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Tablighi Jamaat attendees accused of obscene commentary

MMG Hospital of Ghaziabad had written a letter to Chief Health Superintendent complaining about the obscene behaviour of Tablighi Jamaat attendees. In the letter, it was informed that the Nizamuddin event’s attendees were roaming around in the ward without any pants. “These men are indulging in obscene commentary as well,” the letter said further.Take a…

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MMG Hospital of Ghaziabad had written a letter to Chief Health Superintendent complaining about the obscene behaviour of Tablighi Jamaat attendees. In the letter, it was informed that the Nizamuddin event’s attendees were roaming around in the ward without any pants. “These men are indulging in obscene commentary as well,” the letter said further.

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‘Height of incompetence’: Twitterati demands Piyush Goyal’s resignation after Shramik Special train heading from Gujarat to Bihar ends up in Bengaluru

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Editor’s Note: This article is based on a Deccan Herald report which has been taken down from its website, without any clarification till now. The article will be updated if there is any new information.

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In a baffling incident, a Shramik Special train heading from Surat in Gujarat to Chhapra in Bihar strayed way off its intended route and ended up in Bengaluru, according to a media report.

Deccan Herald reported that the train left from Surat on 16 May and was scheduled to reach Chhapra in north Bihar on 18 May. However, sources told the newspaper that the train veered off the correct track at Maharashtra’s Bhusaval, and instead of going northwards towards Prayagraj and then onwards to Chhapra, went southwards to Bengaluru.

The newspaper reported that due to the (rather long) diversion, the train took a total of nine days to reach its intended destination, and only reached Chhapra on 25 May.

Several people on Twitter expressed astonishment at the scale of the mix-up with several of them criticising the administrative “incompetence” that led to the incident.

Some users even said that Minister for Railways Piyush Goyal should resign due to confusion over trains not reaching their scheduled destinations—

There have been previous instances as well of Shramik Special trains taking unexpected routes to reach their intended destinations. On 21 May, hundreds of migrant workers had boarded a special train from Vasai Road in Maharashtra for Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh and were baffled when it arrived at Rourkela.

However, railway officials had claimed that it was a planned diversion due to traffic congestion.

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“There is no question of the train losing its way or its driver forgetting the route. We were very much aware that it is going to pass through Rourkela station. During its halt, the train received water and other necessary things before proceeding towards its destination,” Rourkela Station Manager Abhay Mishra told PTI.

The Press Information Bureau also claimed the same in a statement —

On 15 May, several passengers were left hassled in West Bengal due to an apparent communication gap between two divisions of the Railways about the final destination of a Shramik Special train. According to The Telegraph, officials from the South Western Railway had information that the train was travelling to Purulia and tickets were given to passengers accordingly. However, the train did not stop at Purulia and Eastern Railway officials said that the train’s destination was New Jalpaiguri.

Rajasthan Patrika also reported that a train left Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus on 21 May, but reached Purulia. In yet another instance, a train travelling from Bengaluru to Uttar Pradesh’s Basti reportedly reached Ghaziabad.

With inputs from PTI

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India should go back to negotiating table with Taliban, but without abandoning Kabul in forthcoming intra-Afghan talks

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There have been some possibly game-changing incidents recently. Those were related to Afghanistan but relates closely also to Pakistan and India. For the latter, these incidents require some fervent thought, its preoccupation with the fast-spreading virus notwithstanding.

First, the most obvious and probably the least relevant, the visit of US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad to New Delhi, and his subsequent statement that India should talk directly to the Taliban. Outgoing State department head for South Asia Alice Wells topped that with her statement that India was a ‘critical player in Afghanistan, rather a change from the stance of excluding New Delhi for years due to Pakistan’s strong objections. Then came a definite statement from Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban ‘spokesperson’ that it had no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

This followed a series of tweets ostensibly from a senior Taliban functionary that the Taliban would now shift its attention to Kashmir. The Taliban have said this before, but the timing is crucial. On 1 May, Shaheen for the first time was invited to an online interview as part of a seminar organised by a  Delhi based think tank. The interview by a senior police officer was clearly aiming for specific answers to the question of how to break the logjam between Kabul and the Taliban.

At that interview, Shaheen wondered why this was the first time he had been invited in his official position by an Indian group, and accused Delhi of hearing only one side of the story. The interview also showed that the Taliban continued to adroitly exploit Kabul’s divisions to the full. Their refusal to accept Kabul’s negotiating team was after all being echoed by Afghans themselves.

