‘Modi govt paid Rs 100 crore to Israeli company NSO, the maker of notorious Pegasus’

News Network
July 23, 2021

New Delhi, July 23: The budget allocation for National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) rose 10 times to Rs 333.58 crore in 2017-18 from the previous fiscal with activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Friday claiming that it was the year in which Rs 100 crore was paid to Israeli company NSO which makes the controversial spyware Pegasus.

The NSCS advices the Prime Minister on key strategic and security issues and reports to the National Security Adviser.

Bhushan's remarks came as the country is rocked by the revelation of a leaked database, which claimed that Opposition leaders, journalists activists, law enforcement officials and Constitutional authorities among others were potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus.

"In 2016-17, NSA’s budget was Rs 33.17 crore. Next year the budget increased 10 times to Rs 333 crore because Rs 300 crore was added under new head 'cyber security R&D'. This is the year when NSO was paid Rs 100s of crore for cyber hacking of Opposition, journalists, judges, Election Commissioner, activists using Pegasus! Wow," Bhushan tweeted.

It appears that Bhushan is referring to NSCS as the NSA's budget comes under it.

The allocation for 2016-17 was Rs 33.17 crore, which was later revised to Rs 81.03 crore. However, the actual spending was Rs 39.09 crore.

The allocation rose to Rs 333.58 crore in the next fiscal which was further revised to Rs 168 crore. However, the actual expenditure was only Rs 61.18 crore.

In 2018-19 fiscal, which preceeded the April-May Lok Sabha elections, the NSCS budget allocationwas Rs 303.83 crore, which was revised to Rs 841.73 crore while the actual spending was Rs 812.32 crore. 

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News Network
September 22,2021

There is confusion over the UK government's vaccine recognition process for Indian travellers as even though Oxford/AstraZeneca Covishield, the India-manufactured Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, is on an updated international travel advisory, India is not yet on a list of 17 approved countries.

The UK's Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have said on Wednesday that they are unable to confirm this and will require further clarifications even though the advisory states: “Formulations of the 4 listed vaccines, such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Moderna Takeda, qualify as approved vaccines.”

There has been widespread condemnation of the Serum Institute of India manufactured vaccines not being included in a list of eligible Covid-19 vaccines recognised under Britain's reviewed international travel norms, effective from October 4.

From October 4, England’s current traffic light system of red, amber and green countries based on levels of Covid-19 risk will be scrapped and replaced with one red list only. However, there is a lack of clarity over whether Indians vaccinated with any vaccines in India – including Covishield – fall within the UK’s eligibility criteria or not.

“We have to see how it goes. But if we do not get satisfaction we would be within our rights to impose reciprocal measures,” Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said in response to a question on the issue in New Delhi on Tuesday.

“The basic issue is that here is a vaccine, Covishield, which is a licensed product of the UK company, manufactured in India of which we have supplied five million doses to the UK at the request of the government of the UK. We understand that this is being used under the national health system, and, therefore, non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminatory policy and does impact those of our citizens travelling to the UK,” he said.

Covishield and other Indian vaccines being covered as eligible would mean that a pre-departure PCR test is no longer required as long as vaccinated travellers pre-book a day two test post-arrival in England and complete the compulsory passenger locator form in advance.

From October 4, travellers from 17 additional countries with eligible vaccines, including Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, will fall under the UK’s list of recognised jabs of Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines. The DHSC has said this list is reviewed fortnightly.

So far it means, under the new rules from October 4, travellers from India must take a Covid-19 test three days before departure and book in advance for two Covid-19 tests to be taken upon arrival in England. On arrival in England, the passengers must self-isolate in the place they have confirmed on their passenger locator form for 10 days.

A privately paid-for "Test to Release" option does exist at day five, which allows an early end to the 10-day quarantine with a negative PCR test.

The Indian government has said it is working with several countries to recognise India’s vaccine certification on a “mutual reciprocal basis”.

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Agencies
September 26,2021

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Independent Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani announced Saturday that he will join the Congress on September 28 along with former JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar — a move that has been in the making, and was confirmed by party leaders in Delhi.

