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Sunday,09-August-2020

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Gold scam: No grounds to suspend Sivasankar yet, says Pinarayi Vijayan

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Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday ruled out the suspension, at this point, of IAS officer and his former Secretary M. Sivasankar who presented himself before top Customs officials earlier in the day for questioning over his links with gold scam accused Swapna Suresh.

Responding to questions from the media on the issue, he said: “There are rules and procedures to be followed for it. Let us now wait for the ongoing events and we have also appointed a two member committee headed by the Chief Secretary after reports have come that he (Sivasankar) was in touch with the controversial woman (Swapna Suresh) on phone. At the moment, there are no grounds to suspend him.”

A three-member team of Customs officials had gone to Sivasankar’s house in the afternoon to serve notice upon him. Sivasankar, present at the house, said he was ready to appear before the officials during the day itself.

Swapna, a former employee of the UAE Consulate, here, is among the four booked by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for allegedly facilitating smuggling of 30 kg gold in diplomatic baggage to Thiruvananthapuram from Dubai on July 5.

Sivasankar ran into trouble after his alleged links with Swapna surfaced. She was on the run after the arrest of her friend and former colleague P.S. Sarith by the Customs.

Later, it was revealed that Swapna and Sivasankar were close and had attended several Kerala government events.

According to Swapna’s call records, which are in possession of the media, she was in touch with Sivasankar and state Higher Education Minister K.T. Jaleel.

In his response, Jaleel said he always believed she was a secretary at the UAE Consulate General and the calls made were never in untimely hours.

“I received a message from the UAE Consul General on May 27 to discuss handing over of Ramadan kits. He said Swapna would get in touch for further discussions.

“Now that the NIA is probing the case, my doors are open for them. If any staff member of mine had any contact with her, it’s their responsibility. I am not responsible for that,” he said.

The NIA, which had taken over the case on Friday and filed a FIR against the accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, arrested Swapna and Nair from Bengaluru on Saturday for alleged role in the Kerala gold smuggling case.

It brought them back to the state on a transit remand and presented them at an NIA court in Kochi, which sent them to the agency’s custody.

National News

Rajnath Singh promised a bang, but ended with whimper: Chidambaram

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Rajnath-Singh

After Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced an import embargo on 101 defence items, senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram took a dig at him on Sunday and called his announcement a “whimper”.

“The Defence Minister promised a ‘bang’ on a Sunday morning and ended with a ‘whimper’!” Chidambaram said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Rajnath said: “The Ministry of Defence is now ready for a big push to the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative. The MoD will introduce an import embargo on 101 items beyond the given timeline to boost indigenisation of defence production.”

Chidambaram pointed out that the only importer of defence equipment in India is the Defence Ministry. “Any import embargo is really an embargo on oneself.”

“What the Defence Minister said in his historic Sunday announcement deserved only an office order from the minister to his secretaries!” he added.

The Congress leader also said that the ‘import embargo’ is “high-sounding jargon”.

“But what it means is we will try to make the same equipment (that we import today) in 2 to 4 years and stop imports thereafter!” the former Finance Minister said.

Rajnath on Sunday announced the ban on import of 101 items to make Indian defence industry self-reliant and boost indigenisation.

The list of 101 embargoed items comprises not just simple parts but also some high technology weapon systems like artillery guns, assault rifles, corvettes, sonar systems, transport aircraft, light combat helicopters, and radars.

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National News

Mukhtar Ansari’s aide, accomplice shot dead by STF in Lucknow

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Mukhtar Ansari.

A dreaded shooter, said to be a close aide of mafia don turned politician Mukhtar Ansari, was gunned down along with an accomplice by a team of Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force (STF) on the outskirts of Lucknow on Sunday morning.

Officials said that shooter Rakesh Pandey aka Hanuman Pandey carried a reward of Rs 1 lakh on his head.

STF IG Amitabh Yash said Pandey was gunned down in retaliatory firing when the STF team tried to arrest him after he went to an area falling in Sarojini Nagar police station limits to meet one of his accomplices.

Police said Pandey was involved in a number of murders and shootouts carried out by the Ansari’s gang in the past 23 years. He was also accused of hatching a conspiracy to kill BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai, who was shot dead in 2005.

Pandey was, however, acquitted after a trial in a subordinate court.

The police officer said Pandey had at least 10 criminal cases registered against him between 1993 and 2010. He said the criminal was untraceable for the last 10 years or so.

Police was continuously trying to track him down for the past many months, the IG said.

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National News

Two disasters in 48 hours has affected Kerala badly: Kerala Governor

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Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan who arrived here with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and a few of his cabinet colleagues on Saturday, expressed deep sadness at the tragedy after visiting the injured at the Medical College hospital.

“In the past 48 hours, Kerala has seen two tragedies and this has affected the state very badly. I got a call from the President who has conveyed his deep condolences,” said Khan.

It was on Thursday night that a landslide near Munnar in Idukki district left 23 people dead. Around 50 people residing in four tea estate lines are missing after a portion of a huge hill came down on them.

And on Friday night an Air India Express flight from Dubai skidded off the runway at Kozhikode airport and fell into a 35 feet deep gorge, leaving 18 dead and several others injured.

Vijayan said Prime Minister Narendra Modi called him soon after learning about the accident.

“The flight had 190 people on board and included six crew. Eighteen people including the two pilots and a crew member have died. Among the dead are 14 senior citizens (seven men and 7 women) and four children. 149 of the injured passengers are in various hospitals, 23 of them have been discharged, while the condition of 21 is serious,” said Vijayan.

One passenger of the ill-fated flight has tested Covid positive and the results of all the others are awaited.

“The pilot and co-pilot and a crew member have lost their lives and Air India will take possession of their bodies. From 3 p.m. onwards the bodies of the victims will be handed over to the relatives. We have announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 10 lakh to the families of the deceased, while the cost of the entire treatment of all the injured will be borne by the State. If need be, the State will again come to the help of all if there is a need,” said Vijayan.

“I will take this opportunity to thank each one who came to the rescue of the passengers the moment the accident occurred and it includes locals, airport officials and also the health professionals,” added Vijayan.

Both Khan and Vijayan also inspected the accident site.

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