The Hindu – Supreme Court reserves verdict on Navjot Singh Sidhu’s plea in 1988 road rage case

New Delhi – India, 18 April 2018. The Supreme Court today reserved its judgment on the appeal filed by cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict convicting and sentencing him to three years in jail in a 1988 road rage case.

A bench comprising Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul reserved the verdict after hearing the arguments.

Senior advocate R S Cheema, appearing for Mr Sidhu, said that the evidence brought on record regarding the cause of death of the victim were “indefinite and contradictory”.

He also said that the medical opinion regarding the cause of death of the deceased, Gurnam Singh, was “vague”.

The bench also reserved its verdict on the appeal filed by Rupinder Singh Sandhu, who along with Mr Sidhu was sentenced to three years in jail by the high court in the case.

Mr Sidhu, who had quit the BJP and joined the Congress days before the Punjab Assembly election last year, had earlier told the bench that the findings of the high court were based on “opinion” and not on medical evidence.

However, the Amarinder Singh government had on April 12 favoured in the top court the high court verdict convicting and awarding the three-year jail term to Mr Sidhu, who is now Punjab’s tourism minister.

The former cricketer had argued that there was “ambiguity” regarding the actual cause of death of Patiala resident Singh.

The counsel for the state had earlier told the apex court: “The trial court verdict was rightly set aside by the High Court. Accused A1 (Navjot Singh Sidhu) had given fist blow to deceased Gurnam Singh leading to his death through brain hemorrhage”.

The state had argued that the trial court was wrong in its findings that the man had died of cardiac arrest and not brain hemorrhage.

The counsel for the complainant had argued that Mr Sidhu’s sentence should be enhanced as it was a case of murder and the cricketer-turned-politician had deliberately removed the keys of the deceased’s car so that he does not get medical assistance.

Mr Sidhu was acquitted of the murder charges by the trial court in September 1999.

However, the high court had reversed the verdict and held Mr Sidhu and co-accused Mr Sandhu guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in December 2006. It had sentenced them to three-year jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh each on the two.

In 2007, the apex court had stayed the conviction of Mr Sidhu and Mr Sandhu in the case, paving the way for him to contest the by-poll for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.

As per prosecution case, Mr Sidhu and Mr Sandhu were allegedly present in a Gypsy parked near Sheranwala Gate Crossing in Patiala on 27 December 1988, when Gurnam Singh, Jaswinder Singh and another person were going to the bank to withdraw money for a marriage.

It was alleged that when they reached the crossing, Gurnam Singh, driving a maruti car, found the Gypsy in the middle of the road and asked the occupants, Mr Sidhu and Mr Sandhu, to remove the vehicle for their passage. This led to heated exchanges.

The police had claimed that Mr Singh was beaten up by Mr Sidhu who later fled the crime scene. The injured was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead.


The Hindu – Surendra Nihal Singh: the editor who fought the Emergency

Was honoured for opposing Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the dark years

Smita Gupta

New Delhi – India, 16 April 2018. Veteran journalist Surendra Nihal Singh died here on Monday, following a brief illness. Mr Singh, who would have turned 89 later in April, breathed his last at the National Heart Institute.

With Mr Singh’s death, the era of grand, old editors who began their journalistic careers in the years following Independence is winding to a close.

A firm believer in the importance of maintaining a wall between the editorial and business sections of a newspaper and the role of journalists in putting every government under scrutiny, Mr Singh had the distinction of being perhaps the only editor-in-chief who resigned from three newspapers following differences with the proprietors of those organisations.

The papers were The Statesman, The Indian Express and the The Indian Post (of which he was the founding editor). He was awarded the prestigious International Editor of the Year Award in New York for his role in opposing the Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

His last assignment was as Editor of the Khaleej Times of Dubai in 1994. After that, he turned independent columnist.

Mr Singh began as a reporter with The Statesman, covering politics in Delhi as well as abroad, posted at different times in Moscow, London, the USA and Indonesia, years which he was to describe later as the best in his journalistic career, and which made him a foreign affairs expert.

It was those long years of reporting that made him such a good editor: for those who worked with him, it was also a rich learning experience.

He would encourage his reporters when they needed it; he would depress any pretensions when that was called for, but it was always done with such a light touch and such charm that no one ever felt he was being harsh.

He was born to Gurmukh Nihal Singh, who became Delhi Assembly Speaker, then Chief Minister and Governor of Rajasthan, and Lacchmi Devi in Rawalpindi on April 30, 1929.

The Hindu – Ministry of External Affairs says it is ‘diplomatic discourtesy’ and a clear violation of the Vienna Convention.

