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Congress to hold Bharat Jodo yatra in October

UDAIPUR, May 16: A taskforce to drive internal reforms was announced by Sonia Gandhi on Sunday as the Congress held the last day of its 3-day Chintan Shivir with an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Among the highlights of the brainstorming session was the announcement of a nationwide ‘Kashmir to Kanyakumari Bharat Jodo’ yatra by the party in October.

“We have to revive our connection with people and need to accept that it was broken down. We will strengthen it, this will not happen with any short-cut, it requires hard work… The Congress will take out a nationwide yatra in October to strengthen connections with people," Rahul Gandhi said.

‘One family, one ticket’ rule was another significant highlight at the Chintan Shivir with a caveat that those who have worked for five years in the organisation can be eligible for poll tickets.

Here are ten points on the 3-day Congress Chintan Shivir:

1. The Congress’s pan-India ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ will be held from Kashmir to Kanyakumari from October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, party chief Sonia Gandhi announced on Sunday. “The Yatra is to strengthen the bonds of social harmony that are under stress, to preserve the foundational values of our constitution that are under assault and to highlight the day-to-day concerns of crores of our people,” she declared on the day 3 of the brainstorming conclave.

2. "We will have to find a way to accommodate seniors like me to easily participate without running out of breath. We will overcome, that is our determination, that is our ‘Nav Sankalp’ (new resolution)," she said as the Congress leadership pledged a revamp ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

3. While the idea by the G-23 rebels of reviving the party’s parliamentary board was not cleared, an internal taskforce has been declared by the party with an eye on the next national elections. “These reforms will focus on the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and will cover all aspects of the organisation including structure, rules for appointments to party posts, communications and publicity, outreach, finances and election management,” the Congress chief said.

4. The Congress has announced setting up of an election management department, which is said to be a key suggestion of poll strategist Prashant Kishor. The party will also set up a public feedback department to provide “rational feedback” on various issues for policymaking and a national training institute for training of party leaders.

5. On the concluding day of the conclave, Rahul Gandhi targeted the BJP and RSS, stressing, "The most senior leadership is bluntly told what the Congress party feels. Even regional parties would not tolerate the type of conversations we had. Every day we are attacked because we allow conversation in our party."

6. “Which other political party in this country would allow this type of conversation? Certainly, the BJP, and RSS would never allow such a thing. India is a union of states, people of India come together to form the union,” the former Congress chief said.

7. Rahul Gandhi also attacked the government over inflation and said it is set to rise in the future. "Inflation will rise in the near future. Unemployment, inflation, and attacks on India’s institutions are on the rise. We have to ensure they don’t set the country on fire,” he said. Only the Congress - and not the regional parties - could fight the BJP, he insisted.

8. On Saturday, the Congress raised a demand for job reservations in the public sector. “This government is selling off public sector companies diluting the reservation for jobs in government entities. Therefore, we are seeking quota in the private sector to protect the interests of the weaker section,” Salman Khurshid, a former union minister, said.

9. The party has also sought a quota within quota in the Women’s Reservation Bill, which aims to entail further reservation of seats for women from the weaker sections of society within the one-third quota. Mallikarjun Kharge-led panel also questioned the credibility of the electronic voting machines.

10. The mega Chintan Shivir began on Friday in Rajasthan’s Udaipur, the city of lakes. The Gandhis and a large number of Congress leaders were in attendance at the conclave, believed to be one of the party’s largest in recent times.

27 Dead, 40 Hospitalised In Massive Fire At 4-Storey Building In Delhi

NEW DELHI, May 13: A massive fire engulfed in a four-storey building in west Delhi this evening that is has cost multiple lives. So far, 27 bodies have been recovered the police are apprehensive that the number might go up. Officials said a whole floor of the building is yet to be searched. The fire has been doused and the focus is now on rescue work.

More than 40 people sustained burns and have been hospitalised. Around 60-70 people have been rescued from the building, the police said.

"This was a CCTV godown and office. We have been conducting searches since. People said many have been trapped inside," said Sunil Chaudhary, the Deputy Chief Fire Officer of Delhi.

The commercial building -- which mainly had office space -- is located near Mundka metro station in west Delhi. According to fire department officials, information about the blaze was received at 4.40 pm, following which 20 fire tenders were rushed to the spot, reported news agency ANI.

The fire started from the first floor of the building, which houses the office of a CCTV camera and router manufacturing company, the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Outer) Sameer Sharma has said.

"Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a tragic fire in Delhi. My thoughts are with the bereaved families. I wish the injured a speedy recovery," tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Prime Minister has said that ₹ 2 lakh each will be given to the families of those who lost their lives. The injured will be given ₹ 50,000, his office tweeted.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted
"Distressed by the tragic fire accident at a building near Mundka Metro Station in Delhi. My condolences to the bereaved families. I wish for speedy recovery of the injured," President Ram Nath Kovind's office has tweeted.

