Rishi Kapoor passes away

Hindi film veteran Rishi Kapoor, 67, died at a Mumbai hospital on Thursday after he complained yesterday of not feeling well.

The news was shared by actor Amitabh Bachchan on Twitter.

According to reports, the actor was admitted to Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai.

In 2018, Rishi Kapoor was diagnosed with cancer for the first time, following which the actor was in New York for nearly a year to undergo treatment. He returned to India in September 2019 after recovering.

Post his return to India, Kapoor's health had frequently been in focus. Amid speculations about his health, he had been hospitalised in New Delhi in early February, while on a visit to New Delhi.

The son of famous filmmaker Raj Kapoor, Rishi was born in 1952 and made his debut as a lead actor in 1973 with Bobby, directed by his father.

Rishi Kapoor had returned to India in September after undergoing treatment for cancer in the US for almost a year.

He was previously taken to the hospital in February earlier this year after being diagnosed with an infection.

Rishi Kapoor was awarded with a National Award for his portrayal of the childhood of his father Raj Kapoor in Mera Naam Joker that released in 1970.

Following Mera Naam Joker, Rishi Kapoor amused one and all in one of the biggest Bollywood hits of the 70s, Bobby (1973) opposite Dimple Kapadia.

Later he delivered many box office hits such as Rafoo Chakkar, Karz, Prem Rog, Naseeb, Laila Majnu, Amar Akbar Anthony and Damini among others.

His journey continued even until 2019. In the past decade, his character roles were appreciated by all ages especially in films like Do Dooni Chaar, D-Day, 102 Not Out and Kapoor and Sons.

Irrfan Khan passes away in Mumbai

Irrfan Khan passed away today at a hospital in Mumbai, where he was admitted for colon infection. The 54-year-old actor had been battling cancer since 2018 and his official spokesperson had confirmed on Tuesday that he was under doctor’s observation. Irrfan is survived by his wife Sutapa and sons – Babil and Ayan.

His family issued an official statement, “i trust, i have surrendered”; These were the some of the many words that Irrfan expressed in a heart felt note he wrote in 2018 opening up about his fight with cancer. And a man of few words and an actor of silent expressions with his deep eyes and his memorable actions on screen. It’s saddening that this day, we have to bring forward the news of him passing away. Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him. After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of a rare cancer, he took life soon after as it came and he fought the many battles that came with it. Surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about, he left for heaven abode, leaving behind truly a legacy of his own. We all pray and hope that he is at peace. And to resonate and part with his words he had said, “As if I was tasting life for the first time, the magical side of it”.

Irrfan Khan’s last film was ‘Angrezi Medium’, which hit the screens days before the lockdown was announced. His innocent portrayal of a father willing to go against all odds for his daughter was much lauded by fans. Due to the lockdown, ‘Angrezi Medium’ stopped playing in theatres and was later released on an OTT platform.

Saharanpur wakes up to Himalayas

As a result of the cleaner air, for the first time in over three decades, the snow-capped peaks of Gangotri became visible from UP’s Saharanpur, an aerial distance of about 200 km. For an entire generation that grew up listening to stories from elders, it was a pleasant surprise. “These are the same mountains which can otherwise be seen from Mussoorie,” said V K Jain, forest conservator, Saharanpur division

Government Makes Aarogya Setu App a Must For Its Employees

The Centre has made the use of Aarogya Setu mobile application compulsory for its employees and, according to senior officials, wide use of the app by people in general is necessary if the country has to successfully step out of the lockdown in phases starting May.

A government order on Wednesday said all central government employees and those with PSUs (public sector units) and autonomous bodies should download the app and must review their “status” on the app before starting from home for office.

Based on self-assessment of symptoms and assessing presence of Covid-19 positive or suspect patients in the person’s neighbourhood if Bluetooth is kept on, the app tells whether the person is ‘safe’, ‘low-risk’ or ‘moderate’ and ‘high-risk’. The order said officials should only commute when the app shows ‘safe’ or ‘low-risk’ status and should not come to office and self-isolate for 14 days if they are detected as ‘moderate’ or ‘high-risk”.

A senior government official said that states and private organisations should also adopt the Aarogya Setu app and that the government visualised shopping malls and private offices opting to employ the app in future too as it was the “only large-scale tool available” for screening. “This is necessary if we have to step out of lockdown in a calibrated way in phases. Physical screening and contact tracing of all people may not be possible given the rising volume of infections, and a technology aid is required. Private companies like Zomato and Urban Company have already made use of Aarogya Setu app compulsory for their employees,” said an official, who did not wish to be identified.

The government on Wednesday also ordered that migrant labour and other stranded people to be shifted to their home states also “be encouraged to download Aarogya Setu app through which their health status can be tracked and monitored”.

Officials said the app hence offers two-way protection, for the service providers as well as the customers. This was the reason Prime Minister Narendra Modi was pushing people to download the app and expressed his satisfaction that people were selfdeclaring their symptoms on it, they said.

Aarogya Setu app has seen about 80 million downloads so far. Officials said data is shared on secure government servers on the app if a person’s sample is collected for testing and if tested positive for Covid-19. Privacy experts have raised doubts over the app, though, and said that it is no longer voluntary for at least government employees.

Centre allows stranded people to return home

Over a month after the lockdown left thousands of migrant workers stranded in bigger cities and towns without work, the Centre on Wednesday permitted their movement back to their hometowns and villages. In an official notification issued by the Home Ministry, migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and others stranded in different places were allowed to move by road following standard protocol and on mutually agreed terms between two state governments.

The move comes two days after the Supreme Court questioned the Centre about steps being taken to ensure the return of stranded migrant workers. The top court had asked the Centre to submit its reply within a week. The order was based on a plea about the plight of stranded migrant labourers across the country, who were seen walking back vast distances to reach their hometowns and villages.

In its order, the Home Ministry asked the states to appoint nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for the movement of stranded people and to begin by registering them in their states. “In case a group of stranded persons wish to move between one state and another, the sending and receiving states may consult each other and mutually agree to the movement by road… The moving person(s) would be screened and those found asymptomatic would be allowed to proceed,” the notification read.

States on the transit route have been directed to allow passage for such vehicles. Buses have been allowed for the interstate movement with instructions to sanitise them and follow social distancing norms in seating.

After arriving at their destination, the migrant workers, students, tourists or pilgrims have to be assessed by the local health authorities and kept either in home quarantine or institutional quarantine depending on the requirement. The relocated persons will remain under surveillance with periodic health examinations.


Ray ‘classics’ tumble out of loft

Feluda might be proud of what filmmaker Sandip Ray did during the lockdown – snoop around the attic of his Bishop Lefroy Road house in south Kolkata to discover a treasure trove of Satyajit Ray memorabilia tucked away without anyone seemingly knowing about its existence.

The priceless find includes, among other things, negatives of 100 hitherto unseen photographs clicked by Satyajit Ray, over 1,000 unseen negatives or transparencies of working stills from the sets of the master’s early movies, and letters and telegrams from stalwarts of world cinema such as Frank Capra, Arthur C Clarke, Akira Kurosawa and Richard Attenborough.

According to Sandip, who has carried the Ray legacy forward with a series of whodunits revolving around his father’s fictional sleuth Feluda, the long overdue clean-up had thrown up the perfect collection for Ray fans to feast their eyes on during his birth centenary on May 2 next year.

“We used to clear a bit of the loft once in a while, but there was never this kind of uninterrupted time to check if there was anything terribly important lying there,” Sandip said.

