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April 16, 2018


23:56  Activists concerned over growing incidents of sexual violence against women:  
More than 100 activists today expressed "deep concern" over increasing incidents of sexual violence against women and young girls and wondered whether the government was taking enough steps to stop such crimes.

Several representatives of womens' movement and outfits working for women and children in a joint statement demanded the government to bring the perpetrators in Kathua, Unnao and other similar cases to justice without delay.

"We are deeply concerned and horrified at the growing and repeated incidents of sexual violence and extreme brutality being inflicted on girls... We feel the time has also come for us to ask all the powers that be whether they believe enough is being done to prevent such dastardly acts on the most vulnerable and hapless categories of the population," they said in the statement.

Rejecting the demand for capital punishment to rapists, the activists said there was a need for "urgent evaluation" of "gaps" in the implementation of the Criminal (Amendment) Law, 2013 and POCSO Act, 2012.

The signatories termed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's condemnation of the Kathua and Unnao incidents as "too late".

-- PTI
23:44  RJD faces EC heat for not submitting audit report on time:  
The Election Commission of India on Monday issued a show-cause notice for the sixth time to the Rashtriya Janata Dal and warned that if it failed to submit the reason for not submitting the annual audit report for 2014-15, they might soon face a suspension.

The notice read that the RJD party "has so far not filed its Annual Audit Report for Financial Year 2014-15, although the due date for such filing has long expired on 31.10.2015."

The notice pointed out that the commission issued notices on November 11, 2015, January 20, 2016, February 26, 2016, June 25, 2016, October 05, 2016, July 2, 2017, January 12, 2018, and March 13, 2018, without any reciprocation from the party's end.

The notice further asked the party to show "in writing, along with the Annual Audit Reports of your party for the Financial Year 2014-15, giving detailed reasons for the default should reach the office of the Commission within 20 days from the date of the receipt of the notice."

The commission warned again that if it failed, then under para 16 A of the Election Symbols (reservation and allotment) order, 1968 necessary action will be taken.

-- ANI
23:14  Grenfell tower blaze: Refurbishment 'turned tower into fire hazard':  
The Grenfell Tower blaze was fuelled by botched refurbishment decisions that went well beyond the use of flammable cladding panels and insulation, a report for the Metropolitan police has reportedly revealed.

Gaps around windows, wrongly fitted cavity barriers meant to stop fire, and dozens of missing or faulty door closers were also responsible for helping to spread rather than limit the fire that claimed 71 lives in June 2017, according to details that emerged on Monday.

A survivors group, Grenfell United, said the findings were shocking and showed an industry that is broken.

Fire investigators with BRE Global found that the 24-story building was essentially turned into a tinderbox by the 2014 to 2016 refurbishment, according to the 210-page report leaked to the Evening Standard.

Not only were the cladding and insulation materials used during the building makeover flammable, but the way the window frames were constructed helped fan the fire, the Standard reported.

The blaze started in a fridge in a fourth-floor apartment early June 14, 2017, the report said. Flames traveled through an open window, took hold of the cladding and consumed the entire 230-foot-tall building. It killed 71 people and left hundreds homeless.
22:47  India summons Pak's Deputy HC; protests raising of Khalistan issue during visit of Sikh pilgrims:  
India today summoned Pakistan's Deputy High Commissioner and lodged a strong protest over attempts to raise the Khalistan issue during the visit of Sikh pilgrims to that country, while asking it to immediately cease all such activities aimed at undermining India's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In a statement, the MEA said Islamabad was told that such repeated attempts by authorities and entities in Pakistan to extend support to "secessionist movements" in India amounted to "interference" in its internal affairs.

"A strong protest was lodged at attempts being made during the ongoing visit of the Sikh pilgrims from India to Pakistan to raise the issue of 'Khalistan' by making inflammatory statements and displaying posters" at various places of pilgrimage in Pakistan, the ministry said.
"Pakistan was called upon to immediately stop all such activities that were aimed at undermining India's sovereignty, territorial integrity and incitement of disharmony in India," the MEA said.

It said such incidents during the visit of the Indian pilgrims went against the spirit of the bilateral protocol of 1974 governing the exchange of visits of pilgrims between the two countries.
The summoning of Pakistan's Deputy High Commissioner came a day after India lodged a strong protest with Islamabad for preventing the group of visiting Sikh pilgrims from meeting Indian diplomats in Pakistan and "compelling" the Indian envoy in Islamabd to return while on way to a prominent gurudwara there.
The fresh incidents come over two weeks after India and Pakistan agreed to resolve matters related to treatment of diplomats. The diplomats of the two countries had made claims and counter-claims about harassment in each other's country.

The MEA had yesterday said a group of around 1,800 Sikh pilgrims are on a visit to Pakistan from April 12 under a bilateral agreement on facilitating visits to religious shrines.
       
It had said the Indian High Commissioner, who was to greet Indian pilgrims on the occasion of Baisakhi, was compelled to return when he was en route to Gurdwara Panja Sahib.

The MEA had called it an "inexplicable diplomatic discourtesy" by Pakistan, holding that these incidents constitute a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

-- PTI
21:52  'We have not got justice,' says relatives of Mecca Masjid bomb blast:  
Some victims and relatives of those killed in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast said they have not got justice and urged the state government to move the high court against a special NIA court verdict acquitting five accused in the case.

Reacting to the acquittal, Fayaz Khan, who lost his uncle and brother-in-law in the blast, said he was "upset" over the judgment.
       