"Pained by the tragic loss of lives in the Delhi fire near Mundka Metro station. Heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and wishing the injured a speedy recovery," tweeted Congress's Rahul Gandhi, who is currently attending a three-day party "Chintan Shivir" in Rajasthan's Udaipur.

Tear Gas, Batons On March Against Kashmiri Pandit's Killing

SRINAGAR, May 13: Protests are being held in several parts of Jammu and Kashmir since last evening as Kashmiri Pandits demand safety in the wake of the killing of a 36-year-old government employee from the community.

Police fired tear gas shells and resorted to baton-charge when a group of protesters tried to proceed towards Srinagar airport.

At several areas, members of the community left their transit camps, blocked roads and raised slogans against the central government and BJP, saying they have failed them.

Over four thousand Kashmiri Pandits are living in transit camps in various parts of Kashmir after they were given government jobs under a special employment package launched in 2010.

The angry protesters also raised slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha. At several places, candlelight marches were also held.

"We condemn this shameful incident. We ask the government, is this rehabilitation? Did they bring us here to get killed? There is no security here," said Ranjan Zutshi, a protester.

Another protester said, "We are here to work, we have nothing to do with anything else. Why are they killing us? Just tell us what is our crime? The administration has failed."

Sanjay, a protester, said that despite assurances by authorities, attacks targeting the community continue. "See the gravity of the situation, a tehsildar's office is meant to be a secure place. He (Rahul Bhat) was working at his table and bullets pierced his body. He was shot point-blank. The system has collapsed, security has collapsed, safety has collapsed."

At a protest at Shekhpora in Budgam, local Muslims joined the Kashmiri Pandits, serving them water and demanding justice and safety for members of the community.

"Our Muslim brothers have stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We are really thankful to them," Sanjay said.

Javed Iqbal, who joined the protest, said, "I appeal to all Muslims in Kashmir, come forward and protest. The administration has completely failed to protect them (Kashmiri Pandits). If a man is killed in the magistrate's office, where will Kashmiri Pandits go?"

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti claimed that she has been placed under house arrest to stop her from visiting Budgam to express solidarity with the protesting Kashmiri Pandits.

"Wanted to visit Budgam to express my solidarity with Kashmiri Pandits protesting against GOIs failure to protect them. Have been put under house arrest as the fact that Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits empathise with each other's pain doesn't fit into their vicious communal narrative," the PDP chief said.

National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abddullah said it was "shameful that legitimate and justified protests" were met with a "heavy-handed response".

"This is not new for the people of Kashmir because when all the administration has is a hammer every problem resembles a nail. If the LG's Govt can't protect KPs they have a right to protest," he tweeted.

In what appeared to be another targeted attack, terrorists barged into the Tehsildar's office at Chadoora village in Budgam district yesterday and shot Rahul Bhat. He was rushed to a hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

The 36-year-old had been working in Budgam district for the past 10 years after his appointment under a special package to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits. His body was taken to Jammu for last rites.

Rahul Bhat is the third Kashmiri Pandit to be killed in the past six months. Two others have been injured.

Targeted killings in Kashmir started in October. The victims were mostly migrant workers who came in search of jobs and Kashmiri Pandits.

In October, seven civilians were killed in five days -- among them a Kashmiri Pandit, a Sikh and two migrant Hindus.

Shortly after, many Kashmiri Pandit families fled their homes in Sheikhpora - home to the minority community.

Rahul Bhat's killing has yet again brought to the fore the challenges to rehabilitating the Kashmiri Pandit community.

While the government has announced several schemes and made appeals to the members of the community to come back to the Valley, repeated attacks on Kashmiri Pandits raise the critical question of whether they will be safe if they return.

Kashmiri Pandit Shot Dead By Terrorists In Government Office In J&K

BUDGAM (Kashmir), May 12: Terrorists killed a man in the Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir today in what appeared to be yet another instance of a targeted attack. Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit, was fired upon at the Tehsildar's office in the Chadoora village. He was critically injured and was been shifted to a local hospital where he succumbed to injuries.

The police say two terrorists barged into the government office and shot Bhat, an employee there, at point-blank range.

"#Terrorists fired upon one employee namely Shri Rahul Bhat from #minority community in Tehsildar office Chadoora, #Budgam. He has been shifted to hospital," the Kashmir zone police tweeted confirming the news.

Today's attack is the latest in a series of targeted attacks on migrant workers and local minorities that have been sweeping Kashmir over the last eight months.

The targeted killings had started in October, the victims being mostly migrants from outside Jammu and Kashmir who came in search of jobs, and indigenous Kashmiri pandits.

In October, seven civilians were killed in five days -- among them a Kashmiri Pandit, a Sikh and two non-local Hindus.

Shortly after, Sheikhpora - home to the minority Kashmiri Pandit community -- started resembling a ghost town with most families moving out.

Security forces have intensified their operations and launched a major crackdown on alleged separatist supporters.

At least 168 terrorists are operating in Jammu and Kashmir while 75 have been killed in encounters with security forces this year, officials said.

Among those neutralised include 21 foreign mercenaries, they pointed out.

