Thu, 22 July 2021
TMC MP accuses Union Min of verbally abusing him
23:58 TMC MP accuses Union Min of verbally abusing him
Trinamool Congress MP Shantanu Sen on Thursday alleged that Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri abused him in the Rajya Sabha and was on the verge of physically assaulting him before he was rescued by colleagues.
Sen, who snatched papers from Communications and Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in the Rajya Sabha and tore them as he was making a statement on the snooping issue, claimed that Puri even rudely gesticulated at him.
Puri has so far not reacted on the issue.
"The union minister (Puri) threatened and abused me. He was about to assault me when my other colleagues came to my rescue," alleged Sen at a press conference.
Narrating the sequence of events as it unfolded in the Rajya Sabha, TMC Chief Whip Sukhendu Sekhar Ray alleged that the Union communications and information technology minister's statement was full of lies.
He said minutes after Sen snatched the paper from the minister's hands, Vaishnaw was handed over another copy and he continued to read.
Soon after, the House was adjourned but not before the statement was tabled and considered as read.
"The minister's statement was full of contradictions and white lies. So one of our members snatched and tore it," TMC Chief Whip Sukhendu Sekhar Ray said.
The TMC alleged that after the House was adjourned and the live transmission was stopped, Union Minister Puri gesticulated at Sen ordering him to approach him.
"I was gheraoed by the BJP MPs," Sen alleged.
Union Minister Meenakshi Lekhi condemned the conduct of opposition members in the Rajya Sabha and said it was a "new low" in India's parliamentary democracy.
23:38 I am independent, says Dainik Bhaskar after raids
Unfazed by the Income Tax department's raids on its properties in multiple cities over alleged tax evasion, media group Dainik Bhaskar on Thursday said it was "independent" and the readers' will was supreme for it.
"I am independent because I am Bhaskar. Only readers' will prevails at Bhaskar," a message in Hindi on the group's digital news website under the headline "Swatantra Bhaskar" said.
The IT department's teams had reached its offices in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan and this action came only after the group brought to light the government's lapses during the second wave of coronavirus, the statement on the web site said.
It claimed that the IT department teams also raided the houses of its employees, seized their mobile phones and did not allow them to leave. Even night-shift staff were not allowed to leave the offices, it said.
Income Tax officials said it was part of the procedure, and the staff were allowed to leave after legal formalities, it said. The group's digital media team was allowed to go home at 12.30 pm on Thursday, it added.
The group's digital news site had put out reports, along with pictures, on dead bodies of suspected coronavirus patients floating down the river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which had led to nationwide consternation.
As the Income Tax raids unfolded, Dainik Bhaskar also ran a readers survey on social media, asking," Are you with the fearless journalism of Dainik Bhaskar? Answer 1 Yes, 2 No."
When contacted, Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax for MP and Chhattisgarh Lekha Kumar said, "No comments, please."
Attempts to contact Parneet Sachdev, Director General of IT, Bihar and Jharkhand who has additional charge of MP and Chhattisgarh for comment failed. -- PTI
23:27 Medical entrance exam NEET to have centre in Dubai this year
The Ministry of Education has decided to add a centre in Dubai for the medical entrance exam NEET this year, officials said Thursday.
Earlier this month, the ministry had announced that for the first time the exam will be conducted in Kuwait to facilitate the Indian student community in the Middle East.
"The National Testing Agency (NTA) has decided to create one more centre city in Dubai in addition to the one already created at Kuwait city during the year 2021," HRD Secretary Amit Khare said in a letter to Foreign Secretary, Ministry for External Affairs.
"The Indian community in the Gulf countries may appropriately be informed about this. I would also be grateful if the Indian embassies in Kuwait and Dubai are advised to extend their full cooperation to the NTA in conduct of the exam in fair and secured manner," he added.
The 13 languages in which the test will be conducted this year are Hindi, Punjabi, Assamese, Bengali, Odia, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Urdu and English.
Among the languages, Punjabi and Malyalam are the new additions.
The NEET which was earlier scheduled on August 1 was postponed to September 12.
The number of cities where examination is conducted will be increased from 155 to 198. The number of examination centres will also be increased from 3,862 used in the 2020.
Last year, it was conducted on September 13 amid strict precautions in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 13.66 lakh candidates had appeared in the exam of whom 7,71,500 qualified. -- PTI
23:15 Anil Ambani among potential Pegasus targets: Report
The potential targets of Israeli spyware Pegasus include industrialist Anil Ambani as well as a senior official of ADA Group, according to the latest list of names released on Thursday.
The Wire has reported that phone numbers that have been used by Anil Ambani and one other official of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group were added to the leaked list that was analysed by media partners of the Pegasus Project consortium.
"Apart from Ambani, the other company official whose numbers appear on the list include corporate communications chief Tony Jesudasan, as well as Jesudasan's wife," the report said while adding that it could not be confirmed whether Anil Ambani is currently using the number listed.
There was no immediate comment from ADAG on the report.
As per the report, the number for Dassault Aviation's representative in India, Venkata Rao Posina, former Saab India head Inderjit Sial and Boeing India boss Pratyush Kumar all appear in the leaked database at different periods of time in 2018 and 2019.
The number of Harmanjit Negi, head of the French firm energy EDF, is also in the leaked database, a significant choice given that he was a member of Emmanuel Macron's official delegation during the French president's visit to India during this period, it added. -- PTI
23:01 China rejects WHO's plan to revisit Wuhan lab
China will not participate in the second phase of the World Health Organisation's investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, a top official announced on Thursday, after the possibility of the deadly virus leaking from a bio lab in Wuhan was included by the United Nations's top health agency in the next stage of its inquiry.
China also dismissed reports that some of the employees of the Wuhan Institute of Virology were infected with the virus before it spread to the central Chinese city and the world, killing over 40 lakh people.
China will not follow the World Health Organisation's suggested plan on the second phase of COVID-19 origin-tracing, Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the National Health Commission (NHC), told a media briefing here.
The work plan on the second-phase origins study proposed by the WHO contains language that does not respect science, he said.
China's broadside against the WHO and its Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who previously won Beijing's praise and support for praising President Xi Jinping's handling of the coronavirus, came after he asked China to be transparent and provide raw data.
"Asking actually China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic. We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to know what happened, he had said.
More than four million people have died worldwide since the start of the pandemic in December 2019 and the WHO has faced growing international pressure to further investigate the origins of the virus.
According to Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker, more than 192,174,800 confirmed cases have been reported from across the world and 4,130,300 deaths have been registered.
Ghebreyesus outlined the terms of the inquiry's next phase. This included looking at certain science research institutions.
He has now called on China to be more co-operative about the early stages of the outbreak.
State-run Global Times reported that the WHO on Friday last proposed a second phase study into the origins of the coronavirus in China, which includes all the laboratories and markets in Wuhan.
Zeng said the plan has listed the hypothesis that China had violated lab regulations and leaked the virus as one of the major research objectives, and he was "very shocked" after reading the proposal, state-run China Daily reported.
Instead, the next-phase origin tracing should focus on various regions and countries, he said, reiterating Beijing's oft-repeated claim that the coronavirus broke out in several places in the world and China was the first to report about it in December, 2019 when it emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Zeng said he was shocked by the WHO's work plan as it has been compromised by political manipulation and disrespect of scientific facts. -- PTI
22:36 3,570 Indians died of COVID-19 abroad: Govt
As many as 3,570 Indian citizens died of COVID-19 abroad with the maximum number of 1,154 deaths reported from Saudi Arabia followed by 894 in the United Arab Emirates, the government told Rajya Sabha Thursday.
According to the details provided by the Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, 546 Indians lost their lives due to COVID-19 in Kuwait, 384 died in Oman, 196 in Bahrain and 106 deaths were reported from Qatar.
"3570 Indian citizens died abroad, due to COVID-19 as per information provided by our missions/posts abroad," he said.
The minister provided a list of 70 countries that reported the deaths of Indians.
"We express the deepest sympathy with the families of those who have died abroad due to COVID-19. Missions/Posts abroad maintained contact with the families and extended all possible help for transporting the mortal remains to India or for local burial, as per the wishes of the families," Muraleedharan said, replying to a question.
"Financial assistance for transporting the mortal remains to India or for local burial was also provided from Indian Community Welfare Fund, where such requests were received," he said.