"We have not got justice... it is the responsibility of the government to move the high court against today's judgment and see to it that all of them are punished
accordingly," he said.

Syed Salman, who was among the injured, said "even after 11 years since the blast, we have not got justice."

He said investigating agencies should "seriously" take up the matter.

Mohd Omar, a relative of another blast victim, too echoed similar views.

A powerful blast, triggered by remote control, had ripped through the over four centuries-old mosque during an assembly of devotees on May 18, 2007 when they had gathered for Friday prayers, killing nine people and wounding 58.

A special National Investigation Agency court today acquitted five persons including right-wing activist Swami Aseemanand in the case, ruling that the prosecution failed to prove charges against them. 

-- PTI
21:24  Harry, Markle to work as Commonwealth youth ambassadors:  
Britain's Prince Harry and his American actress fiancee Meghan Markle today embarked on a new role as youth ambassadors of the Commonwealth at the launch of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Harry, who is set to marry Markle in Windsor on May 19, made his first speech as part of his new role at the launch of the Commonwealth Youth Forum in London.

"I know that serving as an ambassador to young people I am going to have to try to keep up with you," he said to youth representatives gathered for the forum.

"I am also incredibly grateful that the woman I am about to marry, Meghan, will be joining me in this work, of which she too is hugely excited to take part in," he said.

In a heartfelt speech that included tributes to his grandmother and Head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II, and his father, Prince Charles, the young royal told a room full of Commonwealth youth representatives from across 53 member-countries that he would strive to "listen" to their concerns and ideas.
As part of their new role, Harry and his wife-to-be are expected to undertake overseas tours of the Commonwealth as well as convening young people to hear their ideas on how to give them a bigger platform.

May is set to welcome 52 other heads of government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the CHOGM executive session and leaders' retreat later this week.

Before multilateral talks on Thursday and Friday, the British premier will hold bilateral talks with Modi on Wednesday. 

-- PTI
20:37  US accuses Russia, Syria of tampering with Douma evidence, Moscow denies:  
The United States accused Russia on Monday of blocking international inspectors from reaching the site of a suspected poison gas attack in Syria and said Russians or Syrians may have tampered with evidence on the ground.

Moscow immediately denied the charge and blamed delays on retaliatory U.S.-led missile strikes on Syria at the weekend.

In the fraught aftermath of the suspected attack in Douma and the Wests response, Washington also prepared to increase pressure on Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assads main ally, with new economic sanctions. European Union foreign ministers threatened similar measures.

And in London and Paris, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron faced criticism from political opponents over their decisions to take part in the air strikes against Syria.

Syria and Russia deny unleashing poison gas during their offensive on Douma this month, which ended with the recapture of the town that had been the last rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus.

Relief organisations say dozens of men, women and children were killed. Footage of young victims foaming at the mouth and weeping in agony helped to thrust Syrias civil war in which half a million people have been killed in the past seven years to the forefront of world concern again.
19:45  'Economic policies are only good if benefit reaches to target segments':  
The BSE is not where one would expect RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to give a speech. But the RSS chief on Monday was present in the hub of stock trading on the occasion of the launch of the book "Socio-Economic Dynamics Of Indian Society.

"Economic policies are only good if benefit reaches to target segments," Bhagwat told the audience.

This is Bhagwat's second visit to BSE this year. He had earlier visited BSE to deliver a talk on 'Nationalism and Ethical Practices in Business.'

He had then said that trade should not just be taken as a profession, but it must be considered a part of one's dharma.

Photograph: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com
19:14  SC sets aside NGT order on restrictions on devotees at Amarnath Shrine cave:  
The Supreme Court today set aside a National Green Tribunal order that had created a controversy by putting restrictions on devotees asking them to maintain silence while standing in front of the 'Maha Shivalinga', a natural formation inside the Amarnath cave in South Kashmir Himalayas.

The top court said that the December 14 last year's order should not have been passed by the NGT on a petition which did not concern the Amarnath cave shrine.

Observing that due procedure needed to be followed, a bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta asked petitioner Gauri Mulekhi to file an appropriate petition with regard to the pollution at the Amarnath cave.

The 'shivalinga' is a stalagmite formed by freezing of water drops falling from the roof of the cave and growing up vertically from the cave floor.

During the hearing, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Amarnath Shrine Board, said the tribunal had "jumped the gun" and imposed certain restrictions on chanting of religious hymns, carrying of devotional offerings (prasad) and use of mules to ferry devotees.

The bench asked an official of the Board why the devotees who cannot walk the distance to the cave, not be dropped by helicopters.

The official said about 1000 people could be dropped by helicopters at a distance of four kilometres from the cave, but they have to walk the remaining part.

-- PTI
19:04  Judge who acquitted Aseemanand and others in Mecca Masjid case resigns:  
The judge, Ravindra Reddy, who gave the verdict in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast earlier today has resigned. Swami Aseemanand, a saffron-robed monk who has been linked to three terror attacks, was among five men acquitted today in the 2007 blast in Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid.

Nine people were killed and over 50 injured when the blast ripped through the historic mosque during Friday prayers on May 18 that year.

It took a few minutes for the 11-year-old case to come crashing down as a court said the country's top anti-terror body, the National Investigation Agency, had failed to prove anyone's guilt. The NIA officer in charge of the case, Pratibha Ambedkar, was abruptly removed two weeks ago. 
18:25  Togadia slams PM's foreign tour when 'daughters are not safe':  
Former VHP leader Pravin Togadia, who is going to sit on an indefinite fast from tomorrow, kept up his attack on Narendra Modi today saying the prime minister is going abroad when "daughters are not safe".

