Sat, 04 February 2023
Delhi excise scam: BJP protests at AAP office

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21:46   Delhi excise scam: BJP stages protest at AAP office
Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and workers on Saturday staged a protest at the Aam Aadmi Party office in New Delhi demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal after the Enforcement Directorate named him in a charge sheet in the excise scam case.

Leader of Opposition in Delhi assembly, Ramvir Singh Bidhuri alleged the AAP government was 'looting' the city that was first looted by invaders like Mohammed Ghori, Mahmood Ghazni and Taimur, the British and thereafter by Congress governments.

"The Enforcement Directorate has named Kejriwal in its charge sheet related to the liquor scam and he should resign from the post of chief minister of Delhi," state BJP president Virendra Sachdeva said.

No immediate reaction was available from the AAP to the allegations.

Several BJP workers were detained by police while trying to cross a barricade erected near the AAP office at DDU Marg.

The BJP will keep on exposing the 'corruption' of the Kejriwal government which is weakening Delhi like a 'termite', Sachdeva said during the protest.

The ED has claimed in its supplementary charge sheet filed in the court that a part of the alleged Rs 100 crore 'kickbacks' generated in the scrapped Delhi excise policy was used in the AAP's 2022 Goa assembly election campaign.

It has also claimed that a close aide of the Delhi chief minister arranged a video call through FaceTime (a video calling facility on iPhone) on his phone for one of the accused Sameer Mahandru.

In the call, Kejriwal told Mahandru that the aide is 'his boy' and he should trust him and carry on with him, the ED has claimed.

Kejriwal has dismissed the ED charge sheet, alleging that cases filed by the agency are 'fake' and are used to 'topple' governments and buy MLAs at the behest of the Centre.

Thousands of BJP workers participated in the protest, the Delhi BJP claimed in a statement.

Sachdeva said all the accused in the 'liquor scam' are going to jail one by one and now the day is not far when Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia will also be behind the bars.

Bidhuri said the city government itself accepted in the Vidhan Sabha that there was loss of revenue due to the new liquor policy.

"Development has come to a standstill in Delhi and corruption is rampant everywhere," he alleged.

Delhi BJP general secretary Kuljit Singh Chahal said people of Delhi are not able to understand whether there is a 'scam' in the AAP government or the government itself is a 'scam'.

BJP workers will no longer sit peacefully and will expose the corrupt ways of the Kejriwal government in Delhi, he said.   -- PTI

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters protest against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal over an alleged liquor scam, outside Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) office, in New Delhi on Saturday. (ANI Photo)
21:15   Percentage of Adivasis declining in Jharkhand: Shah
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday claimed that demographic change in Jharkhand has seen the percentage of the Adivasi' (tribal) population declining during the Hemant Soren government's tenure in power.

Addressing the Bharatiya Janata Party's Vijay Sankalp Maha Rally' in Deogarh, the senior party leader claimed that the population of Adivasis has declined from 35 per cent to 24 per cent due to massive infiltration from across the international border, which has been 'encouraged by the Hemant Soren government for vote bank politics'.

He alleged that infiltrators were grabbing land in the state after marrying tribal women.

The Hemant Soren government is the most corrupt in the country.

Resources are being looted using railway wagons and tractors.

People will unseat this government from power in the state as it failed to fulfil the 'aspirations of development' for which the separate state was created, he said.

Shah said the BJP will win all 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the elections next year.

Referring to the killing of a class 12 student, who was burnt alive by her stalker in Dumka last year, Shah said, Adivasi girls are being murdered while the Hemant Soren government is indulging in politics of appeasement.

Earlier in the day, the Cooperation Minister said the Union government has decided to provide 300 services of the Centre as well as the state governments through the Primary Agriculture Credit Societies (PACS).

Shah said PACS would now function as Common Service Centres (CSC) and farmers can avail benefits of 300 services including no-dues certificates, birth and death registration, and many more.

The decision was taken on Friday. The IT Ministry has supported the Cooperative Ministry in this regard, he said, while laying the foundation stone of a Rs 450-crore IFFCO nano urea plant in Jasidih in Deogarh district.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on Friday to enable the PACS to provide services offered by Common Service Centres.

