Fri, 26 February 2021
International flight ban extended till March 31

Timeline  Refresh

23:51   International flight ban extended till March 31
Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation on Friday extended the suspension of international commercial passenger flight services till March 31.

Scheduled international flight operations were suspended from March 23 last year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

'In partial modification of circular dated June 26, 2020, the competent authority has further extended the validity... regarding scheduled international commercial passenger services to and from India till 23.59 pm IST of March 31, 2021,' the DGCA said in a circular.

However, international scheduled flights may be allowed on select routes by the competent authority on case-to-case basis, it said.

The restriction will not apply to cargo flights and flights specifically approved by DGCA, the circular added.

Amid the suspension, special international flights have been allowed under the Vande Bharat Mission since May last year and under bilateral 'air bubble' arrangements with select countries since July.

India has formed air bubble pacts with several countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Bhutan and France, among others.

Under an air bubble pact between two countries, special international flights can be operated by their airlines between their territories.   -- PTI
23:42   Terrorist hideout busted in J-K's Reasi, huge cache of arms seized
Security forces busted a terrorist hideout in Jammu and Kashmir's Reasi district on Friday and seized a huge cache of arms, ammunition and explosive materials, officials said.

Based on specific information from a reliable source regarding suspicious movement in upper Sildhar and the adjoining areas of Ranjati top and Rousouwali top, a joint party of the police, Army and CRPF launched a cordon-and-search operation in the upper Sildhar forest, Ranjati top, Rousowali top and the adjoining Dagantop hills areas early in the morning, they said, adding that during the search, an underground hideout was found.

A huge cache of arms and ammunition, including an AK-47 rifle with two magazines and 150 cartridges, a rocket launcher, 16 UBGL grenades, four hand grenades, besides two VHF radio sets with antennas were seized from the terrorist hideout, the officials said.

"The timely recovery of the huge cache of arms and ammunition has thwarted any possible untoward incident in the otherwise peaceful region and scuttled the nefarious plans of terror outfits to derail peace and harmony in the region south of the Pir Panjal ranges," an official said.

A case under the Explosives Act and other relevant sections of law has been registered at the Mahore police station and a probe has been launched. -- PTI
23:14   5 state polls: No postal ballot for NRI voters
Eligible overseas Indian voters will not get the facility of postal ballots in the five assembly elections to be held in March and April as the government wants the Election Commission to consult various stakeholders before the facility is rolled out.

Responding to a question on whether the facility of Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) would be extended to overseas voters in the assembly elections to West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora replied in a negative.

"As far as NRI voters are concerned, the commission (EC) has sent a very empathetic and very positive note to the Law Ministry over a month-and-a-half back over finding a way out for that.

"The law ministry referred it to the Ministry of External Affairs. I spoke to the foreign secretary also. They have responded in detail and they have said we should have a broad spectrum meeting of the stakeholders," Arora said.

He said the meeting could take place within a month.

Asked if the facility would be available in the five assembly polls, Arora said, "No."

Arora was addressing a press conference to announce the dates of elections to the five assemblies.

As of now, overseas Indians are free to cast their votes in constituencies they are registered. Unofficial data with the Election Commission (EC) shows that only 10,000-12,000 overseas voters have exercised their franchise.

The EC has proposed to the government to extend the ETPBS facility, so far available only to service voters, to eligible overseas Indian voters as well.

In a letter to the legislative secretary in the Law Ministry on November 27 last year, the commission said that with the successful execution of ETPBS in case of service voters, it is now 'confident' that the facility can also be extended to the overseas electors.

'The commission is technically and administratively ready to extend this facility in general elections to legislative assemblies of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry,' the poll panel had said.

The EC said it has been receiving several representations from the Indian diaspora residing abroad to facilitate voting through postal ballots since such overseas electors are not in a position to be present in their polling area as travelling to India for this purpose is a costly affair, and otherwise also, they cannot leave the country of their residence owing to specific compulsions of employment, education or other engagements.

'Due to protocols associated with COVID-19, the problem further gets compounded,' the letter to the law ministry said.

Voting for the five assembly elections will begin on March 27, with West Bengal having eight phases continuing till April 29, while counting of votes will be done on May 2, the Election Commission said.   -- PTI
22:47   Kangana case: Hrithik called to record statement
Mumbai Police's Crime Branch has  summoned actor Hrithik Roshan to record a statement inconnection with his 2016 complaint about fake emails in hisname to Kangana Ranaut, an official said on Friday.

He has been asked to visit the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) at commissioner's office on Saturday afternoon, the official said.

Hrithik's complaint in 2016 alleged that someone was impersonating him and was emailing actor Kangana Ranaut from a bogus email ID in his name.

The complaint followed a spat between the two.

A case under Section 419 (cheating by personation) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 66C (identity theft), 66D (cheating bypersonation using computer resources) of the InformationTechnology Act was registered against an unknown person at Cyber Police Station.

In December last year, Hrithik's lawyer had approached the Mumbai police commissioner regarding the pending probe, after which it was transferred to the Crime Branch's CIU,  the official informed. -- PTI
22:33   Maha reports over 8k Covid cases for 3rd day
Maharashtra reported more than 8,000 new cases of COVID-19 for the third day in a row on Friday besides 48 fatalities, a health department official said.

The caseload in the state thus rose to 21,38,154, while the death toll reached 52,041, he said.

Four cities -- Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Amaravati -- together accounted for 3,401 or 40 per cent of the new cases.

On the other hand, 4,936 patients were discharged, taking the tally of recoveries to 20,17,303.

The number of active cases stood at 67,608.

Mumbai city reported 1,035 new cases, taking its tally to 3,23,879; with three deaths its death toll increased to 11,466.

Mumbai division -- Mumbai and surrounding region -- reported 1,879 cases, pushing its caseload to 7,22,172.

The region's death toll now stands at 19,808, the official said.

With 1,690 new cases, Pune division's case count rose to 5,22,995. Its death toll is 11,736.

Pune city alone reported 765 new COVID-19 cases.

Akola division in Vidarbha which has been reporting a steep rise in COVID-19 cases since February 14 reported 1,601 new cases.

Its caseload is 93,436 while 1,738 people in the region have succumbed to the viral infection so far.

Amaravati municipal corporation alone reported 720 new cases.

The Nagpur division reported 1,512 new cases, of which 881 are from Nagpur city alone.

Of 48 deaths reported on Friday, 25 had occurred in the last 48 hours, 17 in the last week while remaining six were from the period before that, the official said.

As many as 85,932 tests were conducted during the day, taking the tally of samples tested for coronavirus to 1,61,12,519.

As many as 2,688 persons are in institutional quarantine in the state. Maharashtra's COVID-19 figures are as follows: Positive cases: 21,38,154, new cases: 8,333, death toll: 52,041, discharged: 20,17,303, active cases: 67,608, people tested so far: 1,61,12,519.   -- PTI
21:53   Activist Naudeep Kaur is released from Karnal jail
Labour rights activist Naudeep Kaur who was given bail on Friday by the Punjab and Haryana high court, was released from a Karnal jail around 7.30 pm, almost six weeks after she was booked for attempt to murder and other criminal offences. 

