Petition Filed in SC Against Arrest of Surendra Gadling and Four Others.

Mumbai: Calling the arrest of senior advocate Surendra Gadling and four others activists and academic as “unconstitutional and done with a malicious intent”, a petition was moved before the Supreme Court today. The petition was filed seeking specific direction to be given to Maharashtra government against the ongoing “witch hunt” of the human rights defenders like Gadling, Dalit rights activist Sudhir Dhawale, forest rights activist Mahesh Raut, Delhi-based activist Rona Wilson and associate professor from Nagpur University Shoma Sen. Advocate Nihalsingh Rathod, who filed the petition in the apex court, said that the hearing is scheduled for September 6 along with the ongoing petition filed on August 29 against the arrest of five activists a day earlier. The petition, Rathod says, was filed following the Supreme Court’s intervention in the Pune police’s attempt to jail five other lawyers and activists in to its custody. The petition on behalf of the arrested activists – filed by historian Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain, Satish Deshpande and Maja Daruwala – was mentioned for urgent hearing before a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and heard eventually by a bench comprising the CJI, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. The Supreme Court ordered all the arrested activists to be kept under house arrest at their own homes until September 6. “There has been a clear pattern of threat and attempts to implicate Gadling in false cases. Several times in the past, the police had resorted to unveiled threats and had tried to trap him in false cases. Similar attempts were also made to implicate Mahesh (Raut) too who has been working on the implementation of the PESA act in the Adivasi region of central India,” advocate Rathod told The Wire. Raut was one of the youngest students of TISS to be selected for the most coveted Prime Minister Rural Development (PMRD) fellowship. He on completion of his fellowship continued to work in the region and had been actively raising voice against the indiscriminate mining work carried out in Gadchiroli. The petition also states that Dhawale who was one of the organisers of the Elgar Parishad that was organised a day before the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle is not involved in any unlawful activities. Dhawale, who was arrested in 2011 for his purported naxal links has already languished in Gondia prison for 40 months. He was acquitted of all charges by the sessions court in 2014. Gadling and four others were arrested on June 6 and have been since then lodged at the Nagpur Central Prison. Gadling, soon after his arrest, had complained of chest pain and had to subsequently undergo angioplasty. In his over two decade long legal career, Gadling has handled several cases of illegal killings, police excesses, fakes cases, and atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Along with his legal practice, Gadling was an active member of Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) and CRPP.

He was, until his arrest, handling the case of G.N. Saibaba, a wheelchair-bound Delhi University professor jailed for alleged Naxal links. Rathod said ever since Gadling decided to defend Saibaba, the police allegedly decided to make him a target. The Pune police have named 17 persons in the FIR so far and have arrested 10 of them. All accused have been booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The police is expected to file the charge sheet against the first five arrest sometime next week.

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Before 2+2 summit, US seeks to downplay fears of sanctions on India over Russia arms deals.

