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Maharashtra ATS may seek Sachin Vaze’s custody in businessman’s death case


After a brief hearing this afternoon, the Thane court has now posted the matter for further hearing on March 30.

The Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), which is probing the death of Thane businessman Mankukh Hiran, is likely to seek custody of arrested-suspended Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Vaze from the Special NIA Court, official sources said here on Friday.

Official sources said that the ATS has collected sufficient evidences in the case for which Vaze’s custody may be required and for this, it will approach the Special NIA Court.

Earlier on Friday, the ATS opposed the anticipatory bail plea of Vaze – currently in the NIA custody till March 25 – at a hearing before the Thane Sessions Court.

The anticipatory bail plea – which was filed by Vaze before his arrest and subsequent suspension – had come up for hearing on March 12 when the court declined any relief, but served notice to the state government and posted it for hearing on March 19.

After a brief hearing this afternoon, the Thane court has now posted the matter for further hearing on March 30.

The NIA is probing the SUV case involving the abandoned Scorpio found near industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s home on February 25 along with 20 gelatin sticks and a threat note, while the ATS is handling the Hiran death case.

Both the cases triggered a huge political uproar culminating in the shunting of the former Mumbai Commissioner of Police Param Bir Singh who was replaced by Hemant Nagrale, with speculation of more action expected in the next few days.




SUV case fallout: Pawar-Anil Deshmukh meet in New Delhi


“The NIA and ATS are investigating the matter in depth. The state government is fully cooperating with the NIA… Both their probes are proceeding in the right direction,” informed Deshmukh.

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh called on Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar along with state NCP chief Jayant Patil and others in New Delhi on Friday.

Emerging from the meeting after nearly two hours, Deshmukh said that they discussed the fallout in the Antilia bomb scare case in which an explosive-laden SUV was left outside Mukesh Ambani’s residence, and the Assistant Police Inspector (API) Sachin Vaze matter besides the ongoing probes by National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) into them.

“The NIA and ATS are investigating the matter in depth. The state government is fully cooperating with the NIA… Both their probes are proceeding in the right direction,” informed Deshmukh.

He said that after the probe agencies’ reports are received, the state government will take appropriate action against the culprits.

However, he declined to answer a query whether the recent developments have resulted in a demoralization of the Mumbai and state police forces which witnessed a major shakeup on Wednesday following the arrest of the Crime Branch API Vaze, and others under the scanner of NIA.

Pawar is expected to return to Mumbai later this evening and may meet Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, amid speculation that there may be some changes in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) cabinet pertaining to NCP ministers.

The case of the SUV parked near the Ambani residence was followed by the death of Thane businessman Mansukh Hiren erupted into a huge political row, Pawar has been closely monitoring the situation with senior leaders of the ruling Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress.

Upping the ante against the MVA, the opposition BJP has demanded that Thackeray should accept moral responsibility in the matter and resign as Chief Minister.




Fresh Covid cases at new high: Nearly 40K reported


Maharashtra, Kerala and Punjab are recording the highest daily cases.

India has logged 39,726 coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, highest since November last year, taking the total tally to 1,15,14,331.

A single-day spike of 41,810 new infections were recorded on November 28. The country has registered an increase in the cases for the ninth consecutive day.

Maharashtra, Kerala and Punjab are recording the highest daily cases.

With the death of 154 people in the last 24 hours, the fatality toll has reached 1,59,370 in India. The active caseload has mounted to 2,71,282.

With the discharge of 20,654 patients in a day, a total of 1,10,83,679 have been discharged so far. A total of 10,57,383 tests were done on Thursday.

So far, 3.9 crore doses of corona vaccine have been administered in the country since the drive began on January 16 after approval for ‘Covishield’ and ‘Covaxin’.

More than 17.83 lakh doses were administered on a single day on Thursday.




RS passes Bill to raise FDI in insurance


The Bill will raise the foreign investment limit in the insurance sector to 74 per cent. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said while control may go to foreign companies, the majority of directors and key management persons will be resident Indians who will be covered by the law of the land

The Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which seeks to raise the limit of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the insurance sector from 49 per cent to 74 per cent, was today passed by the Rajya Sabha after a walk-out by the Opposition.

Demanding the Bill’s reference to a Standing Committee or a Select Committee for a deeper scrutiny, and enlisting of views of all stakeholders, the Opposition led by the Congress forced several adjournments before the Bill was discussed.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, replying to the discussion, allayed members’ fears and said FDI was needed as the sector suffered from liquidity stress and its growth was restrained.

She said FDI was meant to supplement the country’s financial resources, and would provide the funds needed by the companies to grow and provide better penetration of services across the country. The laws of the land were mature enough to control all operations, she said.

