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President lauds Govt’s welfare schemes, vaccination drive



President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday lauded the government’s performance in the last three years, specially during the corona pandemic.

Addressing the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament at the start of the Budget session, the President said: “We are in the third year of the pandemic caused by coronavirus. In these years, the people have displayed profound faith in the democratic values, discipline and sense of responsibility.”

Hailing the government’s efforts during the pandemic, he said that the example of India’s capability in the fight against Covid-19 is evident in the ongoing Covid vaccination programme. India has surpassed the record of administering more than 150 crore vaccine doses in less than a year.

While more than 90 per cent adult citizens of the country have received the first dose of the vaccine, more than 70 per cent have been administered both the doses, President Kovind said. The government is also reaching out to the rest of the population through the “Har Ghar Dastak” campaign. Adolescents in the age group of 15 to 18 years have also been included in the vaccination programme from this month.

Highlighting the government’s efforts for the poor during the pandemic, President Kovind said that the government is providing free ration to every poor household every month under the “Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana.” This is the world’s largest food distribution programme with an outlay of Rs two lakh sixty thousand crore reaching out to 80 crore beneficiaries for 19 months and now this scheme has been extended till March 2022.

More than two crore pucca houses have been provided to the poor under the “Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana” as a result of the efforts made in the last few years. Under the “Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Gramin,” 1 crore 17 lakh houses have been approved at a cost of about Rupees one and a half lakh crore in the last three years.

Launched with the aim of “Har Ghar Jal”, the Jal Jeevan Mission has brought about a huge difference in the lives of the people and nearly six crore rural households have been provided tap water connections despite the constraints imposed by the pandemic, he said on empowering the poor and enhancing their dignity.

To empower the farmers and the rural economy of the country, despite the pandemic, the government made record procurement to match the record production. The farmers produced more than 30 crore tonnes of foodgrains and 33 crore tonnes of horticulture produce in 2020-21.

It procured 433 lakh metric tonnes of wheat during the Rabi season benefitting about 50 lakh farmers. A record quantity of about 900 lakh metric tonnes of paddy was procured during the Kharif season, benefiting 1 crore 30 lakh farmers.

The government has endeavoured to open new avenues of prosperity for the farmers by launching “Kisan Rail Seva,” the President said. During the Corona period, Indian Railways operated over 1,900 Kisan Rails on more than 150 routes to transport perishable food items like vegetables, fruits and milk, thereby transporting about 6 lakh metric tonnes of agricultural produce. Under the “PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi,” Rupees 1 lakh 80 thousand crore have been provided to more than 11 crore farmer families.

Giving an impetus to the rural economy, the banks have extended financial help to the tune of Rs 65,000 crore to more than 28 lakh Self-Help Groups in 2021-22. This is four times the amount extended in 2014-15. The government has also provided training to thousands of members of the women self-help groups and made them partners as “Banking Sakhi”.

“A provision has also been made for the Gender Inclusion Fund in the National Education Policy to promote learning capability among our daughters. It is a matter of happiness that all the existing 33 Sainik Schools have started admitting girl students,” Kovind said, adding that the government has also approved the admission of women cadets in the National Defence Academy.

The first batch of women cadets will enter the NDA in June 2022. With the policy decisions and encouragement of my government, the number of women personnel in various police forces has more than doubled as compared to 2014.

On implementation of a new National Education Policy across the country, Kovind said it was part of the government’ endeavour to give shape to the resolve and potential of “Atmanirbhar Bharat.” Local languages are also being promoted through the National Education Policy.

Emphasis is being laid on conducting important entrance examinations for undergraduate courses in Indian languages as well. This year, 19 engineering colleges in 10 states will start teaching in six Indian languages, he added.

“We saw the capability of India’s youth power in the Tokyo Olympics. Giving its best-ever performance, India won seven medals. In Tokyo Paralympics too, India won 19 medals and set a record.”

With a firm belief in global brotherhood, India extended a helping hand when people in neighbouring Afghanistan were in distress due to political instability and launched ‘Operation Devi Shakti’ to airlift the Indian citizens in Afghanistan and minorities there in danger, including Afghan Hindus, Sikhs and others.

