14.7.20

Inter-state migration touched 9m annually between 2011 and 2016

The Covid-19 pandemic may have brought the vulnerability of migrant workers into focus but data show more and more people have been moving from their native villages in search of work opportunities to other states over the decades. The magnitude of inter-state migration in India accelerated from five to six million annually between 2001-11 to nine million annually between 2011-16.

Urban population in India grew from 286.1 million in 2001 to 377.1 million in 2011 which constitutes 31.1% of the total population residing in 53 urban agglomerations with more than a million people. Nearly 14% of this urban population was estimated to be living below the poverty line in 2011-12 with 65.5 million living in slums. India’s urban population is expected to rise to around 606 million by 2030.

These figures are part of a comprehensive voluntary national review report on a wide range of sectors and progress made presented by Niti Aayog at the United Nations High-level Political Forum on sustainable development on Monday.

The report, Decade of Action: Taking SDGs from Global to Local, emphasises how India is focussing on making the SDG monitoring and implementation more localised for better results. It maps India’s progress, challenges and the way forward on various SDG goals ranging from no poverty, zero hunger, good health and gender equality to sanitation, sustainable cities and reducing inequalities.

In the backdrop of the pandemic, Niti Aayog, vice-chairman, Dr Rajiv Kumar, asserted that “the role of international cooperation is more critical than ever before.”

Despite the pressure on cities, the report says “migration can, in fact, be turned into a strong economic opportunity by overcoming bottlenecks such as migrants’ lack of access to healthcare, social entitlements, education for children, lack of improvement in skill profile and employability”.

A significant proportion of migrants and the poor in cities are employed in the informal economy which makes them vulnerable, especially in times such as the Covid-19 crisis. The report says that to mitigate the impact on various sectors including migrants both the central government and the states have announced an economic relief package with both short term and longterm measures.

Google to Invest $10 b in India Over 5-7 Years

Google will invest $10 billion in India over the next five to seven years with the aim of consolidating its position in the digital ecosystem of the world’s fifth-largest economy that is emerging as a battleground for global internet giants.

Alphabet Inc-owned Google’s outlay for India — nearly double the $5.7 billion investment made by rival Facebook in the digital platform of India’s largest conglomerate Reliance Industries in April — will be deployed through a mix of investments and partnerships, chief executive officer Sundar Pichai said.

Pichai neither denied nor confirmed reports of Google’s interest in Jio Platforms or a stake acquisition in Vodafone Idea. The country-specific nature of the fund is the first of its kind in the world for Google. “We’ll do it (deploy funds) through a mix of equity investments in large Indian companies, startups, partnerships, as well as infrastructure investments such as data centres,” he said. The fund size, he said, provides an “opportunity to directly make larger investments” in bigger companies.

Google dominates search, video, maps and email in India. Nine out of 10 smartphones sold in India come with Google’s Android OS.

Commenting on the equalisation levy imposed by India, Pichai said he favoured adoption of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development framework to tax foreign digital transactions.

The mega-investment plans are also one way to combat the issue, which has seen a pushback from other US technology companies as well. “Investing in a country directly is the best way to address the problem in the long run,” Pichai said.

Pichai, among the most successful Indian immigrants in the US, has been critical of US President Donald Trump’s move to suspend H-1B visas. Google was the top recipient of the visas in 2019, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Google will be looking out for companies that can build for India and scale up quickly across languages, according to Pichai, who said capabilities such as artificial intelligence will make it very "interesting" for Google.

“We want to scale beyond English and really invest in access, so that effectively Indians in their own language be it Punjabi or Tamil (can access internet),” the India-born CEO said. Google’s push to build local products has been boosted with the success of payment app Google Pay, which is now being scaled up globally.

India has over 500 million internet users, with 450 million of them accessing it on smartphones from smaller towns in the country.

With China, which has local behemoths such as Baidu and Byte-Dance, largely out of bounds for western internet companies, India is the only large market open to them. Google, under Pichai’s leadership, has been attempting to re-enter China, after exiting it a decade ago, but has faced setbacks. Last week Bloomberg reported that Google had abandoned plans to set up a cloud unit in the country. It has also suspended processing user requests from Hong Kong after China imposed a national security law in its special administrative region.

Pichai did not comment on Google’s China ambitions but said India has the local talent and access to a large market along with aspects of a strong entrepreneurial and venture capital foundation to build an ecosystem of its own.

On whether he looks at the call of Atmanirbhar Bharat by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a threat for American tech companies like Google, he said his company is trying to develop apps in India as well as invest in firms which are doing it. “We want to help play a small role in accelerating that trend.”

“We are definitely happy to partner with governments, in compliance with laws in a democratic society. Privacy regulation is incredibly important,” said Pichai, who earlier in the day interacted over video with PM Modi.

Responding to a query on whether Google will extend its initiative to pay publishers for content in countries like Australia, Pichai said it was still “early days”.

“We have tried to incorporate news more in our products to generate more traffic. We’ve over the last couple of years added subscriptions as a big area,” Pichai said.

Retail inflation rises to 6.09 per cent in June

Retail inflation rose to 6.09 per cent in June, mainly on account of higher prices of food items.

Food inflation in June increased by 7.87 per cent, according to Consumer Price Index data.

The inflation figures are based on data collected from limited markets in view of the restrictions imposed on account of coronavirus pandemic.

The data collected, however, did not meet the adequacy criteria for generating robust estimates of CPIs at the state-level.

The retail inflation based on Consumer Prince Index was 3.18 per cent in June 2019.

The government had released truncated CPI data for April and May in the backdrop of the lockdown to contain COVID-19 pandemic.

Ex-royal family can run Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple

The Supreme Court upheld the rights of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore in the management and administration of the centuries-old Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, one of the richest places of worship in the country.

It set aside the Kerala High Court’s order of 2011, which had directed the state government to set up a trust to take control of the Thiruvanthapuram temple’s management and assets. A bench of Justices UU Lalit and Indu Malhotra rejected the HC’s observation that the rights of the Travancore family to the temple ended with the death of the last ruler. The temple has been controlled by a trust run by the descendants of the erstwhile royal family since Independence.

A committee, comprising Hindus, constituted by the SC under the chairmanship of the district judge of Thiruvanthapuram will continue as the administrative head as an interim measure. The committee will take a call on opening the last of the temple’s six underground, secret vaults. In 2011, gold, jewels and statues worth around Rs 1 lakh-crore were unearthed from five vaults following an order from the SC based on a public interest litigation to assess the 16th century temple’s wealth. In July 2017, the SC had said it would examine claims that the last vault had been closed since it contained an “extraordinary treasure with mystical energy”.

The state government said it respected the ruling.

Four years after the treasures were found below the temple, gold worth Rs.186 crore was reported missing. A committee constituted by SC conducted a special audit and found large-scale financial irregularities in the temple.

13.7.20

PMR lockdown



The Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad municipal corporations on Sunday evening released identical orders for a ten-day total lockdown to be enforced from July 14. Only milk suppliers, medical stores, hospitals and clinics will be allowed to operate on these five days. There are no restrictions on media operations either.

A few exemptions have been made to allow grocery shops, vegetable vendors, and the sale of mutton, chicken and eggs between 8 am and noon from July 19 to 23.

Vikram Kumar, who took over as Pune municipal commissioner on Sunday, said, “These steps are needed to stop the spread of Covid-19 and also to control the increasing number of positive patients.”

The department of disaster management and rehabilitation authority has empowered municipal commissioners to issue such orders.

“The lockdown is an essential step to break the chain (of the infection spread). Citizens should cooperate with the authorities and inform the health department if they develop any symptoms. Practising social distancing, wearing masks and personal hygiene can help a lot in the current situation,” Pimpri Chinchwad municipal commissioner Shravan Hardikar said.

All types of public and private vehicles — barring those engaged in Covid-19, emergency and essential services, exempted services like media, and transport to and from the airport and railway stations — will be off the roads.

App-based food delivery services will remain closed throughout the 10-day lockdown period, while e-commerce services will be barred from July 14 to 18 and can resume operations thereafter.

Also off limits are morning or evening walks, and all playgrounds, open public places and gardens. Similarly, salons, spas and beauty parlours will remain closed for all 10 days.

The orders further stated that industrial operations will remain functional with 50% staff, while the IT sector has been allowed to remain functional with 15% strength. No restrictions have been put on those assisting the elderly. Housekeeping services will remain suspended. Wedding ceremonies too have been prohibited, but those who have already taken prior permission will be allowed to proceed with a maximum of 20 people in attendance.

Anyone found violating the orders are liable to be prosecuted under sections 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, apart from action under IPC Section 188 and other legal provisions as applicable, the orders stated.

The Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad police will not be issuing separate orders. “PMC’s order is the outcome of an overall comprehensive discussion, which also involved the Pune police,” Pune’s joint CP Ravindra Shisve said.

