Today Picture

Omar welcomes renewed bilateral engagement between India & Pakistan

He said the evolving situation has made it pretty clear that the outlook of both the countries has undergone a big change and has been replaced with a policy of peaceful engagement.

The National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abdullah on Wednesday welcomed the renewed bilateral engagement between India and Pakistan after a long hiatus saying the changed understanding of both the neighbouring countries vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir will act as forerunner of peace and prosperity in the region.

Commenting on a series of initiatives being taken by the government of India, Omar said the renewed outlook of both the countries give an inkling of a changed mindset towards Jammu and Kashmir.

He said the evolving situation has made it pretty clear that the outlook of both the countries has undergone a big change and has been replaced with a policy of peaceful engagement.

He said it was a welcoming step that must be carried forward positively.

Talking to party delegations in Srinagar, Omar while remarking on the development, said, “We have been pleading with the government of India to restore 4G services in J&K over a period of time, but all of a sudden the service was restored. The letup to the woes of people wasn’t confined to that measure only. Over the period of time we saw how both the neighbouring countries came up with a DGMO level talk on the cessation of violence on the LOC and international border.”

Jaishankar to visit Dhaka today ahead of Modi’s trip

During his visit, Jaishankar will do the groundwork for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Bangladesh later this month.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar will visit Dhaka tomorrow at the invitation of his Bangladesh counterpart A K Abdul Momen, it was officially announced here today.

During the visit, Jaishankar will hold extensive talks with Momen and also call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

“The visit of the external affairs minister to Bangladesh follows the virtual summit held between the Prime Ministers of the two countries on 17 December and will also provide an opportunity to the two sides to take stock of the progress in bilateral relations, the ministry of external affairs said. During his visit, Jaishankar will do the groundwork for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Bangladesh later this month.

It is learnt that among other events, Modi will take part in a function on 26 March to mark the birth centenary of Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the golden jubilee of the country’s independence and 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh.

A number of key accords are expected to be signed between the two countries during Modi’s visit, including those on energy and communication. Relations between India and Bangladesh have witnessed an unprecedented upswing over the last few years.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Modi and Sheikh Hasina had a virtual summit i during which they pledged to further consolidate bilateral ties and jointly tackle the challenge posed by the pandemic. The Bangladesh prime minister had also paid rich tributes to the Indian armed forces and thanked India for the liberation of her country from Pakistan in 1971.

India has gifted nearly two million doses of the Covishield vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to Bangladesh. Lately, Bangladesh has again been nudging India to quickly settle the Teesta water-sharing issue in the larger interest of the bilateral relations.

However, the Modi government has clearly told Dhaka that the water-sharing deal could only be signed once there was domestic political consensus over it in India. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has still not given her approval to the proposed deal.

Karnataka minister quits over sex scandal

In his brief letter to the chief minister, Mr Jarkiholi contested the allegation but said he was resigning on moral grounds even though there was no truth in the charge against him.“ I believe that I am innocent but am resigning on moral grounds,“ he wrote, while seeking a probe into the affair.

Ramesh Jarkiholi, water resources minister in the B S Yediyurappa government, resigned today following the release of a controversial compact disc allegedly involving him and a woman in a “sex for job” scandal.

The resignation, which was forced on the minister by the BJP’s central leadership following the accompanying furore and embarrassment, comes a day before the monthlong Budget session of the state Assembly commences.

An embarrassed Mr Yediyurappa is learnt to have assured Jarkiholi while seeking his resignation that he would be re-inducted once his name was cleared. BJP national general secretary B L Santosh too spent time in convincing him to resign to spare the government a major discomfort.

The party is learnt to have moved fast in this case prompted by the ensuing Assembly polls in major states.

In his brief letter to the chief minister, Mr Jarkiholi contested the allegation but said he was resigning on moral grounds even though there was no truth in the charge against him.“ I believe that I am innocent but am resigning on moral grounds,“ he wrote, while seeking a probe into the affair.

The controversy erupted after an RTI activist, Dinesh Kallahalli, met the Bengaluru police commissioner, Kamal Pant, and sought protection for the unidentified woman concerned.

