Mehbooba Mufti: Denied Passport due to Adverse Police Report

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said that she had been denied a passport due to an adverse police report.

The passport office in Srinagar said the mandatory police verification does not favour her application and the passport was refused under Section 6 (2)(c) of the Passports Act, 1967, Mufti said in a post on microblogging platform Twitter.

“Passport Office refused to issue my passport based on CID’s report citing it as detrimental to the security of India,” she tweeted “This is the level of normalcy achieved in Kashmir since Aug 2019 that an ex-Chief Minister holding a passport is a threat to the sovereignty of a mighty nation,” she added.

The People’s Democratic Party chief, who is also vice president of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, has previously accused the central government of harassment and coercion for her opposition to its policies. Earlier this month, Mufti was questioned for over five hours at the Directorate of Enforcement’s Srinagar office in an alleged money laundering case.

Top Maoist cadres among five killed in Gadchiroli encounter

Bhaskar Hichami, 46, with 155 offences against him, including 41 murders and 78 encounters, was among the five Maoists neutralized in a fierce gun-battle with the Crack-60 commandos in the Khobramenda forest of Gadchiroli district in eastern Maharashtra on Monday. He carried a reward of Rs 25 lakh on his head.

An AK 47, a 303 rifle, an 8 mm, 12 bore rifle, detonators and a laptop were among the materials seized. Apart from the five killed, two bodies of their colleagues were dragged away by the Maoists from the place.

Hichami, secretary of the Maoists’ North Gadchiroli division and a Dandakaranya special zonal committee member, was the mastermind behind the Jambhulkheda blast in 2019 in which 15 police personnel and one civilian were killed. It is learnt that Hichami was upset over his wife Ramko’s questionable encounter death and had planned the Jambhulkheda blast and Dadapur arson as revenge. Prior to the blast, the Naxals under Hichami had torched more than 30 vehicles in Dadapur village. Hichami’s bodyguard Asmita Pada too was killed. Pada was part of the Tipagarh Local Organization Squad.

Another senior Maoist cadre, Sukhdeo Neitam, deputy commander of Tipagarh LOS, was among the five gunned down. He too had five murder cases against him. The other two Maoist casualties were Amar Kunjam of Kasnasur LOS and Sujata Atram of Platoon 15. Sujata too had 31 offences against her, including 11 murders.

WHO report says animals likely source of COVID-19

A joint WHO-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely”, according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press.

The findings offer little new insight into how the virus first emerged and leave many questions unanswered, though that was as expected. But the report does provide more detail on the reasoning behind the researchers’ conclusions. The team proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.

The report is being closely watched since discovering the origins of the virus could help scientists prevent future pandemics — but it’s also extremely sensitive since China bristles at any suggestion that it is to blame for the current one. Repeated delays in the report’s release have raised questions about whether the Chinese side was trying to skew its conclusions.

“We’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a recent CNN interview.

China rejected that criticism Monday. “The U.S. has been speaking out on the report. By doing this, isn’t the U.S. trying to exert political pressure on the members of the WHO expert group?” asked Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.


Delhi Heritage Corridor: Fresh Bid To Break Wall Of Uncertainty

After redevelopment of the 1.2km main stretch in Chandni Chowk, work on the “heritage corridor” is also picking up pace. The Public Works Department  has floated tenders for appointing a consultant to redevelop the 9.3-km stretch from Kashmere Gate to Jama Masjid Road. A meeting was held last month by urban development and PWD minister Satyendar Jain to expedite the project.

The “Mughal glory and heritage corridor” was conceived in 2009, but it hit many hurdles due to various reasons. The project finally got the government’s approval in 2019. A noted architect’s firm had been appointed, but it recently withdrew from the project. Now, PWD is searching for another consultant.

The firm has submitted a detailed project report for the corridor, which is pending approval. Bidders can obtain a copy of this DPR and subsequent works could be taken up in continuation of this unapproved report. Once the consultant is appointed, pre-construction work, such as topographical survey, geotechnical investigation and soil testing, would be done.

The project would be developed in four phases instead of two as planned earlier. A PWD official said ground work would begin once a consultant was finalised. The project, which also involves streetscaping to beautify the stretch, includes Netaji Subhash Marg, Delhi Gate, Kashmere Gate, the phase-II development of Chandni Chowk Road (facade work) and redevelopment of Jama Masjid Road.

The area could be developed under the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation. The key objective is to develop roads as heritage passages and realign various civic services. The road redevelopment would entail redesigning other facilities, such as IGL pipelines, power cables, telephone and internet wires, stormwater drains, CCTV, Wi-Fi, water supply, traffic management, pedestrian management, solid waste management and public conveniences.

For redevelopment of Netaji Subhash Marg, the stretch from Kashmere Gate to Delhi Gate would be developed in parts — from Delhi Gate to Old Iron Bridge (0.8km) to Lothian Bridge (1.4km) to Kashmere Gate ISBT (1.1km). Facades of buildings would be restored on the 1.3-km stretch from Red Fort to Fatehpuri mosque under the second phase of Chandni Chowk redevelopment project.

Besides, a 3.2-km stretch encompassing six roads — Nai Sarak from Town Hall to Chawri Bazaar, Ballimaran Road from Ballimaran to Chawri Bazaar Charkewalan, Gali Qasim Jaan from Lal Kuan to Ballimaran, Rodgran from Lal Kuan to Farash Khana police station, Farash Khana-GB Road to Lal Kuan and Lal Kuan Main Road from Sardar Swaroop Singh Chowk to Hari Kari Chowk — would also be developed.

Positivity rate in Maharashtra past its peak of July 2020

Maharashtra is fit for imposing a fresh lockdown in its containment zones with the Covid-19 positivity rate, total confirmed cases per 100 tests, doubling almost every fortnight since January 26. It has gone up to 21.4% (March 14-27), well past its peak of July last year.

Punjab, Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Puducherry have entered the red zone, too, with their infection rates ranging between 5% and 7%, the highest being 7% in Punjab. Kerala, which has reported over 11 lakh cases so far, the second highest after Maharashtra, has managed to bring its positivity rate below 4% during the last 14-day period.

The increase in Maharashtra has been consistent — from 4.7% (January 26-February 8) to 7.7% the following fortnight and 13% during March 1-14. A high positivity rate is indicative of the fact that the state is only testing the sickest and not conducting enough tracing, testing and isolation of patients.

As per a World Health Organisation advisory, issued in May last year, governments should consider relaxing lockdown in containment zones only if positivity rate remains 5% or lower for at least 14 days. There are currently four states and a Union Territory that qualify for lockdowns.

A study found that Kerala has managed to contain the spread of the virus despite a second wave hitting the state badly. It has brought down the positivity rate from 9% (January 26-February 8) to 7% in the following two-week period, to 4% in the first fortnight of March and to 3.6% (March14-27).

Cases are rapidly growing in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, among others.


25% of government waterbodies in 5 states have dried up: Study

More than one-fourth of government owned waterbodies in the Ganga basin across five states are dried up, shows preliminary findings of the census survey of ponds, tanks and lakes in the river basin. The census is being conducted by the Quality Council of India, an autonomous body set up by the ministry of commerce and industry, with the objective of 100% mapping of all such waterbodies in Ganga districts for their improvement or rejuvenation.

The QCI has, so far, assessed 578 waterbodies covering all 329 in Uttar Pradesh. A total of 411 out of 578 surveyed water bodies are surrounded by settlements. The survey, being done under the ‘Namami Gange’ (Ganga Rejuvenation) programme of the Centre, is not yet completed in Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

In UP where the survey is complete, 37% of waterbodies are dried up while 21% have become eutrophic (characterised by excessive plant and algal growth) and only remaining 42% are fully functional.

“Encroachment and use of waterbodies for dumping solid waste could be the reasons behind their drying up There should be a separate authority to take care of ponds and other such waterbodies. Currently, many ponds and tanks exist only in revenue records,” said , environmentalist Vikrant Tongad who has been working on reviving waterbodies for long.

He said the finding of the survey of waterbodies in UP was shocking. “Mapping of waterbodies is a welcome step. It will give us an idea of what went wrong in the past threefour decades and how should we go about rejuvenating them,” said Tongad, founder of Social Action for Forest & Environment.

One of the key objectives of the survey is to map waterbodies, using geo-tagging techniques, depth measurement and drones. All waterbodies will also be given an unique identification codes. A cleanliness index will also be prepared, using parameters such as encroachment, quality and functionality of the catchment area. The QCI was to start the survey in March last year, but it started in November due to Covid-19.

Hope to launch Covovax by September: SII

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla said that clinical trials of Covid vaccine Covovax have begun in India and the company hopes to launch it by September this year.

In August 2020, US-based vaccine maker Novavax had announced a licence agreement with SII for the development and commercialisation of its Covid vaccine candidate in low- and middle-income countries and India. “It has been tested against African and UK variants of #COVID19 and has an overall efficacy of 89%,” Poonawalla said in a tweet. Novavax continues to retain rights to develop and commercialise the drug for major upper-middle and high-income countries.

