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All places of worship in Maharashtra to reopen from Monday



Mumbai’s iconic Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Temple.

In a significant decision, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday said that all places of worship in the state will be thrown open to people from Monday.

Bowing before demands from various quarters, Thackeray made the formal announcement coinciding with the auspicious Diwali celebrations.

All places of worship – temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras, viharas, fire temples, etc – have been shut since early March in view of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.

Now, they will be reopened after following all Covid-19 protocols like crowd control, physical distancing, sanitising the premises regularly, etc, as per the SOPs to be separately issued for the purpose, said Thackeray.

Though certain other states gradually opened up the places of worship, in Maharashtra – the worst-hit by the pandemic – they remained shut to avoid further spread of the virus.

In the current calendar year, all major religious festivals like Holi, Gudi Padva, Ramzan Eid, Dahi Handi, Ganeshotsav, Navroze, Navratri, etc were celebrated by the people in their homes.

In an unprecedented development, all major organisers of the state’s biggest festival Ganeshotsav cancelled their celebrations this year, while the 250-year-old iconic Mohammed Ali Road street-food market remained shut during the holy month of Ramzan.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and other religious organisations have been staging agitations across the state, demanding that people be allowed to seek spiritual solace in places of worship.

The issue had resulted in an ugly spat between Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and Thackeray which even the Centre took note of.

Leader of Opposition in the Council Pravin Darekar welcomed the Maha Vikas Aghadi government’s decision and urged all temples and other worship places to take adequate Covid-19 precautions as mandated by the authorities.

Other political parties, prominent religious personalities, social and religious organisations wholeheartedly welcomed the state’s move and assured that all care would be exercised to prevent the spread of the virus.


Mumbai gets first statue of Balasaheb Thackeray




Almost nine years after his death, Mumbai got the first life-size bronze statue honouring the memory of Shiv Sena founder-patriarch late Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray, on his 95th birth anniversary here on Saturday.

Amid showering of flowers, applause and beating of drums, his son and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray unveiled the statue depicting Balasaheb Thackeray in his classical pose with both arms in the air, as he used to gesticulate during his famed annual Dussehra gatherings at the Shivaji Park, and even during political rallies.

Appropriately, the familiar opening words of his major speeches have been inscribed in large Marathi letters on the pedestal of the statue: “Jamlelya majha tamaam Hindu bandhavano, bhaginino ani matano (All my Hindu brothers, sisters and mothers assembled here).”

A galaxy of leaders across the political spectrum assembled to witness the special moment as the Chief Minister unveiled the statue with the entire Thackeray clan around him at a prominent spot near Colaba in south Mumbai.

The nine-feet tall bronze statue, set atop an 11-feet high pedestal, and erected on a two-feet high landscaped portion within a traffic island near the National Gallery of Modern Art, the statue has been sculpted by eminent artist Shashikant Wadke, who said he had scanned hundreds of photos and videos of Balasaheb Thackeray to get the “right expressions”.

These included a fond look at the Shiv Sainiks and the gathering, a mischievous smile accompanied by a serious frown, both arms in the air in a blessing-cum-all-encompassing gesture, his sharp features in full focus from his traditional flowing kurta-pyjama-angavastram, sporting his legendary ‘Rudraksh mala’ and his pair of square-framed thick spectacles.

Incidentally, Wadke – who lives near the family’s home in Bandra east – had earlier created statues of Balasaheb Thackeray’s wife Meenatai, and his father Keshav alias Prabodhankar Thackeray.

Present to witness the ceremony – free of speeches – were Uddhav Thackeray and his wife Rashmi, Tourism Minister Aditya Thackeray, his cousin Raj Thackeray and his son Amit and other members of the Thackeray clan.

Also attending the ceremony were Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar, State NCP Chief Jayant Patil, Congress State President Balasaheb Thorat, Republican Party of India (A) President and Union Minister Ramdas Athawale, and BJP’s Leaders of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis (Assembly) and Pravin Darekar (Council).

Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar, a majority of Shiv Sena MPs, MLAs, party leaders, cabinet ministers, top police and civil officials also attended the brief but colourful ceremony.

The CM said he was overwhelmed by the turnout for the statue unveiling and expressed gratitude to all the dignitaries for coming to pay their respect to the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’.

While a grand memorial of Balasaheb Thackeray is coming at the erstwhile Mayor’s Bungalow at Shivaji Park, a 22-feet tall statue of the leader came up in Navi Mumbai.

Certain other landmarks named after him include the BMC’s Trauma Care Hospital in Jogeshwari, the under-constuction Mumbai-Nagpur Super Communication Expressway, an international zoo at Gorewada in Nagpur with demands to name the upcoming second international airport in Navi Mumbai after the Sena founder.

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Uddhav Thackeray visits Serum Institute after fire, loss pegged at Rs 1K cr




Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Friday visited the Serum Institute of India (SII) where a fire at its semi-ready Manjari complex claimed five lives while inflicting an estimated loss of Rs 1,000 cr to the global vaccine giant.

Thackeray visited the SII facility that was gutted on Thursday and also met the company Chairman Cyrus Poonawalla and his son Adar.

“We have ordered a thorough probe… There cannot be any conclusions till the full investigations are complete and the report is available. Then we will know whether it was an accident or sabotage,” he said.

The Chief Minister said that the Poonawallas have repeatedly assured that there would be no impact on the Covishield vaccine production and rollout which will continue unhindered.

Adar Poonawala said: “The fire has damaged machinery that was being installed for the RotaVirus and BCG Vaccine production here… No actual vaccines are being manufactured here. The extent of the damage is around Rs 1,000 crore.”

The massive blaze ravaged three to four floors of the upcoming facility in Manjari that was scheduled to become operational within a month or so.

The SII said there is no damage to any of the production facilities of the Covishield vaccine that is currently being manufactured at its other plant in Hinjewadi in the city.

The SII has already taken responsibility for five labourers, including 3 migrants, who were killed in the blaze by giving Rs 25 lakh, plus other benefits as per norms, to each of their kin and Thackeray said if anything more was required to be done, the government would consider it.

He was accompanied by Tourism Minister Aditya Thackeray, Legislative Council’s Deputy Chairperson Neelam Gorhe, Pune MP Girish Bapat and other top government and police officials.

The five victims included three migrants – Ramashankar Harijan and Bipin Saroj from Uttar Pradesh, Sushilkumar Pandey from Bihar and two locals from Pune – Mahendra Ingle and Pratik Pashte.

The Hadapsar police have registered an accidental death due to burning case for the five victims and the Pune Municipal Corporation, Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority and Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation launched simultaneous investigations into the fire.

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Woman withdraws #MeToo complaint against Maharashtra Minister




In a surprise development a Mumbai-based woman, who had levelled sensational allegations of rape against Maharashtra Social Justice Minister Dhananjay Munde, has withdrawn her complaint, officials said here on Friday.

The woman informed the police that she was not keen in pursuing the case against the minister, without citing reasons for her abrupt move.

The police have now directed her to submit a formal notarised affidavit to the effect to enable the police complete the relevant formalities in the matter, the officials said.

After her allegations opened up a political Pandora’s Box last week, the self-styled victim had slammed what she termed efforts to malign her image and asked why “these people did not come forward before”.

While several Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leaders clamoured for Munde’s removal from the cabinet and a thorough probe into her allegations, the Nationalist Congress Party stood behind the beleaguered minister, opting to wait for the outcome of the police investigation.

In a somersault, senior BJP women’s wing leader Chitra Wagh on Friday demanded that the police should book the woman under IPC Section 192 for making false allegations against the minister, to set an example.

BJP Mumbai Vice-President Krishna Hegde, who had lodged a complaint against the same woman last week for attempts to ‘honey-trap’ him a few years ago, said the latest developments will be a huge relief to Munde.

“This is the first #MeToo case in state politics and all must fight against such false allegations as ultimately truth will prevail,” Hegde said.

The ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi allies, Shiv Sena and Congress have not yet reacted to the development.

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