According to the agreement, more than 300 services will be made available to the rural population, including 13 crore farmer members of PACS, a statement said.   -- PTI

IMAGE: Union Home Minister Amit Shah addresses during the Vijay Sankalp Maharally, in Deoghar on Saturday. Photograph: ANI Photo
20:30   Allegations against Adani group should be looked into: Nitish
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Saturday asserted that allegations of fraud against companies owned by billionaire Gautam Adani 'should be looked into'.

Kumar made the averment in Kishanganj district, which he visited as part of his state-wide 'Samadhan Yatra', replying to queries from journalists on the political row over the allegations which rocked the proceedings of Parliament.

"Yes, I have heard about it. His (Adani's) business model has been called into question. Now that things have come to light, the matter should be looked into (haan kuchh sune hain, dekh rahe hain, uske kaam ka kuchh khas matlab nahin hai. Ab to aa hi gaya sab kuchh prakash mein to isko dekhna chahiye)," said the Janata Dal-United leader.

Incidentally, Kumar snapped ties with the BJP less than six months ago and his party has joined the opposition in demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the alleged fraud involving the businessman perceived to be close to the ruling NDA at the Centre.

Parties like the Congress have also alleged that Public Sector Undertakings like the LIC had been 'forced' to invest heavily in the Adani group which recently saw an unprecedented crash in its stocks.

The Adani group has maintained that the damning report of US-based Hindenburg Research was 'malicious'.   -- PTI
19:25   Complaint against Ramdev for anti-Muslim remarks
A Bihar-based rights activist on Saturday filed a complaint against yoga guru Ramdev for allegedy hurting religious sentiments of Muslims with his remarks at a recent meeting of seers.

Tamanna Hashmi lodged the complaint against Ramdev before a local court here and demanded the registration of an FIR against him.

At a meeting of seers in Rajasthan's Barmer on Friday, the yoga guru had accused Muslims of resorting to terror and abducting Hindu women, while comparing Hinduism to Islam and Christianity.

Ramdev's statement against Muslims and Islam is objectionable and it has hurt their sentiments, Hashmi told reporters, after filing the complaint before the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Muzaffarpur.   -- PTI
18:41   Modi asks Railways to come out with Vande Metro
Akin to Vande Bharat trains, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked the Ministry of Railways to come up with 'Vande Metro', a train concept to run between two nearby big stations, Minister for Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw said in Hyderabad on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters, he also said Indian Railways has given away Rs 59,000 crore worth of subsidies in the transportation of food grains, fertilizers and many other items last year which is equivalent to 55 per cent concession for every passenger.

"Honourable Prime Minister has given the target this year. After the success of Vande Bharat train, (he asked to) develop a new world-class regional train which will be Vande Metro," he said.

The minister said they are planning to come out of a prototype within the next 12 to 16 months and then roll it out and run it for at least one year.

Explaining the concept of 'Vande Metro', he said the trains will be run with high frequency between two cities which are close to less than 100 Km each.

According to him, these kinds of trains are called 'Regional trans' in Europe.

About Vande Bharat trains, he said in the last two and half years, they run almost 12,00,000 km and every seven to eight days a new train is being introduced.

The railway minister said the Vande Bharat train between Secunderabad and Visakhapatnam is running very well with almost 120 per cent occupancy prompting the department to introduce more routes in Telangana.

Rebuking the reports that railways are being privatised, Vaishnaw said the Central government is doing whatever is good for the Ministry and 'there is absolutely no question of privatisation'.

He said the Centre has plans to develop Hyderabad city as a hub for 6G and advanced railway technologies such as AI, machine Learning and IoT.

"So Centres of Excellence are being developed within Hyderabad for these two important very futuristic technologies," he said.

On the recently presented Union Budget, the minister said it is one of the most important budgets that has ever been presented in this country when the entire world is going through a very difficult and uncertain time.

He said the budget has given more allocation to railways in Telangana and if the state government cooperates, there would be much more funds.  -- PTI
18:01   PM to unveil India's largest helicopter production facility
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will on Monday inaugurate a greenfield helicopter production facility of state-run aerospace behemoth Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Karnataka's Tumakuru that will initially produce light utility helicopters (LUHs).

The defence ministry billed the 615-acre factory as India's largest helicopter-manufacturing facility and it has been planned as a one-stop solution for the country's chopper requirements.

Officials said the HAL plans to produce more than 1,000 helicopters in the range of three to 15 tonnes, with a total business of more than Rs 4 lakh crore over a period of 20 years.