Days after a Pentagon official warned there were no guarantees of a special waiver if India concludes new arms deals with Russia, another senior US official has said the US might consider case-by-case exemptions for countries that significantly reduce their reliance on Russian weapons. Waivers for Russia-related sanctions in a recently amended US law are not country-specific or blanket, the senior US official said while previewing the inaugural “2+2” dialogue in New Delhi on September 6 during a conference call. “There is obviously no country-specific waiver in the new legislation,” said the US official. “There are no blanket waivers…and any waiver that we might contemplate…would be assessed on a case-by-case basis and would require, among other things, countries to significantly reduce their reliance on Russian arms.” US officials also said on the conference call with reporters that the US hopes to sign a defence pact, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), during the dialogue to allow the sharing with India of sensitive communications technology. The focus of the call was on sanctions that the US has aimed at Russia and Iran which threaten to impact relations with India. The US stand on these complicated issues has been hobbled by a certain lack of clarity. A Pentagon official, Randall Schriver, created alarm on Wednesday by saying at a think tank event that waivers for Russia-related sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions (CAATSA) could not be guaranteed. Discussions between the US and India are ongoing on the implication of these sanctions for New Delhi’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 air defence systems worth an estimated $6 billion. A recent amendment to the law allows the US president to grant exemptions to countries if they fulfill certain conditions, such as reducing reliance on Russian weapons. India fulfills this and it felt reassured a waiver was in the bag, until Schriver said there were no guarantees. New Delhi now plans to ask the US for clarity. Case-by-case conditional waivers are the sense and spirit of the law as amended by US Congress and signed by President Donald Trump earlier this month at the urging of secretary of defence Jim Mattis and secretary of state Mike Pompeo. The law names no country as a beneficiary but Mattis specifically mentioned India and Vietnam in his public appeal for a wider waiver authority for the president during an open congressional hearing. Pompeo extended his support to the appeal at a separate hearing. “There are nations in the world who are trying to turn away from formerly Russian-sourced weapons and systems like this,” Mattis had said. “We only look at India, Vietnam and some others to recognise that eventually we’re going to…paralyse ourselves.” Waivers under CAATSA and snapped-back Iran sanctions that come into effect on November 5 are among the top topics of discussion between India and the US, which could continue at the 2+2 dialogue. However, the officials previewing the event repeatedly refused to commit themselves to both topics and details of the conversations that will take place when Mattis and Pompeo meet their Indian counterparts Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj. Calling the relationship with India “a key US priority and integral to our national security”, one of the two administration officials on the conference call said, “We have a very full and ambitious agenda for the 2+2, including advancing our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific.”

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Malaysian Hindu temple complex gets new paint job, government says it disturbs originality.

The committee will receive a warning letter from the government heritage department, while deputy culture minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik said he was “very disappointed” and the work had “disturbed the harmony, integrity and originality of Batu Caves” A famed Malaysian Hindu temple complex has had its steps painted in a dazzling array of colours, sparking excitement from some visitors but angering officials who oversee heritage sites. The Batu Caves complex, a series of caverns set in a limestone hill on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, is popular with devotees from Malaysia’s ethnic Indian minority and tourists, with a regular stream of people clambering up the 272 steps to reach the temples. The steps have been painted in a kaleidoscope of bright colours ahead of a Hindu ritual that is conducted in temples every 12 years, which will take place Friday. But the temple management committee has found itself in hot water with the government heritage department, after allegedly failing to seek permission to paint the steps. The committee will receive a warning letter from the department, while deputy culture minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik said he was “very disappointed” and the work had “disturbed the harmony, integrity and originality of Batu Caves”, the Star newspaper reported. He played down the possibility of the complex losing its heritage status, but urged others running historic sites to get consent before carrying out major work or renovations. But the paint job on the steps, which were previously the same colour as the limestone hillside, impressed tourists visiting the complex.

Ratna Yunita from Indonesia described it as “out of the ordinary”. “So many colours, so many people in such a beautiful place, it feels like you’re in India, not in Malaysia,” she told AFP.
Batu Caves is an important religious site for Tamil Hindus. During the annual Thaipusam festival, massive crowds of devotees descend on the complex, with many piercing their bodies with hooks and skewers to showcase devotion to the deity Lord Murugan. Most of Malaysia’s roughly 32 million people are Muslim, but the country also has around two million ethnic Indians and nearly seven million ethnic Chinese.

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot reveals signs of water: NASA

Looking at the depths of the Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a storm that has been raging on the planet for over 350 years, NASA scientists have found water above the planet’s deepest clouds.The team led by Gordon l Bjoraker, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space flight center in Maryland, US, were looking from ground-based telescopes at wavelengths sensitive to thermal radiation leaking from the depths of Jupiter’s persistent storm, when they detected the chemical signatures of water above the planet’s deepest clouds.The pressure of the water, combined with the measurements of another oxygen-bearing gas, carbon monoxide, imply that Jupiter has two to nine times more oxygen than the sun.This finding supports theoretical and computer-simulation models that have predicted abundant water on Jupiter, the scientists said.