SII is already supplying the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid vaccine, Covishield, in India and across the world. 

Delhi, Dhaka sign 5 pacts

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina followed up the bonhomie and goodwill exuded on Bangladesh’s National Day with a bilateral meeting on Saturday that saw the two countries signing five agreements in areas ranging from sports and disaster management to trade remedial measures. A Modi-Hasina “tete-a-tete” preceded the formal talks.

The meeting though again saw Hasina emphasising the need to sign the interim Teesta water-sharing pact which West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee continues to oppose vehemently. The two sides also discussed issues related to the Rohingya, with India saying it was happy to facilitate “safe, speedy and sustainable” return of the forcibly displaced people from Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

“PM Sheikh Hasina did refer to the Teesta issue. PM Modi reiterated India’s sincere and continued effort to conclude the agreement in consultation with relevant stakeholders,’’ said foreign secretary Harsh Shringla.

Shringla said the Indian side also requested Bangladesh for early finalisation of the draft of the interim agreement for sharing of the Feni river water. The results of the West Bengal election could have a direct bearing on the Teesta pact.

“She (Hasina) underscored that to alleviate the sufferings and save the livelihoods of millions of people dependent on the Teesta river basin, it is necessary that Bangladesh receives its share of the Teesta waters, the draft agreement of which has been agreed upon by both governments in January 2011,’’ said a joint statement.

The delay in signing the Teesta agreement remains one of the few thorny issues in bilateral ties. Hasina had also raised the issue with Modi in their virtual summit last year in December. Showing no sign of softening her position, Banerjee said earlier this month that her state can share water only if it had enough for itself.

On security cooperation, recognising terrorism remains a threat to global peace and security, both sides reiterated their strong commitment to eliminating terrorism in “all its forms and manifestations’’. Modi expressed India’s appreciation of the cooperation extended by Bangladesh on security issues.

The two leaders inaugurated three border “haats”, laid the foundation stone for five packages out of a total eight of Rooppur Power Evacuation Project and also jointly inaugurated Rabindra Bhawan facilities in Kuthibari, said the joint statement. The discussion on Saturday concluded efforts on both sides to accelerate cooperation across varied fields aimed at closely enmeshing Indian and Bangladeshi development strategies. India also gifted 109 ambulances to Bangladesh.

Significantly, while Bangladesh thanked India for gifting 3.2 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, it also requested India to facilitate regular delivery of the remaining tranches of vaccine procured by Bangladesh from the Serum Institute of India.

Maharashtra's 8pm to 7am restrictions

With Covid-19 cases surging in the state, the Maharashtra government on Saturday issued details of the new restrictions it was imposing: prohibiting gatherings of more than five people in public places from 8pm to 7am from Saturday midnight across the state and putting public places like gardens, beaches and seafronts out of bounds between 8pm to 7 am.

All cinema halls, malls, restaurants and auditoriums will also remain shut from 8pm to 7am. However, home delivery and takeaways from restaurants will be allowed as per the existing timings. The state government extended the lockdown, which was in place in the state, and the new curbs till April 15.

Officials said there has been no change in shops timings, though local administrations have been empowered to take decisions in their areas as per their conditions, with permission from the chief secretary.

Every person found violating the new norms will be penalised Rs.1,000.

Establishments found violating the time restrictions or other guidelines will be shut down till the time Covid-19 continues to be notified as a pandemic, the state notification said. Penalties will also be levied under the Disaster Management Act. Penalties will also be levied under the Disaster Management Act.

Hoteliers’ associations and malls’ representatives felt the fresh state order was akin to a full lockdown as it would badly hit evening shopping and the dine-in business.

The state has also fixed the penalty to be levied on people without a mask at Rs.500. With this, there is uniformity in fines across the state, and Rs.1,000 is the fine for people found spitting in public places. To decrowd government offices, apart from elected representatives, other visitors will not be allowed without urgent work. And in that case, special passes will be issued by the department concerned.

With the Centre pointing out that home isolation norms are being violated, the state has asked patients opting for home isolation to give their doctor’s information to local authorities, and it will be the doctor’s responsibility to ensure all norms are being followed and in case of a violation, the doctor should immediately intimate the authorities and withdraw his consent to supervise the patient. The state has also extended existing restrictions.

Goa’s UCC is what Constitution framers envisaged for India: CJI

Chief Justice of India S A Bobde hailed Goa’s uniform civil code and said the state already has what the framers of the Constitution envisaged for India. “I’ve had the great privilege of administering justice under that code,” Bobde said at the inauguration of a new high court building at Porvorim.

“It applies in marriage and succession, governing all Goans irrespective of religious affiliation. I have heard a lot of academics talk about the uniform civil code. I would request those intellectuals to come here and watch the administration of justice to know what it turns out to be.”

Bobde, who often sat in Goa during his tenure as a Bombay HC judge, said that something unique to this bench is the variety of cases.

“In India, if there’s any bench which gives you the variety of experiences and challenges as the SC, it is only the Constitution bench at Goa. When you sit on a Constitution bench in Goa, you can expect to hear a land acquisition case, a Section 302 murder appeal, a public interest litigation, a question under administrative law, I-T, sales tax and excise law.”

Talking about Goa’s Liberation, he said although Goa was liberated later than the rest of the country, the most distinct thing about it was that it was “completely bloodless”.

India, Bangladesh want stability, love, peace

India and Bangladesh want stability, love and peace instead of instability, terror and unrest in the world, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as he underlined that the two friendly neighbours want to see the world progressing through their own development.

Prime Minister Modi made the remarks while speaking to the Matua community members after offering prayers at their temple in Gopalganj’s Orakandi - the birthplace of Hindu mystic figure and community’s spiritual guru Harichand Thakur.

“Both India and Bangladesh want to see the world progressing through their own development. Both the countries want to see stability, love, and peace instead of instability, terror, and unrest in the world,” Modi said.

Modi said he was waiting for this opportunity for many years and during his visit to Bangladesh in 2015, he had expressed desire to visit Orakandi, which has come true now.

This place is a pilgrimage site for the spiritual relationship between India and Bangladesh, he said. “I was speaking to some people here. They were saying who could have thought that India’s Prime Minister would visit Orakandi,” Modi said, adding that he was feeling the same emotions as felt by the Matua community members in India after coming to Orakandi, from where Harichand Thakur disseminated his pious message.

Orakandi is the abode of Hindu Matua community, a large number of whom are residents of neighbouring West Bengal.

Prime Minister Modi announced that India will upgrade one girls’ middle school and set up a primary school in Orakandi.

Analysts said Modi’s planned temple visits carry a political significance at the time of the ongoing assembly elections in West Bengal.

The Prime Minister was accompanied by BJP MP from West Bengal Shantanu Thakur during his visit to Orakandi.

The Matua community’s vote may determine the winner in some seats in the elections to the West Bengal state assembly, the first phase of which began on Saturday.


Bangladesh scripted a new destiny: Sonia

Wishing Bangladesh on the golden jubilee celebrations of its independence, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said the courageous people of Bangladesh scripted a new destiny, transforming the history and geography of the subcontinent 50 years ago. “On this joyous occasion, and as someone who lived through the transformative 1971 by Indira Gandhi’s side along with my husband Rajivji, I am personally delighted to share the pride of Sheikh Hasina and millions of her countrymen,” Gandhi said in a video message.

Sonia, who was also invited for the celebrations, said Bangladesh’s achievements in social development, community participation, economic growth among other sectors have been impressive and have received global recognition. She said 1971 was a transformative year for both the countries, underlining that it marked the rise of Indira Gandhi as a world leader as also Rehman.

Shared future with Bangladesh can be vax against radicalism: PM

A future where India and Bangladesh share their developmental journeys and can study, work and do business seamless would be the best natural vaccine against the toxic infusion of radicalism and extremism in our societies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said.

In an article in the Bangladesh newspaper ‘The Daily Star’, the Prime Minister said an era of co-operation, as might have been the case much earlier if Mujibur Rahman had not been assassinated, is again within grasp if the two counties seize the opportunities that beckon them.

The PM said the dream of Bangabandhu is being realised by PM Sheikh Hasina and it is time to "chart a bold ambition for our partnership". “With the spirit and enterprise of our people, the dispenser of our people, such a future is closer than ever,” he said.

There was subtle political sub-text to his comments as well, as the discussion on shared development of maritime resources has a resonance in terms of stalled projects like cooperation over the Teesta river pact. These can be revived only if a BJP government assumes office in Kolkata as chief minister Mamata Banerjee is strongly opposed to the water sharing deal.

Modi noted that the two countries have achieved an important objective of settling land and maritime boundaries. "Our trade has reached historic levels, aiding economic activities in each other's countries," he wrote.

Cargo from Bangladesh can move through India to Nepal and Bhutan. Similar efforts are on to allow Indian goods to reach northeast India through Bangladesh. Waterways being developed will permit Bangladesh goods to reach Varanasi and Sahibganj.