Kaur was arrested on January 12 in Haryana's Sonipat for allegedly gheraoing an industrial unit and demanding money from the company. 

The police had claimed that a team of cops was allegedly attacked with sticks, resulting in injuries to seven policemen in the incident. 

A medical report of Kaur was also placed before the high court. According to it, Kaur had "purplish bruises of around 10x7 cm present over LT (left) thigh, lateral aspect, bruises of around 5X6 cm over RT (right) buttock". 

In her bail plea, the 23-year-old activist had claimed to have been severely beaten up at a police station after she was arrested on January 12. 

The court on February 24 had directed the State of Haryana to place on record the medical report of Kaur after which she was examined at the Sonipat Civil Hospital on January 25. 

The Haryana police, however, had denied the charge as "baseless". 

Accepting Kaur's bail plea, Justice Avneesh Jhingan said invoking Sections 307, 332, 353 and 379-B of the IPC would be a "debatable issue" to be considered at a later stage during the trial.
CM Edappadi K Palaniswami
CM Edappadi K Palaniswami
21:34   TN beats poll call, grants 10.5% quota for Vanniars
The Tamil Nadu assembly on Friday passed a bill providing internal reservation of 10.5 per cent for Vanniars, a most backward community, in government jobs and in admission to educational institutions. 

The sub-quota move follows agitations by the Pattali Makkal Katchi, an ally of the ruling AIADMK, demanding quota for Vanniars and more than 10 rounds of talks between the government and the party representatives since December last. 

The bill, piloted by Chief Minister K Palaniswami, was passed shortly before the Election Commission announced the schedule for the assembly elections in the state. 

It splits the aggregate 20 per cent reservation for the Most Backward Classes (MBCs) and Denotified Communities into three separate categories by regrouping castes and provides 10 per cent plus sub-quota for Vanniyars, formally known as Vanniakula Kshatriyas. 

Northern Tamil Nadu, including Vellore, Cuddalore, Kanchipuram, Chengelpet, Tiruvallur, Tiruvannamalai and Villupuram is considered the heartland of the Vanniars, a decisive force in several constituencies. 

PMK founder leader S Ramadoss expressed joy and thanked the chief minister, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and Law Minister C Ve Shanmugam for the initiative. 

In a statement, he said the passage of the bill is the "first phase of victory," in his 40-year struggle for complete social justice for the most backward community of Vanniars.
Photograph: Kind courtesy @adarpoonawalla/Twitter
Photograph: Kind courtesy @adarpoonawalla/Twitter
21:26   Serum CEO apprises home minister about vaccine rollout
Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla on Friday said he met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and apprised him about the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the country.

'It was my honour to brief you today, Shri Hon'ble @AmitShah Ji on the vaccine capabilities of our country and the ongoing rollout of vaccines in India,' Poonawalla said in a tweet.

In January, thecountry's drugs regulator had approved Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use in the country, paving the way for a massive inoculation drive.

Apart from making efforts to meet the requirements of India, SII, the world's largest vaccine maker, is also trying its best to balance the needs of the rest of the world.   -- PTI
20:51   NIA probes explosive-laden car near Ambani home
The vehicle with explosives found near industrialist Mukesh Ambani's residence in south Mumbai had been stolen last week, and a letter found inside said this was only a "glimpse" of things to come, the police said on Friday. 

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has also started a parallel probe and contacted the Mumbai police crime branch, a senior official said in Mumbai. 

A Scorpio vehicle with around 2.5 kg of gelatin sticks was found parked on Carmichael Road near 'Antilia', the multi- storey residence of Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, on Thursday evening. There was no assembled explosive device with detonators and batteries inside, the police had said. 

CCTV footage showed that the SUV was parked there in the early hours of Thursday, and its driver left in an Innova which had accompanied it to the spot.
20:29   Cong, Left welcome 8-phase polls in Bengal
The opposition parties in West Bengal welcomed the eight-phase elections in the state announced by the Election Commission on Friday with the Bharatiya Janata Party saying that it was hopeful about the polls being free and fair.

The state Congress said that it was looking forward to an election in 10 to 12 phases, while the Communist Party of India-Marxist maintained that the number of phases does not matter if the elections are held violence-free.

"We are happy. We hope that the elections would be free and fair and the people of the state will be allowed to exercise their democratic right without any fear," BJP's state vice-president Jaiprakash Majumdar said.

State Congress leader Manoj Chakraborty said the elections should have been held in at least 10-12 phases, alleging poor law and order situation in the state.

"We have seen how the panchayat polls were held in Bengal. So many people were killed due to violence. We just hope that the Election Commission ensures that polls are held in a free and fair manner," he said.

Senior CPI-M leader Sujan Chakraborty said that instead of increasing the number of phases, efforts should have been made to tighten the security during the elections.

"Just seven or eight phases are not enough. The electorate should be free from any sort of fear or intimidation," he said.

Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress said that so many phases were unprecedented.

"This is not fair at all. The state has never witnessed such a long-stretched election. Just because the BJP was complaining doesn't mean whatever they were saying was true. We are very unhappy with this eight-phase election," TMC MP and spokesperson Sougata Roy told PTI.

Elections for the West Bengal assembly will be held in eight phases, beginning with polling for 30 seats on March 27.

Votes will be counted on May 2.   -- PTI

IMAGE: Experts demonstrate the working of EVM and VVPAT during a training programme ahead of the West Bengal Assembly elections 2021, at Suri in Birbhum district of West Bengal, on Friday. Photograph: PTI Photo
Munawar Faruqui
Munawar Faruqui
19:42   Bail for 2 others in case against stand-up comic Faruqui
The Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court on Friday granted interim bail to two more men involved in organising a comedy show, during which stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui allegedly insulted Hindu deities.

A single bench comprising Justice Rohit Arya gave the relief to Sadaqat Khan (23) and Nalim Yadav (25) based on parity after their plea referred to the Supreme Court order of February 5 granting bail to the 32-year-old comedian.

The same bench had earlier granted interim bail to two other co-accused Prakhar Vyas and Adwin Anthony in the case on February 12.           

Faruqui and five others involved in organising the show in Indore were arrested on the night of January 1, following a complaint by Eklavya Singh Gaud, son of local BJP MLA Malini Laxman Singh Gaud.

The MLA's son had alleged that objectionable comments were made about Hindu deities and Union Home Minister Amit Shah during the show. 
19:32   Modi, Shah decided? Mamata questions 8-phase poll
Questioning the eight-phase assembly elections in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Friday that she suspects that the dates were announced as per the suggestions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for better management of the Bharatiya Janata Party's poll campaign.

Addressing a press conference at her residence in Kalighat, Banerjee said the Election Commission should not look at the state 'through the eyes of the saffron camp' -- a reference to the BJP.

