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Major shake-up in Maharashtra Congress on cards; Prithviraj Chavan likely to be appointed as speaker

Mumbai: A major shake-up in the Congress party is on the cards. The Congress may appoint former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan as the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, thereby replacing the present incumbent Nana Patole who will take over as the President of the state Congress unit. Patole will succeed Balasaheb Thorat who is the Revenue Minister. Chavan has been quite vocal against the BJP government at the Centre and also its state unit on a number of issues. Chavan, who was eager to get himself inducted in the Maha Vikas Aghadi ministry, could not make it due to the limited berths that fell in the Congress party’s kitty.

However, the party high command will give its formal consent to these moves only after getting a go-ahead from the ruling ally, the Nationalist Congress Party. During the government formation last year, Chavan’s name was considered by the Congress for the Speaker’s post but because of NCP’s opposition it was dropped. Thereafter, Patole was chosen as a consensus candidate.

By appointing Patole, who had lost the Lok Sabha election to Union minister Nitin Gadkari, the party proposes to play the OBC card to revive its fortunes across the state. Patole, who was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the lower house in December last year, is perceived as a dynamic mass leader; he also enjoys a good rapport with the party high command. Incidentally, Patole has been in Delhi for the last two days and is believed to have met a couple of party leaders. Patole tried to meet party leader Rahul Gandhi but could not.


Coronavirus in Mumbai: Forget 10,000 beds, BMC yet to meet target of 1,500 at SevenHills Hospital

Given the rapidly rising number of coronavirus cases in the city, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has resolved to increase the total bed capacity in Covid care facilities to 10,000. But almost two months have passed and the BMC is yet to achieve its earlier target of converting the SevenHills Hospital in Marol to the country's 'biggest Covid facility',with 1,500 beds. Civic officials have attributed this delay to shortage of staff.

The surge in cases has caused the civic body to abandon its idea of makeshift hospitals, but neither have the number of beds in the city been increased in hospitals that are fully equipped, which has resulted in patients being turned away.

In April, The Free Press Journal had reported that the BMC and the state government had planned to convert SevenHills into the biggest isolation facility in India. “After 57 days, only 1,000 beds have been set up at SevenHills. Given that 150 beds were ready until April 1, this effectively means only 850 beds have been added in 57 days,” said an official.

The reason for this, according to senior doctors, is the huge shortage of medical and para-medical staff at the hospital since its reopening. “Currently there are only 176 doctors and we need more than 600 to handle patients. Given this severe staff shortage, it was pointless to claim that SevenHills Hospital would be India’s biggest isolation facility,” he said.

Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani said, the bed capacity at SevenHills was supposed to be increased in a phased manner. "By next week, 500 more will be set up. We have decided to increase beds phasewise. We started with 300 beds and now, there are 1,004. Had we set up 1,500 beds at a time, it would have been difficult to manage, as we needed trained staff to handle it,” he said.

Dr Balakrishna Adsul, in-charge of SevenHills Hospital, said “A large number of health workers are also needed, if the number of beds are increased. As more health workers become available, we are increasing the number of beds. The process of hiring the necessary health workers is underway. Chances are, by June 6-7, the number of beds in SevenHills Hospital will reach the 1,500 mark.”

The hospital wants to equip at least 300 beds with ICU facilities, but the shortage of intensivists is the stumbling block. It is currently able to operate only 68 ICU beds, of which 13 are managed by Reliance which has set up 250 beds there as part of its corporate social responsibility.

At Nair Hospital, a dedicated Covid facility, it is the same story. There are 1,500 beds, but only 1,024 beds are currently being used for corona patients in the hospital. “We cannot increase the bed capacity any further, as it can only accommodate 1,000 patients,” said doctor.


Global coronavirus cases near 5.7 million mark, death toll rises to 355,000: Johns Hopkins University

Washington: The overall number of global coronavirus cases was nearing the 5.7 million mark, while the deaths have increased to more than 355,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

As of Thursday morning, the total number of cases stood at 5,690,951, while the death toll increased to 355,615, the University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed in its latest update. The US has also reached a grim milestone of over 100,000 COVID-19 deaths.


Currently, the country has 1,699,126 confirmed cases and 100,418 deaths, both tallies account for the highest in the world, according to the CSSE. Meanwhile in terms of cases, Brazil comes in the second place with 411,821 infections.

This was followed by Russia (370,680), the UK (268,619), Spain (236,259), Italy (231,139), France (183,038), Germany (181,524), Turkey (159,797), India (158,086), Iran (141,591), and Peru (135,905), the CSSE figures showed.