She assured the House that citizens interests would be fully protected under the new FDI regime, and 50 per cent of the companies’ directors would be independent directors, and a specified percentage of the profits would stay in India as reserves.

The Modi government was committed to social justice and the reservation policy would continue. She said the government was only taking the reforms process forward.

Ms Sitharaman said the law itself had provided safeguards under which the FDI limit was being relaxed. She said funds of the insured persons would not be taken out of the country.

Rejecting the charge of not consulting the stakeholders, the minister said 60 insurers, besides several industry leaders, were consulted. She said insurance was a highly regulated sector, and there should not be any worries about it.

Ms Sitharaman said ever since the opening of the sector to private sector, the number of private companies had grown whereas the number of public sector companies had remained virtually stagnant. Since 2015, FDI totalling Rs 26,000 crores had come to India. The number of re-insurance companies too was going up in the private sector.

The government life and non-life insurance companies had 1.65 lakh employees and 15.45 lakh agents. The private companies on the other hand had 2.67 lakh employees and their agents were more than 21 lakh. Those engaged in the private sector were also Indians, she said.




Toll booths to go, says Gadkari; unveils vehicle scrapping policy


Mr Gadkari, speaking in the Lower House during Question Hour, said 93 per cent of vehicles pay toll using FASTag, but the remaining 7 per cent have still not adopted it despite paying a double toll. “I want to assure the House that within one year all physical toll booths in the country will be removed. It means that toll collection will happen via GPS.

India will do away with toll booths and implement GPS based toll collection within one year, said road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari in the Lok Sabha today.

The minister also unveiled the government’s vehicle scrapping policy, proposed in the Union Budget, in a suo moto statement made in both Houses of Parliament, under which about 5 per cent rebate on new cars would be offered to buyers on scrapping of old vehicles.

Mr Gadkari, speaking in the Lower House during Question Hour, said 93 per cent of vehicles pay toll using FASTag, but the remaining 7 per cent have still not adopted it despite paying a double toll. “I want to assure the House that within one year all physical toll booths in the country will be removed. It means that toll collection will happen via GPS.

The money will be collected based on GPS imaging (on vehicles),” he said. Explaining further, the minister said he has instructed police inquiry for those vehicles which do not pay toll using FASTag. “There are cases of toll theft and GST evasion cases if FASTag are not fitted in vehicles,” he said.

FASTag, which facilitates electronic payment of fee at toll plazas, was introduced in 2016. From 16 February, vehicles without FASTag are required to pay double toll fees at electronic toll plazas across the country.

“Making the tags compulsory would also help in ensuring that vehicles pass seamlessly through the toll plazas, as the fee payment would be done electronically,” said Mr Gadkari.

Briefing the House about the vehicle scrapping policy, he said it provides for fitness test after 20 years for personal vehicles while commercial ones would require it after the completion of 15 years. If found unfit or in case of a failure to renew registration certificates, such vehicles would be de-registered.

“The scheme shall provide strong incentives to owners of old vehicles to scrap old and unfit vehicles through registered scrapping centres, which shall provide the owners with a scrapping certificate,” Mr Gadkari said.

The incentives provided under the scheme say a scrap value to be given for the old vehicle will be four to six per cent of the ex-showroom price of a new vehicle. The state governments may be advised to offer road-tax rebate of up to 25 per cent for personal vehicles and up to 15 per cent for commercial vehicles.

Vehicle manufacturers will be advised for providing a discount of five per cent on purchase of new vehicle against the scrapping certificate. In addition, the registration fees may also be waived for purchase of new vehicle against the scrapping certificate.

As a disincentive measure, increased fees for fitness certificate and fitness test may be applicable for vehicles 15 years onward from the date of initial registration.

India has 51 lakh Light Motor Vehicles which are older than 20 years and 34 lakh Light Motor Vehicles which are older than 15 years. Older vehicles pollute the environment 10 to 12 times more than fit vehicles and pose a risk to road safety, the minister said.

The objectives of the policy are to reduce of old and defective vehicles, achieve reduction in vehicular air pollutants to fulfil India’s climate commitments, improve road and vehicular safety.

The ecosystem is expected to attract additional investments of around Rs. 10,000 crore and 35,000 job opportunities. The Ministry shall in the next few weeks publish draft notifications for comments.

The Ministry will promote setting up of Registered Vehicle Scrapping Facility (RVSF) across India. In the Rajya Sabha, several MPs complained the Vehicle Scrapping Policy offered meagre concessions to vehicle owners, and urged the minister to keep the interests of the middle classes in mind.




Make Covid vaccination open for all above 18: Kejri to Centre


Delhi govt to increase the daily count of corona shots from 30-40K to 1.25L, CM says; notes an uptick in virus cases in the city but says it is ‘not a cause for worry’ as his govt is tackling it

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal today appealed to the Centre to bring relaxations in the Covid-19 vaccination guidelines and make this vaccination open for all aged above 18 years.

