9.8.20

IAF night flies Chinook over DBO as PLA ramps up troops in occupied Aksai Chin

The Indian Air Force’s rapid deployment Chinook helicopters have flown in the night over 16,000 feet Daulet Beg Oldi, Indian Army’s last outpost near Karakoram Pass, after the deployment and road building activity of China’s People’s Liberation Army deployment increased in the area across the Line of Actual Control.

According to authoritative sources, the divisional commander level meeting at Teinweindien post in occupied Aksai Chin was to lower the temperatures in the DBO sector with the Indian Army demanding that patrolling in Depsang Plains should be allowed unhindered. The DBO dialogue is separate from the military commanders on-going dialogue on Chushul-Moldo area with the specific task of disengagement and de-escalation of troops on the four friction points.

The decision to fly Chinook over DBO advance landing ground during night time was taken to test the Indian Army’s capability of rapid insertion of special forces and infantry combat vehicles in case the situation deteriorates in the sub-sector north area. “ While Apache attack helicopters have been patrolling Chushul area, the US made Chinook flew over DBO to test its night fighting capabilities…..we have already deployed T-90 tanks and artillery guns in the area,” said a senior commander. The US built Chinook has a proven record of night flying in Afghan mountainous terrain and is used for rapid military retaliation by the special airborne forces. The twin rotor platform has two heavy calibre machine guns deployed at the front and back of the chopper to suppress ground fire.

While the Chinese have raised objections to the deployment of tanks and guns at DBO, the Indian Army have pointed to recent accretion of PLA troops in the area along with air activity across the SSN. Both sides are matching each other’s deployment in the area even as the PLA is indulging in fast paced construction of roads in the area for rapid deployment. The interesting part is that while China raises objections to India building border infrastructure, there is no slowing down of the same all along the LAC---from occupied Aksai Chin to Kibuthoo in Arunachal Pradesh.

At the divisional commander level meeting on Saturday, India has also raised the issue that both sides should be allowed to do unhindered patrolling of their respective claim lines in the area including the Depsang Bulge, south of DBO. This was a clear indication of the Indian intent that it is not going to back down from patrolling rights at the Bulge or at any other place on the LAC.

8.8.20

Kashmir: 2,300 pending projects worth ₹6,000cr cleared

In the year following neutering of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir, 2,273 infrastructure projects worth Rs.5,979 crore, which had been pending for the past 5-10 years, were sanctioned and 506 completed even as J&K Chief Secretary B V R Subrahmanyam describes the efforts to bring good governance and development to the erstwhile state as “work in progress”.

Some of the works done so far include strengthening of the panchayat structure, completion of Phase 1 of Jhelum flood mitigation project, creation of 10,000 jobs and opening up 50 new degree colleges.

Describing the erstwhile state of J&K as “broken” and with no “system” due to years of mis-governance and corruption and “unbelievable levels of fraud” committed by past regimes led by a handful of powerful families and institutions controlled by them, Subrahmanyam, a Chhattisgarh-cadre IAS officer, said he was sent to J&K by the Prime Minister with a clear direction to “clean up the state, reform it and hand over to the people of J&K their ‘amaanat’ (valued possession)”.

Projects pending for over four decades like the Shahpur-Kandi project were started, J&K Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation was created last year to complete projects languishing for 5-10 years, panchayat elections were held successfully and the intricacies of transition J&K Constitution to Constitution of India, state to Union territory followed through.

Maharashtra : 19.1% positivity rate twice the national average

Maharashtra continues to have the highest positivity rate in the country at 19.1%, more than double the national average of 8.9%. Experts say the numbers are indicative of the continued spread in the state, with certain districts having a PR of more than 25%- 30%. Telangana, with a positivity of 13.3%, and Delhi, with 12.5%, occupy the second and third positions.

With testing volumes going up in a big way across states, including Maharashtra, positivity rates have seen quite some disruption.

Kerala: Twin Tragedies

 At least 15 people, including five women and two minors, were killed after incessant rains triggered a massive landslide near Munnar in Kerala in the early hours on Friday. Sources say, at around 2 am a river of mud and debris flattened the settlement of tea plantation workers at a Tata Group estate at Pettimudi, about 10 km from Eravikulam National Park along the Western Ghats, about 25 km from Munnar, officials at Devikulam taluka office said.

Over 50 people are still missing as the rescue teams had to call off the search mission for the day in the evening due to low visibility caused by heavy fog and rains. The remoteness of the area and disrupted communication lines also hampered the operations all day.

Many of the 12 who were rescued sustained serious injuries and have been admitted to a hospital nearby.

Nearly 80 people, most of them from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, were living in shelters meant for Kannan Devan plantation workers where the landslide hit.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced a solatium of Rs.5 lakh each for the kin of the dead. Treatment expenses for the injured will be borne by the government, he said.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a tweet that an ex-gratia of Rs.2 lakh each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the kin of the deceased. Rs.50,000 each would be given to those injured.

The state has been on alert for the last one week following weather forecasts predicting heavy rainfall in the state. The death toll in rain-related incidents since June 1 this year has risen to 51.

At least 16 people were killed Friday when a passenger jet overshot and skidded off the runway as it landed in southern India, breaking into two pieces.

Dozens of people were injured, 15 of them seriously, after the Air India Express Boeing 737 originating from Dubai touched down in Kozhikode in heavy rain.

The airline said more than 190 passengers and crew were on board the plane that, according to the aviation ministry, plunged 10 metres down a slope off the end of the raised so-called table-top runway.

Television footage showed the fuselage of the jet ripped apart and surrounded by emergency personnel working in the dark, spraying the wreckage with water although there was no sign of any fire.

Aviation regulator DGCA said the plane skidded off the end of the runway and “fell down in the valley and broke down in two pieces”.

Four people were still stuck inside the plane. media reports said.

One television channel reported there had been a problem with the jet's landing gear.

Air India Express said in a statement that there was “no fire reported at the time of landing.”

It said there were 174 passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and five cabin crew on board the aircraft.

The plane was one of dozens in recent weeks to repatriate some of the thousands of Indians left stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic, many of them in Gulf countries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences.

“My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover at the earliest... Authorities are at the spot, providing all assistance to the affected,” Modi said.

