SC Asks UP Govt To Review Decision On Kanwar Yatra

The Supreme Court on Friday granted one last opportunity to the Uttar Pradesh government to reconsider its decision of holding “symbolic Kanwar Yatra” amid the COVID-19 pandemic while stressing that the health of the citizens of India and the right to life is paramount.

A Bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman gave an ultimatum to the Uttar Pradesh government to either “reconsider” its decision or the court will pass orders on Monday.
“We are of prima facie view that it concerns all of us and is at the heart of the Fundamental Right to Life. The health of citizenry of India and Right to Life is paramount, all other sentiments whether being religious is subservient to this basic fundamental right,” Justice Nariman told counsel appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government.

“State of UP cannot go ahead with this. 100 per cent”, Justice Nariman added.

Senior advocate CS Vaidyanathan appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government told the Bench that authorities will be apprised of the apex court’s views. “We will inform the court as to whether there can be a reconsideration of holding a physical Kanwar Yatra amid COVID-19,” Vaidyanathan said.

During the hearing, Vaidyanathan said, “Total ban is not practical. We have allowed the Kanwar Yatra in a symbolic manner, with a limited number of devotees under stringent conditions.”

“We are only planning to allow only a few people. State Disaster Management Authority deliberated upon this and stated that for compelling religious reasons if someone wants to undertake the Kanwar Yatra, they should seek permission and they should have negative RT-PCR test and be fully vaccinated,” Vaidyanathan said.

Vaidyanathan further added that the Uttar Pradesh government has decided that a total ban will be inappropriate thus the State Disaster Management Authority thought to conduct it in a symbolic manner and an option be given to ‘Kanwariyas’ where Ganga Jal be made available through tankers.

The Counsel appearing for Uttarakhand told the Bench that the State had banned the complete Yatra.

At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for Centre told the top court that as far as the Kanwar Yatra is concerned, the State Governments “must not” permit movement of ‘Kanwariyas’ for bringing Ganga Jal from Haridwar to the Shiv temples to do ‘Abhishekam’ in the local Shiv Temples view of COVID-19 crisis.

The top court was hearing a case where it took suo motu cognizance of the decision of Uttar Pradesh Govt to allow Kanwar Yatra amid COVID-19 and asked the Centre, UP and Uttarakhand to clarify their stand on the issue.

The Central government also filed an affidavit and said that state governments must not permit the movement of ‘Kanwariyas’, however, considering the age-old customs and religious sentiments attached, States must develop a system to make ‘Ganga Jal’ available through tankers at designated locations.

“Tankers be available at an identified/designated locations so that nearby devotees can collect such ‘Ganga Jal’ and do “ABHISHEK” upon their nearest Shiv temples,” the affidavit stated.

Centre further stated in its affidavit that State governments must ensure that distribution of ‘Ganga Jal’ amongst devotees and rituals to be performed by such devotees in the nearby Siv Temples take place mandatorily ensuring social distancing, wearing masks, and adhering to all steps required during COVID-19 crisis.

The Bench took the suo moto cognizance of the newspaper report that Uttar Pradesh has decided to continue with the Kanwar Yatra despite Uttarakhand cancelling the pilgrimage this year.

Referring to the news report about Uttar Pradesh going ahead with Kanwar Yatra amid pandemic, Justice Nariman had told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that he read “something disturbing” in the newspaper today that the state of UP has chosen to continue with the Kanwar yatra, Uttarakhand with its hindsight of experience has said that there will be no Yatra.

“We wish to know what the stand of the respective governments is. The citizens of India are completely perplexed. They don’t know what is going on…,” The Bench had observed while also referring to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement when he met the North-Eastern Chief Ministers that when people ask about the third wave of the Covid-19 virus striking the citizenry of India, it’s up to us to stop it and we cannot compromise “even a bit”.

It had said that given the disparate political voices, all speaking at the same time, it is important that the relevant Secretary, Centre, respond to the issue.

The Kanwar Yatra, in which Shiva devotees from northern states travel on foot or by other means to collect water from River Ganga at Haridwar, Uttarakhand, to offer at Shiva temples in their areas, is set to begin from July 25. (ANI)

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)

US Secy Of State Blinken Refers To Taiwan As A Country

In a development that might irk China, United States Secretary of the state, Antony Blinken, has referred to Taiwan as “country”, the term so far avoided by US officials.

He made the remark during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday on the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda. Blinken was responding to California Republican Representative Young Kim, who called on the US to include Taiwan in the upcoming Democracy Summit.

“I share your view that Taiwan is a strong democracy, a very strong technological power, and a country that can contribute to the world, not just to its own people. COVID is a very good example of that,” Sputnik quoted Blinken as saying.

The State Department used to have an unwritten policy to avoid using the word “country” when referring to the self-ruled island as part of the US commitment to Beijing’s so-called “One China Policy”, according to Sputnik.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of almost 24 million people located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, despite the fact that the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

Taipei, on the other hand, has countered the Chinese aggression by increasing strategic ties with democracies including the US, which has been repeatedly opposed by Beijing.