The opposition Congress has often accused the BJP-led Centre of failing to protect the people of the valley.

Sedition Law To Be Paused Until Review: Supreme Court's Historic Order

NEW DELHI, May 11: The controversial sedition law will be paused while the government reviews it, the Supreme Court said today in a landmark order that impacts hundreds charged under the colonial-era relic. Those jailed for sedition can approach courts for bail.

No new FIRs will be filed for sedition and all pending cases will be on hold while the government reconsiders the law, the Supreme Court said, referring to petitions that challenged the law alleging its misuse in cases like in Maharashtra, where it was invoked over the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa.

"It is clear that Centre agrees that the rigours of (sedition) are not in tune with the current situation. It will be appropriate not to use this provision of law till further re-examination is over. We hope and expect that centre and state will desist from registering any FIR under 124 A (sedition law) or initiate proceeding under the same till re-examination is over," said Chief Justice NV Ramana.

If any fresh cases are filed, those charged can approach the court. "The Union of India is at liberty to pass directives to states to prevent misuse of the law," the Chief Justice added.

In a sharp reaction, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said: "We respect each other, the court should respect government, legislature and the government should also respect the court. We have clear demarcation of boundary and that Lakshman Rekha should not be crossed by anybody."

On Monday, the government, in a major turnaround, announced its decision to review the sedition law that was once used against Mahatma Gandhi and Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak by the British. The law allows arrest without a warrant if a person is accused of anti-government activities.

The government argued today that while it reviews the law, it should not be paused. For now, it suggested, a police officer of the level of Superintendent or above could decide whether a sedition charge should be filed.

"There has to be a layer of scrutiny, where a responsible officer is there to scrutinise the gravity of the situation and there of course would be judicial forums," the Centre's lawyer, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, said, adding that a law cannot be stayed on the basis of a PIL (Public Interest Litigation).

Pending cases, the government said, were already before courts and should be decided by them. "We do not know the gravity of offences pan-India. There may be other terrorism charges too in these cases. These pending cases are not before police or government. But they are before Court. So, we should not guess the wisdom of Courts," Mehta said.

Petitioners opposed the government's stand and urged the court to pause the sedition law until the government's review of the colonial-era legislation is over. To which, the Solicitor General said: "We cannot undermine respect for the judiciary of the country."

Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, said there were over 800 cases of sedition across India and 13,000 people were in jail.

CBI Raids At 40 Places In Crackdown On NGOs Over Foreign Donations Case

NEW DELHI, May 10: Ten people, including five government officials, have been detained for taking bribe on behalf of non-profits for allegedly facilitating violations of rules in receiving foreign donations, sources in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said Monday after a big nationwide crackdown across 40 locations.

The operation was launched after a complaint from the Union Home Ministry to the CBI in this regards, a home ministry spokesperson said.

The Home Ministry officials, say CBI sources, gave illegal Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) clearances to Non-Governmental Organisation or NGOs in exchange of bribe.

The sources added that public officials from the Home Ministry, NGO representatives and middleman were caught red-handed receiving bribe for securing foreign funding clearances. Twelve NGOs are under investigation, said the premier investigation agency.

Illegal transactions of around ₹ 2 crore routed through hawala channels have been found, said the agency after searches in Delhi, Rajasthan, Chennai, Mysore, among others.

Hold Sedition Law Till Review? Supreme Court Wants Centre's Reply Tomorrow

NEW DELHI, May 10: The Supreme Court today asked the government to reply by tomorrow on whether the sedition law can be paused and people charged under it can be protected while the colonial-era law is being reviewed. A day after the government said it had decided to review it, the Supreme Court expressed concern about those already facing sedition charges.

"We will give you time till tomorrow morning to take instructions from the government. Our concern is pending cases and future cases, how the government will take care of those till it re-examines the law," Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said.

"In order to protect the interest of people who are already booked under the sedition law as well as future cases, Centre to file response on whether those can be kept in abeyance till law is re-examined," the Chief Justice directed.

Earlier, the court asked the government tough questions on its request for more time in order to review the law and about incidents of misuse of the law.

"The state says they are reexamining. But we cannot be unreasonable. We will have to decide how much time has to be given," Chief Justice Ramana said.

"Can someone stay in jail for months? Your affidavit says civil liberties. How will you protect those liberties," the Chief Justice questioned.

The lawyer for the petitioners, Gopal Sankaranarayan, said it was becoming a "pattern" with the government to seek more time to delay important cases, referring to the marital rape hearing.

"We have to look at both sides," the Chief Justice said.

"When the affidavit says PM is cognizant and has often spoken about civil liberties and human rights and diversity of thoughts, 75 years of independence, outdated laws being scrapped, laws causing hindrance to people, concerned about civil liberties etc. They are saying they are doing a serious exercise. It should not appear that we are unreasonable. There are concerns about pending cases and misuse."

The CJI told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, "The Attorney General himself mentioned in a previous hearing how a sedition case was filed in Maharashtra for reciting the Hanuman Chalisa." (a reference to the case filed against independent MP Navneet Rana)

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said FIRs (First Information Reports) under the sedition law were executed by states, not the Centre.