The last major plane crash in India was in 2010 when an Air India Express Boeing 737-800 from Dubai to Mangalore overshot the runway and burst into flames.

The crash killed 158 people and left eight survivors.

Kerala has been battered by heavy rains in recent days.

At least 15 people were killed on Friday after a landslide triggered by heavy rains flattened a row of huts elsewhere in the state.

Around 50 other people were feared trapped in the debris. The dead included two children. 

6.8.20

Ram belongs to all: PM




Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation for the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya in a religious extravaganza that marked the culmination of a campaign that fuelled the rise of the BJP and the fulfilment of one of its core poll promises.

Amid the chanting of shlokas, Modi consecrated the very first bricks for the temple at the spot where many devout Hindus believe Lord Ram was born.

The wait of centuries has ended, he said after performing the groundbreaking ceremony, made possible by a Supreme Court verdict last year allowing the construction of the temple at the site where ‘kar sevaks’ demolished a mosque in 1992.

The day also coincided with the first anniversary of the abrogation of provisions of Article 370, scrapping the special status for Jammu and Kashmir.

Modi described Ram as the common thread in India’s unity in diversity, and drew a parallel between the country’s independence movement and “centuries” of people’s struggle to build the temple at Ram Janmabhoomi.

He cited values associated with Ram and said, “We have to take care of everyone’s sentiments.”

“We have to join stones for the construction of the Ram temple with mutual love, brotherhood,” he said.

Modi started and ended his speech with chants of “Siyavar Ramchandra Ki Jai” and “Jai Siya Ram”.

Some Ram Janmabhoomi movement leaders, including former deputy prime minister L K Advani, were not in the list of invitees that included 175 people.

The guest list was short because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the invitees sat on chairs placed apart to maintain social distancing.

Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra trust head Nritya Gopal Das were on the dais along with the PM.

Sending out the message that “Ram is everywhere, Ram belongs to all”, Modi said the temple symbolises India’s rich heritage and will be an inspiration to all of humanity.

“Social harmony was the core principle of Lord Ram’s governance,” the prime minister said.

The construction of the Ram temple is an instrument to unite the country, he said, adding that it will lift the economy of the entire region.

He released a postage stamp to commemorate the event.

The ceremony marked Modi’s return to Ayodhya 28 years after he accompanied the then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi on his “Tiranga Yatra”. He also played a role in Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ to mobilise support for building the temple in Ayodhya.

Last November, the Supreme Court ruled that a Ram temple can be build at the site where the 16th century mosque was demolished in December 1992.

While allotting the Ram Janmabhoomi site for a temple to be built by a trust, it ordered that a five-acre plot should be found elsewhere in Ayodhya for a new mosque.

When PM Narendra Modi chose to hail Lord Ram with the ‘Jai Siya Ram’ chant instead of the popular ‘Jai Shri Ram’ after the bhoomi pujan, it left many curious. “First let us remember Lord Ram and Mata Janki ... Siyavar Ram Chandra Ki Jai… Jai Siya Ram,” the PM said in his speech.

Since the launch of the Ram Temple movement in 1984, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has been the most popular mode of greeting among the saffron forces. It took the form of a war cry in the heat of the temple moment. However, votaries of ‘Jai Siya Ram’ believed that Jai Shri Ram was a militarised way of greeting and took away the benevolence and benign nature. It also deemphasised the role of Sita.

They felt that Jai Siya Ram represented the benign character of Ram — who is known as ‘maryada purushottam’. “While Jai Shri Ram reflected belligerence, the driving sentiments in Jai Siya Ram are love and submission,” said Mahant Girishpati Tripathi of the Tewari Mandir. Jai Shri Ram supporters, however, say there was no difference between the two usages.

Incessant rains, 100-kmph winds batter south Mumbai


Heavy rains and strong winds battered south Mumbai, causing flooding in several areas - including Girgaon Chowpatty, Colaba and Byculla - that normally remain flood-free even when the rest of the city is submerged. BMC officials told Mirror that south Mumbai received more than three times the amount of rain than the suburbs on Wednesday. While Colaba recorded 229.6 mm of rainfall between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm, Santacruz recorded just 65.8 mm. Areas such as Malabar Hill (280.7 mm) and Dongri (260.3) recorded even higher rainfall than Colaba. The BMC also reported 101.4-kmph winds at Marine Lines at 4.15 pm.

Officials said that in south Mumbai, heavy rains coincided with the 4.41-meter high tide at 1:19 pm. The tide receded only around 7:30 pm, leading to heavy flooding across the island city. “There is a major outfall (which brings all the rainwater from the area to the sea) opposite Wilson College near chowpatty. The tide was so high that it was above the outfall, so there was no chance of the rain water going into the sea. There was unprecedented rainfall through the day,” said Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner, D ward.

The BMC recorded six incidents in which houses collapsed - three of which were in south Mumbai. It also recorded 112 incidents of trees and branches falling in the island city, and only 13 in the western suburbs and 16 in the eastern suburbs. Fallen trees were reported at Marine Drive’s D and F roads, Babubhai Chinai Marg, and opposite the Air India building on Cama Road. Some of the trees damaged cars but no one was hurt in these incidents.

The winds were so strong that a traffic pole was uprooted near Garware Junction at Marine Drive in the evening. According to BMC officials, there was sea water on the road at Girgaon chowpatty. A part of the protective wall along the chowpatty at Babulnath Junction was washed away. Parts of Colaba, Fort and Byculla also reported flooding, as did the state-run JJ Hospital.

July 2020: Services Activity Shrinks for 5th Month


India’s services sector activity shrank for the fifth consecutive month in July even though the pace of contraction slowed compared to June, a clear indication of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns taking a toll on the services sector. July witnessed drops in new business and job cuts. The IHS Markit Services Business Activity Index was 34.2 in July against 33.7 in June. A reading above 50 indicates expansion and below that shows contraction in activity.

The latest reading remains close to the lowest recorded in nearly 15 years of data collection, surpassed only by the unprecedented falls in the previous three months.

With overall demand severely muted, service providers made further job cuts in July. The rate of job cuts was the fastest on record, with panellists blaming weak client demand and temporary business closures.

“Services firms remained pessimistic with regards to activity over the year ahead for a third consecutive month in July, with the proportion of survey respondents expecting a decline in activity levels outweighing those anticipating a rise,” IHS Markit said.

