Sat, 29 January 2022
Telangana to reopen schools, colleges from Feb 1
21:11 Encounter breaks out between security forces, militants in JK's Pulwama
An encounter broke out between security forces and militants in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, the police said.
Acting on specific input about the presence of militants in the Naira area of Pulwama, in south Kashmir, security forces launched a cordon and search operation there, a police official said.
He said as the forces were conducting searches, the hiding militants fired upon them.
The forces retaliated and an encounter broke out, the official said.
The exchange of fire is going on and further details are awaited, he added. -- PTI
21:08 Telangana to reopen schools, colleges from Feb 1
The Telangana government on Saturday decided to reopen all educational institutions in the state from February 1 with strict adherence to COVID-19 guidelines.
A memo to this effect was issued by the state education department.
In a statement, state education minister P Sabita Indra Reddy said COVID-19 norms should be followed strictly in the educational institutions.
She said school managements, teachers, and parents of students should take appropriate precautions.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had on January 3 directed holidays be declared in all educational institutions in the state from January 8 to 16.
The vacation has further been extended up to January 30 against the backdrop of rising COVID-19 cases. -- PTI
Representational image. Pic: Reuters
19:45 Election Commission bans exit polls till March 7
The Election Commission has banned all exit polls pertaining to the coming assembly elections from 7 am on February 10 to 6.30 pm on March 7.
In a statement issued on Saturday, UP's Chief Electoral Officer Ajay Kumar Shukla said that conducting exit polls, its publication in print or electronic media or its publicity has been banned from 7 am on February 10 to 6.30 pm on March 7.
Any person who violates the order will be punished with a two-year jail term or fine or both, the statement added.
Ali Mohammad's relatives
19:04 Terrorists shoot dead policeman in JK
Terrorists on Saturday shot dead a policeman in Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir, the police said.
JK police head constable Ali Mohammad was fired upon by militants at around 5.35 pm near his residence at Hasanpora in the Bijbehara area of Anantnag, a police official said.
He said Mohammad was shifted to a hospital in critical condition where he succumbed to the injuries.
The area has been cordoned off and a hunt launched to nab the assailants, the official said. -- ANI
18:55 Trade unions defer nationwide strike to March 28-29
A joint forum of central trade unions on Saturday said it has deferred its scheduled February 23-24 nationwide strike against government policies by a month in view of the third wave of the pandemic and state assembly polls.
On Friday, an online meeting of the joint platform of Central Trade Unions and Sectoral Federations/ Associations decided to defer the two-day nationwide strike to March 28-29, a joint statement said. -- PTI
18:19 Delhi sees big fall in Covid cases in past 1 week
The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Delhi has reduced significantly in the last one week from over 11,000 cases logged on January 22, but the containment zones count remains over 40,000, according to official data.
A containment zone is created by authorities to check the spread of infection if at least three cases of coronavirus are recorded in a household or in a neighbourhood.
The surge in COVID cases in Delhi during the third wave of the pandemic are due to the Omicron variant of the virus which is highly transmissible.
Many families in a large number of neighbourhoods had tested positive, but medical experts have said that since the infection had happened at the same time, the recovery too will be quicker for the community as a whole, and there is less chance of more spread of infection as people are largely home isolated with a very little number of patients needing hospitalisation this time.
According to official data shared by the Delhi health department, the number of containment zones in the city stood at 41,095 on Friday, a fall from 42,388 on Thursday.
The number of containment zones on January 22 was 43,457 when 11,486 COVID cases were recorded.
The number of cases have dropped in the last one week, with over 4,000 cases logged on Friday. -- PTI
17:32 Lata Mangeshkar's health condition improves marginally
Veteran singer Lata Mangeshkar's health condition has marginally improved, said Mumbai's Breach Candy hospital on Saturday.
"Her ventilator support was removed two days ago. She will continue to be under observation in ICU,' said Dr Pratit Samdani of Breach Candy Hospital. -- ANI
17:21 Rajnath Singh, chiefs of tri-services arrive at Vijay Chowk
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and chiefs of tri-services have arrived at Vijay Chowk for the Beating the Retreat' ceremony, which marks the formal end of Republic Day celebrations. -- ANI
16:29 Guj village shuts down to pay homage for couple, kids died on US-Canada border
Shops remained shut and streets were deserted in Dingucha village of Gujarat's Gandhinagar district on Saturday as villagers paid homage to the four members of a family, who died of the extreme cold near the Canada-US border recently.
