18 February 2021
A) Delhi court acquits Priya Ramani in M.J. Akbar’s defamation case; rejects argument that he was a man of ‘stellar reputation’
A Delhi court on Wednesday dismissed former Union Minister M.J. Akbar’s criminal defamation complaint against journalist Priya Ramani for her tweets accusing him of sexual harassment. Women have the right to put their grievances at any platform of their choice and even after decades, the court said while acquitting Ramani in the case. The court also rejected Akbar’s argument that he was a man of stellar reputation. At the height of the #MeToo movement in 2018, Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment. Following Ramani’s accusation, about a dozen former colleagues of Akbar also came out with different allegations against him. In response, Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani in October 2018. Akbar claimed that Ramani’s tweet and her article accusing him of sexual harassment were defamatory, and lowered his reputation. He has also said that Ramani didn’t produce any evidence to prove her story. However, Ramani pleaded truth as her defence in relation to the allegations of sexual harassment against Akbar. She maintained that the criminal case was initiated to create a chilling effect against women who spoke out about their experience of sexual harassment at his hands..Following the verdict, Ramani said she felt vindicated on behalf of all the women who have ever spoken up against sexual harassment at the workplace. Speaking to The Hindu, Ramani said that this case was not about him, it was about what women face at the workplace. It feels amazing to have their truth validated in a court of law. His victory belongs to everyone who spoke up during the #MeToo movement.
B) Farmers call for rail roko protest from noon to 4 pm tomorrow.
Protesting farm unions have called for a nationwide rail roko protest on Thursday, between noon and 4 pm, which they hope will force the government to break the ongoing deadlock over three farm laws. However, the response to a similar highway protest earlier this month suggests that the mass impact of such blockades may be limited to a few states. The Railways has also focussed on the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal in the deployment of 20,000 additional security personnel ahead of the protest. The protest call has been issued by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella group of most of the unions participating in the agitation. From 12 noon to 4 pm, farmers will stop trains by going to their nearest railway station. They will welcome the trains with flower garlands and then communicate with railway passengers. Agitating farmers will also provide water, milk and tea to the passengers, said Bharatiya Kisan Union-Tikait leader Rakesh Tikait, on the eve of the protest. He appealed to farmers to remain peaceful during the protest, and to commuters to take time to listen to farmers’ demands. A successful rail roko protest across the country will force the government to break the deadlock, said Kul Hind Kisan Sabha leader Baldev Singh Nihalgarh.
C) Govt. denies link between Char Dham project and Uttarakhand disaster.
The government on Wednesday denied in the Supreme Court any link between the Char Dham road-widening project in Uttarakhand and the recent flash floods in the Rishi Ganga valley, which claimed many lives and damaged the Tapovan hydro project. The denial, before a Bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman, came from the government in response to a communication from the high powered committee (HPC) chairperson Ravi Chopra connecting the tragedy with the Char Dham project. The court asked the government to file a response in two weeks. The 899-km-long Char Dham highway project connects the four shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath in the Garhwal Himalayas. The project is under the Supreme Court’s scanner after an NGO, Citizens for Green Doon, raised environmental concerns over the cutting of trees and harm to the fragile Himalayan ecology caused by the widening of the existing mountain roads. The high-powered committee was formed to be the eyes and ears of the Supreme Court on the project. However, it had not been unanimous in its views. In January, the government had supported a majority view within the committee favouring the necessity of broadening the Himalayan feeder roads to the Indo-China border in order to facilitate troop movement. The Ministry of Defence, in an affidavit in court, had said it was unfortunate that three of the HPC members gave a minority view to reconsider a December 15, 2020 circular of the Ministry of Road and Transport and Highways, which fixed the carriageway width of the feeder roads at seven metres with a paved shoulder spanning 1.5 metres on either side. The minority view had said the December 15 circular needed a re-think considering its long-term impacts on the fragile Himalayan terrain and sensitive ecosystem.
D) Punjab urban local body election results: Congress wins 6 of 7 municipal corporations.
The ruling Congress won six of the seven Municipal Corporations (MCs) in the civic polls in Punjab for which results were declared on February 17, officials said. The Congress won in Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, Abohar, Batala and Pathankot. The result for the seventh corporation was expected later in the day. The counting of votes for yet another corporation will take place on Feb. 18. Over 70% of voting was recorded in the Punjab civic body elections on February 14, 2021.Over 70% of voting was recorded in the Punjab civic body elections on February 14, 2021. The outcome of the elections, held against the backdrop of the farmers’ agitation against the BJP-led government at the Centre, has come as a boost for the Congress, which is also hoping to win the Assembly elections due early next year. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the BJP failed to make a mark in the elections for the municipal corporations.