The state spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, meanwhile, came out in Togadia's support, claiming that the entire Gujarat unit was behind the firebrand leader.

"Today our soldiers are not safe on borders, farmers are committing suicide and our daughters are not safe in their homes. And yet, our PM has embarked on a foreign tour," Togadia said.

Modi today embarked on a five-day visit to Sweden and the UK.

Togadia quit the VHP after former Himachal Pradesh governor V S Kokje was elected as VHP's international president, defeating Togadia's nominee Raghava Reddy, two days ago.

In an apparent show of strength, Togadia, a former international working president of the VHP, would sit on indefinite fast.

Modi and Togadia, both of whom hail from Gujarat and started out as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh volunteers, drifted apart in the last decade with Modi's rise.

-- PTI
18:08  Veteran journalist S Nihal Singh passes away at the age of 89.
18:05  Amid rape anger, BJP's Sakshi Maharaj launches nightclub:  
BJP parliamentarian Sakshi Maharaj, known for his controversial comments, is at odds to explain how he ended up launching a nightclub in Uttar Pradesh on Sunday. The saffron-robed religious leader-turned-politician was seen at the inauguration of a club called "Let's meet" in Lucknow.

Stunned by the outrage over his appearance, Sakshi Maharaj, 62, says he had been tricked into believing he was inaugurating a restaurant. He says he has also complained to the BJP state president against a party leader who he said had egged him on to take up the invite.

The owner of the club also now claims the invites mistakenly referred to the restaurant cum lunge as "nightclub".

For Sakshi Maharaj, known for his medieval-era views and comments, the embarrassment couldn't have come at a worse time. He represents Unnao, where a BJP legislator has been charged with raping a 15-year-old girl. On social media, it was pointed out that he had not met the rape survivor yet.

Months ago, Sakshi Maharaj had blamed rapes on girls and boys holding hands and engaging in "vulgar behaviour in public".

He had also supported Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the Dera Sacha Sauda chief accused of raping two disciples when he made this comment: "One woman has alleged rape against the Dera chief, but crores of devotees believe he is God. Who would you believe?"
17:29  Karnataka polls: Mining baron G J Reddy's brother, Bangarappa's son in BJP's second list:  
The BJP today announced 82 candidates, including elder brother of tainted mining baron G Janardhan Reddy and son of late chief minister S Bangarappa, for the Karnataka assembly polls, taking to 154 the number of constituencies for which it has declared its nominees.
         
Polls for the 224-member assembly are scheduled on May 12.

In the second list released today, the BJP has fielded Reddy's elder brother G  Somashekar Reddy from Bellary City while Kumar Bangarappa will contest from Sorab.
G Janardhan Reddy is an an accused in illegal mining case.
Krishnaiah Setty, an old associate of Yeddyurappa, has been fielded from from Malur.
Among the seats for which the party is yet to announce candidates is Varuna, for which Yeddyurappa's son B Y Vijayendra is seen as a strong contender.
The Congress has fielded Siddaramaiah's son Yatheendra from Varuna, currently held by the chief minister who has shifted to Chamundeshwari. The BJP has not announced its candidate against the chief minister.
The BJP released the list a day after its central election committee met here to finalise the names of its candidates for the high-stakes election.
The BJP on April 8 had declared its first list of 72 nominees that included its chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa, and senior leaders K S Eshwarappa and Jagadish Shettar.
The Congress had yesterday released its list of 218 candidates.

-- PTI
17:10  'Justice not done; probe will weaken resolve to fight terrorism':  
AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi today alleged that the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case in which all the five accused facing trial were acquitted, had not been pursued properly by anti-terror investigative agency NIA.
Hyderabad Lok Sabha member Owaisi alleged that most of the witnesses in the Mecca Masjid blast case had turned hostile after June 2014 and the NIA either didn't pursue the case as was expected from it or was not allowed by its political masters to do so.


Asserting that "justice hasn't been done in the case," Owassi said "questions would be raised over the criminal justice system (of the country) if such biased prosecutions continue."
The firebrand MP alleged that the Modi government did not even appeal against the bail given to the accused earlier.
"Justice has not been done, the NIA & the Modi govt didn't even appeal against the bail that was given to the accused within 90 days. This was a complete biased investigation which will weaken our resolve to fight terrorism," said Owaisi, recaling that nine persons had died and many more were injured in the 2007 blast.
A special NIA court here today acquitted five persons, including Swami Aseemanand, in the case. Nine persons had been killed and 58 injured in the blast.
Ten persons were named as accused in the case but only five of them were arrested and sent up for trial.
The five who faced trial included Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, Bharat Mohan Lal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Choudhary.
Two other accused in the case, Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra are still absconding, while another accused Sunil Joshi had died.
The NIA is still probing the case against the two absconding accused.

-- PTI
17:00  Army man joins Hizbul Mujahideen: JK police officials:  
An army man who had gone missing from south Kashmir earlier this month has joined the Hizbul Mujahideen terror group, police officials said today.
Idrees Mir, who was posted in the army's Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry unit, joined the group yesterday, a police official said.  

The official said Mir had gone missing from Shopian. He joined the group along with two locals who had also been missing. 

The army maintains that he is "missing" and has no confirmation about his joining the terror outfit.