The facility will be augmented to produce other helicopters such as light combat helicopters (LCHs) and Indian multirole helicopters (IMRHs). It will also be used for the maintenance, repair and overhaul of LCHs, LUHs, civil advanced light helicopters (ALHs) and IMRHs in the future, the officials said.

Potential exports of civil light utility helicopters would also be catered to from the Tumakuru factory, which is at a distance of around 70 kilometres from Bengaluru.

'In yet another step towards 'Aatmanirbharta' in defence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will dedicate to the nation a helicopter factory of the HAL in Tumakuru, Karnataka on February 6,' the defence ministry said in a statement.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and senior officials of the ministry will attend the ceremony.

The foundation stone of the facility was laid by the prime minister in 2016.

The ministry said the facility has been planned with an aim to make it a one-stop solution for all helicopter requirements of the country.

'It is India's largest helicopter-manufacturing facility and will initially produce LUHs,' it said.

The LUH is an indigenously designed and developed three-tonne class, single-engine multipurpose utility helicopter with unique features of high manoeuvrability.

Initially, the factory in Tumakuru will produce around 30 helicopters per year and the capacity can be enhanced to 60 and then 90 per year in a phased manner, the officials said.

The first LUH has been flight-tested and is ready for unveiling, they added.

'Besides generating direct and indirect employment, the Tumakuru facility will boost the development of surrounding areas through its CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities, with large-scale community-centric programmes on which the company will spend substantial amounts. All this will result in improvement in the people's lives in the region,' the ministry said.

It said the proximity of the factory with the existing HAL facilities in Bengaluru will boost the aerospace-manufacturing ecosystem in the region and support skill and infrastructure development.

'With the establishment of facilities like heli-runway, flight hangar, final assembly hangar, structure assembly hangar, air traffic control and various supporting service facilities, the factory is fully operational,' the ministry said.

It added that the factory is being equipped with state-of-the-art 'Industry 4.0 standard tools and techniques' for its operations.   -- PTI
16:51   FM breaks silence on Adani FPO pullout, says...
India's economic image is not affected due to Adani Group's recent decision to pull out Rs 20,000 crore FPO amid allegations of financial wrongdoings, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Saturday.

The finance minister said there has been an accretion of $8 billion to the forex reserves in the last two days alone.

"...our macroeconomic fundamentals or our economy's image, none of which has been affected. Yes, FPOs (follow-on public offers) come in, and FIIs (foreign institutional investors) get out," Sitharaman told reporters in Mumbai.

The minister said there are 'fluctuations' in every market but the accretion over the last few days establishes the fact that the perception of both India and its inherent strengths is intact.

Answering a broader question on the allegations against Adani Group, she said the country's independent financial sector regulators will be looking into the aspect and added that capital markets watchdog Securities and Exchange Board of India has the wherewithal to ensure stability in markets.

"...for keeping the market and the markets regulated in prime condition, the Sebi is the authority. And it has the wherewithal to keep that prime condition," she said.

The finance minister also said that the Reserve Bank of India has already spoken out on the issue, referring to Friday's statement, which said the banking sector is resilient and stable.

About 10 days ago, United States-based short seller Hindenberg Research made a slew of allegations on the corporate governance front against Adani Group.

The Ahmedabad-based group has denied all the allegations and termed it as a calculated attack on India.

It has cancelled the FPO even after managing subscriptions to it.

Finance Secretary T V Somanathan on Saturday stood by his comment on the controversy where he called it a storm in a teacup, clarifying that this is in the context of macroeconomic terms and the stability of India's public financial institutions.

Meanwhile, on the decision to convert outstanding dues into equity at Vodafone Idea, Somanathan said the transaction is being done as a package for all telcos.

He said the government share will be held by the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) where the stake will be considered as a public shareholder.

DIPAM secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey said the price has been taken at Rs 10 despite the Vodafone Idea shares trading lower on bourses because, as per laws, preferential allotments have to happen at the face value of a share.

The finance ministry officials present at the meet also made it clear that the tweaks on taxation in the insurance front will not impact the policy agenda of deepening penetration and clarified that there was sufficient data to suggest that investments were masquerading as insurance premiums due to which a decision was taken to tax the same.

Sitharaman said there is no timeline which has been decided to end the old tax regime, and the government has only introduced a simpler new tax regime, which has the incentives of lower rates.

The officials also denied that this will impact the savings in the economy.

Chief Economic Advisor V Anantha Nageswaran said citizens are being given an expanded array of choices to determine what they want to do with their money.