Till 1959, the Ray family’s address had been south Kolkata’s 31, Lake Avenue. From there, they shifted to 3, Lake Temple Road, before finally moving to their 1/1 Bishop Lefroy Road address. While shifting homes, a lot of stuff kept piling up, but throwing these away was never an option because the family didn’t want to risk disposing of something precious. But it wasn’t until Sandip decided to do some unhurried tidying that he realised what an invaluable treasure the loft held.

Some of the negatives in the collection have never seen the light of day. “I don’t remember seeing them printed. Among them are working stills from Pather Panchali,” Sandip said. When shooting for Pather Panchali began at Boral in South 24-Parganas in 1952, acclaimed photographer Nimai Ghosh hadn’t yet joined Ray’s unit.

Art director Bansi Chandragupta, who had done the production design of the Ray classic, used to shoot stills on the sets. Chances are these negatives, once printed, will add a fresh perspective on the making of the classic.

Asked to give a rough estimate of the retrieved negatives, Sandip said the count was huge. “During those days, one exposure meant 36 photos. We have retrieved at least 25 such wallets,” he said.


Mumbai - Pune Expressway: Toll charges increased

Revised toll charges for Mumbai-Pune Expressway have come into effect from April 20.

The toll operator revised charges after three years, as per a government gazette.

The charges for light motor vehicles, including cars, jeeps and vehicles with capacity of 12 passengers were increased from Rs.230 to Rs.270; mini-buses(20), from Rs.355 to Rs.420.

The charges for buses were increased from Rs.675 to Rs.797.

The charges for 2-seater trucks were increased from Rs.493 to Rs.580, for 3-seater trucks it was increased from Rs.1,168 to Rs.1,380; for multiaxle vehicles (loaded or empty), like mobile crane and vehicle with two or more seats, it was increased from Rs.1,555 to Rs.1,835.

12-yr-old walks 100 km to reach home, dies

A 12-year-old tribal girl died after walking 100 km with her family from Telangana to reach their native village in Bijapur district of Bastar.

The family, which worked in Telangana’s chilli farms, trekked through difficult terrain and Maoist-dominated areas, but Jeeta Madkami died 50 km short of home. CM Bhupesh Baghel has announced a solatium of Rs.5 lakh for the family.

“The child was in a group of 11 people, who had gone to Telangana to pluck green chillies in farms. After walking for three days, she died due to electrolyte imbalance in her body,” Bijapur chief medical health officer B R Pujari said.

Brent hits 21-year low

The government is readying a lifeline for oil producers such as ONGC and Oil India as the chaos in the global oil market deepened, with International benchmark Brent dipping just below $16, the lowest since 1999, before settling at $21.16.

Government sources said the oil ministry has proposed a set of measures to help domestic oil producers tide over the price crash that has led them to lose money heavily on each barrel they pump and will turn their projects into white elephants.

The options on the table at the “highest levels” of the government include a graded tax relief, soft loan from Oil Industry Development Board’s corpus created from cess on domestic oil production and pricing on a par with the landed cost of imported crude. The department of public enterprises also reviewed the situation on Wednesday as part of the exercise.

A relief package has become crucial for the survival of producers as the price crash since March has turned oil production into a loss-making proposition. For example, the total cost of a barrel of oil produced by ONGC works out to $45 after including royalty, cess and sundry other levies.

So, at Wednesday’s closing price of Brent, the company will actually end up paying from its pocket, affecting its dividend and corporate tax payout to the government.

ONGC, sources said, has asked the government to abolish oil development cess if price realised by producers is less than $45 per barrel


Key Urban Centres Mostly Remain Under Lockdown

India’s major urban centres mostly remained shut without any relaxations amid concern that five big cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Indore and Ahmedabad — accounted for nearly 60% of Covid-19 deaths. The PM had said the shutdown would be partially eased in areas that had managed to curb the spread by April 20. “This has made it virtually impossible to open these cities to any activity,” a senior government official said. “These urban centres seem to be in for a long haul even after May 3.”

There was no industrial activity in Delhi and NCR — Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Faridabad.

It also remained closed in Mumbai, Pune, Indore and state capitals such as Bhopal, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. The governments of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have, respectively, designated Noida and Gurgaon as red zones while allowing relaxations in rural areas in their states.

Delhi, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have extended comprehensive lockdowns until the first week of May. The first nationwide lockdown was imposed from March 25 to April 14. It was extended to May 3, with the proviso on relaxations after April 20, provided districts passed the ‘litmus test’ of curbing infections.

While the death count of the five urban centres is a worry, equally concerning is the widening geographical spread of the coronavirus, said a government official. The number of Covid-19-affected districts rose by almost 10% from 370 on April 14 to 408 on April 19. This figure has been rising consistently, having stood at 280 districts in the first week of April.

While Mumbai leads with more than 130 deaths, Pune and Indore have reported fatalities from Covid-19 in excess of 50 each. Delhi’s death toll is nearing 50. Ahmedabad has reported nearly three dozen deaths.

Some states have been unable to pass the litmus test that the Prime Minister had mentioned in his speech on April 14, the official said. He had appealed to states to ensure that their coronavirusfree districts remained so and that others didn’t become hotspots in the future.

“The coronavirus has spread to more districts over the past week in states such as Telangana, Delhi, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan,” a senior official said. Officials, however, cited states such as Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Goa and Manipur, which had succeeded in making some or all of their districts coronavirus free. The four weeks of lockdown from March 24 until April 19 has slowed the speed of infection growth, officials said.

The doubling of cases slowed to 7.5 days over the past week from 3.4 days before the lockdown, said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry.

Ganga water at Haridwar is ‘fit for drinking’

With industries that discharge effluents in Ganga shut and the ghats closed to public, the waters of the holy river at Rishikesh and Haridwar — twin cities that record pilgrim rush throughout the year — have seen a significant improvement in quality. In fact, for the first time in decades, the water quality at Har-ki-Pauri has been classified as “fit for drinking after chlorination”.

Data from the Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board indicates that all parameters of water assessment at Har-ki-Pauri have significantly improved since the lockdown was put in place.

“There is a 34% reduction in fecal coliform (human excreta) and 20% reduction in biochemical oxygen demand(a parameter to asses the quality of effluent or wastewater) at Harki-Pauri in April,” chief environment officer of UEPPCB, SS Pal, said. Pal added that due to the lockdown, water in Harki-Pauri has ranked in Class A for the first time in recent history. “It has always been placed in Class B since Uttarakhand was formed in 2000,” he said.

Class A water has pH balance between 6.5 to 8.5. The pH is a measure of how acidic the water is and optimum pH for river water is considered to be around 7.4. It also has adequate dissolved oxygen — 6mg/litre or more. Levels below 5mg/ litre can cause stress to aquatic life. While Class A water is fit to drink after disinfection, Class B water is fit for bathing, that too after treatment.

The team also collected samples from Devprayag and water quality there has improved as well. Scientists at IIT-Roorkee said that the latest results suggest discharge of industrial effluents into the river and human activities must be checked to rejuvenate the river. M K Jain, head of department of hydrology at the institute, said, “Pollution levels seem to have reduced due to the lockdown and its effect can be clearly seen in the river water.”

This has led seers in Haridwar — many of whom have fronted campaigns and fasts unto deaths—to claim that this is the course of action they have been calling for all along. “Why is the government wasting money on revival of Ganga when all it needs to do is to leave the river alone? This can be done by banning... building of hydropower plants, mining and industrial waste being dumped into the river,” head of Matri Sadan, Swami Shivanand Saraswati said.

Renowned water conservationist Rajendera Singh said this is an example of how “the mad rush of development” must stop.“The main lesson here is that we must move in tandem with nature. The worry is that once the lockdown is lifted, things will return to what they were,” he said.