"With all due respect to the Election Commission, I want to say that questions are being raised on why elections will be held in so many phases in Bengal while other states will be voting in one phase.

"If EC doesn't provide justice to the people, where will the people go," she said.

Banerjee said that despite 'all these tricks', she will win the elections.

"I have information from my sources that the poll dates are similar to the ones BJP wanted. Have the dates been announced as per the suggestions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah? The PM and the home minister cannot misuse their power for the state elections," she added.

Banerjee said she is the daughter of the state and knows Bengal better than the BJP, exuding confidence about her party Trinamool Congress winning the elections.   -- PTI
19:24   CM to attaned 2 Cong Kisan Mahapanchayats in Rajasthan
The Congress will hold two Kisan Mahapanchayat in Bikaner and Chittorgarh districts of Rajasthan in the presence of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and other senior party leaders on Saturday, sources said.

The mahapanchayats are being held near the four assembly constituencies which are headed for bypolls.

The first 'kisan sammelan' will be held at Pilaniyon Ki Dhani in Dungargarh of Bikaner while the second mahapanchayat will be organised at Matrakundia, Chittorgarh, according to the party sources.

The venue of the first meeting in Dungargarh is close to Churu's Sujangarh while Matrakundia, where the second meeting will be held in Chittorgarh, is near Vallabhnagar (Udaipur), Rajsamand and Sahara (Bhilwara) constituencies.

Bypolls are to be held in Vallabhnagar (Udaipur), Sujangarh (Churu), Sahara (Bhilwara) and Rajsamand.

The bypolls to the four seats in the Congress-ruled state are necessitated due to the demise of sitting legislators.

Three of the seats were held by Congress and one (Rajsamand) by the BJP. -- PTI
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar
18:56   India, China foreign ministers to set up hotline
India has told China that disengagement at all friction points is necessary to contemplate de-escalation of troops in eastern Ladakh even as the foreign ministers of the two countries agreed to establish a hotline for "timely" communication and exchange of views. 

In the first high level contact after the two countries agreed early this month to disengage from the Pangong Tso area in eastern Ladakh, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a telephonic conversation on Thursday that peace and tranquillity on the border is essential for development of bilateral relations. 

The armies of the two sides last week concluded withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of the Pangong lake. 

Releasing details of the 75-minute conversation, the ministry of external affairs  said in a statement on Friday that China was told that bilateral relations have been impacted severely over last year. 

The tense military standoff in eastern Ladakh erupted on May 5 last. 

The two leaders discussed the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh and issues related to overall India-China relations. 

"EAM said that boundary question may take time to resolve but disturbance of peace and tranquillity, including by violence, will inevitably have a damaging impact on the relationship," the MEA said. 

"The two ministers agreed to remain in touch and establish a hotline."
18:48   Threat letter found in car parked near Ambani home
A letter found in the vehicle with explosives parked near industrialist Mukesh Ambani's house in Mumbai said it was only a "glimpse" of things to come, the police said on Friday. 

A Scorpio van with gelatin sticks and a fake number plate was found parked on Thursday on Carmichael Road near 'Antilia', the multi-storey residence of Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, in South Mumbai. 

The letter found in the car was in Hindi but written in English script and was purportedly addressed to Ambani, his wife and the family, a police official said. 

This was only a "jhalak" (glimpse) but the next time the "saamaan" (explosives) will be fully assembled, it said. 

The letter was in a blue bag next to the driver's seat, while the gelatin sticks were kept in a packet with the name of its manufacturer. 

Also, a bag with `Mumbai Indians' printed on it was found in the car. 

There was no assembled explosive device, the police had said earlier. 

Investigators also found at least four number plates in the Scorpio and one of them matched with that of a car in Ambani's security detail, the police had said. 

The Scorpio had been stolen last week and its owner had even lodged a complaint about it, the police said on Friday. 

The police are also trying to trace an Innova, seen in the CCTV footage near the Scorpio when an unidentified person parked it, the official said. 
18:13   3 of Iqbal Mirchi kin declared fugitive offenders
A special Prevention of Money Laundering Act court in  Mumbai on Friday declared three family members of late gangster Iqbal Mirchi as fugitive economic offenders under the provisions of a law by the same name, official sources said.

Those charged include Mirchi's wife Hajra Memon and sons Junaid Memon and Asif Memon.

"The court has also directed the Enforcement Directorate to seize their properties in India and abroad after following due process of law," an official said.

The Enforcement Directorate had moved the special court last December to get declared these three as violators of the fugitive economic offenders Act of 2018.

The ED has then also sought, in the same application made on December 3, confiscation of 15 Indian properties including the 3rd and 4th floor of Ceejay House (in Mumbai) having market value of about Rs 96 crore and six bank accounts having balance of Rs 1.9 crore.

The ED has filed a money laundering case against Mirchi, who died at the age of 63 in London in 2013, his family and others last year after studying multiple Mumbai Police FIRs lodged against them.

The agency had alleged Mirchi 'indirectly owned various properties in and around Mumbai'.   -- PTI
17:47   Sensex posts worst day in 10 months
The other big story today is the bloodbath in the share markets.

The BSE Sensex crashed about 1,940 points to post its biggest single-day fall in nearly 10 months and the NSE Nifty plunged over 568 points to crack below the psychological 15,000-mark on Friday, tracking global selloffs triggered by a panic in bond markets overseas.

Investors also turned cautious ahead of the third quarter GDP data release, besides keeping an eye on simmering geopolitical tensions between the US and Syria. At the day's close, the 30-share BSE Sensex settled 1,939.32 points or 3.80 per cent lower at 49,099.99 its worst one-day fall since May 4 last year. 

Similarly, the broader NSE Nifty plunged 568.20 points or 3.76 per cent to close the session at 14,529.15 the biggest single-day drop since March 23 last year. 

 On the Sensex chart, all 30 constituents ended in the red, with eight scrips logging over 5 per cent drop. Sectorally, banking index suffered the maximum loss with over 4.8 per cent drop. Financial and telecom indices too fell sharply by 4.9 per cent and 3.85 per cent, respectively.
17:42   5 state polls begin March 27, counting May 2
Elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry will be held from March 27 and the results will be announced on May 2, the Election Commission said today.

Bengal will vote in eight phases from March 27

First phase -- March 27
Second phase -- April 1
Third phase --  April 6
Fourth phase -- April 10
Fifth phase -- April 17
Sixth phase -- April 22
Seventh phase -- April 26
Eighth phase -- April 29

Assam will also start voting from March 27, in three phases.
First phase -- March 27
Second  phase -- April 1
Third phase - April 6

Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry vote on April 6.

17:30   8-phase poll in Bengal from March 27 to April 29
West Bengal polls will be held in eight phases. 