Answering a question on introducing the controversial p-notes for GIFT City, Somanathan said it competes with other international financial services centres due to which such provision has to be made and added that India always retains the right to mitigate any perceived risks.

Somanathan said the Rs 35,000 crore outlay for green initiatives will be primarily used for retrofitting in petroleum refineries and augmenting strategic storage capacity.

"Some of the public sector refineries and other infrastructure facilities in the petroleum sector need retrofitting to meet our ambitious emissions and pollution targets," he said.

On the roadmap to further fiscal consolidation, Somanathan said the government will focus on broadening revenues, avoiding needless expenditure and expanding the denominator by achieving higher GDP growth to meet the goals of having the number at 4.5 per cent by FY26.

When asked about the FY23 budget's decision to privatise two state-run lenders, Sitharaman said there is no update on that, which she can share.  -- PTI
16:32   Bill Gates tries hand at making roti, draws Modi's praise
Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Bill Gates' stab at cooking a roti drew praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who encouraged him on Saturday to try his hand at making millet dishes too.

Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, posted on Instagram a video of him making a roti.

Superb, Modi reacted, and said that the latest trend in India are millets, known to be healthy.

"There are many millet dishes too which you can try making," the prime minister said with a smiling emoji.  -- PTI
16:09   Army to hold online exam for Agniveer recruitment
The army has announced a change in the Agniveer recruitment process and candidates wanting to join the force will now have to first appear for an online common entrance examination (CEE), followed by physical fitness and medical tests.

While advertisements regarding the change in the process have been put out by the army in various newspapers, sources on Saturday said, the notification for this is expected to be issued around mid-February.

The first online CEE is slated to be held in April at nearly 200 locations across the country and for it all preparations have been finalised, a source said.

"The changed methodology will ensure increased focus on cognitive aspect during selection. It will have wider outreach across the country and also reduce the large crowds seen during recruitment rallies to make them more manageable and easier to conduct," the source said.

An advertisement published in a leading newspaper with the title -- 'Transformational Changes in Recruitment in Indian Army' -- on Friday, lists the new three-step methodology for the recruitment process.

The first step will be the online CEE for all candidates at nominated centres, followed by physical fitness test for CEE-qualified candidates during recruitment rallies, and medical tests in the end, it says.

"For Agniveer recruitment process, earlier, candidates had to undergo physical fitness test, followed by medical tests, and appearing for the CEE was the last step. But, now, common online CEE is the first step. This will also help is easing screening process and the logistics involved," the source said.

The new process will apply to about 40,000 candidates who are willing to join the army from the next recruitment cycle of 2023-24, he said.   -- PTI
14:53   Cong welcome to take whatever decision it wants: Preneet Kaur
Patiala MP Preneet Kaur Saturday said the Congress is welcome to take whatever decision it wants but asserted that she always gave her best to the party.

Her comments came a day after the Congress suspended her and also asked her to explain why she should not be expelled for anti-party activities. Kaur is the wife of former chief minister Amarinder Singh, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party after being ousted from the Congress.

'The Congress is welcome to take whatever decision it wants. I have always given my best to the party and to the people who have repeatedly elected me.

'I owe it to them and will continue to serve them, as always. I derive my strength from my people. Everything else is secondary,' Kaur said on Twitter on Saturday.

The Congress' disciplinary panel member secretary Tariq Anwar had said the action follows complaints against her from the party's Punjab unit chief Amarinder Raja Warring and other state leaders that she was helping the BJP in the state.

'The Congress president has received a complaint from Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, president of PCC Punjab, that Preneet Kaur, MP (Lok Sabha) from Patiala is indulging in anti-party activities to help BJP.

'Some other senior Congress leaders of Punjab also share this view,' Anwar had said in a statement.

It was not the first time that Kaur was served a show-cause notice by the party.

In November 2021, the Congress issued her a show-cause notice seeking an explanation for her alleged 'anti-party activities'.

Kaur had then said that she did not receive any such notice, but had only read about it in newspapers and on social media.

In May last year, Punjab Congress chief Warring had also said that Kaur was not with the party anymore.

In the 2022 state assembly polls, Kaur even campaigned for her husband Amarinder Singh who contested the elections as an ally of the BJP.

Kaur had been an MP in 1999, 2004 and 2009.

