MONSOON SESSION DAY 2 ALSO DISRUPTED: OPP SEEKS SC JUDGE PROBE INTO PROJECT PEGASUS
The row over an alleged surveillance operation using the Pegasus spyware rocked Parliament Tuesday as the Opposition and some parties friendly to the ruling coalition, seeking answers from the government, disrupted proceedings in Lok Sabha and did not allow the treasury benches to transact any business for the second consecutive day — signalling that the first week of the Monsoon Session could be a washout.
The Congress-led Opposition did, however, allow a discussion in Rajya Sabha on the Covid-19 pandemic situation — it led the debate — after the government agreed to its demand for a debate on the floor of the House ahead of a briefing outside Parliament on the Covid preparedness levels.
There were stormy scenes in Lok Sabha where members of the Congress, Trinamool Congress and DMK raised slogans, showed placards over the alleged snooping controversy.
They demanded a probe by a Supreme Court judge into claims that the Pegasus spyware had been used to snoop on journalists, politicians, ministers, judges and others.
In Rajya Sabha, YSRCP members raised issues like the Polavaram project and special status for Andhra Pradesh, members of the SAD and the AAP demanded that the govt repeal the farm laws at the centre of an ongoing protest.
The stage for an offensive was set before the House proceedings began Tuesday with some Opposition MPs staging a protest against the alleged snooping outside Parliament House and Congress members giving multiple adjournment motion notices on the issue in Lok Sabha and notices for discussion in Rajya Sabha.
Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla tried to take up Question Hour, but the protesting MPs shouted slogans against the government. In four minutes, Birla adjourned the proceedings until 2 pm. The House witnessed similar scenes when it met again and it was adjourned for the day at 3 pm.
CONGRESS ALLEGES PEGASUS SPYWARE WAS USED TO TOPPLE GOVERNMENTS
The Congress on Tuesday alleged the Israeli spyware Pegasus was used not just to target individuals but also to topple governments and destroy democratic institutions, referring to the defection game in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh and the post-retirement benefits enjoyed by a former Chief Justice of India.
The comments came after the news portal The Wire reported that the phones of senior Karnataka politicians and their personal assistants were selected as potential targets for surveillance in 2018-19 when the Congress-JDS government was pulled down and a BJP ministry installed.
Only digital forensics can establish if the shortlisted phones were infected with the spyware. But the timing of the selection of the phone numbers, which coincided with the machinations to engineer defections, appears to have prompted the Congress to conclude that hacking indeed took place.
K.C. Venugopal, Congress general secretary in charge of organisation, said: “When we went to the Supreme Court to seek disqualification of our MLAs who had defected, what was the judgment? The judgment has now become instrumental in facilitating horse trading. “The (then) Chief Justice of India who delivered the judgment is now a Rajya Sabha MP. Why is the (Narendra) Modi government running away from a thorough enquiry?”
Chief Justice turned Rajya Sabha member Ranjan Gogoi had presided over politically sensitive cases such as the Ayodhya land dispute, Rafale deal and the NRC update in Assam.
A woman who had complained of sexual harassment against Justice Gogoi was among the potential targets of the Pegasus-enabled surveillance along with her family, according to the media collective that investigated the operation.
OPPOSITION CRACKS IN OPEN AS PM MODI SEEKS UNITY AT COVID BRIEFING
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Parliament floor leaders Tuesday that the Union government and the states must work together as a team and rise above politics to tackle the spread of the pandemic.
Maintaining that India is in a better position than many countries in terms of the ratio of population hit by Covid-19, the Prime Minister underlined that India cannot afford to lower the guard.
The nearly three-hour meeting at Parliament House Annexe to brief floor leaders on the government’s management of the pandemic saw division in the Opposition ranks.
While the Congress, CPM, CPI, AAP and RJD stayed away – so did former BJP ally SAD — leaders of the Trinamool Congress, NCP, SP, Shiv Sena and DMK attended the meeting.
