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LIVE! Upendra Kushwaha may join UPA on Thursday

23:54  Fire breaks out at Trident hotel in Mumbai:  

A fire broke out at the luxury hotel Trident in south Mumbai late on Wednesday night, a fire brigade official said.

Details of the incident are awaited and fire brigade personnel have been rushed to the spot, the official said.

23:39  Fire breaks out at luxury hotel Trident in south Mumbai: Fire brigade officials


23:21  Did UK Opposition leader call PM May “stupid woman”? Corbyn says no:  

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was accused of being a sexist and a misogynist and faced calls on Wednesday to apologise for apparently calling embattled Prime Minister Theresa May a “stupid woman” as they clashed in Parliament over her controversial Brexit deal.

The incident happened days after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he did not personally insult Prime Minister May by calling her “nebulous” after footage emerged of a fiery clash between him and her in Brussels over a supposed jibe.

Opposition Labour Party leader Corbyn was caught on camera mouthing some words during a heated exchange in the House of Commons, which many believe was directed specifically at May but he insisted he had only said “stupid people”.

Conservative Party MPs called on the Labour leader to be ordered to apologise but the Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, said he could not “immediately” rule on it as he had not seen the incident in action.

“I did not use the words ‘stupid woman’ about the prime minister or anyone else, and am completely opposed to the use of sexist or misogynist language in absolutely any form at all,” Corbyn later said in a statement in the House after being called on by the Speaker to clarify.

“I referred to those who I believe were seeking to turn a debate about the national crisis facing our country into a pantomime as ‘stupid people’,” he said.

His statement followed hours of parliamentary drama, during which the Speaker said he had employed the expertise of “lip speakers” at short notice in an attempt to curtail the row. He concluded that the Opposition Leader “must be taken at his word” and that it was not up to him to cast judgement on the matter.


22:49  Upendra Kushwaha may join UPA on Thursday:  

Former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, which had recently broken ties with the BJP, may join the United Progressive Alliance on Thursday, sources said.


A senior Rashtriya Lok Samta Party leader said talks between his party and the UPA constituents are almost final and an announcement by Kushwaha on joining it is likely to be made at a press conference on Thursday.

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) founder Jitan Ram Manjhi and a Congress representative are likely to be present during the announcement. 

Opposition leader Sharad Yadav may also attend the event.

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel had met Kushwaha after the latter quit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

The UPA believes that Kushwaha’s decision to join it will help it build a momentum against the NDA in Bihar.

Besides BJP, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD-U and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP are other constituents of the NDA.

The saffron alliance had swept the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, winning 31 of the state’s 40 seats.



22:22  Priyanka Chopra, Nick Jonas wedding reception: Pictures from the celebrations:  

Celebrations havent quite ended for newlyweds Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas. 

While they have a big Bollywood reception planned for December 20, the stars are hosting a smaller event for their friends from the media on Wednesday evening. 

The low-key event was hosted at a hotel in Juhu.

Priyanka and Nick tied the knot in a lavish ceremony at Jodhpurs iconic Umaid Bhawan Palace earlier this month. From dramatic couture to high-profile guests, the couple pulled out all the stops for the three-day ceremony, pictures and videos from which took the internet by storm. They got married in accordance with the Christian and Hindu rituals. 

For her Hindu wedding, Priyanka wore an all-red, heavily sequinned Sabyasachi lehenga-choli. The white gown for the Christian wedding was famously designed by Ralph Lauren.


22:06  Ex bureaucrats demand Yogi’s resignation over Bulandshahr violence:  

Demanding resignation of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, 83 former civil servants — including ex-foreign secretaries Shyam Saran and Shivsankar Menon — have written an open letter criticising the central and the state governments for their alleged failure in acting against the killers of a police officer in Bulandshahr.


The letter said Adityanath “refuses to acknowledge the gravity of the incident and its communal intent, condemn the perpetrators of violence or direct the police to take action against them but instead asks them to focus attention on those responsible for illegal cow slaughter”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also attacked in the letter signed by these former bureaucrats, who also included ex-Delhi lt governor Najeeb Jung, ex-foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, IAS-turned activists Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander, former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawahar Sircar and former Planning Commission secretary N C Saxena.

“Our Prime Minister, who is so voluble in his election campaigns and who never tires of telling us of how the Constitution of India is the only holy book he worships, maintains stony silence even as he sees a Chief Minister handpicked by him treat that same Constitution with sheer contempt,” they said.

The letter follows the December 3 killing of Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and another man in Bulandshahr following mob violence over alleged cow slaughter.

Reacting to criticism, Adityanath Wednesday said his government’s action in the case should be praised and described the cow slaughter in Bulandshahr as a “political conspiracy” by those who wanted to create anarchy.

The Tuesday letter by former bureaucrats asked citizens to unite in a “crusade against the politics of hate and division a politics which aims to destroy the fundamental principles on which our Republic is founded”.



21:44  Temple food poisoning: Seer held on murder charges: Police:  

Days after 15 people died of poisoning after eating prasad at a temple, a local seer and three others were arrested Wednesday on charges of hatching a conspiracy to kill devotees in a bid to defame the management

and take control of the shrine in this district in Karnataka.


