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Tainted Bihar minister resigns within 72 hours of taking oath

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JD-U MLA Mewalal Choudhary has left office after protests over his appointment as Education Minister. Questions are now being raised regarding a 2017 FIR against him and why Chief Minister Nitish Kumar appointed him in the first place.

In what is being described as an inauspicious beginning for the newly appointed Nitish Kumar government, Bihar’s education minister and JD-U MLA Mewalal Choudhary resigned from his post within less than 72 hours of taking oath.

Choudhary, who had met the CM on Wednesday, submitted his resignation on Thursday afternoon, following protests from various quarters over his appointment in the Nitish cabinet.

The 67-year-old Choudhary, who is a JDU MLA from Tarapur in Munger, was suspended from the party by Nitish Kumar himself in 2017 after an FIR had been registered against him over alleged irregularities in appointments during his tenure as the vice chancellor of the Bihar Agriculture University, Sabour, in Bhagalpur district. President Ram Nath Kovind, who was then the Governor of Bihar, had constituted an inquiry commission to probe the charges against Choudhary after the then Leader of Opposition, Sushil Modi, had written to Kovind.

Sources said that the antecedents of the MLAs who were to take oath on Monday were also vetted by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who had come to Patna for the oath-taking ceremony on Monday. The fact that Nitish and his advisors ignored the pending case against Choudhary has also raised questions on why he was picked up in the first place. More important to note is that it was Nitish’s closest associate in the BJP, Sushil Modi, who had sought the inquiry against Choudhary in 2017.

As per Choudhary’s election affidavit, an FIR, 35/2017, had been registered by the Sabour police station against him, under sections 409, 420, 467, 468, 471 and 120 (B) of the Indian Penal Code for “irregularities in the construction of buildings and in the appointments of 161 Assistant and Junior Scientists while he was the VC of Bihar Agriculture University”. The case is being heard by a court in Bhagalpur. After the February 2017 FIR, Choudhary had gone underground, following which, the JDU had suspended him – a step which had been termed by JD-U spokesperson Neeraj Kumar as an ‘example of the good governance of Nitish Kumar”.

The said irregularities in the appointments were allegedly done by Choudhary in 2012, which had come to light after he demitted office in 2015. The Bihar Agriculture University later constituted a probe committee headed by Justice (retired) Syed Mohammed Mahfooz Alam of the Patna High court.

According to Patna-based political observers, the continuance of Choudhary had become untenable as his presence would have hurt the BJP’s promise of good governance and the fact that its campaign was focused against the ‘jungle raj’ of the RJD during the Lalu-Rabri rule. “The BJP prevailed upon Nitish to remove Choudhary from the cabinet. BJP is numerically the strongest party in the alliance and it will, in the near future too, ensure that Nitish does not take any step which hurts the image of the BJP,” a Patna-based political observer said. Significantly, earlier this week, Bihar IPS officer Amitabh Kumar Das wrote a letter to the state DGP, alleging that Choudhary’s wife, Neeta, who died due at her home after suffering burn injuries on 27 May 2019, was killed due to a political conspiracy and that her death was related to the irregularities that had taken place at the agriculture university under Choudhary’s tenure. He has asked the police chief to constitute an SIT and question Choudhary.

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‘Aage-Aage dekhiye” Nitish Kumar refuses to reveal cards on RLSP-JDU merger

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Patna (Bihar) [India] March 4 (ANI): Refusing to reveal cards on merger with Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) president Upendra Kushwaha, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Thursday said, “Aage-Aage dekhiye (let’s see)”, however on the other side Kushwaha called a meeting of its functionaries from the district as well as from the national level for the two-days meeting to decide its future course of action.
“There will be a meeting of the party’s national and state executives on March 13 and 14. During that meeting, the district council, district president and all the RLSP party workers will be present and will work on whatever party decides,’ Kushwaha said indirectly hinting at the merger.
Kushwaha, who was then a JD(U) Rajya Sabha member, had parted ways in 2013 and floated his own outfit. Then, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had accepted the RLSP under its wing. The party had won all the three Lok Sabha seats it contested, riding the Modi’s wave and Kushwaha was elected from Karakat and was given a berth in the Union council of ministers.
A few years later he crossed over to the Grand Alliance on the eve of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, quitting his ministerial berth.
In the recent Bihar assembly election 2020, he fought the elections as part of an alliance comprising, among others, Asaduddin Owaisis AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) and Mayawatis’ Bahujan Samaj Party, declaring itself the Chief Ministerial candidate but could not win even a single seat.
On the other side, BJP won more seats than JD(U) now Nitish Kumar is busy consolidating his grip over the “Luv Kush” combination, a colloquial term for OBC (Other Backward Class) Kurmis and Kushwaha who have stood by Kumar’s side in the worst of times. (ANI)