Mallya loses appeal in British High Court

Businessman Vijay Mallya lost an appeal in Britain’s High Court on Monday against a 2018 decision of a lower court to extradite him to India to face charges of misrepresentation, fraud, and money laundering, causing losses up to nearly Rs.9,000 crore to banks Mallya, liquor baron and former boss of Kingfisher Airlines, has 14 days to apply for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court after Monday’s judgment by the Queen’s Bench division agreed that a prima facie case has been made out against him. The judgment handed down on Monday marks an impressive victory for India in the quest to get Mallya extradited from the UK.

Justice Irwin and Justice Laing described the December 2018 judgment by the Westminster Magistrates’ Court as “impressive, well-structured and thoroughly judicial approach”, raising the bar much higher for Mallya’s legal team. During the three-day appeal hearing in February 2020, Clare Montgomery, representing Mallya, had punched holes in the lower court’s judgment saying it was marked with multiple errors that led to a wrong conclusion. Mallya is now on a countdown with his legal team battling against time to apply for permission to appeal in the Supreme Court.

“If he doesn’t appeal (he faces) removal within 28 days thereafter. If he appeals, we wait for the outcome on that application,” said a Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson. The appeal is usually allowed in cases where an arguable point of law of general public importance is involved. This is a rather tall order as Mallya’s defence so far has been to point out lacunae on factual accuracy, which the two-judge bench has emphatically dismissed.

Mallya will have to go back to the Queen’s Bench Division for permission to appeal against the judgment in the Supreme Court. If that permission is declined, he has the option to move to the Supreme Court directly.

Mallya arrived to the UK in March 2016, following which India started extradition proceedings against him. In April 2017, he was arrested and brought to the Westminster Magistrates’ court where he was granted bail on a hefty bond of £650,000 (Rs.6.2 crore). Following a closely-followed trial, Emma Arbuthnot the chief magistrate found that there was a prima facie case made out by the Government of India.

Mallya went for an appeal in the high court which was first unsuccessful as, in April 2019, his application heard on paper was rejected. He made a renewed attempt for an oral hearing, laying out five grounds against the magistrate’s decision. On 2 July, 2019, a two-judge bench rejected four grounds but granted permission to appeal on the ground that the evidence provided by India was not sufficient to make out a prima facie case against Mallya.

On 11, 12 and 13 February, 2020 the appeal was heard which had some moments of heated exchange between Montgomery and Mark Summers, the CPS counsel. The court has reserved judgment and had asked for additional submissions in the case which was repeatedly described as ‘dense’. Officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate and the Indian High Commission were present as has been all through the case.


RBI takes steps to boost liquidity, eases bad loan rules

The RBI on Friday further eased bad-loan rules, froze dividend payment by lenders and pushed banks to lend more by cutting the reverse repo rate by 25 basis points, as it unveiled a second set of measures to support the economy hit hard by a coronavirus-led slowdown.

In his second televised address since the nationwide lockdown began from March 25, the Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das pledged to boost liquidity and expand bank credit.

In a measure that effectively meant that bad loans or non-performing asset classification will now happen after 180 days instead of the current policy of 90 days of payment default, the RBI announced an asset status freeze on loans that have been granted moratorium or deferment on interest/principal payment. This would cover the borrowers of both banks and NBFCs.

This means that the moratorium period will not lead to a spurt in NPAs in the system and will allow the borrowers across retail, small and medium-sized enterprises and corporates availing the moratorium to access additional funding from banks or non-banking financial companies.

Das, however, said lenders will have to make an additional provision of 10 per cent for those exposures under moratorium.

RBI cut reverse repurchase rate, a tool to control the money supply, to 3.75 per cent with immediate effect to encourage banks to deploy surplus funds within the system towards lending. The reverse repo rate cut will discourage banks from parking cash with the RBI and encourage them to lend to the economy.

It kept its benchmark repo rate, which was reduced late last month, unchanged at 4.40 per cent.

The RBI has now been decided to increase the ways and means advances limit of states by 60 per cent over and above the level as on March 31, 2020 and extended the increased limit until September 30.

It will inject Rs.50,000 crore in a new round of targeted long-term repo operations and asked banks to use the funds availed through this facility to benefit NBFCs and micro-finance institutions among others.

Karnataka: Row over wedding of former PM’s grandson

Scores of people thronged a farmhouse on Friday to get a glimpse of the wedding of former Prime Minister and JD(S) supremo, HD Deve Gowda's grandson Nikhil Kumaraswamy, ignoring appeals not to visit the venue in view of the ongoing lockdown to check the COVID-19 outbreak.

Nikhil, son of former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, tied the nuptial knot with Revathi, the grand-niece of former Karnataka housing minister M Krishnappa. The marriage was solemnised at Kumaraswamy's Kethaganahalli farmhouse at Bidadi in the neighbouring Ramanagara district, a JD(S) stronghold.

After the marriage was over HD Kumaraswamy took to Twitter to thank his party MLAs, leaders and workers for staying away from the event and blessing his son from their houses.

In a series of tweets, he said social distancing was maintained and all precautionary measures were taken throughout the event. "At a time when the whole world is rattled with the coronavirus pandemic, the marriage was performed in accordance with the government's guidelines of social distancing and proper precautionary measures were taken," Kumaraswamy tweeted.

The JD(S) leader promised that once things normalise, he would throw a grand reception where "we all will sit together and have food."

However, the BJP trained its guns at Kumaraswamy alleging that the JD(S) first family flouted the norms ignoring the Central government's guidelines. "The information we have is that at least 150 to 200 vehicles were given permission to attend the event.

This happened when the social workers who want to serve the badly affected poor people are not getting permission to run their vehicles," Ramanagar BJP district president M Rudresh alleged.

"Till now Ramanagara is safe from coronavirus and is in the green zone. If at all the disease spreads in Ramanagara, the entire blame will be on Deve Gowda's family," Rudresh added. He also said that he would meet the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police of Ramanagara district and ask them how permission was granted for such a "large gathering".

Karnataka registered 38 COVID-19 positive cases in the past 19 hours, the highest in less than a single day, raising the state's tally to 353, an official said on Friday. "Till date, 353 corona positive cases have been confirmed. This includes 13 deaths and 82 discharges," said a health official.

Mysuru accounted for the lion's share with 12 cases, followed by Bengaluru 9, Ballari 7, Mandya and Chikkaballapura 3 each, Vijayapura 2, and Dakshina Kannada and Bidar have one each case.

Matterhorn lights up with Indian tricolour

Switzerland expressed solidarity with India in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic by projecting the tricolour on the Matterhorn mountain in the Swiss Alps to give “hope and strength” to all Indians. Swiss light artist Gerry Hofstetter has been lighting up the 4,478-meter pyramidal peak straddling Switzerland and Italy with spectacular displays of flags of different countries and messages of hope as part of a nightly series supporting the nations combating the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. PM Modi also shared the tweet with a caption saying, “The world is fighting COVID-19 together. Humanity will surely overcome this pandemic.”

30% of cases across India tied to Jamaat event: Government

Around 30% of the total confirmed cases of Covid-19 in India are linked to the Tablighi Jamaat event held in mid-March at Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi, the health ministry said on Saturday underlining how the event contributed significantly to the caseload of 23 states including those with high burden of the infection.

Of the total 14,378 confirmed cases of Covid-19, 4,291 or 29.8% were linked to the Islamic religious congregation . These cases are spread across 23 states and Union Territories, which include most of the high burden states, health ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal said. He added that 80% of cases in Tamil Nadu, 63% cases in Delhi, 79% cases in Telangana, 59% cases in Uttar Pradesh and 61% cases in Andhra Pradesh are related to the event.

Besides, some states where the number of Covid-19 cases are low also accounted for cases linked with the event.