The 52-year old seer and his three accomplices — a woman, her husband and his friend — have been arrested under IPC sections including those pertaining to murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy, South Zone IGP K V Sharath Chandra said.


“Mahadeshwara Hill Saluru Math seer Pattada Immadi Mahadeshwara Swamy alias Devanna Buddhi connived not only to take over the temple trust but also to defame the existing trust members,” he told reporters.


The seer was earlier in control of the temple trust till 2017, but was sidelined later, which inufuriated him, the IG said.


At the behest of the seer, the 35-year old woman of Marathahalli near Sulavadi allegedly arranged for a pesticide and her husband and his friend mixed it in the prasad while it was being prepared, he said.


Fifteen people died and more than 100 people are still in hospitals after ingesting the poisonous prasad on December 14 at Sulvadi at an event to celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the tower of the Kichchugutti Maramma Devi temple.


21:22  Trump plans full withdrawal of US troops from Syria:  

The United States will withdraw its troops from Syria, a US official said on Wednesday, after US President Donald Trump said America has “defeated Islamic State” in the war-ravaged country.


The move will have extraordinary geopolitical ramifications and throws into question the fate of US-backed Kurdish fighters who have been tackling Islamic State jihadists.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump tweeted.

The US official said the decision was finalised on Tuesday.

“Full withdrawal, all means all,” the official said when asked if the troops would be pulled from all of Syria.

The official would not provide a timeline.

“We will ensure force protection is adequately maintained, but as quickly as possible,” the official said.

Currently, about 2,000 US forces are in Syria, most of them on a train-and-advise mission to support local forces fighting IS.


21:04  Belated wisdom dawned on Centre on GST rethink: Chidambaram:  

Congress leader P Chidambaram said on “belated wisdom” had dawned upon the Centre, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated that 99-per cent items would be brought under the GST of 18 per cent.


Chidambaram alleged that it was typical of the National Democratic Alliance to unscramble the egg after having “scrambled” the Goods and Services Tax.

“Government says 99% of goods will be at 18 per cent GST. Belated wisdom. We should have started with 18 per cent as the standard rate. Having scrambled the egg needlessly when GST was introduced, Government is trying to unscramble it! Typical of NDA,” Chidambaram posted on Twitter.

“BJP/NDA governance mantra is ‘Leap before you look’. Which is the reason for the damage caused by GST to businesses, especially MSMEs,” he added.

Modi had on Tuesday indicated that further simplification of the GST was on the anvil and said his government wanted to ensure that 99-per cent items attract sub-18-per cent GST slab. 



20:31  Rajasthan becomes third Congress state to announce farm loan waiver:  

The Congress government in Rajasthan has announced loan waiver for farmers – a key election promise of the party that has helped to come to power in the three heartland states in the recent round of assembly elections. 

In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Chief Ministers Kamal Nath and Bhupesh Baghel have signed off on the waiver hours after taking oath on Monday.

In Rajasthan, the Ashok Gehlot-led government had sought 10 days to announce the waiver, but managed to do it before the week is out.

Under the scheme, loans upto Rs 2 lakh will be waived. It would involve a extra expenditure of Rs 18,000 crore for the state exchequer.


20:13  Rafale is game changer, SC delivered fine judgment: Air Chief:  

Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa called Rafale a game changer and said the Supreme Court has given a fine judgment on petitions against the deal with France on the military aircraft.


He also cautioned against politicisation of defence purchases, suggesting that this had earlier led to the delay in the Army acquiring the Bofors gun.

I am not going to comment on the judgment but the Supreme Court has given a very fine judgment. It has also said that this plane is badly needed, he said.

Dhanoa said as far as the technology is concerned, there is no argument against the Rafale aircraft .

His remarks on the sidelines of a joint military exercise with Russia come days after the Supreme Court dismissed petitions seeking a probe into the Rafale deal.

The Congress has alleged irregularities in the deal for 36 aircraft and claimed that the Narendra Modi government is buying them at a price much higher than the one that was being negotiated by the previous government.

Dhanoa said the Indian Air Force has made sure that the aircraft has the best systems onboard.

He said the planned procurement had already taken a long time and during this period India’s neighbours have upgraded their own defence arsenal.

We need it, given our strategic scenario, he said.



19:51  Post-Brexit, UK to treat Indian, EU citizens on par for visas:  

Citizens from 27 European Union countries and those from India and elsewhere will be treated on par for purposes of migration after Brexit, the Theresa May government announced on Wednesday in what is being billed as the biggest shake-up in 40 years of the visa system.

A new visa route for skilled migrants and scrapping of the annual 20,700 limit for work permits are among proposals outlined in a white paper announced by home secretary Sajid Javid. They will come into force from 2021, if all processes of Brexit are completed.

The proposals are likely to benefit Indian professionals, who in the year ending September 2018 were granted 55 per cent of all Tier 2 (skilled) visas. EU professionals and low-skilled workers will no longer have the automatic right to move and work in the UK after Brexit.

Focussing on skills rather than on a prospective migrants country of origin, Javid said: Immigration is good for our country. It has made us stronger in countless ways. I am a second-generation migrant myself and if I look at people such as my parents I can see how they have helped this country in so many ways.

The ability of EU citizens to move seamlessly to the UK will end on March 29, 2019, Javid said, even if there is a deal or no deal. The plans, he said, will deliver on the clear instruction to get control over our borders and will bring in a new system that works in our interest.


