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CJI acknowledges objection to wider review post-Sabarimala is a ‘formidable point’

Renowned jurist and senior advocate Fali Nariman has objected to the manner in which the Supreme Court turned a review of the Sabarimala case into an opportunity to set up a nine-judge Bench and examine whether certain essential religious practices of various faiths, including Islam and Zoroastrianism, should be constitutionally protected.

“Are you saying that when hearing the review of one judgment [Sabarimala in this case], we cannot refer such larger questions to a larger Bench?” Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde, heading the Bench, asked Mr. Nariman on Monday.

“Yes, that is absolutely right. It will be outside your jurisdiction to do that,” Mr. Nariman replied emphatically.

The CJI observed orally that Mr. Nariman had a “formidable point there”.

He, however, said the Bench would not “abort the hearing” now.

The objections raised by Mr. Nariman would be framed as an “issue” to be decided by the Bench. It would convene on Thursday to fix the dates of the hearings that would start next week. The CJI clarified that the nine judges would confer and frame the issues for hearing.

PIL petitions

Senior advocate K. Parasaran countered Mr. Nariman, saying that the Sabarimala case had its genesis in public interest litigation petitions. It was not an in personam (affecting a specific person) litigation.

In a case emanating from a PIL petition, there is no restraint on a constitutional court in extending the scope or questions to be examined, he argued.

The Sabarimala case review by a five-judge Bench, led by then CJI Ranjan Gogoi, took a curious turn on November 14 last. The Bench sidestepped the task of reviewing the September 2018 judgment, which declared the prohibition on the entry of women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple as discriminatory.

Instead, the Bench referred seven questions, including whether essential religious practices should be afforded constitutional protection under Article 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs), to a larger Bench.

Further, the Review Bench tagged other pending cases on the prohibition of Muslim women from entering mosques, female genital mutilation among Dawoodi Bohras and the ban on Parsi women who married inter-faith from entering the fire temple to the reference.

Chief Justice Bobde, when he succeeded Justice Gogoi, promptly set up the nine-judge Bench to decide this reference.

On Monday, Mr. Nariman argued that the Gogoi Bench had no business to either drag other cases into the reference or frame such “larger issues” when its sole mandate was to simply review the Sabarimala verdict.

Third case confirmed in Kasaragod; 84 under treatment

Medical staff disposing of garbage outside an isolation ward for coronavirus at a hospital in Kochi.PTI

With the confirmation of a third case of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) infection in the State, Kerala on Monday declared the epidemic a State calamity.

The apex committee of the State Disaster Management Authority met Chief Secretary Tom Jose to propose the decision to ensure that the outbreak is controlled.

As on Monday, 2,239 travellers from China and other nCoV-affected countries have been placed under surveillance in the State.

Among them, 2,155 are under home isolation and 84 have been admitted to hospitals with isolation facilities in various districts, a bulletin from the State Health Department said.

Of the 140 samples sent so far to the National Institute of Virology in Pune, 46 have tested negative.

Hospital authorities confirmed that the condition of all symptomatic persons under isolation in hospitals was stable.

GoM set up

A high-level group of Ministers has been constituted on the directions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the management of the outbreak.

Confirming the third case of the nCoV infection in a student who returned recently to Kasaragod from Wuhan, the Union Health Ministry said, “The patient ... is in isolation in the hospital. The patient is stable and is being closely monitored.”

Five people, who were shifted to the Army’s Base Hospital from a quarantine facility in Manesar, Haryana, after showing symptoms of cough and cold, have tested negative for nCoV. The five were among the 247 persons evacuated from the Hubei province in China.

The symptoms of the coronavirus infection start with fever and dry cough followed by breathing problems, according to doctors.

The Kerala Health Department has taken adequate preparatory measures and had framed detailed guidelines as soon as the WHO issued a global health alert.

Overheard by staff while negotiating the deal for ₹165 cr., they land behind bars

Chutzpah is defined as “extreme self-confidence or audacity”. And the attempt by three conmen to sell a well-known hotel in Chennai to gullible buyers, brazenly holding negotiations in the very hotel’s lobby, has set a new benchmark in gumption.

The trio, identified as Karunakaran, 70, Paramanandham, 55, and Dakshinamurthy, 60, all from the city, were arrested on Monday as they tried to sell the three-star Hotel Ambica Empire to a group from Kerala.

The three men attempted to sell the hotel to the prospective buyers at a cost of ₹165 crore.

They had sent a letter to Palakkal Home Solutions in Thiruvananthapuram, offering to sell the property. They claimed that it was a distress sale as the owner had a huge debt. They claimed that they had been officially authorised by the owner to execute the deal. One of the men claimed that he was the general manager of the hotel, the other, auditor and the third introduced himself as a manager.

Lured by this, and convinced by the letter, their fake documentation and the assurances of the three persons, a team of representatives from the Kerala firm landed up in Chennai to seal the deal. Two of the representatives from Kerala, booked rooms in the same hotel, as per the instructions of the ‘sellers’.

On Monday, the hotel staff noticed five persons seated on a couch in the lobby engaged in negotiations. The staff overheard stray phrases which set alarm bells ringing about the possible sale of the hotel.

As they reported this to the manager, he immediately informed the owner, Sudharshan. The latter clarified that there was no such proposal. The manager then informed the Vadapalani police station, leading to the arrest of the three ‘sellers’.

Timely action ensured their elimination before crops were damaged, say State officials

Punjab agriculture dept. has sounded high alert.

Swarms of locusts were spotted in two border villages of Punjab’s Fazilka district, prompting the state Agriculture Department to sound a high alert.

Emanating from Pakistan, the swarms of pests — three to four-km-long and one-km-wide — settled at the trees in these border villages on Sunday evening, officials said on Monday.