Two weeks later, came the series of surprise events. On 17 May, a power-sharing deal was announced with President Ashraf Ghani agreeing that CEO Abdullah Abdullah’s party be given half the cabinet posts. Abdullah was also made chairman of the High Council that negotiates peace.

Days later came the announcement by the Taliban of a ceasefire for Eid ul Fitr, a gesture that Kabul reciprocated by releasing a tranche of prisoners. More surprises were to come. The Taliban appointed a Shia Hazara Mawlawi Mehdi Mujhaid as a district governor for his home district Balkhab. Mehdi is hardly a person of influence to make much difference to an ethnic group that has been heavily targeted by the Taliban. But the gesture, the very first of the kind, was significant. The Taliban were reaching out. They meant business.

For India, the question of talking to the Taliban has so far hinged on one central issue that the grouping was wholly controlled by the Pakistanis, which was evident during the IC814 hijacking of 1999. Since then, it is true that the Taliban relationship with its mentor has seen its ups and downs, particularly when Islamabad has seen fit to imprison or murder leaders who did not toe its line.

The present leader of the negotiating team Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a founder of the Taliban, and an Afghan to the core of his heart was one such and was kept under arrest for nine long years for daring to open links to Kabul for peace. Baradar is now heading the Doha office. But his family appears to be still in Pakistan. The effect of that on his negotiating position can hardly be wondered at.

Here’s another issue. The Defence Intelligence Agency analyses agree with Indian reservations. A recently released Report to Congress quoted it as saying that Pakistan will continue to influence the peace talks and that the Taliban effectively continue to be dependent on its for shelter. But there’s a thought here. The members of the Doha office, which includes five detainees from Guantanamo, is as Afghan as it is likely to get.

Leaders like Baradar and Mullah Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa are respected on their own merits, unlike others who derive their clout from Pakistani support. India’s position that the peace talks should be ‘Afghan led’ is more or less met. It will also want to see whether Taliban operational leaders – also Afghan – have the stomach or the capacity to get rid of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed cadres from its ranks.

The answer to that is, probably. But for that, they need the resources and the space to free themselves from an oppressive Pakistan hand. If Kabul and the international community were able to offer that space to a section of ‘free’ Taliban, much might be accomplished.

A second causal factor for the shifts noted above is that the economic costs of COVID-19 have in all probability hugely increased the US urgency to leave Afghanistan. That translates into a greater willingness to leave Pakistani objections aside for India’s support in the one area where it still holds the cards; which is the trust that it enjoys within Kabul, and among the Afghan people.

Though India has more faith in Abdullah Abdullah, rather than the mercurial Ghani, its fundamental operating principle has been that a legitimate government should be central to talks, and not a sideshow. Khalilzad may swear that he ‘consults’ Kabul on everything, but the US-Taliban peace agreement was negotiated over Kabul’s head and with scant regard for its negotiating space. It is undoubtedly true that a divided Kabul hasn’t helped Afghan or US interests. The power-sharing deal is, therefore, a major breakthrough and the White House could not be more relieved. It seems therefore that at least one serious impediment to the intra Afghan dialogue has been removed.

A third factor arises directly from the above. With the US troops readying to come down from 12,000 odd to the low thousands, two issues arise. One is that while the White House wants a quick and speedy ‘out’, the US intelligence community is highly unlikely to simply throw in the bag in such a volatile area. Indian and US Agencies enjoy a degree of confidence, and New Delhi would be a preferred partner who — unlike Pakistan — has strong stakes in regional stability, particularly as it stares down an increasingly hostile China.

Then there is also the fact that nature abhors a vacuum. Chinese munificence is likely to follow soon, and a few million yen can go a long way in cash-starved Afghanistan. New Delhi has no alternative but to combine forces with others to offer Kabul an alternative. India has palpably hesitated on offering Kabul infrastructure that it fears will be eventually used by the Taliban. The Chahbahar port is only one example.

The fact that “Kabul” could include the Taliban cannot deter New Delhi. Between the two, Beijing is by far the greater threat. And particularly because its Afghan policy seems to be steered by Pakistan.

Finally, there is the basic fact that the Taliban have never shown the slightest inclination to interfere in Kashmir or indeed shown any particular virulence against India. Attacks on Indian missions have been clearly traced back to Pakistan in the past, and the IC-814 incident was more than a decade ago. A lot of blood has flowed down the Amu Darya since then. Afghanistan has changed too, and it will demand more rights and privileges than a previous Taliban government offered. There is much that India can offer to help in governance and aid.

