Fri, 29 January 2021
Amit Shah defers visit to Bengal

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23:19   Amit Shah defers visit to Bengal
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has postponed his visit to West Bengal amid farmers' protest at Delhi's borders.

Sources did not give the reason for the deferment of his trip during which he was to address two rallies on Saturday and Sunday, but it comes as farmers have intensified their protests against three farm laws amid incidents of clashes with 'locals' at some places.

Shah was to attend several programmes as the Bharatiya Janata Party steps up its campaign in the state where assembly elections are expected to be held in April-May.   -- PTI
23:03   Anna calls off fast scheduled from tomorrow
Social activist Anna Hazare on Friday said he won't be proceeding with the indefinite fast against the new farm laws and claimed that the Central government has agreed to some of his demands.

In a statement earlier in the day, Hazare, 84, had announced that he will be starting the hunger strike from his village Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra on Saturday.

In that communication, Hazare had said he had written to the prime minister and Union agriculture minister five times on the plight of farmers but to no avail.

"The Union government has agreed to some of my demands and also announced setting up a committee to improve the lives of farmers. I have decided to suspend my proposed indefinite fast starting from Saturday," Hazare said.

While announcing the hunger strike, Hazare had said, "I have been demanding reforms in the agriculture sector, but the Centre doesn't seem to be taking the right decisions."

"The Centre has no sensitivity left for farmers, which is why I am starting my indefinite fast at my village from January 30," he had said and appealed to his supporters not to flock to his village district in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hazare, who was at the forefront of the anti- corruption movement in 2011, had recalled that when he went on a hunger strike at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan, the then United Progressive Alliance government had called a special session of Parliament.   -- PTI

IMAGE: Anna Hazare with former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis at Ralegan Siddhi on Friday. Photograph: Sahil Salvi
22:15   SAD asks party cadre to rush to protest sites
The Shiromani Akali Dal on Friday asked its party cadre to rush to the three farmers' protest sites on Delhi borders in large numbers to give a further boost to the ongoing agitation.

SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal also spoke to farmer leader Rakesh Tikait and discussed ways to shore up more strength and support for the farmers' agitation in Delhi, especially in view of the combined onslaught against farmers by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Centre, a party statement said.

Consequent upon the telephonic conversation with Tikait, Badal instructed the Akali cadre to rush to Delhi borders in larger numbers than before and lend strength to the peaceful movement, it added.

While many Akali contingents have already joined the farmers in the gathering, more are on the way in large numbers, Badal said.

Senior SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia also appealed to SAD and Youth Akali Dal (YAD) workers who had returned to Punjab during the past one week to go back to the protest sites at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur, the statement said.

It said Badal on Friday sent an Akali delegation comprising senior leader Balwinder Singh Bhunder, SAD Delhi president Harmit Singh Kalka and the DSGMC chief Manjindner Singh Sirsa to the site of the farmers dharna led by Tikait.

The leaders had extensive talks with Tikait and discussed ways to lend more strength to the agitation, it added.

The delegation assured Tikait of whole-hearted support in terms of men, material and morale to the farmers' cause, the statement said.

Majitha said more partymen need to be at protest sites when the government wants to crush the agitation.

"I know a large number of you have been camping on the Delhi borders since the last two months.

"However, the central government is making attempts to crush the 'kisan andolan' (agitation) in league with the BJP government in Haryana," he said.

'We must ensure this nefarious design to silence the voice of the 'annadaata' and disrespect the sacrifice of eighty martyrs (farmers) does not succeed at any cost.

'No sacrifice is too big to ensure a win for the peasantry as well as ensuring peace and communal harmony,' the statement quoted Majitha as saying.

The SAD leader also condemned the crude attempts being made to suppress the farmers' agitation against the Centre's new farm laws 'by letting loose lumpen elements on peacefully agitating farmers' at Ghazipur on Thursday during the course of which farmer leader Rakesh Takait was targeted.

"Similar attempts were made at Singhu border on Friday," he alleged.    

Majithia said such scenes were extremely unfortunate in a democracy.    

"Coercive steps like cutting off water and power supply to the dharna sites and stopping food from reaching them would only strengthen the kisan andolan even further."

He said it was also condemnable that the 'central government was instigating communities to fight against each other and also fomenting fights between farmers as well as farmer organisations'.

He appealed to farmers, farm labourers and people to maintain peace and communal harmony 'despite grave provocations'.

Majithia also denounced the manner in which the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was being misused against farmer leaders and journalists.

He said the UAPA had been framed against those challenging the unity and integrity of India and should not be used to persecute innocent people.     Doing so amounts to dictatorial conduct, Majithia added.

Farmers should not be singled out for fighting for the repeal of the three agricultural laws as well as the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report in letter and spirit.

Majithia, whose party had snapped ties with the National Democratic Alliance over farm laws issue, said the central government had not taken any action against those indulged in wrongful acts on Republic Day in Delhi 'which has sent a clear message to the people that state agencies were behind them'.   -- PTI
21:38   PM to chair virtual all-party meeting on Saturday
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will chair an all-party meeting on Saturday to put forth the government's legislative agenda for the Budget Session of Parliament. 

This time the customary all-party meeting is being held after the beginning of the session. 

The Budget Session began on Friday with President Ram Nath Kovind addressing the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament. 

Usually such all-party meetings are held ahead of parliamentary sessions to ensure smooth functioning of both the Houses. 

During the virtual meeting, opposition parties are likely to demand a debate on the farmers' agitation underway at various border points of Delhi. 

The opposition parties had raised a similar demand at an all-party meeting convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Friday, but the government suggested that the issue of farmers' agitation can be raised during the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President's address for which 10 hours have been allocated in Lok Sabha on February 2,3 and 4. 

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha are meeting in shifts of five hours each to ensure distancing norms. 

While the Rajya Sabha will meet in the morning, Lok Sabha will meet in the second half of the day.
21:18   Encounter breaks out in Pulwama, J-K
An encounter is currently underway at Lelhar area in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district.

Police and security forces are carrying out the operation.

"#Encounter has started at #Lelhar area of #Pulwama. Police and security forces are on the job. Further details shall follow," Kashmir zone police tweeted.

More details are awaited. 
21:12   Embassy blast: Jaishankar speaks to Israeli FM
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday spoke to his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi regarding the explosion outside the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, and assured him of 'fullest protection' to diplomats and the mission.

In a tweet, Jaishankar said India has taken the incident 'very seriously'.

'Spoke just now to Israeli FM Gabi Ashkenazi about the explosion outside the Israeli Embassy. We take this very seriously. Assured him of the fullest protection for the Embassy and Israeli diplomats,' Jaishankar tweeted.

The minister further added that the matter was under investigation.

'No effort will be spared to find the culprits,' he said.

According to Delhi Police Additional PRO Anil Mittal, 'a very low intensity improvised device went off... No injury to any person was reported and nor was there any damage to property except the glass panes of three vehicles parked nearby'.   -- PTI
20:58   CISF puts airports, metro, govt buildings on alert
The Central Industrial Security Force which guards civil airports, vital nuclear and aerospace installations, Delhi Metro and central government buildings has put on alert all its units across the country after a minor IED blast outside the Israeli Embassy in the national capital on Friday evening, official sources said.

The paramilitary force has directed its personnel to enhance vigil at the 63 civil airports and the Delhi Metro under its cover, besides vital installations in the nuclear and aerospace domain.

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) units that guard various government buildings in the national capital have been asked to maintain a "high level of alert", they said.

A minor IED blast took place outside the Israeli Embassy in the heart of Lutyens' Delhi on Friday evening, police said.

No one was injured.

Some cars were damaged in the blast that took place near the pavement outside the embassy on APJ Abdul Kalam Road, a very high-security zone in the national capital.

The CISF with a strength of about 1.62 lakh personnel is designated as the national civil aviation security force.   -- PTI
20:56   Kangana Ranaut to play Indira Gandhi
Actor Kangana Ranaut will essay the role of former prime minister Indira Gandhi in an upcoming political drama. 

The yet-untitled movie will be penned and directed by filmmaker Sai Kabir, who has previously collaborated with the actor on 2014 film Revolver Rani

"We are working on the project and the script is in final stages. It is not the biopic of Indira Gandhi, it is a grand period film, to be precise a political drama that will help my generation to understand (the) socio-political landscape of current India," Kangana said in a statement. 