The home ministry said over 40,000 people, which includes members of the congregation and their contacts, were quarantined.

Coronavirus-stung world is now reviewing Chinese FDI

India has joined Australia and several European countries, including Germany, in reviewing its FDI policy with a special focus on China.

The US had begun a deeper scrutiny at the start of the start of the year itself. On January 13, the treasury department issued landmark regulations to scrutinise foreign investments into critical technology firms especially those from China, expanding the scope of the committee on foreign investment in the US and potential impact on national security of a foreign investment transaction.

The Covid outbreak in China made the others wary as countries realised how a disruption in the supply chain could impact them in case of an emergency. The fall in share prices after the stock market collapse only added to the fear. As a result, over the last one month or so country after country has been renewing its investment engagement with China. “They may not say so explicitly but the focus is China,” said an Indian government official. On March 17, Spain has enacted a royal decree mandating the need for authorisation of FDI on the grounds of security and public order.

And, a few days later on March 25, the European Commission issued guidelines to coordinate the approach of member states on FDI to protect critical assets and technologies from being controlled by overseas investors during the market disruption caused by Covid-19.

On April 8, the Italian government expanded the scope of a 2012 decree, called the Golden Power Law, to cover additional sectors such as health, energy, transport, defence, aerospace, media, data, artificial intelligence, electrical or financial infrastructure and land and real estate. The Golden Power Law allowed authorities to restrict investment by foreign nationals in certain industries. Till December 2020, the Italian government has expanded screening of acquisitions of controlling interests by EU entities from acquisitions related to defence and national security to the additional sectors.

Germany is amending its law to provide that even probable impairment to public security could result in government intervention. Australia has expanded the ambit of review of FDI proposals by lowering the threshold to Aus $0, besides saying that the timeline for clearing all proposals will now be six months. The threshold was earlier as high as Aus $1.1 billion (around US$ 750 million).

TVS buys UK’s iconic bike brand Norton

TVS Motor Company has said that it has entered into an agreement with the UK-based iconic bike maker Norton Motorcycles to acquire its assets and the brand for 16 million pounds in an all cash deal. Norton went under administration (became insolvent) in January. The transaction is an asset purchase and hence there is past liability of the company that will get added to TVS Motor’s books. The transaction is effective Friday.

Founded in Birmingham in 1898, Norton Motorcycles has changed hands several times. It is among the popular British motorcycle brands of all time and an emotive marque. This will be one of the most interesting acquisitions of a storied motorcycle maker in recent times as TVS joins Mahindras, who acquired another iconic brand Jawa .

“Norton is an iconic British brand celebrated across the world, and presents us with an immense opportunity to scale globally. This transaction is in line with our effort to cater to the aspirations of discerning motorcycle customers. We will extend our full support for Norton to regain its full glory in the international motorcycle landscape,” said Sudarshan Venu, Joint MD of TVS Motor.

“Its design is very unique and the R&D teams of Norton and TVS will work towards improving Norton.” He said that the acquisition would be funded through internal accruals and it was not capital-intensive.

Experimental antiviral US drug raises hopes of Covid treatment

A University of Chicago hospital, participating in a study of a US company’s experimental antiviral drug, has said it is seeing rapid recoveries among a group of Covid-19 patients’ fever and respiratory symptoms, medical news website STAT reported.

The report cited a video made by a researcher at the University of Chicago who is helping conduct a trial of Gilead’s drug remdesivir. The researcher, infectious disease professor Kathleen Mullane, said most patients had been discharged from the hospital and two had died. Gilead’s drug is one of the most-watched therapies being studied for treatment of Covid-19 patients. It’s conducting two trials of the drug in moderate and severe patients, with the goal of enrolling 4,000 people in the trials. The University of Chicago enrolled 125 patients, most of whom had severe disease, according to Stat.

The University of Chicago warned against forming conclusions from the limited data and said the information had been released without authorisation. “Partial data from an ongoing clinical trial is by definition incomplete and should never be used to draw conclusions about the safety or efficacy of a potential treatment that is under investigation,” a spokeswoman Lorna Wong said in a statement. “Drawing any conclusions at this point is premature and scientifically unsound.”

Analysts say the report shows encouraging evidence on the drug’s efficacy, but it’s too early to judge its true potential. “We are cautiously optimistic...,” Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Alethia Young wrote in a note.

Research on remdesivir’s potential to treat Covid-19 first began in February, at the peak of China’s virus outbreak. Chinese researchers had initially planned to enroll more than 700 patients in Wuhan with mild to severe symptoms to evaluate the drug’s safety and efficacy and said it would announce the trial results on April 27. But with China’s epidemic ebbing, researchers have not been able to find enough qualifying patients to reach the trial’s original enrollment target, according to a clinical trial registry.


March 2020: Exports Shrink 35%

India’s exports shrank almost 35% in March, the biggest contraction in almost a decade, reflecting the global slowdown made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Outbound merchandise shipments declined in 2019-20 for the first time after 2015-16, raising serious concerns over a sharp fall in employment-intensive sectors.

Exports declined 4.8% to $314.31 billion in FY20 from $330.08 in FY19. They slumped 34.6% to $21.41 billion in March, while imports declined 28.7% to $31.16 billion as countries sealed their borders to combat the pandemic.

WPI Eases to 1% in March

Wholesale inflation in India eased to a four-month low in March as prices of food and non-food articles fell.

Inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, was 1% in March, down from 2.26% in the preceding month, while food inflation fell to 4.91% from 7.79% in February.

Inflation in vegetables was 11.9% in March compared with 29.97% in the previous month, while that in onion stayed high at 112.31% but was lower than 162.3% in February. However, pulses, potatoes and milk saw a rise in inflation last month.

The fuel and power basket saw deflation of 1.76%, while manufactured products saw inflation of 0.34%.

In FY20, WPI inflation moderated to a four-year low of 1% after witnessing sustained pickup since FY16, as manufacturers lost their pricing power due to sluggish demand. Inflation in manufacturing was lowest in the last four years at 0.3%, from 2.2% in FY19.

Economists said that going ahead, deflationary factors would be at play rather than inflationary factors.

IMD forecasts ‘normal’ monsoon

In what will spell a measure of relief for the economy reeling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the India Meteorological Department has predicted a ‘normal’ summer monsoon for the country during the June-September period and also released new reference dates for its onset or arrival and withdrawal in various cities.

The new dates indicate whether the monsoon would be longer or shorter by a few days or even a week in cities and states but the bigger and more reassuring message was that rainfall is likely to be 100% of the long period average, with a plus-minus error of 5%. This spells encouraging news for the rural economy as a good monsoon and kharif harvest will help sustain rural demand and stable incomes can keep rural distress at bay.

“Quantitatively, the monsoon seasonal (June to September) rainfall is likely to be 100% of the Long Period Average with a model error of ± 5%,” said Madhavan Rajeevan, secretary, ministry of earth sciences. Releasing the southwest monsoon forecast, he said there was quite a high probability of 2020 being a year of good rainfall (normal to excess). More than any other year, with estimates pointing to 1.6-2.8% growth for FY 2020-21, a poor monsoon would have been a triple whammy for the Modi government that is dealing with a health emergency and sharply declining economic activity.

Though monsoon onset over Kerala, under IMD’s new reference dates, remains the same (June 1), its advance dates over states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh are now delayed by 3-7 days.

“However, over extreme northwest India, the monsoon arrives little earlier, on July 8 compared to the existing date of July 15,” said Rajeevan. While monsoon in Jalandhar will be longer by 26 days (maximum variation), it will be shorter by 15 days in Agra.

