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Voters being threatened by gangs of Khattar: Kapil Sibal



Kapil Sibal Press Conference

new Delhi, Oct 19: As the elections have reached a decisive phase,a Congress delegation, led by senior party leader Kapil Sibal moved the Election Commission (EC) alleging criminal intimidation of voters in some Assembly constituencies of poll-bound Haryana.
“The Congress had petitioned the EC, alleging that the situation in Kaithal was very serious as the members of a certain gang or anti-social elements enjoying the patronage of chief minister Khattar were freely roaming around and threatening voters and that the environment was being vitiated,” Sibal said.

The opposition party alleged complete lack of action on the part of the local authorities in controlling the deteriorating on-the-ground situation in Kaithal and urged the poll panel to take steps.

“The elections in Maharashtra and Haryana have reached a decisive phase. We came to the EC to ensure a level-playing field in both the states,” Sibal said.

“The Congress party has submitted a memorandum to the EC as a follow-up to its earlier plea alleging criminal intimidation of voters in Kaithal,Adampur, Gohana, Garhi Sampla and said that these areas as sensitive assembly seats and Manohar lal Khattar government is influencing voters,” Sibal said

“We fear that selective polling booths, the numbers of which we have given to the EC, must be protected and the EC has assured us that it will not allow anything like that to happen and if extra CPMF (Central Paramilitary Forces) is required, then they will try and arrange to secure the sensitive booths ,” he added.

The EC has assured the Congress that it is taking care of the situation, officials are in touch with the administration as well as the observers and that all steps will be taken to ensure that the election is conducted in a free-and-fair atmosphere.


Kashmir issue to figure in Tom Lantos HR Commission




A Kashmiri woman shows her hand with a message

Washington, Nov 13The Kashmir issue will figure again in the US with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission calling a hearing on Thursday to examine the human rights situation in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in a “historical and national context”, following abrogation of its special status on August 5.

The Tom Lantos HR commission said: “Witnesses will examine the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir in the context of the region’s history and larger patterns of rights violations in India and Pakistan, and will offer recommendations for action by the Congress.”

Among the witnesses called to testify are: Anurima Bhargava, Commissioner, US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Sehla Ashai, Human rights lawyer, Yousra Fazili, Human rights lawyer and Kashmiri-American cousin of Mubeen Shah, detained Kashmiri businessman, and Arjun S. Sethi, Human rights lawyer and Adjunct Professor, Georgetown Law.

Earlier, in a Congressional hearing on Kashmir, on October 22, Alice G. Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of South and Central Asia, in her testimony had said the State Department was closely monitoring the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following abrogation of its special status.

She told the House Foreign Affairs Sub committee on Asia and the Pacific that while the US supports the objectives of the Indian government that revocation of Article 370 was driven by a desire to increase economic development, reduce corruption, and uniformly apply all national laws, the “Department remains concerned about the situation in the Kashmir Valley, where daily life for the nearly eight million residents has been severely impacted since August 5”.

“We welcome actions by the Indian government to improve the situation and address local grievances.”

The Tom Lantos HR Commission, in a statement said the “Indian government’s decision to change the legal status of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir has attracted intense attention due to persistent reports of human rights violations, including a crackdown on freedom of expression; the arbitrary “preventive” detention of hundreds of politicians, lawyers, journalists, and other civil society figures and related fears of enforced disappearance; and the use of excessive force against protesters.”

“The increased militarisation of the security presence in the region and the economic and social consequences of the Central government’s actions, including continuing restrictions on internet and phones, have also provoked widespread concern. In addition, militants have targeted migrant workers from outsider Kashmir, and have threatened businesses to maintain a protest shutdown.”

A follow-up OHCHR report in July 2019 found little improvement and reiterated the “urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and to deliver justice for all people in Kashmir. Nor are the human rights problems limited to the Kashmir region. Patterns of human rights violations have been documented at the national level in India and Pakistan, including by the US Department of State in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” it said.

On October 26 too, the US Congress told Indian envoy Harsh Vardhan Shringla that despite his “update” on the situation in Kashmir, many people have painted “a much different picture”, and asked him to provide answers to several queries, including how many have been detained under the Public Safety Act, on reports of use of rubber bullets, and whether journalists and members of the US Congress will be allowed free access to the region.

The Congress, in a letter, said that following Shringla’s briefing members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on October 16 about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, it requested for “more specific information regarding some of the questions raised at that time”.

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Delhi schools shut till November 15



Air Pollution

New Delhi, Nov 13 : With air pollution in the city again touching ’emergency’ levels, the Delhi government on Wednesday ordered schools in the national capital to remain shut till Friday.

Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia said that all private and government schools will be shut on Thursday and Friday.