On Friday, Hardikar and Kumar’s predecessor Shekhar Gaikwad had said that the civic bodies would be utilizing the lockdown to augment critical health care infrastructure, including setting up new Covid-19 care centres, ICUs, ventilators and oxygen beds, enhancing testing capacity and vigorous contact-tracing.

“Construction works shall continue in rural areas. It shall continue in Pune city and Pimpri Chinchwad also on the condition of in situ labour,” Pune collector Naval Kishore Ram tweeted via his official handle (@navalMH).

Covid may have Infected 15% of Delhi’s Population

A sero-surveillance survey conducted across 20,000 households in Delhi shows that around 10-15% of the sample could have been infected by coronavirus. The results of the sero survey conducted from June 27 to July 5 in 11 districts of the national capital have been evaluated and shared with the home ministry.

Conducted by the National Centre for Disease Control and the Delhi government, 22,823 samples were picked up randomly by the surveillance team for antibody testing.

“Sero-surveys help to understand the proportion of the population exposed to SARS-CoV-2 infection including asymptomatic individuals. The survey found that 10-15 % have already got the disease and are over with it. In a very few zones, it ranged higher than 15%,” said a person aware of the findings of the survey. “The prevalence varied in different districts which means that the outbreak is localised,” he added.

Earlier, the Indian Council of Medical Research had also conducted sero surveillance in the containment zones of Delhi along with other cities. While the details of the survey are yet to be made public, sources said that it showed the prevalence of the infection in 10-30% of the sample in the containment zones of Delhi.

The rising number of cases in Delhi has been a major cause of concern, though there have been signs of improvement in the last few days. The active cases reported on Saturday in the national capital were the lowest in the last one month. The fatality figures also showed a decline.

On Sunday, the city reported 1,573 positive cases and 37 deaths due to Covid-19, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 112,494 and the death toll to 3,371. A total of 2,276 people have recovered and discharged in the last 24 hours, taking the recoveries to 89,968.

“The steady decline in daily cases in Delhi is an encouraging sign. A fall in daily death count, if maintained, will be an even stronger indication that the epidemic is coming under control. Over all the recent trends are promising and suggest that increased vigour of public health is paying off,” said K Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India.

Congress: Tumult in Rajasthan as Pilot-Gehlot tussle hits breaking point

Long-standing differences between Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot reached breaking point on Sunday, threatening the stability of the Congress government in the state. A summons by the Rajasthan special operations group served to Pilot on Friday, seeking to record his statement in the alleged horse-trading case lodged ahead of the Rajya Sabha election last month, is said to have been the last straw.

Soon after the SOG notice was pasted outside his official residence in Jaipur on Friday, Pilot headed for Delhi in a huff with some of his close aides, the speculated numbers ranging from five to 19 MLAs. There is buzz that he has told the party leadership that he will move out with his MLAs and launch a regional outfit.

The MLAs’ disappearance sent the Gehlot camp into a huddle—the CM met his ministers on Saturday night and called for a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (all elected MLAs) at 10.30 am on Monday at his official residence. This meeting is expected to shine light on the actual numbers in the Gehlot camp. Congress President Sonia Gandhi despatched senior party leaders to Jaipur to be a part of this meeting and to speak to the MLAs directly.

Late in the night, Pilot said he will not attend the meeting, and claimed that he had the support of more than 30 MLAs, leaving the Gehlot-led government in the state in a minority.

Meanwhile, speculation was rife that Pilot and several MLAs close to him were lodged in resorts in Manesar and Gurugram. Three MLAs—Rohit Bohra, Danish Abrar and Chetan Dudi-—who were said to have left with Pilot and returned to Jaipur late in the evening, were paraded before the media in Jaipur as they repeatedly assured the gathering that they would be with the party “till the last breath”.

Pilot reportedly could not be reached by his own party leadership after he failed to get an audience with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and former chief Rahul Gandhi. Party sources said he had a conversation with Sonia’s close aide Ahmed Patel, and conveyed his strong displeasure at the turn of events in Rajasthan, particularly the SOG’s summons. Pilot alleged that Gehlot, who held the home department portfolio in the state, had engineered the move to humiliate him and that it was unprecedented for a deputy CM to have to appear in a poaching case against his own party. In defence, the Gehlot camp produced similar SOG summons issued to the CM as well as the chief party whip.

Sources said Pilot recalled in his chat with Patel his limited role in governance in Rajasthan with Gehlot “curtailing funds from departments under his charge”.

There was also speculation that Pilot was in talks with the BJP to pull off a coup on the lines of the one in Madhya Pradesh in March, which led to the fall of the Kamal Nath government.

The Congress has 107 MLAs in the 200-member assembly and has the support of 12 independents as well as members of RLD, CPI(M) and Bharatiya Tribal Party. Most of the independents are Gehlot loyalists. The BJP has 72 MLAs and enjoys the support of three MLAs of Rashtriya Loktantrik Party.

Avinash Pande, the Congress general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, maintained that the government in Rajasthan was stable and would complete its full term.

Even if Pilot exits the Congress and manages to topple the government, the BJP has a problem of plenty in Rajasthan for the post of CM: Vasundhara Raje is vying for it along with Om Mathur, Bhupendra Yadav, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Arjun Ram Meghwal. It would be far more difficult for Pilot to make a place for himself in the state while with the BJP unless he gets a cabinet berth at the Centre and moves out of state politics.

12.7.20

Bengaluru, cities in NE go for lockdown

Amid a rapid surge in Covid-19 cases in the state capital and signs of the contact-tracing model crumbling, Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappa announced a complete lockdown in Bengaluru Urban and Rural districts from 8 pm on July 14 to 5 am on July 22.

An unnamed senior cabinet minister was among the 2,798 new Covid-19 cases reported in the state during the day, 1,533 of them in Bengaluru alone. Several other cities and towns — from cities in Maharashtra to Guwahati and Shillong in the Northeast – on Saturday got an extension or a return to lockdown.

The Assam government extended the ongoing 14-day lockdown in Guwahati and other pockets of Kamrup (Metro) district by another week till July 19. For the Meghalaya capital of Shillong, the total lockdown will make a comeback for two days, beginning Monday.

‘Largest-ever camera trap wildlife survey’ puts India in record book


After recording a robust growth in the numbers of tigers in the 2018 Census, India recorded yet another feat by entering the Guinness Book of World Records for conducting what has been referred to as the “largest camera trap wildlife survey”, yet.

The fourth edition of the Tiger Census in 2018–19, was the “most comprehensive” to date, “in terms of both resource and data amassed”, Guinness World Records team said.

“Camera traps (outdoor photographic devices fitted with motion sensors that start recording when an animal passes by) were placed in 26,838 locations across 141 different sites and surveyed an effective area of 121,337 square kilometres (46,848 square miles). In total, the camera traps captured 34,858,623 photographs of wildlife (76,651 of which were tigers and 51,777 were leopards; the remainder were other native fauna). From these photographs, 2,461 individual tigers (excluding cubs) were identified using stripe-pattern-recognition software,” the Guiness team that announced India’s feat added.

Welcoming India’s entry into the Guinness World Records, Union environment and foresign minister Prakash Javadekar said, “We are happy that the proactive measures taken in the area of conservation and environment under the leadership of PM Modi have been endorsed formally and India has been lauded for conducting the most comprehensive survey yet.” In addition to the camera trap usage, India’s 2018 “Status of Tigers in India” assessment also conducted extensive foot surveys that covered 522,996 km (324,975 mi) of trails and sampled 317,958 habitat plots for vegetation and prey dung. It is estimated that the total area of forest studied was 381,200 km2 (147,181sq mi) and cumulatively the collection and review of data equated to some 620,795 labour-days.

The assessment was carried out over three phases, with the various datasets then combined to be extrapolated via statistical computation, which informed the final results published in the survey report. A positive outcome of the survey was that it concluded that India’s tiger population had increased by roughly one-third: from 2,226 in 2014 to 2,927 in 2018.

11.7.20

Lockdown returns to Pune

Political leaders across parties have been demanding it. Now the state government, which was resisting it, has relented and it’s back to lockdown for Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad and 22 adjoining villages from the midnight of July 13 to 23.

The decision was taken after a meeting was held by the deputy chief minister and Pune’s guardian minister, Ajit Pawar on Friday. Attended by former chief secretary and present advisor to the chief minister, Ajoy Mehta, Pune divisional commissioner Deepak Mhaisekar, district collector Naval Kishor Ram, commissioner of Pune Municipal Corporation Shekhar Gaikwad and his counterpart in Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation Shravan Hardikar, besides other senior officials, all took stock of spiking numbers of COVID-19 cases and their inability to strike a balance between keeping businesses open in the interest of economic recuperation and battling the pandemic. “The lockdown has been announced to break the chain in the spread of the virus,” explained Mhaisekar.