1st phase: 30 constituencies: March 27
2nd phase: 30 constituencies: April 1
3rd phase: 31 constituencies: April 6
4th phase: 44 constituencies: April 10
5th phase: April 17
6th phase: 43 constituencies: April 22
7th phase: 36 constituencies: April 26
8th phase: 35 constituencies: April 29

Counting May 2. All four states and the Puducherry constituency will announce results on May 2
17:23   Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pudu polls on April 6
Tamil Nadu's 224 constituencies will go to vote on April 6. 
Puducherry will also go to polls on April 6

Date of counting: May 2
17:19   Kerala goes to vote on April 6
Kerala polls will be held in a single phase on  April 6

Date of counting: May 2
17:18   3-phase Assam polls from March 27 to April 6
EC presser on the four state and 1 UT polls

Assam general assembly elections will be held in three phases. 

1st phase: 27th March
2nd phase: 1st April
3rd phase: 6th April

Date of counting: 2nd may
17:15   CEC Arora demits office on April 13
EC presser on the four states and 1 UT polls

-- "Media is one of our most important alllies. I know you don't believe it, but its true," EC chief says laughingly.

 All critical polling booths identified and adequate forces will be deployed. Forces had already been sent.

CEC to demit office on April 13 and says this is his last press conference. 
17:09   Model code of conduct in place from today
EC presser on the four states and 1 UT polls:

Polling stations will now be equipped with sanitisers, soap, water, masks. 

Model code of Conduct comes into effect from today. 

Safeguards in place for voting machines. 

17:03   CEC: 2 special police observers for Bengal
Highlights from the CEC presser.

Adequate CAPFs deployment shall be ensured during elections. All critical, vulnerable polling stations identified and an adequate number of CAPFs will be deployed.

Critical stations identified, adequate deployment made. 

Former EC CEO appointed to oversee Bengal polls. 

Vivek Dubey and Mrinal Kanti Das posted as special police observes for West Bengal. 

Postal Ballot has been extended to voters above age of 80, people with disabilities & people involved in essential services.

During filing of nominations, only 2 people will be allowed to accompany the candidate.
16:54   CEC: Polling time extended by 1 hour
Highlights of what CEC Sunil Arora is saying at the presser. 

-- Total of 824 seats.
-- 2.7 lakh polling stations. 
-- A total of 18.68 crore people will cast their vote. 
Polls are to be held for 294 seats in West Bengal, 234 seats in Tamil Nadu, 140 seats in Kerala, 126 seats in Assam and 30 seats in the Union Territory of Puducherry.
-- Door-to-door campaign restricted to five persons including the candidate. 
-- Polling time will be extended by an hour.
-- Separate norms for suspected Covid-19 patients.
16:51   CEC commends Bihar polls amid Covid outbreak
Chief Election Commissioner announcing the number of seats for each state and the break-up, the term when the assembly ends. Poll Dates For Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry.

" 7.3 crore voters in Bihar and it was watershed for ECI. It was litmus test. Bihar electorate imposed faith on us. CEO of Bihar and DEC put in day in and out work. 57.34% polls in Bihar exceeded previous polls. Women voters 59.79% turned up in large numbers. Discussed with home ministry for security forces and railways for coaches for transport. I must compliment voters despite several odds," Arora says on the Bihar assembly polls conducted in October last year amid the Covid outbreak. 
16:41   CEC pays tribute to Covid warriors
So it begins. Chief Election Commissioner of India Sunil Arora pays  tributes to the COVID warriors, doctors, paramedics, nurses, researchers, scientists and all EC officials on election duty who are located on the frontline.  "In the thick of the pandemic, ECI started test trials with elections to 18 seats to Rajya Sabha. After that, came the challenge of the Bihar elections, it was indeed a watershed moment for ECI. It proved to be a litmus test," Arora says. 
16:38   EC presser on poll dates for 5 state begins
Election Commission of India all set to announce poll schedule for 4 States, 1 UT. These are Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and Puducherry.

The poll panel has convened a press conference at 4.30 pm.

The terms of the legislative assemblies of the four states is coming to an end in May and June.

In Puducherry, President's Rule has been imposed and the assembly kept under suspended animation after the V Narayanasamy-led Congress government resigned earlier this week ahead of a vote of confidence.
Alicia Keys with Bruno Mars. Pic: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS
Alicia Keys with Bruno Mars. Pic: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS
16:15   Bruno Mars to come out with new single, album
Singer-songwriter Bruno Mars will be releasing a new song and an album after a two-year hiatus. 

In an Instagram post, Mars shared that he has teamed up with Anderson Paak for a new band called Silk Sonic. "We locked in and made an album. The band's called Silk Sonic. First song drops next Friday 3/5," he wrote alongside a concert poster of the two. 

Paak also shared the news on his official account. 

"We made an album! Y'all get the first song next friday 3/5," he wrote. 

Mars's last single was Blow featuring Ed Sheeran and Chris Stapleton. It was released in July 2019. 

The Grammy winner's last album was 24K Magic, which came out in November 2016.
16:09   Rajnath mocks Rajiv Gandhi at Bengal rally
Union Minister Rajnath Singh in Balurghat: "People are gathering in huge numbers at our rallies in West Bengal, it shows that people of State have made up their minds to oust Mamata didi and bring BJP.

"I don't know if didi allowed opening of Jan Dhan accounts in West Bengal but scheme was brought because of what our former PM Rajiv Gandhi said. He said when he sent 100 paise, people got 14 paise. Modiji said he's not 'majboor PM' but 'majboot PM', and made sure 100 paise reaches people."
Amit Khare, Secretary, I&B Ministry
Amit Khare, Secretary, I&B Ministry
15:32   Govt: Interference will be minimum on OTT
Amit Khare, Secretary, I&B Ministry on the new rules governing digital platforms and OTT players. 

"We understand fully that type of media is different. Print is different from TV, TV is different from films and films are different from web series. We can't have same criteria all over but there should be some sort of similarity in goal post.

"Level playing field does not mean the same field for everybody but some sort of similarity in the regulation should be there. What was announced yesterday is a soft touch, self-regulatory mechanism with minimal interference of the govt.

"There's no censorship (in OTT platforms) like films. There's self-classification by concerned platform whether it's universal or +7 yrs or +13 yrs or +16 yrs or it has adult content. Idea is that citizen should make informed choice.

"The benchmarks that we have kept about age, is an international practice. Unlike the films where the classification is done by CBFC, here the classification will be done by the platforms but they will inform that is as per the age criteria."

The government on Thursday announced sweeping regulations for social media firms like Facebook and Twitter as well as OTT players such as Netflix, requiring them to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours and setting up a complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country.

The guidelines also make it mandatory for platforms such as Twitter and WhatsApp to identify the originator of a message that authorities consider to be anti-national and against security and sovereignty of the country.
15:04   Smriti Irani rides a scooty; BJP 1, TMC 0
Union minister Smriti Irani successfully makes her point riding a scooty during her visit to poll-bound West Bengal today. She's there for the day. Unlike West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee who almost fell off her scooty while attempting to ride it yesterday, Irani rode like a star while conducting a roadshow in the Panchpota area of South 24 Parganas.