19:10  Complaint lodged in Bihar court against MP CM Kamal Nath over migrant comment:  

A complaint has been lodged in a court in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur on Wednesday against Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the people of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh with his comments on migrant workers.


Social activist Tamanna Hashmi filed a petition before the Chief Judicial Magistrates court under IPC sections 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot), and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace).

“Lot of industries are set up in which people from other states, like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, come to work. I do not want to criticise them, but the youth of Madhya Pradesh are deprived (of jobs),” Nath had said on Monday announcing a new state government policy under which industries availing investment incentives will need to give 70 per cent employment to local youths.

In the complaint, the petitioner has claimed to have felt aggrieved by Nath’s statement.

The court is yet to fix a date for hearing of the complaint case.

The senior Congress leader’s remarks, which he made shortly after being sworn in as Madhya Pradesh’s chief minister, has drawn flak from the ruling JD-U-BJP combine in Bihar.

The RJD, an ally of the Congress in Bihar, has also termed the remarks as avoidable, though it accused the BJP of blowing the matter out of proportions. 

Speaking to reporters in Bhopal on Wednesday, Nath defended his comments saying other states including Gujarat also have policies giving employment preference to locals. 



18:43  President’s rule imposed in Jammu and Kashmir:  President Ram Nath Kovind signs proclamation ordering imposition of central rule in Jammu-Kashmir from midnight. 

The state plunged into a political crisis in June this year after People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government was reduced to a minority following withdrawal of support by the 25-member Bharatiya Janata Party in the state.

Since the state has a separate Constitution, in such cases, six months of Governor’s rule is compulsory under Article 92 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution, under which all the legislative powers are vested with the Governor.

The Governor has to dissolve the Legislative Assembly after six months. The state then directly comes under President’s rule for another six months after which elections have to be held in the state.

In case the elections are not declared, President’s rule can be extended by another six months.

No presidential proclamation shall, in any case, remain in force for more than three years except for the intervention of Election Commission of India which has to certify that the continuance in force of the proclamation is necessary on account of difficulties in holding general elections to the Legislative Assembly.

Malik on November 21 dissolved the 87-member state assembly after the PDP, supported by the Congress and their arch-rivals National Conference, had staked their claim to form the government.

Simultaneously, the two-member People’s Conference led by Sajjad Lone had also staked his claim to form a government with 25 members of the BJP and other 18 unknown members.

The Governor dissolved the assembly citing horse-trading and lack of stability to form a government as the reasons.

18:41  1,557 Indians released from Pak prisons, 318 Pakistanis freed from Indian jails in last 4 years: MEA:  

As many as 1,557 Indians have been released from various prisons of Pakistan whereas a total of 318 Pakistanis were freed from Indian jails in the last four years, the Lok Sabha was told on Wednesday.


External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in reply to a question in Parliament, said a total of 174 Indian fishermen were released from Pakistan in 2018 (as on December 13) while 28 Pakistani fishermen were released in India in the same year.

In 2018 (as on December 13), four Indian civilian prisoners were released by Pakistan while 21 Pakistani civilian prisoners were released by India, she said.

A total of 508 Indian fishermen were released from Pakistan in 2018 (as on December 13) while 60 Pakistani fishermen were released from India in the same year, Swaraj said.

In 2017, seven Indian civilian prisoners were released by Pakistan while 60 Pakistani civilian prisoners were released by India, she said.

A total of 410 Indian fishermen were released from Pakistan while 9 Pakistani fishermen were released in India in the same year, Swaraj said

In 2016, two Indian civilian prisoners were released by Pakistan while 10 such Pakistani prisoners were released by India, she said.

A total of 410 Indian fishermen were released from Pakistan in 2016 while 9 Pakistani fishermen were released in India in the same year, Swaraj said.

In 2015, four Indian civilian prisoners were released by Pakistan while 44 Pakistani civilian prisoners were released by India, she said.

A total of 448 Indian fishermen were released from Pakistan in 2015 while 115 Pakistani fishermen were released in India in the same year, Swaraj said in a written reply.

She also said that as per India-Pakistan ‘Agreement on Consular Access’ signed on May 21, 2008, lists of civilian prisoners and fishermen of each country lodged in the jails of the other are exchanged on January 1 and July 1 of every year.

“According to the lists exchanged on July 1, 2018, there were 108 Pakistan fishermen and 249 Pakistan civilian prisoners in India’s custody,” she said.



18:31  AIADMK expels O Panneerselvam’s brother O Raja for “bringing disrepute”:  

Tamil Nadu deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam’s brother O Raja has been expelled by the ruling AIADMK.

A statement signed by chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Panneerselvam said Raja was removed “for having acted against the party’s principles and ideologies, and  for bringing disrepute to the party.”

The move comes on a day when Raja was elected to head a milk cooperative.


18:07  South Africa issues arrest warrant for Zimbabwe’s Grace Mugabe:  

South Africa has issued an arrest warrant for Zimbabwes former first lady Grace Mugabe over an alleged assault in an upmarket district of Johannesburg last year, a police spokesman said on Wednesday.

After the alleged assault with an electric cable came to light in August 2017, the South African government granted Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity.