In recent months, China has increased its military activities around Taiwan. According to China, it is responding to what it calls “collusion” between Taipei and Washington, Taiwan’s main international backer and weapons supplier, according to CNN.

In November, the US and Taiwan signed a blueprint for closer economic ties in Washington.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has already made his intentions clear about Taiwan as he has vowed to never allow the island to become independent and has refused to rule out the use of force if necessary.

The previous US administration in January announced lifting restrictions governing official US contacts with the country.

Former Foreign Secretary Michael Pompeo had said that executive branch agencies should consider all “contact guidelines” regarding relations with Taiwan previously issued by the Department of State under authorities delegated to the Secretary of State to be ‘null and void’.

In February, Senator Rick Scott reintroduced the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act, sponsored by Congressman Guy Reschenthaler in the US House of Representatives, to protect Taiwan from Communist China’s growing aggression. (ANI)

Trivendra Rawat Resigns As Uttarakhand Chief Minister

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat on Tuesday submitted his resignation to Governor Baby Rani Maurya paving the way for leadership change in the state as the ruling BJP gears up for assembly elections next year.

Rawat announced his resignation at a press conference here.
He also said that ruling party MLAs will meet at the state BJP office on Wednesday at 10 am.

“I have submitted my resignation as CM to the Governor today. The party gave me a golden opportunity to serve this state for four years. I had never thought that I would get such an opportunity. The party has now decided that the opportunity to serve as CM should be given to someone else now. Nine days are left for the completion of four years of my government,” he said.

Rawat had met Bharatiya Janata Party president JP Nadda late on Monday amid speculations about a leadership change in the state.

Uttarakhand BJP in-charge Dushyant Kumar Gautam had earlier in the day played down speculation of leadership change in the state.

“He (Rawat) is doing good work. There is no allegation of corruption against him. It is not good to raise questions on his working style”, Gautam had said.

According to sources, several MLAs and some ministers had complained about the style of governance of the Chief Minister to the party leadership.

The party had sent its leader Raman Singh as an observer for the emergency core group meeting, which was also attended by Gautam. (ANI)

Let’s Talk Periods, Says Taapsee

Known for being vocal about her opinions on social causes, Bollywood actor Taapsee Pannu teased fans about her ‘elephant in the room’ on Monday.

The ‘Thappad’ star hopped on to her Instagram and shared a ruminative video that sees her addressing the taboo surrounding menstruation, which she referred to as ‘the elephant in the room’.

Taking to the captions, she wrote, “A sense of gratitude. A sense of giving back to nature and to her ….. Something new coming up… Something I have been longing to share with you all… But first …. ‘Let’s talk periods’, let’s talk about what is #GoodForHer and #GoodForEarth.”

The 33-year-old actor is reportedly looking forward to using her celeb power to talk about the taboo surrounding menstruation.

As per sources, she will soon be joining a Mumbai-based NGO that works in this space. The NGO is anticipated to be the one that earlier had the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle working with it.

Before the ‘Pink’ star, many celebrities from the industry including Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra, Manushi Chillar have actively taken part in connection with the safe and healthy management of periods.

Meanwhile, on the work front, Taapsee is currently shooting for her upcoming sci-fi movie ‘Dobaaraa’. Being helmed by Anurag Kashyap, the movie marks the duo’s third collaboration after 2018’s hit ‘Manmarziyaan’ and biographical drama ‘Saand Ki Aankh’, which had Anurag on board as a producer.

The movie will be produced by Cult Movies – a division under Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms, along with Sunir Kheterpal’s ATHENA and Gaurav Bose’s The Vermillion World Production.

Besides that, Taapsee Pannu has a flurry of films in her kitty including ‘Shabaash Mithu’, ‘Haseen Dillruba’, ‘Rashmi Rocket’, and ‘Looop Lapeta’. (ANI)

Farmer Unions Postpone Feb 1 March To Parliament

A day after violence in Delhi during their tractor march, the farmer unions protesting against farm laws have postponed their proposed march to parliament on February 1.

The decision was announced at a joint press conference by members of Samyukt Kisan Morcha at Singhu border. The farmer unions also said their agitation against three farm laws will continue.

BKU leader Balbir S Rajewal said at the press conference that the proposed march had been postponed due to incidents in the national capital on Tuesday.

“On Martyrs’ Day, we’ll hold public rallies across India. We will also keep a one-day fast. Our March to the Parliament on February 1 stands postponed for now due to this (yesterday’s violence),” he said.

Union budget will be presented on February 1.

Rajewal, who is chief of BKU(R) also accused the central government of “planned conspiracy” to end the farmers’ protest.

“Despite attempts to break it, 99.9 per cent of farmers were peaceful. Some incidents took place. There was blockade for us, not for Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee,” he said.

Delhi witnessed violence and chaotic scenes during the tractor march by farmers on Republic Day to protest against three farm laws. The protestors violated the agreement about the route for the tractor march and entered central Delhi after forcibly removing barricades. The Police has said it will take action against those guilty of violence.

Several policemen were injured in the violence and vehicles were damaged. Delhi Police held a meeting on Wednesday to review the security situation in the national capital.

