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Court to hear dissident MLAs’ petitions on October 22

The Election Commission (EC) said in the Supreme Court on Thursday that it would defer the byelections to 15 Karnataka Assembly constituencies till the court finally decided the petitions of the MLAs who represented these constituencies until they were disqualified by the then Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar under the anti-defection law.

The EC, represented by senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, orally informed a three-judge Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana, that the byelections would be put on hold till the court decided the legality of the dissident Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) legislators’ disqualification.

Mr. Dwivedi said that if the EC had the authority to announce byelections, it was empowered to defer them too. The court finally listed the case for October 22, a day after the byelections are scheduled.

‘Power not limited’

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Mr. Kumar, argued that it was not the job of the court or any political party to decide how the Speaker should decide on the resignations. The Speaker’s power to enquire into the circumstances leading to the resignations could not be limited. The Speaker has to view the resignations and the circumstances in their entirety.

“The Speaker has to consider the broad facts placed before him. That the dissident MLAs stayed in a high-security hotel in Mumbai, flew in a jet owned by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, hobnobbed with BJP leaders... How can the Speaker not look into them? How can it be said ‘resignations are voluntary, so the Speaker has to accept them’?” Mr. Sibal argued.

Besides, none of the facts placed before the Speaker against the MLAs was denied by them.

“That they were holed up in Mumbai, they went in groups, they held press conferences in groups... None of them was denied...,” Mr. Sibal said.

On Wednesday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the current Speaker, V.H. Kageri, argued that it was the right of an MLA to resign.

The significant September spike could impact Delhi's winter air pollution

A farmer burning farm residue near Amritsar.file photo-

There has been a spike in agricultural fires — a phenomenon that’s known to worsen air pollution — in Punjab in September, significantly more than in the same month last year.

Krunesh Garg, member-secretary, Punjab Pollution Control Board, said there were 107 fires from September 24-26. In 2018 there were only 11 fires during the same period. However, in 2016 and 2017 there were 106 and 150 fires respectively from September 27-30.

Mr. Garg said last year’s numbers were unusually low because paddy harvesting was delayed due to the persistence of the monsoon. “Last year, the onset of monsoon was late and it persisted well into October. This year, harvesting of basmati varieties of rice has already begun, hence the apparent rise in September,” he said.

Agricultural fires, in which farmers set fire to their fields after harvesting paddy, tend to begin around late September and peak around the last week of October by which time farmers have harvested most of their paddy. There were 80,879 fire incidents detected during the paddy harvesting season in 2016, 43,660 in 2017 and about 40,000 in 2018. “There was a 10% reduction last year from 2017 and we expect around the same reduction this year,” Mr. Garg said.

Punjab’s fires tend to worsen Delhi’s pollution as particulate matter floats into the city, affecting the already polluted winter air.

The Centre and Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh had — over several meetings last year — declared a “zero tolerance” policy on stubble burning by farmers which, according to various studies, contributes anywhere from 17% to 78% to the particulate matter emission load in Delhi during winter.

Last year, the Union Agriculture Ministry earmarked ₹591 crore for disbursal to Punjab, Haryana and U.P. to help farmers access machines that collect or plough the stubble back into the soil.

A senior official in the Union Agriculture Ministry said in spite of subsidies, the implements were “expensive” for the farmers and thus it was cheaper for them to set chaff ablaze.

(With inputs from

Priscilla Jebaraj)

Priyanka, Akhilesh lead charge; bail hearing posted for Monday

Opposition parties slammed the BJP and Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday for arresting the law student from Shahjahanpur who has accused former Union Minister Swami Chinmayanand of rape.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra slammed the Yogi Adityanath government, saying that police deliberately delayed the arrest of the “accused BJP leader” and acted only after public pressure.

Mr. Chinmayanand was yet to be booked for rape, Ms. Vadra said. “Wah re BJP ka nyay (This is the BJP's justice?),” she tweeted in Hindi.

Ms. Vadra also compared the case to the Unnao episode.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said the BJP had shown its “true face” by sending to jail the student who “displayed courage” and raised her voice against the former BJP MP.

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat, who met the student in Shahjahanpur jail on Thursday, said she appeared “terrified”.

The law student’s counsel Anup Trivedi on Thursday applied for her bail in a district court but the judge scheduled the hearing for September 30.

(With inputs from PTI)

PM stresses the need for peace in Gulf

PM Modi meets President Hassan Rouhani in New York on Thursday. PTIPTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met on Thursday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 74th session in New York. They discussed progress on Iran’s Chabahar Port, which India is helping to develop.

“They [the leaders] especially mentioned operationalisation of Chabahar Port and noted its importance as gateway to and for Afghanistan and the Central Asian region,” a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.

The meeting comes at a difficult time in the relationship between the two countries. India stopped orders for Iranian crude since May 2 following U.S. sanctions that kicked in last November, after Washington pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to limit Iran’s nuclear programme. India was one of the countries that was given an exemption from these sanctions until early May.

“[The] Prime Minister reiterated India's support for giving priority to diplomacy, dialogue and confidence-building in the interest of maintaining peace, security and stability in the Gulf region, which is of vital importance for India,” the MEA statement said.

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