Priyanka Meets Sidhu Amid Punjab Congress Crisis

By Siddharth Sharma

Months ahead of Punjab Assembly polls, the rift in the state unit has intensified. While Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu met the party’s General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday, the party’s top leadership did not meet Punjab Chief Minister Captain (retd) Amarinder Singh who was in Delhi recently for three days.
A senior Congress leader clarified that the Punjab Chief Minister had not sought time to meet the top leadership of the party. Singh, however, had met the All India Congress Committee (AICC) panel entrusted with the task to end factionalism in the state unit.

According to sources, Priyanka held a meeting with Sidhu at her residence this morning. The meeting has come in the midst of a crisis in the Punjab unit of the party.

After meeting Sidhu, Priyanka went to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s residence and had a 40-45-minutes-long meeting with him.

After the meeting with the Wayanad MP, Priyanka returned to her residence and again held a meeting with Sidhu.

Today’s meeting comes even as the party has been embattled with murmurs of rebellion in the state unit.

Earlier, the AICC panel had submitted the report on Punjab crisis to Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi with the ground realities and suggestions after the members of the panel met the Punjab CM.

In order to address the factionalism in the state unit, a three-member panel had been set up by Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi.

It is to be noted that Rahul Gandhi has held meetings with Punjab Congress MLAs, MPs, and other important leaders from the state, including PCC Cheif Sunil Jakhar.

On Friday, the leaders who reached Rahul Gandhi’s residence to attend a meeting included Vijendra Singla, Rana Gurjit Singh, RS MP Shamsher Singh Dhillon, and MLA Lakhvir Singh.

Rajya Sabha MP Shamsher Singh Dhillon while speaking to mediapersons had said that the meeting was held to resolve infighting in the Punjab Congress and added that decisions were made to strengthen the party in the upcoming elections in the state.

Gandhi on Wednesday met many senior Punjab leaders including Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Sunil Jakhar, Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal and Harish Rawat in Delhi amid escalating infighting in the party’s state unit.

Punjab Assembly polls, scheduled for next year, are being considered crucial for Congress as it is one of the few states where the party is still in power.

In 2017 Assembly polls, Congress won an absolute majority in the state by winning 77 seats and ousted the SAD-BJP government after 10 years. Aam Aadmi Party emerged as the second-largest party winning 20 seats in the 117-member Punjab Legislative Assembly. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) could only manage to win 15 seats while the BJP secured 3 seats. (ANI)

‘I Didn’t Face A Single Instance Of Sexism In Air Force’

Madhur Handa Dubey, among the first women batch to join Indian Air Force ATC, is happy to see lady officers like Mawya Sudan taking up the role of a fighter pilot now. She recounts her days in uniform

I was raised by an officer and a gentleman. My father served in the Indian Army for many years and thus we knew how to be treated right. My mother was a Professor in Khalsa College, Patiala, when militancy was at its peak. I saw the same fearlessness in her eyes that I saw in my father’s. I inherited that courage and it finally found expression in the Indian skies. For 11 long years: from 1996-2007.

I was pursuing my PhD in Zoology when the government decided to induct more women in the Services. They opened up the ATC (Air Traffic Control) Branch to women in mid-nineties and I took the SSB Exams.

When I cleared my exams, I saw proud tears in my father’s eyes. He had wanted a son only if to see him serving the nation in uniform. So when I, his second child, cleared the exam, his happiness knew no bounds that someone in the family would carry his legacy forward.

I was among the three women who had been selected from a pool of 123 candidates. The rigorous selection process, the tough interview rounds and the discipline was a heady mix. So it was a huge morale booster for me when I cleared the interview round. Finally after a few days I cleared the medical round too.

We were the first batch of women who were inducted in the department. There were nine men and 34 women who would help control the Indian skies.

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During training we matched the men neck and neck in all the activities and we were never treated sub-par by anyone. We were praised at every single step of the way if we did good work, just like the men. Our safety was fully taken care of. I try hard to recall but I can’t remember a single instance of gender discrimination or sexism at my workplace.