"Many prominent actors will be part of this film and of course I am looking forward to playing the most iconic leader that we have had in the history of Indian politics," she added. 

Kangana, 33, is currently filming for action drama Dhaakad in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. She also has Tejas and the second installment of Manikarnika franchise, titled Manikarnika Returns: The Legend Of Didda, in the works.
20:49   Amit Shah briefed on blast near Israeli Embassy
Union Home Minister Amit Shah was on Friday briefed by the Delhi Police about an IED blast near the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, officials said.

After the incident, the minister has been in touch with the Delhi Police top brass and is constantly monitoring the situation.

Shah has been briefed about the situation following the blast on APJ Abdul Kalam Road, a very high-security zone in the national capital, a home ministry official said.

The minister has directed the police to take all necessary steps to investigate and find out the perpetrators of the crime, the official said.

Some cars were damaged in the minor blast that took place near a pavement outside the embassy. No one was injured.   -- PTI
Performance of eight core industries in December 2020.
20:11   Pak troops violate ceasefire at LoC, India hits back
Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire on Friday as they opened heavy fire and lobbed mortars at forward posts along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir's Rajouri district, prompting a befitting retaliation from the Indian Army, officials said. 

This comes a day after a 20-year-old man was injured in shelling by Pakistani troops along the LoC in Shahpur sector of Poonch district.

"At 1800 hours today (Friday), the Pakistan army initiated unprovoked ceasefire violation by firing with small arms and intense shelling with mortars along the LoC in Nowshera sector of Rajouri," a defence spokesperson said. 

The Indian Army retaliated befittingly, he said.

In 2020, over 5,400 instances of ceasefire violations by Pakistan, the highest in the past 19 years, were recorded along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir. A total of 36 people were killed and over 130 injured in these ceasefire violations, according to the officials. 

They said the shelling and firing by Pakistani troops last year was "very heavy", virtually making the 2003 India-Pakistan border truce redundant.
19:57   Centre pushes Covid vaccine for frontline workers
The Union health ministry on Friday asked all states and Union territories to initiate vaccination of frontline workers against Covid-19 from the first week of February.  

Vaccination of healthcare providers that began on January 16 to continue simultaneously, the ministry said in a letter to states and Union territories. 

In the letter, Health Ministry Additional Secretary Manohar Agnani said the database of frontline workers is being updated by states and UTs in collaboration with the respective line ministries.  

As on date, the database of more than 61 lakh frontline workers has been uploaded on Co-WIN portal.  

"In this regard, after due consultation with states and UTs, it is advised that the states and UTs shall initiate simultaneous vaccination of frontline workers and healthcare workers from the first week of February," Agnani said. 

A pan-India Covid-19 vaccination drive initiated on January 16 aims to cover healthcare and frontline workers in the initial phase. 

Till 8 am on Friday, 29,28,053 beneficiaries have received anti-coronavirus shots under the countrywide vaccination exercise. 

The letter mentions that the required doses of both vaccines -- Covishield and Covaxin -- have been allocated to the states and UTs and further augmentation will be made through subsequent releases.  

The states and UTs should ensure that sessions must be created for both the type of vaccines in proportion to the release of vaccines to the state, wherever applicable, the letter said.  

"I request you to kindly direct the concerned officials to initiate requisite planning and review for initiating vaccination of frontline workers along with healthcare workers from the first week of February, 2021. Your unstinted support is pre-requisite to achieve the desired acceleration and impact of Covid-19 vaccine drive," the letter stated. 

-- PTI
The Jat Regiment
The Jat Regiment
19:37   Jat Regiment, Delhi police chosen as best marching contingents
The Jat Regimental Centre Marching Contingent was adjudged as the best marching contingent among the three services during this year's Republic Day parade, the ministry of defence said.

The Delhi Police Marching Contingent was chosen as the best marching contingent among Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and other auxiliary forces.

"They have been adjudged on the basis of the assessment of the panels of judges and the results of the competitive presentation of the contingents," the ministry said in a release.

Three panels of judges were appointed for assessing the performance of marching contingents from three services, marching contingents from CAPFs and other auxiliary forces, and tableaux from various states and Union territories (UTs), central ministries, their departments, and from CAPFs and other auxiliary forces, along with the performances of school children, it said.

Among the tableaux of states and UTs, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, and Uttarakhand were chosen first, second and third respectively.

The department of biotechnology was chosen as the best tableau among the central ministries, their departments, CAPFs, and other auxiliary forces. 

A special prize was also given to the tableau of the Central Public Works Department.

The combined performance of Mount Abu Public School and Vidya Bharti School was adjudged best school performance, while the consolation prize went to Delhi Tamil Education Association Schools. 
19:22   9 farmers held for attacking cop in Delhi
The Delhi Police has arrested nine farmers for attacking one of its personnel at the Burari protest site, officials said on Friday. Several farmers have been camping at Delhi Development Authority ground in Burari on the outskirts of the national capital since November-end against the Centre's three agri laws.

At around 7.30 pm on Thursday, some protesters came out and tried to move towards Red Fort, however, they were stopped by assistant sub-inspector Harbans Lal deployed at the main entry gate.

The farmers then assaulted the policeman and tore his uniform, a senior police officer said.

A case was registered under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code at the Mukherjee Nagar Police Station against nine people, police said.

The accused were protesting under the leadership of Jaskaran Singh Kahan Singh Wala of Shiromani Akali Dal (Kisan wing, Amritsar), the officer said. The accused were sent to judicial custody, the officer said.  -- PTI
18:57   'KGF: Chapter 2' to release on July 16
The much-awaited Kannada action drama KGF: Chapter 2, starring South star Yash, is slated to release on July 16, the makers have announced. 

Directed by Prashanth Neel, the film is a sequel to the 2018 period-action blockbuster KGF, led by Yash. It is a multilingual venture and will be released in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi. 

KGF follows the story of Rocky (Yash) who rises from poverty to become the king of a gold mine.

The upcoming sequel marks Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt's Kannada acting debut. The film also stars actors Prakash Raj, Malavika Avinash, Raveena Tandon and Srinidhi Shetty. 

 Production on the movie was affected due to the coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown in March last year and the shoot resumed in August.
18:40   Singhu clash: SHO grievously injured, say police
The Delhi Police on Friday said the station house officer, who was attacked by a man with a sword at the Singhu border protest site, has suffered grievous injuries on his hand.

Alipur SHO Pradeep Paliwal was intervening in the clash between farmers and a large group of men claiming to be local residents over vacating the Singhu border protest site -- one of the hotspots for the ongoing farmers' agitation against the agri laws.

The two sides also hurled stones at each other as police fired tear gas shells and resorted to baton charge to break up the clash, an official said, adding that situation is under control and legal action has been initiated.

'SHO Alipur, Delhi intervenes between rioting protestors (MKSC faction) and local Singhu villagers, who had gone to register their protest against the happenings on Republic Day-2021 and continued loss of ordinary livelihoods for over two months,' the Delhi Police said in a tweet.

In another tweet, police said, 'This is how the SHO was assaulted; he has suffered grievous injuries on his hand..Peace has been restored. Legal action is being initiated.'

The official said that police detained the man who attacked the station house officer.

The group claiming to be locals demanded that farmers vacate the protest site at Singhu border alleging that they had 'insulted' the national flag during their tractor parade on Republic Day.   -- PTI
18:17   Low-intensity blast near Israel embassy in Delhi
A low-intensity explosion happened near the Israel Embassy in New Delhi.

The nature of explosion being ascertained.

Some broken glasses at spot.

No injuries reported; further investigation underway.   -- ANI
17:45   Farmers will not go back: Yogendra Yadav
Yogendra Yadav of the Swaraj Party, is at a farmers' rally at Delhi-UP border: "Modiji and Yogiji and all others must listen carefully, farmers will not go back from this movement, humiliated and defamed."
17:36   India may get Russia's Covid vaccine in March
Dr Reddy's Laboratories, which is conducting Phase 3 trials of Russia's COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V, believes the jab is expected to be launched in India through Emergency Use Authorisation, a senior official of the city-based drug maker said on Friday.

"The phase 3 (trial) is currently ongoing. We are dosing patients and we expect to complete the dosing as part of the phase 3 by February. "After that we expect to compile the data and submit for Emergency Use Authorisation, make the request to the DCGI with our dossier," company's CEO of APIs and Pharmaceutical Services Deepak Sapra said. 