As per new reference dates, the monsoon arrival will now be four days late in Delhi (June 27 instead of June 23), three days late in Chennai (June 4 instead of June 1) and one day late in Mumbai and Kolkata (June 11 instead of June 10) while it will be five days early in Chandigarh (June 26 instead of July 1) and 15 days early in Jammu (June 28 instead of July 13). Similarly, there are changes in the monsoon withdrawal dates, especially over northwest and central India.

“Monsoon withdrawal from northwest India will now be almost 7-14 days later from the existing dates,” said Rajeevan. Comparison of arrival and withdrawal dates of Delhi shows withdrawal will be three days late (September 25 instead of September 22) This would mean monsoon in the capital would technically be a day shorter.

Lockdown 2.0: Masks made compulsory

Wearing of face masks or face covers shall be compulsory in all public spaces and workplaces, sale of liquor and tobacco will be strictly banned and spitting in public spaces shall be punishable with fine during the extended lockdown.

According to the ‘National Directives for Covid-19 Management’ issued by the home ministry as part of revised consolidated guidelines for the extended lockdown, no organisation or manager of a public space shall allow a gathering of five or more people and all those in charge of public places, workplaces and transport shall ensure social distancing as per health ministry guidelines. Gatherings such as marriages and funerals shall remain regulated by district magistrates.

In workspaces where activities are allowed to resume from April 20, temperature screening and providing sanitisers will be a must. Also, workplaces should maintain an hour’s gap between shifts and ensure that lunch breaks of staff are staggered to maintain social distancing.

The directives require senior citizens and parents of children below five years to be encouraged to work from home. Large meetings will be prohibited and workplaces sanitised in between shifts. Use of Aarogya Setu app shall be encouraged for both public and private sector employees.

Manufacturing establishments permitted to operate during the lockdown will need to frequently clean common surfaces and hand washing will be mandatory. They will also have to avoid overlap of lifts and carry out intensive communication of good hygiene practices.

Standard operating procedures have been laid down under the home ministry’s revised guidelines for social distancing in offices, workplace, factories and establishments. These require all areas on their premises including entrance gates, canteens, equipment, lifts, walls and washrooms to be disinfected completely with user friendly disinfectant.

Special transport arrangements should be made by employers to ferry workers coming from outside. Such vehicles should ply with 30-40% passenger capacity.

Medical insurance for workers has been made mandatory. Thermal screening of everyone at entry and exit points would be required, with a total ban on non-essential visitors. No more than 2-4 people should be allowed to travel in lifts (depending on the size) or hoists. Use of staircase is to be encouraged. There should be strict ban on gutka and tobacco consumption and spitting should be strictly prohibited. Hospitals and clinics in the vicinity that are authorised to treat Covid-19 patients should be identified and their list should be available at the workplace at all times.


MHA issues lockdown 2.0 guidelines

The Ministry of Home Affairs came out with some guidelines about what activities have been allowed and what will remain restricted. The ministry added that State and union territory governments shall not dilute lockdown guidelines in any manner, but they may impose stricter measures as per local requirements. The exemptions given will not be applicable to the hotspots. Now, wearing a mask will be mandatory across the nation.

Here is the list of activties that are allowed from April 20

Transportation of all goods will be allowed without the distinction of essential and non-essential.
Services provided by self-employed electricians, IT repairs, plumbers, motor mechanics, carpenters.

Farming operations will be allowed. These include:
Procurement of agricultural products
Agriculture marketing through notified Mandis and direct and decentralised marketing
Manufacture, distribution, and retail of fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds.
Activities of marine and inland fisheries; animal husbandry activities,
Supply chain of milk, milk products, poultry and live-stock farming; and tea, coffee and rubber plantations

To support the rural economy and create employment, some industries working in rural areas have been allowed to resume operations. These include:
Food processing industries
Construction of roads, irrigation projects, buildings, and industrial projects in rural areas
Works under MNREGA, with priority to irrigation and water conservation works;
Operation of rural Common Service Centres

Construction of roads, irrigation projects, all kinds of industrial projects in rural areas outside municipal corporations and municipalities.
Construction of renewable energy projects.
Continuation of works in projects under municipal corporations and municipalities where workers are not required to be brought from outside.

Manufacturing and other industrial establishments with access control have been permitted in SEZs, EoUs, industrial estates and industrial townships after implementation of SOP for social distancing.
Manufacture of IT hardware and of essential goods and packaging are also allowed with 50 per cent workforce.
Coal, mineral, and oil production will be permitted.

In financial sector, the RBI, banks, ATMs, capital and debt markets as notified by SEBI and insurance companies will also remain functional, to provide liquidity and credit support to the industrial sectors.

E-commerce operations
Operations of IT and IT-enabled services with up to 50 per cent workforce.
Data and call centres for government activities
Online teaching and distance learning

What remains restricted till May 3
Educational institutions, coaching centres
Domestic, international air travel, train services will also remain suspended till this time
Public places like cinema halls, malls, shopping complexes, gymnasiums, sports complexes, swimming pools, bars
All social, political, sports, religious functions, religious places, places of worship .

Mumbai: 2,000 workers protest lockdown extension

Within hours of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing the extension of lockdown until May 3, around 2,000 migrant workers gathered at Bandra station yesterday afternoon and demanded a way back home. While most of them were daily wage workers, sources said residents of nearby slums also joined them. The police resorted to lathi charge to disperse the crowd.

The video-footage shows scenes resembling the migrant exodus at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border last month, as also migrant workers in Surat setting vehicles on fire last week on Friday.

While some sources said rumours of special trains for migrant workers created the confusion, others said the workers were angry as they had booked train tickets for their home towns, presuming that the lockdown would be over on April 14. However, the Indian Railways’ subsidiary IRCTC said all booking windows have been closed since the lockdown was first announced but online booking was open from April 15. The Railways has now suspended booking until further orders.

Meanwhile, the Government Railway Police from Bandra said they had cordoned off the suburban station after realising that hundreds of workers were beginning to gather nearby. GRP officials said the migrants didn’t make any attempt to come near the station. Some officials said if they had booked tickets to go back home, they would have assembled at the Bandra Terminus and not the suburban station.

In the evening, Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and expressed concern over the situation and offered full support. Later, while addressing the state via social media, Thackeray told the labourers, “We are fully behind you. Don’t feel that you are being ignored. We all are Indians and we should fight this calamity together.” Late in the night, state home minister Anil Deshmukh tweeted that he will order an investigation into rumours that trains were taking migrant workers back home.

Police officials said migrant workers from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh living in the Patel Nagri colony in Bandra had assembled at the bus depot near the railway station at 3 pm. They raised slogans demanding immediate arrangement of transport to their home towns. By 5 pm, the crowd grew bigger, unmanageable and angrier.

Police spokesperson and Deputy Commissioner of Police Pranay Ashok said the officials tried to calm down the workers through dialogue. Another police official said the public announcement system of a nearby mosque was used to address the workers and they were also offered food packets. However, it reportedly led to confusion and chaos. Ashok said the police had to use light force to disperse the crowds after some of them got aggressive during the discussions. The Bandra police have registered an offence against hundreds of unknown persons under various sections of the Epidemic Act.

PM’s 7-point charter as nation goes into lockdown till May 3

As India recorded the sharpest ever spike in COVID-19 cases with 1,463 new infections in 24 hours, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an extension of the ongoing nationwide lockdown till May 3.

Following strict implementation of the lockdown over the next week, Modi said that all districts of the country will be reviewed and if they do not report any Covid-19 positive cases and are unlikely to turn into a hotspot, some relaxations will be permitted in those areas.