One of the judges, Justice Surya Kant, suggested a moratorium on sedition cases.

"Mr Mehta take two-three months. The modification of law takes time. But why don't you issue a directive from the Centre about future cases," said the judge.

"We cannot say what will happen in future...these are penal offences. There has been no history where a penal law has been prevented from being used," the government's lawyer said.

"But you said states file FIRs. So you tell states that until matter is pending do not file sedition FIRs Justice, Justice Hima Kohli said.

The Solicitor General said there were judgements where Court advised not to be trigger happy about sedition FIRs. "So it does get addressed on case to case basis," said Menta.

On Monday, two days after firmly defending the sedition law and asking the Supreme Court to dismiss challenges to it, the government said it had decided to review the legislation.

On Sedition Law, Centre's Big Shift In Court After PM's Instructions

NEW DELHI, May 9: Two days after firmly defending the country's colonial-era sedition law and asking the Supreme Court to dismiss the pleas challenging it, the government on Monday did an about-face, saying it has decided to review the legislation.
According to government sources, the move came based on instructions from Modi himself.

In a new affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the centre said, "In the spirit of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav (75 years of Independence) and the vision of PM Narendra Modi, the Government of India has decided to re-examine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A, Sedition law."

Asserting that Modi was "cognizant of various views on sedition" and "in favour of defending civil liberties", the government urged the Supreme Court to wait for the review by a "competent forum" and urged it to "not invest time" on petitions filed by the Editors' Guild of India, Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra and others.

It added that Modi was keen on shedding "colonial baggage" and more than 1,500 outdated laws and over 25,000 compliance burdens had been scrapped since he took office.

Concerned by the widespread misuse of the sedition law, the top court in July last year had asked the union government why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to silence the likes of Independence icon Mahatma Gandhi.

On Saturday, the centre had vociferously defended the sedition law and a 1962 verdict of a constitution bench upholding its validity, saying they have withstood "the test of time" for about six decades and the instances of its abuse would "never" justify a reconsideration.

The reply, dramatically at odds with the latest stance, came after a three-judge bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli on Thursday said that it would hear arguments this week about reviewing the 1962 verdict.

The top court, in 1962, had upheld the validity of the sedition law while attempting to restrict its scope for misuse. It had held that unless accompanied by incitement or a call for violence, the criticism of the government cannot be construed as a seditious offence.

However, in recent years, the law has been regularly used to suppress dissent, target critics of governments at the centre and in states, and harass journalists, activists and the opposition say.

'Minister Shouldn't Have Threatened...': High Court On Farmers' Killing

ALLAHABAD, May 9: Union Minister Ajay Mishra Teni, whose son Ashish Mishra is accused of killing protesting farmers at Uttar Pradesh's Lakhimpur Kheri last year, shouldn't have made threatening remarks to farmers days before the incident, the High Court said today, rejecting bail to four other accused in the case.

The Allahabad High Court referred to a charge sheet file by the Special Investigation Team of the Uttar Pradesh Police that said the killings would not have taken place if Ajay Mishra, a Minister of State for Home in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, had not allegedly threatened farmers.

Ashish Mishra is accused of running over four farmers and a journalist during a protest against farm laws at Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3. Three more were killed in the violence that erupted after the killings.

Less than an hour before the incident, Ashish Mishra was allegedly part of his father's convoy, which was headed to a wrestling event attended by UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. Farmers had shown black flags to this convoy as it passed them.

Days before the Lakhimpur incident, Ajay Mishra had, in a speech in the area, allegedly threatened to "fix farmers in two minutes" if they didn't drop their agitation.

The High Court said: "Political persons should make public utterances in decent language. They are required to conduct themselves befitting status and dignity of office. Law makers cannot be seen as law violators."

The court also commented sharply on the Deputy Chief Minister, who chose to attend the event in the area despite restrictions ordered because of the farmer protest.

"We cannot believe the Deputy Chief Minister would not have known about prohibitory orders in area. Yet he chose to be Chief Guest in a wrestling competition in the area," said the court.

Ashish Mishra, who is the main accused, recently returned to jail after his bail was cancelled by the Supreme Court. The Allahabad High Court, which had granted him bail on February 10, today said the accused were influential and could tamper with evidence.

"The main accused and co-accused are from very influential families. They can tamper with evidence," the High Court said.

'Self criticism is...': Sonia Gandhi's message to Congress leaders at CWC meet

NEW DELHI, May 9: The Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body of the grand old party met in the AICC headquarters in the capital to work out the modalities and agenda of its brainstorming session to be held in Rajasthan's Udaipur from May 13 to 15. Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and the members of the CWC are present in the meeting held just three days before the three-day Chintan Shivir.

“You may recall that at the end of our last meeting, I had announced that we will be organizing a Chintan Shivir soon. We are therefore meeting in Udaipur on May 13th, 14th and 15th. Around 400 of our colleagues will participate. The vast majority of them hold or have held one position or the other in the organization or in the Union government. We have made every effort to ensure balanced representation—balance from every angle,” Sonia Gandhi said in her opening remarks at the meet.