She lost the Patiala Lok Sabha seat in 2014 but won it back in 2019.   -- PTI
14:37   India probes eye drops linked to vision loss cases in US
The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has suspended the manufacturing of eye drops and initiated its probe after the United States' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allegedly linked 55 adverse events cases with contaminated eye drops, sources said ANI on Saturday, adding that the investigating agencies in both the countries are constantly investigating the matter since the previous day.

According to the people aware of the matter, the US-based Food and Drug Administration has warned the consumers 'not to purchase or use EzriCare Artificial Tears due to potential contamination', and the Union Health Ministry's CDSCO and Tamil Nadu's State Drug Controller have initiated a probe into the matter.

"Teams from CDSCO and TN State Drug Controller (three persons each) are on their way to the manufacturing plant located near Chennai. It's a contract manufacturing plant supplying through others to the US market. This specific drug is not sold in India," it said.

FDA has also restricted the imports of products manufactured by Chennai-based Global Pharma Private Healthcare Limited.

'The import alert prevents these products from entering the United States,' said the FDA in a statement, adding, 'FDA is warning consumers and health care practitioners not to purchase and immediately stop using EzriCare Artificial Tears or Delsam Pharma's Artificial Tears due to potential bacterial contamination. Using contaminated artificial tears increases risk of eye infections that could result in blindness or death.'

These are over-the-counter products, manufactured by Global Pharma Healthcare Private Limited, intended to be 'sterile'.

Global Pharma initiated a voluntary recall at the consumer level of all unexpired lots of EzriCare Artificial Tears and Delsam Pharma's Artificial Tears.

The FDA further said that it recommended this recall due to the company's Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) violations, including lack of appropriate microbial testing, formulation issues (the company manufactures and distributes ophthalmic drugs in multi-use bottles, without an adequate preservative), and lack of proper controls concerning tamper-evident packaging.

The FDA is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local health departments to investigate a multistate outbreak involving a rare, extensively drug-resistant strain of Pseudomonas bacteria.

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) identified 55 patients in 12 states with infections that have been linked by epidemiologic and laboratory evidence to the use of EzriCare Artificial Tears.

"As of January 31, 2023, CDC identified 55 patients in 12 states with infections that have been linked by epidemiologic and laboratory evidence to use of EzriCare Artificial Tears," it claimed.

The associated adverse events include hospitalisation, one death from bloodstream infection, and permanent vision loss from eye infections.

The CDC has issued an alert recommending consumers to stop using EzriCare Artificial Tears pending additional guidance from CDC and FDA.Meanwhile, the FDA also placed Global Pharma Healthcare Private Limited on import alert for providing an inadequate response to a records request and for not complying with CGMP requirements.   -- ANI
13:32   In a first, BMC budget crosses Rs 50,000 crore
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest civic body in the country, on Saturday presented Rs 52,619.07 crore budget for the year 2023-24, with the budgetary estimates crossing the Rs 50,000 crore-mark for the first time.

The budgetary estimates this time are 14.52 per cent more than the 2022-23 amount of Rs 45,949 crore.

The BMC administration presented the budget to municipal commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal, who was appointed as the civic body's administrator by the state government in March last year after the five-year term of corporators ended.

'The budget estimates for the financial year 2023-24 are proposed at Rs 52,619.07 crore, which exceeds the budget estimates of 2022-23, that is Rs 45,949.21 crore, by 14.52 per cent,' the budget document said.

This is for the first time after 1985 that the administration of the richest municipal body in the country presented the budget to an administrator.

Addressing a press conference after the budget presentation, Chahal said, "This is for the first time in the history of BMC that the budget estimates have crossed the Rs 50,000 crore-mark."

In the budget, the civic administration has allocated Rs 27,247.80 crore towards capital expenditure and Rs 25,305.94 crore towards revenue expenditure.

Chahal also said that it is for the first time that the civic body is going to spend 52 per cent of the budget estimates on capital expenditure and 48 per cent on revenue expenditure.

As per the budget document, Rs 3,545 crore have been allocated for the ambitious Coastal Road project that is expected to complete this year end, while Rs 1,060 crore are earmarked for the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road, which will reduce travel distance between Western suburbs of Mumbai and Thane city, and Rs 2,825 crore for traffic operations and roads projects.

The actual capital expenditure of Rs 8,398.35 crore is incurred up to December 2022, which is 40.26 per cent of the revised estimates for FY 22-23, it said.