A sister survey showed manufacturing worsening in July. The Composite PMI Output Index signalled a further rapid contraction in private sector business activity in July as it fell from 37.8 in June to 37.2.

The latest IHS Markit estimates point to an annual contraction in GDP of over 6% in the year ending March 2021.


Trains set to run at 160 kmph from Delhi to Mumbai, Kolkata by 2022

The railway ministry has instructed its zones to complete the upgradation work of tracks and other associated facilities by March 2022, to enable passenger trains to run at 160 kmph on Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah routes.

Most sections of these railway corridors are likely to get barbed fencing which is required for allowing trains to run at that high speed, sources said.

The respective divisional railway managers have been asked to avail longer blocks on tracks considering that currently very few passenger trains are being operated. They have been asked to start the work from next month. Currently, the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah corridors have potential speed of 130 kmph.

It is also probable that in the near future not many new passenger trains are announced as majority of the 230 trains being run currently have less than 80% occupancy.

The instruction from the railway ministry came days after prospective private bidders for operating express trains had raised questions on how they could be expected to run trains at 160 kmph when the tracks are not ready. The second pre-bid meeting is scheduled this week.

In August last year, the Union Cabinet had approved plans to upgrade the speed of trains on Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata by 2022-23. The railway ministry has also announced that private operated trains would be operational by April 2023.

5.8.20

Favipiravir: Sun Pharma launches drug at ₹35

Triggering another round of price wars for a potential Covid-19 drug, Sun Pharma launched antiviral Favipiravir at an “economical’’ price of Rs.35 per tablet for the treatment of mild to moderate cases.

With this, the company’s version ‘FluGuard’ becomes one of the cheapest brands in the market, joining nearly a dozen players which have announced or launched their own generic versions.

The antiviral drug was approved by India’s drug regulator as ‘restricted emergency authorisation’ under the accelerated approval process. Emergency use authorisation is a provision that allows countries to use drugs urgently needed in an emergency situation or healthcare crisis.

Meanwhile, a month after its launch, Glenmark Pharma had announced reduction in the price of its Covid drug, FabiFlu, by 27% to Rs.75 from the earlier Rs.103 per tablet. This was possible, it said due to better scale and yield with a larger quantity of tablets being manufactured. A host of companies had also entered the market with more affordable versions, leading to price cuts. Jenburkht and Briton versions are priced between Rs.35-37 per tablet, while the rest are priced at around Rs.60 per tablet.

It is learnt that last week certain companies had reduced prices of the drug again.

Industry experts say the price reductions may continue due to intense competition and economies of scale. Companies are also planning to commence exports to countries where the drug has been approved like Turkey, UAE and Gulf Cooperation Council.

New domicile law gives women in Kashmir a reason to celebrate

At 10, Aaliya Tariq can’t understand the fuss over her becoming the first J&K resident to receive a domicile certificate online. But 40-something Baby Gul (name changed) can. She has waited all her married life to reclaim the feeling that she belongs.

“For all the trials and tribulations of the past year, this August 5 will be a reiteration of the one good thing to come of it,” Baby, a resident of Srinagar, said. “I am back to being a Kashmiri with the same rights as anyone else, irrespective of my status as the spouse of a UP native. I can finally accept the inheritance my father bequeathed me.”

Amid the debate over the implications of the new domicile law that was set in motion a year ago, women like Baby – and their daughters – are quietly celebrating what they see as a blow for gender equality in the Valley.

Maharashtra: Nashik corridor nod soon

Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said the cabinet would soon approve the Pune-Nashik semi-high speed corridor project to ensure that its work started as early as possible.

The ministry of railways approved the project last month. Pawar held a meeting to discuss the project with the authorities of the Maharashtra Rail Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited. “A presentation on the project was made before Pawar as well the MLAs present,” a source in the MRIDC said.

The cost of the project has been pegged at Rs.16,039 crore. The length of the corridor would be around 235.15 km.

The travel time from Pune to Nashik would be an hour and 45 minutes once the semi-high speed corridor is ready. The MRIDC will be developing some high speed trains, which will ply on the corridor with regular trains. The high speed trains will initially have six coaches and run at a speed of 200 kmph.

The corridor will pass through Pune, Ahmednagar and Nashik, providing connectivity to industrial zones such as Alandi, Chakan, Khed, Manchar and Narayangaon, among others.

4.8.20

Chinese apps Baidu, Weibo blocked in India

Weibo and Baidu Search, two of China’s biggest apps that were called the alternatives to Twitter and Google Search, have been blocked in India and according to reports, will be taken off the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

Internet service providers have also been told to block these two apps. Weibo and Baidu Search are among 47 new apps that the Indian government banned on July 27 and added that the government is considering a decision to ban more apps.

PM Narendra Modi had an account on Weibo but he shut it down in the face of escalating tensions between India and China.

Blocking of these 47 apps follows the government’s first decision to ban 59 apps including the very popular TikTok and other apps like the UC Browser, Helo, Likee, Shareit, WeChat, CamScanner and Mi Community. 

These 59 apps were banned on June 29 and then the government added 47 more apps to the ban list, however, this time around the list was not made public.

Most apps in this second list of 47 include clones, or lite versions, of some of the apps that were a part of the 59 banned like TikTok Lite, Shareit Lite, CamScanner HD, BioLive Lite, Likee Lite etc.

These apps have been banned for engaging in activities that are “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

Reports have it that the government is also looking into 275 more Chinese apps that include the likes of PUBG Mobile and ByteDance’s Resso.

Tamil Nadu govt rejects three-language formula

The Tamil Nadu government rejected the Centre’s three language system proposed in the National Education Policy, asserting that there will be no deviation from the state’s decades-old two-language formula of Tamil and English.

The NEP, passed by the Union cabinet last week, said the mother tongue/local and regional language will now be the medium of instruction till at least Class V, and preferably beyond Class VIII. Also, Sanskrit will be offered at all levels of school and higher education as an option for students, including in the three-language formula.

The proposal was met with resistance in Tamil Nadu, with DMK chief and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly MK Stalin dubbing it as an attempt to “impose” Hindi and Sanskrit on non-Hindi-speaking states. The ruling AIADMK’s ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, too, had called the three-language system unacceptable.

