Hello, this is your daily dose of news from Onmanorama. I'm your host, Vishnu, and these are the major news stories of the day:
1. Gold smuggling case: Swapna Suresh moves High Court to quash K T Jaleel's case against her
2. Black flag protests continue against Kerala CM; water cannons, lathi-charge used to disperse agitators in Kannur
3. Manichan, kingpin of Kalluvathukal hooch tragedy, among 33 to be freed from jail
4. Money laundering probe: Rahul Gandhi appears before ED
5. COVID-19 surge not harbinger of 'new wave', says experts
Let's get into the details:
1. Swapna Suresh, a key accused in the gold smuggling case, moved the Kerala High Court on Monday seeking to quash the conspiracy case filed against her by former minister and Left Democratic Front MLA K T Jaleel.
The court has handed over Swapna's secret statement to the Enforcement Directorate. The former UAE consular employee alleged that the Chief Minister's Office, Jaleel, Kerala Police and middleman Shaj Kiran were all conspiring to coerce her into denying her earlier statement in Court. Swapna had recently given a confidential statement before the Magistrate in connection with a money laundering case, which is linked to the gold smuggling case, registered by the Enforcement Directorate. Later she claimed that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, his family members and CPM State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan were involved in shady deals overseas. Swapna also claimed that the baggage containing the currency was sent to the CM when he was in Dubai in 2016. In response Jaleel filed a case last week alleging it was all a conspiracy hatched by Swapna, former MLA PC George and the BJP.
The confidential statement given before the Magistrate against K T Jaleel would be disclosed to the public in two days, Swapna had said. Swapna’s lawyer R Krishnaraj also reacted that there is no need to keep Swapna’s statement against Jaleel confidential. However, Krishnaraj did not respond to the query on whether Swapna’s statement before the Magistrate was related to the crime or a confession.
Meanwhile, the secretary of HRDS, the NGO with which Swapna Suresh works, confirmed the organisation's affiliation with the Sangh Parivar. Speaking to Manorama News, HRDS secretary Aji Krishnan said it is the organisation’s responsibility to protect Swapna as a victim and that the functioning of the organisation was transparent and that he welcomed an investigation. Aji Krishnan also revealed that Shaj Kiran had visited their Palakkad office about one-and-a-half months ago to discuss the utilisation of foreign funds of Believers Church.
2. The Youth Congress, Yuva Morcha, Mahila Morcha and Youth League workers clashed with police in Kannur on Monday while protesting against Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's alleged involvement in the gold smuggling case. The police used water cannons to disperse the black flag protest march in front of the Kannur guest house where the CM was staying. A KSU activist was taken away by the police for waving a black flag at the CM's convoy while entering the Cantonement Road from the Guest House. A CPM worker also attacked the KSU worker. Yuva Morcha and Mahila Morcha activists who were protesting with black flags in Thalappu were taken into police custody. There was an altercation between the police, Youth Congress and Youth League workers near the venue of the CM's event in Taliparamba. The cops lathi-charged the protesters to disperse them.
Pinarayi Vijayan has been targetted by the opposition ever since gold smuggling accused Swapna Suresh levelled serious allegations against him. In response, the police have thrown a tight security blanket around him with the public attending his functions coming under severe scrutiny.
Almost the entire force in the Kannur City and Rural Police limits were deployed for the CM's security.
3. After languishing in prison for the last two decades, Chandran, alias Manichan, the kingpin of the infamous Kalluvathukal hooch tragedy in Kollam, will be freed soon. Governor Arif Mohammed Khan approved the Cabinet's recommendation earlier in the day.
Thirty-one lives were lost and over 500 were hospitalised following the tragedy that rocked the state on October 21, 2000. Though he was sentenced to prison for a life term and 43 years, his term was shortened as part of the remissions program. Besides Manichan, 32 others lodged in prisons across Kerala are also set to be freed ahead of the platinum jubilee of Indian Independence, which will be celebrated nationwide as 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav'.
However, Manichan still has to pay a fine of Rs 22 lakh, which was ordered by the court while passing the verdict, in order to be released from jail. Gathering the amount could prove an obstacle for Manichan in the present circumstance.
Last November, Manichan's brothers Vinod Kumar and Manikantan were set free after the jail advisory committee reported they were ready to lead the lives of law-abiding citizens.
The prime accused in the case, Hyrunnisa alias Kalluvathukkal Thatha, had died of liver problems in 2009. As per the case, those who lost their lives had consumed spurious liquor that was sold at Hyrunnisa's house. The liquor was brought from Manichan's godown.
4. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate on Monday in a money laundering probe linked to the National Herald newspaper after the MP reached the agency's headquarters in Delhi accompanied by a battery of party leaders and supporters. It is understood that he wrote down his statement under section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
The investigating officer of the case is understood to have put possible questions about the incorporation of the Young Indian company, the operations of the National Herald, the loan given by the Congress party to the Associated Journals Limited and the funds transfer within the news media establishment.
The probe pertains to alleged financial irregularities in the party-promoted Young Indian that owns the National Herald newspaper. The National Herald is published by the Associated Journals Limited and owned by Young Indian Pvt Limited.
The Congress party said in a press conference on Monday that the 1937-established Associated Journals Limited faced huge debts and the party, between 2002 and 2011, gave Rs 90 crore to the National Herald newspaper to pay the salaries of the journalists and staffers who worked there.
The agency has questioned senior Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal in April as part of the investigation.
The questioning of the senior Congress leaders and the Gandhis is part of the ED's investigation to understand the share holding pattern, financial transactions and role of the promoters of Young Indian and AJL, officials had said.
The ED recently registered a fresh case under the criminal provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act after a trial court here took cognisance of an Income Tax Department probe against Young Indian Pvt Ltd on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Terming the charges "fake and baseless", the Congress party said the summons to the Gandhis were part of the BJP's "vendetta politics".
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are among the promoters and shareholders of Young Indian.
Swamy had accused Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds, with Young Indian Pvt Ltd paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that Associate Journals Ltd owed to the Congress. The other accused in this case filed by Swamy are the Gandhis' close aides Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda. They have earlier denied any wrongdoing.
5. The current rise in COVID-19 cases is not a harbinger of a "new wave" but an "expected fluctuation" during endemic prevalence, experts have said, emphasising that the lack of mask-wearing and low intake of booster shots may be reasons behind the surge. They also said the recent surge is due to increased travel, social gathering and economic activities resulting in a greater possibility of the transmission of the virus.
Seventeen districts in India, including seven from Kerala and five from Mizoram, are reporting a weekly COVID-19 positivity rate of more than 10 per cent. In 24 districts, including seven from Kerala and four each from Maharashtra and Mizoram, the weekly positivity is between 5 to 10 per cent, an official source said. Noted virologist T Jacob John said the present increase in cases is not likely a surge but a gradual increase that is not steady or uniformly distributed. According to Jacob, a wave must have more numbers than the previous day consistently, which is not the case in the country now.
Meanwhile, India recorded 8,084 new coronavirus infections, taking the tally of COVID-19 cases to 4,32,30,101, while the daily positivity rate went over three per cent after nearly four months, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Monday.
The death toll climbed to 5,24,771 with 10 fatalities.
The daily positivity rate was recorded at 3.24 per cent and the weekly positivity rate was recorded at 2.21 per cent, according to the ministry. The 10 new fatalities include three each from Kerala and Delhi, two from Maharashtra and one each from Mizoram and Punjab.
That brings us to the end of this episode. Be sure to come back tomorrow. As always, thanks for listening to Daily News Dose.