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10% turnout in 1st phase Assam Assembly polls


The 126-member Assam Assembly will go to the polls in three phases.

Around 10 per cent voters have cast their ballots so far on Saturday in the first phase of the Assam Assembly polls which is underway amid tight security in 47 constituencies, according to election officials.

Men and women in large numbers queued up in front of the polling stations well before the voting started at 7 a.m.

Polling will continue till 6 p.m as the Election Commission extended the time by an hour in view of the Covid-19 induced situations.

A total of 8,109,815 voters, including 4,032,481 females, are eligible to cast their votes across 11,537 polling stations mostly covering the eastern Assam’s 12 districts.

The first phase of polling will decide the fate of 264 candidates, including Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal (Majuli), Assembly Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami (Jorhat), state Congress chief Ripun Bora (Gohpur), Asom Gana Parishad chief Atul Bora (Bokakhat), Congress Legislature Party leader Debabrata Saikia (Nazira), jailed Raijor Dal President Akhil Gogoi (Sivasagar) and Assam Jatiya Parishad President Lurinjyoti Gogoi (Duliajan).

Twenty-three women aspirants are also in the fray.

Covid-19 protocols for the voters, including social distancing and thermal screening, are being maintained.

In the 2016 elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance secured 35 of the 47 seats, while the Congress won nine and the remaining three seats by other parties.

According to the election officials, over 30,000 Central Armed Police Forces along with thousands of state security forces have been deployed to maintain law and order during this phase.

No untoward incident has been reported so far from any of the 12 districts where the balloting processes are underway.

In a unique gesture, the election officials donated saplings to the voters in the model polling stations, which were decorated with colourful balloons.

The 126-member Assam Assembly will go to the polls in three phases.

The other phases will be held on April 1 (39 seats) and April 6 (40 seats).

The results will be declared on May 2.




Biden invites PM Modi to climate summit


The Climate Summit will be Modi’s second multilateral virtual meeting with Biden.

US President Joe Biden has invited 40 heads of state, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to join him for the World Leaders Summit on Climate to be hosted by his administration on April 22-23.

The other leaders including Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Lotay Tshering of Bhutan have also been invited to the virtual meeting to highlight the urgency of action to combat climate change, the White House said on Friday.

European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson were invited.

So were Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The Leaders Summit on Climate will underscore the urgency, and the economic benefits, of stronger climate action. It will be a key milestone on the road to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow,” the White House said.

The virtual summit will be live-streamed for people everywhere to watch the proceedings.

Biden has made fighting climate change a pillar of both his foreign and domestic policies and one of his first actions on taking office in January was to have the US rejoin the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

The summit is meant to position Biden, and the US, as the global leader in meeting the climate change challenge and boost his stature.

“By the time of the summit, the US will announce an ambitious 2030 emissions target as its new Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement for limiting the damage from climate change, the White House said.

Biden has asked all US government agencies to come up with ways to cut greenhouse emissions and harness green energy.

He appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry to be his international emissary for climate change reflecting the high priority it has on his agenda.

He is reaching out to the leaders of China and Russia, who he has harshly criticised over their human rights record and their international rivalry with the US to work together on the climate agenda despite their differences.

Biden wants countries around the world to take steps to limit emissions to a level that would limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius “in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change”, the White House said.

“The President urged leaders to use the Summit as an opportunity to outline how their countries also will contribute to stronger climate ambition.”

India will be under US pressure to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by being shown as the world’s third-highest emitter of greenhouse gases after Beijing and Washington.

However, that picture is misleading as on a per capita basis the US emissions were nearly nine times that of India.

An Indian emitted only 1.96 tonnes of greenhouse gases in a year, while an American was responsible for 16.56 tonnes.

For all the posturing and preaching, Biden or the climate change activists in the US are not going to bring down the US per capita emissions anywhere near the Indian level while demanding that India cut down its emissions overall.

India is already promoting green energy to eventually eliminate fossil fuel-generated electricity.

It is reportedly working on a goal of achieving a net-zero emissions by 2050. Net-zero emission is achieved by removing all greenhouse gases that are put out by various means ranging from aforestation to technologies to capture the emissions.

The Climate Summit will be Modi’s second multilateral virtual meeting with Biden.

Earlier this month, Biden and Modi were joined by Prime Minister Yoshihide Sugo of Japan and Scott Morrison of Australia at a summit of the Quad.




Two astronomy labs opened for students in Ladakh


The Lt. Governor shared the idea conceived to convert Hanley into a dark sky sanctuary and to explore possibilities to promote virtual tourism in Ladakh which he said would generate entrepreneurial opportunities for the local youth.