To a separate question, Muraleedharan said 60,92,264 Indians were brought back from foreign countries in view of the pandemic under the 'Vande Bharat Mission' till April 30.
Separately, the newly-inducted Minister of State for External Affairs Rajkumar Ranjan Singh said several foreign diplomats in India were affected by COVID-19.
"All possible medical assistance was promptly provided to the diplomatic missions, which requested for such help for their diplomats and family members. The assistance included facilitation in hospitalisation, telemedicine consultations, medicines, vaccination etc," he said.
Muraleedharan said India has imported 31.5 lakh units of 'Sputnik Component 1' and 4.5 lakh units of 'Sputnik Component 2' vaccine till date. -- PTI
22:30 Lekhi slams protesting farmers as 'mawali', later retracts
Union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Meenakshi Lekhi on Thursday denounced farmers protesting here against the three contentious farm laws as "mawali" (ruffian) after she was asked about incidents of alleged violence during their protests.
As her comments created a furore, Lekhi later tweeted that her comments were "twisted" and that she withdraws her words if they have hurt anyone.
At her press conference in the BJP headquarters, a reporter referred to "farmers" attacking a camera person when he was covering their protests at Jantar Mantar, she said, "You should stop calling them farmers because they are not farmers."
She continued, "They are playing in the hands of some conspirators. Farmers don't have time to sit in Jantar Mantar. They are working in their farms. Middlemen are behind them (protestors) who do not want farmers to get benefits."
She also cited the violent incidents in the national capital during farmers' protest on January 26, and said these protestors should not be called farmers.
Replying to another question about the attack on the camera person, who works with a leading Hindi news channel, and also the January 26 incidents, she said, "You are calling them farmers again. They are mawali."
She said such attacks are criminal incidents whose cognisance should be taken. -- PTI
22:21 Ladakh row: India presses for early resolution
India on Thursday once again pressed China for early resolution of the remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh while fully abiding by bilateral agreements and protocols.
At a media briefing, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi also said that External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar conveyed to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi last week that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas was the foundation for the development of ties since 1988.
Jaishankar and Wang held a one-hour meeting in Dushanbe on July 14 on the sidelines of a conclave of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Bagchi said the two leaders agreed that the next round of commander level talks should be convened at the earliest where the two sides should discuss all the remaining issues and seek a mutually acceptable solution.
The spokesperson said Jaishankar recalled that both sides had agreed that a prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side and that it was visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner.
"The external affairs minister emphasized that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas has been the foundation for the development of ties since 1988. Attempts to change status quo last year, which also disregarded commitments under the 1993 and 1996 agreements, have inevitably affected ties," Bagchi said.
"It was, therefore, in mutual interest that the two sides work towards early resolution of the remaining issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh, while fully abiding by bilateral agreements and protocols," he said.
Bagchi said there was also an understanding in the Jaishankar-Wang meeting that both sides will continue to ensure stability on the ground and neither side will take any unilateral action that could increase tension.
India and China have been locked in a military standoff at multiple friction points in eastern Ladakh since early May last year.
The two sides completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of Pangong lake in February following a series of military and diplomatic talks.
There was no visible forward movement in disengagement of troops in the remaining friction points as the Chinese side did not show flexibility in their approach on it at the 11th round of military talks.
The 12th round of military talks is likely to take place by July-end or in the first week of August. -- PTI
TMC MP MP Santanu Sen
22:16 Govt to move suspension motion against TMC MP
The government will move a motion seeking suspension of Trinamool Congress MP Santanu Sen for snatching papers from Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, sources said.
They said some opposition MPs "misbehaved" with the treasury bench members, including a minister, even after the House was adjourned.
Sen snatched papers from Vaishnaw after the TMC, Congress and other opposition party members, who had earlier forced two adjournments of the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha, rushed into the well of the House as the minister was called to make a statement on the Pegasus snooping row.
The government will move a motion seeking suspension of Sen on Friday. Union Minister V Muraleedharan is expected to move the motion, sources said.
"We are approaching the Rajya Sabha chairman seeking action against them (opposition MPs) as their behaviour is a blow to parliamentary decorum," a Union minister, who did not wish to be named, said.
Government sources said Leader of the House in Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal and his deputy Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi reached out to the Opposition members and assured them that the minister will reply to their queries after he makes his statement, but in vain.
With Vaishnaw not able to read out the complete statement, it was laid on the table and the House was adjourned. However, the situation remained tense in the House as the two sides engaged in heated exchanges.
Sen alleged that Union minister Hardeep Puri verbally abused him in the Upper House of Parliament and was on the verge of physically assaulting him before he was rescued by his colleagues. Puri has so far not commented on the issue.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has described the opposition conduct as a "new low" in Parliament. -- PTI
21:51 Maha floods: PM talks with Thackeray, promises all help
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Thursday about the situation in some parts of the state following heavy rainfall and flooding, and assured him of all possible support from the Centre.
Nearly 6,000 passengers were stranded as train services on the Konkan Railway route in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district were suspended on Thursday after a river overflowed following heavy rains, while incessant downpour badly hit road and rail traffic in several parts of the state, including around Mumbai, as authorities called in the National Disaster Response Force to help the administration in the rescue efforts.
"Spoke to Maharashtra CM Shri Uddhav Thackeray and discussed the situation in parts of Maharashtra in the wake of heavy rainfall and flooding. Assured all possible support from the Centre to mitigate the situation. Praying for everyone's safety and well-being. @OfficeofUT," Modi said in a tweet. -- PTI
21:37 Dalai Lama's advisers on Pegasus list: Report
Top ring of advisers around the Dalai Lama and several leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) are among those listed as potential targets of Israeli spyware Pegasus, an international media consortium reported on Thursday.
In the continuing series of reports on revelations from the international collaborative journalistic investigation called the Pegasus Project, the Wire has reported that phone numbers of multiple people close to Dubai Princess Sheikha Latifa, who was captured by Indian soldiers in 2018, were added to a list of potential targets for surveillance.
According to a report in The Guardian, the phone numbers of the top ring of advisers around the Dalai Lama are believed to have been selected as those of people of interest by government clients of NSO Group.
"Analysis strongly indicates that the Indian government was selecting the potential targets. Other phone numbers apparently selected by Delhi were those of the president of the government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, staff in the office of another Buddhist spiritual leader, the Gyalwang Karmapa, and several other activists and clerics who are part of the exiled community in India," it claimed.
"Senior advisers to the Dalai Lama whose numbers appear in the data include Tempa Tsering, the spiritual leader's long-time envoy to Delhi, and the senior aides Tenzin Taklha and Chhimey Rigzen, as well as Samdhong Rinpoche, the head of the trust that has been tasked with overseeing the selection of the Buddhist leader's successor," the report added.
The Pegasus spyware was created by Israeli technology firm NSO.
The government has dismissed the reports on the use of Pegasus software to snoop on Indians, saying the allegations levelled just ahead of the Monsoon session of Parliament are aimed at "maligning Indian democracy".
In a separate report by the Wire, the phone numbers of several top leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak Muivah), NSCN (I-M) were added to a list of numbers of persons of interest believed to be generated by an Indian client of the Israeli spyware company.
"In the aftermath of the August 2015 framework agreement, which is intended to resolve the six-decade-old Naga political issue, the NSCN (I-M) has been in talks with the Modi government to flesh out the details of a final settlement. Among the top leaders of the NSCN (I-M) whose phone numbers have been found in the leaked database are that of Atem Vashum, Apam Muivah, Anthony Shimray and Phunthing Shimrang.
"The leaked records also shows that N. Kitovi Zhimomi, convenor of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), with which the Modi government is also in parleys to find �one solution' to the Naga issue since end 2017, was selected as a possible candidate for surveillance towards the end of 2017," the Wire report said.
In another report, the Wire said, after princess Sheikha Latifa fled Dubai � where her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, is the ruler � her closest relatives and friends had their telephone numbers added to a list of potential targets of a military-grade spyware.
"Latifa's own number was added just before she fled but she had ditched her phone in Dubai before slipping across to Oman. While the UAE authorities had multiple methods of surveillance at their disposal, the analysis of a leaked database highlights how her escape seems to have coincided with the inclusion of several numbers related to Latifa appearing on a list of potential Pegasus targets," the report said.