That immunity was overturned by a South African court this year after the alleged victim, model Gabriella Engels, challenged the decision.

Grace Mugabe was seen as a potential successor to her 94-year-old husband Robert, who ruled Zimbabwe from 1980 until he was ousted in a coup late last year, at the time of the incident in a luxury hotel in Johannesburgs Sandton district.

She has denied assaulting Engels with an electric cable, saying an intoxicated and unhinged Engels attacked her with a knife after the model had gone to see the Mugabes sons at the hotel.


17:43  PM to BJP workers: Inform people about Cong’s dangerous games:  PM Modi’s interaction with BJP Karyakartas of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry: “The perfect answer to undemocratic behavior of Congress is to strengthen democracy. Information and awareness are important for democracy. We should keep people informed about Congress and its dangerous games. Before every election they begin to make noise about EVMs, trying to create an atmosphere of doubt. However after elections, if Congress performs well they seem to accept results that have come out of the same EVM.

“They’ve humiliated the Army, CAG & every institution important to our democracy. Recently they questioned an SC verdict just because they didn’t like the decision. Earlier, just because they couldn’t threaten the court into doing what they wanted they tried to even impeach the CJI.”


17:39  Lok Sabha passes Surrogate Bill:  
A bill that bars commercial surrogacy and allows the process only by close relatives for “altruistic” reasons was passed by the Lok Sabha Wednesday with Health Minister JP Nadda terming the proposed legislation historic.

The surrogacy (regulation) bill was passed after an hour long debate amid noisy protests by Congress and AIADMK members over various issues. He said different sections of society, political parties, the Supreme Court and the Law Commission have spoken against commercial surrogacy and that the bill addresses these concerns. India had become a hub of commercial surrogacy and surrogate mothers also suffered from exploitation, he told the House.

Though Members of different parties who spoke during the debate supported the bill, some including Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar of the Trinamool Congress and Supriya Sule (NCP) exhorted the government to expand its scope. It is a good bill but not modern enough, Sule said.

Dastidar said same sex couples should also be allowed to have a child through surrogacy. She also called for stopping “fashion surrogacy”, saying some celebrities go for it as they do not want their figures “destroyed”.

Image: Karan Johar’s twins — Roohi and Yash — through surrogacy.


17:16  Former CEA backs Rajan on RBI excess reserves:  The final decision on transferring a part of the excess reserves to the government has to be that of the Reserve Bank alone and any attempt to take away its autonomy could pose a risks to the economy, warns former chief economic advisor Kaushik Basu.

The comments come within two days of former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan cautioning that transfer of the reserves may bring down the rating of the central bank.

“There is scope for transfer of excess reserves of the RBI to the government, but it has to be the RBI’s decision…You can’t do that by confiscation by the government. If the RBI says no, it understands why it is not saying so,” Basu, the C Marks Professor of International Studies at Cornell University, US told PTI Wednesday.

He said decision on such important matters has to be taken in consultation with RBI only. “I think this kind of thing has to be completely with the government talking to the RBI and the final say on this has to be that of RBI. “If you don’t do that, and if you try to take away their autonomy, you are taking a huge long-term risk with the economy,” Basu, who was also a past chief economist with the World Bank, said. — PTI

16:49  Sajjan Kumar’s case hearing tomorrow:  1984 anti-Sikh riot convict Sajjan Kumar’s case will be heard at Delhi’s Patiala House Court tomorrow. It’s the 2nd case registered by CBI on the recommendation of the Nanavati Commission. He’s facing trial on charges of murder and rioting in Delhi’s Sultanpuri.


16:19  ISRO successfully launches military satellite :  Communication satellite GSAT-7A on-board GSLV-F11 has been launched at Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said Wednesday the launch of satellite GSLV-7A would enhance the networking and communication capabilities of the Air Force.

“We have several platforms (aircrafts) which have capabilities of communication through satellite. The communication to the platform (aircrafts) through the satellite will be made possible with this launch,” he said.

ISRO will launch the military satellite GSLV-7A at 4.10 pm from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. Dhanoa was at the Jodhpur air base to interact with the contingents of the Indian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces, who are participating in the joint exercise, ‘Aviaindra-18’, from December 10-21.


16:13  Journalist sentenced to one year in detention for remarks against Centre :  A journalist, who had criticised the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in Manipur on social media, has been sentenced to one year in detention by a local court, according to a statement issued by the state home department.

The chief judicial magistrate of Imphal West district passed the order on December 14. The statement was accessed by PTI on Wednesday.

The Advisory Board of the National Security Act (NSA), in its sitting held on December 11, had examined the allegations levelled against the journalist, Kishorechand Wangkhem.

On December 13, the board recommended that there were “sufficient grounds” to detain Wangkhem under the provisions of the NSA, the statement said. Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla approved the advisory board’s recommendation to detain the journalist for a maximum period of 12 months under the NSA.

The 39-year-old Imphal-based journalist was detained under the NSA on November 26 for allegedly uploading videos criticising the BJP-led governments in Manipur and at the Centre for observing Rani Jhansi’s birth anniversary. Wangkhem works with a local TV channel and the videos that he had uploaded on November 19 in English and Meitei were not related to his official work, officials had said earlier.