According to the police, Mir was posted to Jharkhand and was unhappy about the move.

-- PTI
16:26  IMD predicts normal monsoon this year:  
India is likely to witness a normal monsoon this year, the India Meteorological Department said today.

The monsoon will be 97 per cent of long period average, which is normal for the season, IMD Director General K G Ramesh told a press conference. 

He said that there was "very less probability" of a deficient monsoon. 

The date of onset of monsoon will be announced in the middle of May.

The monsoon is considered normal if the average rainfall is between 96 to 104 per cent of long period average. 

Anything less than 90 per cent of LPA is termed a 'deficient' monsoon, and 90-96 per cent of the same is considered 'below normal'.

The four-month monsoon season provides about 70 per cent of the country's annual rainfall.

-- PTI
16:22  No justice in Mecca Masjid blast case: Owaisi:  
AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi today alleged that the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case in which all the five accused facing trial were acquitted, had not been pursued properly by anti-terror investigative agency NIA.
 
Hyderabad Lok Sabha member Owaisi alleged on a micro-blogging site that most of the witnesses in the Mecca Masjid blast case had turned hostile after June 2014 and the NIA either didn't pursue the case as was expected from it or was not allowed by its political masters to do so.
 
Asserting that "justice hasn't been done in the case," Owassi said "questions would be raised over the criminal justice system (of the country) if such biased prosecutions continue."
 
The firebrand MP alleged that the Modi government did not even appeal against the bail given to the accused earlier.
 "Justice has not been done, the NIA & the Modi govt didn't even appeal against the bail that was given to the accused within 90 days. This was a complete biased investigation which will weaken our resolve to fight terrorism," said Owaisi, recaling that nine persons had died and many more were injured in the 2007 blast.
 
A special NIA court here today acquitted five persons, including Swami Aseemanand, in the case. Nine persons had been killed and 58 injured in the blast.
 
Ten persons were named as accused in the case but only five of them were arrested and sent up for trial.
 
The five who faced trial included Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, Bharat Mohan Lal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Choudhary.
  
Two other accused in the case, Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra are still absconding, while another accused Sunil Joshi had died.
 
The NISA is still probing the case against the two absconding remaining accused. -- PTI 
15:53  Give security to Kathua victim's family and lawyer: SC to J&K govt:  
The Supreme Court today directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to provide security to the family of the eight-year-old Kathua gangrape and murder victim, the lawyer and a family friend assisting them in pursuing the case.
The apex court also took note of a plea of the victim's father seeking transfer of the trial of the case from Kathua, preferably to Chandigarh and sought response of the state government.
During the hearing, the victim's father expressed satisfaction with the probe so far, conducted by Jammu and Kashmir Police and opposed the plea for CBI investigation demanded by others.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud asked the state police to provide adequate security at the observation home where a juvenile accused has been kept and fixed the next date of hearing on April 27. 
The bench said those policemen providing security to the victim's family and others will be in plain clothes. -- PTI
15:27  Fast track rape cases of minors if you are serious: Rahul to PM:  
Amid public outrage over Kathua and Unnao rape cases, Congress President Rahul Gandhi today asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fast track cases of rapes of minors and punish the guilty if he was serious about providing justice to the country's daughters.
 
Gandhi pointed out that there were as many as 19,675 cases of rapes of minor children in 2016, terming them as "shameful".
"There were 19,675 rapes of minor children reported in 2016. This is shameful. PM should fast track these cases and punish the guilty if he is serious about providing justice for our daughters," Gandhi said on Twitter, using the hashtag 'SpeakUp'. 
 
His remarks come days after the prime minister said that the guilty in the Kathua and Unnao incidents would not be spared and the country's daughters will get justice.
Expressing anguish over the two incidents which have triggered widespread outrage, the prime minister had said such crimes challenge the very concept of social justice "and as a society and a country we all are ashamed of it."
"I want to assure the nation that no criminal will be spared. Justice will be done. Our daughters will get justice. We all will have to work together to end this internal evil," he had said at an event last week. 
 
In Kathua, an eight-year-old girl was gangraped and murdered while in Unnao, a 17-year-old has accused a BJP MLA of raping her. -- PTI  
15:09  Owaisi announces support for JD-S in Karnataka polls:  The AIMIM today announced its decision to back the JD-S, led by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, in the May 12 Karnataka assembly elections.   

Party president Asaduddin Owaisi said it has decided to support the JD-S after "due consideration and consultations".   

Earlier, the party hinted at fielding its own candidates in the polls.   

"All our efforts and endeavour would be to ensure that the JD-S gets maximum number of seats. (HD) Kumaraswamy should become the chief minister and the party led by Deve Gowda should be ruling Karnataka," Owaisi said.   

Kumaraswamy is son of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, and is the president of Karnataka unit of Janata Dal-Secular.   

According to Owaisi, his party feels that both the national parties, the BJP and Congress, have failed to live up to the expectations and hope of the people of Karnataka and that's why they have decided to support the JD-S completely.   

"We will not be putting up our candidates," Owaisi said, adding that he has already spoken to Kumaraswamy and assured him about his party's support to the JD-S.   

He said his party members, including him, would go out and address public meetings to garner support for the JD-S in the upcoming elections.

"I hope the people of Karnataka would once again repose faith in the JD-S so that a qualitative change can be brought in Karnataka.

