Sat, 18 September 2021
Talking to Taliban for inclusive govt: Pak PM

Timeline  Refresh

22:02   President goes snacking in Shimla
Rashtrapti Bhavan posts this picture of President Ram Nath Kovind on Twitter with the following caption:

'It is not every day that President comes as a customer to a shop. President Kovind while remembering his roots as a common man visited a snack shop and interacted with locals. He leisurely strolled at the elegant and historic Ridge taking tourists and locals by surprise.'

President Ram Nath Kovind reached Shimla yesterday to grace the special session of the state legislative assembly.

He addressed the special session of the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly that was organised on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of statehood.   -- with ANI inputs
21:08   Talking to Taliban for inclusive govt: Pak PM
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday said that he has initiated a dialogue with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghanistan government having Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, a day after the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) members sought representation for all ethnic, religious and political groups in the new dispensation.

The Taliban, which seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, had promised an 'inclusive' government that represents Afghanistan's complex ethnic makeup, but there is no Hazara member and no woman in the interim 33-member Cabinet.

Taking to Twitter, Khan said: After mtgs (meetings) in Dushanbe with leaders of Afghanistan's neighbours & especially a lengthy discussion with Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon, I have initiated a dialogue with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghan govt to include Tajiks, Hazaras & Uzbeks.

However, details of the 'dialogue' were not shared by him or other officials.

After 40 years of conflict, this inclusivity will ensure peace and a stable Afghanistan, which is in the interest not only of Afghanistan but the region as well, Khan said in another tweet.

Addressing the SCO summit on Friday, he said: the Taliban must fulfil the pledges made, above all for an inclusive political structure where all ethnic groups are represented. This is vital for Afghanistan's stability.

Khan said that it was also important to ensure respect for the rights while making certain that Afghanistan would never again be made a safe haven for terrorists.

The SCO leaders, in a joint declaration issued at the end of the annual Summit of the bloc in Tajikistan on Friday, voiced support for an independent, democratic and peaceful Afghanistan, free of terrorism, war and drugs.

'Member States believe that it is critical to have an inclusive Government in Afghanistan, with representatives from all ethnic, religious and political groups of Afghan society,' the joint declaration said, in an apparent reference to the Taliban's interim government which is dominated by high-profile members of the insurgent group, including at least 14 members who are on the UN Security Council's terrorism blacklist.

The interim government of the Taliban has failed to win recognition of the world.

It is believed that Pakistan enjoys a clout over the Taliban and played a key role in their peace talks with the US that resulted in the Doha agreement of 2020.

On September 4, Pakistan's powerful intelligence chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, in a surprise move, dashed to Kabul as the Taliban struggled to finalise and install an inclusive government in Afghanistan.

A delegation of senior Pakistani officials led by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lieutenant General Hameed conducted discussions with the Taliban leadership.

Pakistan was often accused by the Afghanistan government led by President Ashraf Ghani of giving the Taliban military aid, a charge denied by Islamabad.

The ISI chief's trip was the first high-level visit by a Pakistani official since the Taliban took over Kabul in a move that surprised both their foes and friends.

The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on August 15, two weeks before the US' complete troop withdrawal on August 31 after a costly two-decade war.

This forced Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country to the UAE.

The Taliban insurgents stormed across Afghanistan and captured all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away.

Thousands of Afghan nationals and foreigners have fled the country to escape the new Taliban regime and to seek asylum in different nations, including the US and many European nations, resulting in total chaos and deaths.   -- PTI

IMAGE: Mullah Baradar Akhund, a senior Taliban official, seated with a group of Talibanis, makes a video statement from an undisclosed location, August 16, 2021. Photograph: Social Media/via Reuters
19:51   Punjab Cong MLAs authorise Sonia to pick new CM
Punjab Congress MLAs on Saturday authorised party president Sonia Gandhi to pick new Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader, on a day Amarinder Singh resigned as the state chief minister.

A resolution to this effect was passed unanimously in a meeting of the CLP in Chandigarh.

Senior Congress leader Ajay Maken, who was one of the two central observers deputed by the party, told reporters that 78 of 80 party MLAs were present in the meeting.

He said another resolution praising and thanking Amarinder Singh for his contribution towards Punjab and the Congress was also unanimously passed at the meeting.

"We expect that the party will continue to get guidance of Amarinder Singh," he said.   -- PTI
19:42   Governor accepts Amarinder Singh's resignation
Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit Saturday accepted Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's resignation.

The Governor, however, has asked him and his council of ministers to continue in office for the transaction of routine business till alternative arrangements are made, according to an official statement.

'Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit accepted his (Amarinder) resignation and that of his council of ministers,' said the statement.

Earlier in the day, Singh submitted his resignation along with that of his council of ministers.

'I, hereby, tender my resignation as Chief Minister, and that of my Council of Ministers,' the one-line resignation letter said.   -- PTI

IMAGE: Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amrinder Singh submits his resignation to Governor Banwarilal Purohit at the Raj Bhavan in Chandigarh, on Saturday. Photograph: Kind courtesy @capt amarinder/Twitter
19:34   Too much to expect Cong to fight BJP: Omar
It is too much to expect the Congress to take the fight to the Bharatiya Janata Party when its state leaders are too busy fighting amongst themselves, National Conference (NC) vice president Omar Abdullah said on Saturday after the resignation of Amarinder Singh as Punjab Chief Minister.

Abdullah, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said the Congress party's actions have a direct impact on every political party outside the BJP-led National Democratic Allaince (NDA) as almost 200 Lok Sabha seats see a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP.

In a series of tweets, he said, 'I guess it's too much to expect the Congress to take the fight to the BJP when its state leaders are too busy fighting amongst themselves.'

'Ordinarily I wouldn't give a toss about the fratricide in the Congress party - their party, their business. However what the Congress does has a direct fallout for every political party outside the NDA orbit because almost 200 Lok Sabha seats see a direct BJP - Cong fight,' he added.

Congress veteran Amarinder Singh on Saturday resigned as the chief minister of Punjab, capping months of a power tussle that had polarised the ruling party in the state headed for elections in just about four months.   -- PTI
19:09   Sidhu threat to nation, has Pak link: Amarinder
Congress leader Amarinder Singh, who resigned as the chief minister of Punjab on Saturday evening, has accused party state president and his bete noire Navjot Singh Sidhu of having links with Pakistan.

In an exclusive interview to ANI after tendering his resignation, Singh said that Sidhu will be a 'disaster' as CM.

"...Navjot Singh Sidhu is an incompetent man, he is going to be a disaster. I will oppose his name for the next CM face. He has a connection with Pakistan. It will be a threat to national security...," he said.

"He is friends with (Pakistan Army chief) Qamar Javed Bajwa and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. I will oppose if he is chosen as the next CM face...," Singh told ANI.
18:22   Tharoor seeks a permanent president of Cong
Senior Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor on Saturday called for a permanent president to head the party, which is 'now at an interim stage'.

He said all the Congress leaders have sought a permanent president for the party.

'We all liked the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. But we are now at an interim stage. For the last two years we haven't had a permanent president. That must be remedied. We need to instill energy in the organisational structure of the Congress party. We all have sought for a permanent president for the party,' he said.

Tharoor was speaking to reporters after the inauguration of the office of Muvattupuzha legislator Mathew Kuzhalnadan in Kochi.

He said Sonia Gandhi has sought to be relieved of her duties for several years now.

'Hopefully a new leadership will emerge under Rahul Gandhi. If that is the case, it has to happen soon,' the Thiruvananthapuram MP added.   -- PTI
18:12   Mumbai police on high alert ahead of last day of Ganesh festival
Mumbai Police is on high alert and security has been beefed up across the city for the 10th and last day of immersion of Ganesh idols on Sunday, especially in the wake of recent arrests of terror suspects, an official said.

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad on Friday nabbed one person from Mumbai in connection with an alleged terror plot unearthed by Delhi Police.

The 10-day Ganesh festival will come to an end on Sunday.

The celebrations have been subdued this year due to the restrictions imposed in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

Processions, the hallmark of immersion days, are banned. Anti-sabotage measures are being taken and security around vital installations has been increased, said deputy commissioner of police S Chaitanya, the Mumbai police's spokesperson, on Saturday.

Apart from intensified patrolling in sensitive areas, there will be heavy deployment of security personnel at immersion points, he said.

Extra lights, cranes, swimmers/life guards, ambulances and fire brigade teams would be arranged to handle any eventuality, he added.

As many as 100 additional officers and 1,500 personnel from the Local Arms and other branches will be deployed, the DCP said.

Besides, at least three companies of the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF), one company of CRPF, 500 home guards and 275 constables from outside units will be stationed in the city.

The police are also keeping tabs on known criminals and have increased surveillance at hotels, lodges, vital installations and sensitive locations. Officials also held meetings with Ganesh mandals, peace committees, mohalla committees and others stakeholders, the police spokesperson added.

The Delhi Police's Special Cell had on Tuesday busted a terror module with the arrest of six men, including two Pakistan-trained terrorists.