The PM said new friendship pipelines will bring the nations closer as will the Akhaura-Agartala road link. He said India will fully commit itself to development of Bangladesh on the landmark occasion of the 50th year of its War of Liberation.

E-voting possible by 2024 general elections: CEC

Chief election commissioner Sunil Arora said e-voting could be a part of changes that are likely to be implemented in the next general elections in 2024.

Stating that the Election Commission of India along with IIT Madras is working on blockchain technology for remote voting, the CEC said significant developments in e-voting are expected by 2024.

Speaking to IPS trainees at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Hyderabad on Friday, the CEC said: “Though ‘one nation-one election’ is desirable, it is difficult to achieve till the basic laws are amended.” He also stressed that political consensus must be arrived at before pushing for simultaneous polls at national and state levels.

Sunil Arora said the commission is working on linking Aadhaar card with voter ID as part of electoral reforms.

Replying to a question of one of the IPS probationers on ‘one nation-one election’ theory, Sunil Arora said: “One nation-one election is a desirable goal. Unless you align the life of Parliament with the life of the state legislatures by amendments of the law, it cannot happen.”

The NPA has decided to deploy trainee IPS officers in the upcoming elections in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam to give on-field experience to the probationers. The CEC said two senior officials were appointed as police observers due to law and order issues that arise in West Bengal. He also said Assam has law and order issues on its borders.

He further said: “Tamil Nadu being expenditure-sensitive state, we have appointed two special expenditure observers with a clean track record to curb money flow.”

Sunil Arora was addressing the 73 batch of regular recruitees of IPS probationers at the NPA ahead of their participation in the conduct of elections in four states and Puducherry. There were 28 women probationers and 17 foreign police officials among 120 who attended the programme.


Lucknow-Gorakhpur flight from March 28

The flight operation between Lucknow and Gorakhpur will start from March 28. According to a state government spokesperson, the duration of flight between the two cities would be an hour.

“Travellers onboard the inaugural flight from Gorakhpur will be given a grand welcome at Lucknow airport,” he said. Even natives of Nepal and Bihar were also waiting for this flight to start, he added.

Officials in the civil aviation department said that UP had only four functional airports till 2017 with 25 destinations were connected with air services. “Eight airports have become operational in the past four years, providing air services to 61 destinations. As against 26 crore passengers in 2016-17, about 35 crore passengers used air facility in 2018-19,” the spokesperson said.

Thirteen more airports and seven airstrips are in the process of being readied for flight operations. The airstrips at Aligarh, Azamgarh, Moradabad, Shravasti, Chitrakoot and Sonbhadra have been selected for air services under the Regional Connectivity Scheme.

The airports at Aligarh, Azamgarh, Moradabad and Shravasti are under development while Chitrakoot and Sonbhadra airports are nearing completion.

Top 7 Cities Join House Party as Sales Rebound

Residential real estate in the country’s top seven property markets has staged a comeback with sales exceeding pre-pandemic levels, driven by record-low interest rates, discounts offered by developers, lower prices and stamp duty cuts in key areas.

The improved sales momentum has lifted confidence among realty developers, pushing them to launch more projects as indicated by the rise in new offerings across markets.

Residential property sales have grown 29% to 58,290 apartments in the January-March quarter so far, led by a robust performance in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Pune and Hyderabad. New launches rose 51% to 62,130 apartments, showed Anarock Property Consultants data. MMR, Pune, and Hyderabad contributed 66% of the total new supply in the quarter. Rounding out the top seven are the National Capital Region, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata.

“Demand boosters like stamp duty cuts, further reductions in home loan rates by most banks to 6.70% and ongoing developer discounts and offers helped the residential sector stage a convincing comeback in Q1, 2021,” said Anuj Puri, chairman, Anarock Property Consultants. “Egged on by buoyant sales and enthusiastic consumer sentiment in the October-December period, developers launched new projects in this quarter, with some spillover from the pandemic dampened 2020 pipeline.”

Aided by stamp duty cuts, MMR and Pune together accounted for 53% of housing sales in the quarter. MMR sales rose 46% from the year earlier, and Pune sales by 47%. With around 8,670 units sold, Bengaluru was the only city not to record a major yearly change in total sales numbers in this quarter.

Registration of property transactions in Mumbai, the country’s biggest realty market, has continued to rise at a rapid pace, crossing 13,150 agreements so far in March, showed data from the office of the Inspector General of Registration, Maharashtra.

According to Puri, housing affordability will potentially remain favourable throughout 2021. If the current sops and incentives continue, sustained vibrancy can be expected in the upcoming quarters as well with endusers driving demand.

The key cities contributing to new unit launches in the first quarter were MMR, Hyderabad, Pune, and Bengaluru — together accounting for 79% of supply addition.

Threat on LAC has abated, but not gone away fully: Army chief

Pakistan will have to stop supporting cross-border terrorism to address India’s core concerns, said army chief General MM Naravane, while welcoming the decision of both countries to give peace another chance by agreeing to observe a fresh border ceasefire from February 25.

Speaking at the Times Network India Economic Conclave, he said there were “strong grounds to believe” that India will be able to achieve its aim of restoring status quo in eastern Ladakh through further diplomatic and military talks with China.

Gen Naravane, however, warned that the “threat has only abated” with last month’s successful troop disengagement with China on both sides of Pangong Tso, but “not gone away altogether” since the People’s Liberation Army was still maintaining its troop strength in “rear areas” as before. “De-escalation will take place only when these elements go back to their garrisons,” he said.

On Pakistan, he said India’s core issue is that “Pakistan has to stop support to terrorism”. “Unless that happens, it can’t be business as usual. We’ll have to wait and watch.”

Firmly opposed to Quad alliance: China

China said on Thursday that it was firmly opposed to the Quad alliance consisting of the US, India, Australia and Japan as it asked Washington to refrain from making “troubles out of nothing” and do more to contribute to regional peace and stability. Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, a spokesperson for China’s ministry of national defence, made the remarks at an online media briefing when asked about the recent Quad summit and reported statement by US national security advisor Jake Sullivan stating that Quad leaders discussed the “challenges” posed by China and they had no illusions about it. US President Biden, who hosted the First Quad Leaders’ Summit, told leaders of the coalition that a “free and open” Indo-Pacific is essential to their countries and that his country was committed to working with its partners and allies in the region to achieve stability.

China firmly opposed the “four-side mechanism” promoted by the US as it adheres to the Cold War mentality, Ren said. He said that the Quad mechanism believes in group confrontation, is keen on geopolitical games, and uses the so-called “China challenge” as an excuse to “form cliques” and openly provoke relations between regional countries. “We are firmly opposed to this,” he added. “China is committed to building world peace, contributing to global development and upholding the international order. We urge the US to shoulder its responsibilities, refrain from making troubles out of nothing and do more for regional peace and stability,” he said.


Goa Budget: CM Brings Out Goodie Bag

As chief minister Pramod Sawant outlined the state’s fiscal planning and economic priorities in the seemingly please-all budget, it was obvious that political considerations of the election year far outweighed fiscal prudence of the exercise.

After bringing both the rural and urban self-government bodies under his belt, Sawant’s attempt to woo all major demographic segments of society in the election year was all too visible in the budget. While the youth have been promised better employment avenues, Sawant’s budget is generous in providing sops for women, the elderly and the tribals.

He also announced the Goa Bhoomiputra Adhikarita Yojana with a view to regularising structures of tribals identified to be illegal. The scheme aims to resolve such issues by setting up committees under the aegis of the district collectors.

In a clear appeasement to voters, Sawant said, “There are houses within panchayat areas that have been constructed since years and still do not have a house number for various reasons. In order to provide recognition to such dwelling units, I propose to provide house numbers to all such dwellings by making the necessary changes in legal provisions… I propose to extend the same to dwellings in urban areas by making necessary legal provisions.”

The ten-fold agenda outlined by Sawant in the budget promises shelter to all, electricity and tap water connections besides toilets to all houses, health, social and financial security — including insurance — to all eligible, farmers welfare schemes, and aid to the elderly.

“Lokshakti (people’s power) is the cornerstone of Rajsatta (state’s power). It is imperative to give preference to people’s power. Therefore, in line with this democratic principle, I give preference to ideologies of ‘antyodaya’ (welfare of the last person) and ‘Swayampurna Goem’ in my day-to-day administration,” Sawant said in his budget speech.

Significantly, in what is being seen as an attempt to keep his flock of MLAs in good humour, Sawant announced a MLA-Local Area Development Scheme for which Rs.1,000 crore has been earmarked in the budget “to facilitate smooth execution of development works” in all constituencies.

Stating that consultancy firms will be empanelled by the government for availing maximum amount of central funds for various projects in Goa, Sawant disclosed plans of rolling out 49 centrally sponsored schemes for which financial aid of Rs.772 crore is expected in the forthcoming fiscal.