"Health, education, environment and transparent working are the four pillars of our budget," Chahal said.

The polls to the BMC are pending.

The elections got delayed due to factors like the coronavirus pandemic, delimitation of wards and OBC quota.   -- PTI
12:29   Uttarakhand to make new arrangements to facilitate 'Char Dham Yatra'
Preparations are in full swing for this year's 'Char Dham Yatra' with the announcement of the date for the opening of the doors of Kedarnath, Yamunotri, Gangotri and Badrinath dhams.

In view of the record footfall of pilgrims during the Char Dham Yatra last year, this time the government is going to make new arrangements to facilitate the yatra this year.

Officials said that arrangements will be made to control the crowd of devotees during Char Dham Yatra, one of the famous Hindu pilgrimages which take place in the Garhwal Himalayas every year.

"Arrangements are being made for better facilities and arrangements for the pilgrims coming for the Char Dham Yatra," Sachin Kurve, State Tourism Secretary said.

He said that they are planning to introduce a new system to facilitate devotees.

"This year a new system will also be implemented for devotees. This will include separate arrangements from registration to darshan in all four Dhams," Kurve said.

Earlier on Friday, the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami talking to ANI stated that the sacred Char Dham Yatra, one of the most popular Hindu pilgrimages that take place annually in the Garhwal Himalayas will draw in a record number of devotees this year.

CM Dhami stated that many devotees participated in the Char Dham yatra in 2022 and this year the government intends to provide better facilities for pilgrims.

Meanwhile, the doors of Kedarnath Dham will open on April 26, and Gangotri and Yamunotri will open on April 22.

The doors of Shri Badrinath Dham will open the following day on April 27 morning.

As per the tradition, the time and date for the opening of the famous temple were decided at a religious ceremony held at the erstwhile Tehri royal palace on the occasion of Basant Panchami, according to officials of the Badrinath-Kedarnath.

The Badrinath Dham is one of the four ancient pilgrimage sites referred to as 'Char Dham' which also included Yamunotri, Gangotri and Kedarnath.

It is situated in the town of Badrinath in Uttarakhand.

It remains open for six months every year (between the end of April and the beginning of November).

However, the state government will review preparation for the yatra 15 days prior to its commencement.

Since Joshimath lies at the entrance of the yatra and the last major halt before Badrinath, officials will review preparations to ensure that the land subsidence issue does not impact the yatra.   -- ANI
12:03   Sharjeel Imam discharged in Jamia violence case
A court in New Delhi on Saturday discharged student activists Sharjeel Imam and Asif Iqbal Tanha in the Jamia violence case.

Additional Sessions Judge Arul Verma discharged them in a case registered at the Jamia Nagar police station in 2019.

A detailed order in the matter is awaited.

However, Imam will continue to remain in jail as he is an accused in the larger conspiracy case of the 2020 northeast Delhi riots.

Police had registered an FIR under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including rioting, in connection with the communal violence that erupted after a clash between police and people protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).   -- PTI
11:39   Bomb blast near Sunny Leone's fashion show venue in Imphal
A powerful explosion took place on Saturday near the venue of a fashion show event in Imphal which actress Sunny Leone is scheduled to attend on Sunday, an official said.

However, no injuries were reported in the incident that took place in Hatta Kangjeibung area of Manipur's capital.

The blast took place only 100 metres from the venue around 6.30 am on Saturday.

It is not yet clear whether the explosion was caused due to an Improvised Explosive Device or a grenade, he said.