This doesn’t mean that I am decrying or negating the experiences of other women who might have gone through it, for example Gunjan Saxena. I find her story valid, but I find my own story just as valid too. I think stories of discrimination, sexism etc should never be clubbed together. Each woman’s story in each sector is valid. Corporate settings can be grounds for as much discrimination as the forces.

After hanging up my uniform I started working in corporate settings and my experience has been good here as well.

In Air Force, there were times when fighter pilots told me that they found my voice soothing and it helped them keep their calm even more during highly-tense situations. My husband, who is currently serving as a test pilot in the Air Force would attest to that. Women are definitely an added welcome to the forces. The high point of my career was when I handled the movement of the fighter planes during Operation Parakram (2001-2002). I am so proud of having served my nation all these years without fail.

I got married while I was in the Air Force and had my children too while on duty. But I kept working till my due date both the times and no one had to cover my shift during mornings or late nights. The only change I wish is they had better infrastructure. I had to climb seven-eight flights of stairs during my pregnancy to get to my office. It would have been nice to have a lift.

As more and more women are being inducted into combat roles (the number of women officers has increased three-fold in the last 6 years), I feel very happy. A lot of my relatives and friends’ kids have joined the services and many more are planning to do so. With youngsters like Mawya Sudan from Jammu & Kashmir leading the way, we can be sure that the skies are truly opening up.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

Ananya Lauds Social Media Role Amid Covid

Actor Ananya Panday is quite happy to see social media becoming a source of hope during the COVID-19 crisis. And now on the occasion of World Social Media Day, she has launched ‘Social Media For Social Good’ campaign.

The main aim of ‘Social Media For Social Good’ is to encourage people to keep social platforms positive and healthy.

“I want to applaud all those people who’ve used social media constructively for social good. By using social media responsibly you all empowered yourselves to deal with the pandemic crisis, overcome situations and help the needy and affected in every way possible,” she said.

“People have helped arrange hospital beds, oxygen cylinders. Some were giving out vaccine-related information while the others helped the strays, the list is endless. I’ll be interacting with some of these social media heroes with So Positive’s new series #SocialMediaForSocialGood,” she shared.

Seeing people helping each other on social media has reinforced Ananya’s belief in ‘kindness, compassion, and empathy’.

“We often talk about the negative side of social media – the bullying, trolling and hatred. During the pandemic, I saw the power of people on social media- the humanity. Strangers helping strangers, sharing resources and information, saving lives. It reinforced my belief in kindness, compassion and empathy,” the actor said.

“‘Social Media for Social Good’ is a series in which I’m going to be talking to some of the ‘Heroes’ of social media who have used it positively and constructively for the good of society! Social media can be a kinder place – let’s all do our part in making sure that happens,” she added.

The campaign is a part of her Digital Social Responsibility initiative (DSR) So Positive.

Meanwhile, on the film front, Ananya will be seen sharing screen space with Deepika Padukone and Siddhant Chaturvedi in Shakun Batra’s next film. (ANI)

EU Envoy Denies Ban On Covishield Vaccine In Europe

By Naveen Kapoor

EU Ambassador to India Ugo Astuto has clarified that there is no ban in the European Union on Covishield vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
Astuto told ANI in an interview that Pune-based SII has apparently not yet applied to European Medicines Agency (EMA) with a request for approval of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Asked why ‘Vaxzervria’ vaccine, also developed by AstraZeneca has been permitted in EU and not Covishield, he said every approval process must be conducted on its own merit.

“Obviously these are medical sensitivities, medical experts will be better placed to respond. Every approval process of vaccine must be conducted on its own merit. No matter how close the process is, it is because vaccines are biological products so even a tiny difference in manufacturing conditions can result in differences. So each and every product needs to undergo its own scrutiny process,” Astuto told ANI.

