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UN chief Antonio Guterres to visit India in October

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United Nations | UN chief Antonio Guterres will travel to India early next month, his first trip to the country as head of the world body that coincides with the commencement of events marking the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Secretary-General will arrive in New Delhi on October 1. His visit coincides with the beginning of events to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2 next year, Deputy Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General Farhan Haq told reporters here Friday.

On October 1, Guterres will formally open the new UN House in New Delhi and on October 2, the Secretary-General will participate in the closing session of the Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention.

During the visit, he will meet President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on October 3.

He will also meet with Speaker of the Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan before giving a lecture at the India Habitat Centre on Global Affairs on the theme ‘Global challenges, global solutions’.

The Secretary-General will also take part in the General Assembly of the International Solar Alliance. In the afternoon of October 3, he will visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar and will return to New York on October 4.

Guterres had visited India in July 2016, just months ahead of the election for Secretary General. During his visit then, he had met Swaraj.

Replying to a question on Guterres’ trip to the Golden Temple, Haq said that the visit is essentially a personal one as the UN chief wanted to see the holy Sikh pilgrimage site.

When asked if Guterres will be asked questions about the 1984 Sikh riots, Haq said it was a bit “premature” to mention the topics he will bring up.

Haq also expressed the world body’s gratitude to the Indian government for its contribution of USD 1 million to install solar panels and a green roof on the Conference Building of the United Nations Secretariat.

The contribution was received by Under-Secretary-General for Management Jan Beagle, who said that “India’s generous contribution sends a strong message promoting innovation for action on climate change, and to enable greater efficiencies”.

The initiative will help the Secretariat reduce its carbon footprint and promote sustainable energy, Haq added.

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Kerala on edge before Sabarimala opens for all women tomorrow

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Thiruvananthapuram | Kerala on Tuesday waited with bated breath for the opening of the gates of Sabarimala temple tomorrow, the first time since the Supreme Court allowed women of all age groups to enter the shrine, under the shadow of ominous warnings of “mass suicides” and threats of disruption.

The last gasp effort by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the temple, to defuse the situation came to nought with the Pandalam royal family and other stakeholders walking out of a meeting called by it over its reluctance to discuss the issue of filing a review petition against the apex court order.

Meanwhile, hundreds of women devotees of Lord Ayyappa, the eternally celibate deity of Sabarimala, picketed the road to the hill shrine and prevented women they suspected were of menstrual age from proceeding to the shrine some 20 km away.

Lustily chanting “Swamiya Saranam Ayyappa” hailing the Lord, the devotees checked buses and private vehicles for girls and women of the “banned” age group and forced them to abandon their journey.

Among those was a woman journalist Ritu, who claimed she was heading for the temple on assignment and had no intention of entering the shrine, something that could have offended the religious sensibilities of Ayyappa devotees.

“No woman belonging to the banned age group of 10-50 will be allowed to travel further from Nilackal and offer prayers at the shrine when it opens for the monthly pooja tomorrow evening,” asserted a woman protester as tempers ran high at Nilackal, the gateway to Sabarimala.

A small police contingent looked the other way.

Television channels showed some college students, including young girls wearing black dresses, being ordered to get down a bus.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, facing a tough time tackling the highly emotive religious issue which has also acquired political overtones, issued a stern warning to those who dared block devotees from entering the temple.

“We will ensure security to all. Nobody will be allowed to take law into their hands. My government will not allow any violence in the name of Sabarimala,” he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram as followers of Lord Ayyappa virtually besieged Nilackal, about 225 km from the state capital.

“Stern action will be taken against anyone who prevents devotees from going to Sabarimala,” he warned and ruled out any rethink of his government’s decision against seeking a review of the Supreme Court order.

“We will go by what the Supreme Court says,” he asserted.

The Travancore Devaswon Board (TDB), meanwhile, went into a huddle with stakeholders, including the Pandalam royal family representatives and priests, to soothe frayed tempers amid escalating protests by the Hindu right and common Ayyappa devotees. There was, however, no breakthrough.

The meeting also attended by Ayyappa Seva Samajam and Yoga Kshema Sabha ended in a deadlock as the TDB stuck to its stand of not filing a review petition.

“It is very painful and we cannot agree. We wanted a decision on filing the review petition to be taken today itself, but the board said it can be discussed only at the next meeting of TDB on October 19,” Shashikumar Varma, a member of the Pandalam royal family said.