No militant outfit has claimed responsibility for the explosion so far.  -- PTI
11:16   ED questions Rahul's aide in money laundering case
The Enforcement Directorate has questioned and recorded the statement of Alankar Sawai, a close aide of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, in a money laundering case in which TMC spokesperson Saket Gokhale was recently arrested by the agency in Gujarat, officials said.
Sawai was questioned and also confronted with Gokhale in Ahmedabad over three days earlier this week, they said.
A former banker, Sawai is considered to be a close aide of Gandhi, a former Congress president, and is stated to be heading his research team.
The federal probe agency summoned Sawai after it arrested 35-year-old Gokhale on January 25 while he was in the Gujarat Police's custody in connection with alleged financial irregularities in raising funds through a crowd funding platform.
The Enforcement Directorate, while seeking Gokhale's remand on that day, had informed a Ahmedabad court that when he was asked about Rs 23.54 lakh deposited in his bank account in cash over a year, Gokhale had told the agency that "this amount was given in cash by Alankar Sawai of the India National Congress for social media work and other consultancy".
On being asked as to why Sawai had paid him in cash, Gokhale stated that only Sawai can answer this question, the ED told the court in its remand paper.
"Further, on being asked regarding any written agreement with Alankar Sawai in respect of social media work he stated that it was only verbal agreement with Alankar Sawai," the agency said.
The ED alleged that these cash deposits were recieved by Gokhale when he was a member of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).
Sawai is understood to have been questioned about these instances and his statement was recorded under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Official sources said the questioning and confronting of the two has not helped them unearth the fund trail as stated by Gokhale even as Sawai purportedly denied making any cash payments.
The money laundering case against Gokhale stems from a Gujarat Police FIR.
The state police arrested Gokhale from Delhi in December last year in a case of alleged misuse of money he had collected through crowd-funding.
The ED had informed the Ahmedabad court that "huge amount of money collected through crowd funding (by Gokhale) has been splurged on speculative share trading, wining and dining and other personal expenses which appear to be extravagant in nature."
Gokhale, however, had denied that he misused these funds. 
The agency may question more people linked in the case. -- PTI 
Representative image
Representative image
10:23   Helmets for Sikh soldiers? SGPC opposes move
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has strongly opposed any move to introduce ballistic helmets for Sikh soldiers.
A delegation of the SGPC, the apex religious body of the Sikhs, met the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) chief to discuss the issue.
The SGPC delegation said no interference in the matter of Sikh identity will be tolerated. Therefore, under no circumstances the helmets can be accepted on Sikh soldiers, they said.
The remarks come amid reports that introduction of ballistic helmets for Sikh soldiers is being considered.
The SGPC delegation on Friday attended the meeting at the NCM office in New Delhi. The delegation included SGPC general secretary Gurcharan Singh Grewal and member Raghbir Singh Saharan Majra.
It registered a strong objection before NCM chairperson Iqbal Singh Lalpura to the government's reported proposal to make Sikh soldiers wear helmets and made a point that there can be no discussion or reasoning on this issue. -- PTI
10:19   3.2 magnitude tremor hits Gujarat's Amreli, no casualty
A tremor of 3.2 magnitude was recorded in Amreli district of Gujarat's Saurashtra region on Saturday morning, but there was no report of any casualty or damage to property, officials said.
This tremor with its epicentre located at 43 km south-south east (SSE) of Amreli town was recorded at 7.51 am, the Institute of Seismological Research (ISR) said in its latest update.

It was recorded at a depth at 3.2 km, the Gandhinagar-based institute said.

"There was no report of any casualty or damage to property due to the tremor," an official of the district disaster management unit said.

Amreli is located around 240 km away from Ahmedabad. 

On January 30, an earthquake of 4.2 magnitude was recorded in Kutch district of Gujarat. -- PTI 
10:13   Chinese balloon to remain over US for a few days: Pentagon
The Chinese balloon, of the size of three buses, laced with a significant number of payloads will probably be over the United States for a few days, the Pentagon said on Friday asserting that it has surveillance capabilities.
The development has angered the United States and in protest has cancelled the Beijing trip of Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who was scheduled to leave for China on  Friday night. This would have been the first visit of a top American diplomat to China in several years.
President Joe Biden has been briefed about the violation of US airspace by China and he is closely monitoring the developing situation, the White House said adding that as of now they have decided against destroying it because of the safety of the public, but all actions are on table.
"We will continue to monitor it. Right now, we assess that it'll probably be over the United States for a few days, but we'll continue to review our options and keep you updated as we can," Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at the Department of Defence.
"It's got a large payload underneath the surveillance component, underneath the actual balloon piece of it," Ryder said, adding that the surveillance balloon has maneuverability capabilities. Right now at this point, it's moving eastward across the United States, currently over about the central United States, he said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the US has noted the Chinese statement of regret. But the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this occurred, she said.
Both the White House and the Pentagon said that it does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. President Biden was briefed. He has asked the military to present options. It was the strong recommendation by (Defence) Secretary (Lloyd) Austin, Chairman Milley, the commander of Northern Command not to take kinetic action because of the risk to safety and security of the people on the ground, Jean-Pierre said.
"We do know that it is a surveillance balloon. In terms of the size, I'm not able to get into the specifics other than to say that it is big enough that, again, in reviewing our approach we do recognise that any potential debris field would be significant and potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths or significant property damage," Ryder said.
"This is part of the calculus in terms of our overall assessment, but again, we'll continue to monitor it. We'll continue to review our options and keep you updated as able," he said. -- PTI
09:36   Delhi: CRPF ASI shoots self dead at IB director's residence
A 53-year-old Central Reserve Police Force assistant sub-inspector allegedly shot himself with his service rifle at a guard post at the Intelligence Bureau director's residence here, police said on Saturday. 
The incident took place on Friday around 4 pm, they said. 
The victim has been identified as Rajbir Singh, an assistant sub-inspector of the Central Reserve Police Force. He was deployed at the guard post at the residence of the Intelligence Bureau director, according to a senior police officer. 
Postmortem will be conducted on Saturday, following which his body will be handed over to his family members, police said. -- PTI 
09:22   Warned Uddhav about Sena rebellion: Ajit Pawar
Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar and some others in the party had forewarned then-Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray about a possible rebellion in his outfit Shiv Sena, but the latter was confident his MLAs will not take any extreme step, senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar has said.