Harappan people ate multigrain, high-protein ‘laddoos’: Study

A scientific study of the material found during an excavation in Rajasthan has revealed that the Harappan people used to consume high-protein, multigrain ‘laddoos’ (food balls) around 4,000 years ago, which indicates that the inhabitants practised agriculture under good (wet) climatic conditions.

At least seven ‘laddoos’ were discovered in 2017 during the excavation of a Harappan archaeological site at 4MSR (earlier known as Binjor) in western part of Rajasthan (near Pakistan border) between 2014 and 2017.

The study, jointly conducted by the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow, and Archeological Survey of India, New Delhi, was recently published in the ‘Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports’ by Elsevier.

“Seven similar big-size brown ‘laddoos’, two figurines of bulls and a hand-held copper adze (a tool similar to an axe, used for cutting or shaping wood) were excavated by ASI at the Harappan site in Anupgarh district of Rajasthan. These food balls, dating back to around 2600 BCE, were found well preserved as a hard structure had fallen in such a manner that it acted as a roof over them and saved them from getting crushed. Had they been broken, the 'laddoos' would have decayed entirely but since these were in contact with the mud, some of the internal organic matter and other green constituents were protected," senior BSIP scientist Rajesh Agnihotri said.

He said the most peculiar thing about these ‘laddoos’ was that when it came in contact with water, the slurry turned purple.

ASI handed over aliquots (samples) of these food balls to BSIP for scientific analysis.

“At first, we thought that these food balls, excavated near the banks of Ghaggar (erstwhile Saraswati), had some connection with occult activities since figurines and adze were also found in close proximity,” Agnihotri said.

“We were intrigued by their shape and size as they were clearly manmade. This curiosity led us to explore their composition. We initially presumed it could be a non-vegetarian food. However, primary microscopic investigations carried out by BSIP senior scientist Anjum Farooqui hinted that these were composed of barley, wheat, chickpea and a few other oilseeds. As the early Indus Valley people were mainly agriculturists, the composition of these food balls with mainly vegetarian items with high protein content made sense,” he added.

The presence of pulses, starch and protein was further confirmed by discovery of significant excesses of magnesium, calcium and potassium. “These laddoos had cereal and pulses, and moong dal dominated the ingredients,” said senior scientist Anjum Farooqui.

Full organic geochemistry of the food balls was later conducted at BSIP and National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow.

A team of nine scientists and archaeologists from the two institutes concluded that the presence of seven food balls along with typical Harappan tools/items hinted that Harappan people made offerings, performed rituals and consumed multi-nutritive compact ‘laddoos’ as a food supplement for instant nutrition .

The presence of bull figurines, adze and a Harappan seal in the vicinity of these seven food balls signifies that humans revered all these items due to their utility and importance to them. “The study provides important insights into types of food grain used in making food balls, which reveal contemporary farming practices by Harappan people. This scientific finding appears to be unique and opens up avenues for more intrusive scientific research in archaeology to reconstruct the unwritten history of India and its glorious past,” Agnihotri said.

The presence of pulses, starch and protein was further confirmed by discovery of significant excesses of magnesium, calcium, potassium

Double Mutant Among Several Covid Variants Found in India

A new “double mutant variant” of the coronavirus has been detected in India, in addition to several “variants of concern” in 18 states, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

The Centre, however, said the variants have no link to the second Covid-19 wave in states and assured that India’s vaccines are effective against the UK and Brazilian variants. “A new double variant — E484Q and L452R — has been seen. The prevalence in Maharashtra is significant — it was found in 206 samples — and even in Delhi (nine samples),” National Centre for Disease Control director Sujeet Kumar Singh said. “It is still being studied so we do not know whether it has a link to the recent surge in cases. But at the same time, we have found it in Maharashtra’s districts where there has been a surge.”

In Nagpur, Singh said, the prevalence of this double mutant virus was substantial at 20%. “In Nagpur, the wards which were least affected the first time, had a large susceptible population,” he said.

Data released by the health ministry show the double mutant strain was found in Punjab (2 cases), Gujarat (3 cases) and one case each in Ladakh, Jammu and Odisha.

The ministry has maintained that so far there has been no link between the variants and the recent surge in Covid-19 cases.

“In mid-December, the UK had found a link between the UK variant and the surge of cases in South England. There are three variants of concern identified internationally — UK, South African and Brazilian variant. All three variants have been linked to a surge in cases internationally. So far we have not been able to find a link,” Singh said.

The health ministry has assured that India’s tests can detect the variants and vaccines are effective against them. “Our public health measures will remain the same against the mutant virus. There will be no deviation. No new symptoms have been associated with them,” said Singh.

The variants were found after genome sequencing was undertaken by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics, a grouping of 10 national laboratories established on December 25 by the health ministry for carrying out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating Covid-19 viruses, and correlating epidemiological trends with genomic variants.

Pune: Agency to speed up ring road land measurement

The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation has hired a private agency to expedite the land measurement exercise for the proposed 170km ring road project in the rural belt of the district.

The project aims at reducing traffic congestion and improving connectivity in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad.

“We will have to measure around 860 hectare land in various tehsils by the end of this April. The appointed agency has worked in the Samruddhi Expressway project and got the required expertise and experienced manpower. We will work on a target basis to complete the ring road work within the deadline,” MSRDC sub-divisional engineer Sandeep Patil.

On Tuesday, district collector Rajesh Deshmukh and senior MSRDC officials held a meeting with the sub-divisional officers of Maval, Bhor and Mulshi to discuss the issues pertaining to issues such as land acquisition and possible opposition from the local farmers.

The MSRDC will bank on videography of the land plots to prevent any complications or allegations from the farmers in future.

“Farmers often claim or allege that their houses or crucial property had been taken over for the project and seek compensation. If we produce videographic evidence, such challenges can be countered effectively in future. This strategy worked effectively in the Samruddhi project. We will implement the same model in in this project too,” Patil said.

A senior district administration official said the land compensation formula was being worked out. “The compensation is likely to be given as per the same formula that was used in the Samruddhi project, the official said.

The MSRDC has decided to acquire land for a 68km western ring road that will pass through Maval, Mulshi, Velhe and Bhor tehsils.

E-carts for Punjab farmers

To help farmers market their produce, Punjab State Agricultural Workers Commission chairman Ajayvir Jakhar handed over vending e-carts to two beneficiaries on Wednesday.

Under Punjab government’s new initiative, Ajayvir said, farmers could earn profit by marketing their produce and providing fresh vegetables and fruit to consumers at reasonable prices.

He said by purchasing these subsidised, battery-powered e-carts, small farmers could deliver fresh vegetables and fruits directly from their fields to customers. He said small gardeners of the district could contact the horticulture department to get the e-carts.

SC to Government: Can Electoral Bonds be Misused?

The Supreme Court expressed concern over possible misuse of money generated by political parties through electoral bonds to spread violence and anarchy and demanded to know if the government had safeguards to check such a possibility.

“This money could be used to carry out all sorts of illegal activity, spread violence and terrorism,” a three-judge bench led by CJI SA Bobde observed while hearing a plea for stay on issue of another round of bonds in April ahead of the assembly polls. Petitions which have challenged the validity of electoral bonds are yet to come up for hearing and there is little possibility of an early hearing. At the moment, SC is hearing a plea for stay on issuance of another round of bonds between April 1and 10.

Attorney General KK Venugopal rejected the possibility of misuse and said that bonds were issued only to recognised political parties. The bench though insisted the government explain how misuse can be checked. The AG contended that the money from electoral bonds was clean and not black money. “This is white money which comes through checks and demand drafts,” he argued.

Activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan disputed the AG’s arguments. He said there was no guarantee of clean money. He alleged there was no transparency in who donated as this information was only available with the government. Representing EC, senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi opposed any stay on electoral bonds.

AG rejects the possibility of misuse, says bonds are issued only to recognised political parties

Justice Ramana set to be next CJI as SC junks Jagan’s plaint

A month before his retirement, Chief Justice of India S A Bobde recommended senior-most Supreme Court judge Justice N V Ramana to the Centre as the next CJI. In the process, Bobde dismissed an unprecedented complaint against Ramana submitted by Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy after an in-house inquiry held the accusation to be “false, frivolous, baseless, motivated” false and an attempt to “browbeat” the judiciary.

In his letter to Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Bobde said Ramana was eminently suitable and fit to be appointed the next CJI, the first from Andhra Pradesh and the second Telugu to head the country’s judiciary after K Subba Rao. Ramana will take oath as the 48th CJI on April 24.

It was learnt the CJI and two other senior judges examined Reddy’s complaint threadbare, the charges being two-fold — that Justice Ramana's two daughters had bought land in Amaravati, the proposed capital of Andhra Pradesh, for a song even before the notification for the future capital was issued, and that Justice Ramana had a stranglehold over the Andhra Pradesh judiciary which was passing adverse orders against the Reddy government.

The two judges gave lengthy written opinions on the complaint and termed the charges “false, frivolous, baseless, motivated" and said these were levelled to "browbeat the judge" who was heading a bench which had passed orders to expedite snail-paced criminal trials against sitting and former MPs/MLAs.