“Based on what I read, status from European Medicines Agency (EMA), they say they have not received a request for approval of Covishield. I’m sure when they receive they will process it based on their own internal procedures. I think EMA cannot start any procedure on its own if it hasn’t received a request,” he added.

The EU Ambassador said that a new system has been put in place of the digital COVID certificate.

“It is to clarify there is no banning on Covishield. We have set up in place a new system of Digital Covid Certificate which is meant to facilitate travel within the European Union. Basically, this certificate is proof that a person is vaccinated against COVID or received a negative test or recovered from COVID-19. So this is meant as a facilitator but it is not a precondition for travel.

“For example, people who are not vaccinated should still be allowed to travel, subject to the usual restrictions like testing, quarantine, self-isolation measures related to COVID health policy,” he said.

He said that under the new digital COVID certificate system, EU member states can accept a vaccine that has received EU-wide approval from EMA, but the regulation of digital certificate also leaves open to member states the possibility of accepting vaccination certificates issued in relation to the vaccine that has been authorized by WHO.

“That’s a relevant feature to the system,” the EU Ambassador said.

He also confirmed that talks at the diplomatic level are also on to resolve the issue.

“We always talk with our friends from the Ministry of External Affairs about all issues of common interest so this is not excluded and whenever any issue arises, together we work in a way so that outcome is satisfactory to all sides,” he said.

Covaxin, an indigenous COVID-19 vaccine, is also awaiting approval from the WHO for emergency use authorization.

Covishield has been and is exported to many countries and until EMA gives approval, there will be issues faced by people in many countries.

“There is a process to be followed and again I’m not best placed to tell you. That’s why we have EMA, an independent agency. I’m sure they will examine with due care any request,” the EU Ambassador said. (ANI)

Parl Panel Tells FB, Google To Comply With New IT Rules

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology on Tuesday directed Facebook and Google to comply with new IT rules and follow rules of the country.

Senior officials from Facebook and Google appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Information and Technology (IT) on Tuesday to put forth their views on ‘safeguarding citizens rights and prevention of misuse of social and online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space’.
The committee meeting began under the chairmanship of Congress leader Dr Shashi Tharoor. The committee members raised the issues of privacy of personal data and women safety and security of women on Facebook.

Facebook officials were grilled by the committee members about the leakage of data and the safety and security of the women.

In response, Facebook officials informed the committee that leakage is not from any Facebook platforms but it is happening through other devices.

Facebook India Associate General Counsel Namrata Singh and the company’s Director of Public Policy Shivnath Thukral attended the meeting and discussed several issues.

Google officials informed the committee that between January and March 2021, YouTube removed over 9.5 million videos for violating its community guidelines.

“95 per cent of these videos were first flagged by machines rather than humans. Of those detected by machines, 27.8 per cent never received a single view, and 39 per cent received between 1 and 10 views. During this same quarter, YouTube terminated over 2.2 million channels for violating its Community Guidelines. In this same period. YouTube removed more than 1 billion comments, the majority of which were spam and were detected automatically,” officials told the committee.

Earlier, Facebook officials, in their response to the committee, had said, that the officers could not appear before the committee as the company’s rules prohibit officials to attend any meeting in person during the period of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facebook officials decided to appear online. But panel chairman Shashi Tharoor later turned down Facebook’s request to attend the meeting virtually.

On June 20, India’s permanent mission at the United Nations had clarified that India’s new IT rules are “designed to empower ordinary users of social media” and that they were finalised after the government held broad consultations with civil society and other stakeholders in 2018.

The Central government has framed the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (‘new IT Rules’) and notified the same on February 25, 2021. The Rules have come into effect from May 26, 2021. (ANI)

PM Holds High-Level Security Meet With Def Min, NSA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a high-level meeting with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval on Tuesday, sources said.