Even in such situations, “our government respected the religious emotions of our Sikh community” and successfully brought back the two copies of holy Guru Granth Sahib. Now India has been supplying corona vaccines, life saving drugs and grains to Afghanistan on a humanitarian basis, the President stated.

Noting that India has again emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, he said that the GST collection has consistently remained above Rupees one lakh crore during the last several months. Inflow of 48 billion dollars in the first seven months of the current financial year is a testimony to the belief the global investor community has in India’s growth story. India’s foreign exchange reserves today exceed 630 billion dollars. During April to December 2021, goods exports stood at 300 billion dollars or more than Rupees 22 lakh crore, which is one-and-a-half times more than the corresponding period of 2020.

In order to protect MSMEs from crisis and ensure adequate availability of credit during the Corona period, the government started a scheme for guaranteed Collateral Free Loans of Rupees 3 lakh crore. It is evident from the recent studies that this scheme has given a fresh lease of life to 13 lakh 50 thousand MSME units and also secured 1 crore 50 lakh jobs.

In June 2021, the government enhanced credit guarantee from Rs 3 lakh crore to Rs 4.5 lakh crore, Kovind stated.

As against 90,000 kilometres of national highways in March 2014, today India have more than 1 lakh 40 thousand kilometres of national highways. Under the Bharatmala Project, construction of more than 20,000 kilometres of highways is in progress with an outlay of about Rs 6 lakh crore, including 23 green expressways and green-field corridors.

The government is committed to sustainable development of all the states of the North East – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. In these states, basic amenities and economic opportunities are being developed at every level. Rail and air connectivity are no longer a dream for the people of the North East, they are now able to experience them in reality.

A new airport is being set up at Hollongi, Itanagar. A modern new terminal has recently been opened at the Maharaja Bir Bikram Airport in Tripura. This development of North East will prove to be a golden chapter in India’s growth story. Efforts of the government to establish peace in the North East have attained historic success. Just a few months ago, a settlement was reached between the Central Government, the state government of Assam and the Karbi groups to end the decades-old conflict in Karbi Anglong.

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Rape to include marital rape for purpose of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act: SC




The Supreme Court on Thursday said that all women, including the unmarried, are entitled to safe and legal abortion, and also the meaning of rape must be understood as including marital rape, solely for the purposes of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act and any rules and regulations framed thereunder.

And, married women may also form part of the class of survivors of sexual assault or rape, it added.

A bench, headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, said it is not inconceivable that married women become pregnant as a result of their husbands having “raped” them and the nature of sexual violence and the contours of consent do not undergo a transformation when one decides to marry.

“The institution of marriage does not influence the answer to the question of whether a woman has consented to sexual relations. If the woman is in an abusive relationship, she may face great difficulty in accessing medical resources or consulting doctors,” it added.

The bench, also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and J.B. Pardiwala, said the state has a positive obligation under Article 21 of the Constitution to protect the right to health, and particularly reproductive health of individuals.

“Married women may also form part of the class of survivors of sexual assault or rapea… A woman may become pregnant as a result of non-consensual sexual intercourse performed upon her by her husband. We would be remiss in not recognising that intimate partner violence is a reality and can take the form of rape,” said Justice Chandrachud, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench.

It added that the misconception that strangers are exclusively or almost exclusively responsible for sex- and gender-based violence is a deeply regrettable one.

The bench said that there is no requirement that an FIR must be registered or the allegation of rape must be proved in a court of law or some other forum before it can be considered true for the purposes of the MTP Act.

Emphasising that the right to dignity encapsulates the right of every individual to be treated as a self-governing entity having intrinsic value, it added that in the context of abortion, the right to dignity entails recognising the competence and authority of every woman to take reproductive decisions, including the decision to terminate the pregnancy.

“The right of every woman to make reproductive choices without undue interference from the state is central to the idea of human dignity. Deprivation of access to reproductive healthcare or emotional and physical wellbeing also injures the dignity of women,” it added.

Justice Chandrachud said if women with unwanted pregnancies are forced to carry their pregnancies to term, the state would be stripping them of the right to determine the immediate and long-term path their lives would take.