"Violence has defined the reign of Mamata Banerjee and the democratic voices across Bengal have decided that they will make sure that the TMC loses the Assembly election this time.

"We're grateful that people of Bengal are coming out in large numbers to support us either in yatra or in programs that are being done by our senior leadership, that is indicative that this time in West Bengal you'll see the Lotus blossom."

She was accompanied by BJP leader Roopa Ganguly and others. 
IT Minister RS Prasad announcing the new rules
IT Minister RS Prasad announcing the new rules
14:54   Indias new social media rules will harm freedom of expression: Mozilla
Mozilla, the not-for-profit behind the popular web browser Firefox, has come out with its reaction to the Government of India's new OTT/social/digital media policy issued on Thursday. 

"In their current form, these rules will undeniably harm freedom of expression, privacy and security and could be subject to legal challenges," said Udbhav Tiwari, public policy advisor, Mozilla Corporation. 

"Provisions like traceability of encrypted content, harsh content takedown timelines and automated content filtering are blunt and disproportionate to the intention behind these changes," he added. 

"Given the many new provisions, these rules should be withdrawn and be accompanied by wide ranging and participatory consultations with all relevant stakeholders prior to notification."
14:44   Maha: Social worker Prakash Amte tests COVID-19 positive
Noted social worker and Ramon Magsaysay award recipient Prakash Amte has tested positive for coronavirus and is undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Maharashtra's Nagpur city.

 Amte (73) had been experiencing symptoms of coronavirus for the last seven days, but his test in Gadchiroli had come out negative for the infection, the Padma Shri recipient's son Aniket told PTI. 

 Amte suffered from fever and was taken to Chandrapur, before being admitted to a private hospital in Nagpur after he tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday evening, he said. Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh wished Amte a speedy recovery. PTI
14:36   Shah salutes valour of IAF fighters on Balakot air strikes anniversary
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Friday saluted the valour of the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighters on the anniversary of the Balakot air strikes, and said under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership, security of the country and the soldiers is paramount. 

On February 26, 2019, IAF fighter jets crossed the Line of Control and destroyed terror launch pads in Balakot in Pakistan. "On this day in 2019, @IAF_MCC had made it clear the New India's policy against terrorism by giving response to the Pulwama terror attack," Shah tweeted. 

 "I remember the brave martyrs of Pulwama and salute the valour of the Air Force. Under the leadership of @narendramodi ji, security of the country and our soldiers is paramount," he said. The air strikes were undertaken days after 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed in a terror attack in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14. PTI
14:31   Hope other countries follow your example: WHO chief lauds India, PM
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi's commitment for supporting vaccine equity and sharing COVID-19 vaccines with over 60 countries across the world, hoping that other nations will follow his example.
In a tweet, Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, said that India's support in supplying its vaccines is helping over 60 countries to begin the vaccination process.

"Thanks India & Prime Minister @narendramodi for supporting #VaccinEquity. Your commitment to #COVAX and sharing #COVID19 vaccine doses is helping 60+ countries start vaccinating their #healthworkers and other priority groups. I hope other countries will follow your example," he said in the tweet on Thursday.

India on Wednesday dispatched the first batch of six lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses to the African country of Ghana under the COVAX facility in collaboration with UNICEF, which aims to cover 92 countries under the initiative.

The doses are a part of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccine the country is acquiring through the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, which Ghana among nearly 92 countries have signed into.

-- PTI
14:11   Flights to get cheaper for those without baggage
Domestic flight operators are allowed to give concessions in ticket prices to passengers who carry no baggage or only cabin baggage, aviation watchdog Directorate General of Civil Aviation has said in a circular.

Per the current rules, a passenger can carry up to 7 kilograms of cabin baggage and 15 kilograms of check-in baggage. Any additional weight is chargeable. The new rule will allow the operators to provide tickets at lesser prices to those who opt to travel with no baggage or only with cabin baggage within the permissible weight limit.

To avail the discounts, passengers will have to declare at the time of the booking of the ticket the weight of baggage they will be carrying.

"As part of airline baggage policy, scheduled airlines will be allowed to offer free baggage allowance as well as "zero baggage/no check in baggage fares". This will be subject to the condition that the passenger booking ticket under such fare scheme is made aware of the charges that shall be applicable if the passenger turns up with the baggage for check in at the airline counter. These applicable charges shall be reasonable; prominently displayed to the passenger at the time of booking of ticket and also to be printed on the ticket," the aviation watchdog said in a statement.
13:49   Just 1.34 cr Indians given Covid vaccine so far
The nationwide COVID-19 vaccination to healthcare workers and frontline workers crossed 1.34 crores coverage on Friday, informed the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

As per the provisional report issued by the Ministry, till Day-42 of the vaccination drive, the 1.34 crore vaccination doses were registered through 2,78,915 sessions. This includes the first dose for 66.21 lakh healthcare workers, second dose for 20.32 lakh healthcare workers and the first dose for 48.18 lakh frontline workers.

The second dose of COVID-19 vaccination started on February 13, for those beneficiaries who have completed 28 days after receipt of the first dose and vaccination of the frontline workers started on February 2.

Nine states and Union Territories including Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Telangana, Ladakh, Chandigarh, Nagaland, Punjab, and Puducherry have vaccinated less than 60 per cent of the registered healthcare workers. -- ANI
13:48   Tathagatha Roy calls Mamata a buffoon
Former Tripura governor Tathagata Roy mocks West Bengal CM Mamata's Banerjee's attempt at riding a scooter yesterday. The video of her nearly falling off the scooter went viral.

Roy tweeted in Bengali, "Dont make a mistake. I do have enough empathy for her. My laughter emanates from a place of deep sorrow. 

We are living in a state where the CM herself choose to make a fool of her self by playing the buffoon."
13:35   BJP, Congress are scared: Kejriwal in Surat
Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convenor Arvind Kejriwal on Friday arrived in Surat, Gujarat, to "thank" the people of the city, where his party has put up an impressive show by winning 27 seats in the recently-held civic polls and emerging as the main opposition in the municipal corporation. 

Addressing the newly elected AAP corporators as well as its volunteers in Surat, Kejriwal said, "Why has the BJP been governing here for last 25 years? It's not as if they're doing great. There are a lot of issues. Different parties come to power in states across the country but only one party is governing here." 

"It's because they've kept other parties under control. There's no one to tell them anything, they're doing whatever they want. For the first time there came someone to look them in the eye -- you -- the people gave you respect." 

"I've been listening to statements of the BJP and Congress over the past few days after the results. They're perturbed, a little scared. We've to understand that they're not scared of you or AAP. They're scared of the people who voted for you," Kejriwal added. 

Kejriwal will take part in a road show in the city at 3 pm. It will begin from Varracha area and end at Sarthana, where he will address a public meeting.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted this picture with her congratulatory message
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted this picture with her congratulatory message
13:23   Congresss NSUI sweeps Varanasi university polls
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi on Friday congratulated the party's student wing of Varanasi for winning the majority of seats in the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth Students Union election.