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Six states account for 85.51 pc of new COVID-19 cases

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New Delhi [India], March 4 (ANI): Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Karnataka continue to report a surge in the COVID-19 daily new cases, informed to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) while adding that they cumulatively account for 85.51 per cent of the new cases reported in the past 24 hours.
According to the health ministry, 17,407 new coronavirus cases were registered in the last 24 hours, out of which Maharashtra has reported the highest daily new cases at 9,855. This is the highest number recorded in Maharashtra since October 18 last year when 10,259 new cases were reported. Kerala follows with 2,765 cases while Punjab reported 772 new cases.
India’s total active caseload has reached 1,73,413 today and the country’s present active caseload now stands at 1.55 per cent of the total positive cases.
89 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours. Six states account for 88.76 per cent of the new deaths. Maharashtra saw the maximum casualties (42). Kerala follows with 15 daily deaths andPunjabreported12 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Twenty-three States/UTs including Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir (UT), Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Puducherry, Assam, Lakshadweep, Nagaland, Sikkim, Ladakh (UT), Tripura, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Arunachal Pradesh have not reported any COVID19 deaths in the last 24 hours.
As per the health ministry data, more than 1.66 crore (1,66,16,048) vaccine doses have been administered through 3,23,064 sessions, as per the provisional report till 7 am today.
These include 67,90,808 Health Care Workers (first dose), 28,72,725 HCWs (second dose), 58,03,856 Front Line Workers (first dose) and 4,202 FLWs (second dose), 1,43,759 beneficiaries aged more than 45 years with specific co-morbidities (first dose) and 10,00,698 beneficiaries aged more than 60 years.
As of day 47 of the vaccination drive (March 3, 2021), nearly 10 lakh (9,94,452) vaccine doses were given. Of these, 8,31,590 beneficiaries were vaccinated across 10,849 sessions for 1st dose (HCWs and FLWs) and 1,62,862 HCWs and FLWs received 2nd dose of the vaccine. (ANI)

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Beautification of Srinagar underway in effort to boost tourism in Valley

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Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) [India], March 4 (ANI): In an effort to boost tourism in Kashmir Valley, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has begun beautification work in Srinagar under the Smart City project.
Dazzling paintings are being painted on flyover pillars above the Jehangir Chowk, showcasing the culture and picturesque scenes from around the Valley.


According to Rizwan Khurshid, Project Coordinator of the Srinagar Smart City project, the images of tourist spots will draw the attention of new visitors and give tourism a boost.
“This project is for the city and these scenes are a part of pedestrian movement in the bustling city. These paintings are also likely to attract tourists to other places around the Union Territory,” said Khurshid.

Local residents have also lauded the move, saying it will help in boosting tourism.
“This is a very good step as this will develop the city. They are making a parking space as well. I hope that this gives tourism a boost. These things should continue in the future,” said a local resident named Jahangir Beig.
Faro Ahmad, another local resident, said, “We are glad that Srinagar is turning into a smart city. It is becoming more and more beautiful and will be seen by many people as this area sees a lot of traffic.” (ANI)

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Delhi Police arrests criminal lodged in Punjab jail for plot to kill Sushil Pandit