In a first, two astronomy labs were on Friday dedicated to students in Ladakh by the Lt. Governor RK Mathur and Prof. K Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific adviser to the government of India.

These labs have been established one each at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Leh and Kendriya Vidyalaya, Kargil. These have been sponsored by Shiv Nadar Foundation.

Addressing the gathering, the Lt. Governor said that environment protection was one of the aspirations of Ladakhi people in the newly formed UT of Ladakh. “I believe that knowing one’s environment is the best way to preserve and protect the environment and setting up of these astronomy labs is a culmination of this thought towards a practical understanding of the extra-ordinary clean environment of Ladakh,” said Mathur. He said these astronomy labs would benefit not only school children and youth at large but could be utilized as a stepping stone to promote Astro tourism in Ladakh.

The Lt. Governor shared the idea conceived to convert Hanley into a dark sky sanctuary and to explore possibilities to promote virtual tourism in Ladakh which he said would generate entrepreneurial opportunities for the local youth. He also pointed out the need to utilised the enriched environment of Hanley for continuous research programme by researchers and experts from India and abroad. He asked for continued support from the Principal Scientific Adviser and Indian Institute of Astro Physics to get these ideas conceptualized on ground.

Prof. Raghavan spoke of the rich legacy that India holds in the history of Astronomy citing Aryabatta and modern tradition using telescopes. He said that every child can aspire to be an astronomer and excel in the field of Astrophysics. This should not remain restricted to a particular section of the society. He said that these Astronomy labs will allow the Ladakhi children to unfold their ambition and inspire them to become world class scientists.




Modi hails B’desh’s achievements on eve of Dhaka visit


Modi said he was happy that his first foreign visit after the onset of the pandemic would be to a friendly neighbouring country, with which India shares deep cultural, linguistic and people-to-people ties.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said his two-day state visit to Bangladesh from tomorrow would be an occasion to convey to Dhaka India’s appreciation of the remarkable economic and developmental strides made by the neighbouring country under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

In a statement on the eve of his departure, he said he would also convey to the Bangladesh leadership India’s abiding support for the achievements made by the country and express New Delhi’s support and solidarity for Bangladesh’s fight against Covid-19. Modi said he was happy that his first foreign visit after the onset of the pandemic would be to a friendly neighbouring country, with which India shares deep cultural, linguistic and people-to-people ties.

“I look forward to my participation at the National Day celebrations tomorrow, which will also commemorate the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangabandhu was one of the tallest leaders of the last Century, whose life and ideals continue to inspire millions. I look forward to visiting Bangabandhu’s Samadhi in Tungipara to pay my respects to his memory,” he said. He said he also looked forward to offering prayers to Goddess Kali at the ancient Jashoreshwari Kali Temple, one of the 51 Shaktipeeths in the Puranic tradition.

“I am particularly looking forward to my interaction with representatives of the Matua community at Orakandi, from where Sri Sri- Harichandra Thakur ji disseminated his pious message,” the Prime Minister said.

He said he would have substantive discussions with Sheikh Hasina following their very productive virtual summit in December last year.

He said he also looked forward to his meeting with Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, and interactions with other Bangladeshi dignitaries.

Modi’s visit to Bangladesh starts a day before the first phase of voting in the Assembly elections in West Bengal where the BJP is involved in virtually a straight contest with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress.

A number of agreements will be signed and new announcements for intensifying cooperation in key areas will be made during the Prime Minister’s visit, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told the media.

The areas in which pacts are likely to be signed include disaster management, trade and oceanography. New announcements of cooperation will be made in areas like culture, health, preservation of spirit of 1971, railways, education, border development, power cooperation and start-ups.




SC sets aside NCLAT order reinstating Cyrus Mistry as Tata Sons chairperson


A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said all questions of law are in favour of Tata Group and dismissed the appeals filed by Mistry. The top court upheld the Tata Sons decision to sack Cyrus Mistry on October 24, 2016.

In a huge victory for Tata Group, the Supreme Court on Friday accepted all contentions of the Tata conglomerate and set aside the order of the NCLAT, which restored Cyrus Mistry as the executive chairman of the Tata conglomerate.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said all questions of law are in favour of Tata Group and dismissed the appeals filed by Mistry. The top court upheld the Tata Sons decision to sack Cyrus Mistry on October 24, 2016.

Shapoorji Pallonji Group counsel had argued that Mistry was removed because he was going to place a draft governance structure at the Board meeting on October 24, 2016.