One of them was a resident of Dharavi in Mumbai, police claimed.   -- PTI
17:15   Centre scales down Babul Supriyo's security
The Union government has scaled down the armed security cover of central paramilitary commandos given to Babul Supriyo who left the Bharatiya Janata Party and joined the Trinamool Congress on Saturday, official sources said.

The cover has been reduced from the second-highest level of Z category to Y category, after an order was issued by the Union home ministry on Friday.

The security cover given to VVIPs and high-risk personalities under the central scheme, ranges from the highest Z+ followed by Z, Y+, Y and X categories.

On the scaling down of Supriyo's security category, the sources said that a recommendation in this context was made by central security and intelligence agencies.

Supriyo, 50, dropped as minister from the Narendra Modi cabinet in July, is being guarded by an armed contingent of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

From about six-seven commandos, Supriyo will now be guarded by two armed personnel during travel.

The sources indicated a further review of his cover cannot be ruled out, and the job of his security can be entirely entrusted to the West Bengal Police as he has now joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Supriyo, after joining the ruling party in West Bengal, told the media that he was very excited about joining the TMC, led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and that he will work for the development of the state.   -- PTI
17:07   Amarinder resigns along with cabinet
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has met Governor Banwarilal Purohit and submitted his and his council of ministers' resignation.

He will address the media at the Raj Bhavan gate in a few minutes from now, Raveen Thukral, Media Advisor to Punjab CM.  -- ANI
16:03   Amarinder to resign ahead of CLP meet: Sources
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has decided to put in his papers ahead of the crucial Congress Legislature Party meeting in Chandigarh on Saturday evening, sources close to him said.

The chief minister will meet the Punjab governor around 4.30 pm and resign from the post.

He will address a press conference after that.

Earlier in the day, Amarinder Singh spoke to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and expressed his anguish and displeasure over his repeated 'humiliation', the sources said.

They said the decision was taken at a meeting of legislators close to him at the his official residence in Chandigarh a little after 2 pm.

The AICC gave its nod to the meeting of the CLP, being held at 5 pm at the Punjab Congress office in Chandigarh, after over 50 MLAs wrote to the party high command that Amarinder Singh be replaced as chief minister.

Elections in the state are due in about four months.   -- PTI
15:26   Former Union minister Babul Supriyo joins TMC
Former Union Minister and ex-Bharatiya Janata Party MP Babul Supriyo formally joins the Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Saturday.

Supriyo had quit the BJP following the recent Union cabinet reshuffle.
14:46   Capt meets MLAs loyal to him
Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh reaches his official residence in Chandigarh for a meeting with party MLAs loyal to him ahead of Congress Legislature Party meet.

14:24   Amarinder's fate in balance as CLP meets at 5 pm
Amid the ongoing rift in the Punjab Congress unit, the All India Congress Committee called a meeting of the state's Congress Legislative Party (CLP) on Saturday.

AICC general secretary and in-charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat made the announcement Friday night.

The AICC has received a representation from a large number of MLAs from the Congress party, requesting to immediately convene a meeting of the CLP of Punjab.

Accordingly, a meeting of the CLP has been convened at 5 pm on September 18 at Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) office.

AICC directs the PPCC to facilitate this meeting. All congress MLAs of Punjab are requested to kindly attend this meeting, Rawat said in a tweet.

He also tagged Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu in his tweet.

Sidhu also took to Twitter on Friday night and said, 'As per the AICC directive, Congress Legislative Party meeting has been convened at @INCPunjab PPCC Office, Chandigarh on 18 September 2021 (Saturday) 5 PM.'

The move to call the meeting after bypassing the chief minister has raised speculations in party circles about the fate of Singh.

The Congress has 80 MLAs in the 117-member state assembly.

The development comes as several legislators and some ministers close to Sidhu have been seeking a meeting of the legislature party.

Congress leaders Harish Chaudhary and Ajay Maken are likely to be the party's observers at the CLP meeting.

Party MLAs on Saturday said they were unaware of the agenda of the CLP meeting.

There were reports that a section of Congress MLAs had written to the party leadership to convene a CLP meeting to discuss the poll strategy and progress on the 18-point agenda which includes action on the 2015 desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and the police firing on protesters and arrest of the big fish in drug rackets.

Last month, four ministers and around two dozen party legislators had raised a banner of revolt against the Punjab CM and had said they had no faith in Amarinder Singh's ability to honour unfulfilled promises.

Four ministers -- Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Charanjit Singh Channi -- had raised the demand for replacing the CM.