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New Delhi [India], March 4 (ANI): A criminal, who was lodged in a jail in Punjab, has been arrested by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell on Thursday in connection with an alleged conspiracy to kill Kashmiri activist Sushil Pandit.
As per the police, Prince was arrested in Punjab and is now in Delhi Police’s remand.
Earlier on February 27, Sukhvinder and Lakhan had been arrested in connection with the case. They had allegedly been contacted by Prince for the conspiracy.
Price is a childhood friend of Lakhan, police said.
The conspiracy to kill the Kashmiri activist had been hatched in Pakistan and Dubai, the police informed last week.
“Investigation revealed that a person from Pakistan had called a man – Deepak (alias King in Dubai). Deepak allegedly gave the contract to kill Pandit to Prince who is lodged in a Punjab jail. Prince had further contracted Sukhvinder and Lakhan to commit the crime,” the police said.
The police also informed that the pistols recovered from the two carried a ‘star’ mark, found in pistols made in Pakistan. As the magazine of the Pakistan-made pistol did not fit correctly, the accused contacted their handlers again. They were then told to reach Rajnagar Extension in Ghaziabad to collect different arms.
The handers told Sukhvinder and Lakhan to reach the Qutub Institutional area and the time to kill Sushil Pandit would be intimated later. All the conversations between the conspirators from Dubai, Pakistan, Punjab and Delhi have been made through the Signal Messaging application, the police added.
“They were promised Rs 10 lakhs each if they kill Sushil Pandit who is a human rights activist and CEO of Hive Communication India PVT LTD. It is found that Prince has been facing a murder trial in Punjab,” Ingit Pratap Singh, DCP South West said.
According to police, the accused were nabbed on secret information while they were on the lookout for rented accommodation in South West Delhi. After the arrest, the accused disclosed the entire conspiracy to the police. Cases have been registered under relevant sections.
Considering the nature of the case and the possibility of involvement of foreign hands, the case has been transferred to the Special Cell of Delhi Police. (ANI)

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Fuel price hike: SAD MLAs ride to Punjab Assembly on bullock carts

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Chandigarh (Punjab) [India], March 4 (ANI): The MLAs of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Thursday rode to the Punjab Vidhan Sabha on bullock carts, demanding a reduction in the tax levied by the state government on petrol and diesel.
Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, SAD MLA from the Sahnewal constituency, told ANI that taxes on petrol and diesel are so high that people are unable to afford these items.
“The Punjab government is fooling the people of the state. The government has levied taxes to the extent that it has become almost impossible for people to buy petrol and diesel. It is true that the central government has increased the price of petrol and diesel but if the Punjab government takes back the taxes then it will be easy for the people to buy the fuels,” he said.
The rates of petrol and diesel differ from state to state depending on the value-added tax (VAT), a type of indirect tax levied on a product whenever a value is added at each stage of the supply chain, from production to the point of sale.
Currently, the petrol price in Chandigarh is at Rs 87.73 per litre and that of diesel is Rs 81.17.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had earlier said that the only way to find a solution to the problem is that the Centre and states should hold a dialogue. “I concede that’s where action has to be, let’s see what we can do,” said Sitharaman, adding that she agrees the end-users should pay less for fuel. (ANI)

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Agitating farmers gear up for summer months with mosquito nets, repellent, fans

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Amritsar (Punjab) [India], March 4 (ANI): After surviving Delhi’s harsh winters, farmers agitating at the borders of the national capital against the Centre’s contentious farm laws are now gearing up to battle the summer months with portable fans, mosquito nets and other necessities.
In light of the rising temperature in Delhi, farmers starting from Amritsar have fitted their tractor trolleys with nets on all sides to keep mosquitoes away and have installed electric mosquito repellants.
“Keeping in mind the heat in Delhi, a jatha recently left the Golden Gate in Amritsar with special arrangements for the summer months. Earlier, to protect ourselves from the cold, we used to cover the sides of the tractor-trolley with tarpaulin on all sides. Those have been rolled up and replaced by mosquito nets,” Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) General Secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher told ANI.

Lakhwinder Singh, district in charge of the KMSC, said arrangements had also been made for water, portable fans and mosquito repellants.
“We have covered the sides of the trolleys with mosquito nets to allow wind and keep mosquitoes away. Electric fans have also been set up, along with electric mosquito repellants and Odomos,” Singh said.
Pandher reiterated that the agitation would continue till the Centre takes back the three farm laws, and said that if need be, they could go on till 2024.
“The government will decide the end of the agitation. We can go on till 2024 if needed. They have been chosen by the people and if the government believes in democracy, they should respect the demands of the people. If they don’t listen to us now, the people decide who the next government will be,” he said.
“The struggle will continue till the Modi government takes the bills back and decides on the MSP for all the crops,” the farmer leader added.
He also denied media reports about the dwindling numbers of agitators at Delhi’s borders and said there are thousands of trolleys and lakhs of agitators.
“The agitation is growing across the country, not decreasing. All those who are healthy and able are going to the protest,” he added.
Meanwhile, the farmers’ protest, which began on November 26 last year against the recently enacted three farm laws continue as no new dates for discussions between the government and farmers’ unions have been declared.
Several have been protesting against the 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 at Delhi’s borders.
The implementation of the three laws, however, was put on hold in January by the Supreme Court. (ANI)

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