In the meeting, Pawar expressed concern over the rising cases in Pune district, which are more compared to some of the states in the country. Explaining the need to revert to lockdown at a time when rest of the country has moved into Unlock 1.0, Ram pointed out, “After relaxation was given, it was observed that some people were not following the rules required to contain the spread of COVID-19. They are unnecessarily crowding public places, which is resulting in increasing the cases. Under the circumstances, lockdown seemed like the only recourse to break the chain of the virus.”

While the lockdown has been announced, the administration is yet to work out the modalities of imposing it. “We’ve decided the period of the lockdown but are still working on the details such as what will be restricted. The first five days will see a stricter imposition and we will allow some other services to resume subsequently. We will announce the detailed plan on Saturday,” Gaikwad informed. The strict lockdown from the midnight of July 13 to July 18, will only allow the supply of medicines and milk, keeping all other services closed.

UP Gangster Vikas Dubey killed

Gangster Vikas Dubey, accused of killing eight policemen in a deadly ambush last week, was shot dead on Friday by the police while trying to escape after the car transporting him to Kanpur from Ujjain overturned on an isolated stretch of the highway on the outskirts of the city.

The SUV overturned in Bhaunti about 30 km out of Kanpur district, after an ‘overworked’ driver swerved sharply on the rain-slicked stretch to avoid a herd of cattle, the Special Task Force said in a statement.

The car was part of a small convoy of police vehicles transporting Dubey back to Kanpur after his supposed arrest on Thursday from a temple in Ujjain following a gruelling six-day manhunt that spanned four states.

Police said the gangster snatched a pistol from one of the policemen injured in the accident and was shot when he opened fire while trying to flee, an account being questioned by opposition parties.

Six policemen, including two from the Special Task Force, were hurt in the accident and the exchange of fire around 6 am, an official said.

Earlier, while hunting for him, the police had killed five of close aides.

On July 2, a police team, on their way to arrest Dubey, was attacked by his henchmen in Kanpur’s Bikru village after being allegedly tipped by corrupt officials in the force. Eight police personnel had died and over 15 have sustained injuries in the attack, which has led to the suspension of four cops, including SHO of Chaubeypur police station Vinay Tiwari.

Madhya Pradesh police arrested Vikas Dubey outside the Mahakal temple in Ujjain on Thursday morning. He was handed over to an Uttar Pradesh police team late in the evening.

Kanpur Range Inspector General Mohit Agarwal said Dubey fled from the car with an injured policeman’s pistol. He was chased and surrounded by policemen who asked him to surrender. When he started firing with an “intention to kill”, police opened fire in self-defence, police said.

Blood smudges marked the spot on a dirt road, trailing off the highway, where the alleged gangster was shot. A press release said he was taken to a hospital, where he died during treatment. The primary autopsy report stated that Dubey had sustained four bullet injuries – three to the chest, and one to the stomach.

Two policemen also suffered wounds, one in the arm and the other in the hand.

Hours before the encounter, an advocate had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the UP government and police to ensure that he is not killed.

Questions were being raised over the police version, challenging the account of the attempted escape of a gangster who had made no attempt to flee when nabbed near Ujjain’s Mahakal temple a day earlier.

There was also scepticism over the possibility of someone managing to snatch a policeman’s weapon and then extricating himself from an overturned vehicle. There were allegations that the media trailing the police convoy was stopped for a few minutes before the encounter took place. Video clips also appeared to show Dubey sitting in a different car when the convoy set out from Ujjain.

The UP police have denied switching cars and said the media may have been stopped for checks.

Opposition parties targeted the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh after the encounter.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the encounter as well as the ambush in which eight policemen died last week.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the criminal is now gone and asked what about those who had “protected” him. Her party has demanded a judicial probe in the entire Vikas Dubey episode.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said it was not the car that had toppled but the encounter had saved the state government from toppling, had facts come to light.

On the day the Bikru ambush took place, two of Dubey’s alleged accomplices, Prem Prakash Pandey and Atul Dubey, were killed in an encounter with police in Kanpur district.

On July 8, police killed another aide, Amar Dubey, in Maudala village in Hamirpur district.

Two more alleged accomplices were killed in Kanpur and Etawah districts on Thursday. One of them, Prabhat, died in circumstances similar to Dubey’s killing, according to the police versions.

He was being brought to Kanpur on transit remand after his arrest in Faridabad when he snatched the pistol of a policeman and tried to flee, police had said.

May 2020: Factory output shrinks 35%


The country’s factory output contracted sharply for the third consecutive month in May as the national lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus took a toll on several sectors such as manufacturing, but the pace of decline narrowed.

The National Statistical Office only released the index numbers as a majority of the industrial sector establishments were not operating since the end of March. This has had an impact on the items being produced by the establishments during the period of lockdown and the subsequent periods of conditional relaxations in restrictions, it said.

The government had earlier said that it would not be correct to compare the numbers with the previous months due to data constraints.

According to the NSO, the index for the month of May 2020 stands at 88.4 as compared to 53.6 for April 2020, indicating a graded pick-up in industrial activity in the economy. The data, however, showed that the index of industrial production contracted 34.7% in May compared to an expansion of 4.5% in the year ago month. The key manufacturing sector contracted 39.3% during the month compared to an expansion of 4.4% in the year earlier period.

The capital goods and consumer durables sectors recorded sharp contractions of over 60% in May, highlighting subdued investment climate and weakness in consumer demand in the economy. However, the extent of negative growth has been lower in May than April, economists said.



Economic activity has restarted and several sectors have shown some pickup in demand, prompting the government to say that green shoots of revival are visible. But the economy remains under severe stress with most forecasts pointing to a deep contraction in 2020-21, with a possibility of a feeble rebound next year.

India’s Covid count tops 8L


India’s Covid-19 caseload went past the 8 lakh mark just four days after having crossed 7 lakh, while the death toll topped 22,000 on Friday. Amid a major surge in the pandemic, fresh infections crossed 27,000 for the first time, the third record high in daily numbers in three days.

The day’s death toll from the virus crossed 500 for the first time in six days, settling at 520. This was the second highest single-day count of deaths after the 608 reported on July 4, discounting the 2,003 deaths reported on June 16 in a data reconciliation exercise.

Over 2.36 lakh cases have been reported in the 10 days of July, as compared to 4 lakh in the whole of June. Likewise, these 10 days have seen 4,733 deaths while June had recorded about 12,000 in all.

With 27,449 cases on Friday, the total infections in India rose to 8,21,722, as per data collated from states.

On Friday, besides Maharashtra, at least eight other states also reported their highest single-day rise in cases. These were Karnataka, where 2,313 fresh infections were detected, Andhra Pradesh (1,608), Uttar Pradesh (1,347), Bengal (1,198), Gujarat (875), Odisha (755), Kerala (416) and Manipur (147) On its tenth consecutive day, Gujarat recorded yet another high daily tally at 875 fresh Covid-19 cases. The state has crossed 40,000 total cases (40,155). It was the second consecutive day for the state to record 800-plus cases or nine cases every 15 minutes. Surat again reported the maximum 269 cases followed by 165 from Ahmedabad and 69 from Vadodara.

The state also recorded deaths of 14 Covid-19 positive patients, taking the death toll to 2,024.

In an indication of the worsening Covid-19 situation in Kerala, contact cases have started exceeding cases among returnees from abroad and other states in the daily tally. The state on Friday witnessed a massive surge of 416 cases, the highest single-day count so far, of which contact cases were 242 as against 174 among returnees.

CM Pinarayi Vijayan said there were three major clusters in these wards that have resulted in the super spread and there is every chance of a community spread.

As many as 1,347 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours in Uttar Pradesh, taking the Covid-19 tally so far to 34,131. This is the maximum number of cases in a single day. Official data reveals that the first 10 days of July have already seen 10,000 plus novel coronavirus cases, which is more than 50% of the cases recorded in June.

10.7.20

PM inaugurates Asia's largest solar project in MP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Asia's largest 750 MW solar power project at Rewa in Madhya Pradesh, saying the plant will help the state's poor.

"Today, Rewa has really created history. This place has been identified with mother Narmada and white tiger. Now the name of Asia's largest solar power project has also been attached to it," he said through video conferencing.

"With this solar power project, the people of Madhya Pradesh and the industries set up here will not only get electricity, but even the metro rail in Delhi will get benefits from it. Apart from Rewa, similar work is underway at Shajapur, Neemuch and Chhatarpur."

"When all these projects are ready, Madhya Pradesh will definitely become a hub of cheap and clean electricity. The biggest benefit of this project will be to the poor, middle-class families, farmers and tribals of the state," he said.