“Our deliberations will be in six groups. These will take up political, economic, social justice, farmers, youth and organizational issues. Delegates have already been informed about which group in which they are expected to participate. On the afternoon of May 15th we will be adopting the Udaipur Nav Sankalp after it has been approved by the CWC there,” she added.

According to media reports, the Congress held its ‘chintan shivirs' in 1998, 2003 and 2013. Out of these, the 2003 session in Shimla was beneficial for the party as it came to power a year later after defeating the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and ruled the country for ten years. But the Congress has been facing losses in elections after elections since 2014. The party has been reduced to 29 seats in the Rajya Sabha and 53 in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress suffered a resounding defeat in the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur. Month after the poll defeat, the grand old party announced the formation of an Empowered Action Group for 2024 to address the political challenges ahead, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had said at a press conference.

The group was formed after a series of meetings between the Congress top brass and poll strategist Prashant Kishor who denied joining the party.

'Khalistan' Flags Draped Over Himachal Assembly Gates, Graffiti On Walls

SHIMLA, May 8: Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jairam Thakur has ordered an investigation after flags of 'Khalistan' were found draped over the gates and boundary wall of the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly in Dharamshala this morning. Pro-Khalistan graffiti was also painted the walls. The state police said they suspect the involvement of tourists from Punjab.

The state, Chief Minister Thakur said, will review the security along the borders with neighbouring states -- Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, and Punjab. Himachal Pradesh attracts tourists from across India.

"It might have happened late at night or early morning today," said Khushal Sharma, the police chief of Kangra region.

"We have removed the Khalistan flags from the Vidhan Sabha gate. It could be an act of some tourists from Punjab. We are going to register a case today," Sharma said.

An intelligence alert issued on April 26 had warned of such an incident, sources said.

The alert claimed that the chief of Sikhs for Justice, Gurupatwant Singh Pannu, had issued a letter to the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister stating that a flag of Bhindranwale and Khalistan would be hoisted in Shimla, sources said.

Himachal Pradesh had banned vehicles carrying Bhindranwale and Khalsitani flags, which agitated the SFJ. The organisation had announced that it would hoist the Khalistani flag on March 29 but could not do so due to heavy security.

"I condemn the cowardly incident of raising Khalistan flags at the gate of Dharamshala Assembly Complex in the dark of night. Only winter session is held here, so there is a need for more security arrangements only during that time," Chief Minister Thakur tweeted in Hindi this morning.

"Taking advantage of this, this cowardly incident has been carried out, but we will not tolerate it. This incident will be investigated immediately and strict action will be taken against the culprits. I would like to tell those people that if you have the courage, then come out in the light of day, not in the dark of night," a second tweet read.

Thakur said the culprits took advantage of the police deployment inside the Assembly campus.

"It is being said that the incident took place at night. The police are deployed in the interior of the Vidhan Sabha campus since it is very large. So the poster was put up on the wall and the main gate of the Assembly. The CCTV footage is being probed to get a clue about the culprits," he was quoted as saying.

2 Arrested With Explosives In Punjab, Cops Say Terror Attack Averted

CHANDIGARH, May 8: The Punjab Police today recovered an explosive device packed with around 1.5 kg of RDX and arrested two men in a village in Tarn Taran district. The IED, packed in metal box weighing over 2.5 kg, was also equipped with timer, detonator, battery and shrapnel, the police said, adding they averted a possible terrorist attack in the border state with the arrests and the recovery.

The development came three days after four people were arrested with the recovery of three IEDs packed in a metallic case, weighing 2.5 kg each, and one pistol in Karnal by the Haryana Police following the inputs from its Punjab counterpart.

The police said those arrested on Sunday have been identified as Baljinder Singh, a resident of village Gujjarpura in Ajnala, Amritsar, and Jagtar Singh, 40, of village Khanowal of Ajnala, Amritsar. A motorcycle and two mobile phones were also recovered from them, the police said.

Bindu was working as a nursing assistant in a private hospital in Ajnala, while Jagga is a labourer and both were carrying out this activity for money and drugs, the police said in a statement.

Additional Director General of Police (Internal Security) RN Dhoke said Tarn Taran Police had received a information that Bindu and Jagga, carrying explosives, were roaming in Naushehra Pannuan area and were planning to carry out a blast.

Acting promptly, Tarn Taran Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ranjit Singh sent police teams to conduct raids in the area and both the accused were arrested with an IED in a metallic box when they were going on a motorcycle after retrieving it from an abandoned place, he said.

The SSP said initial investigation found the accused had gone to retrieve the IED on the instructions of their aide, identified as Jobanjit Singh alias Joban, a resident of Awan Vasau in Ajnala.

Jobanjit is already facing criminal cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. The SSP said a bomb disposal team of the Punjab Police later defused the IED, which had nearly 1.5 kg of RDX.