Documents perused showed that Justice Ramana's daughters, like many others, bought land in Amaravati area in June 2015 from a local property dealer more than a year after then Union minister Panabaka Lakshmi in February 2014 announced Amaravati as the new capital.

When he takes oath, Justice Ramana will be the second Telugu to head the judiciary. The figures of Justices Rao and Ramana are a contrast. Justice Rao was born in a wealthy advocate family and his father-in-law was a judge of Madras HC. Rao enrolled as an advocate in Madras HC in 1926 and was appointed as its judge in March 1948. After Andhra Pradesh was formed, Justice Rao was appointed its chief justice in July 1954. He was appointed to the SC in January 1958 and became CJI on June 30, 1966.

Bangladesh in social media ‘war’ with Pakistan

A fierce social media ‘war’ has erupted between pro-Liberation Bangladeshis and the Pakistanis resenting Bangladesh’s much vaunted progress and growing relations with India ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country.

Modi will be the Guest of Honour at the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh Independence on March 26, the day in 1971 when Pakistan’s brutal army started ‘Operation Searchlight’, a genocidal campaign to stamp out the Bengali revolt for Independence.

The Twitter war has been sparked by some Bangladeshi radicals backing the Hifazat-e-Islam's announcement to stop “Modi from entering Dhaka”. Pro-liberation forces who express gratitude to India for its role in Bangladesh’s liberation promptly denounced the Hifazat move as an ‘evil ploy’ by Pakistani intelligence ISI to disrupt not only Modi's visit but also the celebrations of 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence.

They also attacked Hifazat-Khilafat leaders as 'powerhungry' and 'traders of religion'. Some tweets and Facebook posts also showcased Bangladesh's economic and human development achievements cited in top global publications like 'Diplomat' and 'Wall Street Journal' and contrasted this with Pakistan's downslide.

That provoked a strong riposte from Pakistani Twitterati and Facebookers with some presenting absolute cooked up statistics to show Pakistan was ahead of Bangladesh in many respects. Bangladesh's net warriors shot back immediately asking uncomfortable questions.

Islamist radical groups like Hifazat have threatened to block Modi’s entry into Dhaka city from the airport, prompting furious security preparations by Bangladesh security forces. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered tough action against anyone trying to disrupt Modi’s visit.

PM to land in Dhaka tomorrow

In his first visit abroad after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be chief guest at Bangladesh’s celebrations for its 50th anniversary and 100th birth anniversary of its founder Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Modi will land in Dhaka on March 26 and visit three other towns in Bangladesh before he returns to India on the 27th.

He will visit Tungipara, the family village and home of “Bangabandhu” Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. He will also offer prayers at the Jessoreshwari Kali temple in Satkhira and at the Matua temple in Orakhandi—perceived as wooing the Matua Dalits in West Bengal which goes to the polls on the 27th. Briefing journalists, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said Bangladesh is India’s biggest development partner in the world, and as Shringla said, India’s largest visa office.

The main message from Modi’s visit is to reaffirm the high level relationship with Bangladesh. People-to-people relations will get a big boost. India and Bangladesh are expected to sign a couple of agreements during the visit — particularly on disaster management and trade.

India is likely to announce new partnerships with Bangladesh on startups — the two countries are exploring a startup conclave to incentivise startups and partnerships in both countries.

The PM is also likely to announce new initiatives in education and environment, specially about meeting Paris commitments. Space, societal application of nuclear technology and emerging tech issues are all likely to be part of India’s new approach to Bangladesh. India, Shringla said, will take the Bapu-Bangabandhu digital exhibition to about 18 countries, making the Mujib Barsho celebrations an international affair.

Meanwhile, India and Bangladesh are discussing the construction of a 765-kV power interconnection from Katihar in India via Parbotipur in Bangladesh to Bornagar which when constructed, will reinforce the interconnectivity of grids in the region. Earlier, Shringla told the Ananta Aspen Centre that the PM’s visit was “an important occasion. The Prime Minister is the only guest so it will be he and Prime Minister Hasina who will conduct the proceedings that will mark these important milestones in the history of our countries.”

Shut after 1962 war, 150-year-old bridge in Nelong valley to open

Nestled in the picturesque Nelong valley in Uttarkashi in the Garhwal Himalayas, Gartang Gali, a wooden skywalk bridge which was closed in the aftermath of the 1962 India-China war, is all set to open for tourists soon.

Built by Pathans from Peshawar over 150 years ago, the bridge, situated at an altitude of 11,000 feet, is of both historic and strategic importance. It offers a stunning view of the Nelong valley landscape and was part of a trade route between India and Tibet in earlier times.

Pratap Singh Pawar, range officer of Gangotri National Park, who has jurisdiction over the area where the structure lies, said, “The area is rich in flora and fauna and is home to rare animals like snow leopard and Himalayan blue sheep. If all goes well, the region — which has a mountain desert landscape like Lahaul-Spiti — will be opened up for tourists by July. Other things like the number of visitors to be allowed, the ticket pricing and other formalities will be decided once 50% of the restoration work is complete.” He added that the PWD has started work on the structure earlier this month.

Doon-based heritage activist and anthropologist Lokesh Ohri, who had visited the region in 2019, said that the bridge was earlier an important route for cross-border trade between India and Tibet. “It was one of the oldest trading routes for transporting wool, salt, jaggery and spices among other item,” he said. 

Uttar Pradesh: 4 two-month-old tiger cubs rescued

It is only when a tiger cub is eight months old that it can survive on its own. Any time before that, it needs its mother and can only go eight days without being fed. So, when officials of the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve found four cubs, two months old each, whose mother had died 12 days ago, they were both relieved and excited.

On March 14, a field forest team found a two-day old carcass of a tigress and four cubs around it. But before the cubs could be rescued, they had strayed off and forest officials were worried — they could have fallen prey to other carnivores, been targeted by poachers or died of starvation. A combing operation was launched, with 25 camera traps installed around the area where the carcass had been found. But not one image came up, nor did anyone spot any cub.

So, on March 18, the operation was abandoned. While tiger cubs can start eating meat when they are 40 days old, they continue to depend on their mother for food. Cubs this young were not expected to survive beyond eight days, according to wildlife veterinarians. Forest officials gave up.

But on Wednesday morning, hope revived. “A forest patrol team saw pug marks of tiger cubs,” deputy director of PTR Naveen Khandelwal said.

Mumbai: Consultant picked for 1.6km Colaba-Nariman Point link plan

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority has finalised plans for a 1.6km-long sealink connecting Nariman Point to Colaba.

“The new bridge will overcome existing traffic problems and enable smooth travel,” said an MMRDA spokesperson. We have appointed a project management consultant, who will prepare a detailed project report, suggest alignment, conduct a traffic survey and study necessary permissions that need to be obtained for carrying out the project.”

The 2+2 lane connector is likely to originate near NCPA and end at Cuffe Parade. It will ensure the completion of an effective ring road around Mumbai. Over a decade ago, Lea Associates had submitted a traffic survey report to the MMRDA, recommending the bridge.

At present, there is only a single road -- Captain Prakash Pethe Marg -- connecting Nariman Point with Colaba. As a result, heavy traffic congestion, especially during peak hours, is reported almost daily.

The PMC will undertake the tendering process and calculate the estimated cost of the project. There could be hurdles as the project is in a high security zone: the sea off the stretch is patrolled by the Coast Guard, and there is also heavy Navy presence. Environmental clearances will be required as there may be reclamation involved; there are concerns that the work can endanger marine life.

The fishing community too has concerns regarding the project. Allaying those, metropolitan commissioner RA Rajeev said, “The Nariman Point to Colaba bridge will not affect the livelihood of fishermen and we will take care of it.” He said, “All precautionary measures will be adopted. No obstruction will be caused to fishing boats due to project work. Also, the PMC will conduct a study of marine species.”


Modi greets Imran on Pakistan Day

As India and Pakistan look to build upon the recent ceasefire agreement, PM Narendra Modi wrote to his counterpart Imran Khan and extended greetings to the neighbouring country on the occasion of Pakistan National Day and underlined that an environment free of terror was imperative for improvement in ties.

“As a neighbouring country, India desires cordial relations with the people of Pakistan. For this, an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility, is imperative,” Modi said in his message to Khan.

Official sources said the PM had sent a similar message to the Pakistani PM last year on Pakistan’s Independence Day, making the same point about the need for a terror-free environment. Modi had also wished Khan speedy recovery from Covid-19 recently.

The recent ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan has sparked hope of a thaw in ties and both sides have not denied the possibility of a meeting between the foreign ministers later this month on the margins of the Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process conference in Tajikistan.

Modi said in his letter that at this difficult time for humanity, he would like to convey his best wishes to Khan and the people of Pakistan for dealing with the challenges of Covid-19.

As the Pakistani mission here celebrated Pakistan Day on Tuesday, charge d'affaires Aftab Hasan Khan too said that Pakistan wanted friendly ties with India and that it was important to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, through dialogue to achieve peace.