"It's in the interest of Karnataka and in the interest of the nation that a non-Congress, non-BJP government comes to power both in Karnataka and subsequently (at the Centre) whenever the parliamentary elections are held," he added.
15:05  Don't need to use my back as my arms can do the job: Dhoni:  
Mahendra Singh Dhoni's powerful forearms won many a matches for India and no wonder the former India captain has confidence to clear the boundary even when he is suffering from excruciating back pain.
 
For lofted shots, a batsman needs to maintain shape while transfering body weight into the shot. 

However against Kings XI Punjab last night, the Chennai Super Kings captain was in real pain but kept clearing the ropes with consummate ease. 
 
Dhoni's unbeaten 79 off 44 balls got CSK agonisingly close to the target before the visitors fell short by four runs. 
 
When asked how he could hit those lofted shots with a painful back, Dhoni replied: "The back is pretty bad but God has given me lot of power and I don't need to use my back a lot. My arms can do the job."
 
However Dhoni maintained that it was not a very serious injury.
 
"It shouldn't be too bad because I know what happened. And when you know the extent of your injury, you know how bad it really is," he said. -- PTI    
14:43  Upset over ticket distribution, Congress workers take to streets:  
A fully-blown revolt has broken out in the Karnataka Congress over the ticket distribution for the upcoming Karnataka assembly elections.

On Sunday, the Congress released its first list of 218 candidates for the May 12 Karnataka assembly elections, fielding Chief Minister Siddaramaiah from Chamundeshwari and state party chief G Parameshwara from Korategere.

However, the party did not apply the "one-family, one-ticket" formula for the Karnataka polls which it followed in the Punjab polls held last year.

Protests have erupted in many constituencies like Hangal, Mayakonda, Jagalur, Tiptur, Kunigal, Kolar, Kollegal, Belur, Badami, Kittur as sitting MLAs and strong aspirants vented their ire on being denied a ticket.

The Congress workers also staged protests against their own party at several places in the state.

At Azad Park of Chikamagalur, Gayathri Shantegowda's supporters protested and set tyres on fire.

Similarly, supporters of MLA DB Inamdar protested in Belagavi. They blocked road and burnt tyres. 

The factional fight in the Karnataka Congress is likely to hurt the party, especially when BJP's aggressive campaigning led by president Amit Shah threatens to change equations in the run-up to the polls. 
14:18  Andhra Pradesh observes bandh for special category status:  
A state-wide bandh called by a people's forum for granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh is being observed today. 
 
The ruling Telugu Desam Party, though supporting the cause, decided to stay away from the agitation.
No untoward incidents, except burning of a motorbike in Tirupati, have been reported so far during the bandh called by the Andhra Pradesh Pratyeka Hoda Saadhana Samiti.
The strike has been supported by all opposition parties, including the YSR Congress and the Congress.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who reviewed the situation with top police officials, directed them to ensure that  peace prevailed in the state.
Educational institutions remained shut and examinations scheduled for the day have been postponed in view of the stir.
State Road Transport Corporation buses remained confined to the depots as protesters staged sit-ins and 'road roko' at various places. 
In Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh Pratyeka Hoda Saadhana Samiti president Chalasani Srinivas, CPI and CPI(M) state secretaries K Ramakrishna and P Madhu organised a 'dharna' at the PN bus station.
In Visakhapatnam, YSR Congress MP V Vijayasai Reddy led the protest.
YSRC president Y S Jaganmohan Reddy announced a day's break to his ongoing 'Padayatra' (foot march) to monitor the bandh from his camp in Krishna district.
 
The police said unidentified miscreants set a bike on fire outside the bus terminus in Tirupati town.  
The ruling Telugu Desam Party had withdrawn its ministers in the Union cabinet and walked out of the NDA after the BJP-led Centre denied special category status to Andhra Pradesh. -- PTI
14:13  HC upholds life imprisonment for 5 in Danish woman's gangrape case:  The Delhi high court has upheld the life imprisonment of five persons in the 2014 Danish woman gangrape case. Dismissing the appeal filed by the five convicts, the court said the victim's testimony was corroborated by DNA report in nailing their guilt.   

The high court also pulled up the investigating officer in the case for not conducting a proper investigation.  
13:41  Pathankot on alert after local claims sighting suspected terrorists:  
Security forces today put the city of Pathankot in Punjab on high alert after a local claimed to have given lift to two suspected terrorists.
 
The local claimed that he gave lift to two men last night. 

The duo got down at a place nearby Kathua region in neighbouring Jammu and Kashmir, the police said. 
"We are on alert and the matter is being investigated. A local told us that he gave lift to two youths. The local felt that the duo could be terror suspects as they were apparently carrying weapons and got down at a place nearby Kathua," Pathankot SSP Vivek Sheel Soni said.
"At this stage, we are treating the two as possible suspects and proceeding accordingly," he said. 
The Pathankot police has been checking vehicles at key places.
Notably, the Punjab Police has provided nine bulletproof tractors to Gurdaspur and Pathankot districts to deal with any such threat.
Dinanagar in Gurdaspur and the Air Force base in Pathankot were attacked by terrorists in July 2015 and January 2016, respectively. -- PTI
13:28  Ex-bureaucrats write to PM, say this is our 'darkest hour':  
Amid national outrage over the rapes in Kathua and Unnao, a group of 49 retired civil servants have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, blaming him for what they called a "terrifying state of affairs". 

The letter said, "The bestiality and the barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old child shows the depths of depravity that we have sunk into. In post-independence India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties inadequate and feeble. At this juncture, we see no light at the end of the tunnel and we hang our heads in shame. Our sense of shame is all the more acute because some of our younger colleagues... also seem to have failed in their duty."