In September last, Dr. Reddy's partnered with Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to conduct the clinical trials of the Sputnik V vaccine and for its distribution rights in India. 

"And based on the approval from the DCGI, we believe that we should be in a position to launch the vaccine through a EUA in the month of March 2021 (in India)," Sapra told a press conference.

Sputnik V, developed by the Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, was registered by the Ministry of Health of Russia and became the worlds first registered vaccine against COVID-19 based on the established human adenoviral vector platform. 

The Centre has already given the nod for two COVID-19 vaccines -- Covaxin of city-based Bharat Biotech and Covishield of Oxford, being manufactured by Serum Institute of India in Pune, which are being administered to frontline workers from January 16. -- PTI 
17:29   Indian economy on V-shaped recovery path post unlock: ES
The Economic Survey 2020-21 tabled by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Parliament on Friday said the country's economy after being gradually unlocked since June 2020 has experienced a V-shaped recovery.

"Despite the hard-hitting economic shock created by the global pandemic, India is witnessing a V-shaped recovery with a stable macroeconomic situation aided by a stable currency, comfortable current account, burgeoning forex reserves and encouraging signs in the manufacturing sector output," the survey noted.

The survey said the V-shaped economic recovery is due to mega vaccination drive, robust recovery in the services sector, and robust growth in consumption and investment.Country's Chief Economic Advisor Dr K Subramanian has likened India's economic recovery to the Indian cricket team's recent victory against Australia.

"The cover also captures the V-shaped recovery that has happened in the economy. In fact, it mirrors V-shape performance that the Indian cricket team delivered in Australia well after being short out for 36 in an hour, they went on to win the series. The resilience of the Indian economy is mirroring the resilience of Indian cricket team as well," he said.

It stated that with the economy brought to a standstill for two complete months, the inevitable effect was a 23.9 per cent contraction in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as compared to the previous year's quarter. This contraction was consistent with the stringency of the lockdown.

However, "While there was a 23.9 per cent contraction in GDP in quarter 1 (Q1), the recovery has been a V-shaped one as seen in the 7.5 per cent decline in Q2 and the recovery across all key economic indicators," said the survey. -- ANI
17:21   Dr Reddy's Lab to launch Russia's Covid vaccine
Hyderabad-based pharma major Dr Reddy's Laboratories hopes to launch Russias COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V in India in March this year: Company officials. More details awaited

17:13   Mamata minister quits TMC ahead of Shah's visit
Rajib Banerjee quits TMC, hours after resigning as MLA of the West Bengal Assembly; sends letter to party supremo Mamata Banerjee. The West Bengal forest minister quit the Mamata Banerjee cabinet last week, joining the growing list of dissenters who have put the ruling camp in a tight spot ahead of the assembly elections. 

This comes just as Union Home Minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah arrives in Kolkata tonight on a two-day visit beginning on Saturday to take stock of the BJP's preparedness ahead of the assembly elections in West Bengal.

His visit comes in the backdrop of growing rebellion in the ruling Trinamool Congress with several ministers and MLAs openly speaking out against the party and the functioning of the state government. Speculations are rife that former minister Rajib Banerjee who has resigned as cabinet minister and TMC MLA, expelled TMC MLA Baishali Dalmiya and Uttarpara MLA Prabir Ghoshal may join the saffron party during Shah's visit. 
17:05   'Let us bridge the gap...'
Senior journalist Sheela Bhatt, formerly with and now with Dainik Bhaskar Online, tweets: 'FIR against d media persons not justified at all. The govt's vikas targets will b served better if diffrent pillars of democracy works harmoniously. Let us bridge d gap bet the liberals in d media n the conservatives in govt creatively.'

Right advice, will the government accept it?
16:57   Amit Shah on two-day visit to Bengal tomorrow
Union Home Minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah will arrive in Kolkata tonight on a two-day visit beginning on Saturday to take stock of the BJP's preparedness ahead of the assembly elections in West Bengal.

His visit comes in the backdrop of growing rebellion in the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) with several ministers and MLAs openly speaking out against the party and the functioning of the state government. 

Speculations are rife that former minister Rajib Banerjee who has resigned as cabinet minister and TMC MLA, expelled TMC MLA Baishali Dalmiya and Uttarpara MLA Prabir Ghoshal may join the saffron party during Shah's visit.

"On Saturday morning, Shah will be visiting Iskcon, Mayapur. Then he will be going to Thakurnagar in North 24 Parganas, a bastion of Matuas, where he will address a public rally. Later in the day, he will hold a closed-door meeting with social media cell of the party. He has some other engagements too," a state BJP leader said. Shah will also hold a meeting with party leaders to review its poll prepararedness. 

"On Sunday he will be visiting Aurobindo Bhawan to pay his respects to Sri Aurobindo. Then he will be going to Bharat Sevashram Sangha. From there he will proceed to Howrah where he will address a public meeting," the BJP leader said. 

Later in the evening, he will be visiting Belur Math. According to BJP sources, there will be "surprises" at Shah's rally in Howrah. 

"Lists of TMC leaders likely to join our party are doing the rounds in social media. I can only say that there will be several surprises on Sunday," BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said. 

In the biggest single-day exodus from the TMC, political heavyweight Suvendu Adhikari, along with 35 party leaders, including five MLAs and an MP, had joined the BJP during Shah's rally in Medinipur on December 19. Since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP bagged 18 seats from the state, 14 legislators of the TMC, four from the Left Front and two from the Congress have joined the saffron party. Elections to the 294-member state assembly are due in April-May. PTI
16:43   Farm laws herald new era of market freedom: ES
The government's annual Economic Survey on Friday strongly defended new farm laws, saying they herald a new era of market freedom which can go a long way in improving lives of small and marginal farmers in India.

These legislations were designed "primarily" for the benefit of "small and marginal farmers", which constitute around 85 per cent of the total number of farmers and are the biggest sufferer of the "regressive" APMC-regulated market regime, the survey said. 

The pre-budget document defended the farm laws in the backdrop of long-running farmers' agitation at various borders of the national capital seeking repeal of these legislations expressing concern that they are pro-corporate and could weaken government regulated mandis, also called Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs). 

"Several Economic Surveys have expressed concern at functioning of the APMCs and the fact that they sponsor monopolies. Specifically, Economic Surveys for the years 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2016-17, 2019-20 focused on the reforms required in this context," the survey said. It also highlighted the recommendations made on agri-market reforms since 2001, including by National Commission on Farmers chaired by M S Swaminathan and Taskforce on Employment Opportunities headed by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, among others.

The suggestions on marketing of agricultural produce include the need to provide a choice to the farmers to sell their products directly to a processing factory or the private sector, development of agriculture marketing infrastructure, amendment of the State APMC Acts and the Essential Commodities Act to ensure barrier-free storage and movement of agricultural commodities, it said. 

The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 The Essential Commodities(Amendment) Act, 2020 -- are the three key legislations passed by Parliament in September 2020.

"The newly introduced farm laws herald a new era of market freedom which can go a long way in the improvement of farmer welfare in India," the survey said. Highlighting the benefits of the new farm laws, the survey said farmers in India have suffered from various restrictions in marketing their produce. There were restrictions for farmers in selling agri-produce outside the notified APMC market yards. 

The farmers were also restricted to sell the produce only to registered licensees of the state governments. Further, barriers existed in free flow of agriculture produce between various states owing to the prevalence of various APMC legislations enacted by the state governments. 

Further, the survey said that APMC regulations have indeed resulted in a number of "inefficiencies and consequent loss to the farmers". "The presence of multiple intermediaries between the farmers and the final consumers has led to low realisation by farmers. 

"Further, a large range of taxes and cesses levied by APMCs cuts into farmers' price realisation while only a small proportion is ploughed back into the development of mandi infrastructure. Poor infrastructure at the mandis compounds the problem of price realisation for the farmers," it said.
16:23   Benchmarks fall for 6th session; Sensex dives 588 pts
The domestic equity market continued its downward journey for the sixth session in row on Friday, with the BSE Sensex plummeting over 588 points and the NSE Nifty tumbling nearly 183 points due to across-the-board selling. 

Both benchmark indices fluctuated between gains and losses in a highly volatile session. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tabled the Economic Survey 2020-21 in the Lok Sabha, ahead of the Union Budget to be presented on Monday next. 