Asked about the Congress decision to stay away from the meeting, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said the Congress wants the government to brief all MPs in the Central Hall of Parliament, and not just floor leaders of parties.
TWO-THIRDS OF INDIANS ABOVE 6 YEARS HAVE COVID ANTIBODIES, BUT 40 CRORE STILL VULNERABLE: ICMR
Two-thirds of India’s general population above the age of 6 years have contracted the Covid-19 infection already but one in three are still vulnerable, the ICMR’S latest national sero prevalence survey to determine the scale of Covid antibodies in the people has revealed.
The survey shows 67.6 per cent people above 6 years have developed antibodies to Covid indicating past infection.
Importantly, the survey has shown that the proportion of sero prevalence was higher for people who had taken Covid vaccines. The sero positivity was 62.3 pc in unvaccinated, 81 pc in those with one vaccine dose and 89.8 pc in people who had taken both the doses.
The fourth round of the survey was done in the last week of June and the first week of July and covered the period after the ferocious second wave. The survey for the first time covered children starting 6 years among the overall surveyed general population of 28,975 people.
KEY COVID NUMBERS
Current Active Cases Countrywide: 4,01,236
New Cases in last 24 hours: 42,106
Recovered in last 24 hours: 36,870
Change in no. of Active cases in last 24 hours: +1,238
No. of deaths in last 24 hours (Total Covid Deaths so far): 3,998 (4,18,511)
(Maharashtra declared 3,656 deaths yesterday, correcting earl;ier erroneous figures.)
Daily Tests (Monday): 19,18,877
Daily Positivity Rate (Proportion of Positives among total Tested): 1.5%
Percentage of Population Vaccinated (At Least One Dose / Two Doses): 24.5% / 6.5%
FRANCE LAUNCHES PROBE INTO PEGASUS SPYING ROW
The cellphones of French President Emmanuel Macron and 15 members of his government may have been among potential targets of surveillance in 2019 by spyware made by the Israeli NSO Group, said a newspaper report on Tuesday.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it is investigating the suspected widespread use of the Pegasus spyware to target journalists, human rights activists and politicians in multiple countries.
French daily Le Monde reported the phone numbers of Macron and others were identified among thousands allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance. In this case, the client was an unidentified Moroccan security service, said Le Monde.
Le Monde was part of a global media consortium that identified the targets from a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International and shared with 16 news organisations.
An official in Macron’s office said authorities would investigate the report, and if the targeting is proven, it would be “extremely grave”.
Le Monde quoted NSO as saying the French president was never targeted by its clients. NSO Group denied that it ever maintained “a list of potential, past or existing targets”. It called the Forbidden Stories report “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”.
CHINA REJECTS HACKING CHARGES BY US AND ALLIES
China on Tuesday rejected an accusation by Washington and its Western allies that Beijing is to blame for a hack of the Microsoft Exchange email system and complained Chinese entities are victims of damaging US cyberattacks. A foreign ministry spokesman demanded Washington drop charges announced on Monday against four Chinese nationals accused of working with the ministry of state security to try to steal US trade secrets, technology and disease research.
The announcement that the Biden administration and European allies formally blame Chinese government-linked hackers for ransomware attacks increased pressure over long-running complaints against Beijing but included no sanctions. “The US ganged up with its allies to make unwarranted accusations against Chinese cybersecurity,” said the spokesman, Zhao Lijian. “This was made up out of thin air and confused right and wrong. It is purely a smear and suppression with political motives,” Zhao said.
JEFF BEZOS BACK ON EARTH AFTER 10-MIN FLIGHT TO SPACE
Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos and three others landed after Blue Origin’s first flight to space with passengers aboard, a key milestone in the company’s effort to make space tourism viable.