Notably, this mega solar power project is comprised of three solar generating units of 250 MW each located on a 500-hectare plot of land situated inside a solar park.

Central financial assistance of Rs.138 crore has been provided to Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Limited for the development of the solar park.

"Not just for the present, solar energy will be a medium of energy needs of the 21st century because solar power is sure, pure, and secure. It is sure because the sun would shine throughout the world; it is secure because solar energy rather than polluting the environment, helps in replenishing it and it is secure because it is a testimony and inspiration towards 'atmanirbharta'," the Prime Minister said in his address, via video-conferencing.

"It is important that if we want to become Atmanirbhar Bharat, then we would have to be 'atmanirbhar' in the field of electricity as well. When we speak of self-reliance and progress, the economy is a pivotal part of it. The whole world is in a conundrum that whether to focus on the environment or focus on the economy," he said.

8.7.20

Mumbai: Miyawaki forests flourishing




The BMC’s controversial Miyawaki urban forest project silently gathered evidence of its success during the lockdown. In the past six months, saplings have turned into mid-size trees, surprising even the activists who had raised a din over the civic body spending Rs.35 crore on planting trees in open spaces.

In December 2019, former municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi had appointed contractors to plant saplings using the Miyawaki concept in around 61 open spaces across the city. Opposition parties and some activists had claimed that this would further reduce city’s open spaces. Some others had criticised the BMC for undertaking such an expensive project in the midst of a severe fund crunch.

Six months down the line, Colaba woods, the 358 Tenement in Worli and expansive tracts in Malad and D-ward (near Priyadarshini Park) are some of the 100 budding urban forests that bear testimony to Pardeshi’s conviction. Pardeshi said the BMC had planted sustainable local species, and by next year there will be “more green emeralds” for Mumbai. “I had undertaken such projects in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad as well. Now it’s mandatory for all private developers with plots over 4,000 sq mt,” he said.

Pioneered by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, the technique ensures 10 times faster plant growth, resulting in 30 times denser plantation. The method has also been extensively used in and around Bangalore by corporate firms .

Activist Zoru Bhathena said it is a great initiative and more such plantations must be undertaken. Environmentalist D Stalin of NGO Vanashakti also lauded increasing the city’s green cover. “But it can’t compensate for a natural forest. It is an urban greening project,” he said.

Environmentalist Debi Goenka also feels it’s a novel approach to maximise the density of trees and increase oxygen levels. “It also makes for a good barrier against air pollution and noise pollution,” he said.

Believing that Mumbai’s open spaces deserve to be turned into mini forests, Bittu Sahgal of Sanctuary Nature Foundation said, “Our lives can be filled with bird song instead of traffic pollution and car horns. This is critical to the future of our children and will help Mumbai stay ready in the age of climate change.”

Vizag gas leak: 12 LG Polymers officials arrested

A day after an expert panel submitted its report on the styrene gas leakage accident at LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam, police arrested 12 officials of the company – among them the CEO and two directors.

Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police Gautam Sawang confirmed the arrests, and said three senior government officials had also been suspended for dereliction of duty. One of the suspended officials is from the factories department and two from the pollution control board.

The expert committee, headed by senior IAS officer Neerabh Kumar Prasad, found fault with the management for a variety of lapses, including ignoring a preliminary warning from the styrene storage tank, failure of all 36 sirens in the plant, and poor training of staff dealing with the tanks.

The expert committee also favoured relocation of the company from its current location at RR Venkatapuram to some other place.

Twelve people died and more than 580 were hospitalised following the styrene gas leakage in the early hours of May 7.

7.7.20

Galwan Valley: Disengagement

Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Ladakh and several high-level engagements with China, Indian Army sources said that Chinese troops have withdrawn by at least a kilometre from the disputed region in the Galwan Valley and two other points of conflict along the Line of Actual Control. Sources said that the Chinese have begun retreating from Indian territory and temporary structures and tents built by them have also been removed.

Army sources said that it has been confirmed after verification that the ‘disengagement with China’s People’s Liberation Army has started as per agreed terms in the Corps Commander’s meeting.’ The Chinese troops were seen removing tents and structures at the site of the deadly Galwan Valley clash in which 20 Indian soldiers died, and also in two other conflict areas at Hot Springs and Gogra. Officials said that there is indication that China has begun de-escalating from the Fingers region of Galwan. India too has removed its structures from the river-bend embankment creating a buffer zone.

The move comes a day after talks were held between special representatives of India and China on Sunday. Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor of India and Wang Yi, Chinese State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a telephonic conversation had a ‘frank and in-depth exchange of views on the recent developments in the western sector of the India-China border areas’, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Monday.

The two special representatives agreed that ‘both sides should take guidance from the consensus of the leaders that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas was essential for the further development of our bilateral relations and that two sides should not allow differences to become disputes.’ “Therefore, they agreed that it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity. In this regard they further agreed that both sides should complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC expeditiously,” an official statement by the MEA read.

It was also agreed that both the sides should ensure a ‘phased and stepwise de-escalation’ along the border and that they should ‘strictly respect and observe’ the LAC and not take any ‘unilateral action to alter the status quo and work together to avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquillity in border areas.’ Diplomatic and military officials of the two sides are expected to continue their discussions, including under the framework of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC), and implement the understandings reached in a timely manner to achieve the above outcomes.

China’s official spokesperson in the Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian confirmed the developments in a simultaneous statement in Beijing. “Troops are taking effective measures to disengage and ease the tensions,” Lijian said.

India's Population Profile

India’s population profile reflects a gradual but significant transition over the last 50 years that is evident in a decline in the share of population of those under 14 years from 41.2% in 1971 to 25.9% in 2018 and the share of the elderly (60+) going up from 5.3% to 8.1% during the same period on account of better health facilities leading to increase in life expectancy.

The Sample Registration System Statistical Report 2018 data released by the Registrar General of India shows that at the national level, 25.9% of the population was below 15 years in 2018 (27.5% in rural areas and 22.6% in urban areas).

Share of population below 15 years of age in rural areas varies from 19.8% in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to 34.8 in Bihar. In urban areas, it varies from 17.9 in Jammu & Kashmir to 29.6 in Bihar.

As far as the composition of the elderly population goes, the elderly female population is higher than males in all the bigger states except Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Odisha and Telangana. In rural areas, population in the age group 60+ constitutes 8% of the total population and variation in aged population ranges from 6% in Bihar to significantly high 13.3% in Kerala. The proportion of elderly population in urban areas is 8.3%.

As per the percentage distribution of population by age group in 2018, the population for 0-4 years age group was estimated to be 8%—8.6% for 5-9 years and 9.3% for 10-14 years. In the age-group 0-14 years, male population is about one percent more than female population, whereas in the older age groups—15-59 years and those above 60 years— the percentage of female population was more than that of males by a range of 0.5 to 0.6 percentage points.

Those between 15-19 years accounted for 10.2% and 10.8% were between 20-24 years. Those between 25-29 years accounted for 10.1%.

The elderly female population is higher than males in all large states except Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, J&K, Odisha and Telangana

6.7.20

India may see trade surplus after 18 years


India may register its first monthly trade surplus in over 18 years in June as the pace of contraction of exports is estimated to have slowed down to around 12%, while imports are seen to have fallen almost 49% during the month.

Initial estimates for June, available with the commerce department, show a trade surplus of around $786 million, with imports pegged at $21.1 billion and exports at $21.9 billion. The last time India had a positive balance on the trade account was in January 2002 when it had a surplus of $10 million with exports of $4.3 billion.

On Friday, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal had said that exports in June 2020 had touched 88% of June 2019 level due to unlocking of the economy and resumption of activity. The latest numbers, which will be officially released on July 15, indicated that the pace of export contraction has moderated as industries opened up (see graphic).

Policy makers, however, said that the overall pace will pick up as there is greater unlocking. Even now, given the fast growth in the number of Covid-19 cases, businesses are not fully open and discretionary spending has remained weak due to the adverse sentiment. Several sectors, including iron ore, which may have gone to China, food products such as rice, other cereals, fruits and vegetables and oil seeds reported healthy growth, the initial data shared by customs authorities showed.

But imports remain an area of concern, as it is a barometer of overall economic activity. The initial numbers suggest that the sharp decline in imports was led by gold, silver and precious & semiprecious stones, which are also linked to exports. During crises, demand for jewellery drops significantly as people look to conserve cash. Similarly, the value of oil imports was down over 55% due to a fall in global crude prices.

Imports related to the textiles sector — including cotton, fabric and made-ups — are also down sharply along with transport equipment, chemicals, iron & steel, machine tools and electronics, indicating a slump in economic activity. Some of it may also have had to do with customs going slow on clearances at ports towards the end of the month.

Covid-19: India becomes third worst-hit country

India went past Russia on Sunday to become the third worst-hit nation by the Covid-19 pandemic with the country’s tally of infections crossing 6.90 lakh, according to Worldometer.