Villagers shared the grief of the local Patel family, who lost their four members, including two children, by suspending work and downing the shutters of the shops in the market area, said an office-bearer of the village, which is located around 40 kms from Ahmedabad.
The village, from where a significant number of people have migrated abroad, mainly to the US, Canada and Australia over the past many decades, wore a deserted look on Saturday, locals said.
A majority of the local residents belong to the Patidar community.
Initially, the village was not ready to believe that the four persons, including a baby, who died on the US-Canada border belonged to the family of Baldevbhai Patel, they said.
However, they later came to terms with the hard fact that the deceased were his son Jagdish Patel (39), daughter-in-law Vaishali (37), grand daughter Vihangi (11), and grandson Dharmik (3), after Canadian authorities confirmed their identities. -- PTI
16:02 SBI suspends new hiring rule for pregnant women
After facing criticism from various quarters, the country's largest lender State Bank of India on Saturday decided to suspend its circular on recruitment of pregnant women. SBI recently reviewed its 'Fitness Standards for Recruitment in the Bank', including norms for pregnant women candidates.
Under the new rules, a woman candidate with more than three months pregnancy will be considered "temporarily unfit" and can join the bank within four months after delivery.
The move elicited criticism from various quarters, including from labour unions and the Delhi Commission for Women.
In view of the public sentiments, SBI has decided to keep the revised instructions regarding recruitment of pregnant women candidates in abeyance and continue with the existing instructions in the matter, the bank said in a statement.
In its latest medical fitness guidelines for new recruits or promotees, the bank said a candidate would be considered fit in case of pregnancy which is less than three months.
"However, if pregnancy is of more than 3 months, she will be considered temporarily unfit and she may be allowed to join within 4 months after delivery of child," as per the medical fitness and ophthalmological standards for new recruits and promotees dated December 31, 2021.
SBI said that the revised guidelines were intended to provide clarity on various health parameters where instructions were not clear or were very old. -- PTI
Karnataka minister BC Nagesh
15:14 Karnataka to relax Covid curbs soon
Karnataka has decided to relax COVID restrictions, said state minister BC Nagesh.
"We've decided to open schools in Bengaluru from Monday. Night curfew will be lifted from Jan 31," said the minister.
He said that departments concerned have been asked to ensure that proper standard operational procedures are followed.
Marriage functions are permitted with 200 members indoors and 300 outdoors, said Nagesh.
"Gyms will continue with 50 per cent capacity. Bars, hotels, have been allowed to open. Government offices will work with 100 per cent capacity," said the minister.
Offering prayers in the temples are also allowed while protests, sit-ins, religious congregations and political programmes are prohibited, he said.
"Darshan and service will be allowed in religious places at 50 per cent capacity while swimming pools and gyms will also be allowed at 50 per cent capacity. Sports complexes and stadiums will be allowed to open at 5 per cent capacity, said Karnataka Chief Minister's Office. -- ANI
14:52 Rajasthan Guv Kalraj Mishra tests Covid positive
Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra on Saturday said he has tested positive for coronavirus, but has no symptoms of the disease.
The 80-year-old urged all those who came in contact with him recently to get themselves tested.
"Today I got my covid test done. covid test has come positive. I am healthy and have no symptoms. I urge all the people who came in contact with me to isolate themselves and get their covid test done," he said in a tweet. -- PTI
14:03 Schools, colleges in Pune to reopen from Feb 1: Dy CM Pawar
Schools and colleges in Maharashtra's Pune will reopen for physical classes from February 1, deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said on Saturday.
Speaking to reporters after attending a meeting to review the COVID-19 situation, Pawar said school timings for Classes 1 to 8 will be for half day so that the lunch hour gets excluded and students eat their meals at home.
"The final decision to send children to schools and colleges will be on the parents. But the administration will reopen schools," said Pawar, who is also the guardian minister of the district.
Colleges and schools for Classes 9 and up will be full-time, while schools for Classes 1 to 8 will be for half day so that lunch time gets excluded and students won't have to take off their masks to eat, he said.
Talking about COVID-19 vaccination for children in the 15-18 age group, the minister said, "College students should get both doses of vaccines. We plan to have mobile vans and make other arrangements so that vaccines can be administered in schools and colleges."
