The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear next week the plea of senior journalists N, Ram and Sashi Kumar seeking a court-monitored SIT inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of the apex court to investigate into the reports of the government using Israeli software Pegasus to spy on politicians, activists, and journalists.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said that the petition would be heard next week after senior Congress leaders and senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A.M. Singhvi mentioned before it.
Sibal said that civil liberties of citizens, politicians belonging to Opposition parties, journalists, court staff have been put under surveillance. As it is, the issue is making waves in India and world over and requires an urgent hearing, he said
N. Ram and Sashi Kumar on Tuesday had filed a plea in Supreme Court for an independent probe headed by a former or sitting top court judge into Pegasus issue.
The petitioners also sought direction to the Centre to disclose if the government or any of its agencies have obtained licence(s) for Pegasus spyware and/or used/employed it, either directly or indirectly, to conduct surveillance in any manner whatsoever.
The petitioners stated that such targeted surveillance using weapons grade Pegasus software violates Article 21, 19 and 14 of the Constitution of India, as it breaches the right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech and expression. The present surveillance is also in complete derogation of the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Information Technology Act, 2000 and as such is completely illegal and a criminal act, it added.
The plea further stated that such targeted surveillance violates the right to privacy, which is the constitutional core of human dignity and is protected under Article 21, 19, 14, 25, 28, the Preamble and Part III of the Constitution according to the landmark judgment of a nine-judge bench of this Court in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India.
The right to privacy extends to the use and control over one’s mobile phone, including but not limited to both oral conversations and messages, and any interception by means of tapping/hacking is a breach of privacy and an infraction of Article 21 of the Constitution, the plea said.
The conscious targeting of politically engaged persons such as journalists, doctors, lawyers, civil society activists, government ministers, opposition politicians and constitutional functionaries for surveillance seriously compromises the effective exercise of the fundamental right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), the plea added.
The plea also stated that the government response does not provide any clarity whatsoever on how such mass surveillance using military grade software was carried out with such impunity. This is clearly illegal and a serious abridgment of fundamental rights, not to mention a criminal offence, the plea said.
The petitioners alleged that no investigation into these extremely serious allegations has been initiated by the respondents, despite the extremely grave ramifications of such a targeted attack using weapons-grade spyware.
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BJP’s Uttarakhand core group holds meeting in Delhi
Ahead of the Assembly polls, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Uttarakhand core group is holding a meeting on Sunday at the party’s headquarters in Delhi.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami are also present in the meeting along with the party’s National President Jagat Prakash Nadda, State president Madan Kaushik, state election in-charge Pralhad Joshi, election co-in charge RP Singh and others. In the meeting, 70 assembly seats of Uttarakhand are to be discussed.
Meanwhile, Dhami on Saturday had said that he will contest the upcoming Assembly polls in the state from the Khatima constituency and said that the list of candidates will be announced soon.
The Chief Minister added that they have set a target of winning more than 60 seats out of the 70 seats in the Assembly through a slogan ‘’Abki Baar 60 Paar’.
In the last Assembly election, BJP secured the win on 57 seats out of 70 Assembly constituencies in Uttarakhand.
Polls to elect the 70-member State Legislative Assembly are scheduled to be held on February 14. The counting will take place on March 10.
WITH EYE ON BIHAR, BJP READY TO ACCOMMODATE JDU IN UP
In all likelihood, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United) would contest on equal number of seats in the Bihar Legislative Council elections and, in a bid to show that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is united, the saffron party will in lieu give some seats to Nitish Kumar-led JDU in Uttar Pradesh where there is a sizeable Kurmi population.
Sources told The Daily Guardian that the top leadership of JDU is in constant touch with their BJP counterparts on the issue and finalization of seat sharing is at its last stage. As far as UP is concerned, BJP is most likely to give five seats to JDU. In Bihar, the BJP leadership is agreeing to give 12 seats to JDU despite some opposition from its state unit. Polls are scheduled to be held for 24 seats of the Council in March-April.
A BJP functionary said, “We will give JDU a symbolic representation. In many districts of eastern UP, Kurmis, the caste Nitish Kumar belongs to, have a sizeable presence, hence we can accommodate them there. R.C.P. Singh had met our leaders for that. Even if we would not have agreed to leave a few seats, JDU would fight in 80-100 seats in UP. Therefore, by giving them a few seats, we want to make sure that the NDA stands united. In Bihar, it is certain that the party will agree to the demand of JDU to share the seats equally as we have a long-accepted understanding.”