Meanwhile, Sidhu's principal strategic advisor and former Indian Police Service officer Mohd Mustafa said it is time to have a Congress CM after a long agonising wait.   --  PTI
13:53   Sonu Sood evaded Rs 20 cr tax: I-T Dept
The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) on Saturday alleged that actor Sonu Sood and his associates evaded tax of Rs 20 crore and claimed that after the Income Tax Department raided him and a linked Lucknow-based infrastructure group it was found that he routed his 'unaccounted income in the form of bogus unsecured loans from many bogus entities'.

It also accused Sood of violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) while raising donations from abroad.

The department had launched searches against the 48-year-old actor and the Lucknow-based group of industries involved in infrastructure on September 15 and the CBDT said the action was continuing.

'During the course of search at the premises of the actor and his associates, incriminating evidence pertaining to tax evasion has been found.

'The main modus operandi followed by the actor had been to route his unaccounted income in the form of bogus unsecured loans from many bogus entities,' the CBDT claimed in a statement.

It added that, so far, use of 20 such entries has been found and the providers of which, on examination, have 'accepted' on oath to have given 'bogus' accommodation entries (transaction entries in accounts).

'They have accepted to have issued cheques in lieu of cash. There have been instances where professional receipts have been camouflaged as loans in the books of accounts for the purpose of evasion of tax,' the policy-making body for the tax department said.

These bogus loans, it said, have been used for 'making investments and acquiring properties'.

'The total amount of tax evaded unearthed so far, amounts to more than Rs 20 crore,' the statement and official sources said about Sood.

It also talked about his charity organisation that was established during the COVID-19 outbreak last year.

'The charity foundation incorporated by the actor on July 21, 2020 has collected donations to the tune of Rs 18.94 crore from April 1, 2021 till date, out of which it has spent around Rs 1.9 crore towards various relief work and the balance of Rs 17 crore has been found lying unutilised in the bank account of the foundation till date,' it said.

It is seen, the statement alleged, that funds to the tune of Rs 2.1 crore have also been raised by the charity foundation from overseas donors on a crowdfunding platform 'in violation' of FCRA regulations.

It said the actor had entered into a joint venture with the Lucknow located infrastructure group and 'invested substantial funds', and said the taxman has unearthed 'incriminating' evidence pertaining to tax evasion and irregularities in the account books.

'The search has revealed that the said group is involved in bogus billing of sub-contracting expenses and siphoning off of funds.

'Evidence of such bogus contracts found so far are to the tune of over Rs 65 crore,' it said.

Evidence of unaccounted cash expenses, unaccounted sale of scrap and digital data evidencing unaccounted cash transactions has also been found.

The infra group 'has entered into dubious circular transaction to the tune of Rs 175 crore with an infrastructure company based in Jaipur'.

'Further investigations are being carried out to establish the full extent of tax evasion,' it said.

The CBDT said Rs 1.8 crore cash has been seized during the raids and 11 lockers have been placed under 'prohibitory orders'.

A total of 28 premises in Mumbai, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jaipur, Delhi, and Gurgaon are being covered as part of the search operation.   -- PTI
13:03   Covid boosters not needed right now: Experts
Will a booster shot provide the turbocharge for Covid immunity that India is looking for? Maybe in an ideal situation where most people are fully vaccinated but not when less than a quarter of the adult population has received both doses, say experts.

As the global debate on booster shots gathers momentum, several scientists in New Delhi said the priority must be to ensure that more people are inoculated with at least their first jab.

Immunologist Satyajit Rath said that less than 15 per cent of Indian adults have been vaccinated with two doses, and this clearly means that all Indians 'who are more vulnerable to infection' have not yet necessarily gotten two doses.

"I, therefore, think that it is ethically premature to begin planning a third dose to a fortunate category of people at this stage," Rath, from New Delhi's National Institute of Immunology (NII), told PTI.

"It is also pragmatically premature to do so, since we have no really clear idea of who is 'more vulnerable to infection'. We do know that some co-morbid categories are more vulnerable to serious illness, but two doses of the current vaccines currently protect quite well against that," he explained.

Immunologist Vineeta Bal agreed, saying India should not think of providing booster doses at this stage when about 40 per cent of the eligible population is yet to receive the first dose.

In her view, vulnerable people, those with co-morbidities, may be considered for additional shots on a 'case by case basis'.

"... but it has to be remembered that additional shots do not cover specific variants, which are supposed to be more 'dangerous'," Bal, guest faculty at Pune's Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, told PTI.

"Hence the utility of an additional shot will be limited, in terms of expanding immunity," she argued.

