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Power bills ‘shock’ sparks off new controversy in Maharashtra




Another war of words erupted on Wednesday between Maharashtra’s ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party after the government ruled out any “concessions” to consumers over inflated electricity bills during the lockdown period.

Energy Minister Nitin Raut blamed the Centre for not clearing the state’s dues on GST which could have enabled the government to extend relief to the consumers, as he had hinted before Diwali.

However, state BJP President Chandrakant Patil, Leaders of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis (Assembly) and Pravin Darekar (Council), senior leader Ashish Shelar and others slammed the government for letting down the consumers who are burdened with inflated power bills.

“The people of the state are already under stress due to the pandemic lockdown Despite making promises, the government has failed to provide any reliefs. Now, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray must intervene in the matter and rescue the consumers,” said Shelar.

Justifying the move, Raut said that given the overall financial condition of the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co Ltd (MSEDCL), it was not possible to give any relief, though the final decision would be taken by the Chief Minister.

He also slammed the BJP for not collecting the pending dues during its tenure which has left the government over-burdened with no options but to recover the dues.

“The MSEDCL is a customer and has to buy electricity from outside… different types of charges need to be paid. The payments are not made by consumers and a huge amount of 31 percent is still outstanding, so we cannot give relief,” Raut said.

The current debt burden of the state electricity companies is estimated at around Rs 69,000 crore and it was not possible to make further borrowals, the minister contended.

He reiterated that although the state government attempted very hard to provide relief to the consumers, but the Centre was ready to give loans at 10.8 percent interest, which was not acceptable as it would add to the government’s burden.

Responding to the Opposition onslaught, Disaster Management Minister Vijay Wadettiwar and other Congress leaders asked the BJP leaders to use their goodwill and help the state government get relief from the Centre which was “giving a stepmotherly treatment to the state”.

In June-July, many people including Bollywood personalities and celebs from different fields had protested after receiving exorbitant power bills when consumption was less during the earlier lockdown phases from March-May.

While some people were slapped with bills that ran into a few thousand rupees, others got bills of Rs 50,000 and a few for even higher amounts, leading to outrage.

Earlier this month, Raut had indicated that the government would provide some relief, but now he has said that though nobody’s power connection would be cut, all would have to pay up and could do so in three instalments.

Moreover, he assured that all complaints of alleged excess bills would be examined before taking a decision on them, even as friendly party Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetti demanded relief for consumers while women activist Trupti Desai warned of “dire consequences” if the excess bills were recovered.

Upset by the latest decision, consumers groups and activists staged protests in different parts of the state condemning the government.


Maha ATS lawyers to track Malegaon-2008 blast case hearing





Alarmed by witnesses turning hostile in the Malegaon-2008 blasts case, the Maharashtra government lawyers shall now remain in the Special NIA Court where the trial is being conducted on a daily basis, Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil said here on Saturday.

He told the media persons that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had taken over the case (from the state ATS), but the state government is perturbed at the manner in which several critical witnesses have become hostile in the Special Court.

The significant development came two days after the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) ally Congress had raised the issue and drawn the attention of the Home Ministry and the ATS.

Congress state Working President M. Arif Naseem Khan had submitted a memorandum to the Additional Director-General of Police and ATS chief Vineet Agrawal urging necessary measures to monitor the case closely.

“We are thankful to Home Minister Walse-Patil for accepting our demand for a team to keep a track on the court proceedings. The presence of the ATS lawyers will help in a free and fair trial,” Khan said in a statement.

An ex-minister, Khan reiterated that the NIA is allegedly ‘weakening’ the Malegaon-2008 case and not pursuing it with ‘honesty and sincerity’.

In his memorandum to the ATS Chief Agrawal, Khan contended that the witnesses turning hostile are invoking the names of Bharatiya Janata Party-RSS leaders to “malign the Maharashtra government and ATS” for gaining political mileage in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections.

The September 29, 2008 (Malegaon 2008) bomb blast was allegedly engineered in this minority-dominated Nashik town by Hindu fundamentalists, killing 6 and injuring over 100 others, during the Ramadan month when Muslims were breaking their fast.

The Maharashtra Police and then the ATS probed the case till 2011 when it was taken over by the NIA, and the trial is going on daily before the Special NIA Court in Mumbai.