Only the US and Brazil are ahead of India in terms of total corona virus infections.

Russia has 6,81,251 infections while Brazil has 15,78,376 and the US has 29,54,999 cases, according to Worldometer which compiles the Covid-19 data from around the globe.

According to a PTI tally, India’s Covid-19 case load soared to 6,90,349 while the death toll climbed to 19,683.

However, the Johns Hopkins University in the United States, which has also been compiling Covid-19 data from all over the world, put Russia’s infection tally at 6,80,283 and India’s 6,73,165, which is the official figure updated at 8 am.

The health ministry data updated at 8 am showed a record single-day surge of 24,850 coronavirus infections and 613 fatalities pushing India's total number of cases to 6,73,165 and the death toll to 19,268 on Sunday.

The country has registered over 20,000 Covid-19 cases for the third day in a row.

With a steady rise, the number of recoveries stands at 4,09,082 in the country while one patient has migrated. There are 2,44,814 active coronavirus cases in the country, the data at 8 am showed.

The number of recovered cases exceeded that of the active cases by 1,64,268 as of Sunday, the health ministry said.

“Thus, 60.77 per cent of the patients have recovered so far,” it said.

4.7.20

India alters template of ties with expansionist China

India has significantly rewritten the longstanding premise of its relationship with China. For years, the bilateral relationship centred around an essential delinking of the boundary — seen as ‘managing’ tensions along the LAC — from the larger relationship of trade, investment and increased diplomatic ties.

Agreements from 1993 onwards built on protocols for maintaining “peace and tranquillity” on a boundary that is not demarcated, allowing each side to largely patrol its established lines. This allowed other parts of the relationship to move forward, despite doubts and suspicion that lay beneath. This was followed by all governments from Rajiv Gandhi to Narendra Modi. It was held up as a template to Pakistan that India and China could be mature enough to go ahead with the rest of their relationship and insulate the boundary dispute.

China’s heightened aggression and the Galwan clashes has undone that template. PM Narendra Modi’s remarks in Leh on Friday sharpened the reversal of that policy, the first inkling of which was evident in the scrutiny of Chinese investments and the political underpinning of the “self-reliant India” campaign.

When he slammed “ vistar vaad” (expansionism) in his remarks to Indian troops, Modi directly addressed China, without once referring to it by name. “In the past centuries, expansionism has done the greatest harm to humanity, even tried to destroy humanity… history is witness that such forces have been erased or forced to turn back,” he said.

The bilateral relationship will now depend not on trade and summitry but on the boundary being respected and resolved. In a sense, we’re back to the India-Pakistan situation of 2000 when former US President Bill Clinton warned against redrawing boundaries “in blood” and urged respect for the LoC.

Former ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale said, “By changing the status quo on the ground and bringing in huge numbers of troops along with armour and artillery, China is responsible for breaking the peace. Hence, she is responsible for all that has happened on the LAC.”

China fired the first shot — by intruding into Indian territory, instigating the clashes in Galwan that killed 20 Indian soldiers and claiming territory it had not earlier. India has now indicated that it will take its own series of steps in retaliation. Modi’s visit seemed to indicate that India is willing to pay the costs of escalation.

Modi’s visit to a Leh hospital to meet injured soldiers is equally significant in light of the fact that China is yet to acknowledge its dead or injured soldiers. Incidentally, this is not the first time Modi has targeted China over its “expansionist” nature. In 2014, on his first visit to Japan after taking over as PM, Modi excoriated “expansionist” moves by countries encroaching on others’ seas, a reference then to China moving into Japanese territory in the East China Sea.

“We have to decide if we want to have ‘vikas vaad’ (development) or ‘vistar vaad’ (expansionism). Those who follow the path of Buddha and have faith in ‘vikas vaad’, they develop. Those with ideas of the 18th century, engage in encroachments,” Modi had said. Six years on, his message is the same, the target is same, only the theatre is different.

India pulls plug on power gear imports from China

The power ministry has put curbs on import of equipment, especially from China and Pakistan, in a move the industry says could deal a big blow to Chinese suppliers and create opportunities worth over Rs.1 lakh crore for domestic manufacturers who are sitting on overcapacity.

The ministry issued an order stipulating equipment or parts from ‘prior reference’ (identified) countries cannot be imported without government permission. Moreover, all imported items used in supply systems will have to undergo tests at designated labs for embedded trojans or malware. The ministry will approve the testing protocol in cases where imports are permitted from identified countries.

“Today, we manufacture everything that is required for power generation, transmission and distribution. We cannot tolerate a situation in which a country transgresses into our territory and yet we create jobs there, even though we have the manufacturing capability,” power minister R. K Singh said while inaugurating the state power ministers conference on Friday.

“We have decided not to buy from prior-reference (identified) countries. Any equipment imported (from these countries) will need permission. We will not allow (items that are indigenously manufactured to be imported),” he said seeking cooperation from the states.

A government dossier shows some 272 items used by the industry are manufactured in India and also exported . Only four items have to be imported. But still, India imported power equipment worth Rs.71,000 crore in 2018-19, including Rs.21,000 crore from China.

Services Improve in June


Services activity picked up pace in June from record lows earlier but continued to show deep contraction for a fourth straight month, as firms reported job losses and business confidence hit an all-time low.

The IHS Markit Services PMI in June rose to 33.7 from 12.6 in May, indicating a pick-up from the previous month, although any reading below 50 on this survey-based index shows contraction. It stood at a record low of 5.4 in April.

“India's service sector continued to struggle in June as the country's coronavirus crisis worsened,” said Joe Hayes, economist at IHS Markit, terming it an “intensely challenging domestic picture in India”.

The PMI for manufacturing released on Wednesday was better at 47.2 in June.

The Composite PMI Output Index, which measures combined services and manufacturing output, rose to 37.8 in June, up from 14.8 in May.

The services sector accounts for about 55% of the Gross Value-Added growth, two-thirds of total foreign direct investment inflows into India and about 38% of India’s exports.

“Although the downturn lost further momentum in June, it remained excessively strong as the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed intakes of new work and disrupted business operations,” IHS Markit said in the report.

The slower rate of decline was reflective of some stabilisation in activity levels, it said, with around 59% of firms reporting no change in output since May, 4% registering growth and 37% recording a reduction.

“Simply put, the country is gripped in an unprecedented economic downturn which is certainly going to spill over into the second half of this year unless the infection rate can be brought under control,” Hayes said.

As the country eased lockdown restrictions, some companies saw activity stabilise, but this is most likely just reflecting closures and temporary suspensions, according to the report.“While this will have contributed to a rise in the PMI figures, this certainly isn't a promising sign,” Hayes said.

New orders fell at a sharp pace in June, which firms attributed to reduced consumption habits and lower requirements. The survey pointed to yet another steep drop in export sales as restrictions related to travel hindered overseas orders.

Business confidence slid to a survey low since December 2005, pointing to strongly negative expectations towards activity levels in the year ahead.

ICMR pushes for Covid-19 vaccine by Aug 15

The Indian Council of Medical Research which is collaborating with Bharat Biotech International Limited to ‘fast-track’ clinical trials of an indigenous Covid-19 vaccine has ‘envisaged’ its launch for public use by August15, a deadline that has left most experts sceptical. Director General of ICMR Dr Balram Bhargava in a letter to 12 institutes that have been handpicked for clinical trials of the Covid-19 vaccine (BBV152 COVID vaccine), also known as Covaxin, has advised them to ‘fast-track all approvals related to initiation of the clinical trial’ and treat the project as ‘highest priority.’

Bhargava, in his letter dated July 2, has noted that ‘non-compliance will be viewed very seriously’ and has asked the authorities concerned in the institutes to ‘meet the given timelines without any lapse.’ “It is envisaged to launch the vaccine for public health use latest by August 15,2020 after completion of all clinical trials. BBIL is working expeditiously to meet the target, however, the final outcome will depend on the cooperation of all clinical trial sites involved in this project,” Bhargava wrote in the letter. “In view of the public health emergency due to Covid-19 pandemic and urgency to launch the vaccine, you are strictly advised to fast-track all approvals related to initiation of the clinical trial and ensure that the subject enrolment is initiated no later than July 7, 2020.”

The vaccine has been derived from a strain of SARS-CoV-2 isolated by ICMR-National Institute of Virology, Pune and the research body along with BBIL are jointly working for its pre-clinical as well as clinical development. A strain of the novel coronavirus was isolated from an asymptomatic Covid-19 patient and transferred to BBIL early in May, which was then used to develop an ‘inactivated’ vaccine at its high-containment facility in Hyderabad.

After receiving approvals for two phases of clinical trials from the Drug Controller General of India, the BBIL on July 1 registered its vaccine candidate for trials.