“Depriving women of autonomy not only over their bodies but also over their lives would be an affront to their dignity. The right to choose for oneself – be it as significant as choosing the course of one’s life or as mundane as one’s day-to-day activities – forms a part of the right to dignity,” he added, in the 75-page verdict.

The bench said the law should not decide the beneficiaries of a statute based on narrow patriarchal principles about what constitutes “permissible sex”, which create invidious classifications and excludes groups based on their personal circumstances.

“The rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity, and privacy under Article 21 give an unmarried woman the right of choice on whether or not to bear a child, on a similar footing of a married woman, “it added.

The object of Section 3(2)(b) of the MTP Act read with Rule 3B is to provide for abortions between 20 and 24 weeks, rendered unwanted due to a change in the material circumstances of women.

“In view of the object, there is no rationale for excluding unmarried or single women (who face a change in their material circumstances) from the ambit of Rule 3B. A narrow interpretation of Rule 3B, limited only to married women, would render the provision discriminatory towards unmarried women and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution,” said Justice Chandrachud.

The bench said importantly, it is the woman alone who has the right over her body and is the ultimate decisionmaker on the question of whether she wants to undergo an abortion. “In order to avail the benefit of Rule 3B(a), the woman need not necessarily seek recourse to formal legal proceedings to prove the factum of sexual assault, rape or incest,” said the bench.

On July 21, the top court had allowed a 25-year-old to abort her 24-week pregnancy arising out of a consensual relationship. In the judgment, the top court dealt with various aspects of the issue, including forced pregnancy. The woman had moved challenged the Delhi High Court, which refused to entertain her request to terminate her 24-week foetus, under Rule 3B, dealing with categories of women entitled to abortion, of the MTP Rules, 2003.

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PFI had branches abroad with different names: Sources




Banned Popular Front of India had its branches in other countries and each had a different name, sources have revealed.

The PFI was active in Kuwait under the name of ‘Kuwait India Social Forum (KISF)’. Sources in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) claimed that the KISF used to collect yearly membership fees from its members to support the activities of PFI in India.

The agencies have learnt that the Emirates Indian Fraternity Forum (EIFF) and Indian Cultural Society, which are based in Dubai, were PFI branches.

The PFI’s members used to send money into NRI accounts based in India. Later, they would transfer the amounts to the accounts of the PFI members, who would make the withdrawals.

The transactions were being done in violation of FERA as per the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The PFI members also used to go to the UAE to meet their associates. The agencies have learnt that the PFI had been receiving foreign funding in the name of Haj.

The sources also said that the PFI’s cadre are worldwide and they were pushing the core agenda of the banned outfit through different means.

Another alleged radical organisation, Dawat-e-Islamia is also functioning in the PFI’s style and there are possibilities that a number of PFI cadre might join this organisation.

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Digvijaya to file nomination for Cong prez polls




Congress leader Digvijaya Singh will file nomination for the post of the party president for which election is scheduled to be held on October 17.

He took his nomination form from the party’s Central Election Authority (CEA) earlier in the day.

Sources close to Singh on Wednesday said the decision to contest the polls is his personal one, adding that nobody from the Gandhi family asked him to do so.

The former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister may file the nomination by September 30, which is the last date for nominations.

Congress’ initial plan was to field Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot for the top party post, but the high-octane drama in Rajasthan has miffed the Gandhis. Gehlot is in Delhi and has met Mukul Wasnik, but the suspense over his candidature continues.

Sources in the know of things said, “Gehlot has not been ruled out from the race yet”.

Congress treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal has taken a nomination form from the CEA. On his part, Bansal said he is only a proposer and not a candidate.

CEA chairman Madhusudan Mistry on Tuesday had said: “Till now, Shashi Tharoor and Pawan Bansal have taken nomination forms from the CEA.”

Senior Congress leader Kamal Nath whose name had also come up and had met Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi on Monday, said that he did not want to become the party chief, and wants to continue to work for the party in Madhya Pradesh.

The drama in Rajasthan has made the Congress leadership think about a ‘Plan B’ for the top party post for which Gehlot was being seen as a contender. However, the open defiance by his MLAs loyal to him brought him under a cloud.

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