The reports have been published by The Wire in collaboration with 16 other international publications including the Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde, as media partners to an investigation conducted by Paris-based media non-profit organisation Forbidden Stories and rights group Amnesty International.
The investigation focuses on a leaked list of more than 50,000 phone numbers from across the world that are believed to have been the target of surveillance through Pegasus software of Israeli surveillance company NSO Group. -- PTI
20:47 China 'condemns' Pegasus spyware surveillance
China on Thursday "strongly condemned" the practice of cyber-surveillance, terming it as a common challenge to all countries as part of a wide cybersecurity threat.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the remarks while reacting to reports of an investigation by a global media consortium that showed Pegasus software from Israel-based NSO Group is being used to spy on journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents across the world.
"If it is true, China issues strong condemnation," Zhao told a media briefing while reacting to questions on the Pegasus spyware controversy from the official media here.
"Cyber surveillance is a common challenge to all countries as part of a wide cybersecurity threat," he said.
All countries should work based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefits, engage in talks and cooperation to respond to the threats, he said.
He accused the US of being evasive about facts while claiming cybersecurity threats from China.
"The US is ganging up with its allies in smearing China with fabricated names. It only shows its guilty conscience. Most of the cyber-attacks come from the US," he said.
On Monday, Zhao rejected the US and NATO allegations of China carrying out a global campaign of hacking and alleged that "under the US encouragement, NATO has made cyberspace the new battlefield" which may in turn fuel the cyber arms race.
"The US has ganged up with allies and launched unwarranted accusations against China on Cyber security," Zhao said.
An unprecedented group of allies and partners, including the EU, the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO joined the US on Monday in exposing and criticising the Chinese Ministry of State Security's malicious cyber activities. -- PTI
20:46 UP govt clears illegal Rohingya camps from its land in Delhi
The Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday got a piece of its land allegedly encroached by Rohingya refugees in Delhi cleared, according to officials.
The 2.10 hectare land estimated worth Rs 97 crore lies in Madan Khadar area of the national capital near Noida and belongs to the Irrigation Department of UP, the officials said.
UP Jal Shakti Minister Mahendra Singh, who instructed the removal of the encroachment, shared a video of the early morning action on social media.
"Illegal Rohingya camps removed from the land belonging to the Irrigation Department in Madanpur Khadar at 4 am. Illegal occupants removed from the 2.10 hectare land of the UP Irrigation Department," Singh tweeted.
Officials involved in Thursday's anti-encroachment drive said a team of the UP government had held a meeting with the Delhi administration on July 20 during which this action was planned. -- PTI
20:32 Maha rain fury: Bad weather, rains hit rescue ops
Inclement weather and heavy rains in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri are creating difficulties for the government agencies to carry out rescue operations in some inundated towns and areas of the district, a state minister said on Thursday.
Major rivers in Ratnagiri, including Jagbudi, Vashishti, Kodavali, Shastri, Bav have been flowing above the danger level following heavy rains. As a result of this, Khed, Chiplun, Lanja, Rajapur, Sangameshwar towns and nearby areas have been affected and the government agencies are engaged in the task of shifting local residents to safer places, the Maharashtra Chief Minister's Office has said earlier.
Talking to PTI over phone, Transport Minister Anil Parab, who is the district gaurdian minister of Ratnagiri, said that road connectivity in parts of the district has been completely snapped due to heavy rains.
"Chiplun town is completely inundated. Similar situation prevails in Khed. There is difficulty in reaching these places since all roads are closed. Rescue teams from municipality, Coast Guard, Customs are using their boats to shift people from the low-lying areas. We have opened marriage halls, school buildings so that the evacuated people can spend their night there," he said.
Parab, who is in Ratnagiri to monitor the rescue and relief operations, said that National Disaster Response Force teams are unable to reach due to unfavourable weather conditions.
"The helicopters that are engaged in the operations had to go back. The stranded people will be evacuated to safer places when choppers reach. Till then, we are providing food and water to the affected people," he added.
The minister said that the region has been witnessing continuous rain and the water level of rivers is not showing signs of receding.
Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray took a review of the situation in Ratnagiri and Raigad districts by holding a meeting with the officials. During the meeting, he said that the India Meteorological Department has issued an alert of heavy rainfall in this region for the next three days. -- PTI
20:25 Plea in Bihar court seeks FIR against Union ministers over no O2 deaths remark
A petition was filed in a court in Bihar's Muzaffarpur on Thursday with a prayer to order lodging of FIR against Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandviya for the "hurt" caused by the Centre's assertion that no deaths took place because of oxygen shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition was filed before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Muzaffarpur, by local activist Tamanna Hashmi, a serial litigant who describes himself as a social activist with social commitment.
Hashmi, who has often been in the news for coming up with petitions against high-profile politicians, has also sought that Bharati Pravin Pawar, who is the Union minister of state for health and family welfare, be also be named in the FIR alongside her boss.
In reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, Pawar who is a qualified doctor herself, said that no deaths due to lack of oxygen were specifically reported by states and union territories during the second Covid-19 wave that hit the country.
Hashmi has claimed that he was hurt as a result of the statement and invoked IPC sections 153 and 153 A (promoting enmity, with intention to cause riot) besides 295 and 295 A (insult to religious feelings).
The matter has been listed for hearing on July 28. -- PTI
19:51 2 more lakes supplying water to Mumbai overflow
Two key sources of potable water for Mumbai -- Tansa and Modak Sagar lakes -- started overflowing on early Thursday due to heavy rains in their catchment areas since last week, the city civic body said.
With this, four lakes that provide drinking water to the metropolis are now filled to their capacity.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said the Modak Sagar lake started overflowing at 3.24 am and Tansa at 5.48 am.
Thereafter, two gates of the Modak Sagar dam one of Tansa were opened, it said.
Last year, Modak Sagar had started overflowing on August 18 and Tansa on August 20, the BMC informed.
The BMC said the seven reservoirs supplying water to the metropolis have a total water storage capacity of 144736.3 million liters and all of them combined were holding 77956.8 million litres, which means 53.86 per cent of their capacity, as on Thursday morning.
Earlier, two of the seven reservoirs, namely Tulsi and Vihar, started overflowing on July 16 and July 18, respectively.
The civic body was considering to impose a water cut in the city as the stock in these seven reservoirs had gone down below 20 per cent level earlier this month.
However, citizens have got a big relief as four of the seven lakes have started overflowing due to heavy downpour over the last two weeks, while water level is rising in the remaining three reservoirs. -- PTI
19:20 Pegasus snoopgate worse than Watergate: Mamata
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday claimed that the snooping on Supreme Court judges, journalists and political leaders among others using the Pegasus spyware, news of which broke earlier this week, was "worse than the Watergate scandal" which broke in the US during the NIxon presidency.
Banerjee likened the scandal which allegedly involved using a spyware developed by a Israeli firm to infect the mobile phones of hundreds of Indians in a bid to spy on them to the imposition of a "super-emergency in the country".
The chief minister claimed that all impartial institutions have been politicised by the BJP-led Government.
"Pegasus is worse than Watergate scandal; it is super emergency," Banerjee told a press conference at the state secretariat here.
"They (BJP leadership) don't trust even their own officers and ministers," she said, adding "I have heard they tapped the phones of several RSS people" .
The chief minister recently managed to win a high voltage electoral battle to elect the state legislature after a bitter campaign where she was pitted against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. -- PTI
18:59 End protest, come for talks: Tomar to farmers
With a group of farmers reaching Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to protest against the three new farm laws, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Thursday urged them to leave the path of agitation and come for talks.
Tomar said farmers across the country have favoured the three farm laws.
After getting special permission from Delhi Lt Governor Anil Baijal, a group of 200 farmers reached Jantar Mantar -- adjacent to the Parliament Complex -- in central Delhi to protest against the Centre's three contentious farm laws amid the ongoing Monsoon session of Parliament.
They have got permission to protest till August 9 amid heavy security.
Asked about the farmers' protest at Jantar Mantar, Tomar said, "I want to tell through you (media) that farmers should leave the path of protest and come for dialogue. We are ready for talks if they come with issues in the bills."
"...If they come with their proposal, we are ready to discuss," he told reporters.