“We all wish that Sabarimala should not be made a war zone,” Varma, the president of Pandalam Royal Palace Trust, told journalists after walking out of the meeting in a huff.

TDB president A Padmakumar, however, dismissed suggestions that the meeting was a “failure”.

“What they (stakeholders) wanted was to file the review petition now itself. But the Supreme Court is closed till October 22. They also wanted to maintain the status quo on the customs and traditions.

“As the Supreme Court has passed a verdict, what can the board do? But the board will continue to talk with them to resolve the issue,” Padmakumar said. He said the October 19 meeting will take up the issue of the review petition.

Kerala has witnessed a series of protests and prayer marches over the last few days over the government’s decision to enforce the Supreme Court order.

The Shiv Sena recently warned of “mass suicides” if women of menstrual age were allowed into the temple. Some other organisations have said women and girls aged between 10 and 50 years will have to tread on them before entering the temple.

Actor-turned-BJP politician Kollam Thulashi went to the extent of saying women of “banned age” visiting the shrine should be “ripped apart”.

Even though Kerala is on edge a day before the temple gates open, some intrepid women like Reshma Nishanth, a 32- year-old Kannur native, has decided to offer prayers there despite being “slut-shamed”.

Claiming she is an ardent Ayyappa devotee, she said she had started the 41-day ‘vrata’ (penance) to trek to the forest temple during the annual pilgrimage season beginning Wednesday. She wears the ‘bead chain’ and locket with the image of Lord Ayyappa as part of the customary rituals before proceeding to Sabarimala.

“A large number of people have extended support for my decision to visit the shrine. But slut-shaming and body shaming are also going on,” she said Monday.

Bindhu, a young homemaker from Kozhikode also plans to visit the shrine with 30 other women during the three-month-long Mandala-Makaravilakku season.

The TDB, meanwhile, covered a signboard at the base camp in Pamba which said the entry of women of menstrual age into the temple was prohibited.

The multi-lingual board reading “Women between 10-50 are not allowed to visit Sannidhanam (Sabarimala temple)” was covered in the evening with a plastic banner that said: “Use of plastic is prohibited here”.

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Centre, states must cooperate in improving coal production, supply: Piyush Goyal

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Bhubaneswar | Union minister Piyush Goyal has said the central and state government agencies must work in tandem to improve coal output and supply.

Goyal, who holds railways and coal portfolios, made this statement while reviewing issues of production and evacuation of the dry fuel in a joint meeting with officials from ministries of coal and railways, as well as East Coast Railway (ECoR), Mahanadi Coalfields (MCL) and the Odisha government here on Monday, an ECoR release said.

To improve the production and supply of coal, Goyal stressed cooperation and mutual understanding of various agencies from the central and state governments, it said.

This would give a strong message to potential investors and business interests regarding a positive industrial and investment climate in the state, he said.

While officials of MCL listed issues pending with the railways and state government, ECoR gave a presentation on the roadmap for achieving more than 55 rakes per day at Talcher collieries and actionable points and assistance required from MCL and the state government, the release said.

Stating that cleanliness of toilets will continue to remain a priority area, Goyal called upon all ‘Swachhagrahis’ to take this on a mission mode. “The focus on clean toilets is the humblest tribute we can pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary,” he added.

Taking stock of all the mechanised laundries coming up in ECoR zone, Goyal was happy to note successful installations of wi-fi at stations in tribal areas.

The minister also visited the state’s coal belt to inspect mining operations in both the Ib Valley and Talcher coalfields of MCL.

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BSP leader’s son booked for brandishing weapon in foyer of 5-star hotel

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In the video, Ashish Pandey, who is the son of BSP leader Rakesh Pandey, can purportedly be seen brandishing a gun in the foyer of the hotel, a senior police officer said.

 

New Delhi | The son of a BSP leader was booked for allegedly brandishing a weapon in the foyer of a five-star hotel here in Delhi, a video of which went viral on social media, police said on Tuesday.

A complaint about the incident was received by the police Monday from the assistant security manager of Hyatt Regency Hotel in RK Puram, they said.

The incident occurred on the intervening night of October 13 and 14, they added.

In the video, Ashish Pandey, who is the son of BSP leader Rakesh Pandey, can purportedly be seen brandishing a gun in the foyer of the hotel, a senior police officer said.

A case was registered against Pandey under the Arms Act, the police said, adding that further investigation was underway.

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