Regarding fatalities, the UK continues in the second position after the US with 37,542 COVID-19 deaths, the highest fatalities in Europe. The other countries with over 10,000 deaths are Italy (33,072), France (28,599), Spain (27,117), and Brazil (25,598).


Swarms of locust still active in 15 districts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh

In the times when India is grappling due to the COVID-19 situation, swarms of locust attacking various parts of the country is another formidable challege the country has to tackle. According to the Agriculture Ministry, nearly 15 districts in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have experienced locust attacks which are still active.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare on Wednesday informed that locust control operations have been stepped up in affected states to combat the menace.

"Amidst a wave of locust swarms sweeping across western & northwestern India, Department of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare has stepped up locust control operations in affected states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat & Madhya Pradesh," said the Agriculture Ministry in a press release.

The ministry further added: "As of today, there are active swarms of immature locust in Barmer, Jodhpur, Nagaur, Bikaner, Ganganagar, Hanumangarh, Sikar, Jaipur Districts in Rajasthan and Satna, Gwalior, Seedhi, Rajgarh, Baitul, Devas, Agar Malwa district of Madhya Pradesh."

The ministry further informed that till 26 May, control operations against locusts done in 47,308-hectare area at 303 places in Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh by Locust Circle Offices (LCO) in coordination with District Administration and State Agriculture Department.


In Rajasthan, 21 districts, in Madhya Pradesh 18 districts, in Punjab one district and in Gujarat 2 districts have undertaken Locust control till now. For effective control of locusts beyond scheduled desert areas, temporary control camps have been established in Ajmer, Chittorgarh and Dausa in Rajasthan; Mandsaur, Ujjain and Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh and Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh.

The Ministry further informed: "89 fire brigades for pesticide spray; 120 survey vehicles; 47 control vehicles with spray equipment and 810 tractor-mounted sprayers have been deployed for effective locust control, as per requirement during different days."

For effective control of locusts beyond scheduled desert areas, temporary control camps have been established in Ajmer, Chittorgarh, Dausa in Rajasthan; Mandsaur, Ujjain, Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh and Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, the ministry added.

The ministry said it has received permission from Civil Aviation Ministry for use of drones for locust control.

"Two firms have been finalized through tender for use of drones for spray of pesticides for locust control," it added.

Currently, the Locust Control Offices have 21 Micronair and 26 Ulvamast spray machines which are being utilized for locust control.


Meanwhile, supply order for procurement of additional 55 vehicles has been placed to strengthen the control potential. Adequate stock pesticide Malathion has been maintained at Locust Control Organizations.

Advisories have been issued to Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab regarding the locust attack and necessary measures to be taken for effective control and pesticides that are to be used for effective locust control in cropped areas.

Swarms of locusts that had entered Katol and Parseoni in Nagpur district of Maharashtra over the last four days, have now moved to the neighbouring Bhandara district, an agriculture department official said.


These crop-eating pests moved to Mohadi tehsil in Bhandara district during the day on Wednesday, before being spotted in Temani village in Tumsar taluka by late night, Divisional Joint Director of Agriculture Department, Ravi Bhosle told PTI.

"The swarms of locusts on Wednesday moved to Mohadi in Bhandara district and were spotted in two villages in that tehsil. By around 10 pm, the locusts were spotted in Temani village in the district," he said.

The swarms stretching up to 17 kms in length had first entered farms in Fetri, Khangaon in Katol in Nagpur district and in Ashti taluka in Wardha district on Saturday night and Sunday where they damaged orange crop and vegetable plantations in some areas, before moving towards Parseoni tehsil on Monday night.

Besides tracking the movement of locusts, officials are now trying to displace the pest from agricultural fields, the official said.

"We have started 'Operation Locust Control' by spraying pesticides through fire tenders and flood lights," he said.


Major IED blast averted by timely input, action by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama

Pulwama (Jammu and Kashmir): A major incident of a vehicle-borne IED blast was averted by the timely input and action by Pulwama Police, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Army, the Jammu and Kashmir Police said.

According to sources, Pulwama Police got credible information last night about a terrorist moving with an explosive-laden car ready to blast at some location. They took out various parties of police and security forces and covered all possible routes keeping themselves and the police and security forces away from the road at safer locations.


The suspected vehicle came and a few rounds were fired towards it. A little ahead this vehicle was abandoned and the driver escaped in the darkness. On close look, the vehicle was seen to be carrying heavy explosives in a drum on the rear seat. Possibly more explosive would be fitted elsewhere in the vehicle, sources added.