E) Have forgiven my father’s killers, says Rahul Gandhi.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said the killing of his father Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 brought him tremendous pain but he nursed no anger or hatred towards those responsible for it. During an interaction the Congress MP had with students of a State-run women’s college in Puducherry, he was asked, that his father was killed by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). What are his feelings about these people? and he answered by saying violence cannot take away anything. He don’t have anger or hatred towards anybody. Of course, he lost his father and for him it was a very difficult time, he said, adding, it was similar to having one’s heart severed. He felt tremendous pain, but he don’t feel any hatred or any anger. He forgive, he said to rounds of applause. Gandhi was interacting with students of Bharathidasan Government College for Women in Puducheery.
F) Petrol prices: PM Modi blames previous governments.
On a day when the price of petrol crossed the ₹100 mark, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the middle-class would not have been burdened if the previous governments had focused on reducing India’s energy import dependence. Without referring to the relentless increase in fuel prices, which are linked to international rates, he said India imported over 85% of its oil needs in the 2019-20 financial year and 53% of its gas requirement. Can a diverse and talented nation like ours be so energy import dependent? he asked, addressing an online event to inaugurate oil and gas projects in poll-bound Tamil Nadu. He do not want to criticize anyone but he want to say (that) had they focused on this subject much earlier, their middle-class would not be burdened, he said. The price of petrol crossed the ₹100 per liter mark in Rajasthan after fuel rates were hiked for the ninth day in a row. Since India imports the bulk of the oil it needs, retail rates are benchmarked to international prices, which have risen in recent weeks. Opposition parties, including the Congress, have criticised the price hikes, blaming it on the Modi government raising taxes to scoop out the benefit that arose from international oil rates plunging to a two-decade low in April/May last year. While global rates have rebounded with pick-up in demand, the government has not reduced the taxes, which are at a record high. Central and state taxes make up for 60% of the retail selling price of petrol and account for over 54% of the diesel price.
A) Amazon used a secret strategy to dodge Indian regulators, says Reuters report.
Amazon favoured big sellers on its India platform, and used them to manoeuvre around rules meant to protect the country’s small retailers from getting crushed by e-commerce giants, according to internal documents accessed by Reuters. The documents lay bare that for years, Amazon has been giving preferential treatment to a small group of sellers on its India platform, publicly misrepresented its ties with the sellers, and used them to circumvent increasingly tough regulatory restrictions in India, the Reuters report said. Indian traders, both brick-and-mortar and smaller online sellers, have long alleged that Amazon’s platform largely benefits a tiny number of big sellers and that the American giant engages in predatory pricing that has crushed legions of retailers. Amazon rejects this: It says it complies with Indian law, which stipulates that an e-commerce platform can only connect sellers to buyers for a fee, unlike in the United States, where Amazon can both act as middleman and sell goods directly to consumers. The company also says it runs a transparent online marketplace and treats all sellers equally. The internal Amazon documents contradict those claims, revealing how the e-commerce giant has helped a small number of sellers prosper, giving them discounted fees and helping one cut special deals with big tech manufacturers such as Apple Inc. The documents also show that the company has exercised significant control over the inventory of some of the biggest sellers on Amazon.in, even though it says publicly that all sellers operate independently on its platform. The documents reviewed by Reuters were dated between 2012 and 2019. They included drafts of meeting notes, PowerPoint slides, business reports and emails. One of the notes contains a frank appraisal of Modi’s straight forward style of thinking, sizing him up as not an intellectual.
B) Conservative U.S. radio host Limbaugh dies at 70.
Provocative and polarising U.S. talk radio luminary Rush Limbaugh, a leading voice on the American political right since the 1980s who boosted and was honoured by former President Donald Trump, has died at age 70 after suffering from : lung cancer, Fox News reported on Wednesday. Mr. Limbaugh’s appeal and the success of his top-rated radio show arose from his brash and colourful style, his delight in baiting liberals and Democrats and his promotion of conservative and Republican causes and politicians. His radio show became nationally syndicated in 1988 and quickly built a large and committed following, making him wealthy in the process. Mr. Trump, a former reality TV personality with a showman’s instincts who pursued right-wing populism during four years in the White House, awarded Mr. Limbaugh the highest U.S. civilian honour the Presidential Medal of Freedom. First lady Melania Trump placed the medal around his neck after her husband lauded Mr. Limbaugh as a special man beloved by millions of Americans.
C) ‘U.S. will pay over $200 million to WHO’
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that his country would pay the World Health Organization (WHO) $200 million by the end of this month. The announcement is significant as former U.S. President Donald Trump had begun the process of withdrawing the U.S. from the WHO, a process stopped by his successor President Joe Biden. He is pleased to confirm that by the end of the month, the United States intends to pay over 200 million in assessed and current obligations to the WHO. Mr. Blinken told Foreign Ministers of UN Security Council member countries, at an online meeting to discuss the to the pandemic. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was also part of the meeting. This is a key step forward Antony Blinken in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member and it reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic even as they work to reform it for the future, Mr. Blinken said. The U.S. is the largest funder of the WHO contributing more than 15% of its total funds. Mr. Trump had pulled the U.S. out of the WHO. which he had called a puppet of China. This process would have been complete in mid-2021, but Mr. Biden reversed it hours after assuming office last month.