They said there were discussions on futuristic challenges in the defence sector and equipping the forces with modern equipment and aspects relating to the involvement of more youth, startups and strategic community were also discussed.
The meeting comes after two low-intensity explosions were reported in the technical area of Jammu Air Force Station on early Sunday morning.

Two drones were used to drop explosives on the Jammu airbase by the attackers who then navigated their quadcopters out of that area, the sources had said.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) said one of the blasts caused minor damage to the roof of a building while the other exploded in an open area.

The attack, carried out possibly using the improvised explosive device (IED), could not cause much damage and caused minor injuries to two personnel on duty.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Monday handed over the probe into the first-of-its-kind terror attack in the country to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). (ANI)

Sikh Delegation Wants Anti-Conversion Law In J&K

A Sikh delegation met Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy and submitted a memorandum over the alleged forced conversion and marriage of Sikh girls in Kashmir and demanded UP-like anti-conversion law in Jammu and Kashmir.

After the meeting, MoS Reddy said that he will discuss what action that needs to be taken in the matter with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

“A delegation has come here to submit a representation to the Government of India. The forced conversion and marriage of Sikh girls in Kashmir is wrong and the delegation has submitted a memorandum over it. I’ll discuss this with Union Home Minister, regarding the action that needs to be taken,” said Reddy.

BJP leader RP Singh while talking to ANI said that in the memorandum, the delegation demanded an ‘anti-conversion law’ to be implemented in Jammu and Kashmir for the protection of Sikh girls.

“The incident of forced nikah of an 18-year-old Silk girl with a 60-year-old man is not a standalone incident of religion conversation. The religious conversation of Sikh girls has been going on for a long time. We have requested the minister of state for Home Affairs to ask the Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor to enact a law against love jihad, like the ones passed by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh government, in Kashmir as well. The Minister should ask the LG to bring an ordinance for the protection of Sikh girls,” he said.

The BJP leader added that Reddy has given assurance that he will discuss the matter with Union Home Minister and take action regarding the issue.

On Sunday, a Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) delegation met Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and sought the safe return of a Sikh girl to her family, who was allegedly abducted, forcibly converted and married off in Srinagar.

DSGMC President Manjinder Singh Sirsa had also questioned the silence of Jammu and Kashmir’s regional parties on the issue of the alleged abduction and forcible conversion of two Sikh girls in Srinagar who were also allegedly married off forcefully. (ANI)

India Reports Less Than 40,000 Covid Cases In 24 Hours

India on Tuesday reported 37,566 fresh COVID-19 cases, the first time in 102 days that daily cases dropped below the 40,000 mark, the Union Health Ministry informed.

With this, the country’s total COVID-19 tally stands at 3,03,16,897, including 2,93,66,601 recoveries and 5,52,659 active cases.
The COVID-19 death toll has mounted to 3,97,637 with 907 fatalities in the last 24 hours.

A total of 40,81,39,287 samples have been tested as of Monday, of which, 17,68,008 were tested yesterday, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) informed.

The active cases constitute 1.82 per cent of the total cases.

Daily recoveries continue to outnumber the daily new cases for the 47th consecutive day as 56,994 people recovered from the virus in the last 24 hours. The recovery rate has increased to 96.87 per cent.

While the weekly positivity rate stands at 2.74 per cent, the daily positivity rate is currently at 2.12 per cent.

As many as 32,90,29,510 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses, including 27,11,31,337 first dose and 5,78,98,173 second dose have been administered so far under the nationwide vaccination drive so far.

According to the ministry, 52,76,457 dose were administered in the last 24 hour as 41,24,221 beneficiaries received their first dose and 11,52,236 received their second dose. (ANI)

No Test Required For Vaccinated Indians To Visit Switzerland

As Switzerland relaxed COVID-related restrictions from June 26, the government’s Federal Council of Public Health has informed that persons from countries with a variant of concern like India, who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19, will be permitted entry without the need for a negative test or quarantine.