“The moons that orbit Jupiter are mostly water ice, so the whole neighborhood has plenty of water. Why wouldn’t the planet — which is this huge gravity well, where everything falls into it — be water rich, too?” Bjoraker said in a statement.The location of the water cloud, plus the amount of carbon monoxide that the researchers identified on Jupiter, confirms that Jupiter is rich in oxygen and, thus, water, Bjoraker explained.”Jupiter’s water abundance will tell us a lot about how the giant planet formed, but only if we can figure out how much water there is in the entire planet,” said Steven M Levin, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.The revelation was stirring given that the team’s experiment could have easily failed.The Great Red Spot is full of dense clouds, which makes it hard for electromagnetic energy to escape and teach astronomers anything about the chemistry within.
“It turns out they’re not so thick that they block our ability to see deeply,” Bjoraker noted.The data collected will supplement the information NASA’s Juno spacecraft is gathering as it circles the planet from north to south once every 53 days.If Juno returns similar water findings, thereby backing Bjoraker’s ground-based technique, it could open a new window into solving the water problem, said Goddard’s Amy Simon, a planetary atmospheres expert.”If it works, then maybe we can apply it elsewhere, like Saturn, Uranus or Neptune, where we don’t have a Juno,” she said.

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Top Court Says Voters Have Right To Know Criminal Records Of Candidates

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today said the voters have a right to know the antecedents of candidates and the Election Commission could be asked to direct political parties to ensure that persons, facing criminal charges, do not contest on their tickets using their poll symbols. After making these observations, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra reserved the judgement on a clutch of petitions after the parties including the poll panel and the Center concluded their arguments. The top court is dealing with the question whether a legislator facing criminal trial can be disqualified at the stage of framing of charges in a case. Presently, lawmakers are barred at the time of conviction. The bench’s observation on the voters’ right to know the candidates came in the backdrop of strong opposition from the Center that the judiciary should not venture into the legislative arena by creating a pre-condition which would adversely affect the right of the candidates to participate in polls. “The intention of the Lordships is laudable. But the question is whether the court can do it. The answer is ‘no’,” Attorney General K K Venugopal, representing the Center, told the bench, which also comprised Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. He was responding to a suggestion by the bench that persons, facing criminal charges, would be free to contest, but they cannot do so on party ticket using the party election symbol. “The voters have the right to know the candidates. Actually, a party can allow a person to contest on its ticket. But a person cannot contest on its ticket if he discloses the criminal antecedent,” the bench said, adding that this direction may be given by the Election Commission to the political parties. “They (people facing criminal charges) can contest elections, but they will not contest on the party ticket because he has this kind of stigma,” the bench said. Referring to the concept of presumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty, Mr Venugopal said depriving a person from contesting elections on a party ticket would amount to denial of the right to vote, which also included the right to contest. He referred to various judgments and said the expression of criminal antecedent was “extremely vague”. Moreover, “presumption of innocence is central to our criminal jurisprudence. A person is innocent until proven guilty.” The courts will have to presume innocence in view of the fact that in 70 per cent cases, accused are being acquitted, he said, adding that the high rate of acquittals could be due to deficiencies in the judicial system. Parliament has made a distinction between an accused and a convict and there has been a provision for disqualification in the Representation of Peoples Act upon conviction of a lawmaker, he said. The bench took note of Mr Venugopal’s submissions and asked his son and senior advocate Krishnan Vengopal, who is representing a PIL petitioner, to address on the objections raised by the government. “The arguments (of the Center), if I understood correctly, is two folds. Going back from the conviction stage to charge framing stage (for disqualifying a lawmaker) is against the concept of presumption of innocence,” Justice Nariman said. The judge also posed whether the court would not be “creating another” kind of disqualification by denying a person facing criminal charges to contest on a party ticket and symbol.

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India, Pakistan Armies Face-off in Volleyball Court During Historic Military Drill, China and Russia Pick Sides

While the Russians were seen cheering for India, the Chinese supported the Pakistani army during the match that India won by 3-0. Earlier, it was India in Russia’s corner and Pakistan in China’s as the two nations faced off in a friendly futsal match which the Russians won.

 

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Trump, under pressure to honour McCain, orders flags to half-staff

“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe,” McCain said.