At least 86 per cent of eligible children have taken the vaccine in the rural areas, while in Pune city and Pimpri Chinchwad, the number is less, he said.
The number of infections has come down in Pune in the last three days, Pawar said, refuting rumours about relaxation in mask rule.
Pune on Friday recorded 7,166 new COVID-19 cases and 12 casualties that raised the tally of infections to 13,88,687 and toll to 19,429. The district currently has 2,261 active cases. -- PTI
13:48 DCW asks SBI to cancel rules for pregnant women
The Delhi Commission for Women on Satuday issued a notice to State Bank of India seeking withdrawal of the guideline, that prevents women, who are over three months pregnant, from joining service, terming them as 'temporarily unfit.'
DCW chief Swati Maliwal said that this is both 'discriminatory' and 'illegal.'
The notice states that the Commission has taken suo-moto cognizance on media reports of framing of 'new guidelines' by the State Bank of India for 'new recruitments and promotions.'
Citing media reports, the notice stated that a recent circular issued by the bank on December 31 "prevents women who are more than three-month pregnant from joining service, despite having been selected through due process."
The Commission said that the ciruclar states that she will be "considered temporarily unfit and she may be allowed to join within four months after delivery of child."
Terming it as a 'serious matter,' the Commission said this action of the bank appears to be 'discriminatory' and 'illegal' as it's contrary to the Maternity Benefits provided under 'The Code of Social Security. 2020'. -- ANI
13:03 Gandhidham-Puri express train's pantry car catches fire
A fire broke out in the pantry car of the Gandhidham-Puri Express train on Saturday when it was near Nandurbar railway station in Maharashtra, but nobody was injured in the incident, officials said.
The blaze erupted around 10.35 am when the Odisha-bound train (12993) was entering the railway station, a statement issued by chief spokesperson of Western Railway said.
The train had 22 coaches and the pantry car was the 13th one. After the blaze, the pantry car was separated from the front and the rear portion of the train by around 10.45 am.
Fire extinguishers available at the station and inside the train were used for dousing the flames, it said, adding that nobody was injured.
The fire brigade was immediately informed and its personnel arrived at the spot at 11 am, it added.
A medical team, paramedical staff and senior railway officers rushed to the site to take stock of the situation, the statement said.
A police official said, "Due to the fire, smoke engulfed the pantry car, which triggered panic among the passengers and a few of them even jumped out of the train as it was moving slowly. The train was soon brought to a halt."
The fire was doused by around noon, he said, adding that the cause behind the blaze is being ascertained. Nandurbar district, located in northwest Maharashtra, is around 450 km from Mumbai.
12:28 Goa polls: Circumstances forced me to contest independently, says Utpal Parrikar
Utpal Parrikar, son of former Goa CM Late Manohar Parrikar on Saturday said that circumstances forced him to take a decision of contesting as an independent candidate from Panaji in the ensuing Goa Assembly polls.
Utpal also said that he will try to meet each person in Panaji and know about their problems.
Speaking to ANI ahead of the Goa assembly elections, he said, "I will try to meet each person in Panaji. The circumstances forced me to take this decision (of contesting an independent candidate) from Panaji. I want to give people a good option in candidates."
Utpal filed his nomination papers from the Panaji Assembly constituency on Thursday.
Last week, he resigned from the primary membership of the Bharatiya Janata Party after the party denied him a ticket from the Panaji constituency and fielded Congress party turncoat Atanasio "Babush" Monserrate.
After the BJP snubbed him, Parrikar decided to contest the upcoming Goa election as an independent candidate. -- ANI
12:22 Covid patient killed in Bengal hospital fire
An elderly COVID-19 patient was killed after fire broke out at the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital in West Bengal on Saturday morning, officials said.
The deceased, Sandhya Mondal (60), was admitted to a COVID ward of the hospital, where the blaze erupted around 4 am, they said.
Other patients in the ward were safe as they were moved to another wing in time, hospital sources said.
Hospital authorities doused the blaze before fire brigade personnel arrived, the sources said.
A five-member team has been constituted to investigate the cause of the fire, Hospital Superintendent Tapas Kumar Ghosh said. -- PTI
11:43 Treason: Cong on NYT report on Pegasus row
The Congress on Saturday attacked the Centre over a New York Times report which claimed that the Indian government bought the Pegasus spy tool in 2017 as part of a deal with Israel, saying illegal snooping using the spyware amounts to "treason".