Urging the police to institute an enquiry into the incident, he alleged that the minister had taken advantage of the woman who went to seek help in getting a government job. According to Mr Kallahalli, the woman had contacted him as she feared for her life while maintaining that the question of going public did not arise in view of the influence that the powerful minister wielded.

Minutes after the details went public, political parties and other organisations went on the offensive. While the BJP minister, who has won six consecutive elections from Gokak, had called the allegations a “honey trap”, his supporters claimed that the whole issue was an attempt to undermine him. A former Congressman, he was instrumental in breaking the JDS-Congress combine under H D Kumaraswamy’s chief ministership in 2019 by taking a group of his partymen and JDS legislators to the BJP. Subsequently, he won the bypoll on a BJP ticket.

Previously, in 2016, Congress minister HY Meti was forced to resign from the K Siddaramaiah cabinet after a sex tape went public. In the past three BJP ministers also had to resign after allegedly watching porn in the Assembly.

Nepal PM Oli takes jibe at Prachanda’s India remarks

The statements come amidst continued rumblings in Mr Oli’s Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government and the recent political developments after Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bhandari dissolved the House of Representatives as per his advice in December last year and the Supreme Court reinstated it on 23 February.

As India’s relations with Nepal hit another of their periodic lows, and in the wake of his rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s statement that the next coalition government would be “comfortable for India,” embattled Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli has said that he was in favour of a government that the Nepali people were “comfortable” with.

Mr Oli was speaking during the inauguration of the Purbanchal Cancer Hospital at the neighbouring town of Birtamod in Jhapa district in East Nepal yesterday.

The statements come amidst continued rumblings in Mr Oli’s Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government and the recent political developments after Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bhandari dissolved the House of Representatives as per his advice in December last year and the Supreme Court reinstated it on 23 February.

Mr Dahal, aka Prachanda, who leads a splinter faction of the NCP had earlier said that it was time PM Oli was replaced by a new coalition of his NCP faction, Nepali Congress and Janata Samajwadi, which would be “comfortable for India.”

“The road we have paved for ourselves, we should not let others damage it. We will keep cordial relations with our neighbours by keeping our national interests, our geography, our land, our sovereignty, our self-respect, intact. We do not need a government that others are comfortable with, but one that the Nepali people are comfortable with, one that is easy for the Nepali people, that can work for the Nepali people,” Mr Oli said.

“We will maintain friendly relations with all (countries), will take help from all, and cooperate with all, but our destination will be a prosperous Nepal, peaceful Nepal. Making others happy is not our job,” he added.

Mr Oli also welcomed people from neighbouring countries, especially India, to reap benefits from his country’s healthcare services, which, experts say, have now developed to such an extent that they can be compared to other top medical facilities in the entire South Asian region.

“People from Nepal and other countries can come here for medical treatment,” Mr Oli said, also mentioning how the services in Nepal were “way cheaper” than other places in South Asia.

“I can vouch for the quality and low cost of medical services that we provide in Nepal now,” he added.

The 100-bed Purbanchal Cancer Hospital, a separate wing of the existing B&C Teaching Hospital, and the brainchild of Nepali entrepreneur Durga Prasain, is already catering to around 20 cancer patients from areas in India near the Nepal border like Siliguri, Naxalbari and Matigara, and even from Sikkim.

COVID Vaccination: Over 2 lakh doses administered to senior citizens, 45+

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare informed on Tuesday that as many as 2,08,791 doses of Covid vaccine have been administered to people above 60 years of age and the 45+ population with comorbidities, taking the total doses administered so far to 1,48,55,073.

The cumulative figures include 93,03,048 healthcare workers and 53,43,219, it added.

Phase 3 of Covid vaccination covering 27 crore people above the age of 60 years and those above 45 with comorbidities started on Monday. Around three crore healthcare and frontline workers were vaccinated in the first two phases of the vaccination drive.

Vaccines are being provided free of charge at government institutions and on a payment basis at private healthcare facilities. All private hospitals can charge Rs 150 for vaccines and Rs 100 as service charges as fixed by the Central government.