The retired civil servants, who addressed the letter as "citizens" with "no affiliations", also blamed Modi. 

"In both cases, prime minister, it is your party which is in power. Given your supremacy within the party and the centralised control you and your party president exercise, you more than anyone else have to be held responsible for this terrifying state of affairs," they said. 

The letter did not spare the serving bureaucrats either, saying they "seem to have failed in their duty".

The rape and murder of the 8-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua shocked the country after a police chargesheet exposed the horrifying details of the case. 
12:39   WPI inflation eases to 2.47 pc in March as food articles turn cheaper:  
Inflation based on wholesale prices eased marginally to 2.47 per cent in March on cheaper food articles, especially pulses and vegetables.
On the basis of Wholesale Price Index, inflation was 2.48 per cent in February and 5.11 per cent in March last year.
According to a government data released today, food articles showed deflation at 0.29 per cent in March as against a 0.88 per cent inflation in the preceding month.
Deflation in vegetables was 2.70 per cent, pulses (20.58 per cent) and wheat (1.19 per cent) in March.
      
Inflation in 'fuel and power' basket however rose to 4.70 per cent in March from 3.81 per cent in the previous month.
     
The inflation data for January was revised upwards to 3.02 per cent from the provisional estimate of 2.84 per cent.
     
Retail inflation, as per data released last week, slipped to a five-month low of 4.28 per cent in March on account of decline in food prices.
In its first monetary policy review for the fiscal, the Reserve Bank earlier this month maintained status-quo on interest rate citing inflationary concerns.
      
It revised downwards forecast for retail inflation to 4.7-5.1 per cent for April-September and 4.4 per cent for October-March. -- PTI
12:14  All accused acquitted in Mecca Masjid blast case :  
A special National Investigation Agency court in Hyderabad today acquitted all five accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast which claimed nine lives.

The blast at the historic Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007 during Friday prayers had also left 58 others injured.
     
After initial investigation by the local police, the case was transferred to CBI, which filed a chargesheet. 
    
Subsequently, the NIA took over the case from the CBI in 2011.

Ten persons allegedly belonging to right wing organisations were named as accused in the case.
    
However, only five of them -- Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Chowdhary -- who were arrested had faced trial in the case. 

To know more about the 2007 blast, here's a report from Rediff.com
11:47  All 14 grounded A320 Neos back in operation:  
All 14 Pratt & Whitney engine-powered Airbus A320 Neo planes of the two budget carriers -- IndiGo and GoAir -- which were grounded between February and March this year due to safety concerns are now back into operation, officials said.
Of these 14 planes, 11 were of IndiGo and three of the Wadia group-promoted GoAir.
None of the 11 A320 Neo planes fitted with P&W engines which were taken out of operation due to the engine glitches are now on ground. All these planes are back into service, an IndiGo official said.
A GoAir official also said that its three Airbus A 320 Neos which were grounded by the regulator DGCA on March 12 are now flying again.
However, spokespersons of both IndiGo and GoAir were not available for comments.
In February, three IndiGo aircraft, with both faulty engines, were grounded. This followed the European Aviation Safety Agency issuing an emergency airworthiness directive on February 9 after a few occurrences of aborted
take-off and in-flight shut down on A320 Neo fleet worldwide. 
On March 12, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation ordered grounding of 11 A320 Neo planes fitted with faulty P&W 1100 engines having serial number of 450 and beyond, citing safety concerns.
The DGCA cracked the whip after an IndiGo flight bound for Lucknow returned to Ahmedabad within 40 minutes of getting airborne due to a mid-air engine failure on March 12.
 
Following the grounding of the aircraft, while IndiGo cancelled a total of 776 flights between March 13 and April 2, GoAir did not operate 336 flights during the period. 
Earlier this month, government had informed Parliament that 11 of these 14 A320 Neo aircraft had started flying again after change of engine. -- PTI
11:46  Relief for Karti as court extends interim protection from arrest in Aircel-Maxis case:  
A Delhi court today granted Karti Chidambaram interim protection from arrest till May 2 in two cases filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate in the Aircel-Maxis matter arising out of the 2G spectrum cases.
Special Judge O P Saini granted relief to the son of senior Congress leader P Chidambaram after the counsel for the ED sought time to argue on Karti's application seeking anticipatory bail.
The submission was supported by the CBI counsel who requested the court to put up the matter for next date.
The court had on March 24 granted interim relief to Karti till today after considering that both the investigative agencies had sought time to file their responses on his anticipatory bail plea.
Karti had filed a plea seeking protection from arrest in the Aircel-Maxis matter, in which the CBI and the ED lodged cases in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
The matter pertains to grant of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to firm M/S Global Communication Holding Services Ltd for investment in Aircel.
In September, 2015, the CBI had filed its status report regarding a probe into the FIPB approvals in the case. The agency had in June, 2016 also issued notice to A Palaniappan, director of Chess Management Services, a company promoted by Karti. -- PTI
11:45  Kathua accused plead not guilty, ready for narco test:  
All eight accused in the Kathua rape and murder case have pleaded not guilty and requested a district and sessions court judge for narco tests to be conducted on them.

The chief judicial magistrate of Kathua today began the trial in the gruesome Kathua rape and murder case against eight accused who allegedly held an 8-year-old girl in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district for a week in January this year during which she was kept sedated and sexually assaulted before being bludgeoned to death.
 