The vehicle was kept under watch for the night. People in nearby houses were evacuated and the vehicle exploded in situ by the Bomb Disposal Squad as moving the vehicle would have involved serious threat, sources said. The vehicle reportedly sports a number plate of a scooter registered somewhere in Kathua district of Jammu zone, sources added.


Major fire breaks out at hotel in south Mumbai; 25 rescued

A major fire broke out in a five-storey hotel in south Mumbai on Wednesday night. At least 25 people were rescued by the fire department.

The fire broke out in the second and fourth floors of Hotel Fortune building in Dhobi Talao. Twenty-five doctors were residing in the hotel. The BMC has arranged temporary accommodation for emergency and essential service staffers, including doctors and nurses, in various hotels and lodges in the city due to COVID-19 pandemic.

The situation is totally under control now and no injuries have been reported, said Mumbai Fire Brigade. The cause of the blaze is not known immediately.


Earlier on April 21, a big fire broke out in a lodging room of Hotel Ripon near Mumbai Central, which was being used as a quarantine facility by the civic body.

Twenty-five quarantined persons and two others were rescued from the hotel. The building was being used as an isolation centre for suspected coronavirus patients. At least eight fire engines were pressed into service and the flames were brought under control after 45 minutes. The fire was confined to electrical wiring, installations, beds, wooden furniture and air-conditioners on the first floor.


After putting 'warning' label under Donald Trump's tweet, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey launches Civic Integration Policy to prevent fake news during elections

Twitter Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey took to his site on Thursday morning in response to US President Donald Trump’s threat of shutting down the social media site for questioning the authenticity of one of Trump’s tweets.

Taking responsibility for the ‘fact check’, Dorsey tweeted, “Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.”


Twitter has in the past been the source of fake news peddling in several countries including the United States and India. Dorsey himself has faced a lot of criticism for the same. Acknowledging this, Dorsey said, “This does not make us an “arbiter of truth.” Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”

In response to Trump’s tweet, Dorsey said that they were updating the US President’s tweet into making people think they don’t need to register to get a ballot (only registered voters receive ballots) under the Civic Integrity Policy. “We’re updating the link on @realDonaldTrump ’s tweet to make this clearer,” Dorsey tweeted.


According to the policy, “You may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes. This includes posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process.”

Twitter considers civic processes to be events or procedures mandated, organized, and conducted by the governing and/or electoral body of a country, state, region, district, or municipality to address a matter of common concern through public participation. Some examples of civic processes may include:

  • Political elections

  • Censuses

  • Major referenda and ballot initiatives


Violation of this policy

Twitter said it prohibits 3 categories of manipulative behaviour and content under this policy:

Misleading information about how to participateYou can’t share false or misleading information about how to participate in an election or other civic process. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Misleading information about procedures to participate in a civic process (for example, that you can vote by Tweet, text message, email, or phone call in jurisdictions where these are not a possibility);

  • Misleading information about requirements for participation, including identification or citizenship requirements; and

  • Misleading statements or information about the official, announced date or time of a civic process.

Suppression and intimidationYou can’t share false or misleading information intended to intimidate or dissuade people from participating in an election or other civic process. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Misleading claims that polling places are closed, that polling has ended, or other misleading information relating to votes not being counted;

  • Misleading claims about police or law enforcement activity related to voting in an election, polling places, or collecting census information;

  • Misleading claims about long lines, equipment problems, or other disruptions at voting locations during election periods;

  • Misleading claims about process procedures or techniques which could dissuade people from participating; and

  • Threats regarding voting locations or other key places or events

False or misleading affiliationYou can’t create fake accounts which misrepresent their affiliation, or share content that falsely represents its affiliation, to a candidate, elected official, political party, electoral authority, or government entity.

Earlier, Twitter put a warning label under two posts by Donald Trump, prompting the US president to accuse the popular social media platform of "interfering" in the presidential election scheduled in November.

Twitter highlighted two of Trump's tweets on Tuesday that falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud in the elections, appending a message the social media giant has introduced recently to fight misinformation or unverified claims.

"There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Main-in Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone.....," Trump tweeted.

Twitter's notification displays a blue exclamation mark underneath the two tweets, suggesting readers "get the facts about mail-in ballots".

Trump, who has some 80 million followers on Twitter, responded by tweeting again, saying the social media company "is completely stifling free speech". "Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post....," a visibly upset Trump tweeted.


PM Modi to Rahul Gandhi, leaders pay tribute Jawaharlal Nehru on his 56th death anniversary

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and others paid tributes to Jawaharlal Nehru on his 56th death anniversary on Wednesday.

Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote: "Tributes to our first PM, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Ji on his death anniversary."


Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi while paying tributes called Jawaharlal Nehru a freedom fighter and a visionary.

“Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Ji was a brave freedom fighter, the architect of modern India & our first PM. A visionary, he is immortalised in the world class institutions he inspired, that have stood the test of time. On his death anniversary, my tribute to this great son of India,” he said in his tribute posted on Twitter.


Many leaders paid tributes to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on his 56th death anniversary. Here's what they had to say:


Pandit Nehru was born on November 14, 1889 in Allahabad. In 1919, he joined the Indian National Congress and joined Mahatma Gandhi in the independence movement. He became the General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee in September 1923.

He was sworn-in on August 15, 1947, as the first prime minister of India when the nation gained independence from the British empire. Serving till his death on May 27, 1964, Nehru remains India's longest-serving Prime Minister.


Devendra Fadnavis is impatient and desperate but state govt is stable: Sharad Pawar

Mumbai: As the BJP stepped up the attack against the Maha Vikas Aghadi government for its ‘inept’ handling of the coronavirus crisis, Nationalist Congress Party strongman Sharad Pawar on Tuesday slammed former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, saying that he is impatient and desperate but the state government is quite strong, safe and stable.

In a telephonic interview with FPJ, Pawar, who held a one and a half hour meeting with CM Uddhav Thackeray, hours after his interaction with Governor BS Koshyari on Monday, suggested that Fadnavis was keen to bring down the government. He explained that his interaction with Thackeray was "routine."

However, he admitted it was unusual for him to visit Thackeray at his residence "Matoshree." Describing his meeting with the Governor as a "courtesy call," he said he had received an invitation from the Governor. He clarified that they did not discuss either "COVID or politics".

"All legislators of the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress are together. There are numbers on our side. Who wants a fresh poll right now? Any attempt to break away at this time and going in for a fresh election will result in the public beating us," he observed.

"There is a huge crisis because of the pandemic. Is this the time to play politics?" demanded Pawar while reiterating that Fadnavis is quite impatient. As far as the MVA constituents was concerned, there was complete unity and coordination. "There is no danger to the government. The government is strong," he asserted.

"There is a total consensus among the three partners on how to further make effective the fight against the virus and review the economy," said Pawar. On media reports about the widening gap between the government and the adminis tration, Pawar said there is no truth in it. Instead, he added that both are working in tandem.


Passenger on IndiGo's Chennai-Coimbatore flight tests positive for COVID-19

Chennai: A young man who flew to Coimbatore from Chennai on board an IndiGo flight on Monday is among those who tested positive for COVID-19. Overall, four passengers in airport quarantine have tested positive for the novel coronavirus disease.

The man, aged 24, who is a native of Coimbatore, had left Chennai on board flight 6E 381 on Monday night. Sources in Coimbatore, said, he was among the 93 passengers whose swab samples were collected upon arrival.

"On Tuesday, his samples returned positive following which he was admitted to the ESI Hospital. Since he came from Chennai incidentally a coronavirus hotspot his name was added to the tally of patients in the State capital. As on date, Coimbatore has zero ‘active’ coronavirus cases," an official said.


Asked how he managed to pass scrutiny at the Chennai airport, an official said, "He was asymptomatic and hence passed muster. We check all passengers for symptoms and use thermal scanners at the airport before departure. Downloading of Aarogya Setu is only recommended and not mandatory. We are not sure if this passenger had downloaded it."

Since domestic air traffic opened up, Tamil Nadu has limited its inbound flights to 25 per day, primarily because the State finds it a challenge to test thousands of passengers who would be arriving at the airports.As per protocol, all asymptomatic passengers have to be under home quarantine for 14 days and visitors have to opt for institutional quarantine. All of them are stamped with the Quarantine seal on their hands with indelible ink.

Meanwhile, 646 persons have tested positive for COVID-19, taking Tamil Nadu’s tally to 17,728. Of this, Chennai alone saw 510 cases.

Hours after it came to light that the passenger on board the IndiGo flight had tested positive, the airlines said no one else was seated near the passenger. “The passenger who tested positive was seated on board the aircraft with all precautionary measures, including face mask, face shield and gloves, as were the other passengers. No one else was seated in his vicinity, significantly reducing the possibility of transmission,” IndiGo said in a statement. The airlines added that its aircraft are regularly sanitised as part of a standard operating procedure. The aircraft on which the passenger travelled was also disinfected. All crew members of the said flight have been grounded for 14 days.