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Found guilty of being part of a terrorist outfit and for possessing illegal property

Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166 people and injured hundreds more, has been sentenced to jail in Pakistan for five-and-a-half years on terror finance charges.

Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist and head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), was found guilty of “being part of a banned terrorist outfit” and for “having illegal property” by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore.

The ATC sentenced him and his close aide Zafar Iqbal to five-and-a-half years each and imposed a fine of ₹15,000 in each case. A total of 11 years sentence will run concurrently.

The FIR against Saeed and his associates was registered last July on charges of terror financing at the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) in Gujranwala.

Saeed, Abdul Ghaffar, Hafiz Masood, Ameer Hamza and Iqbal were indicted in December 2019.

This is the first time that Saeed, who has a $10 million bounty on his head by the U.S. government, has been formally convicted of an offence.

Legal experts say Saeed can appeal the verdict but he will be sent to jail immediately. He is currently lodged at Lahore’s high-security Kot Lakhpat jail. The government prosecutor, Abdul Rauf Wattoo, confirmed the news of Saeed’s conviction to the media.

The sentencing comes days ahead of a crucial meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organisation combating money laundering and terror financing, that has put Pakistan on its grey list.

After Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal, the Puducherry Assembly on Wednesday adopted a resolution urging the Centre to repeal the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).

The ruling Congress went a step ahead, adopting another resolution condemning the “BJP government’s attempts to destroy India’s secular fabric”.

At a special session, Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy moved the resolutions and said the CAA, along with the plan to prepare a pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), would destroy India’s unity and secular character.

‘Dividing people’

Terming the CAA “discriminatory and unconstitutional”, the Chief Minister said that by excluding Muslims from the purview of the Act, the Centre was preparing the ground for a “Hindu Rashtra”, as envisaged by the RSS. The aim was to whip up communal passions and divide people on religious lines to reap political dividends, he said.

WR’s ₹4,011-crore Mission Raftar to convert the line into semi-high speed corridor

The Mumbai Rajdhani takes 15.5 hours to cover the 1,384-km distance between Mumbai Central and New Delhi.File PhotoNIRMAL HARINDRAN

The Western Railway (WR) would be executing works worth ₹4,011 crore to convert the Mumbai-Delhi line into a semi-high speed corridor allowing trains to run at speeds of up to 160 km per hour. The 1,384-km corridor now takes 15.5 hours to cover and Mission Raftar aims to reduce it to 12 hours.

“The detailed estimate for the work on the WR portion is ₹4,011 crore. This includes upgrading tracks, bridges, signalling and overhead equipment installations and the removal of some permanent speed restrictions. A combined estimate for the entire project is being prepared and will be finalised soon,” Ravinder Bhakar, chief public relations officer, WR, said.

In the WR’s proposal, civil works amount to ₹1,933 crore, of which ₹660 crore will go towards building boundary walls and fencing of the corridor. “A semi-high speed rail network needs a high factor of safety from trespassing and cattle being run over. Not only the life of people trespassing or livestock but also the passengers aboard the train are put at risk,” a railway official said.

The other major civil work includes closing of level crossing gates by providing road overbridges and subways, which would cost around ₹4,400 crore and will be financed under a separate budgetary head. The bridge over Vaitarna creek in Palghar will be replaced at a cost of ₹330 crore.

The other major expenses are in the electrical works, which are expected to cost ₹1,237 crore and include critical upgrades to the current system. “To cater to high speeds, we will need to reduce the span of the overhead equipment structures. Old redundant structures will need to be dismantled. The other major cost would be another feeder line across the entire corridor to cater to the high power requirement of high speed trains,” a senior railway official said. The other costs would be to upgrade the signalling systems across the corridor to facilitate semi-high speeds.

WR officials, however, said speeds in the suburban sections of Mumbai would continue to run at the current maximum speed of 110 km per hour due to operational constraints. “Since long-distance trains share space with local trains, it is not feasible to run them at these speeds,” a senior railway official said.

Coordinating zone

The entire project is expected to cost ₹10,070 crore for which the Railway Board has allocated ₹1,000 for 2020-21. The project is expected to be financed through extra budgetary resources. There are four railways zones involved in the project — Northern Railway, North Central Railway, West Central Railway and WR.

The Railway Board has nominated WR as the coordinating zone for getting the combined cost sanctioned.

Police Chief violated guidelines, 25 INSAS rifles not accounted for, says report

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, General and Social Sector, has faulted Kerala’s State Police Chief (SPC) Loknath Behera for violating the statutory guidelines established to ensure fiscal probity in the procurement of equipment for modernising the force.

The CAG report for the year ended March 2018, which was tabled in the Assembly on Wednesday, also flagged the “shortage of 25 numbers of 5.56 mm INSAS rifle and 12,061 live cartridges”.

The finding created a sensation in the media and prompted the Opposition to highlight the implications for national security.

NIA probe sought

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala demanded a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the “missing ordnance”. He said the CAG report also necessitated a CBI inquiry against Mr. Behera.

The State Police said it would answer the points raised by the CAG to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which has the final word on audit findings.

The CAG said the SPC had “persistently” violated Modernisation of Police Force (MOPF) guidelines by purchasing bulletproof luxury vehicles for VVIP use instead of vans for law enforcement.

Auditors found that 15% of the vehicles purchased by the police were luxury cars for the exclusive use of “high-level officers and non-operational units” like the CB-CID.

Ideally, the SPC should have used the funds to make up for the dire deficit of vehicles in police stations. The CAG found that the police headquarters had diverted funds meant for construction of staff quarters to subordinate officers to build villas for the “SPC and ADGPs.”

Auditors said the Police Department had repeatedly violated Store Purchase Manual norms and guidelines issued by the Chief Vigilance Commissioner in the procurement of a wide range of costly equipment. The CAG also said the lack of state-of-the-art digital “mobile radios” had hobbled anti-Maoist operations.

CM defends police

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan did not comment on the CAG’s report, but had dismissed similar allegations raised against Mr. Behera by Congress legislator P.T. Thomas in the Assembly on Tuesday. In the wake of the findings in the report, KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran, demanded a probe into the references to Mr. Behera.

It provides for compensation due to losses

The draft Bill had proposed raising penalty on sellers of spurious pesticides.

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the Pesticides Management Bill, 2020, which, the government claims will regulate the business of pesticides and compensate farmers in case of losses from the use of spurious agro chemicals.

“Today, the pesticide business is regulated by 1968 rules which have become age-old and need immediate rewriting,” said Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar.

Mr. Javadekar said farmers would also be empowered to get all information as the data would be in open source and in all languages.

In February 2018, the Centre released a draft of the pesticides Bill that aims to replace the existing Insecticides Act of 1968.

A key proposal in the 2018 version was to raise penalties on the sale of prohibited or spurious pesticides to ₹50 lakh and up to five years’ imprisonment, from the current ₹2,000 and up to three years’ imprisonment. It is unclear if these provisions have been retained in the latest version of Bill that was cleared by the Union Cabinet.

‘Central fund likely’

“If there is any loss because of the spurious or low quality of pesticides then there is a provision for compensations ... If required, the government will form a central fund which will take care of compensation,” Mr. Javadekar said.

The Centre for Science and Environment, in 2018, had criticised the Bill. “The existing draft provides inadequate representation to States ... The States should have a say in final decision making on pesticide, as they have the best understanding on the agro-ecological climate, environment and soil conditions,” it said in a statement.

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