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Over 1,500 still stranded in snow-marooned in Himachal

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Shimla :Over 1,500 tourists are still stranded in snow-marooned Lahaul-Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, officials said on Wednesday adding that the evacuation is on but it might take days.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has instructed officials to evacuate those stranded on a priority basis, a statement said.
A total of 300 people were evacuated by most of whom were faculty and students from IITs Mandi, Roorkee, Guwahati and Mumbai and some foreigners.
On Wednesday as the weather cleared, the state government and the Indian Air Force (IAF) stepped up their efforts to airlift tourists stranded for the past four days.
“Choppers of the Indian Air Force and the state government are on the job to airlift those stranded. Most of them will be brought to Kullu town,” Kullu Deputy Commissioner Yunus Khan told IANS.
The IAF has deployed three helicopters, while the state is using the Chief Minister’s official chopper.
Early snowfall in higher reaches, cloud burst and heavy rains devastated large parts of the state from September 22 to 24. Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti were the worst affected districts.
Heavy snowfall on the Rohtang Pass has cut off the Lahaul and Spiti valleys affecting a large number of tourists who went to Leh and Lahaul. They have been stranded at number of isolated locations, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) said.
The BRO, a wing of the defence ministry has started clearing the snow from various roads on a war footing. Some of the stretches had over eight feet of snow.
From the Project Rohtang Tunnel, a team under leadership of Major Shashi Chauhan and Captain Aashish Singla along with machinery have been deployed to clear road axis up to Sissu and Koksar in the Lahaul Valley to supplement efforts of the the BRO.
The BRO is also providing medical aid and refreshment to rescued people at the Project Rohtang Tunnel.


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70 killed as massive fire breaks out in chemical warehouses in Dhaka

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Dhaka: At least 70 people were killed as a massive fire on Wednesday night ripped through several buildings also used as chemical and plastic warehouses in an old part of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

The fire broke out at a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a four-storey building named Hazi Wahed Mansion behind a mosque in Old Dhaka’s Chawkbazar area and the flames then quickly spread through four other buildings nearby, including a community centre, fire officials said.

At least 70 people had been killed in the massive blaze, fire officials said, adding that the death toll could rise further as dozens of people were trapped in the buildings and the firefighters were yet to enter into the main spot where the fire broke out.

 

“Most of the bodies were retrieved from the houses around that building while firefighters now prepare to enter into the five-storey building, the main spot in search of more bodies,” a police official at the scene said.

Witnesses said the victims also included passersby, some people who were eating food at a nearby restaurant and some members of a wedding party.

Fire officials said the second, third and fourth floors of the building were used as warehouses and plastic factories and there were some residential flats also.

Over 50 wounded people were being treated at Dhaka’s two major state-run facilities–Dhaka Medical College Hospital’s burns unit and Sir Salimullah Medical College.

Many people were injured after they jumped off the building that housed several families.

The officials earlier said 37 firefighting units were moved to the scene but narrow lanes made it difficult for fire engines to reach the spot forcing the firefighters to use long hose pipes to set off the blaze.

A nearly identical incident of fire in 2010 in an old Dhaka building, which was also used as a chemical warehouse, had killed more than 120 people in one of the worst fire tragedies in Bangladesh.

It had sparked a public outcry, demanding the relocation of chemical warehouses and stores from the area, but little has been done in the last nine years. PTI

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SC agrees to hear plea seeking review of Rafale verdict

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear a plea seeking review of its verdict in the Rafale case. Former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan had earlier moved the apex court, seeking review of its December 14 judgment on the Rafale fighter jet deal. The petitioners alleged that the court relied upon “incorrect claims” made by the Centre.

When Prashant Bhushan requested the bench led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) to hear the petition on Rafale Deal, Ranjan Gogoi said, “Will do something for the listing of the case as a bench is to be constituted for it.”

The bench of CJI Gogoi, Justices SK Kaul and K M Joseph had earlier dismissed all four petitions seeking a court-monitored probe, saying it found “no occasion to really doubt the process” of decision making, pricing and selection of offset partners.

 

Declining to interfere in the Rafale deal, the bench said the perception of individuals cannot be the basis for a roving enquiry in matters of sensitive nature.

The judges said, “We do not find any substantial material on record to show that this is a case of commercial favouritism to any party by the Indian government, as the option to choose the IOP (Indian Offset Partner) does not rest with the Indian government”.

One of the issues raised by the petitioners was the choice of Reliance Aerostructure Ltd as an offset partner by Dassault Aviation Ltd, which manufactures the Rafale.

They alleged that the deal was tweaked to favour the Anil Ambani-owned company.

Earlier this month, a CAG report on Capital Acquisitions in Indian Air Force, which was tabled in Rajya Sabha, noted that the Rafale deal negotiated by the NDA government was 2.86 per cent lower than the previous one from UPA-era.

Compared to the earlier deal in which 126 Rafale jets were to be purchased, according to the CAG report, the country has saved 17.08 per cent in costs towards the India Specific Enhancements to be fitted in the 36 Rafale jets under the new deal. The CAG also noted that there was an improvement of only one month in the delivery schedule of the 2016 contract in comparison to the 2007 offer.

After the apex court’s verdict on Rafale, a controversy erupted over a paragraph in its 29-page ruling. On Page 21, in Para 25 of the judgment, the bench stated that the pricing details of the Rafale was shared with the CAG which, in turn, shared its report with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

But Mallikarjun Kharge, who chairs the PAC, says no such report has come to him yet and “neither does the CAG know about it”

A day after the Rafale judgment, the Centre had moved an application in the Supreme Court for carrying out a correction in the paragraph. The Centre pointed out that “misinterpretation” of its note has “resulted in a controversy in the public domain”. In the application, the Centre said the two sentences in paragraph 25 of the judgment appeared to have been based on the note submitted by it along with the pricing details in a sealed cover, but indicated the words used by the court lent a different meaning.

Clarifying its position, the Centre said it did not say that the CAG report was examined by PAC or a redacted portion was placed before Parliament.

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Cong attacks PM over India-Saudi statement, says he ‘forgot’ to write Pak’s name

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New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the joint statement issued after his talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying the PM “forgot” to write the name of Pakistan in the document.

The statement, issued hours after the Modi-Crown Prince talks, said the two leaders condemned the Pulwama attack in the strongest possible terms and called on all countries to renounce the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. However, it did not name Pakistan in this context.

“Modiji on February 18 said ‘the time for talks with Pakistan is over, and now action will be taken’,” Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted.

 

“Modiji on February 20 saying –India and Pakistan will talk as Modiji has been trying for since May 2014,” he said, referring to a paragraph in the document that talked about the Indian and the Saudi sides agreeing onthe need for creation of conditions necessary for resumption of comprehensive dialogue between India and Pakistan.

The prime minister “forgot” to write the name of Pakistan in the joint statement, Surjewala said.

The Crown Prince “appreciated consistent efforts made by Prime Minister Modi since May 2014 including Prime Minister’s personal initiatives to have friendly relations with Pakistan,” the joint statement said.

“In this context, both sides agreed on the need for creation of conditions necessary for resumption of comprehensive dialogue between India and Pakistan,” it said.

The talks between the prime minister and the Saudi Crown Prince came days after the February 14 attack by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) that killed 49 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

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