The 30-share Sensex closed 588.59 points or 1.26 per cent lower at 46,285.77 -- taking the six-session aggregate loss to 3,506.35 points or 7.04 per cent. Intra-day, the index swung 1,263.20 points. 

Likewise, the NSE Nifty furthered its loss by 182.95 points or 1.32 per cent to settle at 13,634.60. Over the last six days, the NSE barometer has shed 1,010.10 points or 6.89 per cent On the Sensex chart, 26 shares closed in the red. Dr Reddy's, Maruti, Bharti Airtel, Bajaj Auto, Infosys, TCS and Bajaj FinServ were the major losers. On the other hand, IndusInd Bank, Sun Pharma, ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank ended with gains. 

Analysts are of the view that the continued pullback in domestic markets was mainly led by profit-booking ahead of the Union Budget and important global events. Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) offloaded shares worth a net Rs 3,712.51 crore on Thursday, according to exchange data. -- PTI
15:43   MVA will make its own law for farmers if needed, says Ashok Chavan
Minister of Public Works Department (PWD) of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan on Friday sparked a controversy by saying that the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government will make new laws for farmers in the State.

"MVA government is just waiting for the Supreme Court's verdict on the fate of the farm laws. The government will make its own law 'if needed,' Chavan told ANI over the phone. Chavan said the cabinet sub-committee on the three farm laws is not holding meetings as the matter is pending in the Apex Court.

However, the respective departments have been instructed to study the resolution passed by Punjab, Rajasthan, and other states against these agriculture laws.

"Maharashtra cabinet sub-committee on-farm laws is headed by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, so he will take a call on this issue," he said.

Meanwhile, a total of 16 political parties including Congress, NCP, J-K National Conference, DMK, AITC, Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party, RJD, CPI (M), CPI, IUML, RSP, PDP, MDMK, Kerala Congress (M) and AIUDF in a joint statement on Thursday announced that they will boycott the President's address in the Parliament to register their protest against the three farm laws.
An SHO was injured in the clashes at the Singhu border
An SHO was injured in the clashes at the Singhu border
15:35   Locals' at Singhu hurl petrol bombs at farmers
Violence broke out at the Singhu border protest site after large groups of people claiming to be locals reached there to vacate the area, leading to a clash between them and agitating farmers and prompting police to resort to baton charge and use tear gas shells. 

Delhi Police SHO (Alipur) Pradeep Paliwal was injured in the violence after a man attacked him with a sword, an official said, adding that some people were also wounded. 

The official said that police detained the man who attacked the station house officer. The locals demanded that the farmers vacate the Singhu border protest site as they had "insulted" the national flag during their tractor parade on Republic Day. 

Armed with sticks, the group of locals reached the site and asked the farmers to leave while raising slogans against them. Both sides also pelted stones at each other. The protestors at the Singhu border, much of which is barred for entry from outside, were coming out in numbers to resist the locals. However, they were promptly stopped by farmer union volunteers which prevented the situation from turning ugly. 

"They are not locals, but hired goons. They were throwing stones, petrol bombs at us. They attempted to burn down our trolleys also. We are here to resist them. We won't leave the place," said Harkirat Mann Beniwal, 21, from Punjab's Khana district. 

Thousands of protesting farmers had clashed with the police during the tractor rally called by farmer unions on January 26 to highlight their demand for repeal of the Centre's three farm laws. Many of the protesters, driving tractors, reached the Red Fort and entered the monument. Some protesters even hoisted religious flags on its domes and the flagstaff at the ramparts, where the national flag is unfurled by the prime minister on Independence Day. PTI
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar
15:20   Appreciate India's suggestions to mend ties: China
China on Friday said it has taken note of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar's suggestions to mend the strained bilateral relations, saying that it appreciates his remarks which showed that New Delhi attached importance to ties with Beijing. "We have noted Minister Jaishankar's remarks," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here while responding to a question on the online address by Jaishankar to the 13th All India Conference of China Studies.

He stressed the importance of India-China relations. "It shows that the Indian side attaches importance to the ties with China, we appreciate this," Zhao said. 

"Meanwhile, we stress that the boundary issue shall not be linked with the overall bilateral relations. That is an important experience we have gathered through many years' effort to keep the ties moving forward," the spokesman said. "We hope the Indian side will work with us to properly manage the differences, promote practical cooperation and bring bilateral relations back on track," Zhao said. 

In his address on Thursday, Jaishankar outlined eight broad principles and three "mutuals" to mend strained ties between India and China, and said the two countries are truly at crossroads and their choices will have profound repercussions, not just for them but for the entire world. 

The minister said the developments in eastern Ladakh last year brought the relationship under "exceptional stress" and India is yet to receive a credible explanation for the change in China's stance or reasons for amassing troops in the border areas. 

 The two countries are locked in a military standoff in eastern Ladakh since May 5 last. India and China have held several rounds of military and diplomatic talks to resolve the face-off in eastern Ladakh, but no significant headway has been made so far. PTI
15:06   Economic Survey pegs India's FY22 growth at 11%
The Indian economy can contract by 7.7 per cent in current financial year ending on March 31 and the growth could be 11 per cent in the next financial year, according to the Economic Survey tabled in Parliament by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The contraction in FY21 is mainly due to coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the visible damage caused by the subsequent countrywide lockdown to contain it. 

The survey unveiled two days before the Union Budget is broadly in line with forecasts by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which has said it expected the country's GDP to contract by 7.5 per cent in the year ending March 31.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently pegged the contraction in India's economy at 8 per cent in 2020-21. It expects a growth rate of 11.5 per cent in the 2021-22 before a decline to 6.8 per cent in 2022-23 and that India will regain the tag of the fastest-growing large economy in the world in both years.

In the quarter ended June 2020, the GDP contracted by 23.9 per cent followed by a milder contraction of 7.5 per cent in the quarter ended September 2020.

"India was the only country to announce a slew of structural reforms to expand supply in the medium to long term and avoid long-term damage to productive capacities," said the survey.

"The upturn in the economy while avoiding a second wave of infections makes India a sui generis case in strategic policymaking amidst a once-in-a-century pandemic," it added. -- ANI
Delhi Dy CM Manish Sisodia at the Singhu protest site this morning
Delhi Dy CM Manish Sisodia at the Singhu protest site this morning
14:57   Police seal Singhu protest site
Multi-layered security arrangements, barricades put everywhere and all entry points sealed, Singhu border, the nerve-centre of the ongoing farmers protest with thousands of security personnel seen marching at the site, turned into a fortress on Friday. 

The heightened security measures and restrictions have been brought into place after violence on Republic Day that left 394 policemen injured and one protestor dead. No one, even media personnel, are allowed to enter the protest site with area cordoned off by multiple concrete barricades and intermodal containers. 

"These batons, tear gas shells and ammunition can't scare us. We won't budge, we won't leave till our demands of repealing three farm laws are met," said 26-year-old Manjeet Dhillon, from Haryana's Kaithal, while standing on the other side of the barricade. 

While there was a sense of unease among some protestors, nothing changed at the respective stages of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti (KMSC), where decibel levels, courtesy the fiery speeches, were high like before. The SKM has blamed the KMSC, actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu and the central government for the violence during the farmers' tractor parade in Delhi on January 26. 

Ram Bhados, the only shop open at the whole stretch, said he opened it after being asked to do so by the security forces. "I didn't want to open the shop. I am afraid things might get violent. They (the security personnel) asked me to open the tea-shop and serve them. They said they'll protect me," said the visibly-tensed 18-year-old. 

The tractor parade on Tuesday that was to highlight the demand of the protesting farmer unions for a repeal of three new agriculture laws turned violent as the protesters deviated from the pre-designated routes, attacked police personnel, overturned vehicles and hoisted a religious flag on the ramparts of the iconic Red Fort. 

The police issued lookout notices against farmer leaders on Thursday and announced a probe into the "conspiracy" behind the Republic Day violence. The police have so far registered 33 FIRs in connection with the violence and issued lookout notices against 44 people, including most of the farmer leaders. PTI
14:46   Criticism of courts is growing: SC
The Supreme Court Friday observed that criticism of courts is growing and everybody is now doing it now, while giving three weeks to cartoonist Rachit Taneja to file her reply on the plea seeking contempt action for her alleged scandalous tweets against the judiciary. 