The anti-Hindi movement of the 1960s, led by the DMK, had struck a chord among the people of TN and is believed to have contributed to the Dravidian party’s stellar win in the 1967 election under the Annadurai, unseating a Congress government in the state for the first time in post-Independent India. Former CMs MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa were also firmly against the “imposition” of Hindi.

Factory Activity Worsens in July


India’s manufacturing activity contracted at a faster pace in July after showing some recovery in June, as localised lockdowns by state governments took their toll on business activity.

The IHS Markit India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index dropped to 46 in July from 47.2 in June. The reading pointed to a “marked deterioration in business conditions across the Indian manufacturing sector”, to which firms responded by cutting both staff numbers and purchasing activity, IHS Markit said in its report.

A reading below 50 is an indicator of contraction, while one above that shows expansion.

Data from Indian manufacturers shed more light on the state of economic conditions in one of the countries worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Centre imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 25 to contain the spread of Covid-19. The restrictions were eased in phases starting May, but several state governments opted for stringent local shutdowns last month to quell outbreaks, impacting the pickup in activity.

Indicators such as unemployment data that had shown improvement in June were tepid in July due to the re-emergence of lockdowns.

The economy did not gather pace in July after the June spurt amid rising Covid-19 cases and mini shutdowns, denting the recovery. Retail remained sluggish, credit growth was lower, diesel demand fell and mobility indicators did not suggest increased activity in the month, it said.

According to the IHS Markit report, subdued demand was evidenced by another marked decrease in new orders placed with manufacturers last month, and attributed to often-cited prolonged closures at clients’ businesses. Further contraction in new export orders was seen, as international clients were hesitant to place orders while the duration of the pandemic remained uncertain. The latest reduction in exports was the softest for four months.

Contrary to prevailing conditions, manufacturers were increasingly optimistic over future activity, the report said. Sentiment toward the 12-month business outlook improved for the second month in a row to reach a five-month high. However, the degree of positivity was still well below the historical average, it said.

SII gets nod for Phase II, III of human trials of Oxford Covid-19 vaccine

The Drugs Controller General of India gave its approval to the Serum Institute of India in Pune to conduct Phase II and III human clinical trials of Oxford University-Astra Zeneca Covid-19 vaccine, known as Covishield, being undertaken in India. Health Ministry officials said that the move is expected to ‘hasten the development of the Covid-19 vaccine.’ The approval was granted after taking into account the recommendations of a Subject Expert Committee on Covid-19 and a detailed evaluation of the vaccine candidate.

Earlier last week, the committee had deferred its approval and suggested eight changes to the initial proposal. These changes included a fair distribution of the clinical trials across cities in India, proper demarcation of Phase II and III, revision of the 41 per cent dropout rate to make it at par with other vaccine studies, and making cellular immunity a part of the immunogenicity assessment.

A revised proposal submitted by the SII, proposed that 1600 people above 18 years of age will participate in the trials across 17 selected sites, including AIIMS-Delhi, B J Medical College in Pune, Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Patna, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, AIIMS-Jodhpur, Nehru Hospital in Gorakhpur, Andhra Medical College in Visakhapatnam, and JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research in Mysore.

The institute said it would conduct an observer-blind, randomised controlled study to determine the safety and immunogenicity of ‘Covishield’ on healthy Indian adults. In the proposed study design, it has been stated that each subject will be administered two doses four weeks apart, the first dose on day one and second dose on day 29, following which the safety and immunogenicity will be assessed at predefined intervals. Studies in the United Kingdom have so far shown that a single dose of the vaccine led to a four-fold increase in antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) spike protein in 95 per cent of participants one month following the vaccination. Additionally, a Tcell response that peaked by day 14 and remained for two months after injection was observed in all subjects.

AstraZeneca had forged deals with multiple countries to produce more than two billion doses of the investigational Covid-19 vaccine. The tie-up with SII is to manufacture about a billion doses for low and middle-income countries.

3.8.20

Rajya Sabha Member Amar Singh Dies At 64


Former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh has died after battling an illness. He was 64. The Rajya Sabha MP had gone to a hospital in Singapore in March for surgery in a kidney-related illness. He had undergone a kidney transplant in 2011.

Amar Singh was a key leader in the Samajwadi Party at a time when the party moved to support the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2008, after the Communist Party of India withdrew from the government over a nuclear deal with the US.

Many leaders have tweeted their condolences. 

Amar Singh is survived by his wife Pankaja Singh and two daughters - Drishti and Disha.

A flamboyant politician who often did not pay much heed to demands of political correctness in his interactions, including with the media, Amar Singh shot into the league of top politicians as Mulayam Singh Yadav's close aide.

Former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh had been battling a long illness before he died.

Amar Singh was first elected to Rajya Sabha in 1996. After he was expelled by the Samajwadi Party in 2010, he was elected to Rajya Sabha again in 2016

The former Samajwadi Party leader, however, had praised party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav while he was leaving, with a parting note: "I am blessed by him... he has given me liberation."

Amar Singh is survived by his wife Pankaja Singh and two daughters - Drishti and Disha.

A flamboyant politician who often did not pay much heed to demands of political correctness in his interactions, including with the media, Amar Singh shot into the league of top politicians as Mulayam Singh Yadav's close aide.

However, with the emergence of Mulayam Singh Yadav's son Akhilesh Yadav as the main face of the Samajwadi Party - Akhilesh Yadav later became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh - Amar Singh's influence started waning.

It was he who brought actor Jaya Prada, who was once a Telugu Desam Party MP, into the Samajwadi Party, and she was elected to Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh's Rampur twice.

Amar Singh and the Bachchans were also very close at one point. But in 2016, their relationship took on strains after Mr Singh went public with his complaints against Jaya Bachchan, a Samajwadi Party leader.

In February this year, Amar Singh released a video expressing "regret" over his behaviour towards Amitabh Bachchan and his family. The former Samajwadi Party leader recorded and posted the video on his Facebook account after receiving Mr Bachchan's message on the death anniversary of his father.

Amar Singh was first elected to Rajya Sabha in 1996. After he was expelled by the Samajwadi Party in 2010, he was elected to Rajya Sabha again in 2016 as an independent member but with support from the Samajwadi Party, with whom he was seen to have burnt his bridges.