Centre junks plan to allow field trials of Bt brinjal, other transgenic crops

Bowing to the pressure of RSS-linked farm outfit Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and heeding to the unwillingness of some states, the Centre has junked its decision of allowing scientific field trials of transgenic crops including indigenously developed Bt brinjal.

The central regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, had last year allowed bio-safety research field trials of two new transgenic varieties of Bt brinjal in eight states —Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal— during 2020-23.

The Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and other groups had, however, subsequently submitted as many as seven representations to the Centre and different state governments, urging them not to give ‘No Objection Certificate’ for biosafety field trials of Bt brinjal.

Sharing basic details of these representation in Rajya Sabha, Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar in his written response to a Parliament question on Monday said, “It has been decided that proposals for field trials of GM crops, including Bt brinjal, will not be taken up for consideration in the GEAC without the recommendation of the concerned State/UT government.”

Besides submitting its representations against the scientific field trials of Bt brinjal to the Centre, the BKS had written to Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu governments. Other NGOs including Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam too requested state governments not to give mandatory NOC for the field trials.

5 dead, 15 wounded as Maoists blow up bus carrying jawans

Maoists blew up a bus carrying security personnel, weary after a two-day op in Abujhmad, killing five of them and injuring 15 in Bastar’s Narayanpur district on Tuesday afternoon. The toll is feared to rise.

The explosion was so powerful that it hurled the bus, packed with 40 jawans, several feet in the air, off a bridge, and smashed it on the rocky canal bed below. It left a crater over 20 feet across and six feet deep at the head of the bridge.

Those martyred include District Reserve Guard personnel Jailal Uikey, Sevak Salaam, Pavan Mandavi and Vijay Patel, and police driver Karan Dehari. This is the biggest Maoist attack in Bastar since the November 2020 IED blast in which two CoBRA officers were killed and eight injured in Sukma.

Narayanpur SP Mohit Garg said that 40 jawans were returning after an anti-Naxalite operation in the forests of Abujhmad when they were targeted around 4pm on Kanhargaon-Kadenar Road.

“They were about 55km away from Narayanpur when they came under attack from Maoists disguised as villagers. As the bus was passing over a small bridge on a culvert in Kadenar region, the Maoists triggered the blast. Three jawans died on the spot and another died of his injuries during treatment,” he said.

The injured were shifted to the district hospital from where they will be flown to Raipur for better treatment, SP said. Three of the injured are in critical condition.

Bastar range IG P Sundarraj said strong reinforcements were sent to the spot. Security forces have to be extra cautious in the aftermath of such attacks as Maoists often ambush rescue teams.

Kashmir meet seeks to correct ‘flawed’ interpretation of jihad

In a first-of-a-kind initiative aimed at countering radicalisation in Jammu & Kashmir, nearly 550 religious leaders, 200 women and 200 youths from Kashmir came together to reject the “flawed” interpretation of jihad as Islam’s ‘advocacy’ of killing innocent people and put forth the “correct” counter-narrative focused on ‘peaceful co-existence’.

The event coincided with Pakistan Day that commemorates the adoption of Lahore Resolution on this day in 1940 and which was traditionally observed in Kashmir too. The confluence of religious scholars from different parts of Kashmir was organised as part of a civil society initiative by J&K Nationalist People’s Front, with which Art of Living Foundation founded by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is associated. Of course, with J&K LG Manoj Sinha joining the event as chief guest, the initiative has the backing of the UT government as well. A similar event was organised in Jammu earlier this year.

As per the correct interpretation of Quranic verses, cleric Mufti Mohammad Aslam said on the sidelines of Srinagar conference, Islam does not teach its followers to take lives of fellow humans or bring them to harm but to protect and peacefully co-exist with one and all, irrespective of their religion. He said ‘jihad’ really means fight with one’s own ‘nafsaani khwahish’ (deadly sin).

Sinha, in his keynote address, said that some Islamic scholars who had either not studied religious texts in detail or were deliberately focusing on only a part of the teachings and wrongly interpreting them, “were doing great harm to not only Kashmir and India but to the entire world”. He said similar efforts to involve Islamic scholars in putting out correct interpretations of Islamic texts were being take up across the world to counter radicalisation.

“Islam teaches one to practice peace, harmony and sensitivity. It is this correct interpretation of Islam that all the Muftis and moulvis gathered here today shall propagate among the people through their Friday sermons from mosques in J&K. A similar message shall go out to those studying at madarsas here, as well as to family units, especially the mothers, to educate their children so that they do not get swayed by ‘false’ narratives being peddled to radicalise them,” Mufti Mohammad Nasiruddin said.

Sheikh Muzaffar of J&K Nationalist Peoples’ Front said that women were roped in as they are the first institution of learning for a child. Similarly, the attempt shall be to modernise madarasa education not necessarily through a government intervention but by involving the clerics teaching there to voluntarily propagate the counter-narrative. Muzaffar added that some parties, for the sake of vote-bank politics, had played along and encouraged clerics to peddle wrong interpretations of Islam.

India abstains from UNHRC vote on Lanka

Caught between the expectations of the Tamil community in the middle of an election season and the prospect of ceding strategic ground in the neighbourhood, India abstained from voting on a contentious resolution at the UNHRC that sought to fix responsibility for war crimes and rights violations by Sri Lankan authorities, reports Sachin Parashar.

While the Centre was under pressure from parties in TN to support the resolution, as it has done on at least two occasions, voting in favour would’ve sent ties with Lanka into a tailspin given that China, Russia, Pakistan and Bangladesh rejected it.

In 2012 and 2013, India had voted in favour of similar resolutions at the human rights council. In 2014, though, it abstained from voting on a resolution calling for a probe into alleged war crimes.

The resolution—promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka—at the 46th session of the Council was adopted on Tuesday with 22 out of 47 member states voting in favour. India and 13 other countries, including Nepal, abstained while the remaining 11 voted against.

As it abstained from voting, India continued to maintain that its support for Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity and unity, as also an abiding commitment to the aspirations of Lankan Tamils for equality, peace, justice and dignity, were not either-or choices. “India’s approach to the question of human rights in Sri Lanka is guided by two fundamental considerations: one is our support to the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, dignity and peace. The other is in ensuring the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. We have always believed that these two goals are mutually supportive and Sri Lanka’s progress is best assured by simultaneously addressing both objectives,’’ said Pawan Badhe, first secretary, permanent mission of India.

While it abstained from voting, India supported the call by the international community for Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitments on devolution of political authority, including through early holding of elections for provincial councils and to ensure that all provincial councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution.

At the same time, Badhe said India believed that the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be in conformity with the mandate given by the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly.

The resolution recognised, among other things, the importance of preserving and analysing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability, and decided to strengthen the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to “collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence”.

From April 1, COVID-19 vaccine for all over 45

From April 1, all people above 45 years of age are entitled to get COVID-19 vaccine, Union minister Prakash Javadekar said on Tuesday.

Briefing reporters on the decisions taken by the Union cabinet, he said even people without comorbidity and above the age of 45 years, can get vaccinated. He requested people entitled to get themselves registered to take the COVID-19 shot.

The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 with healthcare workers getting inoculated and vaccination of the workers started from February 2.

The next phase of COVID-19 vaccination commenced on March 1 for those who are over 60 years of age and for people aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions.

This comes against the backdrop of Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat reporting an upsurge in COVID-19 cases. Maharashtra accounts for over 60 per cent of the daily cases.

The total number of coronavirus cases of the UK, South Africa and Brazil variants in India stand at 795 till date, the Union health ministry said on Tuesday.

On March 18, the country had recorded a total of 400 cases with these variants and 242 on March 4. The data shows that the cases have doubled in merely five days.

Earlier on Tuesday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said that 81 per cent of the 401 samples sent by the state for genome sequencing tested positive for the UK COVID variant.

Expressing concern over the surging cases, he stressed the need for the Central government to urgently open up the vaccination for a bigger section of the populace.

A genomic consortium of 10 regional laboratories with the National Centre for Disease Control as the apex lab has been established to perform genomic sequencing of samples from positive travellers and 5 per cent of positive test samples from the community.


Hyderabad company signs pact to make 200m doses of Sputnik V a year

Russia’s sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund and Hyderabad-based Virchow Biotech have announced an agreement to produce up to 200 million doses per year of Sputnik V.

The technology transfer is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2021, followed by full-scale commercial production of Sputnik V.

Over the last week, RDIF has announced production contracts with three domestic manufacturers, which can potentially vaccinate more than 300 million people with Sputnik V in a year.

Besides Virchow Biotech’s 200 million doses, which will vaccinate 100 million people, Bangalore-based Stelis Biopharma will roll out 200 million doses, and Hyderabad-based Gland Pharma, 252 million doses for 126 million people. Last year, RDIF had tied up with another Hyderabad-based Hetero for over 100 million doses. A majority of the companies are manufacturers of finished formulations, excluding Gland, and will have to repurpose their facilities and capabilities for making vaccines.