In the video clips, Wangkhem had purportedly said he was saddened and shocked to learn that the present government in Manipur was observing the birth anniversary of Rani of Jhansi, according to media reports. He reportedly said Rani of Jhansi’s deeds had nothing to do with Manipur and the state was observing her birth anniversary because the Centre had asked it to.

In this context, he allegedly called Chief Minister Biren Singh a “puppet of the Centre” and a “puppet of Hindutva”. The chief minister had claimed that the Rani of Jhansi had played a role in the unification of India. November 19 is the birth anniversary of Laxmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, who was one of the leading figures in the 1857 sepoy mutiny.

Wangkhem’s wife Ranjita Elangbam told PTI on Wednesday that she has appealed to the MHA to “cancel” the charges against him under the NSA but has not received any reply till now. — PTI

15:25 student gang-raped in Agra:  A first year student was allegedly raped by four men near Poiya Ghat in Agra, police said Wednesday. The incident took place on Tuesday evening while the girl was going to her coaching class. On the way, she was stopped by two men near Bhagwan Talkies Crossing on the national highway and was forcibly taken to an isolated place near the ghat where two other accused were already present and all the four raped her, police said.

Later, she was noticed by a passerby and taken home, police said, adding, the girl has been admitted to the SN Medical College hospital for treatment. A complaint was lodged by the girl’s parents on Tuesday night at the New Agra police station, Superintendent of Police (city) Prashant Verma said. A case has been registered and hunt is on to nab the accused, he added.PTI


15:05  Is Cong cosying up to AAP? Shelia Dixit hints at alliance :  Clearly, there are no permanent enemies in politics.

Former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Wednesday took a diplomatic stand over the possibility of an alliance with Aam Aadmi Party  and asserted that whatever the Congress high-command decides will be acceptable to all.

“The party will decide, the high command, Rahul Gandhi and all will decide and whatever they decide will be acceptable to all of us,” Dikshit told ANI.

Dikshit served as the Chief Minister of Delhi for three terms before AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal dismissed her with a record mandate in December 2013.

On the contrary, AAP Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh had rubbished rumours about the two parties entering an alliance. “AAP till now has not decided to form an alliance with any other political party for the upcoming elections. These rumors are spread by other political parties,” he had said on Tuesday.

Dikshit has time and again criticised Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party government on various issues.

In June this year, she delivered a stern message to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and said that conflict with Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal or the Centre cannot be an excuse to not work. — ANI

14:49  Outrage over doormats, rugs with Golden Temple image on Amazon:  
Doormats and rugs with the image of the Golden Temple were reportedly sold on Amazon, drawing a strong reaction form a prominent Sikh body which asked the online retail giant to prohibit the sale of culturally inappropriate and offensive merchandise.

The Sikh Coalition said in a statement Tuesday that it was alerted to products such as door mats, rugs and toilet seat covers with the image of one the most historically significant Sikh sites, the Golden Temple, were being sold by some sellers on Amazon.

“It has come to our attention that several sellers are posting products onto your platform that culturally appropriate the imagery of the Golden Temple and spiritual imagery of other eastern cultures,” The Sikh Coalition’s Senior Manager of Advocacy & Policy Sim Singh said in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Senior Vice President & General Counsel David Zapolsky.

The civil and legal rights organisation said that in the hours since, through community outreach, several pages have been removed from the website. The products seem to have been removed from Amazon’s website as a message that “Sorry, we couldn’t find that page” appears when running a search for the items. Singh said that “using religious or spiritual imagery on products that come into contact with unhygienic surfaces is offensive to all faiths that originated in the East.

The Golden Temple is no such exception and should never appear on rugs, bathmats, and toilet seat covers. Such items are deeply offensive to Sikhs everywhere and other followers of Eastern religions.’ The Sikh Coalition asked Amazon that the objectionable items be permanently prohibited from sale and hoped that Amazon will do more to ensure similar products do not appear on its platform.

“We request that you notify your sellers and affiliates to refrain from publishing culturally inappropriate and offensive merchandise on your platforms,” Singh said. The group also asked individuals to send a direct message to Amazon explaining why these products are offensive to the Sikh community. PTI

Image: The toilet seat and floor mat with images of the Golden Temple. Pic courtesy: @unitedsikhs


14:49  JPC on Rafale threatens to derail Parliament winter session :  The Lok Sabha was adjourned for the second time on Wednesday amid uproar after the government rejected the opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the Rafale deal.

As the House re-convened for the second time in the noon, members from the Congress, AIADMK and TDP trooped into the Well, holding placards and shouting slogans. While AIADMK members protested the construction of a dam across the Cauvery river, those from the Congress demanded a JPC probe into the Rafale deal.

The TDP sought to raise issues related to Andhra Pradesh. More than 40 members were in the Well. Some members from the ruling BJP also sought to raise certain issues from their seats.

Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said there were “serious apprehensions” in the minds of the people over the Rafale deal and this needs to be probed by the JPC.