The top court also adjourned hearing for two weeks on separate pleas seeking contempt action against stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, after the petitioners said that they have received reply of the artist. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R S Reddy and M R Shah was informed by advocate Nishant Kanteshwarkar, appearing for some petitioners in Kamra's case, that the comedian's reply has been received and the matter be listed on non-miscellaneous day after two weeks. 

The bench agreed to the submission and said it will take up the matter after two weeks. During the hearing on a separate plea, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Taneja, said that he will file reply to petition against her. The bench however said that criticism is growing on and everybody is doing it. Rohatgi said that criticism of court can never be contempt and she is a young girl of 25-years of age. 

He said that there is a public perception as to why one case of a journalist was taken up for hearing during court's vacation. The bench said, If you don't want to file reply, we will proceed. It's better if you file a reply. Rohatgi submitted that he will file a reply and sought three weeks' time for it. The bench said it will list the matter after three weeks. 

On December 18, the top court had issued show-cause notices to Kamra and Taneja for their alleged scandalous tweets against the apex court. The top court had sought their responses in in six weeks on the notices issued in two separate cases and had exempted them from personal appearances in the cases. 

The top court had noted that Attorney General K K Venugopal has given his consent to initiate contempt proceedings against both the comic artists in separate cases. 

Venugopal had granted consent for initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against Kamra, saying the comedian's tweets were in "bad taste" and it was time that people understand that attacking the apex court brazenly would attract punishment. The attorney general had also given consent to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against Taneja, stating that the caricatures posted by her on social media were intended to denigrate the Supreme Court and lower its authority in the eyes of the public. 

The consent of either the attorney general or the solicitor general is necessary under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act for initiating contempt proceedings against a person. Criminal contempt of the Supreme Court is punishable with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 and imprisonment of up to six months. PTI 
14:37   BJP members masqueraded as farmers, vandalised Delhi: Tikait
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesperson Rakesh Tikait on Friday alleged that BJP leaders and workers masqueraded as farmers and indulged in vandalism in the national capital on January 26 to malign their image.

"Two BJP MLAs came along with 400 people to malign the image of farmers on January 26. They tried to target Sikh people and show them as anti-national. We do not trust the UP government after this," said Tikait on Friday while addressing media. 

He also criticised the Uttar Pradesh government for cutting off the electricity and water supply at the border.

The farmer leader addressed the media in front of the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia. The AAP leader assured the protesting farmers that they will not face any problems related to water and toilets as has been arranged by the Delhi government.

Tikait also said that farmers will not vacate the Ghazipur border. "We will talk to the Government of India about our issues. I urge the people to remain peaceful. Our talks with the government are going on," he added.

The Ghaziabad District Administration had ordered anti-farm law protestors at the Ghazipur border to vacate the area by late Thursday evening. The administration said if protestors do not act as per order then they will be forcefully evacuated.

Earlier, Delhi Police had issued a notice to Tikait asking him to explain why legal action should not be taken against him for breaching the agreement with police regarding the tractor rally on January 26. -- ANI
14:34   More farmers pour in to Ghazipur protest site
Crowds swelled at the Ghazipur border on Friday as around 1000 farmers from western Uttar Pradesh joined the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) members who have stayed put on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway to demand repeal of agri laws, while several farmers from Haryana decided to move towards Delhi borders to join the stir. 

Notwithstanding the Ghaziabad administration's ultimatum to the protestors to vacate the UP Gate protest site, more farmers from western Uttar Pradesh districts such as Meerut, Baghpat, Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Moradabad and Bulandshahr reached the UP Gate early morning to join the stir following an emotional appeal by BKU leader Rakesh Tikait. 

The crowd of protesters that had reduced to 500 on Thursday night has now again increased with around 1000 farmers joining the stir. Flanked by supporters, Tikait remained at the centrestage of the protest site on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway, which has been barricaded from both sides, prohibiting regular traffic movement. 

However, extra security forces deployed at the protest site have been sent back. Several farmers from parts of Haryana have also decided to move towards Delhi borders to join the ongoing agitation against agri laws and held protests against lookout notices to peasant leaders and the Ghaziabad administration's ultimatum to vacate protest site. 

The farmers claimed that issuing the lookout notices and asking the farmers to vacate the site will not weaken the ongoing agitation against the Centre's new farm laws. 

A number of farmers from Jind, Rohtak, Kaithal, Hisar, Bhiwani and Sonipat will be heading towards various protest sites at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur, farmer leaders from Haryana claimed. 

Backing the protesting farmers, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh announced support to the BKU. The former Union minister spoken to BKU president Naresh Tikait and spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, RLD vice president and his son Jayant Chaudhary said. 

"It is a matter of life and death for farmers, but do not worry. All have to stay together, united in this -- this is Chaudhary sahab's (Ajit Singh's) message," the RLD vice president said in a tweet in Hindi. Jayant Chaudhary also visited the protest site at Ghazipur. -- PTI
14:01   Maha govt allows local trains for all from Feb 1
The Maharashtra government on Friday approved resumption of suburban train services in Mumbai for the general public from February 1, an official said.  The general public will be allowed to use the trains from the first local till 7am, from 12noon to 4pm, and then from 9pm till the last train.

A railway official said the state government's proposal has been conveyed to the competent authorities and a formal announcement is expected soon.
State Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar has asked the Chief General Managers of Western and Central Railway to allow local train commuters to travel as per the laid down schedule, the state government official said.
Local trains have been off bounds for the general public since March last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

They resumed in June for the essential services workers.

13:20   What the farmer leaders should do next
'The leaders of the agitation must now work quickly to throw the extremists and fundamentalists out of their ranks. They must recognise how much damage has been done to their cause. They made the mistake of not acting against the extremists because they wanted a broad coalition. But they should now go beyond North India and find a way of making the protests more national in scope,' writes vir Sanghvi in

'Otherwise,' he says, 'they will have been played for patsies by men who have no real interest in their demands and wish to follow a completely different agenda. Equally, the state must be thoughtful and measured in its response. The more it makes it sound like a police versus Sikhs conflict, the more the extremists will rejoice,' here.
13:05   Comedian Kunal Kamra defends his tweets in SC
Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra defended in the Supreme Court on Friday his alleged scandalous tweets against the judiciary saying if the court believes he has crossed the line and wants to shut down his internet indefinitely, then he too "will write Happy Independence Day post cards every 15th August, just like my Kashmiri friends".
He said "irreverence and hyperbole" are essential tools for the comedic enterprise and a comic raises questions on issues of public interest in his own unique way.
"We would be reduced to a country of incarcerated artists and flourishing lapdogs" if powerful people and institutions continue to show an inability to tolerate rebuke or criticism, he said.
Kamra, who filed his reply affidavit in a plea seeking contempt action against him for the alleged scandalous tweets said, "I may disagree with many decisions by many courts in many matters, but I promise this bench that I will respect any decision that comes my way with a broad smile. I will not vilify this bench or the Supreme Court in this matter specifically because that would actually be contempt of court.
"Should powerful people and institutions continue to show an inability to tolerate rebuke or criticism, we would be reduced to a country of incarcerated artists and flourishing lapdogs. If this court believes I have crossed a line and wants to shut down my internet indefinitely, then I too will write Happy Independence Day post cards every 15th August, just like my Kashmiri friends," he said.
The comedian said that he believes that there is growing culture in intolerance in this country, where taking offence is seen as a fundamental right and has been elevated to the status of a much loved national indoor sport.
"We are witnessing an assault on the freedom of speech and expression, with comedians like Munawar Farooqi being jailed for jokes that they have not been made, and school students being interrogated for sedition. At such a time, I hope that this court will demonstrate that the freedom of speech and expression is cardinal constitutional value, and recognise that the possibility of being offended is a necessary incident to the exercise of this right," he said.
"The Language and style I resort to are not with the intention to insult, but to draw attention to and prompt an engagement with issues that I believe are relevant to our democracy and which have also been raised in the public domain by more serious and learned commentators," he said.
Kamra further said he believes that constitutional offices -- including judicial offices -- know no protection from jokes. 
"I do not believe that any high authority, including judges, would find themselves unable to discharge their duties only on account of being the subject of satire or comedy," he said.
Defending his tweets he said, that they were not published with "the intention to diminish the faith of the people in the highest court of our democracy".
He said the suggestion that the tweets could shake the foundation of the most powerful court in the world is an over-estimation of his abilities.
"Just as the Supreme Court values the faith the public places in it (and seek to protect it by the exercise of its criminal contempt jurisdiction), it should also trust the public not to form its opinion of the court on the basis of a few jokes on Twitter. The public's faith in the judiciary is founded on the institution's own actions, and not on any criticism or commentary about it," he said.
Kamra said that jokes are based on a comedian's perception, which they use to make the audience that shares that perception laugh.
"Most people do not react to jokes that don't make them laugh; they ignore them like our political leaders ignore their critics. That is where the like of joke must end. The truth about the attention economy is that the more attention one gives to criticism or ridicule, the more credible it appears to be," he said.
12:50   Film on Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan to release on July 2
South actor Adivi Sesh on Friday said his film Major, based on the life of 2008 Mumbai terror attack martyr Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, will hit theatres worldwide on July 2. 