“We find all the questions of law are liable to be answered in favour of the appellants (Tata Group) and the appeals filed by the Tata Group are liable to be allowed and Shapoorji Pallonji group is liable to be dismissed,” said the top court.

The top court said the value of SP Group shares will depend on the valuation by Tata Sons equities and the court will not determine the fair value.

In December 2019, the NCLAT had ruled that the proceedings of the Board meeting of Tata Sons held on October 24, 2016 removing Cyrus Mistry as chairperson was illegal.




Quad summit got China’s attention on commitment to Indo-Pacific: Biden


Biden said that he made it “clear to him” that “we are not looking for confrontation, although we know there will be steep, steep competition.”

The Quad summit “got the Chinese attention” on their seriousness in holding Beijing accountable for its actions in the Indo-Pacific region, according to US President Joe Biden.

He said on Thursday, “I met with our allies and how we are going to hold China accountable in the region. Australia, India, Japan, United States, the so-called Quad, because we have to have democracies working together.”

“Apparently, it got the Chinese attention,” he said.

Biden held the virtual summit with Prime Ministers Narendra Modi of India, Yoshihide Sugo of Japan and Scott Morrison of Australia on March 12 during which they committed to a “region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratica-values, and unconstrained by coercion.”

He warned that China’s plan is to own the future through its investments in science and technology and said the US has to match it.

“We are in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution of enormous consequence,” he said.

At his first news conference as president, he made protection and expansion of democracy the high priority of his administration asserting that the competition of the 21st Century is between democracy and autocracy and that it “is what is at stake, not just in China. Look around the world”.

He laid out the future of relations with China, which he described as one of competition rather than confrontation, with an emphasis on human rights.

His strategy to face up to the Chinese challenge, he said, is to reinforce ties with democracies in the effort to make China play by the international rules and to make the US ready for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” for which Beijing was making heavy investments.

Biden said that “allegedly, by the time I left office of the vice president, I had spent more time with (Chinese President) Xi Jinping than any other world leader”.

He said that Xi does “not have a democratic — with a small ‘D’ — bone in his body, but he is a smart, smart guy. He is one of the guys like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, who thinks autocracy is the wave of the future (and) democracy cannot function in an ever-complex world”.

What “I admire about dealing with Xi is he understands and makes no pretence about not understanding what I’m saying,” he said.

Biden said that he made it “clear to him” that “we are not looking for confrontation, although we know there will be steep, steep competition.”

“We will have strong competition, but we (will) insist China play by international rules: fair competition, fair practice is fair trade,” he said.

“As you and your country continues to blatantly violate human rights, we are going to continue to call to attention to the world,” he said he told him referring to the clampdown on democracy in Hong Kong and the treatment of the Uighur Muslims.

“No American president would back down on that,” he said.

And taking taking a dig at his predecessor Donald Trump, he added, “The moment a president walks away from that, as the last one did, is a moment we begin to lose legitimacy around the world.”

He pointed to the risks of China racing ahead in science and technology.

He said, “The future lies in who can, in fact, own the future as it relates to technology, quantum computing, a whole range of things, including in medical fields. And so what I’m going to do is make sure we invest closer to two per cent.”

“We’re going to invest in medical research — cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, the things – industries of the future – artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotech. And we’re going to make real investments. China is out investing us by a longshot, because their plan is to own that future.”




Lok Sabha adjourned sine die


Members urge Speaker to end session early in view of electioneering in 5 states

Lok Sabha was on Thursday adjourned sine die, bringing the nearly two-month long Budget session to an end.

The session started on January 29 and was originally slated to end on April 8 but several members had urged Speaker Om Birla to end the session early as they focus on electioneering in five states going to polls. Speaker Birla had recently tested positive for Covid and was not attending the House.

The Lok Sabha session had started on 29 January amid an unprecedented pandemic that has since claimed thousands of lives and showed signs of resurgence with many states including the national capital of Delhi reporting a spike in cases.




Param Bir moves HC seeking CBI probe against Deshmukh


The criminal Public Interest Litigation reiterated the allegations Singh had made earlier and sought an “immediate, unbiased, impartial” probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation against Deshmukh, an NCP leader.

Former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh on Thursday filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court seeking a CBI probe against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, who he claimed asked police officer Sachin Waze to collect Rs 100 crore from bars and restaurants.

The PIL also raised the issue of alleged corruption in police transfers and postings in the state.

The IPS officer had earlier this week approached the Supreme Court, which on Wednesday termed the matter as quite serious but asked him to approach the High Court.