Asserting that the government is sensitive towards farmers, the minister said in the last seven years under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, major steps have been taken in the agriculture sector, the benefits of which are reaching cultivators across the country.
"The three farm bills are also a step in this direction. Farmers across the country have favoured the bills," he asserted.
Tomar, in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, had reiterated that the government will remain open to discussions with protesting farmers' unions to resolve issues over the three agriculture laws passed by Parliament in September last year.
"The government has been engaged in serious, sensitive and active discussions with the farmers' unions to resolve the issues. During various rounds of discussions, the government continuously requested the farmers' unions to discuss the provisions of the farm laws, so that if there is an objection to any provision, the advancement can be made towards resolution of those," the minister had said.
But the farmers' unions insisted only on the repeal of the farm laws, he added.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at Delhi's borders for over seven months now in protest against the three laws. -- PTI
18:48 Very shocking incident: India on abduction of Afghan envoy's daughter in Pak
India on Thursday described the abduction of the Afghan ambassador's daughter in Islamabad last week as a "very shocking" incident and said Pakistan's denial of the victim's account is "stooping to a new low".
Silsila Alikhil, the 26-year-old daughter of Afghan Ambassador Najibullah Alikhil, was abducted and held for several hours by unidentified men in Islamabad last Friday.
"This is a very shocking incident," Spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi said at a media briefing, while pointing out that it is a matter involving Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"However, since the Pakistan interior minister has dragged India into it, I would only like to say that even by their standards, Pakistan's denial of the victim's account is stooping to a new low," he said.
Bagchi was replying to questions on the incident.
"As regards the security of the Indian High Commission and our personnel in Pakistan, I would not like to get into specific security-related measures," he said.
Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid reiterated the police's claim on Tuesday that Alikhil was not abducted even as he urged her to come forward and join the probe.
Two days after the incident, the Afghan government recalled its ambassador and senior diplomats from Islamabad over concerns relating to their safety and security. -- PTI
18:13 Union Minister calls protesting farmers 'hooligans'
Union minister Meenakshi Lekhi on Thursday referred to protesting farmers as hooligans while talking about an alleged attack on a mediaperson during the 'Farmers' Parliament' at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi.
The minister of state for external affairs and culture said the opposition was promoting such activities.
"They are not farmers, they are hooligans... These are criminal acts. What happened on January 26 was also shameful criminals activities. Opposition promoted such activities," Lekhi said.
Hitting out at Lekhi, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said farmers are annadatas and to call them such names is inappropriate.
"Hooligans are the ones who have nothing. It is wrong to make such remarks for farmers. We are farmers, not hooligans. Farmers are 'anndatas' of the land," Tikait said.
"Such a remark is an insult to 80 crore farmers of India. If we're hooligans, Meenakshi Lekhi ji should stop eating foodgrain grown by us. She should be ashamed of herself. We've passed a resolution in 'Farmers' Parliament' condemning her statement," farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka said.
17:36 Amarinder to attend Sidhu's inauguration tomorrow
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will attend the Friday event where Navjot Singh Sidhu will formally take over as the state Congress chief. Kuljit Singh Nagra and Sangat Singh Gilzian, two of the four newly appointed working presidents for the state party unit, extended a formal invite to the CM at his farmhouse in Mohali's Siswan for the installation ceremony. Sidhu and Amarinder Singh have been at loggerheads for the past some time, with the Amritsar (East) MLA recently attacking the CM over the desecration cases.
The chief minister had also opposed his appointment as the state Congress chief and had said he won't meet Sidhu until the cricketer-turned-politician apologises for his "derogatory" tweets against him.
After meeting Amarinder Singh, Nagra told reporters that the CM will come to the event.
"An invitation from the pardhan sahib (PPCC president), ministers and MLAs has been given to the CM. He has accepted the invitation and will reach there to give his blessings," said Nagra.
Later, the Punjab CM's media adviser said in a tweet, "Punjab CM @capt_amarinder has invited all @INCPunjab MLAs, MPs and senior party functionaries at Punjab Bhawan for tea at 10 am on Friday. They will all then go to Punjab Congress Bhawan together from there for the installation of the new PPCC team."
Sidhu will formally assume charge of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, along with four working presidents, at Punjab Congress Bhawan. Incharge of Punjab affairs at the AICC, Harish Rawat, is also expected to attend the event. PTI
17:27 LS sees repeated adjournments as opposition continues protests
Lok Sabha saw three adjournments amid loud protests by opposition on Thursday before it was adjourned for the day.The opposition MPs protested and came near the Speaker's podium in support of their demands including repeal of new farm laws. They also held placards and raises slogans in support of their demands.
When the House met at 4 pm after three adjournments earlier, BJD member Bhartruhari Mahtab, who was in the Chair, urged members to take their seats.
"Most of you are responsible members of this House. I would request all of you to go back to your seats and allow the House to function. Whatever issues you want to discuss, I am told the government is also agreeable to having a structured discussion in the House," he said.
Two bills - Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 and Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 - were introduced in the House amid din.
Earlier, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla objected to opposition members raising slogans and showing placards in the House.
He said the House is for discussion and answering questions and if the opposition members want to raise slogans and show placards, they can do so outside the House.
The Lok Sabha has seen protests from opposition from the start of the monsoon session of parliament on July 19. -- ANI
17:14 Ugandan weightlifter who went missing seen wearing old India track jacket
The Indian officialdom in Tokyo was left flummoxed on Thursday when Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko, who was sent back to his country four days after he fled during pre-Olympics training, was seen wearing an India track jacket at the airport.
The 20-year-old, who was found in central Japan, was seen clad in a red track top with India written on the back while making his way through the Narita airport in a report aired by NTV channel here. It looked similar to the kit that Indian athletes wore during the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. Indian Olympic Association (IOA) secretary general Rajeev Mehta made it clear that the apparel was not the country's official kit for the Tokyo Games, which are set to open on Friday.
"This colour does not belong to NOC India in Tokyo Olympics," Mehta told PTI. Uganda's chef de mission Aisha Nassanga also had no idea how Ssekitoleko got an India track jacket. "I have no idea about this. He came to train in Japan on June 18 maybe someone gave it to him. Maybe it could be an old one," Nassanga said. Ssekitoleko, who competes in the men's 56 kg category, was part of a nine-member Ugandan team that was training in Izumisano, Osaka prefecture.
Officials and teammates raised an alarm on Friday last week after Ssekitoleko failed to show up for his COVID-19 test and was not found in his hotel room either. As per reports, Ssekitoleko arrived in Japan before his qualification for the Games had been confirmed. On July 5, he was informed by the International Weightlifting Federation that he had not got the quota for the Olympics Ssekitoleko had fled his hotel room, leaving behind a note saying he didn't want to return to his own country.
He was found in the Yokkaichi city, 170 km east of his host town in western Japan and was sent back to Uganda on Wednesday. -- PTI
16:57 645 kids orphaned in 2nd Covid wave, most in UP
A total of 645 children lost their parents to COVID-19 from April to May 28 this year during the second wave, the Women and Child Development Ministry said on Thursday. In response to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani gave data on the children orphaned during the second wave of COVID-19.
According to the data, a total of 645 children lost their parents to Covid from April 2021 to May 28. The highest number of such children was reported from Uttar Pradesh at 158 followed by Andhra Pradesh at 119, Maharashtra at 83 and Madhya Pradesh at 73.
The states and UTs have been jointly requested by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Department of School Education & Literacy (DoSEL), Ministry of Education to ensure continuity of education of the children who have lost their parents in the COVID-19 pandemic, while accommodating them under the various schemes being run by Department of School Education and Literacy, Irani said in a written reply. She further said that the prime minister has announced a scheme to support the children who have lost both parents or surviving parent or legal guardian or adoptive parents due to the pandemic. -- PTI
A Covid patient struggles to breathe
16:43 Unusual large, multiple liver abscesses found in patients recovered from Covid
A COVID-19 patient treated with steroids developed unusually large and multiple liver abscesses after recovery from infection, said reports of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi today.A
A liver abscess (Pus formation in the Liver) is commonly caused by a parasite known as Entamoeba histolytica which is transmitted by contaminated food and water.