During the hearing, the judge asked Jammu and Kashmir crime branch to give copies of chargesheet to accused and fixed April 28 as next date of hearing.

Meanwhile, the juvenile arrested in the case has moved a bail application before judicial magistrate which will be heard later today.
11:23  Kathua rape: SC to hear plea demanding case be shifted out of J&K:  
The Supreme Court will hear a petition seeking transfer of the Kathua rape case from Jammu.

The court will hear the case at 2 pm today.

The father of the eight-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua has requested the court to transfer the trial to Chandigarh, citing a backlash and lack of security for his family.

The murder of the child, who belonged to a nomadic Muslim community, outraged the country after details were exposed in a police chargesheet last week.

It became heavily politicised and two BJP ministers from Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's cabinet, who had defended the accused, were forced to resign.
11:06  What will US Big Tech cos do on Indian polls?:  'India's first state elections in 2018 kick off in May. Early next year, the country's 800 million voters will decide whether Prime Minister Modi makes a comeback. And heightened concerns about data privacy and election interference mean that the world will be watching to see if US tech companies repeat old mistakes in the world's largest democracy,' writes Pranav Dixit on Buzzfeed.comhere.

Photograph: Reuters.
11:01  Root of our culture will be cut if temple not rebuilt in Ayodhya: Bhagwat:  
The "root of our culture" will be severed if the Ram temple in Ayodhya is not "rebuilt", Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat said today.
He was speaking at a Viraat Hindu Sammelan in Maharashtra's Dahanu in Palghar district.
"The Muslim community in India did not destroy the Ram Mandir. Indian nationals can't do such a thing. Foreign forces destroyed temples here to demoralise Indians," Bhagwat said.
"But today, we are independent. We have the right to rebuild whatever was destroyed because these were not just temples but the symbols of our identity," he said.
"If the Ram Mandir (in Ayodhya) is not rebuilt, the root of our culture will be cut. There is no doubt that the temple will be built at the spot where it was," Bhagwat said.
The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is before the Supreme Court.
The RSS chief hit out at opposition parties, blaming them for the recent caste violence in several parts of the country.
"Those whose shops have been shut (those who lost out in elections) are now inciting people to fight on issues of caste," Bhagwat said. -- PTI

Photograph: PTI Photo
10:01  I may get raped, I can be killed: Kathua rape victim's lawyer:  
Kathua rape victim's lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat has said that she fears for her life as she may get raped or murdered.

"Today, I don't know, I am not in my senses. I can be raped, I can be killed and may be they won't allow me to practice in court. They (have) isolated me, I don't know how I can survive," Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat told ANI.

She added that she has been called anti-Hindu and has been boycotted socially.

Further, Deepika said she would be approaching the Supreme Court to demand security for her and her family.

"I will tell this to the Supreme Court. I am feeling bad and it's really unfortunate. You can well imagined my plight. But I will stand for justice and we would seek justice for the eight-year-old girl," she concluded.

An eight-year-old girl's body was found a week after she disappeared from near her home in January. 

The police has arrested a caretaker of a temple and alleged he was the mastermind behind the kidnapping, rape and killing of the girl from a nomadic tribe.

The police claimed the motive behind the crime was to terrify the nomadic community and drive it out of the village. -- ANI
09:29  Rahul to begin 3-day visit to Amethi and Raebareli :  
Congress president Rahul Gandhi will pay a three-day visit to Amethi and Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh from today, his representative said.
 
Amethi is represented by Rahul Gandhi in Parliament, while his mother and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi is the MP from Raebareli.
 
According to Rahul Gandhi's representative Chandra Kant Dubey, the Congress president, during his three-day visit from April 16 to April 18, will meet farmers, inaugurate a passport seva kendra, a road project and a private school.
 

Rahul Gandhi will also laid the foundations of some development projects. -- PTI  
09:26  Verdict on Mecca Masjid blast case today:  
A special National Investigation Agency court in Hyderabad is expected to pronounce its judgement today in the case related to the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast which claimed nine lives.
     
The fourth additional metropolitan sessions-cum-special court for NIA cases had concluded the trial and last week posted the case today for judgement.
     
The blast at the historic Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007 during Friday prayers had also left 58 others injured.
     
After initial investigation by the local police, the case was transferred to CBI, which filed a chargesheet. 
    
Subsequently, the NIA took over the case from the CBI in 2011.
     
Ten persons allegedly belonging to right wing organisations were named as accused in the case.
    
However, only five of them -- Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Chowdhary -- who were arrested had faced trial in the case. 
     
Two other accused -- Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra -- are absconding while another accused Sunil Joshi had died. Investigations were continuing against two other accused.
     
A total of 226 witnesses were examined during the trial and as many as 411 documents exhibited.
    
Swami Aseemanand and Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar are out on bail while three others have been lodged in the Central prison in Hyderabad under judicial remand.
    
In March 2017, a court in Rajasthan had sentenced Gupta and others to life in jail in the Ajmer Dargah blast case. -- PTI
09:02  Abolishing Planning Commission was a 'Tughluqian' move: Jairam Ramesh:  
Like demonetisation, abolishing the Planning Commission was a 'Tughluqian' move, which has yielded in its place a forum of "intellectually mediocre drum-beaters," said former Union minister Jairam Ramesh.
 
A sitting Rajya Sabha MP and former member of the erstwhile plan panel, Ramesh said the commission did not keep India poor as it was often alleged but actually kept India together.
 