The company’s capsule landed in West Texas at about 8:22 a.m. local time, roughly 10 minutes after it launched on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. The crew was to experience a few minutes of weightlessness as the ship soared past the Karman line at an altitude of about 100 km above the Earth. The capsule then drifted back to the Earth beneath six parachutes.
The apparently successful mission caps a landmark month for space-tourism ventures, following by nine days a trip to the heavens by U.K. billionaire Richard Branson on a special plane made by Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc., a rival to Blue Origin. Both companies are set to expand operations with plans to entice super-wealthy customers to pay big money for a unique travel experience.
A 10-foot-tall capsule with large windows and reclining leather seats detached from the booster and ascend beyond the Karman line 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth, where the passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness and unforgettable views. They then strapped back in and fell toward the desert ground with parachutes.
Blue Origin built suspense around the flight with a well-publicized auction. An anonymous bidder offered $28 million to fly alongside Bezos, but what Blue Origin described as a timing conflict left an opening for Oliver Daemen, the 18-year-old son of a Dutch financier. Also on board: Bezos’s brother Mark, 53, and Wally Funk, 82, a former astronaut trainee. Funk was the oldest person to travel to space and Daemen the youngest.
New Shepard, a fully autonomous spacecraft, didn't have any Blue Origin staff astronauts during its maiden human spaceflight.
NEW HEALTH MINISTER SPEAKS ON COVID, IN RAJYA SABHA
Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday said several Indian companies are increasing their production of Covid-19 vaccines and that the country may become the first in the world to develop a DNA-based vaccine.
Replying to a short duration discussion on Covid-19 management in Rajya Sabha, the minister said technology transfer to several companies has started and they will begin production in the coming days to reduce vaccine shortage in the country.
He said that the country has started getting 11-12 crore doses of Serum Institute’s Covishield vaccine per month and Bharat Biotech will supply 3.5 crore doses of its Covid vaccine in August. The minister said that Biological E is conducting third phase of trial of its vaccine and it is expected to come in the market by September-October with 7.5 crore doses.
He said that the states are given vaccine availability projections 15 days in advance and that it’s their responsibility to plan the inoculation drive accordingly.
On the allegation of suppressing Covid deaths, the minister said that the registration of Covid deaths is done by states and that the central government has never asked any state to record less deaths or cases.
Mandaviya told the House that 316 oxygen plants out of the total 1,573 planned have been commissioned and the rest will start operations by August-end.
INDIA MAY HAVE SEEN CLOSE TO 50L COVID DEATHS: US STUDY
Nearly 50 lakh (4.9 million) may have died from Covid-19 in India between January 2020 and June 2021, making it arguably the country’s worst human tragedy since the Partition and Independence, a new US study has said, even as the Delta variant of the coronavirus is causing a fresh wave of concern across the world.
Based on serological studies, household surveys, official data from state-level civic bodies, and international estimates, the Washington-based Center for Global Development outlined in a report released on Tuesday three death estimates in India, all of which pointed to multiples of the official 4,00,000 count.
Even a moderate estimate outlined in the study, based on extrapolation of state-level civic registration from seven states, suggested 3.4 million excess deaths. In a second calculation, applying international estimates of age-specific infection fatality rates (IFR) to Indian seroprevalence data implied a higher toll of around 4 million. A third calculation in the report, based on analysis of the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey, a longitudinal panel of over 8,00,000 individuals across all states, yielded an estimate of 4.9 million excess deaths.
Acknowledging that estimating Covid-deaths with statistical confidence may prove elusive, the report however maintained that the toll “is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count”.
DISSENTERS, ACTIVISTS ALSO FIGURE IN PEGASUS LIST
The phone numbers of former JNU students Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya, Banjyotsana Lahiri and several prominent Indian activists are also among those listed as the potential targets of Israeli spyware Pegasus.