However, timely action against the attack ensured their elimination, the officials said, adding that no damage was caused to crops.

“Swarms of locusts were spotted at Wareka and Roopnagar villages of Khuian Sarwar block of Fazilka on Sunday,” said Punjab Agriculture Department Director Sawtantar Kumar Airi said, adding that locusts came from the Pakistan side.

As soon as swarms of locusts were spotted near the villages, a team including members from the Agriculture Department and fire brigade was pressed into service to eliminate pests, Joint Director Gurwinder Singh said.

“About 400-500 tonnes of insecticides were used to eliminate the locusts,” Mr. Singh said, adding that boomer and tractor-mounted high velocity sprayers besides fire brigade vehicles were used to control the pests.

The operation started Sunday night and was completed by Monday morning, officials said.

A few days ago, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to raise the issue with Pakistan.

The Chief Minister had warned that any failure to control the pests could lead to serious implications for agriculture production in India, especially in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, which will ultimately hit commodity prices and food security.

Locusts, popularly known as ‘tiddi dal’, were earlier spotted in some villages of Fazilka, Muktsar and Bathinda districts.

Locusts are short-horned grasshoppers.Their appearance in winter months is a new phenomenon.

No crisis after 1962

India has not witnessed any full-blown locust cycles after 1962. However, during 1978 and 1993, large-scale upsurges were observed.

Localised locust breeding was controlled in 1998, 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2010.

Since 2010, the situation remained calm and no major breeding and swarm formation has been reported.

States record highest number of missing children and women cases in 2016, 2017 and 2018

The highest number of women and children who go missing in the country are from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh respectively, according to a study by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The two States recorded the highest number of cases of missing children and women among all other States in the years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

In 2019, the Supreme Court had directed the NCRB to “analyse the data on missing persons [especially on women and children], so that areas prone to persons being trafficked can be identified”. The NCRB study was based on the annual Crime in India Report compiled by the agency for the years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

‘Not uniform’

The NCRB said that the study aims to identify the areas where registered cases of missing persons, specifically women and children, are higher than in other areas. “The need for the study arises because of the fact that incidents of missing women and children are not uniform across the country. Some parts of the country report higher incidents and such areas could be one of the source, transit or destination [sites] for child /women trafficking,” NCRB said.

According to the report, the States where the highest number of women went missing in the three years are Maharashtra, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. In 2016, as many as 28,316 women went missing in Maharashtra, followed by 29,279 in 2017, and 33,964 in 2018.

In West Bengal, the number of missing women in 2016, 2017 and 2018 was 24,937, 28,133 and 31,299, respectively. Madhya Pradesh recorded 21,435, 26,587 and 29,761 missing reports of women in the three years.

In 2016-18, a total of 63,407, 63,349 and 67,134 children were reported missing across the country. The maximum number of missing reports were recorded in Maharashtra and West Bengal in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The study said that in Madhya Pradesh, Indore reported the highest number of missing children, with 596 in 2017 and 823 in 2018.

Navy’s help to Madagascar is followed by a visit by its Defence Minister

Timely help: Indian envoy Abhay Kumar, second from left, with Prime Minister Christian Lois Ntsay in Madagascar.PTI

India’s flood relief mission to Madagascar will be followed up this week with the island’s Defence Minister Rakotonirina Leon Jean Richard visiting Lucknow and Delhi from Tuesday — the first such high-level trip since Delhi incorporated the island off the coast of Africa into the “Indian Ocean Region (IOR)”.

Mr. Richard is expected to discuss implementing a memoradum of understanding on defence cooperation signed during President Ramnath Kovind’s visit to Antananarivo in March 2018. The Minister will travel first to Lucknow to attend the Defexpo, and later attend the India-Africa Defence Ministers’ conference in Delhi, and hold a bilateral meeting with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday.

Strategic capability

Mr. Richard will discuss the devastation in Madagascar due to flooding after a cyclone and heavy rain in the island’s north-west left at least 31 dead and affected nearly 1,00,000 people.

Last week, the Indian Navy conducted “Operation Vanilla”, with INS Airavat delivering relief material such as food, clothing, medicines and water. Officials said the humanitarian gesture by New Delhi also showcased India’s strategic capabilities in the furthermost islands of the IOR.

“INS Airavat delivers relief supplies to cyclone-hit Madagascar. SAGAR Policy at work — India as an early responder,” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted about the operation on Sunday, referring to India’s policy of “Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)” for IOR islands.

The SAGAR concept was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March 2015, during his visit to Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands. At the time, Madagascar, Comoros and the French island of Reunion were a part of the East and South Africa Division at the External Affairs Ministry.

Reworked approach

However, recently the Ministry decided to include the three islands as part of the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) desk along with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles. In a December 16 circular on the decision, it said the incorporation of the “Vanilla islands” as they are called, reflected “the growing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean Islands within the framework of Indo-Pacific”.

Last October, Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan travelled to the Reunion islands and met the leaders of all the “Vanilla islands” as well.

The inclusion of the region in the IOR signals the government’s increasing level of comfort with the “Indo-Pacific” concept that describes the entire neighbourhood from the coast of Africa to the U.S. west coast.

In one of many changes effected last week to the Ministry’s organisational structure, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla decided to club the entire Indian Ocean Region and the Southern and Indo-Pacific Divisions under one Additional Secretary (Indo-Pacific).

According to officials, the specific outcomes from Mr. Richard’s visit are still being finalised, but that the effort would be to offer Madagascar strategic cooperation similar to what is currently shared with other IOR countries.

The Indian Navy undertakes Joint EEZ patrols with Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius, which have all joined India’s coastal radar chain network.

(With inputs from

Dinakar Peri)

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