Covid-19: Amit Shah tests positive


Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit have tested positive for coronavirus, the latest among prominent public figures in the country to have contracted Covid-19, while Uttar Pradesh minister Kamal Rani Verma succumbed to the infection on Sunday.

Taking to Twitter, 55-year-old Shah said he had undergone a coronavirus test after showing initial symptoms “My health is fine, but I am getting admitted to a hospital on the advice of doctors,” he tweeted in Hindi and urged those who had come in contact with him in the last few days to get tested for coronavirus and isolate themselves.

The last known public function which Shah attended was on Saturday at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts where he addressed a webinar on the occasion of the 100th death anniversary of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. About 50 people were physically present at the event.

Government sources said the home minister was also present at the last meeting of the Union Cabinet held on Wednesday by following strict social-distancing norms along with wearing of masks. Several politicians including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, DMK chief MK Stalin, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP president JP Nadda, were among those who wished Shah a speedy recovery.

In Uttar Pradesh, Kamal Rani Varun (pictured above), the only woman cabinet minister in the state, died of Covid-19 at a hospital in Lucknow on Sunday. She was 62. The technical education minister, who tested positive for the virus on July 18, breathed her last at the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences.

She had comorbidities, including diabetes, hypertension and hyperthyroidism, a senior doctor at the hospital said.

Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit tested positive for Covid-19, but has been advised home quarantine since his infection was mild, the Kauvery Hospital in Chennai said on Sunday. The 80-year old Purohit was in self-isolation since July 29 after three people in the Raj Bhavan tested positive for the coronavirus.

30.7.20

NHAI to acquire land next to E-ways for bullet train

The National Highways Authority of India would acquire additional land for the laying of railway lines for high speed trains along the greenfield expressways for integrated development of transport networks. Following a recent meeting under Nitin Gadkari, both the road and railway ministries have set up a task force to work out the modalities for acquiring land and sharing the cost.

Meanwhile, the railway board has written a letter to NHAI giving details of seven High Speed Rail Corridors for running bullet trains. The identified seven high speed rail corridors are Delhi to Varanasi via Noida, Agra and Lucknow; Varanasi to Howrah via Patna; Delhi to Ahmedabad via Jaipur and Udaipur; Delhi to Amritsar via Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Jalandhar; Mumbai to Nagpur via Nasik; Mumbai to Hyderabad via Pune and Chennai to Mysore via Bangalore.

5 Rafales land in Ambala

India received its first batch of new combat-proven fighter aircraft in two decades with the arrival of five Rafale jets, giving the country’s air power a strategic edge in the midst of a bitter border row with China in Ladakh and frayed ties with Pakistan.

The aircraft, having an undisputed track record and considered one of the most potent combat jets globally, landed at the Ambala Air Force base at around 3:10 pm after covering a distance of 7,000 km from the Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux.

Each jet was given a special water cannon salute at the strategically-located air base in the presence of top brass of the Indian Air Force including Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria who had played a key role as lead negotiator in their procurement.

Welcoming the arrival of the jets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a tweet in Sanskrit, said there is no virtue like protecting the nation and there is no vow like defence of the nation.

“The Birds have landed safely in Ambala,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted as soon as the aircraft touched down here.

At the same time, he used the occasion to send a veiled message to China.

“I would like to add, if it is anyone who should be worried about or critical about this new capability of the Indian Air Force, it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity,” the defence minister said.

The Rafales were escorted by two Sukhoi 30 MKIs after they entered the Indian air space.

However, their actual journey started almost a decade ago in Bengaluru, when the aircraft along with five other contenders of the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft deal touched down at the tarmac of the HAL airport in 2009.

The NDA government then inked a Rs.59,000-crore deal on September 23, 2016 to procure 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation after a nearly seven-year exercise to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft for the Indian Air Force did not fructify during the UPA regime.

The fleet, comprising three single seater and two twin seater aircraft, are being inducted into the IAF as part of its Ambala-based No 17 Squadron, also known as the ‘Golden Arrows’.

The Rafale jets, known for air-superiority and precision strikes, are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 years after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia.

New National Education Policy gets Cabinet nod


The Union cabinet gave its nod to a new National Education Policy 2020, thereby renaming the Ministry of Human Resource Development as the Education Ministry and bringing about ‘large-scale, transformational reforms’ in school and higher education sectors. The new policy replaces the 34-year-old NEP, which was implemented in 1986 and introduces structural, qualitative and quantitative changes in the overall education system in a bid to make learning more experiential instead of the existing stress on rote learning.

“Built on the foundational pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability, this policy is aligned to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and aims to transform India into a vibrant knowledge based society and global knowledge superpower by making both school and college education more holistic, flexible, multidisciplinary, suited to the 21st-century needs and aimed at bringing out the unique capabilities of each student,” Union minister Prakash Javadekar said at a press briefing post the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The new policy is based on recommendations made by a panel headed by former Indian Space Research Organisation chief K Kasturirangan, who had submitted the draft of the new policy to Union MHRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank when he took charge in May last year. Suggestions and objections were invited to the draft policy, following which two lakh responses were received by the ministry.

The existing 10+2 structure of school curricula will be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 curricular structure corresponding to ages 3-8, 8-11, 11-14 and 14-18 years, respectively. The age group of 3-6 years, which has been recognised globally as the crucial stage for development of mental faculties of a child, will be compulsorily brought under school curriculum. The new system will have 12 years of schooling with three years of Anganwadi/pre-schooling.

The new policy emphasises mother tongue/local language/regional language as the medium of instruction at least till Class V but preferably till Class VIII and beyond. “Sanskrit to be offered at all levels of school and higher education as an option for students, including in the three-language formula. Other classical languages and literatures of India also to be available as options. No language will be imposed on any student. Students to participate in a fun project/ activity on ‘The Languages of India’, sometime in Classes VI-VII, such as, under the Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat initiative. Several foreign languages will also be offered at the secondary level. Indian sign language will be standardised across the country, and national and state curriculum materials developed, for use by students with hearing impairment,” read the official statement.

The policy aims to increase the gross enrolment ratio in higher education, including vocational education from 26.3 per cent in 2018 to 50 per cent by 2035 and add 3.5 crore new seats to higher education institutions.