Political observers closely following the developments argue that both parties need each other in the current political scenario in the two states. Having a tall OBC leader like Nitish Kumar on its side will help BJP reach out to the community in the backdrop of recent desertions by some OBC leaders in UP.
Talking to ‘The Daily Guardian’, social scientist Nawal Kishore Chaudhary said, “BJP will give a substantial number of seats to JDU in Bihar Council polls as the political situation is changing and would not like to displease its coalition partner in Bihar. Kumar’s core is Mandal politics and the issues like caste census which has been raised by the Bihar CM is to extract as much he could from the BJP as far as seat sharing is concerned.”
Both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are considered very crucial in the electoral landscape of India as the two states together send as many as 120 members to Lok Sabha. Presently, the NDA has 104 members in the Lower House, which is nearly one-third of its strength there. Many times in the past, BJP agreed to Kumar’s demands despite his party coming third by winning only 43 seats while BJP won 74 seats in 2020 Bihar Assembly polls.
Talking to The Daily Guardian from Patna, JDU chief spokesperson and three-time MLC from Patna Graduate constituency, Neeraj Kumar said, “NDA is going to fight the elections together as far as the Bihar Legislative Council polls are concerned. The seats have not been officially decided yet but we have a very clear understanding with the BJP and there is no confusion. Our critics used to say that JDU would get very few seats in 2019 parliamentary polls but you saw the number of seats we got. Hence, rest assured that we will fight unitedly in Bihar under the tested and trusted leadership of Nitish Kumar and win the polls.”
Meanwhile, however, fresh tension erupted between BJP and JDU as state president (SC Morcha) of BJP Bihar, Ajit Choudhary on Sunday slammed Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar over the prohibition law in the state and called him an autocratic leader. “If you want your allies along with you to run the government, then listen to them too. We asked him to review the prohibition law. Is that a wrong question to ask? He has double standards and it won’t work,” he said. “ Nitish Kumar has become completely autocratic, who has got power for 16 years,” he added.
Since 2016, alcohol has been banned in Bihar and any violation of the law warrants punishment.
Rahul’s over-reliance on Sidhu, Rawat may prove costly
There are indications that the Congress may have to pay a heavy price for Rahul Gandhi’s over-reliance on Navjot Singh Sidhu and Harish Rawat in Punjab and Uttarakhand.
The first list of Congress candidates for the Punjab Assembly elections suggests that Sidhu is dominating the ticket allocation exercise, while Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi is not that effective. Surprisingly, Channi could not manage a ticket for his brother Manohar Singh. The message is loud and clear that Channi is not being given importance in the process of candidate selection. Another message is that Channi’s CM job is not safe if the party comes to power again.
Analysts believe that the Congress may lose a good chunk of Dalit votes if this message goes out, as Channi belongs to this community whose presence is quite significant in Punjab. As a result of being denied a ticket, Manohar Singh is ready to contest as an independent candidate.
After the first list came out, it was clear that Rahul was relying too much on Sidhu. Channi’s brother was denied a ticket citing the reason that only one ticket would be given to one family. But this formula cannot be applied in Uttarakhand. Congress will have to give tickets to Yashpal Arya and his son. Arya came to Congress leaving the BJP. At the same time, Harish Rawat is also making efforts to settle his son and daughter in politics.
So, Sidhu and Rawat are dominant in Punjab and Uttarakhand, respectively. Both are eyeing CM posts as well. Both of them are taking their opponents head on to consolidate their positions.
All the Congress heavyweights had left the party and joined BJP during the last Assembly elections because of Rawat’s “unacceptable” politics. This time round, Rawat has spoiled their plan to return to Congress. A couple of leaders like Kishore Upadhyaya and Arya in the Congress have been sidelined. Harish Rawat is the only leader who is visible in the Congress in Uttarakhand. Rawat is not apparently able to challenge the BJP which is strong in all respect. Rahul Gandhi could not also address the issues that the party has been facing in the hill state.