U.S President Donald Trump bowed to pressure on Monday to honor the late John McCain, ordering that flags be lowered to half-staff across the country, as the late senator fired a parting shot at the president in a farewell message to the United States. Mr. Trump’s about-face came after he found himself mired in controversy over his rather conspicuous failure to pay tribute to Mr. McCain, who died Saturday at 81 after a year-long battle with brain cancer. When veterans’ groups launched appeals for a more fitting salute to Mr. McCain, a Navy veteran who was imprisoned for more than five years in Vietnam, the Republican leader — who had no love lost for the Arizona senator — blinked. “Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country,” Mr. Trump said in a statement as he ordered the flag atop the White House and elsewhere to fly at half-staff until Mr. McCain’s burial on Sunday. He later told evangelical leaders that “we very much appreciate everything that senator McCain has done for our country.” The White House flag was lowered after McCain’s death on Saturday — but it was once again at the top of the flagpole on Monday morning. Mr. Trump’s initial silence about Mr. McCain underscored the isolation of the U.S. leader and fueled criticism that he is incapable of bringing a divided nation together even as it mourns a man widely seen as an American hero and a political icon. In Phoenix, where a week of tributes to Mr. McCain was soon to get under way, the two-time presidential candidate’s former campaign manager Rick Davis confirmed that Mr. Trump would not be attending the funeral. However, Vice President Mike Pence is set to speak at a ceremony honoring Mr. McCain at the U.S. Capitol on Friday. White House chief of staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor John Bolton will represent the administration during services.


NASA’s Spitzer telescope completes 15 yrs in space

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the youngest member of the “Great Observatory” programme, has completed 15 years in space. Launched into solar orbit on August 25, 2003, Spitzer was initially scheduled for a minimum 2.5-year primary mission. But the space telescope has lasted far beyond its expected lifetime, the US space agency said in a statement. “In its 15 years of operations, Spitzer has opened our eyes to new ways of viewing the universe,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Spitzer’s discoveries extend from our own planetary backyard, to planets around other stars, to the far reaches of the universe. And by working in collaboration with NASA’s other Great Observatories, Spitzer has helped scientists gain a more complete picture of many cosmic phenomena,” he added. Celebrating Spitzer’s incredible discoveries and amazing images, NASA has also released two new multimedia products: The NASA Selfies app for iOS and Android, and the Exoplanet Excursions VR Experience for Oculus and Vive, as well as a 360-video version for smartphones, the statement said. Spitzer has logged over 106,000 hours of observation time in the past 15 years. It has illuminated some of the oldest galaxies in the universe, revealed a new ring around Saturn, and peered through shrouds of dust to study newborn stars and black holes. The space telescope also assisted in the discovery of planets beyond our solar system, including the detection of seven Earth-size planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1, among other accomplishments. Spitzer orbits the Sun in an Earth-trailing orbit (meaning it literally trails behind Earth as the planet orbits the Sun) and has continued to fall farther and farther behind Earth during its lifetime. In 2016, Spitzer entered an extended mission dubbed “Spitzer Beyond”. The spacecraft is currently scheduled to continue operations into November 2019, more than 10 years after entering its warm phase, the statement noted. IANS

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Asian Games 2018: Medal wins in various events a proof of India’s rise in sports, says PM Modi

India registered a total of 29 medals at the Asian Games which include 7 Gold, 5 Silver and 17 Bronze medals by Sunday, August 26, 2018.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday congratulated the Indian athletes who won the medals at the Asian Games 2018 in Indonesia. Addressing the nation on his monthly radio broadcast programme Mann Ki Baat, the prime minister said,

“The eyes of the nation are on Jakarta. We are proud of the medal winners in the 2018 Asian Games and wish those whose events are left the very best.” PM Modi further went on to congratulate India for winning medals in sports in unrecognised sports such as Wushu and Rowing. “The Indian athletes are especially shining in Shooting and Wrestling, but our athletes are also winning medals in those sports in which we have not been at our best in the past – like Wushu and Rowing. These are not just medals; this is a proof of the rising stature of Indian sports and athletes.

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Death toll in Kerala floods rises to 302, over 4.6 lakh people still in relief camps, says CM Pinarayi Vijayan

The total death count from the rain havoc between August 8 and August 26 is 302, while there are 4,62,456 people in 1435 camps, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said after a review meeting on relief efforts

The death toll in the second spell of monsoon since August 8 which triggered disastrous landslides and floods in Kerala has risen to 302 till Sunday, the government announced.