Farmers have been protesting at different borders of the national capital since November 26, 2020, against the farm laws – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. (ANI)

Economy, Racial Equality Vital Issues, Says Exit Poll

Economic problems and racial inequality are the most important issues for US voters, while the COVID-19 pandemic comes only third, according to an exit poll in the ongoing US presidential election.

As many as one-third of respondents primarily focus on the economic situation, while one-fifth view racial inequality as the main issue of the presidential elections, CNN reported.

As per the poll, the COVID-19 pandemic is the foremost issue for only one out of six US citizens despite it being the worst-affected country with over 9,365,360 coronavirus cases and 232,484 deaths due to the virus.

Eleven per cent of respondents feel crime and safety, along with health care are a matter of concern.

According to the poll conducted by CNN, a total of 51 per cent of voters are negatively assessing the country’s efforts to fight the pandemic, whereas 48 per cent share the opposite outlook. Moreover, for 52 per cent of respondents, it is more important to stop the spread of the virus than to protect the economy.

A total of 46 per cent are confident that their votes will be accurately counted while only 12 per cent of respondents expressed doubts about the fairness of ballot count.

The poll was conducted among 7,774 voters at 115 polling locations as well as 4,919 early and absentee voters by phone.

Some 239 million people are eligible to vote this year. The mail-in ballots could take days to be counted – meaning a winner might not be declared in the hours after polls close on Tuesday. (ANI)

‘No Bias Towards Republican, Democrat States If Elected’

Amid the ongoing election day in the United States, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday promised that if he gets elected he would not differentiate between the Democrat and Republican states.

“I promise you this, as I’m running as a proud Democrat if you elect me, I’m going to be an American President, there will be no red states or blue states just the United States of America,” Biden said while addressing his supporters in Philadelphia.

Addressing the magnitude of the novel coronavirus, he assured people that the nation would overcome the pandemic by making “smart moves”.

“We have an enormous opportunity as a country. Not only we’re going to be able to overcome this virus by taking some smart moves but we’re going to rebuild the middle class. It built this country and Unions built the middle class,” he said.

Biden further said, “We are going to have more people vote in this election than at any time in US history.”

“The president [Donald Trump] is got a lot of things backwards. He thinks that he can decide that who gets to vote but guess what, the people are going to decide who gets to be president,” he added.

He urged the people of the US to choose hope over fear during the ongoing election day. “We have to remember who we are. This is the United States of America. Anybody who knows Donald Trump, we have to let him know who we are. We choose hope over fear, we choose truth over a lie, and we choose science over fiction.”

“When was the last time that you ever heard, when a US President shows up and the whole UN laughs at him. This has not happened before. Or when he appears at the NATO meeting, people make fun of him,” he added.

The Democratic nominee also promised to accept a mistake if he’ll commit one. “I promise you I am going to take responsibility. If I’ll make a mistake I’ll admit it.”

Over 100 million people have already voted and some states, such as Pennsylvania, will report the in-person vote count before moving through the absentee ballots.

Some 239 million people are eligible to vote this year. The mail-in ballots could take days to be counted – meaning a winner might not be declared in the hours after polls close on Tuesday. (ANI)

Surveillance Beefed Up At Streets Near White House

Crews of US law enforcement officers are monitoring the current situation on the streets surrounding the White House in Washington, which was fenced off ahead of the election day, a Sputnik correspondent at the scene reports.

Several dozen law enforcement officers have been dispatched to the streets adjacent to the White House. Many civilians, some with banners and posters, have taken to the streets of the US capital as voting in the presidential election continues.

The police crews have, at the present time, not intervened to break up any activity, according to the correspondent.

A large non-scalable fence was erected around the perimeter of the White House ahead of Election Day.

Parking restrictions were also brought into force in Washington, and the local authorities are prepared to temporarily close streets should protest break out.

Polling stations across the United States are set to close on Tuesday evening as Democratic candidate Joe Biden faces off against his Republican counterpart and incumbent president, Donald Trump.

Many retailers in downtown Washington have boarded up their premises, fearing that violence may break out in the city as the election results are announced. (ANI/Sputnik)

Bernie Calls For Reforms To Prevent Voter Suppression

US Senator Bernie Sanders on Tuesday called on US Congress to introduce reforms to prevent voters from being suppressed in future elections.

“If this campaign has shown us anything it is that Congress must pass real election reform. No more voter suppression. No more five-hour waiting lines to vote. No more threats to not count mail-in ballots. We must make it easier for people to vote, not harder,” Sanders wrote on Twitter.

Sanders’ comments come as over 100 million voters have voted in the 2020 presidential election.

His statement comes in the backdrop of US President Donald Trump’s criticism of the mail-in voting process, saying that it could be subject to fraudulent activity.

The Republican party in both Pennsylvania and Nevada launched attempts to interfere in the postal balloting process in the run-up to election day, Sputnik reported.

Moreover, a judge in the state of Nevada on Monday had denied a bid to temporarily halt the counting of mail-in ballots in Clark County.

Similarly, an attempt to eliminate the three-day deadline extension in Pennsylvania for the receipt of mail-in ballots was also denied, this time by the Supreme Court. (ANI)