Pakistan has violated established diplomatic protocols by preventing visiting Sikh pilgrims from meeting the Indian envoy and other diplomats based in Islamabad, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Sunday.

A press statement issued by the ministry conveyed to Islamabad that by disallowing such a meeting, it has gone against an established convention.

“A standard practice has been that the Indian High Commission’s consular/protocol team is attached with visiting pilgrims, to perform consular and protocol duties, like helping out in medical or family emergencies. However, this year, the consular team has been denied access to Indian Sikh pilgrims.

The team could not meet the pilgrims on their arrival at Wagah Railway Station on April 12. Similarly, it was denied entry into Gurdwara Panja Sahib on April 14, for a scheduled meeting with pilgrims there,” said the official press release.

India said that that by denying the meeting, Pakistan has displayed diplomatic discourtesy and stated, “..these incidents constitute a clear violation of the Vienna Convention of 1961, the bilateral Protocol to visit Religious Shrines, 1974 and the Code of Conduct (for the treatment of diplomatic/consular personnel in India and Pakistan) of 1992, recently reaffirmed by both countries.”

MEA claimed that on April 14, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, was not allowed to visit the Gurdwara Panja Sahib.

“The Indian High Commissioner, who was to visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib at the invitation of the Chairman of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), was suddenly asked to return while en route to the shrine for unspecified ‘security’ reasons,” the MEA said.

The Sikh pilgrims are visiting Pakistan as part of the Vaisakhi celebrations which mark the beginning of the Punjabi new year*. As part of a bilateral understanding between two sides, Sikh pilgrims have been visiting Pakistan on important religious and cultural occasions every year. The total number of Sikh visitors visiting Pakistan this year is 1800.

This is the first controversy that has erupted over protocol-related issues after both sides resolved a spat over surveillance of each other’s diplomats. However, Pakistan had also accused India in March of not granting permission to pilgrims to attend the annual festivities at the Shrine of Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer.

If people amongst the sangat asked for consular assistance and Pakistan did not allow it, then the MEA has reason to complain. Otherwise I would advise the Delhi sarkar not to meddle in the affairs of the Sikhs.
Man in Blue

The Hindu – India, UK in talks over education

Special Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 14 April 2018. India and the United Kingdom (UK) were holding talks to seal an agreement on mutual recognition of educational qualifications, London’s envoy said here on Friday.

Speaking to a group of journalists, Sir Dominic Asquith said that education was a major area of bilateral cooperation between the two sides which was likely to feature in official discussions during the upcoming London visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

One-year masters

“We have 14,000 masters students from India in the UK. Students form an important part of bilateral ties. But the one-year masters degrees given by the UK universities are not recognised in India.

So discussion is under way for an agreement to mutually recognise these degrees. This will open up more opportunities for the students and this also seems to be fair to the students,” Mr Asquith said.

India’s non-recognition of the one-year masters programmes given by various British universities had been an issue between two sides as these courses are popular among Indian students.

One of the factors that had prevented India from recognising the one-year master courses was the fact that several less-reputed educational institutions were also found to be offering such courses, often jeopardising academic prospects of students.

But Mr Asquith assured that the government of Prime Minister Theresa May had undertaken steps to prevent Indian students from falling for such institutions. “We are taking steps against the bogus universities,” said Mr Asquith.

Agreement with France

India last month signed an agreement on mutual recognition of educational degrees with France, during the visit of President Emmanuel Macron to Delhi. The British envoy observed that ongoing talks between London and Delhi were on the lines of the India-France one.

Educational cooperation would be one of the major issues on the table during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to London next week when he is scheduled to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) and hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister May’s team.

While international issues like the attempted assassination of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter with nerve chemical agent were expected to be the talking points at the Commonwealth meeting, the bilateral issues like cyber-security cooperation and data protection were also expected to be on top of the agenda.

The Hindu – Maneka Gandhi at loggerheads with her Ministry over nutrient packets

While the Women and Child Development Minister wants “energy-dense, factory-made” nutrient packets as take-home ration, the Ministry is in favour of “sourcing food items… from self-help groups”.

Jagriti Chandra

New Delhi – India, 11 April 2018. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi finds herself at odds with her Ministry officials over the issue of food for anganwadi beneficiaries.

While Ms. Gandhi wants “energy-dense, factory-made” nutrient packets as take-home ration for pregnant women and lactating mothers as well as children between the age of six months and three years, her Ministry is in favour of “sourcing food items such as dalia and khichdi, prepared with locally available ingredients, from self-help groups”, according to a top government official.