The overall toll in rain-related incidents now stands at 454 since May 29, when south west monsoon had set in over the southern state. The total death count from the rain havoc between August 8 and August 26 is 302, while there are 4,62,456 people in 1435 camps, the chief minister’s office said in a tweet after a review meeting on relief efforts chaired by Pinarayi Vijayan.  Earlier on Sunday, the state government organised a thanksgiving ceremony for the armed forces where Vijayan expressed gratiude for their conduct of rescue and relief operations during the floods, reported ANI. Meanwhile, Kochi airport will open on August 29, Ernakulam district magistrate Mohd Y Safirulla told ANI ,adding that the closure of international airport had affected air traffic, especially the movement of international tourists. 

As the state struggles to restore normalcy in the aftermath of the flood, it may have to wait a few months to get the complete financial aid package from the Centre as the process of assessing the extent of damage and fund release is time-consuming, officials said in New Delhi. The Centre has so far released Rs 600 crore for Kerala. After the initial release of funds, the central government follows certain rules and guidelines before awarding the final aid to any state for a natural calamity, a Home Ministry official, privy to such circumstances, said. On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the humanitarian assistance rendered to victims of Kerala floods by people from all walks of life. “Yesterday was the festival of Onam. We pray for Onam to provide strength to the country, especially Kerala so that it returns to normalcy on a newer journey of development. Once again on behalf of all Indians, I would like to reassure each and everyone in Kerala and other affected places that at this moment of calamity, the entire country stands by them,” Modi said in his monthly ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio address. Meanwhile, the government is racing against time to clean homes and public places that have been filled with dirt and sludge left by the floods. On Saturday, Vijayan tweeted that more than 130,000 flood-hit houses had been cleaned, or nearly a third of those affected. 

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Free Homes A Raksha Bandhan Gift To My Sisters, Says PM Modi In Gujarat

VALSAD (GUJARAT): Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a Raksha Bandhan gift — one lakh homes. At a programme in Gujarat’s Valsad district today, PM Modi said the one-lakh homes give away to women under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana can be considered his gift to them. 

“I got an opportunity to talk to women across the state today who got their homes under the PM Awas Yojana. It’s a Raksha Bandhan gift to my sisters in Gujarat,” PM Modi said at a public meeting. At the event at Jujwa village, PM Modi also spoke on video to women across 26 districts who were given homes by the government. Over 1.15 lakh residential units have been built at a cost of Rs. 1,727 crore. “Providing over one lakh houses to them before the occasion of Raksha Bandhan is really a satisfying moment for me,” PM Modi added. He said the houses were “wonderful” because no middlemen were involved. “It is my dream, it is our endeavour to ensure that every Indian has his own house by 2022,” PM Modi said. “Till now, we only heard politicians getting their own homes. Now, we are hearing about the poor getting their own homes.” In November last year, the government had said it would aim to build over 50 lakh homes for the poor in rural areas across the country. The central scheme will bring social transformation in villages, the government said.

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New beginnings? India, China decide to improve communication between their armies

New Delhi: After nearly a two-hour meeting, India and China on Thursday decided to work towards firming up a new bilateral agreement on defense cooperation and agreed to increase interactions between their militaries at multiple levels to avoid Doklam-like standoffs along the disputed border.

