BY S VENKAT NARAYAN
Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI, October 1:
Rahul Gandhi, former President of India’s opposition Congress Party was hit with a lathi and fell to the ground in a pushback by the Uttar Pradesh police after he, his sister Priyanka Gandhi and scores of party workers were stopped on the Delhi-Noida highway. They were going to Hathras to meet the family of a 19-year-old Dalit woman, who died in a Delhi hospital after being gang-raped earlier this week.
The two leaders have been detained. However, the Congress alleges that the Gandhis have been arrested. The police stopped the Gandhis, citing imposition of Section 144, which prohibits assembly of four or more people.
Pictures from the scene showed Rahul Gandhi being held back by the cops, in one of the photographs, he is seen taking a tumble while a policeman is holding on to the leader’s kurta to stop him from falling. In the next one, the Congress leader is on the ground. The party workers and his security men quickly gathered around to help shore him up.
Gandhi said he would peacefully march alone to Hathras as that would not be in violation of Section 144 that prohibits public assembly. He demanded to know under which law he was being stopped.
“I am standing here peacefully. I want to march alone to Hathras. Section 144 talks about public assembly. I will go alone to Hathras. On what basis are you detaining me?” Gandhi asked the cops present on the scene.
The Uttar Pradesh Congress has called for a state-wide protest against the police action on Gandhis.
“The cowardly UP Govt has arrested Shri @RahulGandhi & Smt @PriyankaGandhi for seeking justice & trying to meet the bereaved Hathras victim’s family. I appeal to all PCCs and @INCIndia workers to protest today against the arrest of Rahul ji, Priyanka ji & other party leaders,” tweeted Congress general secretary KC Venugopal.
Earlier in the day, Congress workers milled around the two leaders as Rahul Gandhi, his face mask on, led the march, with Priyanka, who was recently retained as general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, right behind him.
Scores of reporters and people were seen clicking pictures of the two leaders as they went about their padyatra under the October sun.
The 19-year-old Dalit woman, who died in a Delhi hospital on Tuesday a fortnight after she was gang-raped at Hathras while she was out to collect fodder with her mother, was cremated in the early hours of Wednesday, with her family alleging the local police forced them to conduct the last rites in the dead of the night.
Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi urged the opposition to not increase the tension through “political tourism”, and said the state government is working to punish the criminals for their “barbarism”. The minister, however, did not name any party.
Members of Dalit groups and activists alleged that the early morning cremation was done to prevent any mobilisation or protests in the village. “The whole world is watching how the government and the police together cremated our sister in the absence of her family. I have been taken into custody and put under house arrest in Saharanpur; but we will continue to fight,” said Chandrasekhar Azad, chief of the Bhim Army, who had led protests outside Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital on Tuesday.
Amid nationwide outrage and calls for his resignation, state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Wednesday spoke to the family via video-link. The chief minister has said a fast-track court will handle the case for speedy justice. The special investigation team has been constituted to probe the matter and asked to submit its report within seven days.
“The CM has spoken to the father of the deceased woman of Hathras. Her father asked for harshest penalty against the accused. The CM assured him that the most stringent action shall be taken against the accused and all possible help shall be provided to the family of the deceased,” Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi said yesterday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also spoke to the CM and asked him to ensure strict action against the accused.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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