As per the Clinical Trial Registry of India, BBIL plans to test a total of 1,125 people in these trials and plans the first enrolment of subjects on July 13.

Top sources in ICMR said that while the body is trying to expedite the launch of the vaccine, the letter issued by Bhargava was only a ‘demi-official letter’ (DO letter) that is semi-official in nature. Sources said that as per internal estimate, if the first phase of trial begins on July 13 it could be wrapped up by the end of the month and the second phase could begin in early August and be ready for a launch by August 15. Officials pointed out that the ‘intention is to bring out the vaccine at the earliest’ and the ‘deadline should be viewed as a push in the right direction.’ However, according to the CTRI, the BBIL has estimated the trials to take one year and three months out of which the first phase alone will take at least a month.

Neither ICMR official spokespersons nor DG ICMR Bhargava responded to queries on the feasibility of the early rollout of the vaccine.

Even the most advanced vaccine candidates like the University of Oxford do not anticipate vaccines before the end of the year despite encouraging results so far.

Era of expansionism is over: Modi in Ladakh

Days after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a deadly clash with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley, PM Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Ladakh and interacted with soldiers at a forward post close to the conflict site.

Modi also met the injured soldiers, paid tribute to the martyrs and addressed a large gathering of the troops at Nimu, approximately 100 km from the Galwan Valley in a bid to ‘boost their morale.’ In what was seen as a strong message to China, Modi said, “The age of expansionism is over, this is the era of development. History is witness that expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to retreat.”

Even as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh remained conspicuous by his absence, Modi was accompanied by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and Army Chief General MM Naravane.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, responding to Modi’s visit, said, “China and India are in communication with each other through military and diplomatic channels. Neither side should make any move that may complicate the border situation.”

Kanpur: 8 cops killed in ambush by gangsters

Eight police personnel, including a DSP, were gunned down in a village near Kanpur by the henchmen of a criminal, two of whom were killed in an encounter later.

Seven others, including a civilian, were injured after they were ambushed from three sides as criminals fired at them from rooftops. The team had gone to Bikru village past Thursday midnight to arrest Vikas Dubey, a history-sheeter who faces about 60 criminal cases.

The attackers fled, snatching weapons from the dead and the wounded policemen.

Police then sealed the entire area and began a combing operation, which led to another encounter with Dubey’s men in Nivada village. There, police killed Prem Prakash and Atul Dubey, and recovered a snatched pistol.

They were looking for the other members of the gang and the rest of the weapons. The snatched weapons included an AK-47 rifle, an INSAS rifle, a Glock pistol and two .9mm pistols, a police spokesman said.

Inspector General (Special Task Force) Amitabh Yash claimed that the weapon used in the initial attack was a rifle seized from Dubey by the STF when they arrested him in Lucknow’s Krishna Nagar in 2017.

The automatic rifle was released into the custody of someone else by the court. Police said they will investigate further into this.

Hours after the attack, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath came under flak from the opposition – including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi – over the law and order situation in the state.

The failed police raid at Bikru followed the registration of another case against Vikas Dubey, who allegedly killed a senior BJP leader in 2001.

Uttar Pradesh Director General of Police H C Awasthi said the criminals might have been tipped off about the raid as they had also put up roadblocks to stop policemen from reaching their hideout. As they got off from their vehicles at one hurdle, a hail of gunfire caught them by surprise.

Policemen fired back but Deputy Superintendent of Police Devendra Mishra, three sub-inspectors and four constables died, officials said.

Additional Director General (Law and Order), Inspector General (Kanpur) and the Senior Superintendent of Police (Kanpur) rushed to the spot after learning about the attack.

Besides Deputy SP Devendra Mishra, who was posted as the circle officer in Bilhaur, others killed in the attack were sub inspectors Mahesh Chandra Yadav, Anup Kumar Singh and Nebu Lal, and constables Jitendra Pal, Sultan Singh, Bablu Kumar and Rahul Kumar.

Two sub inspectors, three constables, a home guard and a civilian were injured.

Dubey already carries a reward of Rs 25,000 for his arrest. 

3.7.20

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaches Leh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached Leh early morning on July 3 to review security situation and meet soldiers serving at the LAC.

This comes amid India's growing tensions with China and Chinese troops movement at the LAC in the past few months that led to a clash between the two countries' armies leading to fatalities on both sides.

India and China have been at loggerheads since China started troop movement around the Galwan valley in the Eastern Ladakh region and later making unsubstantiated claims over parts of the Galwan valley.

Mounting tensions led to a nasty scuffle between armies of India and China on June 16 that took lives of as many as 20 Indian soldiers and leaving 76 others injured.

The Chinese army didn't clarify on the number of deaths on their side but reports have said that over 35 Chinese soldiers also died in the scuffle.

2.7.20

Kashmir: Toddler rescued as terrorists gun down grandfather


Days after a five-year-old boy was killed in a terror attack in South Kashmir, security forces rescued a toddler from the midst of a deadly gunfight in North Kashmir’s Sopore. The terrorists, however, killed his grandfather and a CRPF personnel, while three other jawans were injured.

Three-year-old Ayaad, a resident of Srinagar, was travelling to Sopore with his grandfather, Bashir Ahmed Khan, 65, on Wednesday morning when they were caught in an ongoing encounter between terrorists and security forces. Two men allegedly belonging to Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba were hiding inside the attic of a mosque. They opened fired at a Central Reserve Police Force patrolling team a little after 8 am.

The CRPF personnel returned the fire but the terrorists managed to flee from the area, officials said.

Caught in the melee, Khan stopped his vehicle and was running for cover when he was struck by bullets. He reportedly died on the spot. Khan, a construction contractor, was to oversee the progress of one of his projects in Sopore and had taken along Ayaad for an outing.

Heart-wrenching pictures of little Ayaad wailing near his ‘daadu’s’ body went viral on social media triggering intense debate that Khan was pulled out from the car and killed by security forces, a charge denied by the CRPF.

Some CRPF personnel managed to extricate the boy as colleagues opened fire to cover them. They gave him chocolates and biscuits to console him.

A pall of gloom descended on the Khan household. “My father has been killed and those who killed him should be killed as well. Didn’t they see a little kid along with my father?” cried Khan’s daughter.

Senior Superintendent of Police, Sopore, Javaid Iqbal said that Khan was killed while trying to save his grandson.

CRPF head constable Deep Chand Verma, who was injured in the attack along with three of his colleagues, was declared brought dead to the hospital.

Inspector General of Police, Kashmir range, Vijay Kumar said the police recovered one full magazine and another one from which 30 bullets were missing from the mosque.

He identified the LeT men as Usman Bhai and Adil, a local resident.

1.7.20

Nausea and rashes among new Covid-19 symptoms

Cough, cold or fever are no longer the only warning signs of Covid. Severe backache, abdominal pain, rashes or aching calves could also be the calling card of the virus, which has killed 4,556 Mumbaikars and affected almost 80,000 people in the past three months.

Doctors treating Covid cases in the city say diarrhoea may be more common than previously thought. Patients with no history of diabetes brought to hospital with sugar levels of 400-plus dl/gm is also a red flag. “Doctors are seeing patients with uncommon symptoms such as bodyache; some have no complaint apart from pain round the knees and below,” said Dr Shashank Joshi, a member of the state government task force on Covid-19.

A senior doctor, Jalil Parkar, who treated over 200 Covid patients before testing positive for the virus, said backache was the first symptom he had experienced.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr Om Srivastava, who is also a task force member, said nausea is emerging as a common symptom. “We have found Covid in people coming with abdominal pain and loose motions with bodyache. Even simple fever is turning out to be Covid. However, we try and rule out dengue, malaria, etc before asking for a Covid test,” said Dr Hemant Gupta, professor of medicine at Grant Medical College (JJ Hospital).

Dr Behram Pardiwala, internal medicine expert, at Wockhardt Hospital said, “Some younger patients and adults are coming with complaints of itching and rashes. We have seen this in at least three adults two weeks ago,” he said.

Pakistan Moves 20,000 Soldiers to Gilgit-Baltistan LoC

Pakistan has moved two divisions of troops along the LoC in occupied Gilgit-Baltistan and Chinese officials are holding talks with cadres of terrorist outfit Al Badr to incite violence in J&K, as per intelligence inputs, indicating clearer signs of a China-Pak collaboration on the border.

Pakistan has moved almost 20,000 additional soldiers to LoC in northern Ladakh to match Chinese deployments on the LAC in the east.

The level of troops Pakistan has deployed is more than what it did after the Balakot air strikes. Pakistani radars are believed to be fully activated all along the region too.

The simultaneous build up on the Pakistan and China borders and efforts to incite terrorism in Kashmir has brought the possibility of a two-front war and fighting terrorists in Kashmir, the worst case scenario strategic experts fear, closer to reality.