her Chinese counterpart, was to build mutual trust between the two armies guarding the 3,500 km Sino-India border, officials said. The two sides also decided on early operationalisation of the proposed hotline between the two armies as part of the confidence-building measures, the defence ministry said. Sources said Sitharaman talked about security challenges India has been facing because of cross-border terrorism, its views on bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and the need for ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. She also raised the issue of USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as she noted that it violates India’s sovereignty. The sources said the two sides primarily focused on implementing decisions taken at the Wuhan summit in April by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping which included enhancing strategic communication between the two armies. “It was decided to expand the engagement between their armed forces relating to training, joint exercises and other professional interactions. Both sides also decided to work towards a new bilateral MoU on defence exchanges and cooperation to replace the MoU signed in 2006,” the defense ministry said in a statement. It said Sitharaman and Wei deliberated on bilateral, regional and international issues in a “free, frank and constructive manner”. “It was agreed to work towards full implementation of ongoing confidence building measures as well as greater interactions at the working level to ensure the maintenance of peace and tranquillity, including early operationalisation of the hotline between the relevant departments of their armed forces,” the ministry said. Wei arrived here on Tuesday on a four-day visit with an aim to explore measures to build trust between the armies of the two countries which were engaged in a 73-day standoff in Doklam last year. Doklam, in the Sikkim sector, is a strategically important area which is claimed by Bhutan. India has been acting as security guarantor to the tiny country in the sensitive region. In the meeting, both sides agreed that the proposed hotline between the armies of the two countries should be operationalised soon. It was, however, not immediately known whether the two sides could resolve the issues, delaying its operationalisation. Sources said the Chinese side proposed that the facility of the hotline should be made available at two-three levels. After the Wuhan summit, both sides revived the long-pending proposal to set up the hotline so as to avoid flare-ups along the disputed border. But, the initiative hit roadblocks over differences on issues relating to protocol and technical aspect of the hotline. The Indian Army has been maintaining that the hotline should be between its Director General of Military Operations (DGMOs) and his equivalent official in Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). However, Beijing proposed that the deputy commander of its Chengdu-based Western Theatre Command would engage with the Indian DGMO.

The Indian Army is opposed to the Chinese proposal, insisting that an officer equivalent to Indian DGMO at PLA’s headquarters should be deputed for the communication through the hotline.

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NDA-I took aid from 60 nations for Gujarat quake.

New Delhi: In the wake of a massive controversy raging following its refusal to accept foreign government aid for the rehabilitation efforts in flood-hit Kerala, Union minister K.J. Alphons late on Thursday evening appealed for an “one-time exception” to a 14-year convention to allow assistance from a foreign government, notably from the United Arab Emirates that reportedly offered Rs 700 crore for the flood relief effort.

Mr. Alphons had earlier in the day said the current NDA Government had followed a 14-year convention it “inherited” from previous governments of not accepting such assistance and that this was a policy that was followed by the current government from the time the then prime minister Manmohan Singh (UPA-1 Government) had refused aid from foreign countries in 2004 during the devastating Tsunami. According to news agency reports, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) too had in 2016 suggested that assistance offered as a goodwill gesture (in case of a natural disaster) “may” be accepted by India. Meanwhile, a former government official who served as a senior bureacucrat during the early 2000s told this newspaper on condition of anonymity that he was unsure of whether the policy decision—— not to accept foreign government aid in case of a natural disaster—-was taken in the last few years of the Vajpayaee Government or during the first year of the UPA-1 Government headed by Manmohan Singh. The Bhuj earthquake of January, 2001, in Gujarat during the NDA-I tenure of the Vajpayee Government was the last major natural disaster that India faced in which the then Union Government had accepted foreign Government assistance. In that case, the Governments of over 60 countries had reportedly rendered assistance in some form or the other in the earthquake relief efforts. The next major natural disaster was the Tsunami in December, 2004, that ravaged the coast of Tamil Nadu. In the aftermath of that, the then UPA-1 Government headed by then PM Manmohan Singh reportedly did not accept financial assistance from foreign governments.

The government had on Wednesday night formally made it clear that “in line with the existing policy”, it would politely decline offers of aid from foreign countries for the Kerala flood relief effort, adding that it would accomplish the relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts. However, it had said contributions were welcome from Non-resident Indians, Persons of Indian Origin and international foundations to the relief funds of the Prime Minister and Kerala Chief Minister.

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Afghanistan: Rockets hit Kabul diplomatic area, clashes ongoing

Multiple rockets hit near capital’s diplomatic area, police say, as security forces and fighters clash in old quarter.

 

At least nine rockets hit near the diplomatic area of the Afghan capital, Kabul, where President Ashraf Ghani was delivering a speech to mark the beginning of the Eid al-Adha holiday. Afghan officials on Tuesday said fighting broke out between security forces and armed groups in the city’s old quarter, in which at least two people were wounded. 