“In view of the deteriorating air quality due to stubble burning in north India, Delhi government has decided to close schools on Thursday and Friday,” Sisodia tweeted in Hindi.

The Directorate of Education said the steps are being taken keeping in view the hazardous levels of air pollution.

“All the government, government aided, private recognised (unaided) schools, including those run by the local bodies, are hereby ordered to remain closed till November 15,” an order from the Directorate of Education read.

The decision came after recommendations from the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA).

This is the second time this month that the EPCA has asked the government to shut schools. The Supreme Court-mandated anti-pollution authority had earlier asked the government to close schools between November 1 and 5.

The Delhi air quality index (AQI) rose to emergency levels again on Wednesday with an overall count of 476, and not much relief is expected in the next two days.

While the overall AQI is in the severe category, PM10 count is at 489 and PM2.5 at 326, which are also in the severe category.

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Supreme Court verdict on Rafale deal on Thursday




Rafale deal scam

New Delhi, Nov 13 : The Supreme Court on Thursday will pronounce judgement on the Rafale deal, which was made an election issue by the Opposition citing corruption. The apex court had reserved the verdict on the deal in May this year.

Attorney General (AG) K.K. Venugopal representing the Centre argued before a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that there was no “corruption” in the Rafale deal and that the government is bound to maintain secrecy on pricing, as per Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) signed between India and France. The AG had insisted that the world over, defence deals are not examined in a court of law.

Referring to the Rafale deal as a question of national security, the AG had told a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, “We have signed an IGA, which we are obliged to follow. Rafale is not for ornamentation. It is essential for protection of each and every one of us….nowhere in the world such matters go before the court.”

The AG also told the court that in accordance with Article 10 of the IGA, the pricing in the deal cannot be disclosed. “In this matter, the secrecy clause of the inter-governmental agreement between India and France, pertains to defence deals and not to the award of contract for construction of flyover or dams…,” said the AG, insisting on the dismissal of review petitions.

Former Union ministers, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who have filed the review petitions, contended before the top court that it should set aside December 14, 2018, verdict, which dismissed their plea for criminal investigation into the Rafale deal. Later, the apex court reserved verdict on a batch of petitions seeking review of its December 14 judgement.

Bhushan told the various aspects — alleged suppression of material facts — have been hidden from the court, and an FIR should be registered to undertake criminal investigations. He also pointed out a three-member Indian Negotiation Team (INT) had objected to the parallel negotiations undertaken by the PMO, and as a consequence, allegedly the deal became expensive.

The AG objected to the review petition and said the basic grounds for seeking review of the December verdict were similar to the main petition, which was not allowed by the apex court. The top law officer also rubbished the allegation of the petitioners that the Centre played a fraud on the court regarding the information on the deal. “The petitioners are seeking review on the base of stolen documents…they committed theft by accessing incomplete file notings of the government departments,” said the AG.

Bhushan had argued that eight critical clauses, including the one on anti-corruption, were dropped on the deal, and also ignored the objection of three experts on pricing of the aircraft deal. “The Centre should place the entire file of the negotiations team before the court…for the deal to go through. The Centre also breached the ceiling price. The French government issued a letter of comfort, which was not of any comfort”, argued Bhushan before the court.

Shourie, who briefly argued, informed the court that it has been misled, and although the government has given all the documents regarding the deal to CAG, “why can’t they share them with the court?” he asked.

Shourie also shared a document published on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ website which mandates the government to share information on defence deals. The AG argued that the document is old, and in accordance with IGA, which was signed in September 2016, the government has to oblige its terms regarding secrecy.

The AG also informed the court that the Rafale deal has come to a fruition stage after many years, and if at all any delay is caused, developing a new Request for Proposal (RFP) and then floating the same; it will take another 5 years.

Bhushan slammed the government that in an unprecedented step, it had redacted the CAG report. “We are not in favour of the cancellation of the contract, but the criminal investigation should be made by CBI into the deal… Ultimately, the deal went ahead without any guarantee, no bank guarantee or sovereign guarantee,” Bhushan vehemently argued.

The court fired a volley of queries at the AG regarding the deal. It first queried AG on the aspect of registration of the FIR. “There should be a prima facie cognizable offence”, the AG replied.

The court then raised another query on the aspect of transfer of technology and the advantages of the same, which was an integral component of the deal under negotiation during the UPA. “Who is to decide that? Will this court decide?” asked the AG. Then, the court asked about the sovereign guarantee. The AG cited precedents with Russia and the US, where bank guarantee was waived for defence deals.

Finally, the court asked the AG’s opinion on the dissent of three domain experts. “They examined the whole aspect. The concerns raised by the three members were referred to Defence Acquisition Committee….Eventually, they agreed,” replied AG. At the end of the hearing, the AG said he can produce the documents related to the consent of the officials before the court.

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