The Planning Commission was an institution in the Government of India, which formulated India's Five-Year Plans, besides performing other functions and was set up by a Resolution of the Government of India in March 1950. 

It was dissolved by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in 2014 and replaced with NITI Aayog.
 
"It was only in August 2014 that the prime minister announced that the Planning Commission would be abolished and in its place a Niti Aayog would be set up. This was in keeping with the new prime minister's mindset: everything must bear my imprint, no matter what's the history and what's the legacy," Ramesh said while delivering the seventh Sharada Prasad memorial lecture on the topic, 'Wise Counsel: Reflections on the Planning Era'.
 
The lecture was organised in memory of late H Y Sharada Prasad, a civil servant and journalist, best known as the media adviser to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
 
Continuing his denunciation of the government's decision to abolish the commission, Ramesh said the body, which was a counter-weight to the finance ministry, a powerful voice for the states, a source of in-house criticism and a forum to bring different viewpoints to the table, stood abolished "at one stroke".
 
"Planning was associated with Nehru. Vajpayee was a product of the Nehruvian era and his obituary speech on Nehru's demise is a masterpiece. But the present prime minister is obsessed with the obliteration of Nehru in every aspect. In my view, the decision to abolish the Planning Commission was as much a Tughluqian move as was demonetisation," Ramesh said.
 
He further said the commission performed valuable functions "at an arm's-length relationship" with the government in power and which even stood up to the government in power on numerous occasions while being part of the system.
 
"After over six decades, it certainly needed a large dose of adrenalin. But what was administered to it in 2014 was a poison pill. What we now have in its place is an intellectually mediocre drum-beater for the powers that be.
 
"I don't mind admitting that something in me died when the last rites of the Planning Commission were performed four years ago and it faded into history unmourned and unappreciated," Ramesh said. -- PTI 
08:43  Former TN chief secy gave wrong info on Jayalalithaa's health: CM:  
Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palaniswami on Sunday accused former chief secretary P Rama Mohana Rao of providing wrong information about late chief minister J Jayalalithaa's health.
Rao was trying to shield somebody in this regard, Palaniswami told reporters at the Coimbatore airport, without naming anyone.
On the Cauvery issue, he said this cannot be solved through Twitter or Facebook, but legally.
Palaniswami said he had submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to implement the Supreme Court's verdict in this regard.
On the ongoing agitation against Sterlite, he said the factory was closed in 2003 and the case is being heard by a court. -- PTI  
08:28  K'taka polls: Cong releases first list of candidates:  
The Congress on Sunday released its first list of 218 candidates for the May 12 Karnataka assembly elections, fielding Chief Minister Siddaramaiah from Chamundeshwari and state party chief G Parameshwara from Korategere.
The party has not applied the "one-family, one-ticket" formula for the Karnataka polls as it granted tickets to the chief minister and his son, the home minister and his daughter, and the law minister and his son.
The Congress had followed this rule in the Punjab polls held last year.
The announcement that Siddaramaiah will contest from Chamundeshwari in Mysuru, ended speculation that he might be in the fray from a second constituency, Badami, in north Karnataka's Bagalkote district.
In the dissolved assembly, Siddaramaiah was representing Varuna in Mysuru. It has now been allotted to his son Yatindra.
Siddaramaiah had made his debut in the assembly in 1983 from Chamundeshwari on a Lok Dal ticket from where he had won five times and tasted defeat twice.
Sources said that while the party has dropped 12 sitting MLAs, all the ministers were given a ticket.
The first list includes at least 15 women candidates and the names of the seven former Janata Dal-Secular and two ex-Bharatiya Janata Party legislators who joined the party earlier this year.
Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy will contest the polls from BTM Layout and his daughter Soumya R from the Jayanagara Assembly constituency (Bengaluru).
Law minister T B Jayachandra's son Santosh Jayachandra was given a ticket from the Chikanayakanhalli Assembly seat (Tumkur).
Senior Congress leader's son Priyank Kharge was given a ticket and he will contest the polls from the Chitapur (Reserved) seat in Gulbarga district. -- PTI
08:18  Trials in Kathua rape-murder case to begin today:  
The trials in the gruesome Kathua rape and murder case begin today
against eight accused who allegedly held an 8-year-old girl in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district for a week in January this year during which she was kept sedated and sexually assaulted before being bludgeoned to death.

The accused include a juvenile.

The chief judicial magistrate of Kathua will be committing one of the chargesheets, in which seven people have been named, to the sessions court for trial as mandated under the law. The chief judicial magistrate will, however, hold the trial for the juvenile as it is the designated court under the juvenile act, according to officials.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has appointed two special public prosecutors, both Sikhs, for the trial in the sensitive case, a move being seen as made to ensure "neutrality" in view of Hindu-Muslim polarisation over the case.

The trial is expected to go smoothly after the Jammu Bar association as well as the Kathua Bar received a rap on the kuckles by the Supreme Court on April 13 as the apex court took a strong note of some lawyers obstructing the judicial process in the case.

The Supreme Court initiated a case on its own record saying such impediment "affects the dispensation of justice and would amount to obstruction of access to justice".

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud was also critical of the Jammu High Court Bar Association, which had passed a resolution not to attend the courts saying "it is the duty of the bar association as a collective body and they cannot obstruct the process of law".

According to the chargesheets filed by the crime branch, the abduction, rape and killing of the Bakerwal girl was part of a carefully planned strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area. -- PTI

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