Taking to Twitter, the Congress leader said, "The result of the election of Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith Students' Union in Varanasi is a glimpse of the youthful mind on the day when the youth has loudly demanded employment." She further said that with this win "the youth have stamped on issue-based politics." Heartiest congratulations and best wishes to all the winning student union representatives," she added.

In the BJP ruled state, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's parliamentary constituency Varanasi, the panel of the Congress students wing NSUI (National Students' Union of India) has won a majority of seats at the Kashi Vidyapith.

NSUI candidates won the posts of Vice President and General Secretary, giving a major jolt to the ABVP which faced a defeat. NSUI won 6 out of 8 seats. -- ANI
12:53   Co-Win app to upgrade, no vaccinations for 2 days
The Union Health Ministry announced that on February 27 and 28, the Co-Win digital platform will be transitioning from Co-Win1.0 to Co-Win 2.0. In view of this, COVID-19 vaccination sessions will not be scheduled during these two days. 

India on Wednesday reported a net reduction of 399 to bring its count of active coronavirus cases down at 146,907. This is 85.57 per cent lower than the September 18 peak of 1,017,754. 

India's share of global active coronavirus cases now stands at 0.67 per cent (one in 149). The country is 14th among the most affected countries by active cases. 

On Wednesday, it added 13,742 cases to take its total caseload to 11,030,176. And, with 104 new fatalities, its Covid-19 death toll reached 156,567, or 1.42 per cent of total confirmed infections. With 4,20,046 more vaccinations across India on Tuesday, the total count of those inoculated reached 12,165,598. 

12:47   Register if you want darshan at Siddhivinayak
Considering the rise in COVID-19 cases in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra, the city's famous Siddhivinayak temple has decided not to give on-the- spot permission to devotees for taking darshan of Lord Ganesh from March 1, its office-bearers said on Friday. 

Only those who have registered themselves online, will get a chance to take darshan, and only 100 such devotees will be allowed inside the temple per hour from next month, they said. Talking to PTI, Priyanka Chhapwale, chief executive officer of the Shri Siddhivinayak Ganapati Temple Trust said that at present, devotees who have not registered themselves for darshan, are given QR code on the spot, which allows them to go inside the temple. 

"But we have decided to stop this system completely from March 1. The devotees without pre-booked appointment won't be allowed till further orders," she said. 

 "Evey hour, only 100 devotees with pre-booked QR codes will be allowed to have darshan of the deity between 7 am and 9 pm," she added. Chhapwale said that on the auspicious day of Angarki Chaturthi (on March 2), darshan will be allowed between 8 am and 9 pm.
12:29   Gelatin stick explosives in car near Ambani house
Gelatin sticks have been found in the abandoned car at Carmichael Road in South Mumbai on Thursday evening, near the house of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani. 

The car was stolen from Mumbai's Vikroli area sometime back, its chassis number was damaged a bit but police managed to identify its real owner, the Mumbai Police, said. 

"There was no threat call or letter received by anyone with respect to Ambani family in recent past. Police have gathered CCTV footages of multiple locations from where the car passed through in Mumbai. 

The gelatin found in the car was not military-grade gelatin but commercial-grade which is generally used in construction-related digging," the police said. 
12:21   Sensex crash: Pvt banks badly hit
A strong bear grip on bourses led frontline indices to drop by nearly 3 per cent around noon on Friday after a global selloff triggered by an overnight sharp rise in US 10-year bond yields.Investors feared foreign outflows as bond yields are inversely proportional to equity returns. 

When bond yields rise, equity markets generally underperform. At 12 noon, the BSE S&P Sensex was down by 1,455 points or 2.85 per cent at 49,584 while the Nifty 50 tumbled by 403 points or 2.67 per cent to 14,694.Except for Nifty pharma, all sectoral indices at the National Stock Exchange were in the red with Nifty private bank down by 4.6 per cent, PSU bank by 4 per cent and financial service by 4.5 per cent.

Among stocks, ICICI Bank slipped by 4.9 per cent to Rs 597.10 per share. HDFC Bank ticked lower by 4.7 per cent, Axis Bank and IndusInd Bank by 4.4 per cent each and Kotak Mahindra Bank by 4 per cent.

The other major losers were Bajaj Finance, Bajaj Finserv, HDFC, JSW Steel and Mahindra & Mahindra. However, Maruti Suzuki gained by 0.3 per cent. Pharma majors Dr Reddy's and Sun Pharma were up by 0.7 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively.
12:16   Wear your mask, but not this way
When a picture says a thousand words: Mahindra group chairman, Anand Mahindra, tweets this classic picture, saying, "When you start looking for reasons behind the recent rise in Covid cases in Mumbai...(This is one jugaad that doesn't deserve any applause.)"
Pic courtesy @Rajveer88724/Twitter
Pic courtesy @Rajveer88724/Twitter
12:09   High court grants bail to activist Naudeep Kaur
The Punjab and Haryana High Court granted bail to labour rights activist Naudeep Kaur on Friday, more than six weeks after she was arrested in Haryana's Sonipat for allegedly gheraoing an industrial unit and demanding money from the company. 

"The court accepted the bail application of Naudeep Kaur. She has been granted bail by the high court," her counsel Arshdeep Singh Cheema said. In her bail plea, the 23-year-old activist had claimed to have been severely beaten up at a police station after she was arrested by the Sonipat police on January 12. The police have denied the charge as "baseless". 

 Kaur had also claimed that she was falsely arraigned as accused in an FIR lodged under various sections, including 307 (attempt to murder), of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). 

 The activist claimed she was targeted and falsely implicated in the case as she was successful in generating massive support for the ongoing farmers' movement against the Centre's three contentious farm laws. Hailing from Punjab's Muktsar district, Kaur is lodged in Haryana's Karnal jail. On February 24, the high court had posted the hearing on her bail plea to Friday. PTI
11:43   Poll dates for TN, WB, Pudu, Kerala, Assam today
The Election Commission is likely to announce the schedule for assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and Puducherry on Friday afternoon. The poll panel has convened a press conference at 4.30 pm. 

The terms of the legislative assemblies of the four states is coming to an end in May and June. In Puducherry, President's Rule has been imposed and the assembly kept under suspended animation after the V Narayanasamy-led Congress government resigned earlier this week ahead of a vote of confidence. PTI
11:32   Modi great leader but Nehru greater: Sena
The Shiv Sena on Friday targeted the Centre over the renaming of Ahmedabad's Sardar Patel cricket stadium after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that the massive mandate that his government got in the last election was not a licence to act irresponsibly. 

It also said that although allegations were made against the Congress and Gandhi-Nehru family in the last five years that they are trying to obliterate Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's name from history, the renaming of the stadium has shown who is actually trying to do so. 