Kharge said there was a “massive loss” to the state exchequer because of the deal besides “loss” of Transfer of Technology to the state-run Hindustan Aeronautical Limited. Responding to this, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government is ready for a discussion on this issue, but rejected the demand for a JPC. Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the government was ready to discuss any issue demanded by the opposition, including the Rafale deal. — PTI

14:39  Kashmiri Teenagers are dying to protect militants. Read the report here


14:32  The largest export: We need to make the lives of migrant workers easier:  No, it is not engineering goods or jewellery; it is human beings. The money they sent back in 2017 was $69 billion; it financed 43 per cent of the trade deficit. India received more in remittances than any other country. Over a half of it came from oil-producing countries, to whose idle rich India provides white- and blue-collar workers; over a quarter came from just the United Arab Emirates. Over a fifth came from the United States of America, which continues to use Indian programmers despite Trump. A half of the remittances went to Kerala, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Three-quarters of the money was paid by remitters to dalals — “exchange houses’ in the terminology of the Reserve Bank of India — who have accounts with Indian banks; they send the money to the accounts of the remitters’ beneficiaries once the dalal deposits the money with them. Another fifth came through Vostro accounts of foreign banks with Indian banks.

Read Ashok V Desai’s column here.


14:18  Mumbai hospital fire: Food delivery boy saves 10 lives:   A 20-year-old Swiggy executive, who was out delivering food, saved 10 lives in the massive fire at a Mumbai hospital that killed eight people. Sidhu Humanabade was passing by when he saw smoke bellowing out from upper floors of the ESIC Kamgar Hospital.

He left his bike and asked the firemen if he can join them in rescuing people. After a nod from officials, he reached fourth floor of the building with the help of fire brigade’s ladder and rescued some stranded patients and visitors.

Braving the dense smoke that engulfed the area, he managed to bring out 10 people to safety in two hours. However, during the rescue operations, he inhaled smoke and has now been admitted at the nearby Seven Hills Hospital. Speaking to PTI from his hospital bed, Sidhu said when he heard people crying for help, he could not stop himself. “I joined the firemen in their rescue operation. Thankfully, the firemen allowed me to climb their ladder to reach the fourth floor. I broke the building’s glass with an axe and entered the premises.”

He then asked the patients to come over to the window ledge and brought them down one by one. “One patient slipped from my hand and fell down, but fortunately she survived,” said Sidhu.

Sidhu is from Airoli but shifted to Andheri’s Marol, where the hospital is, with his uncle a few days back when he joined Swiggy. Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment Santosh Gangwar Tuesday met the victims admitted in various city hospitals and assured that they would be provided proper treatment.

Sidhu said the minister met him too and enquired about his health and also asked about his deed. “It was nice to get appreciation from him,” said Sidhu, a class 12 pass out. Besides, a woman also recalled how her presence of mind led her to save herself and her infant daughter.

Reenu Narayan had brought 8-month-old Sonika to the hospital for treatment of pneumonia. “When I saw people crying and screaming all over the place and the smoke spreading fast, I picked up my baby and ran. I was lucky to find a passage to reach out to safety,” Narayan said. — PTI

Image: An injured person lies outside the ESIC Kamgar Hospital. Photograph: PTI Photo


13:14  Blind amphibian to be named after Trump:  A newly-discovered blind amphibian will be named after Donald Trump in recognition of the US president’s stance on climate change, according to a media report. EnviroBuild, a UK-based sustainable building materials company, announced on Tuesday that it would be using Dermophis donaldtrumpi as the name for the amphibian with no legs and poor eyesight.

The company says the name still will need to undergo peer review, but that other animals have been named after presidents in the past. The name was chosen by Aidan Bell, the boss of the firm which paid thousands at an auction for the right, The Guardian reported. The small creature is blind and has an ability to bury its head in the ground. These features Bell said match the US leader’s opinion on climate change. The company said Trump’s was “the perfect name” for the limbless animal The Panamanian underground amphibians are particularly vulnerable to global warming. Dermophis donaldtrumpi, 10 centimetres in length and belonging to group of snakelike animals called caecilians, was recently found in Panama by a group of scientists. — PTI


12:54  Delhi HC quashes summons against Irani in defamation case:  The Delhi High Court Wednesday quashed the summons issued against Union minister Smriti Irani in a defamation complaint filed against her by Congress Leader Sanjay Nirupam.

The court, however, dismissed a similar plea by Nirupam’s seeking to set aside the summons issued against him in a cross-defamation complaint filed by Irani. The court said the case against Nirupam will continue. Justice R K Gauba passed two separate verdicts on the two leaders plea. In her plea, Irani had sought quashing of the summons issued to her by a trial court on June 6, 2014. She had also sought quashing of the complaint filed by Nirupam.

Nirupam had challenged a magisterial court’s March 11, 2013 order summoning him in Irani’s defamation complaint against him. He had also sought quashing of the January 1, 2013 complaint filed by Irani.

Irani tweeted, “6 years ago began a battle in a court of law to uphold my dignity. Today a semblance of justice all thanks to Honble High Court of Delhi. A sense of gratitude for my family & legal team for standing by me through it all. However, the fight continues.”


12:38  Sabarimala: Prohibitory orders extended till December 22 :  Pathanamthitta Magistrate Court has extended the prohibitory orders in Sabarimala Temple till the midnight of December 22. The decision has been taken based on reports by the District Police Chief and Executive magistrates in Pamba and Sannidhanam.

Prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC)prohibits assembly of more than four people in an area.

The restriction is enforced when there are safety concerns.A string of protests has been witnessed in the state after the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of all age groups to enter the Lord Ayappa shrine.