"During the second wave of the COVID-19, in April-May 2021, a number of COVID-19 patients presented with some unusual manifestations. We saw for the first time in last two months unusually large and multiple liver abscesses in fourteen patients after recovery from COVID-19 infection," said Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Professor Anil Arora.
Professor Anil Arora, Chairman, Institute of Liver Gastroenterology and Pancreaticobiliary Sciences, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital said, "What we found unusual was that after recovery from COVID-19 within 22 days in patients who were otherwise immunocompetent had large areas of both lobes of liver filled with pus at multiple locations requiring drainage and hospitalization."
"These patients were of age group between 28-74 years, ten were males and four females. All patients had a fever and upper abdominal pain and 3 patients also had associated lower GI bleeding with black coloured stools. Eight of these patients received steroids for the management of COVID-19 symptoms. Six patients had multiple large abscesses in both lobes of liver of which 5 patients had unusually large abscess (>8cm) the largest being 19 cm size (Figures attached)," said Arora.
He further said, "Three patients who had blood in stools showed ulcers in the large intestine which were detected by colonoscopy. The median duration between COVID-19 symptoms and diagnosis of the liver abscess was 22 days.
Thirteen out of Fourteen patients were successfully treated with antibiotics, Metronidazole medications and drainage of pus from the liver. While one patient with large multiple abscesses died due to massive bleeding in the abdomen after the rupture of abscess in the abdominal cavity. Rest are stable and have been discharged." -- ANI
Sushil Kumar won a bronze at the Beijing Olympics
16:31 Sushil Kumar allowed to watch Olympics in jail
Delhi Prison authorities on Thursday allowed two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, lodged in Tihar jail in connection with the Chhatrasal Stadium brawl, to watch television in the common area of his ward ahead of the Olympic games, which is set to begin on July 23, officials said. On July 2, Kumar through his advocate had urged prison authorities to provide him a television to remain updated about wrestling matches and other happenings outside the jail. The COVID-hit Olympic games will begin at Tokyo in Japan on July 23. Director General (Delhi Prisons) Sandeep Goel said, "We have allowed Sushil Kumar to watch television in the common area of his ward along with others since the Olympics is set to begin from tomorrow.
"He has made a request through his lawyer for a TV to stay updated about wrestling matches and other happenings." Kumar was arrested along with co-accused Ajay Kumar on May 23 from outer Delhi's Mundka area. He and his associates allegedly assaulted wrestler Sagar Dhankar and two of his friends Sonu and Amit Kumar on the intervening night of May 4 and 5 over a property dispute.
Dhankar, 23, succumbed to injuries later. Kumar, who is facing charges of murder, culpable homicide and kidnapping, was shifted to Tihar jail number 2 from Mandoli jail where he was lodged earlier. -- PTI
16:11 Stand by findings of Pegasus Project: Amnesty International
Amnesty International on Thursday said it "categorically stands" by the findings of the Pegasus Project and asserted that the data is irrefutably linked to potential targets of NSO Group's Pegasus spyware.
The comments by Amnesty International came after some media reports quoting a few Israreli journalists said that the human rights group has claimed that it never said that the recently leaked phone numbers was specifically a list of numbers targeted by Pegasus spyware. Amnesty claimed that the "false rumours" being pushed on social media are intended to distract from the widespread unlawful targeting of journalists, activists and others that the Pegasus Project has revealed.
"Amnesty International categorically stands by the findings of the Pegasus Project, and that the data is irrefutably linked to potential targets of NSO Group's Pegasus spyware. The false rumours being pushed on social media are intended to distract from the widespread unlawful targeting of journalists, activists and others that the Pegasus Project has revealed," Amnesty International said in a statement. PTI
Asian Paints was one of the losers
16:10 Sensex rallies 639 points; Nifty tops 15,800
Equity benchmark Sensex rallied 639 points on Thursday, propelled by index majors Infosys, ICICI Bank and Reliance Industries amid a positive trend in global markets. The 30-share BSE index ended 638.70 points or 1.22 per cent higher at 52,837.21, while the broader NSE Nifty surged 191.95 points or 1.23 per cent to 15,824.05.
Tech Mahindra was the top gainer in the Sensex pack, jumping over 5 per cent, followed by Bajaj Finance, Bharti Airtel, Bajaj Finserv, L&T, Tata Steel and Infosys. On the other hand, HUL, Asian Paints, Bajaj Auto and M&M were the laggards.
15:33 Teen dies after being thrashed for wearing jeans
A teen died after she was allegedly thrashed by her family members over her insistence over wearing jeans at a village in Deoria, UP, police said on Thursday. Family members have also been accused of trying to dispose of the body by throwing it over the Patanwa bridge on the Deoria-Kasya but the body got stuck in the railing and was spotted by police later.
According to the complaint given by her mother, the girl received serious head injuries when she was beaten up, leading to her death, Circle Officer (City) Yash Tripathi said.
The 17-year-old girl from Savreji Kharg village was severely thrashed by her family members after she insisted on wearing jeans and a top on Monday.
According to the complaint given by her mother, the girl received serious head injuries when she was beaten up, leading to her death, Circle Officer (City) Yash Tripathi said.
The post-mortem examination has also confirmed severe injury and fracture in the head, the CO said. The girl's mother has given a complaint against 10 people, including grandparents.
The case has been registered case under Sections 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence), 302 (punishment for murder) and other provisions of the IPC, Mahuadih SHO Ram Mohan Singh said.
The grandparents have been taken into custody and are being interrogated. Police, however, said the story of family members being angry over her insistence on wearing jeans is not very convincing. The reason for the incident appears to be something else, which the family members are trying to hide and investigations are on, police said. PTI
BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta
15:29 Reactions to TMC MPs tearing up papers in RS
"When they can kill their opponents in Bengal and misbehave with women, they can do anything. Today they snatched a paper and tore it, it won't be a surprise if they tear clothes tomorrow. I condemn it," says Mahesh Poddar, BJP MP.
"It seems that some people of Opposition, notably some of the TMC MPs, got up and took the paper from the hands of the minister and tore it up. This is completely unseemly behaviour. He was making a statement, you had a right to question him after that but instead of going in for a debate, is this the type of hooliganism we see inside the House? This is completely against all norms, I think it should be condemned out right," says Swapan Dasgupta, BJP Rajya Sabha MP.
"If someone snatched away the paper then it is not right. I was late and could not see the whole thing," says Ram Gopal Yadav, Samajwadi Party MP
15:16 Govt snooping on us, say farmers amid Pegasus row
Farmer leaders protesting against the Centre's contentious farm laws on Thursday said they suspect that they were being snooped on by the government using Israeli software Pegasus.
"It is an unethical government. We suspect that our numbers are also on list of those being snooped on," farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka said. "The government is behind the snooping. That's clear and the issue is gaining traction. We know that they are keeping an eye on us too," he alleged.
Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav said the phone numbers of farmer leaders will figure in the data of the year 2020-21. "When this data will be made public, our numbers will be there, of course," he told PTI.
The protesting farmers have come to Jantar Mantar to prove to the government that they are not fools, Yadav said, adding that the UK parliament debated their issues but not the Indian Parliament. Addressing a press conference, Yadav pressed for a debate on the issues raised by the farmers protesting against the central legislations.
Police threw a ring of security around central Delhi and kept a tight vigil on the movement of vehicles. Delhi Lt Governor Anil Baijal has given special permission for demonstration by a maximum of 200 farmers at Jantar Mantar, a few metres from the Parliament Complex, till August 9. PTI
15:13 TMC MPs tear papers as minister begins reading Pegasus statement
Opposition TMC MPs on Thursday tore papers and flung them into the air, throwing the Rajya Sabha into bedlam as IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw read a statement on the alleged snooping using an Israeli company spyware Pegasus.
TMC and other opposition party members rushed into the well of the House as Vaishnaw was called to make a statement over the issue. They shouted slogans and tore papers that appeared to be copies of the statement that the minister was to make.
As papers were flung into the air, the minister could not complete his statement and instead laid a copy of it on the table of the House.