Bihar Civil Services Exam Cancelled Following Paper Leak, Probe Ordered

ARRAH, May 8: Bihar Lok Seva Aayog on Sunday announced that the 67th Combined (Preliminary) Competitive Examination of Bihar Public Service Commission will be cancelled in view of the 'question paper leak' and the matter is under investigation.

"Exam to be cancelled after a 3-member committee submitted a report in connection with 67th Combined Competition Exam. DGP Bihar has been requested to get the 'question paper leak' matter probed by Cyber Cell", Bihar Lok Seva Aayog.

An investigation has been ordered by the Bihar Public Service Commission after reports that question papers were being sent via messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram and later came out on social media platforms.

According to the commission, questions were leaked from an examination centre just before the exam was scheduled to start at 12 noon.

Meanwhile, a ruckus broke out at Arrah's Kunwar Singh College with students alleging the use of phones by a section of students during Bihar Public Service Commission on Sunday.

"They (college officials) told us that our exam will be delayed but made some students give exams in two separate rooms with doors shut," said a protesting student.

"There was some issue in the exam for Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC). Candidates having an issue can file a written complaint, we will compile it and send it to BPSC. The final decision will be taken accordingly, but no exact info on the issue", said Bhojpur DM Roshan Kushwaha.

Over six lakh candidates were to sit for the Bihar Public Service Commission on Sunday.

Navjot Sidhu to meet Bhagwant Mann days after calling him ‘younger brother’

CHANDIGARH, May 8: Days after praising Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann, calling him his “younger brother” and an “honest man”, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu on Sunday said he will meet the former on Monday to discuss matters regarding the “revival of Punjab’s economy”.

“Will meet CM @BhagwantMann tomorrow at 5:15 PM in Chandigarh to discuss matters regarding the revival of Punjab’s economy . . . Punjab’s Resurrection is only possible with an honest collective effort . . .” the former Punjab Congress chief tweeted.

Last month, praising Mann, Sidhu said, “He is an honest man. I have never raised a finger at him. If he fights against it my support is with him, even rising above party lines, because it is a fight for Punjab's existence.”

Interestingly, Sidhu's comments came a day after he had launched an all-out attack on the Punjab chief minister and the Aam Aadmi Party government over the law and order situation in the state.

Calling Mann “rubber da gudda” (rubber doll), Sidhu also accused the government of politicising the state police and misusing it for political vendetta and to silence the critics of the AAP supremo (Arvind Kejriwal). “The CM should be a self-respecting man who could not be pulled by strings,” the ex-MLA from Amritsar East said, taking a dig at the AAP leadership.

The cricketer-turned-politician had criticised his own government in the state, calling for a crackdown on ‘alleged’ mafias in sand-mining, transport and cable TV sectors.

“Till the time politics remain a business, it will not be respected. When Punjab becomes mafia-free, the state will rise," he had added.

Congress Punjab affairs in-charge Harish Chaudhary has recommended action Sidhu for his alleged anti-party activities in the run-up to the February-March assembly elections and breach of party discipline in recent days. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has referred the matter to the disciplinary action committee headed by senior party leader AK Antony.

Woman Alleges Rajasthan Minister's Son Raped Her, Files Police Case

NEW DELHI, May 8: A 23-year-old woman from Jaipur has alleged that Rohit Joshi, the son of Rajasthan Minister Mahesh Joshi, raped her on multiple occasions over a year, following which the Delhi Police has registered a zero FIR, officials said on Sunday.
A senior Delhi Police officer said the Rajasthan Police has been intimated about the FIR and will further investigate the matter.

The case was registered on May 8 at a police station in North District under sections 376 (rape), 328 (causing hurt by means of poison, etc. with intent to commit an offence), 312 (causing miscarriage), 366 (kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her for marriage etc), 377 (unnatural offences), and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code, the police said.

Mahesh Joshi, the Minister for Public Health Engineering, could not be reached over the phone for his reaction.

In her complaint, the woman alleged that the minister's son raped her on several occasions between January 8 last year and April 17 this year, and also promised to marry her.

The woman said she developed a friendship with Rohit Joshi on Facebook last year and they have been in contact since then. The two met in Jaipur first and he allegedly invited her to Sawai Madhopur on January 8, 2021.

During their first meeting, she alleged, he spiked her drink and took advantage of it. When she woke up the next morning, he showed her naked photographs and videos which worried her, reads the FIR.

Mentioning another meeting, she alleged that Rohit Joshi had also once met her in Delhi and forced himself upon her. "Rohit made me stay at a hotel where he got our names registered as husband and wife. He then promised to marry me...but then he got drunk and abused me...He would beat me up and make obscene videos of me. He would threaten to upload them and make them viral," the woman alleged.

She further stated that on August 11, 2021, she found out that she was pregnant with his baby and alleged that he forced her to take a pill but she didn't.

According to the woman, the accused allegedly raped her on several occasions.

"Based on the complaint of the woman, we have registered a zero FIR. We have also informed the Rajasthan Police which will further investigate the matter," the senior Delhi Police officer said.