Similarly, Congress seems to be losing its grip over Punjab due to Rahul’s over-dependence on Sidhu. Congress’ Dalit card politics is also losing the steam with growing dissidence after ticket distribution. The opposition will try to benefit from any rift in Channi’s family over ticket allocation. CM’s cousin Jasvinder Singh has already joined BJP.
Former Chief minister Amarinder Singh is already eagerly waiting to welcome Congress rebels. Meanwhile, the BJP wants a hung house in Punjab so as to keep Congress out of power.
PM will address WEF Davos meeting virtually
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will deliver the “State of the World” special address at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Davos Agenda on Monday, said Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday.
PM Modi will address the WEF at 8:30 PM IST via video conference, the office said in a press release. The virtual event will be held from January 17-21. Several heads of state will address the event including Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and EU Commission’s chief Ursula von der Leyen.
The event will also witness the participation of top industry leaders, international organisations and civil society, who will deliberate on critical challenges being faced by the world today and discuss how to address them.
VACCINATION DRIVE COMPLETES A YEAR, OVER 157 CR INOCULATED
Cases have started dipping in Delhi; positivity rate too going down; over 85% beds in dedicated Covid hospitals are vacant in the national capital.
Amid the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, India on Sunday completed one year of its successful vaccination drive. Congratulating India on the successful vaccination drive, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya tweeted, “16th January 2021 will always be remembered! Congratulations India on crossing 157 crore Covid19 vaccinations that too in just 1 year. With PM Narendra Modi Ji’s mantra of Sabka Prayas, India has emerged as an example in the world in fight against Covid-19.”
On January 16, 2021, the inoculation of the healthcare workers started while the frontline workers got their doses from February 2, 2021. The vaccination of those above 60 years and above 45 years with specified comorbidities started on March 1, 2021. Similarly, the vaccination for all people aged more than 45 started on April 1, 2021, and finally, the vaccination for those above 18 years started on May 1, 2021.
To mark the successful completion of one year of vaccination, the Union Health Minister released a postal stamp. Mandaviya tweeted, “Releasing commemorative postal stamp on India’s achievement in developing indigenous Covid vaccine.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to Twitter to mark the success of one year of vaccination. He tweeted, “Today we mark #1yearofVaccinedrive. I salute each and every individual who is associated with the vaccination drive. Our vaccination programme has added great strength to the fight against Covid-19. It has led to saving lives and thus protecting livelihoods.”
Praising the efforts of the healthcare workers and nurses, he further tweeted, “At the same time, the role of our doctors, nurses and healthcare workers is exceptional. When we see glimpses of people being vaccinated in remote areas, or our healthcare workers taking the vaccines there, our hearts and minds are filled with pride.”
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that if the government and the people of a country unite to achieve a common goal, then the country can conquer every challenge. “Leadership and determination of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the continuous efforts of the people in India have proved that if the government and the people of a country unite to achieve a common goal, then the country can conquer every challenge and make the impossible possible,” Shah tweeted in Hindi.
According to sources, more than 11 crore beneficiaries have received vaccination in tribal districts and almost over 65 crore beneficiaries accounting for 70% of the adult population, are fully vaccinated. Also, more than three crore children (15-18 years) have received the first dose within ten days of the vaccination programme.
As per the Union Health Minister, more than 66 lakh vaccine doses have been administered in the last 24 hours. He has said that India’s vaccination programme has been one of the most the successful and largest programmes as compared to developed nations. More than 100 crore doses have been administered in less than nine months. India had initiated the programme of Har Ghar Dastak (Door-to-Door) vaccination drive for people who were hesitant to take vaccines. The health officials have been consistently urging people to follow Covid protocols.
Among the states, Uttar Pradesh has given a total of over 23.06 crore Covid-19 vaccination doses to date. It leads the charts as the number one state with most Covid-19 vaccination doses administered, followed by Maharashtra (14.31 crore doses), West Bengal (11.39 crore doses), Madhya Pradesh (10.74 crore doses) and Bihar (10.70 crore doses).
As per the data recorded by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India on Sunday reported 132,557 more active Covid cases. Till now, the country has reported more than 6,000 cases of Omicron.
CASES START DIPPING IN DELHI
Delhi continued to register a decline in daily Covid-19 cases with the city recording 18,286 cases in the last 24 hours. As per a bulletin issued by the health department of the Delhi government, the positivity rate for the day has declined to 27.87%. A total of 65,621 samples were tested during the last 24 hours. With this, the total Covid-19 cases in the state have gone up to 17,09,970.