Sources said there have been a series of meetings between Chinese and Pakistani officials in recent weeks, followed by amassing of troops in Gilgit-Baltistan, the area that adjoins Ladakh on the north. The buildup comes at a time when thousands of Chinese soldiers have been aggressively deployed along LAC in eastern Ladakh, apart from intrusions at several points that has led to a tense standoff.

A build up in Gilgit-Baltistan would require additional responsibility for the Indian Army that has deployed a credible force in eastern Ladakh to counter China. After the bifurcation of J&K , Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the Union Territory of Ladakh, but occupied by Pakistan. The area adjoins Kargil-Drass where India fought a war to evacuate Pakistani intruders in 1999.

According to intelligence reports, Chinese officials have undertaken meetings with cadres of the Al Badr, a Pakistan-based terror group that has a history of wreaking violence in Kashmir. “The assessment is that China may provide support to revive the organisation. This is among the signs we have received that indicate Pakistan and China are collaborating on the ground,” sources said.

Earlier this month, J&K Police DG Dilbag Singh had said there were signs that the Al Badr, decimated long ago, was being revived for operations. These signs of collaboration are worrying as tensions continue on LAC, with talks failing to make any headway and PLA increasing concentration across eastern Ladakh, apart from Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim.

India has been keeping an eye on airbases in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir after a Chinese refueller aircraft landed in Skardu earlier this week. Chinese air activity has increased opposite eastern Ladakh, raising the possibility of PLA Air Force using airbases in Gilgit-Baltistan. Limited activity is being observed at the Skardu airbase where an IL 78 tanker of the Chinese air force landed earlier in the month.

177-wagon ‘Super Anaconda’ snakes along tracks in Odisha

In a first, the railways successfully ran 177 loaded wagons, clubbing three freight trains together, in Odisha on Monday at an average speed of 40 kmph. The train carried approximately 15,000 tonnes of coal from Brajrajnagar to Rourkela.

Posting a short video of this run in its Twitter handle, the South East Central Railways said, “SECR creates history. First in Indian Railways history, 3 loaded trains together #SuperAnaconda.” Official said the train called “Super Anaconda” was about three kilometers long and it passed through Bilaspur and Chakradharpur divisions, one of the busiest sections. The train covered the 100 km stretch in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Prior to this, the railways had run trains clubbing wagons of two freight trains.

In February last year, the East Coast Railway had run a 2-km long freight train clubbing the wagons of two trains in Sambalpur division in Odisha. It was named “Python Rake”.

Sources said similar trains may be operated in future based on requirement and technical feasibility.

This experiment happened at a time when the national transporter is focusing more on freight movement to push its revenue, which has been hit due to negligible operation of passenger trains due to the pandemic.

Mahindra hits back at Chinese editor’s tweet on Indian goods

Industrialist Anand Mahindra and editor-in-chief of Chinese media company, Global Times, were locked in a sharp exchange after the latter took a dig at India’s production capacity on Twitter.

“Well, even if Chinese people want to boycott Indian products, they can’t really find many Indian goods. Indian friends, you need to have some things that are more important than nationalism,” posted Hu Xijin of Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Communist Party. Xijin had shared an update about the government’s decision to ban 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok.

Mahindra wrote, “I suspect this comment might well be the most effective & motivating rallying cry that India Inc. has ever received. Thank you for the provocation. We will rise to the occasion.”

Current A/c in Surplus After Over a Decade

India’s external position improved last fiscal with the current account turning a surplus in the fourth quarter for the first time in over a decade as a surge in private transfers and software services income helped. The full year current account deficit was the lowest in three years.But a possible slowdown in inward remittances and software services income could pare, moderate or marginally reverse gains this fiscal.

The current account, the aggregate of country’s exports and imports of goods and services, ended in a marginal surplus of $0.6 billion or 0.1% of the gross domestic product in the March quarter last fiscal, compared to a deficit of $4.6 billion or 0.7% of GDP a year ago, data from the RBI shows. The last time current account was in surplus was in the fourth quarter of FY2007. That quarter saw a surplus of $4.2 billion.

A current account surplus during the time of an economic crisis augurs well for the country as it eliminates the risk of a collapse in currency value. While economy is expected to shrink about 4-5% this fiscal, steady portfolio and foreign direct investment flows have also helped stabilise the currency though there was a brief outflow due to Covid-19.

Foreign exchange reserves are at historic highs above half a trillion-mark.

Core Sector Contraction Slows Down in May


India’s infrastructure sector contracted at a slower pace in May compared with April, helped by the relaxation in lockdown restrictions and good growth in fertiliser production ahead of the sowing season.

The index of eight core industries dropped 23.4% in May from a year earlier; in April, the fall was 37%. Output contracted 30% in the first two months of the current financial year.

The eight industries in the index are coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertiliser, steel, cement and electricity. These together have a 40% weight in the Index of Industrial Production, suggesting that industrial output may also shrink at lower pace in May. Ratings firm ICRA expects industrial production to shrink around 35-45% in May, compared with 55.5% in April.

Fertiliser production grew 7.5% after two consecutive months of contraction, suggesting some strength in the rural economy during the current kharif season.

Cement and steel sectors reported lower contraction of 22.2% and 48.4%, respectively, in May, compared with 85.3% and 78.7% in April.

Electricity generation declined 15.6% in May against a 23% fall in April. The declines reported by the other four sectors — coal (-14%), crude oil (-7.1%), refinery products (-21.3%) and natural gas (-16.8%) —were close to those in April.

The substantial relaxation in lockdown in June is expected to further help recovery in these sectors. However, given the fiscal constraints, government capital spending may remain mooted, which means recovery in steel and cement in particular is unlikely to be sharp.


China ‘concerned’ over India’s ban on 59 apps

A day after India banned 59 apps with Chinese links for engaging in activities which are “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity” of the country, China voiced strong concern, and said the Indian government has the responsibility to uphold the “legitimate and legal rights” of international investors.

India had on Monday banned 59 apps with Chinese links, including the hugely popular TikTok and UC Browser, for engaging in “activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

The ban also comes in the backdrop of the current stand-off along the Line of Actual control in eastern Ladakh with Chinese troops. Interestingly, Indian and Chinese militaries on Tuesday held another round of Lt General-level talks in Chushul on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control on Tuesday to discuss the modalities for the disengagement of troops from several friction points in the region.

Reacting to India’s ban of the Chinese apps at a Chinese Foreign Ministry briefing, spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “China has noted the press release issued by the Indian side with strong concern and is now verifying the situation.”

“The Chinese government always asks the Chinese businesses to abide by international rules, local laws and regulations in their business cooperation with foreign countries,” he said.

“The Indian government has the responsibility to uphold the legitimate and legal rights of the international investors including the Chinese ones,” he added.

India’s Information Technology Ministry said on Monday that it has invoked its power under section 69A of the IT Act and rules, and has decided to block 59 apps in view of information available that they are “engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

The list of apps that have been banned by India also include Helo, Likee, Cam Scanner, Vigo Video, Mi Video Call – Xiaomi, Clash of Kings as well as e-commerce platforms Club Factory and Shein.

PM renews ration scheme for poor

Amidst anticipation of a big statement on the ongoing crisis at the Indo-China border, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech struck a note closer home as he announced the extension of the Centre’s free ration scheme for the poor till Chhatt Puja.

Bihar assembly elections are slated for October-November.

PM Modi steered clear of the China issue and in a rather brief address announced that in view of the coming festival season that will go on till Diwali and Chhath, the free ration scheme that will benefit 80 crore people will be extended and the rollout of ‘One Nation One Ration Card’.

The reference to Chhath Puja and the announcement, that many in political circles said could have been made through a press release or by any other Union Minister, was seen as an early sop for voters.

As per official figures, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana has so far catered to 80 crore beneficiaries, who could avail five kilograms of rice or wheat per person and one kg bengal gram per family. The scheme was initially sanctioned for three months from April to June 30 and would have expired today.

“ July marks the beginning of the festive season …which increases necessities as well as expenditure. Keeping all these things in mind, it has been decided to extend Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana up to Diwali and Chhath Puja, till November-end…,” Modi said.

The PM’s address, however, drew heavy flak from the Opposition for not addressing pressing issues such as the tension with China at the Line of Actual Control and measures to tackle to Covid-19 as India continues to report steep single-day spikes in new cases. Chief Minister of poll-bound West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee hit out at Modi and said that her government would continue the free ration scheme till June 2021 and that the quality of grains were far superior compared to the Centre’s supplies.

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said that her party had hoped the PM would talk about substantive steps taken against Covid-19, job loss, economic crisis, China issue among other things but ‘clearly it was much ado about nothing.’