Unlock 3.0: No night curfew, gyms to open

The nationwide Unlock 3 guidelines were issued by the government, opening up more activities outside the containment zones, but schools, colleges, metro rail service, cinema halls along with bars will continue to remain shut till August 31 and political and religious gatherings will also remain prohibited.

For the first time since the coronavirus lockdown came into force on March 25, the government has allowed opening of yoga institutes and gymnasiums from August 5 for which separate Standard Operating Procedure will be issued by the Health Ministry.

After extensive consultation with states and union territories, it has been decided that schools, colleges and coaching institutions will remain closed till August 31, the Union Home Ministry said on a statement.

However, restrictions on movement of individuals during night (night curfew) have been removed, according to the ministry.

The Unlock 3 guidelines will come into force from August 1 and strict enforcement of lockdown in containment zones will continue till August 31.

Among the prohibited activities are Metro rail services, cinema halls, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars, auditoriums, assembly halls and similar places. Social, political, sports, entertainment, academic, cultural, religious functions and other large congregations will also continue to be prohibited till August 31.

All activities, except these, shall be permitted outside the containment zones. Dates for opening of these will be decided separately, based on the assessment of the situation.

"Shops will need to maintain adequate physical distancing among customers. MHA will monitor the effective implementation of national directives. Vulnerable persons, i.e., persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, pregnant women, and children below the age of 10 years, are advised to stay at home, except for meeting essential requirements and for health purposes," the ministry also said.

There shall be no restriction on interstate and intra-state movement of persons and goods and no "separate permission/ approval/ e-permit" will be required for such movements.

The ministry said that the use of the Aarogya Setu mobile application will continue to be encouraged.

Independence Day functions will be allowed with social distancing and by following other health protocols, e.g., wearing of masks etc. International air travel of passengers has been permitted in a limited manner under the Vande Bharat mission. Further opening up will take place in a calibrated manner, it said.

29.7.20

Mumbai: Sero-survey finds antibodies in 57 % of those tested in slums

Mumbai’s first sero-survey has revealed presence of antibodies in 57 per cent of those surveyed in slum pockets and 16 per cent of those tested in non slum middle-class and upper middle-class neighbourhoods.

The BMC health workers, in conjunction with Niti Aayog and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research tested 8,870 people across three wards – M (west) covering Chembur and Mahul; F-north covering Matunga, Sion, Wadala, Dadar and parts of Prabhadevi; and R north covering Dahisar.

The presence of antibodies indicates that the person contracted the infection, fought it off and in the process developed reasonable resistance to the virus. The larger the number of people in a community with antibodies the better because it leaves virus with a narrower scope to spread.

At the same time, a lower incidence antibodies – as in slightly better off neighbourhoods in this survey – is also not a bad thing as it indicates fewer people contracted the infection. This means that precautions like social distancing, use of masks, and maintaining hygiene worked in these areas.

Sero-surveys not only help communities understand how effective their fight against an infection has been, they also help in formulating future action plans, interventions and resource distribution.

Since this sero-survey used random samples, a lot of those tested and found to carry anti-bodies may not even know that they were infected. This is because many infected with Covid-19 remain asymptomatic.

Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani described the results of the sero-survey as encouraging and said the report indicates that Mumbai is on the right track. “Timely transfer of symptomatic patients from community to isolation centres has worked,” he said.

Asked if the presence of antibodies in 57 per cent of those surveyed in slum pockets indicated that slums in Mumbai may have developed “herd immunity”, Kakani said that the researchers were reluctant to draw such a conclusion before the report is shared with national and international agencies.

Herd immunity refers to a large part of a community developing resistance to an infection, either by developing anti-bodies naturally or through an immunisation drive, leaving the virus with fewer bodies to infect and eventually petering out.

Kakani said that the survey revealed that infection fatality rate in slums is now down 0.05 to 0.10 per cent. “That is bare minimum and a very encouraging indicator. We felt deaths in slums would be more. But it wasn’t so,” he said.

Another finding of the sero-survey was the marginally higher prevalence of anti-bodies among women. The survey also indicated a lower rate of infection among women at 45 per cent against men’s 55 per cent. “Women – and it has been proven beyond doubt in national and international studies – have greater immunity against Covid-19. This is because of oestrogen hormone. Women also developed antibodies faster than men,” Kakani said.

Antibody testing involves drawing blood to test serum for antibodies against Covid-19. If a test is positive, it indicates that the person has been exposed to the infection around 15-21 days prior to the test. The test looks for IgG antibodies. These antibodies are produced in the body at least 14 days after the infection.

Kakani said the low prevalence of infection among middle class neighbourhoods could be attributed to social distancing, use of masks and access to better hygiene. “The higher sero prevalence in slums could possibly be due to population density and shared common facilities like toilets,” he said.

Corbett tops in tiger count

Jim Corbett national park in Uttarakhand has the most number of tigers in the country, with 231 of the 2,967 big cats counted for the ‘Status of Tigers, Copredators & Prey in India’ report released by Union forest and environment minister Prakash Javadekar.

Corbett’s tiger count has been rising — from 137 in 2006 to 174 in 2010 and 215 in 2014. “We had expected the numbers to be over 250,” said director of the reserve, Rahul. It is followed by Nagarhole
(127) and Bandipur (126), both in Karnataka, Bandhavgarh in MP (MP) and Kaziranga in Assam (104 each). Among states, MP topped the tiger estimation, with 526 (it had 308 last time), going past Karnataka (524 this time, 406 earlier).

Uttarakhand remained on the third spot, with 442 tigers, up from 340 previously. The AITE is undertaken every four years, the latest in 2018. This time, Corbett is the only reserve with over 200 tigers and has the highest tiger density in the country, 14.

The count in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, which straddles the India-Nepal border, has also gone up. “It is a splendid increase, from 58 in the last estimation to 82 this time,” said Sanjay Kumar Pathak, field director of the reserve. Pilibhit reserve’s tiger population is also up by two to 57. And what used to be a non-tiger zone in Uttar Pradesh, Sohagi Barwa Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharajganj, now has one tiger. In fact, the Shivalik Hills and Gangetic Plains (Uttarakhand, UP and Bihar) witnessed a significant rise in tiger population, from 485 to 646, in keeping with national trend (which saw a 33% jump). The Central India & Eastern Ghats belt, which covers eight states, saw the biggest jump, 50%.