Around 10,000 hospitals empanelled under the Ayushman Bharat-PMJAY and 687 hospitals under CGHS can be used by the states as Covid Vaccination Centres (CVCs).

The second phase of the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination for the general population commenced on Monday along with the registration on Co-WIN.

Co-WIN is the government portal for the Covid-19 vaccination drive where the beneficiaries can avail on-site registrations wherein they can walk into identified centres, get themselves registered and get vaccinated.

Those who are eligible for vaccination, aged above 60 years and those over 45 with comorbidities, can register and book their slots for vaccination, anytime and anywhere, using the CO-WIN 2.0 portal or through other IT applications such as the Arogya Setu app etc.

Eligible beneficiaries can register at the CO-WIN 2.0 portal through their mobile number following a step-by-step process. A person can register as many as four beneficiaries with a single mobile number. However, the beneficiaries would have to produce identity proofs separately.

AIADMK-led NDA faces seat-sharing, alliance problems

Statesman News Service
AIADMK-led NDA in Tamil Nadu is facing seat-sharing and alliance problems alike with pressure mounting on it to accommodate rebel Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) by BJP central leadership and the DMDK of Vijayakanth indicting contesting alone due to seat-sharing differences.

With seat-sharing talks underway, reports have emerged that the BJP has asked the AIADMK to accommodate TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK into the alliance. Reports say the issue was discussed during a late-night Sunday meeting between Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP secretary BL Santhosh with chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami and deputy CM O Panneerselvam.

BJP had reportedly stated that it would allocate seats to the AMMK from its share of seats in the alliance. However, the CM had expressed ‘serious concerns’ over the idea and categorically ruled out the entry of VK Sasikala, closest aide of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa and expelled AIADMK general secretary, into the party after her release from Bengaluru jail.

When asked if he was okay to be in an alliance with the AIADMK and BJP to defeat DMK, the AMMK chief said any party opposed to the DMK and willing to accept his party’s leadership could join its led combine.” Dhinakaran had just finished a meeting with Sasikala, at her residence in T Nagar on Tuesday.

Sasikala had on Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary last week called upon all supporters of Jayalalithaa to come together and make her dream ~ that AIADMK should rule the state for 100 years ~ come true.

But in the meeting with Amit Shah and at other informal talks with BJP leaders, according to sources, chief minister Palanisamy has been steadfast on his stand that Sasikala cannot come back to the AIADMK and the party did not want any ties with TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK. Sources say that O Panneerselvam who had been the first to rebel against Sasikala as she prepared to become the CM of the state in February 2017, is of moderate approach towards the idea because he is concerned that there would be a split in the votes of the Thevar community if the AIADMK does not accommodate Sasikala and her nephew Dhinakaran.

The alliance faces another threat of losing DMDK, another ally, due to seat sharing differences. After talks with AIADMK and DMDK hit a roadblock on Monday, DMDK deputy general secretary LK Sudhish took to social media and hinted that the party may contest alone in the upcoming polls. He posted an image saying “Our CM Vijayakant, our symbol Murasu (war drum) and our flag is DMDK party flag”.

AIADMK has allotted PMK 23 seats, but DMDK is expecting half the seats allotted to PMK.

AAP looking to be the main opposition in Gujarat

New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) success in Gujarat municipal polls last week was followed by an impressive show in the local body polls in the state on Tuesday when it secured 42 seats.

The AAP leaders in Gujarat claimed that after receiving support from the people, the party plans to project itself as the main opposition in the state, replacing the Congress.

In its debut elections in the state, the party secured victory in all the segments under the district – Nagar Palika, Taluka Panchayat and District Panchayat. Last week, the AAP had already won 27 seats in municipal elections. The AAP had fielded 2,000 candidates for 9,000 seats for the local body polls.

Gujarat in-charge of the party Gulab Singh told IANS, “10 days before, we were not in a position to say clearly what is going to happen? But, now we can say that we our party has been established in the state. We picked up issues of people and raised it wherever it was possible. Though, we were not in any institutions (Assembly of Municipal bodies), but we played the role of Opposition on roads, faced water cannon and lathicharge from the police. Now we are confident that our strategy was successful and secured victory which will setup roadmap for Assembly polls.”