The criminal Public Interest Litigation reiterated the allegations Singh had made earlier and sought an “immediate, unbiased, impartial” probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation against Deshmukh, an NCP leader.

Singh sought an HC direction to the CBI to secure CCTV footage from Deshmukh’s residence from earlier this year before it was “destroyed,” and to the state government to produce all records of communication received from IPS officer Rashmi Shukla in March 2020.

In February last year, Shukla had levelled allegations of malpractises in police postings and transfers against Deshmukh and also informed her superiors about it, but soon afterwards she was transferred, alleged the PIL.

The court should pass directions to ensure that in future police officials are not transferred on account of “pecuniary benefits to any politician”, it said.

~With inputs from PTI~




Highest daily spike of 47,262 Covid cases in 133 days


According to the Health Ministry, Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat are turning out to be a major cause of worry as the three states are recording the highest daily new coronavirus cases.

India reported 47,262 coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, the highest single-day spike since early November taking the total tally to 1,17,34,058.

There was a slight dip in cases on Tuesday at 40,715. Prior to this, the country registered an increase in cases for 12 consecutive days.

According to the Health Ministry, Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat are turning out to be a major cause of worry as the three states are recording the highest daily new coronavirus cases.

The Central government is closely monitoring and actively engaging with States and union territory over the rising cases in the country.

With the death of 275 people in the last 24 hours, the fatality toll has reached 1,60,441 in India. The active caseload has mounted to 3,68,457.

With the discharge of 23,907 patients in a day, a total of 1,12,05,160 persons have been discharged so far. A total of 10,25,628 tests were done on Tuesday.

This single-day spike was the highest since November 11, when 47,905 infections were recorded.

So far, 5.08 crore doses of corona vaccine have been administered in the country since the drive began on January 16 after approval for ‘Covishield’ and ‘Covaxin’.

Now, those over 45 years of age will also get Covid-19 vaccine from April 1, irrespective of the co-morbidities, the Central Government has announced.




Vaccine for all above 45 yrs from 1 Apr


Second dose of the vaccine can be taken between four and eight weeks, which was earlier allowed between four to six weeks

All people above 45 years of age will be eligible to get Covid-19 vaccines from April 1, the government announced on Tuesday and requested them to get registered for the inoculation.

Briefing reporters on the decisions taken by the Cabinet after its meeting, Union minster Prakash Javadekar said now even people without comorbidities who are more that 45 years of age can get vaccinated.

He requested eligible people to get themselves registered to take the jabs.

He said the Cabinet also decided that the second dose of the vaccine can be taken between four and eight weeks, on the advice of doctors. It was allowed to be taken between four to six weeks earlier, but scientists have now said that taking the second dose between four and eight weeks gives improved results.

The Union Cabinet discussed about the vaccination drive which has already achieved speedy and good progress, Javadekar said.

He said till this day, 4.85 crore vaccines have been administered and more than 32 lakh people administered the vaccine in last 24 hours.

Vaccines are available in enough numbers and there is no scarcity and the supply chains and supply line is intact, he said, adding that “I am sure everyone will welcome this decision and come forward to get vaccinated.”

To a question on cases of Covid-19 rising in some states, he said, the Central government is in touch with them and there will be effective management of the situation.

“One has to continue using masks and maintaining social distancing and washing hands is also important, but vaccination is the only shield,” he noted.

More than 32.53 lakh doses of vaccine were administered on March 22, which is the highest single- day vaccination so far, taking the total number of people inoculated to over 4.8 crore.

Meanwhile, the doubling time of Covid cases in India has decreased from 504.4 days on March 1 to 202.3 days on March 23, the Health Ministry said, highlighting that six states have reported a surge in daily new cases and together account for 80.90 per cent of the new infections reported in a day.

Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu collectively account for 80.90 per cent of the 40,715 infections reported in a span of 24 hours. Maharashtra continues to report the highest daily new cases at 24,645, followed by Punjab with 2,299 cases and Gujarat with 1,640 new cases.

India’s total active caseload is rising after touching its lowest mark in mid-February, the ministry highlighted.

India’s cumulative recoveries surged to 1,11,81,253, with 29,785 recoveries being registered in a span of 24 hours. Besides, 199 deaths were reported in a day.

Delhi’s Covid cases spike to 1,101: Delhi today logged a spike of 1,101 fresh coronavirus infections ~ the highest singleday figure in more than three months ~ while 4 more people succumbed to the contagious, deadly virus which is again surging through various parts of the country including the national capital.

~With inputs from PTI~





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