In his address to the nation, the PM appeared with a traditional Manipuri scarf tied around his mouth as a mask and appealed to people to use homemade masks when they step out of their houses. “Please follow discipline the way you have been doing so far. India’s battle against this pandemic has been progressing well. Because of your dedication and sacrifice, India has been able to keep far bigger losses at abeyance,” Modi told the nation early on Tuesday morning. “The power of ‘We The People Of India’ has been seen in the country during the lockdown.”

While he offered hope for normalcy after the district-level audit by government authorities by April 20, Modi remained firm on observing strict social distancing until then and warned that the slightest violation will draw ruthless action. Modi said that guidelines for the lockdown will be issued shortly. While most terms of the previous lockdown are expected to be repeated with the existing relaxations for movement of essential and non-essential goods across states but some new provisions are being added keeping in view the experiences from the 21-day lockdown, officials said.

The PM made a particular pitch for people to show empathy and put out a seven-point charter for everyone to follow. “Take extra care of the elderly, who have previous health issues. Follow the lockdown and social distancing measures strictly and do no leave the house without a face mask. To increase your immunity, follow the instructions given out by the AYUSH Ministry and drink warm water and kadha (concoction). To help contain the spread of Covid-19 download the Arogya Setu app and encourage others to do so. Take care of the poor and ensure they get their meals. Be sympathetic towards those who work for you and do not lay off anyone. Respect our corona-warriors, doctors, nurses, police officials, cleaners….” Modi maintained.

While a large section of people including daily wagers, traders, had hoped for immediate relaxations in some parts of the country that have remained untouched by the novel coronavirus in a bid to get back their daily income, the PM made no such announcement.

Modi's 7 pleas

Help senior citizens

Obey rules of lockdown and social distancing

Increase your immunity

Use Arogya Setu App

Help the poor

Dont sack employees

Respect corona-warriors


Tap Japanese companies: Deepak Parekh

Veteran banker Deepak Parekh has suggested that states should take steps to lure Japanese companies that are being pushed by their government with a $2.2 billion incentive to relocate from China. The states could offer the companies land with permission and access to utilities, he said.

“We should make it easy for the Japanese to come to India rather than them going to Malaysia, Vietnam or Thailand. States have to take the initiative and offer them 2000-5000 acres in some special zone where they do not have to look for land or building approvals,” said Parekh. Japan’s incentive to companies is a part of its stimulus package. The HDFC chairman warned that the Covid-19 crisis could result in real estate prices correcting by as much as 20%.

In a webinar on Friday, Parekh pointed out that central banks, the world over, are buying commercial paper and debt issued by private entities. He said RBI is pushing money into banks that are reluctant to invest in the debt of private companies and when they do it is at very high spreads. Another outcome of the crisis, he said, would be ‘deglobalisation’. He pointed out that European countries have already made it mandatory for government approval for all acquisitions.

Maharashtra extends lockdown till April 30

With a continuous spike in COVID-19 cases, the Maharashtra government extended the ongoing lockdown period till April 30, hours after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, along with other chief ministers, attended a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi via video conferencing.

In a live webcast, Thackeray said the lockdown, which was supposed to end on April 14, will be extended till April 30 in view of the lack of any other options.

Explaining the broad contours of the plan, the CM said while restrictions would be eased in certain areas in the state during the extended period, they will become stricter in others.

The CM said he had conveyed this decision to the prime minister during the meeting of all the chief ministers.

Before Maharashtra, Odisha and Punjab had formally extended the lockdown period till April 30.

Thackeray said the decision regarding pending examinations, restarting of industrial units and the migrant workers stranded in the state will be announced before April 14. He further said that the complete lifting of the lockdown will depend upon how soon the chain of the coronavirus transmission is broken in the most affected state.

Although no official announcement has been made, state chief ministers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived at a consensus over a nationwide two-week extension of the ongoing lockdown. Chief Ministers from 13 states joined a video conference with the PM on Saturday morning that went on for four hours during which the states raised issued they were facing in the battle against Covid-19 and also shared positive experiences from their states.

Modi reportedly told the CMs that his government was moving from its earlier mantra of ‘jaan hai toh jahan hai’ to ‘jaan bhi, jahaan bhi’ hinting that he was keen on not only saving lives but also livelihoods of people. While the Centre will prioritize the health of the people, steps will also be taken to ensure that the economy is not affected too badly.

After Odisha, Punjab extends lockdown

The Punjab government announced an extension of the ongoing lockdown till May 1, becoming the second state after Odisha to do so. Even as several state governments have in a previous meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested an extension of the nationwide lockdown and are set to do so yet again on Saturday when they are scheduled for yet another video conference with the PM, states are unilaterally extending the lockdown under their own jurisdiction. “Given the seriousness of the situation arising out of Covid19, Cabinet has decided to extend lockdown and curfew till May 1. These are difficult times and I appeal to all to ‘Stay Home Stay Safe’ and strictly observe health safeguards as you have done so far, for which I am thankful,” Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh tweeted on Friday evening after meeting his cabinet ministers.

Apart from Odisha and Punjab, state governments of Rajasthan, Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi are also set to yet again make a case for an extension of the nationwide lockdown during their interaction with PM Modi on Saturday. With several festivals starting this weekend, the Centre on Friday issued a directive to all state governments to ensure that no mass gatherings were held to observe religious festivals and sought strict implementation of the lockdown. Meanwhile, Singh maintained that “since the lockdown could not be indefinite”, his government was also looking for “ways to extricate the state from the restrictions and enable it to function with the novel coronavirus around” “A high-powered committee with several doctors, medical and other experts, was examining the situation and will soon submit its report on the lockdown exit strategy,” Singh said.


Rupee hits new intraday low of 76.55

The rupee hit a new all-time low of 76.55 in intra-day trade on Thursday even as equity markets rebounded. Dealers said the thin trade had added to the volatility as sentiment was largely negative.

“In a risk-averse situation, funds will gravitate to US treasuries and the dollar will continue to gain as long as there is uncertainty,” said a private bank executive. The local unit opened at 78.11, but slipped sharply in thin trade. However, it closed at 76.29, up 5 paise over its previous close of 76.34.

Bankers said that while there have been some inflows of dollars through the investment route, it is uncertain whether these can be sustained given that the Covid-19 crisis is not seen to have peaked. The RBI has curbed trading hours as banks are finding it difficult to staff dealing rooms and many are operating remotely.

February 2020: Factory output at 7-month high

The country’s industrial output growth rose to a seven-month high in February, led by a robust expansion in mining, manufacturing and electricity. But the Covid-19 pandemic and the 21-day lockdown to stall the spread is expected to have a sharp impact on the sector in the months ahead.

The index of industrial production rose by an annual 4.5% in February, higher than the upwardly 2.1% growth registered in the previous month and 0.2% in the same month last year. Cumulative growth in April-February rose 0.9% compared with 4% growth in the year earlier period.

The major push came from mining and electricity sectors, which posted 10% and 8.1% growth respectively, while the manufacturing sector rose 3.2% in February from a contraction of 0.3% in the same month last year. The capital goods and consumer durables sectors contracted during the month, suggesting sluggish investment and consumption demand, which has been persisting for a while. In terms of industries, 13 out of the 23 industry groups in the manufacturing sector have shown positive growth in February 2020 as compared to the corresponding month of the last year.

Economists expect the sector to be pummelled by the impact of Covid-19 pandemic. Already several economists, research houses, multilateral agencies have forecast growth to plunge to between 1.6% to 2.5% in 2020-2021 as the domestic and global economy has gone into a freeze due to the lockdown ordered across the globe to tame the spread of the disease.

Inflows into Equity MFs Touch 12-Month High

“Be greedy when others are fearful” –Warren Buffett advised investors who want to make money consistently in the stock markets. The average Indian savers appear to have heeded the Oracle of Omaha’s advice despite unprecedented carnage on D-Street, remaining steadfast on their long-term goal of building wealth, SIP by SIP.