Deputy Chairman Harivansh asked members to desist from unparliamentary behaviour, before adjourning the proceedings of the House for the rest of the day. Opposition MPs had stalled the proceedings in the earlier part of the day as well, forcing two adjournments with not even officially listed papers being allowed to be laid. They shouted slogans over alleged snooping and other issues. PTI
Raj Kundra. Credit: Pradeep Bandekar
15:05 Raj Kundra paid police Rs 25L to evade arrest: ACB
The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Maharashtra on Thursday informed that they have received four emails alleging that businessman and actress Shilpa Shetty's husband Raj Kundra, who has been arrested for his alleged involvement in a case relating to the production of pornography, bribed Mumbai Police officials with Rs 25 lakh to evade arrest.
According to an ACB official, the emails were sent by a Yash Thakur, another person accused in the pornography case. A similar amount was allegedly demanded from him as well. His allegations, however, were vague in nature and forwarded to the Mumbai Police for further action.
"ACB Maharashtra has confirmed that they received four emails from Yash Thakur in this regard, but his allegations of seeking a bribe from him and allegations against Raj Kundra bribing to evade arrest were quite vague in nature. The mails were forwarded to the Mumbai police for further action on April 30, 2021," the ACB official confirmed.
Kundra, along with 11 others, was arrested by the Mumbai Police Crime Branch on Monday night for his alleged involvement in creating pornographic films and publishing them through some mobile applications.
According to Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), Milind Bharambe, he had a tie-up with a London-based company that was involved in streaming pornographic content through a mobile app called 'Hotshots'.
New actors were allegedly promised roles in web series and asked to do bold and nude scenes in auditions. A case was registered after female actors opposed this and approached the Crime Branch.
While addressing a press conference, Bharambe said that the police has not yet been able to any find any active role of Shilpa Shetty.
"During a detailed investigation, Raj Kundra's company Viaan had a tie-up with a London-based company Kenrin that owns mobile application Hotshots. All nude content created in Mumbai was published on Hotshots, which was operated from Mumbai. After complaints, this app was takedown by Google Play Store and iPhone," Bharambe said.
After court permission, Kundra's offices were searched a few clips were found as well. He was arrested along with his head of IT. -- ANI
14:49 Rajya Sabha adjourned for the day, LS till 4 pm
Rajya Sabha proceedings have been adjourned for the day amidst an uproar by the Opposition over Pegasus spyware.
After the Opposition created a ruckus, the Lok Sabha too was adjourned for the third time on Thursday till 4 pm, minutes after resumption at 2 pm. Earlier, both the houses had been adjourned till 2 pm today.
Soon after Parliament resumed on Thursday morning, there was an uproar by the Opposition leaders over the farmers' agitation, Pegasus, inflation and other issues.
The monsoon session began on a stormy note on Monday amidst protests from Opposition parties who did not allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi to introduce the newly-inducted Union ministers to Parliament.
14:24 6000 passengers stranded on Konkan railway
Nearly 6,000 passengers were stranded as train services on the Konkan Railway route in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district were suspended on Thursday after a river overflowed following heavy rains in the area, officials said. So far, nine trains have been regulated due to disruption of services on the route, they said.
Regulating trains means they have been either rerouted, short-terminated or cancelled. Konkan Railway officals said these trains were at safe locations on different stations and the passengers in them were also safe and they were being provided food and water.
Water level at the Vashishti river bridge between Chiplun and Kamathe stations in Ratnagiri has risen above the danger mark after the heavy downpour, an official said. "In view of the safety of passengers, train services in this section are suspended temporarily," he said. According to rail officials, 5,500-6,000 passengers were stranded in trains which were regulated at various stations on the Konkan Railway route. The Konkan Railway informed that due to the flood situation at Chiplun, so far nine long distance trains have been regulated. Out of these, the Dadar-Sawantwadi special train was regulated at Chiplun station and the CSMT-Madgaon Janshatabdi special train at Khed station. Konkan Railway spokesperson Girish Karandikar said passengers in these trains were safe. Despite several challenges, the Konkan Railway was providing food and water to the stranded passengers, he said. "We have made arrangements to provide tea, snacks and water to all the stranded passengers," Karandikar said. This is the second disruption on the Konkan Railway route in the last few days. On July 19, train services on the route were suspended for a day due to seepage of water in the Old Goa tunnel near Panaji. The Konkan Railway has a 756-km-long track from Roha near Mumbai to Thokur, located close to Mangaluru. The route, spread across three states- Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka - is one of the challenging terrains, as it consists of many rivers, gorges and mountains.
The govt bungled during the 2nd Covid wave
14:11 India quietly confident about handling 3rd Covid wave: BJP MP
"The confidence of the Modi government was on full display in the Rajya Sabha debate on Wednesday on the state of pandemic management in India. While there was all-round concern that the much-awaited third wave would hit India, it was also tempered by the optimism that the hiccups witnessed during the initial stages of the second wave wouldn't be repeated.
"Compared to, say, the United Kingdom, where there are alarmist suggestions that the Covid-19 tally in the third wave would be as high as 200,000 new infections each day, the official reaction in India was one of quiet confidence -- an approach that shouldn't be equated with denial."
Read Swapan Dasgupta's column here.
13:49 Dainik Bhaskar reacts: Govt fears real journalism
The Dainik Bhaskar group reacts to the Income Tax Department raids on the media group in multiple cities over alleged tax evasion. Searches were conducted in Bhopal, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and some other locations in the country.
In a tweet, the Dainik Bhaskar group said in Hindi, "Govt fears real journalism: A raid on the group for the real issues like the corpses in the Ganga to the real count of Corona deaths."
Read the full rejoinder here.
13:40 Fallacious, says govt on undercounting Covid deaths
Refuting media reports that alleged India's COVID-19 death toll was "vastly undercounted", the government on Thursday said the reports assume that all excess mortality figures are Covid deaths, which is not based on facts and totally fallacious.
Given the robust and statute-based death registration system in India, while some cases could go undetected as per the principles of infectious disease and its management, missing out on the deaths is unlikely, the Union Health Ministry said. There have been some recent media reports alleging that India's toll of excess deaths during the pandemic could be in millions, terming the official COVID-19 death toll "vastly undercounted", the ministry said in a statement.
In these news reports, quoting findings from some recent studies, the US and European countries' age-specific infection fatality rates have been used to calculate excess deaths in India based on the sero-positivity.
"The extrapolation of deaths has been done on an audacious assumption that the likelihood of any given infected person dying is the same across countries, dismissing the interplay between various direct and indirect factors such as race, ethnicity, genomic constitution of a population, previous exposure levels to other diseases and the associated immunity developed in that population," the statement said.
Furthermore, the sero-prevalence studies are not only used to guide strategy and measures to further prevent the spread of infection to the vulnerable population but are also used as another basis to extrapolate deaths. The studies also have another potential concern that the antibody titers may diminish over time, leading to underestimation of true prevalence and corresponding overestimation of infection fatality rate.
"Further, the reports assume that all the excess mortality figures are COVID-19 deaths, which is not based on facts and totally fallacious. Excess mortality is a term used to describe an all-cause mortality figure and attributing these deaths to COVID-19 is completely misleading," the statement said. India has a thorough contact-tracing strategy.
All the primary contacts, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, are tested for COVID-19. The true detected cases are the ones that test positive with RT-PCR, which is the gold standard of COVID-19 test. -- PTI
13:29 50% of Afghan districts under Taliban control: US General
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley has said the Taliban have got momentum in the past ten months and now control half of the districts in Afghanistan.
Over 190 out of 419 districts in Afghanistan have fallen to the Taliban and this will be now a test for the leadership and people of Afghanistan, The Khaama Press quoted General Mark Milley as saying.
"The fighters are yet to topple any provincial capitals of 34 provinces, though they are creating the impression that their victory over the Kabul government is inevitable," General Milley said.
He also said though the end game is not written yet in Afghanistan there are possibilities of both negotiated settlement with the Taliban and a complete takeover by the group.Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the US' post-withdrawal military efforts will be for countering terrorist threats, not the Taliban.
"The US focus is to make sure terrorism is not exported from Afghanistan and threatens the US," the Defence Minister said.
The US will not only maintain the capability to observe terrorism but will also address it in case it appears from Afghanistan, The Khaama Press reported citing Austin.