30.6.20

NHAI servers down for 24 hours after virus attack

The systems of India’s highway authority were hit by a severe ransomware attack on Sunday resulting in all servers, email and IP phone systems, which use internet protocol, going dead for nearly 24 hours. Sources said the virus attack could have compromised the NHAI’s data and information and a detailed diagnosis is being conducted to find out what happened, the source of attack and the consequences.

Several officials of the National Highway Authority of India said the system was down till Monday evening and the authority had also alerted the NIC about the problem.

In a late night statement the highway authority said, “A ransomware attack on NHAI email server took place yesterday (Sunday) night. The attack was foiled by the security system and email servers were shut down from safety point of view. The system is restored now. No data loss took place. NHAI datalake and other systems remained unaffected from this attack.” Datalake is the central depository of all information related to projects.

However, some of the IT experts said that a detailed forensic investigation into this would bring out the exact details of the source of attack and whether there is any data loss or stealing of the data from NHAI servers.

NHAI sources said the details of the diagnosis would be out on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, some IT experts said once there is a virus attack, there is every probability of the information stored in servers getting compromised.

India lost 11 tigers in 2 weeks

Tiger deaths have gone up in the past 15 days, with at least 11 big cats perishing during the period, as per the official directory of National Tiger Conservation Authority. Nearly half of these deaths (5) have happened in Maharashtra and three each occurred in Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.

A six-monthly review of the official data for the first six months of 2020 — from January 1 to June 28 — shows that at least 56 big cats have died so far.

However, the data from Wildlife Protection Society of Indi, a national NGO working for wildlife law enforcement, pegs the deaths for the period at 58, two more than the NTCA count. It says 68 tiger deaths were reported during the same six-month period in 2019.

WPSI’s central India director Nitin Desai said, “While the mortalities in 2020 are fewer when compared to 2019, some cases should be a matter of concern. The case of a tigress and her two cubs poisoned in Tadoba buffer on June 11 is one such. Not only did it wipe out an entire tiger family, but also deprived a forest of its big cat population, as this tigress would have delivered more litters in her lifetime,” he added.

While the NTCA data says that most of the tiger deaths are still under investigation, the WPSI statistics says that of the 58 deaths this year, 15 were due to poaching and seizures and 23 perished due to infighting.

TN custodial deaths case

The Madras High Court ordered the Tuticorin Collector to take over the Sattankulam police station over allegations that the police officials were not cooperating in the judicial inquiry into the alleged custodial deaths of P Jayaraj and J Bennicks.

The court has also initiated criminal contempt proceedings against three police officers - the additional superintendent of police, a deputy superintendent of police and a constable – after the judicial magistrate deputed to enquire into the deaths sent a mail stating that the police were not cooperating. The three cops reportedly refused to hand over records to the magistrate and filmed him while he was at the station.

Tuticorin District Collector Sandeep Nanduri has been directed to depute revenue officials at the station to facilitate the magistraterial probe.

Jayaraj, 60 and his son Bennicks, 31, were arrested on June 19 for allegedly violating lockdown norms by keeping their mobile accessories shop in the main bazaar open beyond the regulated hours.

In her report to the National Human Rights Commission, Tuticorin MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi gave details of the torture the father-son due was allegedly subjected to while in custody. She informed the rights panel that they were sexually abused. Cops had allegedly inserted sticks into their rectum which left them bleeding for days before they succumbed to injuries on June 23.

Maha lockdown extended till July 31

A day after issuing a stern warning to citizens against making a picnic out of lockdown relaxations, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray extended the lockdown till July 31. No new loosening of curbs will be announced, but the relaxations granted earlier under ‘Mission Begin Again’ will continue, an order issued by Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta states.

The order further states that wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and other measures will continue to prevail. Inter-district movement of people as well as long-distance travelling without any emergency is prohibited.

The guidelines also give powers to collectors and municipal commissioners to curtail movement if cases rise. While Navi Mumbai has already imposed a complete lockdown in its 10 containment zones until July 5, Thane announced a 10-day lockdown for its containment zones from July 2.

Mehta said, “It is directed that the movement of persons for the purposes of non-essential activities like shopping and outdoor exercises, shall be restricted within the neighbourhood area limits with all prescribed mandatory precautions.” Here’s a look at what’s allowed and what’s not in the state.

WHAT’S ALLOWED

All essential shops, which were allowed to remain open before the Monday’s order.

All non-essential shops will continue to operate as per relaxations issued vide orders May 31 and June 4.

All non-essential markets, market areas and shops, except malls and market complexes, will remain open from 9 am to 5 pm. Earlier, they were permitted to stay open from 9 am to 9 pm.

Private offices can operate with up to 10 per cent strength or 10 people, whichever is more.

State government offices can operate with 15 per cent strength or 15 people, whichever is higher.

As per an order issued on June 23, weddings with 50 people in non-AC halls and in open air venues will be allowed across the state.

Liquor shops will continue to operate and provide home delivery wherever permitted.

E-commerce activity for essential as well as non- essential items and materials.

Food home delivery.

Activities related to self-employed people like plumbers, carpenters and technicians with social distancing norms.

Garages from 9 am to 5 pm.

Petrol pumps from 7 am to 7 pm.

All industrial units which are currently open will continue to operate.

Work at all public and private construction sites, which has already commenced.

All pre-monsoon works.

Movement of people in: Taxis: Only essential (2 passengers) Autos: Only essential (2 passengers) Private four-wheelers: Only essential (2 persons) Two-wheelers: Only essential (1 rider)


WHAT’S NOT ALLOWED:

Inter-state road movement.

Inter-district plying of buses.

All visits outdoors, barring for essentials or for specified employment purposes.

Schools, colleges, coaching centres.

Shopping malls and market complexes.

Hospitality businesses like hotels.

Places of worship.

Cinema halls, gymnasiums, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars and auditoriums and assembly halls.

India to get first batch of Rafales

India is set to get the first batch of four to six Rafale fighters, armed with the Meteor air-to-air missiles and Scalp cruise missiles, towards the end of July. Amid the ongoing troop confrontation in eastern Ladakh with China, India has requested France to speed up the delivery schedule of the 36 Rafales to be delivered under the Rs.59,000 crore deal inked in September 2016.

Sources said the first four to six Rafales, flown by IAF pilots who have been trained in France, are likely to touch down at the Ambala airbase on July 27 after an overnight stopover at the Al Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi. “Four Rafales are definitely coming, but the number is likely go up to six,” said a source.

On their way from UAE to India, the omni-role fighters, also capable of delivering nuclear weapons, are likely to undergo mid-air refueling through IL-78 tanker aircraft of IAF. Initial deliveries of the Meteor missiles, which with a strike range of 120 to 150-km can outgun any missile that can be unleashed by Pakistani or Chinese jets, and the over 300-km range Scalp air-to-ground cruise missiles have already begun, said sources. The first four Rafales were to reach Ambala by May this year, with all the 36 jets arriving by April 2022. Though the arrival of the first batch got delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, India has now asked France to compress the entire delivery schedule of the 36 jets, said sources.

The Rafales will significantly add to the edge the IAF already enjoys over the PLA-Air Force along the 3,488-km LAC.

Separatist leader Geelani quits Hurriyat Conference

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, one of the most prominent pro-Pakistan separatist leaders in Kashmir, announced that he was completely disassociating from the Hurriyat Conference – a 16-party amalgam that he helped setup in 1993.

The 90-year-old leader, who had been facing criticism from Pakistan-based groups for months, attributed his decision to the lack of accountability and brewing rebellion in party ranks.

In a short audio message, Geelani, who is under house arrest since the abrogation of Article 370 in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir in August last year, said, “Keeping in view the present situation in the Hurriyat Conference, I announce to part ways from the Hurriyat forum. The decision has been conveyed to all the constituents of Hurriyat through official letters.”

In his letter to the amalgam, Geelani spoke about the reasons behind his decision to leave the Hurriyat Conference, as he accused separatist leaders based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir of being opportunistic and using the platform of Kashmir for their personal gains.

“Geelani was peeved with his associate Abdullah Geelani for his influence to get close to the power corridors,” a source said.

Geelani, who has been a three-time member of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, said, “The activities of these representatives were limited now to seeking access to assemblies and ministries for joining the government there (PoK). Some members were expelled while others started holding their own meetings. These activities were endorsed by you (constituents) by holding a meeting here to ratify their decisions,” he said in his letter.

He referred to inaction by the Hurriyat members post the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and the division of the erstwhile state into two Union territories.

Geelani, who was a founding member of the undivided Hurriyat Conference, broke away in 2003 after he faced opposition from other factions for adopting a moderate approach.

Geelani joined the socio-religious Jamaat-e-Islami as a young boy and contested assembly elections from his native Sopore in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district in the 1970s. He founded a separatist movement two decades later in the 1990s.