Collections through monthly systematic investment plans continued their upward trend and touched an all-time high of ₹8,641 crore, staying above the ₹8,000 crore mark for the 16th consecutive month. For the first time, SIP collections crossed the ₹1 lakh croremark in a financial year to touch ₹1,00,040 crore. And all this through a manic March, in which Nifty crashed nearly a quarter.

Aggregate inflows into equity mutual fund schemes climbed to ₹11,723 crore during the month, higher than February’s ₹10,796 crore. These inflows are the highest in the past 12 months.

However, the average industry assets for March fell by ₹3.5 lakh crore to ₹24.71 lakh crore, but the withdrawals were not from growth assets.

While liquid fund outflows were on account of the year-end and lockdown requirements, investors withdrew from arbitrage funds after spreads between cash and futures turned negative.

Large-cap funds, multi-cap funds and focused funds got a large chunk of flows that came into equities. Inflows into large caps rose to ₹2,060 crore, compared to ₹1,607 crore in the previous month. Focused funds saw inflows of ₹1,994 crore compared to ₹1,446 crore in the previous month.

Small-cap and mid-cap flows fell to ₹163 crore and ₹1,233 crore. Multi-cap funds that invest in a mix of large, mid and small cap stocks saw flows of ₹2,268 crore, compared to ₹1,625 crore in the previous month.

Balanced funds, banking and PSU debt funds, credit risk funds, and equity savings funds, and gilt funds were some categories that saw outflows in March.

Odisha extends lockdown till April 30

The Odisha government has decided to extend the ongoing lockdown in the state till April 30 to effectively contain the spread of coronavirus.

Schools and other educational institutions will remain closed till June 17, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced after a video conference with his ministers.

“We have decided to extend the lockdown period till April 30 and a recommendation in this regard will be sent to the Centre,” he said in a video message.

Patnaik said the state has also urged the Centre to stop train and flight services to Odisha till April 30.

Odisha has recorded 44 positive cases of coronavirus so far.

The nationwide lockdown was declared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 to break the chain of coronavirus transmission and it was scheduled to be lifted on April 15.

Meanwhile, the Odisha government has promulgated an ordinance with provision of imprisonment up to two years for those who violate the epidemic regulations, official sources said on Thursday.

The ordinance amends a section of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.

As per the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, anybody who disobeys any regulation or order made under the principal Act is liable for imprisonment up to two years or with fine up to Rs 10,000 or with both.

“Every offence under this Act shall be cognisable and bailable,” it said.

The ordinance was brought as the state assembly is not in session at present, sources said.

It replaces the section 3 of the main Act, which stated violating the law invites imprisonment for maximum six months and Rs 1,000 fine, an official said, adding that a clause has been inserted in another section of the principal Act. Procurement of goods, services, and equipment for prevention and control of the epidemic disease have been brought under the purview of the amended provision which was not included in the 1897 Act.


Urban joblessness at 31%, rural at 20%: CMIE

India’s salaried population is only a small fraction of its total work force — which explains why so many migrants had to move out of cities when the lockdown was announced on March 24. The International Labour Organisation estimates that only 22% of India’s workforce falls under the category of salaried employment while 78% had no assured salary and hence was bound to suffer during this period.

Among major economies, India also ranks at the bottom on another parameter with more than 76% of workers categorised as being in vulnerable employment. That is, people classifying themselves as ownaccount workers or contributing family workers. Such workers are less likely to have formal work arrangements and hence lack decent working conditions and social security. Also, in a lockdown, many such people (like a cigarette shop owner) would be rendered jobless.

CMIE’s weekly unemployment data is collated by a survey. The survey for the last week of March had to be ended abruptly because of the lockdown and is based on 2,289 observations evenly spread over rural and urban areas, it said.

Delhi, Mumbai & more states make masks compulsory

Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha and Mumbai made the wearing of face masks mandatory for people stepping out of their homes.

In the Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir, the mandatory masks rule announced was limited to officers, staff and visitors to the Civil Secretariat, while in the UT of Ladakh it applied to the general public as well as officials, including armed forces personnel, and violation was made a punishable offence.

The new orders have been issued under Rule 10 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. The Delhi government announced its move after a meeting chaired by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. In UP, not wearing a mask or face cover will involve a penalty, the details of which are being worked out .

From April 9, it will be mandatory for people in Odisha to wear masks while stepping out of their homes. MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan made wearing masks compulsory too.

Covid-19 pandemic: Bhilwara’s strategy that cut infections

Rajasthan’s Bhilwara has reported a lone Covid-19 case in the past nine days even as new coronavirus hotspots spring up elsewhere, including the walled city of Jaipur.

The textile city’s 27th Covid-19 case was reported on April 4, five days after the previous one. While the drop in the rate of infections suggests the ruthless containment strategy in place since March 20 has worked, the administration isn’t taking any chances. Since April 3, curfew has been extended with even more restrictions than before.

Adequate groceries have been supplied at one go to each ward so that stocks last till the next phase begins. The district administration has drawn up a timetable and fixed timings for supply of items to every doorstep in a bid to prevent people from venturing out.

Status quo will be maintained till Sunday, when the administration takes a call on the way forward. “The scenario keeps changing; so we have decided to wait and watch till April 12. We will plan our future strategy depending on the situation then,” district collector Rajendra Bhatt said. The first phase of aggressive containment had started on March 20, a day after a doctor in a private hospital in the city tested positive. It lasted 14 days, during which curfew was in force across Bhilwara. But unlike now, essentials were being supplied daily to all containment zones.

Dr Romel Singh, who is on deputation from Jaipur as the nodal officer for Covid-19 containment in Bhilwara, said a wait-and-watch strategy was as much a part of the model as enforcement. “When we came here, there was a lot of work to do. We managed to pull through with the help of the police and health departments.”

The state government is awaiting the ICMR’s nod to set up a Covid-19 laboratory in Bhilwara and speed up testing. Samples collected for testing are currently sent to the state-run RNT Medical College in Udaipur.


India nearing community transmission stage

India is between Stage 2 and 3 of coronavirus pandemic with large number of cases being found in particular areas, the Union Health Ministry has said. The ministry concurred with the director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, who had said that localised community transmission is being observed in some pockets of the country.

AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria, who is also a member of a task force on COVID-19, on Monday reportedly said that “localised community transmission” has been seen in some pockets and that India is between Stage 2 (local transmission) and Stage 3.

He had clarified that the most of India is currently at Stage 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked about Guleria’s remarks, joint secretary in the ministry of health Lav Agarwal said, “What the AIIMS director has said is not in variance with what we have been explaining to you.”

Agarwal said the authorities opt for a cluster containment strategy when limited cases are reported from a particular area. Government action and intervention gets intensified when larger number of cases are reported. "We tell you every time that if there is a community transmission.we will be the first one to tell you,” the official said. “Our efforts and actions should be focused on ensuring we do not shift to stage 3.”

Agarwal said there are clear defined strategies for containment in areas reporting larger number of cases .

In Stage 2, disease transmission is limited to those with travel history to affected countries or those in contact with the infected persons. Community transmission or Stage 3 means a patient was infected though he had no known contact with another confirmed case of COVID-19 or travelled from a country affected by the pandemic.

Agarwal said there had been 693 new COVID-19 cases and 30 deaths since Sunday. The total number of cases stand at 4,067 with the toll atÂ

109. However, a PTI tally based on figures reported by states showed at least 126 deaths across the country, while the confirmed cases reached 4,111.

March 2020: Services activity contracts

Activity in the country’s key services sector contracted in March and fell to a five-month low as the Covid-19 pandemic unleashed havoc on demand in overseas markets, and discretionary spending was knocked by public health measures aimed at stemming the outbreak, a survey showed.

