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. Maharashtra political crisis: Eknath Shinde claims support of 35 Sena MLAs and 7 independents, releases video in show of strength
2. HC suspends life imprisonment sentence of Fr Kottoor and Sr Sephy in Abhaya case
3. Gold smuggling case: Court records Saritha Nair’s confidential statement
4. Moderate to brisk turnout in bypolls for 3 lok sabha, 7 assembly seats
5. India records 13,313 new COVID-19 cases, 38 deaths
Let's get into the details:
1. The Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra comprising Shiv Sena, the National Congress Party and the Congress has been facing a political storm ever since rebel Sena minister Eknath Shinde claimed the support of almost two-thirds of the Sena's MLAs in the legislature, which is the figure required to form a government without anti-defection.
In a video released by the Shinde camp, 42 rebel MLAs from Maharashtra, including 35 from Shiv Sena and 7 Independents, could be seen together at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Guwahati, Assam.
If the claim is true, that leaves Shinde just two MLAs short of securing two-thirds majority for forming a govt without being penalised under the anti-defection law.
Further denting the coalition government, 3 more Shiv Sena MLAs reached Guwahati to join the rebel camp led by cabinet minister Eknath Shinde on Thursday.
Shinde has maintained that while the NCP and the Congress were growing stronger in the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance, the Shiv Sena, which heads the governing bloc, and its workers were getting systematically weakened.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday night vacated his official residence Varsha, hours after reaching out to Shiv Sena dissidents with an emotional appeal and offering to quit, even as rebel leader Shinde remained defiant and insisted the party should walk out of the "unnatural" ruling alliance Maha Vikas Aghadi, and claimed the support of "enough number" of MLAs.
The anti-defection law provides for the disqualification of MLAs who quit the party voluntarily after being elected under its ticket. Independent MLAs are also prohibited from joining any party after winning the election under this law.
2. The Kerala High Court on Thursday suspended the life sentence imposed on Sister Sephy and Fr Thomas Kottoor, and granted them conditional bail. The CBI Special Court on December 22, 2020, had found the two guilty of the murder of Sister Abhaya, a 20-year-old novice at St Pius Convent, Kottayam, whose body was found in the well of the Convent on March 27, 1992.
The two have been asked to furnish a bail amount of Rs 5 lakh each and have been barred from travelling outside Kerala. It was on a plea submitted by the two convicts that the Division Bench of Justice K Vinod Chandran and Justice C Jayachandran suspended the sentence and granted bail.
The High Court had admitted their appeal against the trial court conviction on January 19, 2021, a month after the CBI Trial Court sentenced them to life imprisonment.
Their appeal had said that the CBI Special Court trial was riddled with "grave illegalities and irregularities". It was also said that the conviction was based on the evidence of unreliable witnesses and the fiction they had thought up.
The CBI is yet to file a counter affidavit in the High Court. The sentences of both the convicts will remain suspended till their appeal is heard.
The Special Court verdict convicting the two was surprising as at least nine crucial prosecution witnesses had turned hostile during the trial stage.
3. The Ernakulam Magistrate Court on Thursday recorded the confidential statement of Saritha Nair, the key accused in the solar case, on the conspiracy charges registered by the police in the context of fresh revelations made by Swapna Suresh, the accused in the diplomatic baggage gold smuggling case. Saritha’s statement was recorded amid allegations made by her that Swapna’s accusations were aimed at political sabotage.
Swapna had earlier stated that Saritha had attempted to contact her directly many times, but the former did not give her a chance. Meanwhile, Saritha claimed that Swapna Suresh had told her in prison that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was not involved in the gold smuggling case and that Swapna had no evidence to prove her claims.
The Ernakulam Principal Sessions Court had also dismissed a petition filed by Saritha seeking a copy of Swapna's 164 statement. The court had said that the statement can only be shared with the investigating agency as the High Court had ruled in this regard, and the statement can't be shared until the investigation wraps up. Saritha's lawyer had said that they will move the High Court for the same. Saritha had also deposed before the special investigation team that politician PC George and Crime magazine editor TP Nandakumar were behind the recent allegations leveled by Swapna.
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Now, back to Daily News Dose.
4. Moderate to brisk turnout was recorded till 1 pm in the bypolls for three Lok Sabha and seven assembly seats spread across five states and one Union territory on Thursday amid an incident of violence in Tripura where a policeman was stabbed.
The counting of votes for the bypolls in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand will be taken up on Sunday.
While Punjab recorded over 22 per cent polling till 1 pm in the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat, around 28 per cent voters in Azamgarh and Rampur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh exercised their franchise in the first six hours of voting.
An impressive voter turnout was recorded in Tripura till 1 pm which is witnessing bypolls to four assembly seats.
While Tripura's Agartala saw 54.20 per cent of the voters exercising their franchise till 1 pm, Surma and Jubarjnagar recorded 53.50 per cent and 46.56 per cent respectively. Town Bardowali saw 52.16 per cent voter turnout, according to the EC.
Over 26 per cent polling was recorded since voting began for the bypoll to the Rajinder Nagar assembly constituency in the national capital.
In Andhra Pradesh, over 44 per cent of the voters exercised their right till 1 pm while 44.81 per cent voters exercised their franchise in the by-election to the assembly seat in Jharkhand's Ranchi district.
Amid the voting process, the opposition Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh wrote to the Election Commission alleging voter intimidation and harassment.
In a series of tweets, the Samajwadi Party alleged wrongdoings in different areas where bypolls are underway.
5. India logged 13,313 new coronavirus infections, taking the total tally of COVID-19 cases to 4,33,44,958, while the active cases rose to 83,990, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Thursday.
The death toll climbed to 5,24,941 with 38 new fatalities. An increase of 2,303 cases has been recorded in the active COVID-19 caseload in a span of 24 hours. The daily positivity rate was recorded at 2.03 per cent and the weekly positivity rate at 2.81 per cent.
The 38 new fatalities include 20 from Kerala, four from Uttar Pradesh, three each from Delhi and Maharashtra, two each from Punjab and West Bengal and one each from Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Mizoram. The ministry stressed that more than 70 per cent of the deaths occurred due to comorbidities.
That brings us to the end of this episode. Be sure to come back tomorrow. As always, thanks for listening to Daily News Dose.