Though India has not yet rolled out the third dose, there are reports some healthcare workers and politicians in Mumbai have taken a booster shot.

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Balram Bhargava said earlier this week that a booster dose is not the central theme at the moment and getting two doses remains the major priority.

On Friday, India administered a record over 2.5 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses, taking the cumulative number of doses administered in the country to 79.33 crore, according to data on the Co-WIN portal.

With this, an estimated 63 per cent of India's adult population has received its first dose and 21 per cent are fully vaccinated, official sources said.

According to Rath, all current Covid vaccines in use worldwide remain very effective for protection against serious illness or death from the infection, without any booster doses.

"While antibody levels are indeed going down after a few months, this is neither surprising nor does it necessarily indicate any substantial loss of this kind of protection. How much longer it will be before any such loss begins to be seen is an empirical question for which we will have to wait for data," the scientist added.

Identifying population groups with an increased risk of infections within a fully vaccinated population is necessary to minimise the death rate, said researcher Naga Suresh Veerapu.

The reasons for booster doses may differ by population groups at risk, type of vaccine, waning immunity, variants of concern, and clinical and epidemiological settings, said the associate professor, Department of Life Sciences, School of Natural Sciences (SNS), Shiv Nadar University, Delhi-NCR.

There is an argument for booster shots if countries have the luxury to administer them.  

The need has been emphasised due to concerns over waning immunity provided by vaccines and also the rise of the Covid variants, especially the Delta strain.

A recent study by ICMR-regional medical research centre (RMRC), Bhubaneswar, found that the level of antibodies produced among Covaxin recipients starts to decline after two months, while the same for those who have been vaccinated with Covishield starts after three months.

Similar results have been found for many other vaccines internationally. Pfizer and Moderna earlier this week said protection from their vaccines can wane over time.

However, Bal said there is clear evidence from different parts of the world that complete vaccination provides protection from the serious form of the disease.

"Individuals who participated in the clinical trials are the earliest recipients of vaccines and their follow up seems to suggest that protection from serious disease persists at least for 8-10 months, possibly more," she explained.

"In India vaccination began in January 2021 and hence the duration of protection observed is shorter. With time we will know how long this lasts," she added.

An expert review in The Lancet this week concluded that vaccine efficacy against severe COVID-19, even for the Delta variant, is so high that booster doses for the general population are not appropriate at this stage in the pandemic.

Scientists this could be because protection against severe disease is mediated not only by antibody responses, which might be relatively short lived for some vaccines, but also by memory responses and cell-mediated immunity, which are generally longer-lived.

Globally, many countries have already rolled out COVID-19 boosters.

On July 30, Israel approved the administration of a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for people who were 60 or older and who had received a second dose of vaccine at least five  months earlier.

Britain's Covid booster rollout kicked off on Thursday with the country dishing out the first extra doses to health workers ahead of winter.

In the US, a panel advising the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended boosters of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for people 65 and over, and those at high risk, while voting against third shots for everyone.

Bal said the individual-centric approach versus public health approach is the major difference when some countries are recommending an additional shot of the same old vaccine for their own people.

"There are enough data to show that infection with Delta variant is also handled by vaccinated individuals better than the unvaccinated. And hence I see these moves as selfish moves. COVAX initiative should have been followed in earnest to cover the global population," she said.

COVAX is a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the WHO.

Bal noted that immunity induced by current first-generation vaccines is pretty good against most variants, based on some publications, including the most prevalent variant Delta.

"Hence from the humanitarian perspective, the have-nots should be given priority for vaccination. We live in a global village and human beings can move across many kilometres easily -- by trains, by flights etc," she said.

"Thus aiming to attain a certain level of community immunity or herd immunity at a global level is more desirable than having pockets of people heavily immunised and pockets completely vulnerable. A virus can spread easily from high incidence areas to other areas," Bal added.   -- PTI
11:58   ED moves court as Deshmukh fails to appear
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has moved a court in Mumbai against former Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh for failing to appear before the probe agency despite being summoned multiple times in a money laundering case.

The ED filed the plea in a special court on Friday seeking action against Deshmukh under Indian Penal Code section 174 (non-attendance in obedience to an order from public servant).

The section attracts a simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month, or fine up to five hundred rupees or both.

The probe agency had issued multiple summonses to Deshmukh in the money laundering case registered against him by it.

However, the Nationalist Congress Party leader has failed to appear before it so far.

Two of Deshmukh's aides -- Sanjeev Palande and Kundan Shinde -- have been arrested in the case. They are currently in the judicial custody.