As a result, two different draft nutrition guidelines were prepared, one by Ms. Gandhi and another by her Ministry, – ahead of a meeting of the Nutrition Advisory Technical Board at NITI Aayog on January 24.

Before the meeting was convened, Women and Child Development secretary R.K. Shrivastava wrote to Principal Advisor, NITI Aayog, Ratan P. Watal, opposing the guidelines prescribed by Ms. Gandhi and requested that the discussion on nutrient packets be dropped from its agenda.

The differences continue to be played out even as the the newly-constituted National Nutrition Council is slated to hold its first meeting on April 18 and the WCD ministry has to finalise its agenda.

The source who is privy to these events said that complying with Ms. Gandhi’s recommendations would imply a move towards “centralisation and corporatisation of anganwadi food.” “We (need to) follow the Act and rules,” the official said.

Ms. Gandhi told The Hindu, “I want pre-mix made by machines and by state governments. Let us look at giving nutrients in a safe manner. Each state can make its own mash with local ingredients. These can be in powdered form and mixed with regular meals. The take-home ration given today is an ugly, non-nutritious mix.

Let us stop thinking of giving food and instead think of giving nutrition.”

While a pre-mix of micronutrients or ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF), high-energy, micro-nutrient enhanced paste, is sometimes prescribed to treat children under five years who suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), the minister has recommended giving nutrient packets to all pregnant and lactating mothers and children from six months to three years.

“Why wait for a child to suffer from SAM?” Ms. Gandhi asked.

The Minister has suggested that 30 packets for a month can be dispatched to a beneficiary through the postal department.

She has also said that the daily allocation of Rs 8 (for children between six months and three years) should be spent on nutrition and not on generating livelihood for women of self-help groups. The Supplementary Nutrition Rules, 2017, mandate engagement of self-help groups.

As per the government’s Supplementary Nutrition Programme under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), take-home ration is distributed to pregnant women and lactating mothers as well as children between the age of six months to three years, while children between three and six years get hot, cooked meals.

In a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office last November, it was reiterated that the policy on take-home ration and hot cooked meals “will continue as prescribed under the existing scheme of ICDS and as mandated by the National Food Security Act.

Take-home rations include wheat, soya and sugar.

The Hindu – India extends support to Bangladesh for resolving Rohingya crisis

Dhaka – Bangladesh, 09 April 2018. India on Monday extended full support to Bangladesh’s efforts for resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis, including early repatriation of the displaced people to Myanmar.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said this following a meeting with his Bangladesh counterpart M. Shahidul Haque on the second day of his three-day Dhaka tour. “India has been fully supportive of the efforts being made to resolve the crisis, including early repatriation of the displaced people,” Mr. Gokhale said in a statement.

He said India has sent relief materials for 300,000 Rohingyas in September last year under ‘Operation Insaniyat’ to support Bangladesh in its humanitarian efforts while he announced New Delhi’s plans for the second phase of such assistance.

“On the Myanmar side, we are providing socio-economic support under our Rakhine State Development Programme including construction of pre-fabricated housing in order to meet the needs of the returning people,” he added.

Mr. Haque said Bangladesh was “very happy the way our friend from India is looking at this [Rohingya] issue, looking to peacefully resolve the issue.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had recently asked India to put pressure on Myanmar for repatriation of over a million of Rohingyas, fearing their prolonged stay in Bangladesh could create militancy related security risks.

Some 700,000 members of the Muslim minority have fled Myanmar since August to escape a bloody military crackdown.

The army in the mainly Buddhist nation denies the allegations and says its campaign as a legitimate response to Rohingya militant attacks on August 25 that killed about a dozen border guard police.

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation deal in November.

The only real solution of the Rohingya crisis would be their recognition as citizens of Myanmar.
Man in Blue

The Hindu – Gujarat, where there is a concern over disappearing lions

Mahesh Langa

Gir – Gujarat – India, 07 April 2018. Gir in Gujarat, the last abode of Asiatic lions in Asia, has lost an alarmingly large number of the endangered wild cats in two years. On March 28, a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) was tabled in the Gujarat Assembly.

It listed huge “flaws” in lion conservation efforts in the State.

What happened?

Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava told the Assembly that 184 lions had died in two years: 104 in 2016 and 80 in 2017. As many as 32 died of “unnatural causes” like falling into wells or getting run over by trains in the same period at the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary. The dead included cubs too.

The high number of deaths prompted the High Court to take suo motu cognizance of the issue. The court took the authorities to task this March, directing them to get back on measures being taken by the Environment and Forest Department to ensure adequate protection to lions.

Why the conflict?