If the Centre does it then the entire population of Delhi could be immunised against Covid in three months, Kejriwal asserted.

The CM also asserted that the Delhi government will increase the count of the Covid vaccine jabs from the existing 30,000-40,000 per day to 1.25 lakh per day along with doubling the vaccination centres from 500 to 1000 in the next few days. The timings for administering the vaccine a day from 9 am to 5 pm are also being extended to 9 am-9 pm.

Noting that coronavirus cases in Delhi have been rising in the last few days, Kejriwal, at a virtual press conference, said it was not a matter to be worried about.

He said that on one hand India has taken a lead in making a Covid vaccine, but on the other, a rise in coronavirus cases is being again reported in the country. This is “difficult to digest”, he said.

“Thus, I would appeal to the Central government to bring some relaxations in the vaccination guidelines, in terms of eligibility of age groups. The current guidelines are very strict and rigid, and also has co-morbidity rider for an age group.

“Our country is now doing good in terms of the production of the vaccine. Therefore, rather than creating criteria on the eligibility, age groups with comorbidities etc, we should create a category of ineligible people, for instance, people below 18 and other age groups,” Kejriwal reportedly said.

The CM suggested that the Covid vaccination process be made open and a walk-in facility should be included as a regular immunisation procedure.

“If the Centre relaxes those criteria and allows vaccination largely for all, and if we get a sufficient supply of the vaccine, then we have formulated a plan today to administer the vaccine to the entire population of Delhi in three months,” he said.

Kejriwal also appealed to the Centre to decentralise the vaccination system so that it exercises less control and allows the state governments to carry out the job “on a war footing”.

“I also want to appeal to the Central government to provide some relaxation in the guidelines for the expansion of vaccination centres. We will be writing to the Centre to relax a few parameters. We assure them that we will be careful, and take all precautions.

“This relaxation will help us in opening new centres. Also, many of the existing centres are functioning 24 hours a day. We will have more centres functioning round-the-clock,” the CM said.

Kejriwal acknowledged an uptick in Covid cases in Delhi in recent days and said his government has directed officials for stricter tracking, tracing and isolation of cases.

It was a “negligible” rise and “not a cause for worry”. It was still much lower compared to several thousands of daily cases reported in the city in June, September and November, he pointed out.

Earlier in the day, Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain asked people to be cautious, observe all Covid safety norms and not get complacent about the pandemic situation in the city.

Jain said that Delhi’s positivity rate was 0.6 per cent, which was the lowest compared to states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala, Punjab, MP and Haryana. Delhi’s coronavirus testing capacity is five times that of the national average, he said.

Delhi had yesterday recorded 536 coronavirus cases, the highest in about two-and-a-half months, while there more persons died from this infection that took its Covid toll to 10,948.Kejriwal conceded that due to a decrease in Covid cases a few weeks ago, laxity had crept into the system but now direction has been issued for stricter surveillance and stricter enforcement of safety norms like masks and social distancing.

The Delhi government was consulting its own experts and those of the central government and was taking all possible measures to check the fresh rise in the number of coronavirus cases. “We are closely monitoring the situation and taking adequate measures to address the situation,” the CM added.




Congress, Govt spar in Lok Sabha over sedition cases


During the Question Hour, Congress member from Telangana Anumula Revanth Reddy sought the number of cases registered under the offence of sedition across the country during the last 10 years, the conviction rate and the steps taken for their speedy trial.

The Congress and the government engaged in a war of words in Lok Sabha on Tuesday over sedition cases with the opposition party alleging the stringent law is being misused, drawing a sharp retort from Union minister G Kishan Reddy who asked it not to lecture others on democracy.

During the Question Hour, Congress member from Telangana Anumula Revanth Reddy sought the number of cases registered under the offence of sedition across the country during the last 10 years, the conviction rate and the steps taken for their speedy trial.

The focus of his question was on climate activist Disha Ravi who was arrested in the farmer protest toolkit case earlier this year and later granted bail, and cases registered against farmer union leaders after the 26 January violence in the national capital.

Reddy, the minister of state in the home ministry, tabled a written response to the question in the House.

The minister said 47 cases of sedition were registered in 2014; 30 in 2015; 35 in 2016; 51 in 2017; 70 in 2018 and 93 in 2019. “There is no direct involvement of the Centre in sedition cases,” the minister said.

However, Anumula was not satisfied with the response. He said he had sought details for 10 years but the information was provided only from 2014- 2019.

Anumala said, “Giving half information is taking the house towards a wrong direction.”