According to the report in The New York Times, the Israeli spyware Pegasus and a missile system were the "centerpieces" of a roughly USD 2-billion deal of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear between India and Israel in 2017.
Attacking the government, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said on Twitter, "Why did Modi Govt act like the enemies of India and use a warfare weapon against Indian citizens?" "Illegal snooping using Pegasus amounts to treason. No one is above the law and we will ensure that justice is served," he said.
PTI has reached out to the government for a reaction to the NYT report but there was no immediate response.
Citing the media report, Congress spokesperson Shama Mohammed said this is "irrefutable proof" that the Bharatiya Janata Party government used military grade spyware to snoop on the citizens of India, including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
There must be accountability, she demanded. Rajya Sabha MP and senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil alleged that the "revelations" in the report imply that the government "misled" the Supreme Court and Parliament on the issue.
"Why @narendramodi is silent? It is @PMOIndia's duty to clarify. New York Times revelations today that It did indeed subscribe by payment from tax payers money of ? 300 crores to spyware Pegasus sold by Israeli NSO company," he tweeted. -- PTI
11:09 India bought Pegasus as part of defence deal with Israel: NYT
The Israeli spyware Pegasus and a missile system were the "centerpieces" of a roughly USD 2 billion deal of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear between India and Israel in 2017, according to a report in The New York Times.
A massive controversy erupted last year when the NSO Group hit the headlines with the alleged use of its Pegasus software by some governments to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a number of countries, including India, triggered concerns over issues relating to privacy.
The NYT, in a report titled The Battle for the World's Most Powerful Cyberweapon', said that the Israeli firm NSO Group had for nearly a decade been selling its surveillance software on a subscription basis to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, promising that it could do what no one else -- not a private company, not even a state intelligence service -- could do: consistently and reliably crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone."
The report also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Israel in July 2017 -- to become the first Indian prime minister to visit the country.
"For decades, India had maintained a policy of what it called commitment to the Palestinian cause," and relations with Israel were frosty. The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and (then Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach," it said.
"They had reason for the warm feelings. Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly USD 2 billion -- with Pegasus and a missile system as the centerpieces.
"Months later, Netanyahu made a rare state visit to India. And in June 2019, India voted in support of Israel at the UN's Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organisation, a first for the nation," the report said.
Last year, a row erupted over Israeli spyware Pegasus allegedly being used for targeted surveillance in India.
The government, however, dismissed allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part on specific people, saying it "has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever".
In October last year, the Supreme Court set up a 3-member independent expert panel to probe the alleged use of Israeli spyware Pegasus for targeted surveillance in India, observing the state cannot get a "free pass" every time the spectre of national security is raised and that its mere invocation cannot render the judiciary a "mute spectator" and be the bugbear it shies away from.
The NYT report said that the FBI too had bought a version of Pegasus, "NSO's premier spying tool."
It was around last summer that the FBI "decided not to deploy the NSO weapons. It was around this time that a consortium of news organisations called Forbidden Stories brought forward new revelations about NSO cyberweapons and their use against journalists and political dissidents. The Pegasus system currently lies dormant at the facility in New Jersey."
An international investigative consortium had claimed that many Indian ministers, politicians, activists, businessmen and journalists were potentially targeted by the NSO Group's phone hacking software.
The report said that since 2011 when NSO "introduced" Pegasus to the global market, it had "helped Mexican authorities capture Joaqun Guzmn Loera, the drug lord known as El Chapo".
10:38 EC should take cognizance: Akhilesh on chopper delay
Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav has demanded the Election Commission of India to take cognizance alleging that his helicopter in Delhi was stopped by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government ahead of his press conference in Muzaffarnagar.
Yadav on Friday said, "The BJP can do anything before the elections."
"If someone has to go to a press conference and authorities make him wait for about two hours before boarding the helicopter, how will one reach the destination? I hope the Election Commission should take cognizance of this," Akhilesh Yadav told ANI.
According to the SP chief's schedule, his press conference in Muzaffarnagar was scheduled at around 1 pm on Friday, but he was in Delhi till around 2.30 pm.
He further said, "People told me at the airport that BJP leaders had taken flight before me. I was told this by air traffic officials. BJP leaders did not have to wait whereas I had to wait for more than two hours. Whatever BJP does, the people of Uttar Pradesh will give a befitting reply and remove them out of power."
Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh will be conducted in seven phases starting on February 10.
09:54 India reports over 2.35 lakh Covid cases
With 2,35,532 people testing positive for the coronavirus infection in a day, India's total tally of cases increased to over 4.08 crore, according to the Union health ministry data updated on Saturday.
The death toll has climbed to 4,93,198 with 871 fatalities reported during the 24-hour period, the data updated at 8 am showed.
The active cases decreased by 1,01,278 to reach 20,04,333 -- 4.91 per cent of the total infections -- while the country's recovery rate stands at 93.89 per cent, the ministry said.
The daily positivity rate was recorded at 13.39 per cent, while the weekly positivity rate was 16.89 per cent, according to the health ministry.
09:16 Who wants it?: Akhilesh on BJP invite to ally
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav on Friday hit out at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government in Uttar Pradesh and said that every promise that they made during before the 2017 assembly elections in the state turned out to be a "jumla".
Addressing a joint press conference with Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary in Muzaffarnagar, Yadav said, "Now the elections have come, I would like to tell BJP to read their manifesto. Did they fulfil the promises that they made? Every promise turned out to be a 'Jumla'. Gave false advertisements, playing with the statistics even now. I believe that our coalition will defeat the BJP in this election."
The former chief minister further reiterated his party's promise that they would provide 300 units of free electricity to the people if they are voted to power.
"300 units of (overall) free electricity and free electricity for irrigation will be given, arrangements for farmers to sell their crops at MSP. Farmer Corpus and revolving fund to be created so that farmers don't have to wait for payments. SP-RLD will do it," he said.
"We will distribute laptops as we did earlier, Samajwadi pension that we had given, we will give again," Yadav added.
Meanwhile, talking about the BJP's statement that the party's doors are always open for Jayant Chaudhary, the SP chief said that the RLD chief has shut the doors of Western UP for the BJP.
"Jayant Singh Chaudhary has shut the doors for Bharatiya Janata Party in Western UP (in view of the upcoming polls)," he said while speaking to the reporters in Meerut.
Yadav denied any possibility for a post-poll alliance between the BJP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal's Jayant Choudhary. "Unka niyotaa maan kaun raha hai? Sochiye kaise halaat hain unki ki niyotaa dena pad raha hai. (Who is accepting their invitation? Imagine what condition they're in ... that they're sending invites)."
08:26 Ukraine crisis: Haven't 'moved any troops', says US
The United States has put its troops on "high alert" and hasn't "actually moved any troops" in response to the buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine's border, said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday.
"We put troops on higher alert. And the second point that I would make is that even if and when we do move troops, the purpose of those troops deploying would be to reassure allies or directly in support of [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] both. So I think that, again, before we make any decisions on readiness or movement of troops, we always take those things into mind ... the impact on other leaders," CNN quoted Austin as saying.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also said the US is "increasing our readiness levels."
Earlier in his remarks, Milley said that "there is a small contingent of US and NATO advisers and trainers currently in Ukraine. The United States has zero offensive combat weapon systems, nor any permanent forces nor bases in Ukraine," CNN reported.
"Our role is limited in that we help train, advise and assist with tactics, techniques and procedures. We participate in institutional development with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. As the secretary of defense has noted, we continue to provide military material support to Ukraine along with many other countries from NATO. And we are ready, capable and prepared to uphold our obligation under treaty to NATO. As mentioned by the secretary, an attack against one NATO ally is an attack against all," he said.
Milley also said that "we strongly encourage Russia to stand down" and to pursue a resolution regarding Ukraine "through diplomacy."
Milley further stated the troop movements from Russia along the border with Ukraine and into Belarus are "different" from what the US has seen "in recent memory.
"It does feel different," Milley said, adding "This is larger in scale and scope in the massing of forces than anything we've seen in recent memory, and I think you'd have to go back quite a while into the Cold War days to see something of this magnitude," CNN reported.
00:14 Man with links to Sushant Singh drugs case held
An alleged drug peddler on the run since the last few months was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau, an official said on Friday.
Sahil Shah alias Flacko (31), a neighbour of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput, was held after he returned to the metropolis from Dubai, he said.
His name had cropped up during the investigation of an accused in a drug case related to the death of Rajput, the official added.
Shah will be questioned in a marijuana seizure case of last year as well as the death of Rajput in 2020, the official said. -- PTI