Four of country’s 50 reserves — Udnati Sitanadi in Chhattisgarh, Satkosia in Odisha, Mukundra in Rajasthan and Kawal in Telangana — have just one tiger.

28.7.20

First vertical COVID-19 transmission from mother to child recorded in India

BJ Medical College and Sassoon General Hospitals have reported the first confirmed case of vertical transmission of coronavirus disease from a mother to baby in the country.

Although the mother tested negative for the virus in her RT-PCR test, the baby girl’s nasopharyngeal swab, placenta and umbilical cord tested positive for the virus. According to the doctors, as this is the first of its kind case reported in the country, it will be documented in detail and published in a medical journal.

The baby was successfully treated for a period of three weeks and required intensive care due to severe inflammation. However, the baby has been recovered completely and has been discharged, officials said.

It all started when a 22-year-old pregnant woman gave birth to a baby on May 27. The mother had shown fever one day before the delivery and also signs of weakness which was presumed to be due to pregnancy. “The mother was tested for COVID-19 and a RT-PCR test was done in which she tested negative for the virus but the baby girl started showing symptoms like fever, lethargy and signs of severe COVID-19 along with abnormal blood tests, suggesting severe inflammation. The baby’s nasopharyngeal swab, placenta and the umbilical cord were taken for testing and they tested positive for COVID-19,” said Dr Aarti Kinikar, head of paediatric department at BJMC and SGH.

Dr Kinikar informed that such cases have been reported in China along with one case in the UK. In this case, although the mother tested negative for the virus, she did transmit the infection in the child. “After a period of four weeks when we did an antibodies test, there was evidence of COVID-19 infection by strong antibody response in the mother. It is possible that she recovered on her own. This was a very challenging case for us. The baby developed a severe case of COVID-19 and it required a lot of dedication and effort to successfully treat it,” she said.

Dr Murlidhar Tambe, dean of BJMC and SGH, said that this was the first confirmed case of vertical transmission reported from the country and the experts at the hospital were able to identify it and treat the baby successfully.

27.7.20

Corona is as Fatal Today as it was in Beginning: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the hazards of the Covid-19 pandemic were far from over and that it was spreading fast in several places.

His statement comes amid a rising number of positive cases being reported across the country daily.

“We need to be extra vigilant. We have to bear in mind that Corona (virus) is as fatal today as it was in the beginning – that’s why we have to be fully cautious,” Modi said in his monthly Mann Ki Baat radio address.

India’s recovery rate is, however, better compared to other countries and its mortality rate was also comparably lower, he pointed out.

“The loss of even one life is saddening, but India has also succeeded in saving the lives of millions of her people. Wearing a face mask, using a gamcha, or a light towel to cover, twoyard distancing, frequently washing hands, avoiding spitting anywhere, taking full care of hygiene and sanitation — these are the weapons to protect us from Corona,” the PM said.

Modi also urged people to take a pledge of freedom from the pandemic this Independence Day.

Separately, he also took pot shots at Pakistan on the occasion of Kargil Vijay Diwas, saying India can never forget the circumstances under which the battle had taken place.

“Pakistan had embarked upon this misadventure, nursing delusions of encroaching upon Indian soil, to distract attention from the internal strife prevailing there. India was then in the process of making efforts to foster good relations with Pakistan,” Modi said. Quoting a Hindi couplet, Modi said — ‘enmity with one and all for no reason comes naturally for the wicked’.

“People with such a disposition keep thinking of harming even their well-wishers… that is why when India extended a hand of friendship, Pakistan tried to respond, stabbing in the back. But after that, when our gallant Army displayed deeds of valour, when India demonstrated her might, the whole world watched it,” Modi said.

MP CM Tests Covid Positive

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Saturday said he has tested positive for Covid-19. He was admitted to a designated private hospital in Bhopal, a BJP leader said. “I appeal to all my colleagues that whoever has come in my contact should get tested for coronavirus. My close contacts should move to quarantine,” Chouhan said in a tweet. “I have been reviewing the status of coronavirus infection in the state every evening since March 25. Now I will try to review the situation through video conferencing as much as possible.” Chouhan, 61, later tweeted he was completely healthy. He also said in his absence, the meeting to review the coronavirus situation will be held by Home Minister Narottam Mishra, Urban Development and Administration Minister Bhupendra Singh, Medical Education Minister Vishwas Sarang and Health Minister Prabhuram Choudhary.

25.7.20

India to buy 6 more US naval aircraft for $1.8bn

India has kicked off the acquisition process for six more long-range Poseidon-8I aircraft from the US, while a plan is also underway to fast-track procurement of six Predator-B armed drones amid the ongoing confrontation with China.

Top defence sources said the ‘letter of request’ for six more P-8Is for around $1.8 billion has been issued to the US for the government-to-government deal under Pentagon’s foreign military sales programme. “The US will soon send the ‘letter of acceptance’ after congressional approval. The contract should be inked by early next year,” a source said.

Concurrently, the armed forces are examining “emergency procurement” of six Predator-B or weaponised Sea Guardian drones from the US.

India is extensively using the naval P-8I patrol planes, packed with radars and electro-optic sensors and with Harpoon Block-II missiles and MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, for surveillance missions over Indian Ocean and eastern Ladakh.

The Navy had inducted eight P-8I aircraft under a $2.1 billion deal. 

Delhi-Varanasi High-Speed Corridor Plan Rolled Out


Work on a detailed project report for the proposed Delhi-Varanasi high-speed rail corridor has begun on the instructions of the central government.

The 865-km-long corridor is one of the eight HSR passageways that have been proposed to optimise high-speed rail connectivity between major cities and give an impetus to the industrial sector. Work has already started on the 508-km-long Ahmedabad-Mumbai corridor that will see bullet trains running at 320 km per hour.

Once the Delhi-Varanasi corridor is ready, a bullet train could reduce travel time between the two cities to about four-and-a-half hours. Last year, India’s first semi-high-speed Vande Bharat Express train was flagged off between New Delhi and Varanasi.

“The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited has been entrusted by the ministry of railways to prepare detailed project reports for seven new HSR corridors in India — namely Delhi-Varanasi, Varanasi-Howrah, Mumbai-Nagpur, Delhi-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Mysore, Delhi-Amritsar, and Mumbai-Hyderabad,” Sushma Gaur, additional general manager (corporate communication) at NHSRCL said.