The IHS Markit India Services Business Activity Index recorded 49.3 in March, down from February’s 85-month high of 57.5. The headline figure fell by over eight points, undoing the strong gains in growth momentum seen throughout 2019. Firms say they fear job losses, a sharp dip in profits and revenues and overall demand. Airlines, travel & tourism, hospitality and retail have borne the brunt.

“The impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic on India’s services economy has not been fully realised yet. March PMI data showed business activity falling mildly. Crucially however, the survey data collection (March 12-27) was concluding just as Prime Minister Modi ordered a complete lockdown of the country,” said Joe Hayes, economist at IHS Markit, “Strong growth momentum seen so far in 2019 was halted in March as demand conditions deteriorated, particularly overseas, leading to a reduction in business activity. Clearly the worse is yet to come as nationwide store closures and prohibition to leave the house will weigh heavily on the services economy, as has been seen elsewhere in the world. Pressure now fully lies on the government to combat the economic challenges the lockdown will cause,” said Hayes.

The survey data pointed to the first fall in order book volumes for Indian service providers since September 2019. Although the drop in demand was modest, it was the sharpest for just over two years. There were widespread reports of new business receipts struggling due to the Covid-19 outbreak, deterring discretionary spending.

Kashmir: Army killed ultras in hand-to-hand combat

The five terrorists who had infiltrated across the Line of Control were killed on Sunday in extremely close-quarter combat by the Army’s Special Forces commandos, who were air-dropped by helicopters on the snow-bound heights of the Keran sector in north Kashmir.

But the success in thwarting the largest infiltration attempt since the snow began melting in the mountain passes this year came at a huge cost, with five commandos of the elite 4 Para-SF battalion laying down their lives in the encounter at an altitude of around 10,000 feet.

They were identified as Subedar Sanjeev Kumar, Havildar Davendra Singh and paratroopers Bal Krishan, Amit Kumar and Chhatrapal Singh. While three of them were killed in action at the encounter site, the other two succumbed to their injuries in a military hospital at Srinagar later.

Army sources said “Operation Randori Behak”, which also involved the use of helicopters and spy drones, was launched after the footprints of infiltrators were spotted in the Jumgund area near the LoC on April 1.

“The anti-infiltration fence had been submerged by the snow in the area, with all routes being cut off amidst the razor-sharp ridge lines there. During the intensive search operations, ‘contact’ was established with the terrorists four times but they managed to escape, once by jumping off a ledge,” said a source.

With the help of visuals obtained from UAVs, a few Para-SF squads were moved forward by helicopters into the area. Around daybreak on Sunday, the five-member squad being led by Subedar Sanjeev Kumar inadvertently climbed onto a cornice (an overhanging mass of hardened snow at the edge of a mountain precipice) while tracking the fresh footprints left behind by the terrorists, said the sources.

With the cornice collapsing under their weight, three of the five SF soldiers fell into a steep narrow valley. “As luck would have it, the five terrorists were hiding in that particular ‘nullah’ …despite their fall, the three soldiers and the two others engaged the terrorists at virtually point-blank range in the ensuing hand-to-hand combat,” said the source.

“The close combat can be gauged from the fact that the bodies of the soldiers and the terrorists were found within two to three metres of each other at the site,” said the source.

President, PM, MPs to take 30% pay cut

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all Union ministers along with over 750 Members of Parliament will take a 30 per cent salary cut for one year and the amount will be used to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, an ordinance to the effect was passed on Tuesday.

The Union Cabinet approved the ordinance amending the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954, slashing their earnings by 30 per cent effective from April 1 for a year. The ordinance will have to be passed by the Parliament when it is in session next.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice president Venkaiah Naidu and governors of -states have taken a voluntary pay cut of 30 percent for the same period, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters after the cabinet meeting that was held through video conferencing. “This is a landmark decision that sends the right signals. Though the amount will not be much, it is the message that goes out to the people that matters,” Javadekar said.

In addition, the cabinet suspended the MP Local Area Development Funds for all MPs across states for a period of two years. The funds accumulated from this, close to Rs.7,900 crore will be deposited in the Consolidated Fund of India.

Congress whip in Lok Sabha, Manickam Tagore said that while he welcomed the slash in salaries of MPs, the suspension of MPLADs for two years was ‘problematic and needs to be reconsidered.’ Leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury added, “Removal of MPLAD fund is a gross injustice towards the representatives of people as well as the voters, as the MPs enjoy the autonomy of spending the fund for the development of the area according to the demands of the common voters. The decision of the government also amply proves that the country is heading towards financial emergency.”


British-era bridge on expressway demolished

The British-era Amrutanjan bridge near Lonavala on the Mumbai-Pune expressway was demolished on Sunday through controlled blasting of explosives.

The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation demolished the 190-year-old bridge to facilitate the movement of traffic on the expressway. The bridge, which was built by the British in 1830, was causing traffic snarls on the expressway and even led to several accidents. Although the use of the bridge was stopped long time back, its pillars were coming in the way of the vehicular movement on the route.

“The entire Mumbai-Pune expressway, which is around 100 km-long, has six lanes. But the wide pillars of the Amrutanjan bridge had made the nearby stretch a four-lane road,” a senior MSRDC official said.

“The pillars had occupied the space of an entire lane on both the sides, which used to slow down the traffic,” the official added.

“The bridge would have completed 190 years in November this year. But since it was causing a hindrance to the traffic on the expressway, it was decided that it should be removed. Accordingly, it was demolished using explosives,” he said.

The Raigad district collector had given permission to the MSRDC to carry out the demolition work between April 4 and 14. “The bridge was demolished around 5 pm on Sunday. In order to carry out the task, the traffic, which is already sparse due to the lockdown, was diverted to old Mumbai-Pune highway,” he added.

“The traffic will remain diverted for the next few days due to the debris lying on the route after demolition. The lockdown has given us enough time to remove the debris. It would need around 1,000 trucks to clear the rubble. We plan to complete the task before April 15,” the official said.

Giving information about the bridge, the MSRDC official said, “It did not have a specific name, but for a long time an advertisement of Amrutanjan pain relief balm was placed there. So it came to be known as Amrutanjan bridge.”

“It was a 110-metre long and 16-metre wide bridge constructed in earth work and basalt stones. It had five pillars and every pillar was almost three metres wide,” the official said. He said the cornerstone of the bridge will be preserved.

Like Diwali in April....

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took part in the ‘diya jalao’ event on Sunday night as a show of the nation’s resolve to fight the coronavirus with his attire sending out a subtle message of national integration — a combination of ‘mundu’ from the South and an Assamese ‘gamosa’ from the northeast.

The PM joined millions of Indians as they lit up ‘diyas’ and candles at their doorstep and balconies to express solidarity in the fight against Covid-19 spread. In a video message on Friday, Modi had urged people to light up diyas, candles, mobile flashlights etc to show national solidarity in fighting the pandemic.

Modi’s call of ‘diya jalo’ call too received an overwhelming response. He shared four pictures of him lighting up a diya while wearing mundu and draped with a ‘Asami gamchha’, a message that the whole nation is together in the fight against Covid-19. He shared a Sanskrit Shloka — “Shudha Karoti Kalyanmarogyam Dhansampada, Shatrubuddhi Vinashay Deepjyotirnmastute” (lighting up a lamp leads to prosperity, welfare and defeat of the enemy’s ploy).

Top functionaries of BJP followed suit by lighting up diyas at 9pm.

Home Minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh, Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla and most of the Union ministers and other senior members shared their pictures of lighting lamp on their social media handles.