mantras” to oust the government and the propagation of the ‘Sevagram Document’ will be the “dharma” of every Congressmen in the coming days, the party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala later told reporters.

After the meeting, Rahul Gandhi participated in a 3km ‘padyatra’ (walk) which culminated in a public rally at Wardha. Addressing the rally, he slammed the prime minister over the government’s “unfulfilled promises”.

Farmers’ march sparks clashes on Delhi-UP border, dozens injured

GHAZIABAD, Oct 2: Police on Tuesday fired water cannons and lobbed tear gas shells to halt a march by tens of thousands of farmers attempting to enter the national capital from Uttar Pradesh to seek better prices and concessions, the latest outpouring of agrarian anger that threatened to snowball following the day’s clashes.

At least a dozen farmers and eight policemen were hurt in the melee that took place shortly after 1am at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, where officials put up layers of metal and concrete barriers — snapping the main road link to two of Delhi’s key satellite towns of Indirapuram and Ghaziabad.

Within hours, the Union government offered to work on some of those demands, but the assurances were rejected. “We are not satisfied with the government’s assurances… The government disrupted our protest at Kisan Ghat. We will continue agitation at UP Gate if our demands are not met,” said Naresh Tikait, chief of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).

A second BKU member, spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, suggested the protesters will make another attempt at entering Delhi on Wednesday. “After we met ministers in Delhi, the Centre gave us assurance only on four-five of our demands. This is not acceptable and we have decided to continue our protest. Tomorrow we will move to Kisan Ghat and Raj Ghat,” he said.

BKU is leading the protest that began from Haridwar a week ago, and its leaders met junior agriculture minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Estimates put the number of attendees at 30,000. Their demands include waiver of loans, cut in fuel prices, and higher minimum support prices for their produce.

The march forced a near-complete blockade of the Delhi-Meerut expressway since late Monday, triggering mile-long jams. With offices set to reopen on Wednesday after a public holiday, the traffic detours due to the blockade is likely to severely hit large parts of East Delhi and Noida. The rush is also likely to spill over to the Metro, which is now the main link between Delhi and localities on the other side of the Uttar Pradesh border.

Prior to the meeting with BKU, Union home minister Rajnath Singh met Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh to discuss the farmers’ issues.

According to an official aware of the developments, home minister Singh led the parleys. “The farmers are from Uttar Pradesh, and Singh knows them well. He has handled similar crises in the past and government leaders wanted him to deal with the current situation,” said this official, asking not to be named.

The government eventually offered to work on seven out of 15 demands, but ruled out a farm loan waiver at this point since that could only be dealt by the state. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath defended his government’s initiatives for farmers and suggested that the protests were motivated.

“The state government has initiated a number of steps to help farmers, including a clutch of measures to expedite cane payments to growers,” Adityanath said.

The Opposition, however, accused the government of carrying out a “brutal attack” and said that it was ironical that it took place on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
“On International Day of Non-Violence, the BJP’s two-year Gandhi Jayanti celebrations began with the brutal beating of farmers peacefully coming to Delhi. Now, farmers cannot even air grievances coming to the capital!” Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.

Later, the Congress Working Committee – the party’s top decision-making body – released a statement condemning the police action. “We condemn the autocratic BJP government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is inebriated with power,” it said. The head of the Congress party’s Kisan Khet Mazdoor (farmers-farm labourers) department, Nana Patole, said he will join the agitating farmers at Delhi border on Wednesday, and former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda too met protesters.

The Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also criticised Tuesday’s crackdown. Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the national capital “belongs to everyone” and that “farmers shouldn’t have been stopped… their demands are justified”.

The past year has seen several big protests held by farmer organisations, including in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – two of which will hold elections this year. The anger coincides with opinion polls that suggest the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been slowly losing support among framers.

According to the Mood of the Nation (MOTN) surveys conducted by Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies-Lokniti, 42% of farmers had a positive assessment of the NDA government on the its ability to address farmers’ woes in May 2017, immediately after the BJP’s victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. This went down by one percentage point in January 2018, and then fell to 30% by May 2018.

Junior agriculture minister Shekhawat said the government will move court against the ban on diesel vehicles older than 10 years – this was among the farmers’ demands who said the ban makes their tractors illegal – and that a committee of chief ministers will look into demand to link MGNREGA with agriculture. Another demand for 5% goods and services tax (GST) on farm equipments will be placed before the GST Council, and imports will be restricted for articles that are abundantly produced in India, the minister said.

“The government has formed a committee of six chief ministers to look into this issue of labour for farm. The committee is in talks to connect MGNREGA with agriculture,” said Shekhawat.

BKU chief Tikait said that those measures were not enough. “The Centre is not ready to reduce the power tariff for farmers and increase sugarcane price. Therefore, our agitation will continue,” he said.

An expert said the anger is a consequence of the government’s policies. “The farm and rural sectors are being largely ignored; there is no serious engagement with people. Agriculture is just one set of issues related to the rural sector, which needs to be taken seriously,” said Prof SS Jodhka, who teaches sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The protest and the blockade has snapped the main link to Ghaziabad and Indirapuram, from where commuters are now only able to take the Metro, other than long detours via Noida and Kashmere Gate.

Officials of the Ghaziabad district administration said the protesters were still at the Vaishali underpass. Both the Uttar Pradesh police and the Delhi police have deployed thousands of reinforcements in the area. “The deployment will remain till the time farmers are at the site. The diversions will remain till the underpass gets cleared. The prohibitory orders are already in place but they farmers had already intimated us about the march,” said Ghaziabad district magistrate Ritu Maheshwari.