An RDIF spokesperson said in total, a production capacity for over 700 million people has been secured in 10 countries

Of States heading towards new Coronavirus peaks....


India makes exception to give Mujib the Gandhi Peace Prize

Making an exception from the norm, India conferred the prestigious Gandhi Peace Prize to two statesmen posthumously on Monday. The 2019 Prize was conferred on Late Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman, while the 2020 Prize was conferred on ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the late founder of Bangladesh.

The announcement comes days before PM Narendra Modi is scheduled to travel to Dhaka to be chief guest at the Mujib centenary celebrations. The year is also being celebrated as Mujib Barsho in both Bangladesh and India. In Dhaka, Modi will oversee a digital exhibition — Bangabandhu-Bapu Digital Exhibition, launched by him and Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina. Announcing the prize, Modi said, “The Gandhi Peace Prize 2019 being conferred on His Late Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman is a fitting recognition of His Majesty’s standing as a leader of remarkable compassion, and of his contributions to furthering peace and prosperity in the region.”

According to a government readout, the selection procedure for the Gandhi Peace Prize did not allow it to be awarded posthumously but given the contribution of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman towards peace, non-violence and amelioration of human sufferings and special relationship with India, the exception was made as a special gesture to honour and celebrate them.

The Gandhi Peace Prize is given for social, economic and political transformation through non-violence.

Of BJP's manifesto for Tamil Nadu....

Fighting for a foothold in the Dravidian heartland, the BJP went the whole hog on its Hindutva identity without compunction by promising “strict anti-conversion law”, “criminalising religious conversion” and ban on cow slaughter in its manifesto released for the TN assembly polls on Monday. The document released by Union minister Nitin Gadkari in Chennai also promised a separate research university to teach ‘Agama’ rituals.

State BJP chief and Dharapuram candidate L Murugan said the manifesto committee interacted with various sections of society and prepared the manifesto. “Our vision document carefully lists out our commitment after meeting people through Ungal Viruppam Engal Arikkai (your wish our manifesto)’ campaign and understanding their needs and demands,” he said in the introduction of the 25-page manifesto.

Under the heading of ‘Culture and Heritage’, the party promised to bring in the ‘freedom of religion act’ and elaborated it saying that the right to freedom of religion is not the same as forcible religious conversion. “A strict anti-conversion law will be enacted in the state to criminalise religious conversion by force or allurement,” said the manifesto. On cow protection, the manifesto said anti-cow slaughter law would be enforced and a blanket ban imposed on smuggling cows to Kerala and other states for meat.

Such legislation is not new to Tamil Nadu. Former chief minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa enacted the controversial law, the Tamil Nadu prohibition of forcible conversion of religion act 2002 and banned animal and bird sacrifices in temples. Both the laws were annulled after DMK leader M Karunanidhi assumed office.

BJP promises to enforce total prohibition in state

When Jayalalithaa assumed office in 2011, her government did not attempt to bring back the laws.

In its manifesto, the BJP promised to hand over the administration of the temples in the state to a separate board comprising scholars and saints.

“This would replace the system of a secular government controlling only the Hindu religious temples,” said the manifesto prepared by the committee headed by H Raja. A separate research university would be established to teach Agama rituals.

The party has also promised to enforce total liquor prohibition in Tamil Nadu and create 50 lakh new employment opportunities. The party said it would create an infrastructure to home deliver essential commodities to all electronic cardholders through the PDS.

The party has promised an annual financial aid of ₹6,000 to each fisherman. It has promised to retrieve 12 lakh acres of panchmi land and hand it over to the Scheduled Caste members. The party has promised to trifurcate the Greater Chennai Corporation in the way it is done in New Delhi. It would recommend the Centre to provide Indian citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamils living in various refugee camps in the state.

Tata, SpiceJet promoter shortlisted for AI bids

Tata Group and SpiceJet promoter Ajay Singh have been shortlisted for the bid to buy out Air India, said people familiar with the development.

The two will now have to submit financial bids after completing due diligence on the national carrier’s books, agreements and liabilities. In their financial bids, the parties have to state the quantum of AI’s debt they will be willing to take up and the upfront payment they will make for the asset. Whoever quotes the highest economic value for AI will be the winner of the bid.

At least 15% of AI’s enterprise value has to be paid in cash and the balance can be taken as debt.

AI has a debt of over Rs 90,000 crore. It is estimated that the national carrier would report a Rs 10,000 crore loss this fiscal.

While Tata Group will be putting in its bid through AirAsia India, in which it holds a controlling stake, Singh has firmed up plans with a Middle East sovereign fund for the acquisition, it is learned.

Singh—who coined the famous “ab ki baar Modi sarkaar” slogan ahead of the 2014 general elections—or his spokesperson offered no comments on the report.

Sources said that Tata Group has been wooing its Southeast Asian full-service carrier partner Singapore Airlines to come on board for the AI bid. The conglomerate and Singapore Airlines run Vistara in India but the latter has shown an unenthusiastic response for AI as the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted its balance sheet. Industry has been speculating that AI would most likely go to the Tata Group.

India’s largest conglomerate, which also owns Jaguar Land Rover, originally founded AI in1932 but sold its interests to the government in1953. The group’s AI bid indicates its commitment to the air transport business; and the acquisition will ramp up its ambitions of emerging a significant player in the aviation sector.

The government hopes to complete the AI divestment by the second quarter of next fiscal. It is expected that the government will handhold the AI winner in the initial transition period when they anticipate trouble from unions and other stakeholders.

Delhi Cuts Legal Age for Drinking to 21 Years

Delhi has lowered the minimum age for consumption of liquor to 21 years, from 25, in sync with the age set by neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

The National Capital will also introduce the concept of age gating — debarring any person below 21 years of age and without adult supervision from a restaurant serving liquor.

The measures are part of an excise policy the Delhi cabinet approved on Monday. Under it, the government will not give permission to open any more liquor outlets. It will also withdraw from the liquor retail business, and allow private players to run vends, a decision that deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said would increase Delhi’s revenue by ₹1,500-2,000 crore a year.

Addressing a press conference, Sisodia said, “To stop harassment of people and establishments, consumption age will be the same as a majority of Indian states — at 21, like Noida in Uttar Pradesh. New rules will be introduced to make sure that people who are under the age of 21 cannot get access to the establishment that serves liquor, without supervision.” He said Delhi would be the first city in India to introduce the concept of age gating. So far, people under the legal age were not served alcohol, but were allowed to enter such restaurants without adult supervision.

The minister said age gating would help ensure there was no underage drinking in Delhi. The standard operating procedure for this will be created in consultation with the industry, he said

India should engage less with China: Study

India should reduce its engagement with China in three main areas but dispense with “myopic jingoism”, says a new report on how India can meet the Chinese challenge in the wake of clashes between Indian and Chinese troops at Galwan and Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh.

‘Strategic Patience and Flexible Policies’, a study authored by former ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale, former finance secretary Vijay Kelkar, former chief of CSIR R Mashelkar and economists Ajit Ranade and Ajay Shah, will be released this week.

India, it says, will have to reset its China policy. “By taking military action in 2020, China has clearly indicated that she does not desire a stable, balanced, forward looking relationship with India and that she is willing to use military coercion to resolve her disputes with India. China has decided the nature of the future India-China relationship: she appears to desire a conflictual, unbalanced and tense relationship with India,” the report says.

India should build coalitions with 20 countries with whom it shares values and interests, it says. “Three groups of countries are our natural partners in such coalition building: (a) major democracies of the world,(b) countries in the Indian region and (c) countries that share a border with China, including major powers such as Russia, who are our natural partners in this venture. Building such coalitions including the Quad and others is the need of the hour,” it adds.

The study details three areas where there is a case for a retreat from engagement with China. “There is a case for introducing restrictions against companies controlled by the Chinese state from having a controlling stake in a hotlist of sensitive infrastructure assets; there is a need to avoid locking into Chinese-controlled technological standards; and, India must police against and block Chinese state surveillance of Indian people, which appears to often be done through backdoors in network equipment,” it adds.

More on the Ken-Betwa linking project

After resolving their differences over sharing of water from the proposed Ken-Betwa interlinking of river  project, chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh on Monday signed a tripartite agreement with the Centre in virtual presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The signing of the agreement will pave the way for initiating other pending actions for implementation of the project which could not be taken up due to the states’ tussle over share of water during the non-monsoon period.

The revised agreement will allow Madhya Pradesh to get additional water from the project which will be implemented at an estimated cost of over Rs 37,600 crore. Dispute between UP and MP could be settled when the former agreed to drop its demand for a higher share.

