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We consider India to be a great partner: US Defence Secretary

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Delhi earlier on Friday on a three-day official visit to the country—first visit by a top official of the Biden administration.

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Calling India “a great partner”, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin also stated that the two countries are promoting peace and stability in the region and providing for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

“We consider India to be a great partner and again I think we have done a number of things to work well together. There’s just a lot of opportunity there to strengthen that partnership and to do some things, additional things to make sure that we’re promoting peace and stability in the region and providing for a free and open Indo-Pacific region, as well,” Austin said at a press conference in New Delhi.

“We covered a wide range of topics that included equipment. It also included information sharing; it included additional opportunities for assisting each other logistically and just a number of things. And those were really, really good conversations,” added Austin.

Regarding India and US cooperation to counter Chinese aggression, he said, “I think that continuing to work with like-minded countries as we are working with India, we are working with Australia, Japan and others in the region to ensure that we maintain a freedom of navigation that we do—we’re doing the right things to promote peace and stability in the region and that we really work together to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

While answering about sanction on Indian agreement with Russia to purchase S-400 Missile Defence System, Austin stated, “There has been no delivery of an S-400 system. And so that conversation—the issue of sanctions—is not one that’s been discussed.”

Talking on engagement with a multilateral group like Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Austin shared, “Yes, I, clearly from a defence perspective, we do have a number of things in common, and if you just look at the countries overall, if you look at Australia, India, Japan, us, you know we really are interested in maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region. We’re interested in being able to navigate the seas and fly the skies and international space and maintain that degree of flexibility. “Now if you look at the fact that India and us are the largest democracies in the world. There’s clearly some shared values there that we’ll continue work together to—we can build upon that and we are building upon it in economic interest. So there are a number of things that we can and will work on going forward, he added. While answering over the expansion of Quad to include countries like South Korea and Australia becoming a permanent member of the Malabar exercise, he said, “From our perspective we’re always willing to work with countries who share our values and have like goals and aspirations. And so whether or not those countries will choose to align with the United States and others is up to them.”

He also discussed mutual agreements in terms of increasing interoperability, more exercises, frequent exchanges in the Indo-Pacific in order to build great capacity, greater capability.

Austin, who arrived in Delhi earlier on Friday, is on a three-day official visit to the country. It is the first visit to India by a top official of the Biden administration.

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MUMBAI COUPLE FALSELY CONVICTED IN QATAR DRUG CASE RETURNS HOME

Preeti Sompura

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MUMBAI

Mumbai-based couple Oniba and Sharique Qureshi, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail in a drug case in Qatar in 2019, returned to the city on Thursday with their minor daughter.

An NCB official said that the couple landed at the Mumbai airport at 2.30 am. The couple had been cleared of all charges after it came to light that a relative planted narcotics in their bag without their knowledge.

The couple was arrested at Hamad International Airport in July 2019 after Qatari authorities recovered 4.1 kg of hashish in their bag. It later came to light that Sharique’s aunt, Tabassum Qureshi, had used them to transport the drugs. The trip had been sponsored by her, the official said.

At that time, while Sharique was employed with a Japanese company, Oniba had just learnt that she was pregnant. She delivered a girl, Aayat, in jail last February. The couple’s family members approached the Indian Government, asking it to intervene in the matter.

Following this, the anti-drugs probe agency got in touch with Qatar authorities and the family challenged the lower court order convicting the couple. Eventually, the couple was cleared of all charges.

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Ceremonies and marriages to be held during the day in Haryana

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CHANDIGARH

In wake of a spurt in the Covid pandemic, the state government has come up with a certain set of guidelines and new directions. The government had already imposed the night curfew on 12 April 2021 and in continuation to it, it has been decided night ceremonies, Navratra programmes and marriages will take place during the day. Chief Minister Manohar Lal directed all the Deputy Commissioners that night-time ceremonies and Navratra programmes should be shifted to the day. The government has also issued directions around gathering at public places. According to new norms to control the fatal Covid-19, from now on not more than 200 people can gather in outdoor functions and not more than 50 in indoor functions. Similarly, not more than 20 people will be able to attend funerals.

“We also have to keep in mind as to what is unavoidable and what can be avoided. This time the Covid-19 spread has started from educational institutions so there is a need to be more vigilant, especially there. We also need to reduce crowding in public gatherings etc.,” said the Chief Minister. Due to the increasing number of Covid cases in the country and the state, we have to take strict precautions, he added.

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BOMBAY HIGH COURT CENSURES KRK FOR COMMENTING ON BHAGNANI’S BUSINESSES

Preeti Sompura

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MUMBAI

The Bombay High Court has censured Kamaal Rashid Khan alias KRK for his controversial and defamatory tweets against producer Vashu Bhagnani, his family, business, profession and projects

KRK has been stopped by the High Court from putting out any further tweets against Bhagnani and all his business interests till the pendency of the Rs 1 crore defamation suit filed by the veteran producer for ‘defamatory’, ‘slanderous’, and ‘distasteful’ statements as well as ‘patently false allegations on KRK’s Twitter and YouTube accounts.

As per the court order, an injunction has been issued, pending the final disposal of the suit, that prohibits “the defendant from publishing, circulating or repeating the allegations and tweets and/or making, publishing, circulating and/or communicating to the public any defamatory/slanderous comments and/or statements against the plaintiff and/or his family and/or his business, profession and/or his projects.”