"It seems the Modi-Shah government wants every big thing to be set up in Gujarat. There is nothing wrong in that. But they seem to have forgotten that they are leading the country...The name of Motera stadium in Ahmedabad was changed to Narendra Modi stadium. Till now, Melbourne stadium was the largest cricket stadium in the world. Now the one named after Modi is the biggest one," the Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece 'Saamana'. 

"But why is the move drawing flak? Because earlier the Motera stadium was named after Sardar Patel, which has now been named after Modi. In the last five years, it was alleged that attempts were made by the Congress or Gandhi-Nehru family to obliterate the name of Sardar Patel. But the change in the name of Sardar Patel stadium shows who is trying to wipe out his name," it said. 

"There is no doubt that Modi is a great leader, but if his blind followers feel that he is greater than Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel or Indira Gandhi, it should be considered the next level in blind faith," the Uddhav Thackeray-led party said. 

"Those who thought of renaming Motera stadium after Narendra Modi have in fact reduced his stature, it added. "Modi is a very popular leader. People have given him massive mandate. But this mandate is not a licence to act irresponsibly. Patel and Nehru also had mandate of the people to lay the foundation stone of the country's development," the Sena said. 

 Nehru dedicated institutions like IITs, BARC, Bhakra Nagal project to the country. But what happened under the Modi's rule? A stadium named after Sardar Patel was renamed as Narendra Modi stadium, it said.
11:07   117 gelatin sticks, 350 detonators seized at Kozhikode railway station
The Railway Protection Force on Friday morning seized at least 117 gelatin sticks and 350 detonators from a train passenger in Kerala at the Kozhikode railway station.

The suspect, a train passenger, has been arrested in connection with the case. She was travelling in the Chennai Mangalapuram express. The woman said that the explosives were meant for digging wells, informed security officials.

An RPF official said that the case will be handed over to the Police to probe in detail.

-- ANI
10:49   Hrithik to give statement on Sat in Kangana case
Hrithik Roshan has been summoned to appear before the Mumbai crime branch at 11 am on Saturday to record his statement in a case he registered against actor Kangana Ranaut in 2016 involving an exchange of emails between the two.

In 2016, Roshan had filed a complaint alleging that someone impersonating him was emailing Ranaut from a bogus email id. 

Kangana had then claimed that the email id was provided to her by Roshan and they had been communicating through the same email id till 2014. The emails were allegedly sent in 2013 and 2014. In 2016, Roshan had sent a legal notice to Ranaut after she had referred to him as a silly ex. 

Roshan had denied having any kind of relationship with Ranaut. 

The two actors had worked together in the films 'Kites' (2010) and 'Krrish 3' (2013). 

Roshan had then claimed that Ranaut had been sending him hundreds of absurd emails. In 2016, the Cyber Cell had also taken Roshan's laptop and phone for investigation.

Roshan had accused Ranaut of harassing him by sending him hundreds of emails. Following an initial probe, police recorded Ranaut's statement after concluding that the emails were allegedly sent from her id. However, Ranaut has denied sending emails to Roshan.

In December 2020, the case, which was earlier with the Cyber Cell of the Mumbai police, was transferred to Criminal Intelligence Unit on a request made by Roshan's lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani.

-- ANI
10:28   India sent over 361 lakh anti-coronavirus vaccine doses to various countries
India has provided 361.94 lakh doses of anti-coronavirus vaccines to various countries, out of which 67.5 lakh doses have been supplied as grant assistance and 294.44 lakh on commercial basis, the ministry of external affairs said.
MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the supply of vaccines to countries will continue in the coming weeks and months in a phased manner but it will be ensured that domestic requirements for the national vaccination programme are kept in mind.
"As of now, we have provided a total of 361.94 lakh doses to various countries. This includes 67.5 lakh doses supplied under grant assistance and 294.44 lakh doses under various commercial contracts," he said at an online briefing.
Srivastava said India has also offered locally-made vaccines to all members of the diplomatic corps and their families based in the country.
"It has been offered not only to the diplomats of countries but also to those of UN agencies and intergovernmental organisations working in India. This drive will cover all the locations where they are based," he said.
India has sent consignments of anti-coronavirus vaccine doses as gifts to countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan, Barbados and Dominica.
Countries which received vaccines on commercial basis include Brazil, Morocco, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Kuwait and the UAE.

-- PTI
10:07   Sensex plunges over 1,000 points
The domestic stock markets opened deeply in the red due to negative global cues as Wall Street tumbled overnight and there is red across Asia. At 9:18 am, the BSE Sensex was trading at 50,184.60, weaker by 840.35 points or 1.68 per cent and the NSE Nifty was at 14,835.45, down 283.45 points or 1.87 per cent. 

The Sensex had cuts of more than 1,000 points at opening bell.

Asian stocks opened sharply lower on Friday after Wall Street's main indexes tumbled, with technology-related stocks under pressure following a steep rise in benchmark US Treasury yields.
10:02   COVID-19: Weekly markets, mass weddings banned in Palghar
The authorities in Maharashtra's Palghar have banned weekly markets and mass marriages across the district in view of the prevailing coronavirus situation in the state, an official said on Friday.

An order to this effect was issued by district collector Manik Gursal on Thursday, he said.

"Weekly markets are a regular feature in Palghar and other rural parts of Maharashtra. However, in view of the spike in COVID-19 cases in the state, the collector ordered a
ban on the weekly markets in the district from February 25 till further orders," the official said.

The collector also banned mass weddings in the district to avoid large gatherings, he added.
The coronavirus tally in Palghar district has gone up to 45,838 with the addition of 45 cases on Thursday,while the death toll has reached 1,204, another official said. 

-- PTI
09:33   Rajnath salutes IAF on Balakot strike anniversary
On the second anniversary of Balakot air strikes, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday saluted the exceptional courage and diligence of the Indian Air Force and said "the success of strikes has shown India's strong will to act against terrorism".

"On the anniversary of Balakot Air Strikes, I salute the exceptional courage and diligence of the Indian Air Force. The success of Balakot strikes has shown India's strong will to act against terrorism. We are proud of our Armed Forces who keep India safe and secure," the defence minister tweeted. 

On February 14, Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad targeted a CRPF convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar highway near Pulwama in South Kashmir killing 40 CPRF personnel.

Days later IAF launched an air-strike on a JeM camp in Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The air-strike was launched in the early hours of February 26 and Pakistan's efforts to launch an offensive the next day to target Indian military installations in Jammu and Kashmir was thwarted by an alert IAF.

In the dogfight, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, flying a MiG-21 Bison fighter plane and chasing Pakistani jets, crossed over to PoK where his aircraft was shot down. He was taken into custody by Pakistan. India also shot down a Pakistani fighter jet.

-- ANI
09:28   India's Covid 24 hr caseload: 16,577 cases, 120 deaths
India reports 16,577 new COVID-19 cases, 12,179 discharges and 120 deaths in the last 24 hours, as per data provided by the health ministry.

The daily cases is marginally lower than yesterday.