Even MP has had to compromise. The Centre did not agree to its demand to allow it to use the entire quantum of surplus water at Daudhan dam site in the upper catchment area. The Daudhan dam is one of the key components of the Ken-Betwal ILR project. Speaking on the occasion, Modi said the agreement was important to realise former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream in the interest of millions of families of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

The Centre will bear 90% of its total cost. Though forest clearance of the Daudhan reservoir of the project is still awaited, the Centre will soon create a special purpose vehicle – Ken-Betwa Link Project Authority – for implementation of the project in eight years. Noting how the project would benefit the entire water starved Budelkhand region, the Prime Minister said rapid development was not possible without water security and effective water management. He added that the vision of India’s development and India’s selfreliance, is dependent on water sources and water connectivity.


Maharashtra to warm up 2.5°C by ’50, get 210mm more rain by 2100

The average annual temperature of Maharashtra is likely to rise by up to 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2050 and the average monsoon rainfall in the state is expected to increase by up to 210mm by the end of the century, according to a study by a Baramati professor published in the prestigious journal Springer Nature. The weather changes are projected to have a serious negative impact on agriculture.

The study, by Rahul Todmal, assistant professor of geography at Vidya Pratishthan's ASC College in Baramati, says that most parts of the state are very likely to experience a rise in annual average temperatures ranging between 0.5 and 2.5 degreed Celsius up to 2050, and considerably warmer conditions after 2033. Among the regions that are expected to register significant warming of over one degree Celsius are parts of the Konkan and Madhya Maharashtra.

The study indicated that over five decades, annual mean minimum temperatures are expected to rise 0.1-1.2°C across 80% of districts. It makes projections based on climatic data from the Earth System Grid Federation, Germany, and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, which reveal that the state is expected to witness an increase of 150-210mm in average monsoon rainfall till 2100, apart from the Konkan coast. Parts of the Vidarbha sub-division and Western Ghats will get 82-225 mm more. “A substantial increase in monsoon rainfall and extreme events over Maharashtra would result in flashy runoff, which can cause catastrophic floods,” observed the study.

Todmal said existing literature shows that climate change in Maharashtra are likely to have an impact on agriculture. “Agronomic studies have confirmed that warmer climatic conditions never favour agricultural productivity. The future rise in temperature is very likely to reduce the productivity of traditional rain-fed crops and irrigated cash crops as well,” he said. Previous literature cited in the study have estimated up to a 49% decline in the yield of various crops due to rising temperatures.

Some crops may be more impacted than others, feel experts, one of whom, AN Ganeshamurthy, said, “Under the circumstances presented by the study, temperature variations may marginally affect the productivity of principal crops like sugarcane, rice, sorghum and millet. However, it may have some major effect on wheat productivity.”

Bengal: BJP's sankalp patra

BJP came out with a shrewdly crafted, please-all manifesto for West Bengal polls—catering to all sections, placing special focus on women’s empowerment and giving emphasis to backward sections and ethnic groups and castes.

Called ‘Sankalp Patra’ and released by Union home minister Amit Shah, the manifesto takes identitarian politics to new lengths and reflects the party’s self-avowed confidence that a regime change in Kolkata is imminent.

The manifesto promises to regularise the citizenship of refugees after assuming office, an assertion which at once tries to convey fidelity to a poll plank which resonates with a significant section of the electorate.

“Refugees have been living here (in Bengal) since the 1970s. We will implement CAA in the first cabinet meeting and provide citizenship to them; Rs 10,000 per year will be given to families getting citizenship,” Shah said. Notable among schemes for girls is free education, termed “from KG to PG”, and 33% quota for women in state government jobs.

The manifesto earmarks a Rs 30,000 crore fund to be spent over five years to develop infra in 10 cities. Rs 22,000 crore has been earmarked for transforming Kolkata into “a city of future”.

At a rally in Bankura, PM Modi put his “head” on the line for “Didi to kick if she wants”, but vowed he would not let her “kick away Bengal’s dreams”. He said a BJP government will give “piped water to 1.5 crore people and free medical support,” adding, “BJP runs on schemes, TMC on scams”. 

The manifesto also promises to bring Mahishya, Teli and other Hindu OBCs under the ambit of OBC reservation. On the healthcare front, the party proposed three new AIIMS — in north Bengal, Jangalmahal and the Sunderbans. A Rs 10,000 crore healthcare infrastructure fund was also proposed.

The manifesto does not leave out arts and culture, something that has always resonated in the Bengali mind. It promises a Tagore Prize “on the lines of the Nobel Prize”, and a Satyajit Ray Award, “on the lines of Oscar”. If voted to office, the party also promised to keep aside Rs 500 crore for Kolkata to get Unesco Heritage City tag.

“Refugees have been living here since the 1970s, and are pained at not having citizenship. We will implement CAA in the first cabinet meeting and provide citizenship to them,” Shah said. Stressing on a “zero tolerance to infiltration” policy, he said a special fund would be created for refugees, from which each family would be provided Rs 10,000 per year after they receive citizenship. A corpus of Rs 100 crore was announced for that.

Regarding the “KG to PG” scheme, he said there will be a corpus of Rs 500 crore to provide financial aid to meritorious girls. Apart from a special Rs 50,000 bond for families with a girl child, the manifesto announced Rs 1 lakh to women from the SC, ST, OBC and economically weaker sections at their wedding.

Tigress found dead in Maharashtra

Even as the country celebrated International Day of Forests on Sunday, a tigress was found dead under mysterious circumstances in a canal near Kelzar in Hingni forest range under Wardha division, Maharashtra. The death of two tigers on consecutive days and three in eight days caused a flutter among wildlife lovers and officials. Social media was agog with sharp reactions putting a question mark over conservation.

As per the all-India Tiger Estimation 2018, there are 312 tigers in the state. Experts say the tigress is said to be 15-month-old sub-adult, one of the offspring of a resident Bor tigress Ambika aka T1. The latest death has pushed the tiger toll in Maharashtra in the last 79 days to 11. On Saturday, an eight-month-old tiger cub was found dead inside Umred-Karhandla-Paoni Wildlife Sanctuary. Foul play has been ruled out as all body parts were intact.

UP, MP to ink Ken-Betwa pact today

With Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh governments coming on board to resolve their long pending differences over sharing of water from the proposed Ken-Betwa interlinking of river project, chief ministers of the two states will sign a tripartite agreement with the Centre on World Water Day on Monday to finally implement this ambitious project.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be present at the signing event through video conference. He will also launch the ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan: Catch the Rain’ campaign. The Centre, through this over eight-month nationwide campaign (March 22-November 30), seeks to take water conservation to the grassroots through people’s participation. “It is intended to nudge all stakeholders to create rainwater harvesting structures, suitable to the climatic conditions and subsoil strata, to ensure proper storage of rainwater,” an official statement said. After the virtual launch event, ‘gram sabhas’ will be held in all ‘gram panchayats’ of each district (except in poll bound states) to discuss issues related to water and water conservation.

Somewhere in Bihar....



Mumbai: Parambir’s Sting

A letter purportedly written by former Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday alleged that Home Minister Anil Deshmukh asked suspended cop Sachin Waze to collect Rs 100 crore from bars, restaurants and other establishments every month. The letter also made several other allegations of misdeeds and malpractices allegedly carried out by Deshmukh. While the home minister, Deshmukh, refuted the allegations calling them false and baseless and said that he would file a defamation suit, the CMO issued a press release later in the night stating that it is yet to verify the authenticity of the unsigned letter by the name of Param Bir Singh.

“An unsigned letter with the name of Param Bir Singh was received on the CMO’s official email ID today at 4:37pm from the email ID paramirs3@gmail.com, and the email address is being verified. Similarly, an attempt is being made to contact Param Bir Singh through the home department. In fact, the personal email address given by Param Bir Singh for the list of IPS officers is parimbirs@hotmail.com, so it is necessary to check the email received today,” the released stated raising confusion over the authenticity of the letter.

Meanwhile, when contacted, ex-CP Singh, replied via a text message that he can’t talk right now.

The purported letter also says that he has been made a scapegoat to divert attention from the actual wrongdoers, and claims that there is not even an iota of material or evidence – far from proof – found against him or even imputed against him.

The letter suggested that the call records and phone data of Waze be examined to ascertain the truth of the allegations against him and for the truth to emerge in so far as his association with political functionaries is concerned.

The letter narrates how Singh had briefed CM Thackeray, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar about several “misdeed and malpractices” Deshmukh allegedly indulged into, and claimed that some of them were already aware about some aspects mentioned by him.

“At one of the briefing sessions in the wake of the Antilia incident held in mid-March 2021 when I was called late evening at Varsha to brief you, I had pointed out several misdeeds and malpractices being indulged into by the Hon’ble Home Minister. I have similarly briefed the Hon’ble Deputy Chief Minister, Maharsahtra, the President of the Nationalist Congress Party, Shri Sharad Pawar and other senior Ministers also about the misdeeds and malpractices. On my briefings, I noticed that some of the Ministers were already aware about some aspects mentioned by me to them,” the letter alleges.

The letter further says that Waze who was heading Crime Intelligence Unit of the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police was called by Deshmukh to his residence, Dyaneshwar, several times in the last few months and repeatedly instructed to assist in collection of funds for him.