The first rocket landed near the presidential palace where Ghani interrupted his speech after hearing a loud thud to say: “If they are thinking the rocket attack will keep the Afghans down, they are wrong.” The second hit near the site of a NATO compound and the US Embassy, according to police official Jan Agha. Military helicopters fired at fighters holed up near the Eidgah Mosque in the capital’s Reka Khana district, where smoke was rising as clashes were under way, according to AFP news agency. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, while Afghan police officials said the Taliban was behind the clashes. 

“This morning a group of terrorists took over a building in Reka Khana and fired several rockets towards Kabul,” Najib Danish a spokesman for the interior ministry told AFP.

Afghan security forces bombed a house where they believe the rockets were fired from, destroying the building. The attack comes as the Taliban rejected a conditional ceasefire offer from the Afghan government on Monday, saying they would persist with their attacks. Earlier on Monday, Taliban fighters ambushed three buses carrying nearly 200 passengers travelling for Eid in the northern Kunduz region Reuters news agency reported that 160 of them were later released, while at least 20 remain captive.

“More than 160 civilians have reached home safely but at least 20 soldiers and policemen have been taken to an undisclosed location by the Taliban,” Ghulam Rabani Rabani, a provincial council member in Kunduz, told Reuters.

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PM offers Imran ‘constructive engagement’, but no early talk .. 

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NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written to newly sworn-in Pakistan PM Imran Khan expressing India’s commitment to a “meaningful and constructive engagement” and recalled their recent conversation about a shared vision of peace to rid the Indian subcontinent of terrorism.

Modi wrote to Khan immediately after the Pakistan leader’s swearing-in on August 18 about the need to build good neighbourly relations and engagement for the benefit of people of the region, official sources said in Delhi. Indian officials, however, clarified that this should not be read as an invitation to restart the comprehensive bilateral dialogue launched in December 2015.

 

The clarification from Indian officials came after Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in Islamabad that Modi’s letter “indicated the beginning of talks between the two countries”. This was denied by Indian officials who said no suggestion had been made for resumption of the formal dialogue process. Later, in an official statement, Pakistan denied saying Modi had made an offer of dialogue and said the two leaders had underlined the significance of moving ahead through constructive engagment.
Qureshi said Pakistan was keen to rebuild ties with Afghanistan and India. “We need a continuous,uninterrupted dialogue. It is the only wise course for us,” he said, adding Kashmir was an issue that need

ed to be resolved. Expressing a desire for dialogue, Qureshi cautioned that both nations were nuclear powers.

“We cannot afford any adventurism as response time is short. We cannot live in enmity and we have to accept that there are outstanding issues,” he said.

In his letter to Khan, Modi recalled his phone conversation in which, government sources here said

, they spoke of “their shared vision to bring peace, security and prosperity to the Indian subcontinent in order to make it free of terror and violence, and to focus on development”. As India assesses the new government in Islamabad, it is unlikely to dilute the centrality of terrorism to any improved ties.

Modi had taken up the need for a terror-free environment in the region in his conversation on July 30 with Khan in which he had reiterated “his vision of peace and development in the entire neighbourhood”.

“[The] Prime Minister wrote to the new PM of Pakistan, Imran Khan, on August 18 congratulating him on his assumption of charge. He expressed the belief that the smooth transition of government in Pakistan would strengthen and cement people’s belief in democracy,” an official source said in Delhi, hours after Qureshi said Modi had written to Khan.

Islamabad is keen to host the Saarc summit this year and while Pakistani sources didn’t rule out the possibility of Khan officially inviting Modi, Indian officials said it was too early to think along those lines. India blocked the summit after the Uri attack in 2016 in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed by terrorists from across the border. Indian sources recalled the MEA statement welcoming polls in Pakistan in which it hoped Pakistan would work constructively to build a safe, stable, secure and developed South Asia free of terror and violence.

Reacting to the controversy over Qureshi’s statement, for which it blamed the Indian media,

Pakistan said Qureshi had not stated that “the Indian Prime Minister had made an offer of a dialogue”, but had said that the Indian PM in his letter also mentioned “something similar to what the foreign minister elucidated earlier i.e. that the way forward was only through constructive engagement”.

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