During the last 24 hours, 21,846 people recovered from the infection, taking the recoveries in the national capital to 15,94,788.
28 people died due to the deadly virus during the last 24 hours. The death toll in the state due to the virus currently stands at 25,363.
There are currently 89,819 active Covid-19 cases in the national capital, out of which 68,411 are currently in home isolation.
As per Delhi government, there are currently 2,711 patients admitted in hospitals, out of which 120 are suspected to be infected with Covid-19 and 2,591 are confirmed cases of Covid-19.
As per the government, 85.51% of beds across dedicated Covid-19 hospitals in Delhi are vacant, with only 2,711 beds out of total 15,499 beds being occupied by patients.
Similarly, 89.15% of beds in Covid-19 care centres are vacant, with 502 beds out of 4,626 beds being occupied by patients. In the Covid-19 health centres, 81.65% beds are empty, with only 29 out of 158 beds being occupied by the patients.
Mumbai reported 7,895 new cases of Covid-19 out of 57,534 tests conducted during the last 24 hours. According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) bulletin, the total number of cases of the disease in Mumbai has gone up to 9,99,862. Eleven people lost their lives due to the virus during the last 24 hours and the death toll has gone up to 16,257. The city has 60,371 active cases.
AICTE AND MINISTRY OF EDUCATION’S INNOVATION CELL CELEBRATE NATIONAL START-UP DAY
The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the Ministry of Education’s Innovation Cell (MIC) today celebrated the ‘National Start-up Day’ and highlighted 75 innovative technologies with start-up potential to receive grants assistance, mentorship, and incubation linkage support.
These innovations were part of the e-exhibition held during the Innovation Week that started on January 10. During the Innovation Week, more than 500 innovations and startups showcased their work virtually. The Innovation Week concluded today with an announcement of marking the day as ‘National Start-up Day’ by Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi.
The innovations and start-ups were selected from a host of programs like the National Innovation Contest, Smart India Hackathon, and Toycathon that were conducted by the Ministry of Education. These 75 innovations and start-ups have developed a range of technological solutions and services that will work across 16 different themes and sectors.
Among the start-ups, ‘BioMANS’ (Bio-Based Biodegradable Advance Material) produces a wide range of utility products for daily use like carry bags, medical bibs, cotton earbuds, disposable cutlery, etc. from agricultural waste. The start-up is working to curb single-use plastic pollution.
Another start-up named “Fenice Technical Solutions” incubated at Dr. MGR Educational and Research Institute offers solution in Robotics and Drones segment. Their innovative product ‘Clog Removing Autonomous Bot’ (CRAB) is to clear blocks and clogs in underground sewer and metro pipelines.
“Motion Sensing Glove” is a unique technical tool to assist the physiotherapists has been developed by a team of students and is currently being incubated at Punjab University. The device suggests the best and optimal moves for a patient undergoing physio rehabilitation treatment. The founding team is working in the direction to use AI and ML-based data analysis to further improve its usability.
The MoE’s Innovation Cell and AICTE offers a wide range of policy programs and handholding initiatives to promote and support innovation and startups in educational institutions
Prof. Anil D Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, AICTE emphasised that: “Toycathon and Toy Business league (TBL) are best platforms for both school and college students to collaborate with industries to commercialise their creative outputs. So far 55 toy manufacturers have collaborated with Toycathon winners to refine and manufacture their products”.
Commenting on the success of the programme, Dr. Abhay Jere, Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), MIC, said: “We started with 30,000 ideas from students and faculty. After multiple levels of screening, scrutiny, and training, we have now identified 75 innovations that have really good start-up potential. We are offering them funding support up to Rs.10 lakh each and will monitor their progress for the next two years”.
Highlighting the importance of the initiative, Prof. M.P. Poonia, Vice-Chairman, AICTE, said: “The AICTE has already introduced and institutionalised a new academic program at master’s level on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Venture Development (MBA/PGDM in IEV) for technical institutions with incubation units to offer this program. So far 21 HEIs are running this program and helping young minds to undertake the career of innovation and start-up as part of the academic. This academic program is a reformative step and aligned with NEP’s multidisciplinary approach and to produce job creators from academic institutions”.
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