A zero FIR can be registered anywhere in the country.

4 Suspected Terrorists With Pak Link Caught With Explosives In Haryana

CHANDIGARH, May 5: Four suspected Khalistani terrorists have been arrested at a toll plaza in Haryana, the police said today, adding a large quantity of arms, ammunition and explosives have been recovered from them. They were going to deliver explosives to Maharashtra's Nanded and Telangana's Adilabad.

The key accused, Gurpreet, was earlier in jail, where he met a Rajbeer, who had links with Pakistan, the police said.

Gurpreet and the three others, who were arrested today, used to deliver consignments of explosives across India, the police said, adding the four have links with Pakistan's espionage agency Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

They were arrested at 4 am at Karnal's Bastara toll plaza while they were on their way to Delhi in a white Toyota Innova SUV. The other three suspects have been identified as Bhupinder, Amandeep and Parminder, all residents of Punjab.

Apart from a fully suited up bomb disposal expert, visuals show a military grade mini-rover was used to approach the SUV and look for IEDs.

The four suspects had been taking order from another terrorist, Harvinder Singh, who handled them from Pakistan, the police said.

The four were given improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, to be distributed across India. The suspected terrorists managed to supply IEDs in at least two places earlier.

The weapons recovered from the suspects include a country-made pistol, 31 bullets and three iron containers with IEDs. Cash of ₹ 1.3 lakh was found with them.

"Preliminary information suggests they were basically acting as couriers and transporting these arms and ammunition in an Innova vehicle and were headed to Adilabad in Telangana," said Karnal Range Inspector General of Police Satender Kumar Gupta. "They will be produced before a court and taken on police remand, after which they will be questioned in detail," he said.

"Three containers suspected to contain RDX (explosives), firearm, a pistol and 31 round live cartridges have been seized," he added.

UP cop, who ‘sexually assaulted’ 13-year-old rape survivor, arrested

PRAYAGRAJ, May 4: The Uttar Pradesh Police has arrested from Prayagraj the SHO accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old gangrape victim.

Prayagraj Additional Director General of Police Prem Prakash said the SHO was arrested from near the Allahabad High Court.

The teen, allegedly raped by four men over three days, was sexually assaulted again by the SHO of a police station where she had been left by her attackers, police said on Wednesday.

Till now, police have arrested six people in the case, the chilling details of which emerged after the victim narrated her ordeal to an NGO, which approached the superintendent of police. Following his intervention, an FIR was registered on Tuesday.

India slips to 150th rank, becomes 'one of most dangerous nations for media'

NEW DELHI, May 3: India’s press freedom ranking has fallen from 133 out of 180 countries in 2016 to 150 in 2021, according to Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, which published its 2022 World Press Freedom Index on Tuesday.

The World Press Freedom Index highlights the degree of freedom that journalists, news organisations and netizens have in each country, and the government’s efforts to respect such freedom.

Last year, India was listed under countries considered “bad” for journalism and was listed among the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. India’s rank last year was 142.

“The violence against journalists, the politically partisan media and the concentration of media ownership all demonstrate that press freedom is in crisis in “the world’s largest democracy”, ruled since 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the embodiment of the Hindu nationalist right,” the 2022 report said.

It further said, “Originally a product of the anti-colonial movement, the Indian press used to be seen as fairly progressive but things changed radically in the mid-2010s, when Narendra Modi became prime minister and engineered a spectacular rapprochement between his party, the BJP, and the big families dominating the media. The prime example is undoubtedly the Reliance Industries group led by Mukesh Ambani, now a personal friend of Modi’s, who owns more than 70 media outlets that are followed by at least 800 million Indians.”

It also highlighted how “under the guise of combatting COVID-19, the government and its supporters waged a guerrilla war of lawsuits against media outlets whose coverage of the pandemic contradicted official statements”. The Wire had reported in June 2020, citing various media reports, that 55 journalists were arrested, booked and threatened for reporting on COVID-19.

It further spoke about the harassment faced by Indian journalists who are too critical of the government. According to the report, currently, 13 journalists are behind bars and one journalist was killed since January 1.

Rohit Kumar Biswal, a reporter and photographer for the Odia-language newspaper Dharitri, was killed instantly when an IED exploded on 5 February near Karlakhunta bridge in Kalahandi district, about 400 km west of Bhubaneswar, the state capital.

According to IndiaSpend, internet shutdowns and the spread of misinformation have also contributed to India’s falling rank in the press freedom index in the last five years.

On safety of journalists, the RSF report said, “Terrifying coordinated campaigns of hatred and calls for murder are conducted on social media, campaigns that are often even more violent when they target women journalists, whose personal data may be posted online as an additional incitement to violence. The situation is also still very worrisome in Kashmir, where reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries, with some being subjected to so-called “provisional” detention for several years.”