The tally stands at:
Total cases: 1,10,63,491
Total discharges: 1,07,50,680
Death toll: 1,56,825 
Active cases: 1,55,986  
Total Vaccination: 1,34,72,643

From March 1, the Covid vaccination will be extended to people aged 60 years and above and those aged above 45 years with comorbidities, it stated.
09:08   Brazil to buy 20 million COVID vaccines from India's Bharat Biotech
On the same day Brazil reached the grim milestone of 250,000 deaths by COVID-19, the country's health ministry signed a deal with Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech for the purchase of 20 million doses of the Covaxin vaccine, which is yet to be approved by local regulators.
The administration of President Jair Bolsonaro said the first 8 million Covaxin shots, which will be made by Brazilian company Precisa Medicamentos, will arrive in March. A second batch of another 8 million doses is expected for April and in May, another 4 million doses will be available. 

So far Brazil has vaccinated less than 4 per cent of its population of 210 million people, with some cities stopping immunization campaigns last week due to shortages. 

Neither Precisa nor Bharat confirmed the deal or the delivery dates. 
08:42   Bharat Bandh today against GST, fuel price hike
All commercial markets across the country will remain closed across the country today in view of the Bharat Bandh called by the Confederation of All India Traders in protest against rising fuel prices, the new e-way bill and the goods and services tax. In response to the CAITs call for Bharat bandh, around 40,000 trade associations have decided to extend their support.

The All India Transport Welfare Association - the apex body of the organised road transportation companies will also support today's bandh and hold a chakka jam. 

All state level-transport associations including Bombay Goods Transport Association, SIMTA, KGTA, Baroda Goods Transport Association, Vapi Transport Association, HGTA, CGTA, Car Carrier Association, Association of Transporters Poona, and many others have confirmed their support to AITWA in this one-day non-operation of transport.

Services expected to be affected:

>> Commercial markets across the country will remain closed as over 40,000 traders' associations are taking part in the Bharat Bandh.
>> Road transport services across the country could be affected as the transport companies to park their vehicles between 6 am and 8 pm.
>> Booking, as well as the movement of bill-oriented goods, will be affected.
>> No traders will log in to the GST portal in order to register their protest.
>> Associations of chartered accountants and tax advocates have backed the strike.
As per CAIT secretary general Praveen Khandelwal, women entrepreneurs, small industries, hawkers, among others, will join tomorrow's bandh.
08:14   UK's Queen Elizabeth says Covid jab "didn't hurt at all"
Queen Elizabeth II said that her coronavirus jab "didn't hurt at all" and urged those wary of receiving the vaccine to "think about other people".

The 94-year-old monarch was vaccinated along with her husband Prince Philip in January, telling health officials leading the rollout in a video call that she now felt "protected".

"It was very quick, and I've had lots of letters from people who have been very surprised by how easy it was to get the vaccine. And the jab - it didn't hurt at all," she said.

"Once you've had the vaccine you have a feeling of, you know, you're protected, which is I think very important.

"It is obviously difficult for people if they've never had a vaccine... but they ought to think about other people rather than themselves."

More than 18 million people across Britain have now been jabbed as part of the vaccination drive that is seen as crucial in tackling one of the world's worst outbreaks, which has claimed more than 122,000 lives.

The Queen called the disease a "plague" and praised the "remarkable" speed of the vaccination programme rollout.

Her eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, 72, who contracted a mild dose of Covid-19 last year, has also received his jab, as has his wife, Camilla, 73.

The monarch told the health leaders to "keep up the good work" and compared the community spirit fostered during the pandemic to that during World War II.

"Well, having lived in the war, it's very much like that, you know, when everybody had the same idea," she said.

"And I think this has rather, sort of, inspired that -- hasn't it?"
07:44   US welcomes India-Pak statement on ceasefire
The United States has welcomed the joint statement of India and Pakistan to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the Line of Control and other sectors, saying it is a positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said that the Biden administration remains closely engaged with a range of leaders and officials in the region, including those in Pakistan.

"The United States welcomes the joint statement between India and Pakistan that the two countries have agreed to maintain strict observance of a ceasefire along the Line of Control starting on February 25th," Psaki said.

"This is a positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia which is in our shared interest and we encourage both countries to keep building upon this progress," she said when asked about the joint statement that announced India and Pakistan have agreed to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and other sectors.

Asked if Islamabad is doing enough in the fight against terrorism, she said, "But in terms of an assessment of that I would point you to the State Department or the Intelligence Department."

At a separate news conference, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the administration had called on the parties to reduce tensions along the LoC by returning to the 2003 ceasefire agreement. 

"We have been very clear that we condemn the terrorists who seek to infiltrate across the Line of Control," he said.

"When it comes to the US' role, we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern, and we certainly welcome the arrangement that was announced that will go into effect I should say on February 25," Price said.

He said Pakistan is an important partner with whom the US shares many interests. "We, have been clearer in terms of this issue. Obviously, Pakistan has an important role to play when it comes to Afghanistan and what takes place across its other border. So clearly, we will be paying close attention, and we urge the Pakistanis to play a constructive role in all of these areas of mutual interests including in Afghanistan, including with Kashmir including with our other shared interest," Price said.  

The joint statement issued in Islamabad and New Delhi said the Director Generals of Military Operations of the two countries held discussions over the established mechanism of hotline contact and reviewed the situation along the LoC and all other sectors in a "free, frank and cordial" atmosphere.

-- PTI
00:41   Rahul to speak at Cornell University on Democracy
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on March 2 will address the students of prestigious Cornell University and interact with them on the subjects of democracy and development, the university said on Thursday.
During the virtual programme, Gandhi, 50, will join professor Kaushik Basu for the talk, which will also include topics such as life in politics in India and the world.
"Indian Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi will join economics professor Kaushik Basu on March 2 at 9:30 am (8 pm IST) for a conversation about democracy, development and life in politics in India and the world," the university said in the statement.
Hosted by the South Asia Programme of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the virtual event is open to the Cornell community with NetID. 
"Registration is required. The conversation will also be live streamed on Facebook for viewers around the world," the statement said.
According to the university, Gandhi and Basu will compare notes on the Indian economy and the outlook for democracy in India and around the world.
Basu is the Carl Marks Professor of International Studies, professor of economics in the College of Arts and Sciences, and former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank.
"India and the world are at a turning point with the pandemic, pollution and polarised politics. I am excited about this conversation because while as an economist, I observe what is happening from outside, Rahul Gandhi has the insider's advantage," Basu said.
The discussion, the university said, is part of the Einaudi Center's research focus on global democratic resilience.
"The Einaudi Center is thrilled to host this important conversation," said Rachel Beatty Riedl, Einaudi's director and John S Knight Professor of International Studies and professor in the Department of Government in the College of Arts and Sciences.
"It highlights critical questions, such as who benefits from growth and how an inclusive political community that prioritises social services for all can be forged," Riedl said. - -PTI