Sesh, who essays the titular role in the Sashi Kiran-directed biopic, took to social media to announce the release date of the movie. 

"The power of courage. My dream project #MajorTheFilm reporting for duty 2 July, 2021 theatres worldwide," Sesh wrote on Twitter, alongside a poster of the film.

Major is inspired by the life of Major Sandeep, the brave NSG commando, who saved several hostages during the 26/11 attack at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai and sacrificed his life for the nation. 

Major Sandeep was decorated with the Ashoka Chakra, India's highest military honour in peacetime.

The movie also stars Sobhita Dhulipala, Saiee Manjrekar, Prakash Raj, Revathi and Murali Sharma. It has been produced by Sony Pictures Films India in association with Mahesh Babu's GMB Entertainment and A+S Movies.
12:37   Heavy police deployment at Tikri, Singhu borders
Delhi's border points at Tikri and Singhu remained under heavy police deployment on Friday in the aftermath of the violence that broke out during a tractor parade by farmers in the national capital on Republic Day, officials said.
Personnel of the Delhi Police, along with those of the paramilitary forces, have been deployed at the borders.
Several roads have been closed and the traffic police has asked the commuters to take other routes.
"Gazipur border closed. Traffic diverted from NH 24, NH 9, Road no 56, 57 A, Kondli, Paper market, Telco T point, EDM Mall, Akshardham & Nizammudin Khatta. Traffic is very heavy in the area & Vikas marg, Pl take alternate route.
"Singhu, Auchandi, Mangesh, Saboli, Piau Maniyari borders closed. Lampur, Safiabad, Singhu school & Palla toll tax borders opened. Pl Take alternate route. Traffic diverted from NH44 near DSIDC Narela. Avoid Outer Ring Rd, GTK road & NH 44," the Delhi Traffic Police said in tweets.
There was a traffic snarl on National Highway 24 on Thursday evening following the closure of the Ghazipur border.
Hundreds of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) members stayed put on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway on Friday, notwithstanding the Ghaziabad administration's ultimatum to vacate the UP Gate protest site. 
A confrontation was building up at the UP Gate in Ghazipur even as frequent power cuts were witnessed on Thursday evening at the protest site, where BKU members, led by Rakesh Tikait, are staying put since November 28 last year.
Ghaziabad District Magistrate Ajay Shankar Pandey and Senior Superintendent of Police Kalanidhi Naithani visited the protest site post midnight for a review of the situation even as hundreds of security personnel in anti-riot gears were deployed there since Thursday.
The tractor parade on Tuesday that was to highlight the demand of the protesting farmer unions for a repeal of three new agriculture laws turned violent as the protesters deviated from the pre-designated routes, attacked police personnel, overturned vehicles and hoisted a religious flag on the ramparts of the iconic Red Fort.
The police issued lookout notices against farmer leaders on Thursday and announced a probe into the "conspiracy" behind the Republic Day violence.
The police have so far registered 33 FIRs in connection with the violence and issued lookout notices against 44 people, including most of the farmer leaders. -- PTI 
Representational image
Representational image
12:30   CBI conducts surprise checks at FCI godowns in Punjab, Haryana
The Central Bureau of Investigation conducted surprise checks at 20 Food Corporation of India godowns in Punjab and Haryana on Friday after getting a number of complaints regarding alleged irregularities, officials said.
The move is part of preventive vigilance to check corruption at locations where public dealing takes place, they added.
The action started jointly with vigilance teams of the FCI at about 20 locations in the two states, the officials said.  -- PTI
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray
12:25   Maharashtra extends lockdown till Feb 28, no further relaxation
The Maharashtra government on Friday announced the extension of the current lockdown rules till February 28.  

Accordingly, the activities already permitted shall be continued, the order issued by the chief secretary said.
12:19   Nation grateful to Galwan martyrs: President
Paying rich tributes to Galwan martyrs, President Ram Nath Kovind said that every countryman is grateful to these martyrs.

"20 jawans made the supreme sacrifice in Galwan valley in June 2020. Every countryman is grateful to these martyrs," Kovind said.

"My Govt is committed to the protection of the interests of the nation. Extra forces have been deployed at LAC for protection of India's sovereignty," he added. 
12:14   FM gave 4-5 mini-budgets in 2020: PM Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had to give four-five mini-budgets in the form of packages in 2020 and expressed confidence that the upcoming budget would also be seen as part of that series.
In his remarks to the media before the commencement of Parliament's Budget Session, Modi said the first session of this decade commences on Friday and emphasised that this decade is very important for the bright future of India.
Keeping in mind this decade, there should be discussions and presentation of different views this session, he said.
The prime minister expressed confidence that MPs will not shy away from contributing to make full use of Parliament for fulfilling people's aspirations.
"Probably for the first time in India's history, the finance minister had to give four-five mini budgets in 2020 in the form of different packages," he said.
"Therefore, I am confident that this budget will also be seen as part of the series of the four-five mini budgets," Modi said. -- PTI 
Rajdeep Sardesai
Rajdeep Sardesai
12:09   Poser for India Today TV. What about the other anchors?
On Thursday, confronted with claims of misreporting on the tractor rally, India Today put its foot down and removed Rajdeep Sardesai, the channel's consulting editor, from air for two weeks, writes Ayush Tiwar on Newlandry.

'The seasoned anchor, who faced hostility from the protesting farmers on the day of the rally, will also not be paid for the month,' he says, and adds, 
'The news channel must be applauded for holding the journalist accountable for his clumsy work. (Even though an apology across mediums would have done the job.)'

Echoing the views of many, Tiwari writes, 'But this new gold standard of journalism must now apply to the other prima donnas in the network's studios whose records in the realm of reporting are far worse than Sardesai on a bad day,' and to help India Today along, even suggests their names.

'Here are the top four,' Tiwari writes here.
11:57   Former minister Yashwant Sinha quits Twitter
Yashwant Sinha, finance minister and external affairs minister in the NDA 1 government of A B Vajpayee, today announced his decision to quit Twitter.

Sinha, a critic of the NDA 2 government headed by Narendra Modi, posted on Twitter: 'It is with regret that I announce my withdrawal from twitter. I shall not issue any tweet in future.'

Sinha had joined the microblogging site in April 2017. 
11:39   Violence on R-Day was unfortunate: Prez Kovind
Terming the violence during farmers' tractor rally on the Republic Day as 'unfortunate', President Ram Nath Kovind said that the government respects freedom of expression and protests.

"The government respects freedom of expression and protests. But what happened with the tricolour on Republic Day was very unfortunate. We need to respect law and order," Kovind said during his address to a joint session of Parliament.

"The national flag and a holy day like Republic Day were insulted in the past few days. The Constitution that provides us freedom of expression, is the same Constitution that teaches us that law and rules have to be followed seriously," he added.
11:31   Govt's timely action on Covid saved lives: Prez
Timely decision taken by the government saved the lives of lakhs of citizens during teh Covid pandemic, President Ram Nath Kovind said while addressing a joint sitting of Parliament.

Today the number of new Covid-19 cases is going down rapidly. The number of recoveries is very high, Kovind said.

Kovind said that India is conducting world's largest vaccination drive against Covid-19, with two domestic vaccines. 

"We're also distributing vaccines to different countries and being praised for it," he added.
11:25   Beware of Emotet, the latest malware to hit the world
Law enforcement authorities across several countries have taken down a network of what they describe as the "world's most dangerous malware', reports Rishi Iyengar on

The malware, Emotet, gained access to users' computers through infected email attachments, including documents purporting to be "invoices, shipping notices and information about Covid-19," European police agency Europol, which coordinated the effort, said in a statement Wednesday, he reports. 