In sum, therefore, it seems India could gain by talking to the Taliban, but with two caveats. First, it must on no account be seen as abandoning Kabul, which will need all the clout it can get in forthcoming intra-Afghan talks. Therefore a reaching out should be done quietly and semi-officially. Second, it must eventually be accompanied by a reach out to China first, and then Pakistan.

That may seem ‘Mission Impossible’ at a time when Chinese troops are knocking at our gates. But if there’s anything that the pandemic has taught us it is this. Matters can change very rapidly indeed. Get going with the possible, meanwhile. Just remember that the impossible could catch up.

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Cancellations, confusion continue on Day 2 of domestic operations; 325 departures till 5 pm, flights remain suspended in Bengal

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New Delhi: Airports across the country handled 325 departures and 283 arrivals with 41,673 passengers till 5 pm on Tuesday even as flight cancellations continued with passengers facing difficulties.

Moreover, domestic operations resumed in Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday, a day after the restart of air travel across India.

West Bengal was the only state where no domestic services took place.

As major airports like Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad have a severe cap on the number of fights they can handle, cancellations continued on Tuesday.

Representational image. PTI

Just like Monday, a section of passengers reached their airports on Tuesday only to be informed that their flights have been cancelled. Many people vented their ire on social media.

“Smooth operations of domestic civil aviation operation. Our airports have handled 325 departures & 283 arrivals with 41,673 passengers till 5pm on 26 May 2020, the second day after recommencement of domestic flight,” Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Tuesday.

“Final report for the day will be prepared after details come in at midnight,” he added.

Chennai airport was scheduled to handle only 20 arrivals and departures each on Tuesday, said senior government officials, even though Puri on Sunday night said that it can handle up to 25 arrivals per day and has no limit on the number of departures.

Even in Andhra Pradesh, where domestic services resumed on Tuesday, Vijayawada and Vizag airports were scheduled to handle just eight flights each during the day, officials said.

On Sunday night, the central government had said these two airports can handle up to 20 per cent of the pre-lockdown flights from Tuesday onwards.

The Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, which is India’s largest, was scheduled to handle around 277 flights on Tuesday, the officials said, adding that around 25 flights were cancelled during the day.

On 23 May, the government officials had said they expected Delhi airport to handle around 380 flights per day from 25 May onwards.

Mumbai airport, India’s second busiest airport, handled just 41 flights on Tuesday. On Monday, it had handled 47 flights.

On Sunday night, the central government had clarified that Mumbai will handle a maximum of 50 flights per day from Monday.

Aarti Chaddha, a member of Aam Aadmi Party’s social media team, had booked a seat on Tuesday’s Mumbai-

Chandigarh flight of IndiGo for her mother who had been stranded in Mumbai for the last two months due to the lockdown.

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This flight was cancelled and when Chaddha asked IndiGo about it on Twitter, the airline responded the flight has been “impacted” due to the restrictions imposed by the Maharashtra government.

She said on Twitter on Tuesday, “Can we get the list of 25 flights listed to take off from Mumbai? Airlines are booking tickets, not sending cancellation messages, cancelling last minute, deducting the money.”

West Bengal would be resuming domestic flights from Thursday.

However, its Kolkata and Bagdogra airports will handle only 20 flights each per day.

On Sunday night, the central government had announced that Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal will not handle any domestic flights on Monday and major airports like Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad will see reduced operations from Monday onwards.

West Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu had expressed reluctance in resuming domestic flights from Monday due to rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The officials said the first flight on Tuesday to Vijayawada landed from Bengaluru at 6.55 am, carrying 79 passengers. The Spicejet flight returned to Bengaluru with 68 passengers, they added.

At the Vizag airport, the first flight landed from Bengaluru at 7 am.

“At Vijayawada, four flights are of IndiGo, two each are of SpiceJet and Air India,” they added.
Visakhapatnam airport is scheduled to handle eight flights on Wednesday, the officials mentioned.

After a two-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, domestic flights resumed in India on Monday with 428 flights carrying 30,550 passengers to their destinations. Around 630 flights were cancelled.

Thousands of passengers had reached airports early in the morning on Monday only to be told by the staff of airlines that some of their flights have been cancelled causing hardship to them.

Gripped by anxiety and uncertainty, some came from faraway towns and were on the road for several hours wanting to catch the first flight to their respective states.

The varied COVID-19 quarantine and self-isolation rules in states and also the Union Health Ministry guidelines for arriving travellers also compounded their travel woes.

The airlines, which were allowed to operate one-third of their pre-lockdown domestic services from May 25, had to further truncate their flight schedules on Sunday leading to cancellations. All carriers except GoAir operated their flights on Monday and Tuesday.

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