Earlier on Tuesday, a group of 30 women aged between 10 and 50 years has sought permission from the Kerala chief minister to visit Sabarimala temple on December 23.

The women delegation said they had sent a letter to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan seeking permission and security while visiting the temple, and have been told that their request has been forwarded to concerned police personnel.

Till this time, no women in the 10-50 age group has succeeded in offering prayers at the shrine as various people have been protesting against the court’s decision. — ANI


12:08  Meri madam mahaan: Ansari’s mom tells Sushma:  Indian national Hamid Ansari who returned to India after being released from a Pakistan jail yesterday, meets External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Delhi. His mother tells EAM, “Mera Bharat mahaan, meri madam mahaan, sab madam ne hi kiya hai.”

Ansari, who was arrested eight years ago after he came to Pakistan to meet a woman he had befriended through social media, has returned to India after completing his three-year prison sentence in Pakistan jail.

It was an emotional reunion for the Ansari family at the Attari-Wagah border on Tuesday, whose long struggle ended and eventually their efforts bore fruit.

His mother, Fauzia Nehal Ahmed Ansari, who called her sons release a victory of humanity, said that he had no bad intentions.


12:00  INX Media PMLA case: ED questions P Chidambaram:  Former Union minister P Chidambaram arrived at the Enforcement Directorate office for questioning in the INX Media money laundering case on Wednesday, official sources said.

They said the senior Congress leader was asked to depose before the investigating officer of the case to record his statement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

He arrived around 11:30 am along with his lawyer. The central probe agency has earlier grilled Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram in this case and has also attached his assets worth an estimated Rs 54 crore, located in India and abroad.

The ED had registered a PMLA case in this deal case on the basis of a CBI FIR and had alleged that irregularities took place in the FIPB clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when P Chidambaram was the Union finance minister.

It had registered an Enforcement Case Information Report, the ED’s equivalent of a police FIR, against the accused named in a CBI complaint, including Karti, INX Media and its directors Peter and Indrani Mukerjea. Karti Chidambaram was also arrested on February 28 by the CBI for allegedly taking money to facilitate the FIPB clearance to INX Media in 2007 . He was later granted bail. — PTI


11:38  Oppn mahagathbandhan an illusion: Amit Shah:  BJP president Amit Shah Wednesday made light of the the opposition ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance), calling it an illusion and expressed confidence that the BJP will retain power after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Speaking at the Republic Summit in Mumbai, Shah also said he was sure that the Shiv Sena will be with the BJP in the next Lok Sabha elections. Talks are on (with them), he added.

“The reality of the opposition ‘mahagathbandhan’ is different. It (the opposition alliance) doesn’t exist and is a ‘bhranti’ (illusion),” Shah said. “The mahagathbandhan does not exist anywhere. We have fought against all of them in 2014 and defeated them to form the government. They are all regional leaders, they can’t help each other,” the BJP president said.

Shah said the BJP will gain in West Bengal, North-East and Odisha in 2019.

“The issues of elections are: in five years how have we ensured national security and defeated corruption. We have provided toilets in eight crore homes and electricity in 2.5 crore homes,” Shah said. “Not only for the BJP, but it is also necessary for the country that a strong govt comes to power,” the BJP president said. — PTI


11:29  Pak activist Asma Jahangir posthumously honoured with top UN human rights award:  Pakistan’s renowned social activist Asma Jahangir was posthumously honoured by the UN with a prestigious human rights award. Jahangir, an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, fought against religious extremism and for the rights of oppressed minorities in Pakistan. She died of cardiac arrest at the age of 66 in February. She was honoured with the 2018 United Nations Human Rights Prize, an award given every five years since 1968.

Jahangir’s daughter Munizae Jahangir received the award on her behalf from President of the UN General Assembly Mara Fernanda Espinosa at a special ceremony at the United Nations, Tuesday. Among others who won the award include girls’ education rights activist Rebeca Gyumi of Tanzania, Brazil’s first indigenous woman lawyer Joenia Batista de Carvalho and Front Line Defenders from Ireland, working to protect human rights defenders at risk. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the work of the honourees and that of other human rights defenders around the world is essential for the collective efforts to sustain peace and ensure inclusive sustainable development and respect for human rights for all.

11:17  Naqvi: PM Modi doesn’t need a prompter unlike Manmohan Singh:  MA Naqvi on Manmohan Singh’s statement that he wasn’t afraid of talking to press when he was PM. Naqvi said, “He is a senior leader and a former PM, when he was PM he used to talk on someone’s order & script, even now he is doing same. He should realise that PM Modi doesn’t need prompter, script or a director.” 


11:06  Saira Banu ‘begs’ PM to protect Dilip Kumar’s house :  Saira Banu, wife of legendary actor Dilip Kumar on Tuesday sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention, following the release of builder Samir Bhojwani who had been arrested for usurping their Pali Hill bungalow in Mumbai.

Calling on to the Prime Minister, the veteran actress took to her husband’s twitter handle and registered her plea. She also expressed her disappointment over Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ failure to deliver in the matter .

Saira Banu tweeted, “Request from Saira Banu Khan: To the Hon’ble @PMOIndia Shri @narendramodi Awaiting for an appointment. I am tired of repeated assurances from CM @Dev_Fadnavis “I AM TRYING” Sir you are the last hope of protecting DILIP SAHAB’s only house from Land Mafia Samir Bhojwani. I beg.”