Riding on the victory in the local body polls, party leaders believe that they have 20 months to establish the party as the main Opposition. After winning two consecutive elections in the state, the party will now work on to increase the membership.

Membership drive
AAP leadership in Gujarat said that the party is set to launch a month-long membership drive across the state. The idea of membership drive is one of the key plans which the local leadership has shared with party head Arvind Kejriwal during his Surat visit on February 28.

On claim of establishing the party as the main Opposition replacing the Congress, Singh said, “Congress maintained complete silence for the last 30 years and allowed the BJP to continue its corrupt policies. People here are fed up with corruption. The Opposition is considered to be the voice of the people but the Congress did not raise their concerns. Also, since the election process began, many local and district level leaders from the Congress have joined AAP. Dinesh Kacchariya, a two time municipal councillior joined AAP on February 28. Around 20 Congress leaders have joined AAP and many more are likely to join.”

“As of now, there was not even a single representative of AAP in Gujarat, but today people have supported the party and shown their trust in us. We will take this opportunity to establish the party as an alternative in the state,” said Gopal Italia, head of Gujarat AAP unit.

Hajj 2021: COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for all pilgrims

Riyadh: The kingdom of Saudi Arabia will only allow people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, the country’s health ministry said on Tuesday.

Saudi health minister Dr. Tawfiq al-Rabiah announced ‘mandatory vaccination’ for the pilgrims planning to attend the five-day program in July.

Rabia did not confirm the number of pilgrims that the Kingdom will receive this year, and whether the number will be limited internally, such as 2020, or will it witness wider participation.

 “You must prepare early to secure the manpower required to operate the health facilities in Makkah, the holy sites and Madinah and the entry points for pilgrims for the 2021 Hajj season,” he said in an official circular.

“A vaccination committee must be formed for the Hajj and Umrah season, on which they have adopted the compulsory reception of the COVID-19 vaccine for participating healthcare workers,” he added.

Health ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly told in a press conference on Tuesday that there was no need for quarantine after vaccinations and contacting anyone who had been vaccinated.

Saudi Arabia reported 302 new virus cases on Tuesday. There are 2,571 active cases, 508 of which are in critical condition.

What is Hajj?

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

Millions of pilgrims come across the world. 2020 witnessed an exceptional season for Hajj, and in consideration of the “COVID-19” pandemic. The number of pilgrims at that time was limited to about 10 thousand from inside Saudi Arabia only, compared to about 2.5 million pilgrims in 2019 from all parts of the world.

India is very serious about growing in maritime sector: PM Modi at Maritime India Summit 2021

He noted that instead of a piecemeal approach focus is on the entire sector as one.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today inaugurated ‘Maritime India Summit 2021’ through video conferencing.

Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister invited the world to come to India and be a part of India’s growth trajectory. India is very serious about growing in the maritime sector and emerging as a leading Blue Economy of the world. Through the focus areas of up-gradation of infrastructure, boosting reform journey, India aims to strengthen the vision of Aatamnirbhar Bharat, he said.

He noted that instead of a piecemeal approach focus is on the entire sector as one. He informed that the capacity of major ports has increased from 870 million tonnes in 2014 to 1550 million tonnes now.

Indian ports now have measures such as: Direct port Delivery, Direct Port Entry and an upgraded Port Community System (PCS) for easy data flow. Our ports have reduced waiting time for inbound and outbound cargo. He also informed that mega ports with world-class infrastructure are being developed in Vadhavan, Paradip and Deendayal Port in Kandla.

The Prime Minister asserted that “Ours is a Government that is investing in waterways in a way that was never seen before. Domestic waterways are found to be cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways of transporting freight. We aim to operationalise 23 waterways by 2030.”

He also pointed out that India has as many as 189 lighthouses across its vast coastline. “We have drawn up a programme for developing tourism in the land adjacent to 78 lighthouses. The key objective of this initiative is to enhance the development of the existing lighthouses and its surrounding areas into unique maritime tourism landmarks”, he informed.