Besides the duo, the probe agency in its charge-sheet filed recently, has also named dismissed Mumbai police officer Sachin Waze as an accused.

However, Deshmukh or his family members have not been made accused in the charge sheet.

The ED launched a probe against Deshmukh and his associates after the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a first information report (FIR) against the NCP leader on April 21 after former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh accused him of corruption.

Singh had alleged that Deshmukh had asked Waze to collect Rs 100 crore from city bars and hotels every month, a charge denied by the former minister.

Deshmukh resigned a minister in April this year.   -- PTI
Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
11:48   BJP names Sonowal, Murugan as candidates for Rajya Sabha bypolls
The Bharatiya Janata Party on Saturday named Union ministers Sarbananda Sonowal and L Murugan as its candidates for the Rajya Sabha bypolls in Assam and Madhya Pradesh respectively, according to a party statement.

Both leaders were recently inducted into his Council of Ministers by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, necessitating their elections to Parliament in six months.

Their election to the Rajya Sabha is all but certain as the BJP has a majority in the both state assemblies.

In Assam, a Rajya Sabha seat fell vacant after Biswajit Daimary resigned to become the assembly speaker.

In Madhya Pradesh, the vacancy emerged after the then Union minister Thaawarchand Gehlot resigned following his appointment as Karnataka governor.   -- PTI
10:56   India adds 35,662 COVID-19 cases
India saw a single-day rise of 35,662 new COVID-19 infections, while the active cases increased to 3,40,639, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Saturday.
The active cases now comprise 1.02 per cent of the total infections and the national COVID-19 recovery rate has been recorded at 97.65 per cent, it said.
Also, 14,48,833 tests were conducted on Friday, taking the total cumulative tests conducted so far to 55,07,80,273, it said.
The daily positivity rate has been recorded at 2.46 per cent. It has been less than three per cent for the last 19 days, according to the data.
The weekly positivity rate has been recorded at 2.02 per cent. It has been below three per cent for the last 85 days, the ministry said.
The number of people who have recuperated from the disease is 3,26,32,222, while the case fatality rate has been recorded at 1.33 per cent, it said. 
The cumulative doses administered in the country so far under the vaccination drive has exceeded 79.42 crore, according to the ministry.
India's COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7 last year, 30 lakh on August 23, 40 lakh on September 5 and 50 lakh on September 16. It went past 60 lakh on September 28, 70 lakh on October 11, crossed 80 lakh on October 29, 90 lakh on November 20 and surpassed the one-crore mark on December 19 last year. 
India recorded two crore cases on May 4 and three crore cases on June 23. -- PTI
10:54   Taliban resume boys-only schools, no mention of girls
The Ministry of Education of Afghanistan, led by the Taliban, has directed all secondary schools to resume from Saturday, however, the directive only mentions the male students, making no reference to a return date for girls.

This is contrary to promises made by outfit after assuming power in Kabul last month.

"Hereby, students and teachers of all private and Emirati (governmental) secondary, high schools, and religious schools are asked to return," Khaama Press quoted the official directive.

The Taliban announced an interim government last week, with a slew of promises, assuring not to repeat the policies of the previous Taliban regime (1996-2001).

However, reports coming from the ground say differently. 

According to media reports, women are being barred from going to work, and scores of them have demonstrated to demand their rights to employment and education.

Experts and members of the international community have raised concerns about the future of female teachers and students. The newly appointed education minister Shaikh Abdulbaqi Haqqani has said that education activities will take place according to Sharia Law. -- ANI
10:40   Achieved all I wanted: Shastri to step down as coach
His tenure set to end after next month's T20 World Cup, India head coach Ravi Shastri conceded that there would be a bit of "sadness" but he has no doubts that he is going out at the right time, having "over-achieved" during his stint.
Shastri's first stint as head coach began in 2017 before he was reappointed in 2019. 