Significantly, the number of lion attacks on livestock and humans in 2016 and 2017 was pegged at 398, raising serious concerns about a man-lion conflict in eight to nine districts in the coastal Saurashtra region.

Responding to a question by Congress legislator Gyasuddin Sheikh, Mr Vasava admitted that wells without parapet walls often became death traps for the animals.

There are 27 open wells in Amreli district near the sanctuary, and the government has promised to build parapet walls “as soon as possible.” Several open wells have already been secured. The other preventive measures are construction of fences along the rail track in Amreli district and building speedhumps on roads in the sanctuary.

Why no new habitat?

As per the 2015 census, there were 523 lions in and around the Gir sanctuary. Unfortunately, though the total population of Asiatic lions increased from 359 in 2005 to 523 in 2015, no new protected habitat was approved by the State government since 2008.

As stated in the CAG report, the number of lions outside the protected area in 2011 was 108, which increased by 54.6% to 167 in 2015. The Gir Protected Area includes the Gir, Girnar, Paniya and Mitiyala sanctuaries and the Gir National Park.

To provide a safe corridor for the lions moving out of the Gir Protected Area, the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) had proposed a new sanctuary spread over 30,000 hectares in Amreli and Bhavnagar districts in 2005. Later, the plan was revised, and the new region was proposed to be a conservation reserve (CR) spread across 10,953 hectares.

The CAG observed that as on May 2017, the Revenue Department had not transferred 4,800 hectares of wasteland to the Forest Department for setting up the conservation reserve. “Thus, the declaration of the lion habitat area as a conservation reserve is pending despite the lapse of 11 years,” it said.

It questioned the non-approval of a new protected area despite “high instances of deaths of lions” in their present habitat. The CAG also pointed out that the genome mapping project was being handled by an agency which did not possess the expertise, and the progress was slow.

What is their future?

The government, which has always taken pride in showcasing Gujarat as the only habitat of Asiatic lions, refuses to translocate some of them to Madhya Pradesh despite a Supreme Court order. It must make sincere efforts to provide adequate protection to the animals moving out to non-protected areas. It must increase the size of the protected areas to prevent more lions from dying, wildlife experts say.

Panjabi Lions are an endangered species too, specially in areas controlled by SGPC
Man in Blue

The Hindu – GST on langar: Congress MP’s colourful protest makes heads turn

New Delhi – India, 04 April 2018. Sporting a kurta imprinted with a demand for the rollback of GST on langar, the free community kitchen at the famed Golden Temple, Congress MP from Amrtisar Gurjeet Singh Aujla stood out in the Lok Sabha on April 4.

Amid the din in the House with AIADMK members demanding immediate constitution of the Cauvery Water Management Board, Mr Aujla made many heads turn with the colourful message printed on his white kurta.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar, which is the holiest of all Sikh shrines, runs one of the largest community kitchens in the world feeding freshly cooked food to 50,000 devotees on weekdays and over 1 lakh on weekends and festivals.

The Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, which manages all gurdwaras, has been urging the Centre to exempt the free kitchens at the Golden Temple and other Sikh shrines from the purview of the Goods and Services Tax.

Earlier, Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had also urged Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to exempt all purchases made by the SGPC for the langar service from the GST.

After implementation of the GST, the Golden Temple reportedly shelled out over Rs 2 crore extra in 2017 as GST for purchasing ration for the langar. Under the new GST Act, there is a provision for exemption to institutions and businesses on the recommendation of the GST Council.

The Hindu – Poor success rate in cases of atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes

Special Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 04 April 2018. As many as 47,338 cases of crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were registered across the country in 2016, the Lok Sabha was informed on Tuesday.

Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir said as per the information provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 40,774 cases were registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and other sections of law over alleged crimes against SCs and STs in 2016.

Of these, charge-sheets were filed in 78.3% cases, and the conviction rate was 25.8%, he said in reply to a written question.

As many as 6,564 cases were registered over alleged crimes against the Scheduled Tribes in 2016, in which charge-sheets were filed in 81.3% cases where the conviction rate was 20.8%, the Minister said.

Mr Ahir said in 2015, a total of 38,564 cases were registered for alleged crimes against the SCs in which charge sheets were filed in 73.8% cases and the conviction rate was 27.2%. He said altogether 6,275 cases were registered for alleged crimes against STs in 2015 in which charge-sheets were filed in 74.3% cases, and the conviction rate was 19.8%.

The Minister said Rule 3 (v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995 specifies that with a view to prevent atrocities on members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the State government, if deemed necessary, can provide arms licenses to members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

“Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are State subjects under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution. The responsibilities to maintain law and order rest primarily with the respective state governments,” Mr Ahir added.