'The global effort to disrupt and take control of the compromised network, known as a botnet, was carried out jointly between eight countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. The network consisted of several hundred servers across the world, Europol said,' Iyengar writes. 

An investigation by Dutch police yielded a database of email addresses, passwords and usernames that were compromised by Emotet. 

Users can check whether their email addresses were breached through this link, the report adds.  

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has described Emotet as 'one of the most prevalent ongoing threats,' the report says, here.
11:12   Will join investigation, says Deep Sidhu
Actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu, who has been booked in connection with the religious flag incident at Red Fort, has said he needs some time to bring out the truth and then will join the investigation.  
The 36-year-old Sidhu is in the eye of a storm for being among the protesters who put up a religious flag atop the Red Fort on Republic Day.
"Arrest warrant has been issued against me and also a look out notice has been issued against me. First I want to give this message that I will join the investigation," Sidhu said in a video uploaded on Facebook.
He said he needed some time to bring out the truth.
"Because whatever has been spread, it is false information and it is misleading the public at large. Therefore, I need a couple of days to bring out the truth and then I will join the investigation," said Sidhu.
"I am requesting the investigation agencies...I have not done anything wrong then why should I run away and why should I be scared. I am not scared.I have done nothing wrong and that will come out," he said.
He told the investigation agencies and the police department that he will come to them in two days.
"The kind of rumours being spread is not based on facts. I need two days to bring out the truth based on the facts and I will collect all the evidence and proof," he stated.
The Delhi Police had named actor Deep Sidhu in an FIR lodged in connection with the Red Fort incident.
Sidhu was present at the Red Fort when a religious flag and a farmer flag were put at the flagpole at the historic monument, triggering massive outrage.
Sidhu had been accused by farm bodies of trying to defame their agitation and termed a "traitor". -- PTI
11:08   UN secretary-general takes the Covid jab
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has received his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and appealed to people to get vaccinated as soon as they can while stressing that nations must ensure the vaccine is available to everyone, everywhere. 

Guterres, 71, received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine at a New York City public school Thursday. Guterres gestured to make a victory sign as he was administered the shot. 

My appeal is for all to take profit of the opportunities that exist and be vaccinated as soon as they can, he said, adding that it is important for everybody, everywhere to be vaccinated.

In a tweet, he said, I was fortunate and grateful to get the first dose of my #Covid19 vaccine today. We must get to work to make sure the vaccine is available to everyone, everywhere. With this pandemic, none of us is safe until all of us are safe.

The NYC Mayor's Office for International Affairs said in a tweet that as a New Yorker who is over 65 years of age, the UN Secretary-General received his Covid-19 vaccine.
10:57   COVID-19: India records 18,855 fresh cases, recovery rate surges to 96.96%
With 18,855 fresh cases, India's COVID-19 tally has gone up to 1,07,20,048, while the number of people who have recuperated from the disease has surged to 1,03,94,352, pushing the national recovery rate to 96.96 per cent, the health ministry said on Friday.
The death toll due to the viral disease has climbed to 1,54,010 in the country with 163 more fatalities, the ministry's data updated at 8 am showed.
The number of people who have recuperated from the disease has surged to 1,03,94,352, pushing the national COVID-19 recovery rate to 96.96 per cent, while the case fatality rate stands at 1.44 per cent.
The number of active COVID-19 cases in the country remained below two lakh for the 10th consecutive day.
There are 1,71,686 active coronavirus cases in the country, which accounts for only 1.60 per cent of the total number of cases, the data stated. 
India's COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7 last year, the 30-lakh mark on August 23, the 40-lakh mark on September 5 and the 50-lakh mark on September 16.
It went past 60 lakh on September 28, 70 lakh on October 11, 80 lakh on October 29, 90 lakh on November 20 and the one-crore mark on December 19.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, a total of 19,50,81,079 samples have been tested for the viral disease across the country, including 7,42,306 on Thursday. -- PTI  
10:42   At 14 degree C, Mumbai records season's coldest day
Mumbai woke up to a chilly morning on Friday with the Santacruz weather station in the city recording the season's lowest minimum temperature of 14.8 degrees Celsius, an IMD official said.
Earlier, this winter season's lowest minimum temperature in the city was 15 degrees Celsius that was recorded last month, he said.
"The Santacruz observatory recorded the minimum temperature of 14.8 degrees Celsius on Friday morning, making it the season's lowest so far," the India Meterological Department official said.
"The northerly winds have pushed the mercury levels down. There will be no large change in the temperature for the next 24 hours, but a gradual rise in it is expected in the coming days," he said. -- PTI 
10:28   Ganguly's health condition stable after angioplasty
Indian cricket board chief Sourav Ganguly's health condition is stable and he had a good sleep on Thursday night, while doctors are planning to carry out requisite medical examinations on him on Friday, a senior official of the hospital where he is admitted said.
The former India captain underwent another angioplasty on the previous day. Two more stents were implanted to clear his clogged coronary arteries.
"Sourav Ganguly's health condition is stable. He had a good sleep at night. All his vital parameters are normal. Doctors will carry out necessary tests on him in the morning. Senior doctors will carry out a thorough checkup
following which a decision will be taken whether to move him to another ward," the hospital official told PTI.

The 48-year-old cricket icon was in the ICU on Thursday night following the angioplasty conducted by a team of doctors including noted cardiologist Dr Devi Shetty and Dr Ashwin Mehta.
His oxygen support has also been removed, the official said.
Ganguly was hospitalised on Wednesday for the second time in a month due to his cardiac condition.
He had suffered a mild heart attack earlier this month and was diagnosed with Triple Vessel Disease. He had undergone an angioplasty procedure during which a stent was inserted to clear a blocked artery. -- PTI
10:17   BSP becomes 19th party to boycott president's address
The Bahujan Samaj Party will boycott the president's address to the joint sitting of both Houses over the Centre's stand on the farmers' demand to repeal the new agri laws and its "dilly-dallying" approach on matters of public interest, the party's chief Mayawati said on Friday.
She made the announcement just hours before President Ram Nath Kovind's address to the joint sitting of both Houses, making BSP the 19th party to announce boycott of the address.
A day before the start of the Budget session of Parliament, as many as 18 opposition parties, led by the Congress, the NCP, the Shiv Sena and the TMC, had decided on Thursday to boycott the president's address in solidarity with the farmers protesting against the new farm laws.
"In protest over (the Centre) not accepting the farmers' demand of repealing the three controversial agri laws and adopting a dilly-dallying approach in matters of public interest, the BSP has decided to boycott the president's address in Parliament," Mayawati said in a tweet in Hindi.
"Also, I request the Centre to take back the farm laws and normalise the situation in Delhi. Innocent farmers should not be made a scapegoat in the the wake of the violence on Republic Day. There is a lot of truth in the objection of BKU and other leaders from UP in this matter," she said. 
While 16 opposition parties issued a joint statement announcing their decision to boycott the president's address, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal had also separately announced their decision to boycott the address.
The parties that jointly announced that they will boycott the president's address were the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, the National Conference, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Trinamool Congress, the Shiv Sena, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPI, the Indian Union Muslim League, the RSP, the People's Democratic Party, the MDMK, the Kerala Congress (M) and the All India United Democratic Front. -- PTI
10:12   Sensex, Nifty bounce back in morning trade
Indian equities made a smart recovery on Friday morning after five sessions of hefty losses, with the BSE benchmark Sensex rebounding over 400 points led by gains mainly in banking, energy and auto stocks. 

At press time the 30-share Sensex was trading higher by 115 points at 46,989.92 points in opening deals. 

Similarly, the broader NSE Nifty was up 49 points at 13,859.45. 

On the Sensex chart, IndusInd Bank, Mahindra and Mahindra, L&T, ONGC, Bajaj Finance, HDFC Bank and Bajaj Auto were prominent gainers. 

On the other hand, Axis Bank, HUL, Tech Mahindra, UltraTech Cement, Maruti and TCS were the top losers. 

Over the previous five sessions, the Sensex had lost 2,917.76 points, while the Nifty had shed 827.15 points. 

Analysts are of the view that a continued pullback in domestic markets was mainly led by profit booking ahead of the Union Budget and important global events. 

The government will table the Economic Survey 2020-21 in Parliament on Friday and present the Union Budget 2021-22 on Monday, February 1. 

Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) offloaded shares worth a net Rs 3,712.51 crore on Thursday, according to exchange data. 