The T20 World Cup starts on October 17 in the UAE.
The 59-year-old is currently in quarantine in London after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Speaking to The Guardian, Shastri said to win the T20 World Cup would be special but the team has already done special things in his time.
"I believe so because I've achieved all I wanted. Five years as No.1 (in Test cricket), to win in Australia twice, to win in England.
"I spoke to Michael Atherton earlier this summer and said: 'For me, this is the ultimate to beat Australia in Australia and win in England in Covid times.' We lead England 2-1 and the way we played at Lord's and the Oval was special," said the former player.
India were leading 2-1 against England when the fifth and final Test in Manchester was called off after a COVID-19 outbreak in the touring camp.
During Shastri's tenure, India also recorded T20 series wins in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England.
"We've also beaten every country in the world in their own backyard in white-ball cricket. If we win the (T20) World Cup that will be the icing on the cake. There is nothing more.
"I believe one thing never overstay your welcome. And I would say that, in terms of what I wanted to get out of the side, I've over-achieved. To beat Australia away and to lead the series in England in a COVID year? It is the most satisfying moment of my four decades in cricket."
The flamboyant coach would love to sign off with an ICC trophy, which the team has not lifted during the Shastri-Virat Kohli phase.
"We're going to give it everything. Absolutely. We've got the team to win if we play to our potential. Above all we're going to enjoy it. Forget Test match pressure. T20 cricket is meant to be enjoyed. I plan on going out on a real high," he asserted.
"Yes there will be sadness it's ending because I've worked with so many great players and personalities. We've had some great times in the dressing room. But, above all, the quality of our cricket and the results we've achieved has made it one heck of a journey," he said.
He also spoke on the emergence of Jasprit Bumrah as a lethal Test bowler in his tenure.
"No one believed Jasprit Bumrah could play Test cricket. He was a white-ball bowler. But when I took over as coach I asked myself: 'How do I take 20 wickets overseas?'
"I knew I needed four great fast bowlers because I had played so much Test cricket against the West Indies. It started in South Africa in 2018 and we lost that fantastic series 2-1. I wanted to unleash Bumrah in that first Test in Cape Town.
"I bounced the idea off Virat months before and told the selectors: 'Do not unleash him in India. I don't want the world to see him in Test cricket before Cape Town.'
"That was three years ago. Since then he's taken 101 wickets (in 24 Tests). It's remarkable." -- PTI  
09:18   Amid rift, AICC calls Punjab CLP meeting today
Amid the ongoing rift in the Punjab Congress unit, the All India Congress Committee called a meeting of the state's Congress Legislative Party on Saturday.
All India Congress Committee general secretary and in-charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat made the announcement Friday night.
The AICC has received a representation from a large number of MLAs from the Congress party, requesting to immediately convene a meeting of the Congress Legislative Party of Punjab. Accordingly, a meeting of the CLP has been convened at 5 PM on September 18 at Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee office.
"The AICC directs the PPCC to facilitate this meeting. All congress MLAs of Punjab are requested to kindly attend this meeting," Rawat said in a tweet.
He also tagged Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu in his tweet.
Sidhu also took to Twitter on Friday night and said, "As per the AICC directive, Congress Legislative Party meeting has been convened at @INCPunjab PPCC Office, Chandigarh on 18 September 2021 (Saturday) 5 PM."
The development comes as several legislators and ministers close to Sidhu have been seeking a meeting of the legislature party.
Last month, four ministers and around two dozen party legislators had raised a banner of revolt against the Punjab CM and said that they had no faith in Amarinder Singh's ability to honour unfulfilled promises. -- PTI
08:58   BCCI may approach Kumble, Laxman for head coach's post
Life may come to a full circle for Anil Kumble as the Sourav Ganguly-led Board of Control for Cricket in India might ask him to apply for the post of head coach of the Indian team along with VVS Laxman once Ravi Shastri finishes his term after the T20 World Cup.
Kumble was the coach of the Indian team for a year between 2016-17 when the Cricket Advisory Committee headed by Sachin Tendulkar, Laxman and Ganguly had appointed him, replacing Shastri.
However a bitter fall-out with captain Virat Kohli led to Kumble tendering his resignation after the Champions Trophy final defeat against Pakistan.
Along with Kumble, the board may also approach Laxman, who has been a mentor of the IPL side Sunrisers Hyderabad for some years now. 
However Kumble will be favourite even as Laxman will also remain in contention.
"Anil Kumble's exit needs course correction. The manner in which the CoA succumbed to the pressure of Kohli and removed him, wasn't the best example set. However it also depends on whether Kumble or Laxman are ready to apply for the job," a senior BCCI source privy to development told PTI on conditions of anonymity.
Kohli has already announced that he will quit as T20 captain after the World Cup. 
For the BCCI brass, a reputed Indian coach is always the first choice and both Kumble and Laxman with their stature in Indian cricket with 100 plus Test matches along with coaching experience fit the bill perfectly. A foreign coach is the second option.
"The criteria for BCCI's coach's job will be such that only a select few with very good record as player as well as experience of coaching/mentorship can apply for the top job," the source said.
Asked if Vikram Rathour is in contention, the official said,"He can apply if he wishes to but he doesn't have the stature to become a head coach of the Indian cricket team." 
"He is at best an assistant coach. However when we select the new coach, he will have a team all by himself. So let's wait and watch," the source concluded. -- PTI 
08:21   It was a mistake: US on Aug 29 Kabul drone strike
A top United States military commander has conceded as a "mistake" the drone strike by the American forces in Kabul last month, targeting ISIS-K terrorists days after a suicide bombing at the city airport, that killed 10 civilians, including up to seven children.
Briefing reporters on the results of the investigation of the August 29 strike, General Frank McKenzie, the commander of the US Central Command, also said it was "unlikely that the vehicle and those who died in the drone strike were associated with ISIS-K or were a direct threat to US forces".
However, the strike must be considered in the context of the on-ground situation at the Hamid Karzai International Airport following the ISIS-K attack that killed 13 soldiers, sailors, and Marines and more than 100 civilians. Also, a substantial body of intelligence had indicated the imminence of another attack, he said.
Gen. McKenzie said that having thoroughly reviewed the findings of the probe and supporting analysis, he is convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that drone strike.
"It was a mistake, and I offer my sincere apology. As the combatant commander, I am fully responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome," he told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
"Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K or were a direct threat to US forces. I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed. This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport," he said.
Gen McKenzie said that 48 hours before the strike, sensitive intelligence indicated that the compound was being used by ISIS-K planners to facilitate future attacks. 
"We were also receiving a significant number of reports indicating multiple avenues of attack, being planned simultaneously by ISIS-K would attempt to harm our forces, with rockets, suicide explosive vests, and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices," he said.
"In the 36 hours preceding the strike, our leaders at the airport and in the strike cell received more than 60 different pieces of intelligence related to imminent threats, with some corroborating and some conflicting with events observed from our UAVs flying above Kabul throughout the day," the commander of the US Central Command added.
One of the most recurring aspects of the intelligence was that ISIS-K would use a white Toyota Corolla as a key element in the next attack. Since the compound at point number one was the strongest lead for the series of imminent attacks, intense surveillance of the compound was initiated on the morning of August 29, he said. -- PTI
00:02   UK eases travel rules, some benefits for India
The UK government on Friday announced a major relaxation of international travel rules for vaccinated people coming in and out of England, with long-haul routes between India and the UK set to benefit.