A section of MLAs of the undivided Shiv Sena, led by then-Cabinet minister Eknath Shinde, had rebelled against Thackeray's leadership in June last year, leading to the collapse of the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government. The rebel MLAs then teamed up with the Bharatiya Janata Party to form a government under Shinde's leadership.

Ajit Pawar, asked by Lokmat Editor Sanjay Awate on Friday during an interview if those in the MVA government had any inkling about a rebellion brewing in the Shiv Sena, said they had clues about such a possibility much in advance and Thackeray was informed about it.

"Pawar saheb (Sharad Pawar) himself had informed Thackeray. Pawar saheb had even phoned Thackeray and told him about it (possible rebellion in Shiv Sena). However, Uddhavji had said he trusts his MLAs and was confident they will not take such an extreme step," said the NCP leader.

Ajit Pawar, whose party was a constituent of the Shiv Sena-led MVA along with the Congress, served as deputy chief minister in the Thackeray cabinet.

The former deputy CM said when the first group of 15 to 16 rebel Sena MLAs went with Shinde, there was an urgent need to keep the remaining flock together.

But no such urgency was shown and MLAs were allowed to go wherever they wanted, said Ajit Pawar.

In the end, 40 of the 55 Shiv Sena MLAs joined the Shinde camp.

"There was an attempt to break the trust of (Sena) MLAs. We can say some people remained unattentive," he said without elaborating.
08:25   Another Chinese spy balloon spotted over Latin America
The Pentagon on Friday night said that another Chinese surveillance is transiting Latin America.
"We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon. We have no further information to provide at this time," Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.
The detection of the Chinese surveillance balloon transiting Latin America comes a day after the Pentagon found a Chinese surveillance balloon within its territory flying over Montana, leading to US Secretary of State Tony Blinken postponing his planned trip to Beijing. -- PTI 
Representative image only
Representative image only
00:42   Pakistan's oil industry on verge of 'collapse'
The oil companies of Pakistan are on the verge of 'collapse' due to a reeling economic crisis and devaluation of the currency, Geo News reported.

The Oil Companies Advisory Council (OCAC) in a letter to the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) and Energy Ministry, wrote about the 'depreciation' of the local rupee which has affected a lot of businesses in the South Asian country, drastically.

"It has led to a loss worth billions of rupees to the industry as their letters of credit (LCs) are expected to be settled on the new rates, "whereas the related product has already been sold," Geo News reported.

The government has also limited LCs due to depleting foreign exchange reserves, which dipped to $3,086.2 million on January 27 and are only enough for 18.5 days.

According to Geo News, in the letter, OGRA has embraced the practice of not completely passing on the impact of rupee devaluation, instead imposing a massive burden on the sector.

Pakistan is experiencing a balance of payments problem, and the falling value of the rupee is raising the cost of imported commodities.

Energy accounts for a sizable portion of Pakistan's import bill.

Pakistan normally satisfies more than a third of its yearly power demand with imported natural gas, the price of which has risen since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Moreover, amid persistent inflationary pressures, goods remain out of people's range, whose purchasing power has already hit rock bottom.

The World Bank in earlier weeks of January slashed Pakistan's economic growth by half -- from 4 per cent to 2 per cent for the current fiscal year, saying that Islamabad faces mounting economic difficulties, reported The News International.   -- ANI