On January 1, 2022, ‘Bulli Bai’, an app hosted on Github, had listed several Indian Muslim women, including journalists, for “auction” with their photographs doctored and sourced without their permission. In 2021, a similar app called ‘Sulli Deals‘, which was also hosted on Github, had listed hundreds of Muslim women for “auction”. ‘Bulli/Sulli’ are Islamophobic slurs referring to Muslim women, alterations of the term ‘Mulli’ often used by the right wing to troll Muslim women.

Separately, an investigation by The Wire had revealed how ‘Tek Fog’, a sophisticated app used by political operatives affiliated with the BJP to drive propaganda at scale in India, targetted women journalists, especially those whose work or posts run counter to the BJP’s official narrative.

The RSF report further pointed out how the government has been exploiting the absence of an “airtight border between business and editorial policy”.

“Despite often huge stock market valuations, media outlets largely depend on advertising contracts with local and regional governments. In the absence of an airtight border between business and editorial policy, media executives often see the latter as just a variable to be adjusted according to business needs. At the national level, the central government has seen that it can exploit this to impose its own narrative, and is now spending more than Rs 130 billion (5 billion euros) a year on ads in the print and online media alone.”

Therefore, the old Indian model of a pluralist press is being seriously challenged by a combination of harassment and influence, it said.

'56 Inches Of Cowardice,' Says Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani In Swipe At Modi

NEW DELHI, May 2: Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani on Monday ripped into the Assam government and police for his arrest, targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well for a "conspiracy" to tarnish his image ahead of state elections later this year.

"I call this 56-inches of cowardice, using a woman to frame me in a false case... the Prime Minister's Office was involved in this conspiracy," he said.

Mevani also announced that he would take to the streets and ensure a Gujarat Bandh on June 1 on a raft of issues - seeking action against those behind the leak of 22 exam papers, the recent recovery of "Rs 1.75 lakh-crore" worth of drugs from the Mundra Port, and to press for the withdrawal of all cases against Dalits in Una and against minorities in the state.

Saying that Assam's Himanta Biswa Sarma government should be "ashamed" given the strong remarks by the court that granted him bail, he said, "On April 19th FIR was registered. Police travelled over 2,500 kilometres on the same day to arrest me. It was a pre-planned conspiracy to destroy me."

Mevani, an Independent MLA in Gujarat, was arrested last month by an Assam police team from Palanpur town in Gujarat over a couple of tweets that criticised PM Modi. The case had been filed by a BJP leader in Assam.

He made bail on April 25 and the immediately re-arrested in an assault case filed by a policewoman, which the court has said was "manufactured".

He was finally released from jail on Saturday after a local court in Assam granted him bail on Friday.

Elected as an independent MLA, Mevani had extended his support to Congress in September 2019.

Severely criticising the state police for trying to frame him, Assam's Barpeta sessions court in its order granting bail to Mevani requested the Gauhati High Court to take up a petition on its own against recent police excesses in the state.

The sessions court also asked the Gauhati High Court to order the Assam Police to wear body cameras and install CCTV cameras in their vehicles to capture the sequence of events when an accused is taken into custody.

"Converting our hard-earned democracy into a police state is simply unthinkable," sessions court judge Justice Aparesh Chakraborty said in the order. "If the instant case is accepted to be true and in view of the statement of the woman recorded by the magistrate...which is not, then we will have to rewrite the criminal jurisprudence of the country," the court said.

"Contrary to the FIR (first information report), the woman has given a different story before the learned magistrate... In view of the testimony of the woman, the instant case is manufactured for the purpose of keeping the accused Jignesh Mevani in detention for a longer period, abusing of the process of the court and the law," the court said.

Patiala Clashes Main Accused Barjinder Singh Parwana Arrested

PATIALA, May 1: The main accused in the Patiala clashes, Barjinder Singh Parwana, has been arrested in connection with the violence that had left four people injured, the Punjab Police said on Sunday.

Two groups had clashed on Friday last over an anti-Khalistan march, throwing stones at each other and brandishing swords, forcing police to fire in the air to bring the situation under control.

Addressing the media in Patiala, Inspector General of Police (Patiala range) Mukhwinder Singh Chhina said, "The main accused Barjinder Singh Parwana has been arrested from Mohali."

Parwana will be presented before a court in Patiala to seek his police remand for further questioning, said Chhina.

A resident of Rajpura in the district, Parwana is one of the masterminds of Friday's incident, according to the police.

Chhina said Shankar Bhardwaj, who is an accomplice of Harish Singla, and one Jaggi Pandit have also been arrested.

Singla, the working president of a group called 'Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray)' has already been arrested on charges of taking out the procession without permission and instigating violence.

Police on Saturday had said that it had arrested Singla, Daljeet Singh and Kuldeep Singh in connection with Friday's incident. Six FIRs have been registered in the matter and a total of 25 people had been named in them.

Chhina on Sunday said police would take stern action if anyone is found trying to disturb peace and communal harmony. The clashes had taken place outside the Kali Mata temple when members of the 'Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray)' began a 'Khalistan Murdabad March'.

Some Sikh activists, including Nihangs, took out another march against the Sena event. Four people were injured in the incident.


 

 



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