From October 4, the current traffic light system of red, amber and green countries based on levels of COVID-19 risk will be scrapped and replaced with one red list only.

The scrapping of an amber list, which is what India is currently on, means reduced cost burden for travellers -- especially for the Indian diaspora vaccinated in the UK -- related to compulsory PCR tests.

However, an expanded list of countries whose vaccines are recognised in England does not include India, which means that Indians vaccinated with Covishield -- the Serum Institute of India produced Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine -- would still be required to undergo a pre-departure PCR test and further tests on landing in the UK.

From October 4, travellers from 17 additional countries with eligible vaccines, including Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, will no longer need to take pre-departure PCR tests for travelling into England.

"Today's changes mean a simpler, more straightforward system. One with less testing and lower costs, allowing more people to travel, see loved ones or conduct business around the world while providing a boost for the travel industry," said UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

"Public health has always been at the heart of our international travel policy and with over 44 million people fully vaccinated in the UK, we are now able to introduce a proportionate updated structure that reflects the new landscape," he said.

Testing for unvaccinated passengers from non-red countries will include pre-departure tests, day 2 and day 8 PCR tests. Passengers who aren't recognised as being fully vaccinated with authorised vaccines and certificates under England's international travel rules, including India, will still have to take a pre-departure test, a day 2 and day 8 PCR test, and self-isolate at their given address for 10 days upon entry.

All passengers will still need to fill in the compulsory passenger locator form ahead of travel.

In the latest update, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are among eight red list destinations moved off the travel ban list from next Wednesday. Turkey, the Maldives, Egypt, Oman, and Kenya are the others to be off the red list.

From the end of October, fully vaccinated passengers from non-red list countries will be able to replace the current compulsory day-two PCR test requirement with cheaper lateral flow tests. Anyone testing positive will need to isolate and take a free confirmatory PCR test, which would be genomically sequenced to help identify new variants.

"Today we have simplified the travel rules to make them easier to understand and follow, opening up tourism and reducing the costs to go abroad," said UK health secretary Sajid Javid.

"As global vaccination efforts continue to accelerate and more people gain protection from this dreadful disease, it is right that our rules and regulations keep pace," he said.

This new two-tiered system is expected to stay in place till the end of the year, with a further review planned for early in the new year.