However, for those people who are arriving from a country with a variant of the virus of concern, they will be permitted entry as long as it is certain that the vaccination offers good protection. Those who have neither been vaccinated nor have recovered must present a negative PCR test or rapid antigen test and go into quarantine on entry, said the Federal Council.
This means that persons who have been vaccinated or who have recovered do not have to produce a negative test even when travelling from countries where the Delta variant is widespread (such as India or the United Kingdom) and do not have to quarantine on entry.

“The vaccines used in Switzerland are only slightly less effective against the Delta variant and thus still offer a very high level of protection,” said the Council.

The Swiss government has also announced that COVID certificates will be permitted as supporting documents in case of international travel and areas of application in the country.

In an FAQ, Switzerland’s Federal Council of Public Health said that: “From 1 July, the federal government works on the assumption that anyone who wants a COVID certificate will have received one. From this date, only COVID certificates will be permitted as supporting documents for the areas of application in Switzerland. This applies to cases set out in the COVID-19 Special Situation Ordinance, so e.g. events, cinemas, theatres and restaurants if they wish to restrict entry to those who are vaccinated, have tested negative or recovered.”

“In international travel and in the context of contact quarantine, alternative supporting documents are still possible,” it added. Additionally, children can also be issued with a COVID certificate of testing or recovery and the certificates of all family members can be stored in a single app, according to the Council.

A COVID certificate allows people to resume certain activities and serves as evidence that an individual is either protected against the virus or it is highly unlikely that he/she is infectious.

According to the Federal Council’s line of action, everyday settings, such as public transport, retail, workplaces and training facilities, where the use of the COVID certificate is not planned in the ordinance.

Settings, where the certificate will be a condition, include international passenger transport, major events and nightclubs of dance events.

On June 23, the Federal Council had decided to relax the requirements for entering Switzerland from Saturday after a decrease in fresh infections. Persons entering from the Schengen area will no longer be required to quarantine. It is now once again possible for third-country citizens travelling from countries such as the USA, Albania or Serbia to enter Switzerland, informed the Council.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the requirements to work from home and to wear masks outdoors will be lifted and restaurants will again be allowed to seat as many people together as they wish. Large-scale events with COVID certificates will be allowed to take place without restrictions on capacity or the number of people present.

“Case numbers and hospital admissions due to COVID-19 are continuing to fall sharply. In addition, around half of the adult population will be fully vaccinated by the end of the month. However, caution is still warranted,” said the Federal Council.

Shops, leisure and sporting facilities will be able to make full use of their available capacity. Water parks may also reopen. However, a restriction of two-thirds’ capacity will apply to events and venues where no COVID certificate is required.

The rule for events without a COVID certificate requirement include that up to 1,000 people may attend an event indoors or outdoors and up to two-thirds of the venue’s capacity may be used.

The limits regarding private events continue to apply, that is, no more than 30 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. (ANI)

Jacqueline Elated At ‘Paani Paani’ Response

Actor Jacqueline Fernandez is on cloud nine as her latest song, ‘Paani Paani’, has become a massive hit. Released earlier this month, ‘Paani Paani’ is sung by Badshah along with Aastha Gill. The music video of the track features none other than Jacqueline.

On receiving a positive response from the fans and followers, she said: “The response on ‘Paani Paani’ has been super amazing. I am loving all the recreations, covers and dance videos people have been posting, they have taken the song to a different level.”

Before ‘Paani Paani’, Jacqueline collaborated with Badshah on ‘Genda Phool’ song.

After the two back-to-back successful songs with Badshah, she expressed her happiness.

“What’s interesting is, the first time I heard the song I felt like it was so catchy and will definitely make it to everyone’s playlist,” she said.

“Now, I feel Badshaah and I are on a streak now, after Genda Phool now Paani Paani,” she added.

Meanwhile, on the film front, Jacqueline will be seen sharing screen space with Saif Ali Khan, Yami Gautam and Arjun Kapoor in ‘Bhoot Police’. (ANI)