The Wire news portal, in the third part of its revelations from the international collaborative journalistic investigation called the Pegasus Project, reported that those marked as potential targets for surveillance include Ambedkarite activist Ashok Bharti; academic and chronicler of life in Naxal-dominated regions Bela Bhatia; railway union leader Shiv Gopal Mishra and Delhi-based labour rights activist Anjani Kumar.
Anti-coal mining activist Alok Shukla, Delhi University professor Saroj Giri, Bastar-based peace activist Shubhranshu Choudhary and Bihar-based activist Ipsa Shatakshi are also on the list, the report noted.
"Without digital forensics, it is not possible to conclusively establish whether their phones were hacked or infected. But their appearance on the list suggests that they were persons of interest to an unidentified client of the NSO Group that was focused on India," the report said.
The Pegasus spyware was created by Israeli technology firm NSO.
RAJ KUNDRA IN POLICE CUSTODY FOR 3 DAYS
A company of businessman Raj Kundra, arrested in a porn films case, was running operations for a London-based firm floated by a close relative which was into producing pornographic content for India, the Mumbai police claimed on Tuesday.
Kundra (45), husband of Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty, was arrested by the crime branch on Monday night in a case, which it said, related to alleged creation of pornographic films and publishing them through some apps. On Tuesday, he was produced before a court which remanded him in police custody till July 23.
In all, 11 persons have been arrested so far in the case.
SWIGGY RAISES $1.3BN LED BY SOFTBANK, VALUED AT $5.5BN
Food delivery platform Swiggy on Tuesday announced the closing of an approximately $1.3-billion fund-raise at a valuation of $5.5 billion from SoftBank Vision Fund 2, long-term investor Prosus and with participation by existing investors Accel Partners and Wellington Management.
The announcement by the Bengaluru-headquartered company comes close on the heels of rival Zomato’s valuation of around $8 billion.
Swiggy will use the funds to not only grow its food delivery business but accelerate its non-food categories such as hyperlocal grocery deliveries. Swiggy expects the total addressable market for convenience to grow to 500 million users in the next decade.
DEEPAK CHAHAR STARS IN INDIA'S SERIES-SEALING WIN OVER SRI LANKA
Tail-ender Deepak Chahar brought India back from the dead with a steely 69 off 82 balls and script the visiting team's series-sealing victory in the second ODI against Sri Lanka here on Tuesday.
Chasing 276, India were down and out at 193 for seven before Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (19 not out off 28) forged an unbeaten 84-run stand to seal a memorable win for the visitors who extended their record of not losing an ODI on Sri Lanka soil since 2012. It was India's ninth consecutive bilateral series win over Sri Lanka. The third ODI will be played on Friday.
Chahar showed remarkable resolve and composure under pressure to take his team over the line with five balls to spare.
It was expected to be another comfortable chase for India even after Sri Lanka put an improved batting effort to post 275 for nine.
India felt the heat early on in the chase with Prithvi Shaw and Ishan Kishan, who both blew away the opposition in the opener on Sunday, getting out to bad shots. Skipper Shikhar Dhawan (29 off 38) was not at his fluent best for the second game in a row and was trapped in front by Hasaranga.
Manish Pandey (37) was unfortunate to be run out off a deflection from the bowler's hand and Hardik Pandya hitting it straight to mid wicket with hard hands left India reeling at 116 for five.
Suryakumar and Krunal Pandya stitched a 44-run stand before Chahar produced a stunner from nowhere for a remarkable win.
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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
The youth gets together the materials for a bridge to the moon, and at length the middle-aged man decides to make a woodshed with them. - Henry David Thoreau
Don goes into business for himself. He buys a hotdog cart and sets it up in a prime spot on a busy downtown corner, right near a large bank. One day, his friend Jim approaches him and asks Don if he can lend him some money. Don refuses.
"But why?" asks Jim. "Everyone knows you're doing well, and I'm not asking for much."
"Well, Jim, in order to get this spot I had to sign a Non-competition Agreement with that bank over there. According to the terms, they're don't sell hot dogs, and I don't lend money."