On December 17, Saira had tweeted requesting a meeting with Prime Minister Modi. After Saira’s tweet to Prime Minister Modi, an official from the office of Fadnavis said the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) took note of the issue. Fadnavis also assured to look into the matter. Earlier, the 74-year-old lodged a police complaint alleging Bhojwani was threatening and harassing her and Kumar over the property issue.

In an FIR lodged on January 4 this year, Saira alleged that Bhojwani, on the basis of forged documents, illegally staked ownership of land in Pali Hill, Bandra, the rights of which were acquired by Dilip Kumar on September 25, 1953. — ANI


10:10  Meghalaya: No trace of 13 trapped miners, says NDRF :  The National Disaster Response Force on Tuesday informed that it had not been able to locate bodies of 13 miners who were trapped while working in an illegal coal mine in Ksan village of Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district.

Updating about the rescue efforts being made to trace the miners, Chief Officer NDRF, SK Sastri told ANI, “On 13 December, Meghalaya administration informed us that 13 labourers are trapped in a mine in East Jaintia Hills. two teams with equipment were sent immediately. The operation started on December 14. Nobody has been found till now.”

Yesterday, the state police informed that the rescuers were failed to reach the 13 miners on the sixth day as heavy rains made the operation difficult.

The NDRF, police and State Disaster Response Force have been fighting against time to rescue the workers after the illegal coal mine, full of water, at Ksan in Saipung area of the district collapsed on Thursday and got flooded by the adjacent Lytein River.According to police, only three helmets were found during the search operation even as miners remain trapped in the coal pit.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma on Monday said that rescue teams have been facing challenges to evacuate the trapped miners. He also highlighted that the high water level is making the operation difficult.

Despite a ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal in 2014, mining activities were underway at the site in Ksan village.Earlier, while responding on the rising illegal mining activities in the state, the chief minister had said, “We got to know about the illegal mining incidents and appropriate action will be taken at appropriate time against people who are involved in it.” — ANI


10:05  High on poll wins, Rahul heads to holiday in Shimla :  

After hectic campaigning for polls in five states, Congress president Rahul Gandhi along with his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her children is holidaying in the picturesque Himachal Pradesh hill station. 


Rahul accompanied by Priyanka Vadra arrived in Shimla on Tuesday by road to see the latter’s under-construction house at Chharabra, a local Congress leader said. 

On their way, they stopped for a few minutes at a dhaba in Solan district and took snacks, tea and Maggi noodles there, he said.

The visit of Gandhi comes days after the Congress emerged victorious in assembly elections Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.  

When some local Congress leaders got news of Gandhi at the dhaba, they and some women reached there, he said.


They congratulated the Congress chief on the party’s victory in the three states. Gandhi enquired about the political developments in Himachal Pradesh, the Congress leader said. 

He said Gandhi told them “I am on a personal visit to Himachal.”

Rahul, Priyanka and her children are staying at a hotel in Chharabra, the Congress leader said.

However Himachal Pradesh Congress president Sukhwinder Sukhu told PTI, “I have no official information about Rahul’s visit to Himachal.”

09:00  MNS chief Raj Thackeray gets bail in 2008 case:  

A court in Igatpuri in Nashik district of Maharashtra Tuesday granted bail to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray in connection with a 2008 case of attack on a hotel by his party workers.

Thackeray appeared in Igatpuri court on Tuesday, where Judge K I Khan granted him bail.

As part of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s strident protest against north Indians in 2008, the party workers had attacked a hotel, owned by a north Indian, in Igatpuri.


Police had booked six persons, including Thackeray, in this connection.


Although the other accused had been acquitted by the court earlier, it had issued summons against Thackeray as he had not appeared before it. — PTI


08:47  ISRO to launch communication satellite to give more power to forces:  

The Indian Space Research Organisation will launch the country’s newest satellite GSAT-7A, which will give a boost to the defence forces’ communication capabilities, onboard Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle GSLV-F11 from Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota on Wednesday.

It is believed that the 2,250-kilogram geostationary communication satellite will give a boost to the Defence forces’ communication capabilities.  

GSLV-F11 carrying 2,250kg GSAT-7A is scheduled to lift-off at 4.10 pm on Wednesday from the second launch pad at the spaceport of Sriharikota, situated about 110 km from Chennai.


The mission life of the GSAT-7A, built by the Indian Space Research Organisation, is eight years. It will provide communication capability to users in Ku-band over the Indian region, the space agency said.

This heavyweight communication satellite will provide vital data for hi-tech communication in strategic fields.


00:04  New Zealand to hold cannabis referendum in 2020:  

New Zealanders will vote on legalising recreational cannabis in a referendum during the 2020 general election, the country’s justice minister said.

A vote was promised by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party last year during cross-party talks, which helped to form a coalition government.

It comes a week after lawmakers gave medicinal cannabis the green light.

An opinion poll last year suggested two thirds of New Zealanders favoured legalisation.

Until now, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had avoided committing to a non-binding agreement.

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in New Zealand, according to the NZ Drug Foundation.

A vote in favour of legalisation would make New Zealand the first Asia Pacific country to allow its recreational use.

Source: Rediff