He added that after 2014, anyone who criticises the government’s policy, the person is charged with sedition.

“In 2019, the conviction rate (for sedition) was 3.3 per cent. This means these are politically motivated cases. If a youth leader is booked for sedition and the cases drags for 4-5 year, he/she is not in a position, they won’t get a job, passport, visa. Activists like Disha Ravi are charged, but they are not able to prove anything in the court,” Anumala said.

He also asked whether there is a proposal to drop the “false charges” against farmer union leaders protesting against the Centre’s three farm laws.

In response, the minister said the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data is based on the information received from all the states.

Attacking the Congress, the minister said, “The member (Anumala) asked as to why the information was not provided before 2014. In case of sedition cases, when the Congress was in power it did not maintain any separate data on this. They clubbed it with all the IPC crimes,” he said.

The minister added that after the Modi government took charge, it started presenting a separate data on the sedition charges.

~With inputs from PTI~




Centre warns Maha of second wave, asks it to step up efforts


Issuing a letter to Maharashtra’s chief secretary Sitaram Kunte, based on the assessment of the Central govt team, the Union health ministry has urged the state to bring down its positivity rate and step up contact-tracing.

The Centre warned Maharashtra on Tuesday that the state is witnessing a beginning of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and asked the state government to focus on containment strategies and scale up the pace of vaccination campaign, especially in districts witnessing a sharp increase in infections.

Issuing a letter to Maharashtra’s chief secretary Sitaram Kunte, based on the assessment of the Central govt team, the Union health ministry has urged the state to bring down its positivity rate and step up contact-tracing.

The letter enclosed the analysis of the pandemic situation in Maharashtra by a Central team which was deputed there to assess the ground situation.

The team noted the lack of Covid-19 appropriate behaviour and tracking and testing of cases as the prime reason behind the surge in infections, apart from the apathy of the district administration to implement already prescribed measures for transmission control.

Meanwhile, India recorded 24,492 new Covid-19 cases, registering more than 20,000 cases for the sixth day in a row, taking the infection tally past 1.14 crore, the Union health ministry said on Tuesday. The total cases in the country rose to 1,14,09,831, while the death toll increased to 1,58,856, with 131 fresh fatalities.

The active caseload has increased to 2,23,432. The recovery rate has further dropped to 96.65 per cent, it said.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), 22,82,80,763 samples have been tested till March 15, with 8,73,350 samples tested on Monday.

Out of the 131 new fatalities, 48 deaths were reported from Maharashtra, 27 from Punjab and 11 from Kerala.

Delhi sees a surge of 425 cases: The national capital today recorded 425 coronavirus infections detected out of 70,049 tests, according to the Delhi government’s latest health bulletin. The positivity rate stood at 0.61 per cent.

Delhi’s Covid-19 toll climbed to 10,945 with one more fatality, the bulletin stated.

~With inputs from PTI~




RS passes Bill to raise upper limit for abortions


The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was passed by voice vote. The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha about a year ago.

Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed a Bill to raise the upper limit for permitting abortions from the present 20 weeks to 24 weeks for “special categories of women” including rape survivors, victims of incest, minors and the differently abled.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was passed by voice vote. The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha about a year ago.

A demand to send the Bill to a select committee of Rajya Sabha was defeated by voice vote, along with some other amendments proposed by members.

Various opposition parties like the Congress, CPI-M and the NCP demanded on Tuesday that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 be sent to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the amendments in the Bill have been made after studying global practices and wide consultation within the country. He told the House that extensive consultations were done before the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha last year and it was also approved by the Ethics Committee and a Group of Ministers headed by Nitin Gadkari.

“Under the leadership of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we will not frame any law which harms women. This is to preserve and protect dignity of women,” he said.

The minister said the suggestions and objections made to the bill by some members were symbolic in nature and aligned with their party ideology.

~With inputs from PTI~




PM Modi to visit B’desh next week


Modi’s visit to Bangladesh will be his first overseas trip since the outbreak of Covid, reflecting the priority India attaches to ties with Dhaka.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Bangladesh from 26-27 March at the invitation of his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina, according to official announcement.

“This visit is in connection with the commemoration of three epochal events – Mujib Borsho, the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties between India and Bangladesh; and 50 years of Bangladesh’s war of liberation,” the External Affairs Ministry said. Modi had last visited Bangladesh in 2015.

Modi’s visit to Bangladesh will be his first overseas trip since the outbreak of Covid, reflecting the priority India attaches to ties with Dhaka.


 
During the visit, the Prime Minister will attend the National Day programme of Bangladesh on 26 March as the guest of honour. Besides holding talks with Sheikh Hasina, Modi will call on Bangladesh President Md. Abdul Hamid. Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen will call on the Indian leader.





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