She later announced that all schools and colleges will be closed in Ghaziabad on Wednesday.

Officials of the Delhi Traffic Police warned of problems on Wednesday when offices reopen after a public holiday.

UP minister says high-level officials tried to cover up Apple executive’s murder

LUCKNOW, Oct 1: Uttar Pradesh minister Brijesh Pathak Sunday hit out at the state police for showing “laxity” and “hushing up” the murder of a tech company executive in the city’s posh Gomti Nagar neighbourhood.

Apple executive Vivek Tiwari was shot dead early Saturday morning by a policeman when he allegedly refused to stop his car. “The killers deserve to be in jail and they must get stringent punishment.

“Some high-level officials are trying to manipulate and hide things. A probe will be conducted against them as well. The Uttar Pradesh government will not pardon any criminal, including the police personnel who killed the innocent youth,” said Pathak.

Action should also be initiated against officials who showed laxity in this case and tried to hush up the murder,” Pathak said. “I will also request the honourable court to hand over the entire matter to a fast-track court so that the aggrieved family can get justice soon. I have also sought time from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath so that the aggrieved family can meet him,” he said.

The state law minister expressed “shock” over the fact that even policemen could indulge in such an act. “The death of Vivek Tiwari has shocked us. Even the police could do such a heinous act, I did not expect,” he said.

Pathak also talked about the various anomalies reported in the case. “The lone eyewitness was kept in police custody for nearly 17 hours and her signature was taken on a plain piece of paper. The FIR was not registered in the way it should had been. There is no consistency between the statement of Sana (who was accompanying the victim) and the FIR. And efforts were made to hush up the case,” he said.

The minister also hit out at those police officials who tried to safeguard the accused cop. Two constables have been arrested on the basis of an FIR lodged by Tiwari’s colleague Sana Khan, who was travelling with him at the time of the incident.

Law and order destroyed in UP after BJP: Mayawati

LUCKNOW, Oct 1: Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati spoke about the death of the Apple executive who was shot by a policeman, saying that law and order has been destroyed in the state since BJP came to power.

“People are worried. They were shown big dreams during elections that when BJP comes, law and order will improve. Now, it’s the opposite. Now it seems like law and order in has been wrecked in Uttar Pradesh.”

Submit plan to stop use of Aadhaar for authentication, UIDAI tells telecom companies

NEW DELHI, Oct 1: The telecom companies have been given 15 days to submit a plan to stop using the 12-digit unique ID number for customer authentication.

Days after the Supreme Court imposed curbs on the use of Aadhaar, biometric-issuing authority UIDAI Monday sent a circular to telecom companies, which says: “...all TSPs are called upon to immediately take actions in order to comply with the judgement dated 26.09.2018. In this regard, TSPs are hereby directed to submit by 15th October, 2018 an action plan/exit plan to the authority for closure of use of Aadhaar based authentication systems...”

The Supreme Court, last week, struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which allowed private companies to use the 12-digit biometric ID-based eKYC. Following this, private companies like telecom operators will not be able to use this instantaneous and inexpensive Aadhaar eKYC route.

This would mean that the industry will have to revert to alternates like legacy paper-based technique (collect physical paper forms with signature, photographs, ship to verification centre and call up the customer to cross-verify submitted details). The turnaround times in this route is between 24-36 hours.

When contacted, UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey said: “In order to ensure smooth discontinuation...there are certain requirements which are there under the Aadhaar regulations...so the companies are in the best position to know what exactly is needed and they can submit their plan by October 15. If any additional requirements are to be done from the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India ) side, we will tell them after receipt of their plan.”

Sharad Pawar demands JPC on Rafale; No clean chit to Modi

MUMBAI, Oct 1: Three days after his remark that “there are no doubts over the prime minister’s intention in the Rafale fighter jet procurement deal” led to a controversy, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Monday said he never gave “clean chit” to Narendra Modi.

Pawar said there is need for an investigation into the deal, as the cost of fighter jets has increased many times, but insisted he doesn’t want to make allegations against anyone without any evidence. “I have not supported the Central government on Rafale deal. The cost of fighter jets has increased. A jet costing ₹650 crore was bought for ₹1,600 crore and the government must give clarification in Parliament,” Pawar said, at a rally in Beed district in Marathwada.

“I will not make personal allegations against anyone unless I have proper evidence. We don’t have a problem if the government doesn’t want to share technical details, but they can reveal the cost of the aircraft,” he said. “The government is reluctant to share details and hence has to face allegations. The Prime Minister should accept the demand to appoint a joint parliamentary committee to conduct a probe,” said the former defence minister.

In an interview given to a Marathi news channel, Pawar on Wednesday said, “People do not doubt Modi’s intentions…Initially, (defence minister) Nirmala Sitharaman was briefing, now she has been replaced by Arun Jaitley…It appeared crucial information on the deal was being suppressed. Doubts were raised over the manner in which information was presented.”

In damage-control mode, the party had clarified that NCP chief had not given a clean chit to PM Modi and they support the demand for a JPC probe.

The NCP got a jolt when senior party leader and former Member of Parliament (MP) Tariq Anwar resigned from the party, in protest against the statement. “Currently, a campaign is going on against the Rafale deal and all Opposition parties have come together demanding investigation. At that time, such a statement damages the entire campaign…It has left with me no choice but to take this step. I believe that the party is taking wrong line,” Anwar had said.

Pawar is known for his cordial relations with BJP top brass, including Modi. He shocked the political spectrum when NCP extended unsolicited support to the BJP to stabilise its government in the state, after the party (BJP) failed to get a majority in the Assembly elections in 2014.

 



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