Elsewhere in Asia on Friday, stocks markets were trading higher but heading towards settling with worst weekly losses in months. 

Meanwhile, the global oil benchmark, Brent crude futures, rose 0.18 per cent to USD 55.20 per barrel.
10:00   UN chief lauds India's vaccine assistance to nations
India's vaccine production capacity is one of the best assets the world has today, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has said as he applauded India for supplying COVID-19 doses to nations around the world to combat the catastrophic global health crisis.
The UN Secretary-General also expressed hope that India will have all instruments necessary to play a major role in ensuring a global vaccination campaign becomes possible as the world fights the pandemic.
"I would like to say how much we count on India. I mean, India has one of the most advanced pharmaceutical industries. India played a very important role in the production of generics for use that was a very important element of democratisation of access to medicines all over the world," Guterres said.
He was responding to a question by PTI during a press briefing on Thursday on India helping countries around the world in the fight against the global pandemic by supplying COVID-19 vaccines.
"And we strongly hope that India will have all the instruments that are necessary to play a major role in making sure that a global vaccination campaign becomes possible. I think that the production capacity of India is one of the best assets the world has today, and I hope the world understands that it must be fully used," he said.
Guterres added that he reiterated during his briefing to the UN Member States on his priorities for 2021 that licenses should be made available for companies around the world to be able to produce some of the vaccines that already exist. 
"I know that, in India, there is a production, a very high level of production, both of Indian-developed vaccines, and I think there is a perspective, very important perspective, of also others. And we are in contact with Indian institutions for that."
India has airlifted more than 6 million COVID-19 doses to nine countries in Phase-I under its initiative termed "Vaccine Maitri". 

Contractual supplies to various countries are also being undertaken in a phased manner and New Delhi has said it will gradually supply to the COVAX facility of the World Health Organization. 
COVAX is the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level. 
 This month, COVAX had announced that, pending WHO emergency use listings, nearly 150 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate are anticipated to be available in the first quarter of 2021, via existing agreements with the Serum Institute of India and AstraZeneca.
The Joe Biden administration has also applauded India for sending crucial supplies of the COVID19 vaccine to a host of South Asian nations, describing India as a true friend who is using its pharma to help the global community.
"We applaud India's role in global health, sharing millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine in South Asia. India's free shipments of the vaccine began w/Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh & Nepal & will extend to others. India's a true friend using its pharma to help the global community," the US State Department's account for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs had tweeted. -- PTI
08:59   FM to table Economic Survey 2020-21 today
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will table the Economic Survey 2020-21 in Parliament on Friday, two days before the Union Budget is presented in Parliament.

The Economic Survey, which is presented on the opening day of the budget session, provides a summary of the annual economic development across the country during the financial year.

The annual survey analyses the trends in infrastructure, agricultural and industrial production, employment, prices, exports, imports, money supply, foreign exchange reserves and other factors having an impact on the Indian economy and the budget.

The survey also puts out economic growth forecasts, provides justification and detailed reasons why it believes the economy will expand faster or decelerate. Sometimes, it also argues for some specific reform measures.

The Union Budget 2021 will be telecast live on Lok Sabha TV.  

Chief Economic Adviser KV Subramanian will address a press conference at 2.30 pm today in New Delhi after the presentation of Economic Survey 2020-21 by the Finance Minister in Parliament. 

The Budget Session will begin today with an address by President Ram Nath Kovind to the joint sitting of two houses of Parliament.

The first part of the session will continue till February 15. The second part of the session will be held from March 8 to April 8. -- ANI
08:16   Farmers stay put at UP Gate, 'excess force' removed
Hundreds of Bharatiya Kisan Union members stayed put on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway early on Friday, notwithstanding the Ghaziabad administration's ultimatum to vacate the Uttar Pradesh Gate protest site.
A confrontation was building up at the UP Gate in Ghazipur even as frequent power cuts were witnessed in the evening at the protest site, where BKU members, led by Rakesh Tikait, are staying put since November 28.
In a post-midnight review of situation, Ghaziabad District Magistrate Ajay Shankar Pandey and Senior Superintendent of Police Kalanidhi Naithani visited the protest site even as hundreds of security personnel in anti-riot gears were deployed since Thursday.
Flanked by supporters at 1 am, Tikait remained at the centre stage of the protest site -- the Delhi-Meerut Expressway, which has been barricaded from both the sides, prohibiting regular traffic movement.
Around 500 protesters stayed put at UP Gate with more pouring in from western Uttar Pradesh in the night on the call of the BKU, an influential farmers' union in North India.
"Excess security force from the protest site has been withdrawn and only a minimal deployment of personnel remains there," a Ghaziabad police officer told PTI on the condition of anonymity.
"The tension was building at UP Gate due to excessive deployment of force since Thursday evening," the officer added.
Several protestors waved the tricolour with some waving flags of farmer unions like Kisan Ekta Manch amid a continuous sloganeering of "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan", while many were lying down on mattresses covered in blankets as they braved bone-chilling cold and wind.
"Zaroorat padi to khade rehke dharna denge, tum dharne pe baithe rehne ki baat karte ho (I can protest while standing up and you are asking whether I am going to continue my sit-in protest)," Jagat Singh Rathi, 78, said.
With a muffler tied around his head and a stick in his hand for support while walking, the septuagenarian from Meerut said that he has been at the BKU's protest since its beginning on November 28.
Asked if he would vacate the protest site following the administration's communication, he said, "(UP Gate) khaali nahi karenge. We have not seen any such order to vacate the protest site. When the Supreme Court has said that farmers have a right to protest then what? We will do it."
The "verbal" communication from the district administration to the BKU on Thursday came close on the heels of three farmer unions withdrawing their protest against the three farm laws over the violence in Delhi on Republic Day.
"Ghaziabad District Magistrate Ajay Shankar Pandey has communicated to the protesters camping at the UP Gate at Delhi border to vacate the spot by tonight or the administration will remove them," a district official had told PTI.
03:03   China to donate 3 lakh vaccine doses to Lanka
China will donate three lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses to Sri Lanka, stepping up its vaccine diplomacy in South Asia as India rushed its domestically manufactured coronavirus vaccines to several countries in the subcontinent as well as across the globe.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday thanked India for its generosity after he received five lakh doses of Covishield vaccine gifted by New Delhi under the 'Neighbourhood First' policy.

'China will donate three lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses to Sri Lanka to jointly fight the COVID-19 pandemic,' state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday, citing a statement from the Chinese embassy in Colombo.

China made the decision after a recent request by the Lankan government, it said.

The jabs manufactured by the China National Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd (Sinopharm) are expected to be handed over to the Lankan side in mid-February.

A number of countries in the subcontinent including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, where Beijing has substantial investments, caught China by surprise by opting for Indian vaccines.

So far, India has sent consignments of coronavirus vaccines under grant assistance to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Seychelles, Myanmar and Mauritius.

India is one of the world's biggest drug-makers and an increasing number of countries have already approached it for procuring the coronavirus vaccines.

It is also undertaking commercial supplies of the doses to a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil and Morocco.    India has also rushed two million doses of Covishield vaccine to Brazil on the request of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Meanwhile, Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's senior advisor Lalith Weeratunga told journalists in Colombo on Wednesday that the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) was conducting tests on the Sinopharm vaccine and once clearance is obtained from them, the vaccine could be used under an emergency basis, the Xinhua report said.

Separately, China has offered to step-up cooperation to Maldives to control the pandemic.

On January 26, Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui co-hosted the 7th round of China-Maldives diplomatic consultations with Maldivian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Khaleel via video link.

Luo Zhaohui said China and Maldives supported each other, effectively contained the virus spread in their countries, and actively promoted economic recovery.

Both sides need to make continuous efforts to push forward their bilateral relations, a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.   -- PTI
00:31   UP govt orders DMs, SSPs to end farmer protests
The Uttar Pradesh government has ordered all district magistrates (DMs) and senior superintendents of police (SSPs) to ensure the end of all the farmers' agitations in the state, government officials said.

Earlier in the day, the Ghaziabad District Administration has ordered those who are holding the sit-in protest without permission at the Ghazipur border (Delhi-Ghaziabad border) to vacate the area by late evening today, official sources said.

Ghazipur is one of the sites where protests against the farm laws are going on for nearly two months.

This comes after violence broke out in the national capital on January 26 during the farmers' tractor rally.

Several public and private properties were damaged in acts of vandalism by the protestors.   -- ANI