Since the US announced its withdrawal plans in May, Afghanistan has witnessed a surge in violence in the war-torn country. The pullout is scheduled to be completed by August.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin noted that US forces are still on track to leave Afghanistan by the end of August, but a small, robust presence of American troops will remain in Kabul to provide security to the diplomatic facilities and the international airport. -- PTI
13:13 56 Air India employees died of Covid: Govt
As many as 56 Air India employees have died due to COVID-19 till July 14, Minister of State for Civil Aviation V K Singh said on Thursday. "A total of 3,523 employees of Air India Limited have been affected by COVID-19.
Out of this, 56 employees succumbed to this pandemic till July 14, 2021," he stated in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha. The minister said the national carrier has taken various measures to safeguard the interests of COVID-affected employees and their families. He stated that the carrier paid a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the family of each permanent employee who died due to COVID-19.
When a fixed-term contractual employee died due to COVID-19, Air India paid his or her family a compensation of Rs 5 lakh, he noted. Employees infected with COVID-19 were granted a paid quarantine leave of 17 days, he said.
"Reimbursement of vaccination charges are being provided to employees and their families if paid by them," he said. The minister said medical facilities were also being provided to Covid-positive employees. -- PTI
12:53 Microsoft in talks with Telangana for setting up $2bn data centre
Global techgiantMicrosoft is in discussions with the Telangana government on a proposal for setting up one of its largest data centres with an investment outlay of about USD 2 to 2.25 billion in Hyderabad, sources close to the development said on Thursday. If the discussions fructify, this would be one of the major investments of Microsoft outside the USA.
Telangana Minister for IT and Industries KT Rama Rao kicked off the process of discussions by initiating dialogues with senior management of Microsoft about a few months ago.
"The discussions are in the final stage. Certain issues such as whether it would be a single location or multiple and the size of the investment are yet to be finalised. Microsoft appears to be willing to go ahead with setting up a data centre here, though officially not confirmed," sources told PTI.
12:45 PM, Amit Shah, Nadda love me: Yediyurappa
Indicating that he is on his way out, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa on Thursday broke his silence for the first time amid heightened buzz that his exit was on the cards and said he will abide by the BJP central leadership's decision.
The 78-year old Lingayat strongman also said that the party high command will give him directions on July 25 about his future as the Chief Minister of Karnataka. Yediyurappa's government will complete two years in office on July 26.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah (Home Minister) and our national President J P Nadda have a special love and faith towards me. You are aware that no position has been given to those who have crossed 75 years of age, but appreciating my work they have given me an opportunity despite my crossing 78 years," Yediyurappa said.
Speaking to reporters, here, he said his intention is to strengthen the party in the days to come and bring it back to power. "Based on the instructions that the central leaders will give me on July 25, I will begin my work from July 26. We have a special programme on July 26 regarding 2 years of our government, after attending that programme, I will abide by the instructions from the national president," he added.
Yediyurappa's trip to Delhi last week during which he met the national leadership, had raised questions in some quarters if the party is now working out a succession plan.
On his return from the national capital, Yediyurappa had however, rubbished talks in some quarters that he is on the way out and asserted that the central leadership has asked him to continue in the post. Noting that it is his duty to strengthen and bring the party to power, Yediyurappa on Thursday asked party workers not to be under any confusion and cooperate with him.
BKU Leader Rakesh Tikait
12:01 Protesting farmers reach Jantar Mantar
Protesting farmers have reached Jantar Mantar for the 'Farmers Parliament'.
Heavy security is being deployed at the Singhu border and Tikri Border in view of farmers' protests amid the monsoon session of Parliament.
Farmers have been permitted to protest at Jantar Mantar with limited numbers not exceeding 200 persons for Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) and six persons for Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) from 11 am to 5 pm daily.
Farmers have been protesting on the different borders of the national capital since November 26 last year against the three newly enacted farm laws. So far, several rounds of talks have been held between the Centre and farmer leaders to break the deadlock between the two parties.
Vaccines being taken amid a swollen river
11:56 238 new COVID-19 cases in Maha's Beed, infections rise for 3rd day
Maharashtra's Beed district has reported 238 new cases of COVID-19, with the daily infection tally seeing a rise for the third consecutive day, officials said on Thursday. These new cases were reported on Wednesday, they said. Earlier, the district reported 113 fresh cases on Monday and 211 on Tuesday.
Beed has so far logged 95,374 cases of the viral infection, an official said. No COVID-19 death was reported on Wednesday, he said, adding that the fatality toll in the district stood at 2,577. As of now, there are 1,633 active COVID-19 cases in the district, the official said.
11:42 Yogendra Yadav joins farmers en route to Jantar Mantar
Activist Yogendra Yadav tweets this picture from within a bus saying, "On way to Kisan Sansad."
Only 206 protesters are allowed each day at the Jantar Mantar protest site.
Protesters will follow Parliamentary norms, with a speaker, a deputy speaker, a tea break etc. "We will show how to hold Parliament," political Yogendra Yadav said.
11:37 RS, LS adjourned till noon amid ruckus
Amid uproar by the Opposition, both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha have been adjourned till 12 noon on Thursday.
The Parliament was resumed on the third day of the Monsson session on Thursday morning. Soon after starting the business, the Opposition leaders created a ruckus over the farmers' agitation, Pegasus Project, inflation and other issues. The Monsoon Session began on a stormy note on Monday amidst uproar from Opposition parties who did not allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi to introduce newly-inducted Union ministers to the Parliament. -- ANI
11:35 Tokyo Olympics: Two athletes test COVID positive, tally rises to 87
Twelve new positive COVID-19 cases on Thursday were reported by the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games' organizing committee, which includes two athletes residing in the Olympics village.
A total of 87 people associated with the Games have so far tested positive for the virus in Tokyo since visitors started arriving for the 2020 Games, as per the Kyodo News. Many athletes have started to withdraw from the Games before their departure after testing positive, including world number one skeet shooter Amber Hill who tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK.
Amber, 23, was due to compete in the Women's Olympic Skeet competition, in which she was a finalist in Rio 2016. No replacement athlete has been selected in Amber's place, the British Olympic Association confirmed.
A Chilean taekwondo athlete has already withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for the virus, Chile's Olympic committee confirmed on Wednesday. This was the first known case of an athlete pulling out of the games after arriving in the Japanese capital.
11:10 Farmers board buses for Kisan Sansad near Parl
Farmers protesting against the three farm laws since November 2020 will today begin a Kisan Sansad at Jantar Mantar. The agitation will be held in groups of 200 every day while Parliament is in session.
The Delhi government and the police yesterday agreed to let farmers hold the Kisan Sansad at Jantar Mantar from today till August 9 between 11am and 5pm. Disaster management rules were tweaked for this amid the pandemic.
Covid protocol will be strictly followed.
Around 200 farmers coming by buses adamant on taking GT Karnal Road from Singhu border to Parliament; stopped by police escorting them. Cops ask them to take alternative route.
Only 206 allowed each day as per conditions.Protesters to follow Parliamentary norms, with a speaker, a deputy speaker, a tea break etc. "We will show how to hold Parliament," political activist Yogendra Yadav has said.
Modi has always harped on the 'ease of doing business' in India
10:52 LIVE! India challenging place to do business: US
India remains a "challenging place" to do business, the US has said, urging it to foster an attractive and reliable investment climate by reducing barriers to investment and minimising the bureaucratic hurdles.
The State Department, in a report '2021 Investment Climate Statements: India' released on Wednesday, said that India remains a challenging place to do business and also referred to the removal of the special constitutional status from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
New protectionist measures, including increased tariffs, procurement rules that limit competitive choices, sanitary and phytosanitary measures not based on science, and Indian-specific standards not aligned with international standards, effectively closed off producers from global supply chains and restricted the expansion in bilateral trade, the report said.
In its report, the State Department said that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's first 100 days of its second term were marked by two "controversial" decisions.
The removal of special constitutional status from J&K and the passage of the CAA, it said. India maintains that the CAA was its "internal matter" and that "no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India's sovereignty".
India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was its internal matter. The State Department report said that protests followed the enactment of the CAA but ended with the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 and the imposition of a strict national lockdown. The management of COVID-19 became the dominant issue in 2020, including the drop in economic activity and by December 2020, economic activity started to show signs of positive growth. The BJP-led government has faced some criticism for its response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, it said. -- PTI
10:31 Villages marooned in Thane district, NDRF rescue on
Heavy rains pounded Maharashtra's Thane and Palghar districts adjoining Mumbai during the night and on Thursday morning, which caused inundation and boulder crashes at various places, disrupted train services and marooned some villages, officials said.
Teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were roped in to rescue hundreds of stranded people, they said. Rail tracks at Umbermali station near Kasara were "submerged up to the platform level" and there were boulder crashes in the Ghat section.
"Train services were suspended," district authorities said, adding that work to remove the boulders was underway. A bridge at Sapgaon in Sahapur taluka of Thane suffered extensive damage due to the heavy downpour, tehsildar (revenue officer) Nilima Suryavanshi said, adding that no one was injured and traffic movement on the bridge was suspended. The Modak Sagar dam in Sahapur started overflowing at 3.24 am on Thursday and two of its gates were opened to release the water, a message from the district headquarters said.
Some villages in the Sahapur taluka were marooned, Suryavanshi said, adding that local authorities with the help of the NDRF rescued hundreds of people from those places.
In Bhatsai village, which is located on a hillock, stranded people could not come out and were shifted to a school in the locality, she said. In Vashind near Sahapur, flood waters entered a housing complex and its residents were shifted to a zilla parishad school with the help of the NDRF, the official said.
10:17 Pant recovers from Covid, joins Team India
India wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant has joined the team bio-bubble after recovering from COVID-19 ahead of the marquee Test series against England. Pant, who had tested positive for the virus, has completed 10 days of isolation period, followed by two RT-PCR negative reports and proper cardio check-up which are mandatory before joining the team.
"Hello @RishabhPant17, great to have you back," the BCCI said in a tweet, along with Pant's photo, on Thursday. Pant had tested positive while he was staying at Southall at an acquaintance's place.
He had developed mild symptoms and was found to be COVID-19 positive when he got tested. According to sources, Pant might have picked up the Delta 3 variant while visiting a dentist for a toothache problem, contrary to earlier reports that his presence at the Euro Championships could have led to him catching the infection.
The Covid figures as on July 21st
10:15 Delta variant among 75% of Covid cases in a month
The prevalence of the highly-transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 among specimens sequenced over the past four weeks exceeded 75 per cent in many countries worldwide, including India, China, Russia, Israel and the UK, the WHO has said.
In the COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update published July 20, the World Health Organisation said that despite efforts to extend vaccination coverage, many countries across all six WHO regions continue to experience surges in coronavirus cases.
Over the past week, the highest numbers of new cases were reported from Indonesia (350,273 new cases; a 44 per cent increase), the UK (296,447 new cases; 41 per cent increase), Brazil (287,610 new cases; 14 per cent decrease), India (268,843 new cases; 8 per cent decrease) and the US (216,433 new cases; 68 per cent increase). The update noted that as of July 20, a total of over 2.4 million SARS-CoV-2 sequences have been submitted to GISAID, the global science initiative and primary source that provides open access to genomic data. Over 220,000 (9 per cent) of SARS-CoV-2 sequences submitted to GISAID are confirmed as the Delta variant.
10:10 Tax raids on Dainik Bhaskar group
Income Tax Department raids multiple premises of media group Dainik Bhaskar in Bhopal, Jaipur and other locations.
One of the largest newspaper groups in the country, the Dainik Bhaskar was at the forefront of reporting on the devastation of the second wave of Covid.
Dainik Bhaskar put out a series of reports that took a critical look at official claims during the pandemic, especially in Gujarat.
Read the Dainik Bhaskar report on the discrepancies in death certificates.
09:56 Pegasus row: IT minister to speak in Parl today
Amid the controversy over the 'Pegasus Project' media report, Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw will speak in Parliament on Thursday.
Earlier, on Monday, speaking in Lok Sabha Vaishnaw had said that there is 'no substance' in the media reports regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp, adding that the reports were an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions.
He also said that it cannot be a coincidence that the reports appeared a day before the commencement of the monsoon session of Parliament.
"A highly sensational story was published by a web portal last night. Many over-the-top allegations were made around this story. The press reports appeared a day before the monsoon session of Parliament. This can't be a coincidence," said the Minister about the Pegasus Project.
He said that in the past too, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp and those reports too had no factual basis and were denied by all parties.
"Press reports of July 18 also appear to be an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions," Vaishnaw had said.
The Opposition has alleged that the names of several Indian politicians, journalists, lawyers, and activists appeared on the leaked list of potential targets for surveillance by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware.
This comes following reports published in The Wire. -- ANI
09:23 India reports 41,383 new Covid cases, 507 deaths
India reports 41,383 new COVID-19 cases, 38,652 recoveries, and 507 deaths in the last 24 hours, as per the Union health ministry.
Total cases: 3,12,57,720
Total recoveries: 3,04,29,339
Active cases: 4,09,394
Death toll: 4,18,987
Total vaccination: 41,78,51,151
09:19 Mumbai receives intermittent heavy showers
Mumbai received heavy showers intermittently on Wednesday though trains and road traffic were not affected, civic officials said.
The train traffic between Khardi and Igatpuri stations of the Central Railway was suspended due to water logging between Umbermali and Kasara stations in neighbouring Thane district since 10.15 pm, said a railway spokesperson.
Two long-distance trains -- Pune-Darbhanga special and CSMT-Varanasi special -- had to be rescheduled, said Shivaji Sutar, chief spokesperson of the Central Railway.
Kasara, 102 km from Mumbai, recorded 207 mm of rain till 10 pm since last midnight, 45 mm of it in the last one hour.
As per the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the island city area of Mumbai recorded 68.72 mm of rain, eastern suburbs 58.75 mm and western suburbs 58.24 mm of rain in 10 hours since 8 on Wednesday morning.
The intensity of rainfall dipped in the afternoon but increased again at night, it said.
Earlier in the day, the Regional Meteorological Centre of the IMD had issued a 'red alert' for Mumbai, predicting heavy to very heavy rainfall in the country's financial capital.
Heavy rains had battered the metropolis on Sunday and Monday.
There is an off-shore trough running between Maharashtra and Karnataka, which generally carries moisture-laden westerly winds from the Arabian Sea to land, a met official said.
In addition to it, there is an east-west 'shear zone cutting across Maharashtra' and it has been adding to the prevailing favourable monsoon conditions, he said.
These two synoptic systems are leading to very heavy rain over Konkan, Goa and central Maharashtra, especially the Ghat areas, the official said. -- PTI
IMAGE: A man holds an umbrella as he rides a bicycle during rain at Bandra in Mumbai, on Wednesday. Photograph: PTI Photo
08:41 Swamy cautions BJP leadership against removing Yediyurappa
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy on Wednesday cautioned the party leadership against removing B S Yediyurappa as the Karnataka chief minister as he brought the party to power in the state.
'It was Yeddiyurappa who first brought BJP to power in Karnataka. Some conspired to remove him since he would not be a 'chamcha'. Without him, the party cannot return to power in the state. Only upon his return to the BJP could the party win again. Why repeat the same mistake?' the 81-year-old Rajya Sabha member tweeted.
The Lingayat strongman that Yeddiyurappa is got support from Subramanian Swamy even as many seers of Lingayat Mutts have started rallying behind the chief minister amid speculation on his removal from the post.
Talks of change of leadership, which have been on for quite some time, gained momentum after Yediyurappa's visit to Delhi last week.
He has since strongly dismissed the talks as baseless. -- PTI
08:22 Vaccination to resume in Mumbai today: BMC
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Wednesday said the COVID-19 inoculation drive will resume from Friday at civic and government-run centres after the arrival of a fresh stock of vaccines.
A new stock of vaccines is expected to arrive on Wednesday night, the civic body said in a statement.
The civic body said there will be no vaccination at BMC and Maharashtra government-run centres on Thursday.
The BMC had suspended the inoculation drive at a majority of vaccination centres run by the BMC and the government since Tuesday due to a shortage of doses.
On Tuesday, vaccines were available only at 58 out of 309 such sites in the metropolis, it said.
The BMC said the fresh stock will consist of 50,000 doses of Covishield and 11,000 of Covaxin and they will be distributed across the city on Thursday.
'The citizens of Mumbai are being constantly informed about the vaccination, depending on the extent to vaccine stock received,' it said.
Earlier on July 8 and 9, the municipal body had suspended inoculation at the BMC and government-run centres for three days due to a paucity of vaccine doses. -- PTI