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MEA rejects U.S. report on state of religious freedom in India

‘A foreign govt. has no locus standi to pronounce on the rights of our citizens’

Foreign governments do not have the right to criticise India’s vibrant democracy and dedication to rule of law, said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Sunday, after the U.S. State Department’s annual report on religious freedom pointed out India’s failure to protect minority communities.

“We see no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” said MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.

The report sets the backdrop of the visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that begins on June 25.

The Hindu reported earlier that the report was released by Mr. Pompeo himself, and he referred to the issue of religious freedom as a “deeply personal” priority.

The 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom referred to multiple instances of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre and various State governments of the Bharatiya Janata Party having taken steps that hurt the Muslim community.

The official spokesperson, however, maintained that India was proud of its “secular credentials”, saying, “it is widely acknowledged that India is a vibrant democracy where the Constitution provides protection of religious freedom, and where democratic governance and rule of law further promote and protect the fundamental rights.” Apart from the murders and lynching by cow vigilante groups, the report pointed out that there were several attempts to undermine minority institutions and change the names of cities that reminded one of the pluralistic nature of India. In this regard, the report highlighted the change of the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj.

The MEA did not answer if the report and its observations about India’s failure to uphold and protect minority rights would feature in talks with Mr. Pompeo during his visits here between June 25 and 27.

14 killed in Rajasthan’s Barmer as tent collapses on devotees

Sudden rain and squall led to short circuit; CM orders probe

Fourteen persons were killed and over 50 injured when a large tent collapsed on a crowd of devotees in a sudden rain and squall, which led to a short circuit followed by electric current in the iron structure, during a religious congregation in Jasol village of Rajasthan’s Barmer district on Sunday. The deceased included two women and a 15-year-old boy.

Trapped under tent

Most of the victims were electrocuted as they were trapped under the tent which was uprooted by strong winds in the afternoon.

Barmer Collector Himanshu Gupta said about 700 people had assembled for listening to ‘Ram Katha’ (Lord Ram’s story) at a local school ground, when the dust storm and downpour swept the venue.

The ‘Ram Katha’ was organised by the Mata Rani Bhatiyani Mandir Sansthan of Jasol, which had invited internationally acclaimed story-teller Muralidhar Maharaj to deliver his sermons.

Muralidhar Maharaj, who had started the Ram Katha on Saturday, warned the devotees of the tent falling on them in the middle of his talk and asked them to rush outside.

Mr. Gupta said 25 of those injured had been admitted to the Nahata Government Hospital in the nearby Balotra town and one person with burns was referred to Jodhpur. Doctors feared that the toll could increase as several injured persons were in a serious condition.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who ordered the district officers to investigate the cause, will go to Jasol on Monday to meet the injured. He said the local administration was engaged in the rescue and relief work and was extending “every possible help” to those affected and their kin, including their medical treatment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the loss of lives and wished those injured an early recovery. “Collapse of ‘pandal’ in Barmer is unfortunate. My thoughts are with the bereaved families and I wish the injured a quick recovery,” he tweeted.

Southwest monsoon’s current rainfall deficit is 38%, says IMD

Only half of usual summer foodgrain crop area sown so far

With the southwest monsoon running late, the country faces a 38% current rainfall deficit, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

The IMD said the country, as a whole, received 70.9 mm rainfall so far this monsoon season, whereas the long period average is 114.2 mm. This leaves a shortfall of 38%.

The rain deficit has depleted reservoirs, besides delaying sowing of summer foodgrain crops. Parts of central and peninsular India are staring at a drought for the second successive year.

Farmers’ groups are demanding that the government declare drought in affected areas immediately, so that relief measures can begin this month.

“There must not be any delay in the declaration of drought. Instead of waiting for the end of the monsoon, drought must be declared in all those districts where sowing has been severely affected owing to 50% or greater deficit in June,” said the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, a platform of over 200 farmers’ groups.

U.P. government project to beautify Taj Mahal stalled

Barrage proposal stuck between two expert committees of the Union Environment Ministry

In limbo: The barrage is meant to secure the foundation of the Taj Mahal and improve the water level at Agra.PTIPTI

When’s a barrage, not a barrage? An answer to this lies at the heart of the clearance to a project to improve infrastructure and long-term sustainability of the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra.

A proposal by the Uttar Pradesh government to construct a barrage across the Yamuna, a kilometre and a half away from the Taj Mahal, is stuck between two expert committees of the Union Environment Ministry.

Each committee, consisting of eminent experts, thinks that it’s the other panel that should be taking a call on the future of the project, a perusal of the public records of meetings and discussions in the Ministry shows.

The project of the Irrigation Department envisages construction of a barrage for “securing the foundation of the Taj Mahal, improving the water level at Agra, beautifying and navigating the Yamuna at 1.50 km downstream of the Taj Mahal.”

Water all through year

Such a storage, generally used in irrigation and hydro-electricity projects, would ensure a minimum quantity of water all through the year.

It would help to recharge the ground water and facilitate navigation through river routes. That stretch of the Yamuna is a National Waterway (Delhi to Allahabad) and the barrage would serve as an alternative to motorised transport and would also help to develop a green belt around the pond which would “improve the environment around the Taj Mahal”, the project proponents say.

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