He announced that steps are also being taken to introduce urban water transport systems in key states and cities such as Kochi, Mumbai, Gujarat and Goa.

The Prime Minister said that the Government has recently widened the ambit of the maritime sector by renaming the Ministry of Shipping as Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways so that work happens in a holistic manner. The Government of India is also focusing on the domestic shipbuilding and ship repair market. To encourage domestic shipbuilding approval has been given to the Shipbuilding Financial Assistance Policy for Indian Shipyards.

The Prime Minister informed that the Ministry of Port Shipping and Waterways has created a list of 400 investable projects. These projects have an investment potential of $ 31 billion or Rs 2.25 lakh crores. Talking about the Maritime India Vision 2030, The Prime Minister said It outlines the priorities of the Government.

The Sagar-Manthan: Mercantile Marine Domain Awareness Centre has also been launched today. It is an information system for enhancing maritime safety, search and rescue capabilities, security and marine environment protection.

The Sagarmala project for promoting port-led development was announced by the Government in 2016. As part of the Programme, more than 574 projects at a cost of 82 billion US Dollars or Rs 6 lakh crores have been identified for implementation from 2015 to 2035.

Ship repair clusters will be developed along both coasts by 2022. The domestic ship recycling industry will also be promoted to create ‘Wealth from Waste’. India has enacted the Recycling of Ships Act, 2019 and agreed to the Hong Kong International Convention.

The Prime Minister expressed the desire to share our best practices with the world and also the openness to learning from global best practices. Continuing with India’s focus on trade and economic linkages with the BIMSTEC and IOR nations, India plans to enhance investment in infrastructure and facilitate mutual agreements by 2026, he said.

The Prime Minister said that the Government has initiated holistic development of island infrastructure and ecosystem. He added that the Government is keen to promote the use of renewable energy in the maritime sector.

He said the Government is in the process of installing solar and wind-based power systems at all the major ports across the country and aims to increase usage of renewable energy to more than 60% of total energy by 2030 in three phases across Indian ports.

The Prime Minister concluded with an exhortation to the global investors “India’s long coastline awaits you. India’s hardworking people await you. Invest in our ports. Invest in our people. Let India be your preferred trade destination. Let Indian ports be your port of call for trade and commerce.”

6 states show Covid surge; India’s total cases touch 1.11 crore

India’s total number of active Covid-19 cases was recorded at1,68,627, comprising 1.52 per cent of the total infections, the ministry said highlighting five states that account for 84 per cent of the total active cases in the country.

Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have shown a surge in new Covid-19 cases contributing to 87.25 per cent of 15,510 fresh infections reported in a day, pushing India’s tally to 1,11,12,241 on Monday, while 106 fatalities mounted the death toll to 1,57,157 the Union Health Ministry said.

India’s total number of active Covid-19 cases was recorded at1,68,627, comprising 1.52 per cent of the total infections, the ministry said highlighting five states that account for 84 per cent of the total active cases in the country.

Maharashtra alone accounts for 46.39 per cent of India’s total active cases, followed by Kerala with 29.49 per cent.

The positivity rate too has been rising gradually, pushing it to 1.52 per cent. As per the Ministry’s data, there are 1,68,627 active cases at present after 11,288 patients were discharged in a day.

The experts have expressed a number of possibilities which could be due to lax attitude of people towards following Covid protocols to “mutations and new strains” causing the surge, sources in the health ministry said.

This trend is alarming as in mid February the average daily new infections oscillated between 9,000 to 12,000 while the deaths were between 78 to 120.

Delhi adds 175 cases, 1 death:Delhi today recorded 175 new coronavirus infections and one fatality, even as the positivity rate rose to 0.44 per cent, according to the Delhi government’s latest health bulletin. The city’s Covid toll climbed to 10,911, the health bulletin said.

The new cases took its coronavirus infection tally to 6,39,464. These cases came out of 39,733 tests conducted the previous day.

The active Covid cases in the national capital rose to 1,404 from 1,335 the previous day, according to the bulletin.