Of the 223 witnesses examined, 16 have turned hostile, claiming that the ATS tortured them to give evidence against the accused, said Khan, urging the need for the presence of the ATS in the court to protect the image of the Maharashtra government.

Among the accused in the sensational Malegaon 2008 case are BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Amritananda Dev Teerth, Dayanand Pandey, Lt. Col. Prasad S. Purohit, and others.

Khan said that the ATS was being sought to be tarnished as an ‘anti-Hindu’ agency with the witnesses, allegedly influenced by the accused, deliberately naming BJP-RSS people ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls for political gains.

“The NIA is not prosecuting all the accused with honesty and sincerity. Out of 223 witnesses who deposed so far, 16 important ones have turned hostile and over a 100 more are still left to be examined. These witnesses are crucial and need to be protected. The NIA has not challenged any orders passed in favour of the accused which shows their intentions clearly,” Khan said.

Some of the witnesses in Malegaon 2008 case even went beyond their recorded statement mentioning names like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, but the NIA’s Special Public Prosecutor took no objection, and another witness claimed he was tortured and threatened by the ATS to take names of Yogi and 4 RSS leaders.

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Maha Congress to appoint women as ‘working chiefs’ in 60 districts




Taking a cue from party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress’s Maharashtra unit on Friday announced that it will appoint a woman as Working President in all the party’s districts in the state.

“The Congress has a progressive tradition of giving important responsibilities to women in politics at all levels. Women leaders of Congress have held top posts like Prime Minister, President, Speaker, Governors, Chief Ministers, ministers, and other important positions. Taking ahead this glorious tradition, we shall now appoint a woman Working President in each of the 60 District Congress Committees (DCCs) in the state,” said state Congress President Nana Patole.

The move on Makar Sakaranti day follows the decision by Priyanka Gandhi to give 40 per cent representation to women candidates in the upcoming Assembly elections with her slogan “Ladki Hoon, Lad Sakti Hoon”.

Patole added that the party has always respected women, given them equal opportunities and this measure would give a more active political participation to women in the state/

“It was during the Congress government that the revolutionary decision to reserve 50 per cent seats for women in local bodies elections and other landmark developments came,” he said.

Even now, Priyanka Gandhi has set a new standard with 40 per cent representation to women candidates for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls which is a major step towards the empowerment of the women, he said.

Though there are only 36 administrative districts in the state, the party has a total of 60 DCCs including four in Mumbai, three in Pune, two in Nanded, Parbhani, etc, said a spokesperson.

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Vaccine shortage in Maharashtra not factually correct: Health Ministry




 The Union Health Ministry on Friday clarified that there is no vaccine shortage in Maharashtra.

The ministry quoted some media reports which alleged vaccine shortage in Maharashtra, stating that such reports are incorrect.

“There have been some media reports alleging vaccine shortage in Maharashtra, further stating that due to lack of vaccine the state government is unable to increase the pace of vaccination. Such reports are ill-informed and incorrect,” the ministry said.

It further said that as per the reports available till date, Maharashtra has over 24 lakh unutilised doses of Covaxin, adding that an additional 6.35 lakh doses have been received on Friday.

The ministry said that as per the weekly consumption data available on Co-WIN, the average consumption by Maharashtra for Covaxin to cover the eligible beneficiaries in the 15-18 age bracket and for the precautionary dose is almost 2.94 lakh doses per day. Therefore, the state has adequate vaccine doses for about 10 days to cover the eligible beneficiaries with Covaxin, the ministry said.

The state has 1.24 crore unutilised and balance Covaxin doses available as on date. With an average consumption of 3.57 lakh per day, this will sustain for more than 30 days for the beneficiaries to be vaccinated using the vaccine, as per the ministry.

Earlier on Friday, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that the state is facing a shortage of doses to ramp up the vaccination drive.

“We are facing a shortage of Covaxin and Covishield. We have demanded additional 50 lakh Covishield doses and 40 lakh Covaxin doses from the Central government,” said Tope.

However, the ministry said that vaccine shortage in Maharashtra does not reflect the correct picture of the available stock of balance and unutilised vaccine doses with the state.

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