They will join in the Capital, in the presence of Rahul Gandhi and Gujarat Congress working president Hardik Patel. The date has a symbolic value as it is Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary. 

A Dalit leader, Mevani, 41, first emerged along with Hardik and Alpesh Thakore as the youth face challenging the BJP dominance in Gujarat during the 2017 Assembly elections. Kanhaiya, 34, is the firebrand former JNU student union president who caught national attention with speeches against the Modi government, and then went on to unsuccessfully try his hand at electoral politics as a CPI candidate.

However, since then, much water has flowed under the bridge for both leaders — even as the Congress is in rockier waters than before. So, what do the two bring to the party table? The opinion in the grand old party, as usual, is divided. Some leaders dismayingly see in it the Gandhi siblings’ proclivity to lurch towards the Left.

In a brief statement, Mevani, who had won from the reserved Vadgam Assembly seat in north Gujarat in 2017, with the backing of the Congress, said: “On September 28, I will be joining the Indian National Congress along with Kanhaiya Kumar. I have nothing more to say till then.”

Welcoming “all revolutionary leaders willing to work for the country and strengthen the Congress” Saturday, Hardik said they should do so “without worrying about their personal ambitions and challenges”. Calling Mevani “an old friend” while speaking to PTI, he said Mevani’s entry would strengthen the Congress in the state and at the national level.

Hardik’s reference to “personal ambitions” is interesting given his own frustration within the Congress, which he joined in 2019 after leading a successful Patidar agitation against the BJP. In an interview, he had said the state leadership did not give him any work and was trying to “pull me down”.

During the debate for the JNU student union president’s post in 2015, Kanhaiya, the candidate of the CPI student wing AISF, had shown his oratorical skills with paraphrasing of a couplet to famously attack both the BJP and Congress: “Barbaad Hindustan karne ko ek hi Congress kafi tha… Har rajya main BJP baitha hai, barbaad e gulistan kya hoga.”

Apart from the fact that both Kumar and Mevani are fiery speakers, the Congress also has state-specific calculations.

While Mevani was in talks with the Congress much before the BJP changed its entire ministry in Gujarat, the revamp has made his choice even more significant for the party given the new caste dynamics. The BJP’s new chief minister is a Patel, while AAP too is focusing on the community in its foray into the state that goes to polls next year. The Congress strategy seems to be to woo the OBCs and Dalits. Mevani had emerged as the face of the Dalit protests in Gujarat in the wake of the Una flogging incident.

Hardik, who has been trying for the Congress to make him the state chief, is said to have worked behind the scenes for Mevani’s induction.

Many Congress leaders in Gujarat see the move as timely, given the long stasis in the state unit. The party has not been able to appoint an AICC in-charge for Gujarat since Rajiv Satav’s death in May. Party leaders have been pushing for a clear signal to the OBC and Dalit community.

Apart from this, the Congress hopes the entry of Kanhaiya and Mevani will be good optics given the fact that several young leaders — Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sushmita Dev, Jitin Prasada, Priyanka Chaturvedi and Laliteshpati Tripathi – have left the party in the last two years. The first battleground where the party may use the two is Uttar Pradesh.

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News Network
September 13,2021

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Bengaluru, Sept 13: Leader of Opposition in Karnataka Assembly Siddaramaiah, State Congress president D K Shivakumar along with other party leaders arrived at Legislative Assembly on bullock carts, in protest against inflation, to participate in the Monsoon Session of the state legislature.

The 10-day-long session will be held from September 13 to 24 at Vidhana Soudha. 

The Congress, which recently held its legislature party meeting, chaired by its leader Siddaramaiah, to discuss the party's strategy during the session, has said it will raise the issues of price rise, deteriorating law and order situation and distressing financial position of the state, among others.

This is the first session of the Karnataka legislature after Basavaraj Bommai took charge as the Chief Minister and his new cabinet assumed office, following the exit of state BJP strong man B S Yediyurappa.

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