“Social media is a very powerful tool which on many occasions is misused to defame reputed persons. Courts have time and again deprecated such misuse. This is yet another occasion where the Bombay High Court has passed an order restraining KRK from making slanderous and defamatory remarks against Vashu Bhagnani, his family members, his business, and his projects. This is the third court order against Khan in succession,” said Ameet Naik, Founder and Managing Partner of Naik Naik & Company. After hearing the matter at length, the court observed that the tweets are not criticism given by a film critic which is contrary to the defence of KRK and are serious defamatory and slanderous remarks.

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CAPT AMARINDER LAUNCHES KEY MSME REFORMS

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Chandigarh: Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh launched a fresh wave of reforms to further reduce the regulatory burden on MSMEs through rationalisation, digitalisation and decriminalisation of the regulatory landscape, thus enabling entrepreneurs to focus on expanding their operations in a predictable business environment during this Covid-19 pandemic. The reforms on removing imprisonment terms, building flexibility and reducing oversight in the labour rules, and pursuing a data-driven assessment of service delivery delays are all centred around making entrepreneurship easier in Punjab, said the Chief Minister.

Terming it the beginning of the state’s transformation journey, he said with these reforms, commitments had been set for future changes including rationalising trade license with shops and establishments act and removing imprisonment terms from 100 low-risk provisions in non-labour related rules. Besides, the Chief Minister announced that the number of labour registers will be reduced, requiring an entrepreneur to maintain from 60 to less than 14, and flexibility enhanced in hiring women employees. Discretionary powers of inspectors are being removed with regard to deductions related to the absence or leave which will be deduced from labour registers going forward. These changes will be incorporated in the new State Rules.

Further, to ensure timely delivery of key licenses and permits, as prescribed under the Transparency Act 2018, Government has begun a monthly data-driven assessment mechanism under the Chief Secretary to make sure not a single license or permit is delayed beyond the stipulated period. Going forward, it is also proposed to reduce the number of Pre-commissioning licenses & NOCs to start a business by at least 20% and the possibility of doing this entirely online being explored. Also, changes will be made in Land Use for starting new business and mechanisms will be developed for timely and hassle-free water, electricity and sewage connections. “These reforms are the start of a journey, and we hope to make Punjab a lighthouse State for MSME growth support,” he said, adding, “We have listened to entrepreneurs on the ground and we will continue to reduce the compliance burden to start, operate, and grow a business.”

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Punjab CM sets 2 lakh a day vaccine target for April

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CHANDIGARH

Even as he noted with satisfaction that the Covid numbers in the state appeared to have plateaued, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Thursday ordered strict enforcement of Covid appropriate protocols to prevent any super spread events, along with an increase in daily vaccination doses to 2 lakh per day, and a special control room to be set up for effective in-person monitoring of home isolation cases.

Citing figures on mortality and positivity, the Chief Minister said that the restrictions currently in place are showing results, and the same needed to be implemented strictly, particularly in Mohali and other big cities showing high rates of transmission and cases.

He pointed out that the state’s positivity rate stands at 8.1%, even though positivity in the age group of less than 40 years had come down from 54% (September 2020) to 50% (March 2021). The curbs, coupled with strong efforts by all concerned, helped reduce the percentage of mortality in the age group below 60 years from 50% (September 2020) to 40% (March 2021), and should be strictly adhered to, he added. However, he reiterated his demand that the Centre should allow vaccination for under 45 in areas with more cases since the UK variant is infecting younger people more. He directed Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan to pursue the matter with the Central government while Dr KK Talwar stressed that patients of kidney and liver disease, who are under 45 years, should at least be allowed to be vaccinated.

The Chief Minister was chairing a virtual meeting with several ministers, senior administrative and police officials as well as medical/health experts to review the Covid and vaccine situation in the state.

Making it clear that there is no scope for complacency, he said the special control room with a dedicated team could utilise ANMs, ASHA workers, interns from medical colleges to move beyond just telephonic to more in-person monitoring. GMCHs should provide students to RRTs at District Level immediately, he further directed the Health Department.

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RAJNATH SINGH CONGRATULATES IAF ON ITS RESPONSE TO CHINA IN EASTERN LADAKH

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NEW DELHI

While addressing the biannual IAF Commanders’ Conference (AFCC-21) at Air Headquarters, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh congratulated Indian Air Force for its befitting response to the “sudden developments in Eastern Ladakh” and appreciated its focus on “reorienting for the future” on Thursday. He also advised the Commanders to draw up long-term plans and strategies for capability enhancement to counter future threats.

He expressed happiness that the conference coincides with the birth anniversary of the Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, DFC. Speaking about the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Rajnath appreciated the role played by the IAF in assisting other government agencies in their task, as per an official statement from the defence ministry.

Referring to changing international geopolitics, he observed that the perceptible shift of focus from Trans-Atlantic to Trans-Pacific has become more obvious in the recent past. “Changing dimensions of war would now include advanced technologies, asymmetric capabilities and info-dominance, and IAF’s future preparations must include these aspects.”

The Defence Minister emphasised the need to promote ‘atmanirbharta’ in defence infrastructure, adding that the IAF’s order for LCA would result in a substantial boost to the domestic defence industry and will be a game-changer from the indigenisation perspective. With ANI inputs

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