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18 Bihar officials sacked for corruption, assets under scanner

India|: Patna: The Bihar government has suspended 18 officials, including two from the Indian Police Service (IPS), for indulging in large-scale corruption. The action has been taken on the inquiry report of the Economic Offences Unit (EoU) of the state police department. The sacked officials were found to be allegedly not acting responsibly on illegal sand mining, storage and transportation and also assisting the illegal sand mafia. Illegal sand mining had been reported from six districts of south-central Bihar. The action comes barely a fortnight after they were removed from field posting for allegedly helping the sand mafia despite orders from the state government to put a stop to this. “They are being suspended with immediate effect looking at the serious nature of allegations against them,” said a home department order. The state government has also initiated departmental proceedings against these officials, apart from ordering investigation into their properties to know how much illegal property they have amassed in lieu of allowing illegal sand mining to the mafia. According to EoU sources, the sacked officials from the police, mining and Bihar Administrative Services had developed a close nexus with the sand mafia and were found to be in regular touch with them over phone as was evident from the analysis of their mobiles’ Call Detail Records (CDR). According to Mines and Geology Department minister Janak Ram, the illegal sand mining in Sone river which flows through many districts of the state has resulted in Rs70 billion annual loss to the state exchequer. Sand mining in Bihar has been banned since May 1 this year after the company which won mining rights for major quarries fled the scene citing huge losses. Soon the sand mafia got involved in illegal mining in the major riverine areas. The EoU which investigated the case also found use of sophisticated technology by the sand mafias to carry out illegal mining in the major rivers. The officials were stunned when during a recent crackdown, the police seized dozens of high-tech boats fitted with dredging equipment. On Monday night, the police arrested 42 people, mostly labourers, and seized 18 medium and big boats for illegal sand mining in Bhojpur district, a central Bihar district close to Patna. The seized boats were destroyed near the river bank. “They (sand mafias) are exploiting the natural resources mindlessly which is posing serious threat to the river beds, natural flow of water and river species,” Bhojpur district superintendent of police Vinay Tiwari said. The Ministry for Environment and Forests had in July 2019 raised the issue of illegally undertaking sand mining on the riverbeds of Sone river in Bhojpur district saying sand had been excavated at many places by digging up to 50 feet.

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Pakistan PM Imran Khan says remarks on ‘rape victims’ taken out of context

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has dismissed reports attributed to him that he held rape victims responsible for the crime committed against them. “I would never say such a stupid thing,” said Imran Khan in an interview with PBS NewsHour, a popular late night US news programme. “One who commits rape, solely and solely that person is responsible. So let’s be clear about that. No matter how provocative the woman is or whatever she wears, the person who commits rape is fully responsible. Never is the victim responsible,” said PM Khan while replying to a question of the interviewer Judy Woodruff. My comments were deliberately taken completely out of context, said the prime minister while referring to his interview last month with HBO Axios. “More than rape, there are child abuse cases which are going through the roof, so my comments were in that context,” explained Khan. “And I have to say because I know all the interviews I have given. Never would I say such a stupid thing where a person who is raped is somehow responsible. It is always the rapist that is responsible,” said PM Khan. Pakistani women treated with more respect To a question by Woodruff whether because of Islam he was not taking a stronger stance for women, the prime minister said it was absolutely untrue. “Islam gives dignity and respect to women,” he said, adding after traveling all over the world, he found that in the Muslim countries, women were treated with more respect. “In Pakistan, even in other Muslim countries I have seen, women are treated with far more respect and given more dignity,” said Khan. Last month, after an interview with HBO Axios’s Johnathan Swan, PM Imran Khan had come under fire for his remarks on the rising cases of sexual violence in Pakistan. The prime minister spoke on an array of issues during that interview, ranging from military bases; the Afghan peace process, and Pakistan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Legal wrangles hold up US vaccine donations to India

India|: New Delhi: Two months after India dropped local-trial rules for COVID-19 vaccines approved by developed countries, not a single dose has arrived as New Delhi dithers over legal protection sought by companies like Pfizer and Moderna. The United States has in recent weeks donated millions of vaccine doses to countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan and South Korea. Supplies to India, however, are stuck pending conclusion of some “legal requirements”, according to the global COVAX vaccine platform through which such doses are routed. India’s drugs regulator gave emergency use authorisation to the Moderna vaccine in June, as the United States readied donations for India. Fellow US companies Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have not formally sought permission for the use of their shots in India. But India has not met requests for granting the manufacturers indemnity from lawsuits. India’s junior health minister told parliament on Tuesday that a team of officials had been formed to engage with the vaccine makers. “This team is in continuous dialogue with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to discuss and address various issues including the issue of indemnity,” Bharati Pravin Pawar said. Pfizer said it was in discussions with authorities to make its vaccine, developed with Germany’s BioNTech, available in India. It declined to share details of the negotiations, citing confidentiality. Moderna and J&J did not respond to requests for comment. India’s health and foreign ministries did not respond to requests for comment on the indemnity issue. Vaccine alliance Gavi, which co-leads the COVAX facility, said legal protections for vaccine suppliers were mandatory. “All facility participants must have signed indemnity agreements with the manufacturers in question in order to receive doses through COVAX which would also be true for doses received via bilateral deals,” a Gavi spokesperson said in an email. India is heavily reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII). Bharat Biotech - maker of India’s only approved home-grown shot - is struggling to boost supply. SII has already told the government that any indemnity for foreign vaccine companies should also apply to Indian producers. One government source said Moderna’s Indian partner Cipla had offered to bear some legal responsibilities for the vaccine’s use in the country, but that the proposal had been rejected by the US company. “The government cannot give indemnity to anyone,” the official said, declining be named as the discussions were private and no decisions had been finalised. “The government is saying domestic companies can give indemnity on behalf of their foreign partners.” Cipla declined to comment ahead of its financial results. India has administered 441 million total vaccine doses, the largest of any country after China. But only 10% of its adult population of about 944 million people has been inoculated with both doses, with 47% receiving at least one shot.