The proposed link between Varanasi and Howrah is the latest addition to the government’s HSR corridor plan. Earlier his month, NHSRCL had invited four bids related to data collection, preliminary designs, and survey work for the preparation of the detailed project report of the Delhi-Varanasi HSR corridor. “The collection of relevant data for the preparation of interim detailed project report is under process. The location of stations will be proposed after survey reports and consultation with the government,” Gaur said.

India, China agree on ‘early and complete’ disengagement from Ladakh

Amid reports that Chinese troops are reluctant to step back further from Pangong Tso and Patrolling Point 17A at Gogra, two of four friction points along the LAC, the two countries on Friday agreed for an “early and complete” disengagement.

Both India and reviewed the situation in eastern Ladakh during a fresh round of online diplomatic talks under the framework of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on border affairs.

The MEA said the two sides agreed at the Friday talks that another meeting of their senior army commanders may be held soon to work out further steps to ensure complete disengagement “expeditiously”.

“They agreed that early and complete disengagement of the troops along the Line of Actual Control and de-escalation from India-China border areas in accordance with bilateral agreement and protocols and full restoration of peace and tranquility was essential for smooth overall development of bilateral relations,” it said in a statement.

Both sides commenced the disengagement process from July 6 following talks between NSA Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

In Friday’s talks, the MEA said both sides agreed that it was necessary to “sincerely” implement the understandings reached between senior commanders till date.

“The two sides agreed that another meeting of the Senior Commanders may be held soon so as to work out further steps.”

24.7.20

PM lists out potential sectors for US investors

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch for American business to invest in India, emphasising that there was never a better time to do so especially in a “nation you can trust”. India and the US, he added, must combine to help the world bounce back faster from the coronavirus pandemic.

“American investors often look out for the perfect timing to enter a sector or a country. To them, I would like to say — there has never been a better time to invest in India,” the PM said addressing the USIBC India Ideas Summit.

“The rise of India means a rise in trade opportunities with a nation you can trust, a rise in global integration with increasing openness,” said Modi in an important political message at a time when countries and companies are looking to diversify supply chains from China.

India could power the global economic recovery, the PM said while listing out sectors such as aviation, insurance, defence, space, energy and infrastructure as opportunities for US investors. “I have given you a few options, that too without any consultancy fees,” he remarked in jest as he elaborated on why India makes for a profitable investment destination.

“Today, there is global optimism towards India. This is because India offers a perfect combination of openness, opportunities and options. India celebrates openness in people and in governance. Open minds make open markets. Open markets lead to greater prosperity. These are principles on which both India and the US agree,” Modi said.

Modi said even during the Covid-19 pandemic, India has attracted foreign investment of more than $20 billion between April and July 2020. “Investment is the best show of confidence. Every year, we are reaching record highs in FDI. Friends in USIBC inform that ‘pledged investment’ from the US has already crossed $40 billion this year,” the PM said.

The pandemic, Modi said, had shown that the global economy needed to focus against external shocks. “It has taken a global pandemic to remind us how important resilience is. Global economic resilience can be achieved by stronger domestic economic capacities. This means improved domestic capacity for manufacturing, restoring the health of the financial system and diversification of international trade.”

The PM said his call for an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ was an effort to contribute towards a resilient world. “And, for that, we await your partnership,” the PM said in his pitch to American companies.

Modi termed India as a land of opportunities and said the Indian insurance sector was one of the best investment options presently to generate long-term and assured revenues. “India has raised FDI cap for investment in insurance to 49%. 100% FDI is permitted for investment in insurance intermediaries. The insurance market in India is growing at a rate of more than 12% and is expected to grow to $250 billion by 2025.”

The PM also cited the tech sector as being ideal for US investments as he said India’s rural internet users were now more than urban users. “Opportunities in technology also include opportunities in the frontier technologies of 5G, big data analytics, quantum computing, blockchain and Internet of things,” Modi said. The PM also invited American companies to invest in India’s agriculture sector and said India’s food processing sector is expected to be worth over half a trillion dollars by 2025.

TN signs 16 MoUs to attract investments

The Tamil Nadu government entered into 16 Memorandums of Understanding with investors, including Adani Enterprises, to attract fresh industrial investments of ₹5,137 crore into the state. The investments to come up in varied sectors, including IT, auto components and food products, will result in generating direct employment to more than 6,500 people.

Over the last three months, Tamil Nadu has managed to strengthen its new project pipeline by executing MoUs to attract over ₹30,000 crore fresh investments from both Indian and overseas players. These projects, when completed, are likely generate direct employment to over 67,000 persons in the state.

On May 27, the state signed 17 MoUs for attracting new investments worth ₹15,128 crore. Early this week, it signed eight MoUs that promised combined investment of ₹10,399 crore.

On Thursday, the MoUs were signed in the presence of chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami at the state secretariat. The new ventures will come up across districts, including Chennai, Chengalpet, Kanchipuram, Coimbatore, Dindigul and Tirunelveli.

Adani Enterprises will invest ₹2,300 crore in establishing a data park at Siruseri Sipcot IT campus. The project will employ 1,000 people. Singapore’s Princeton will be investing ₹750 crore to set up a data park also in Siruseri, but will employ around 100 people.

Super Auto Forge has agreed to invest ₹500 crore in establishing forged steel and aluminium parts unit in Sipcot industrial estate at Vallam - Vadagal in Kancheepuram district.

Airflow Equipments plans to invest ₹320 crore, also in Vallam – Vadagal, and employ 500 people in its industrial unit to make components for the logistics sector.

ATC Tires has promised to invest ₹250 crore in a technology enhancement project at Sipcot’s Gangaikondan industrial estate in Tirunelveli. The unit will employ 400 people.

Visteon Automation Systems will invest ₹100 crore at Maraimalainagar in an auto component unit.

In addition, a leading vermicelli brand Top Anil will invest ₹100 crore in a food products unit in Dindigul district and will employ 1,000 people. BPL-FTA and Srivaru Motors will invest ₹300 crore and ₹150 crore in lithium Ion battery and e-bike manufacturing units respectively.

India to equip Rafale jets with ‘Hammer’ air-to-ground missiles

India is planning to also equip its new Rafale fighter jets, which already have a deadly weapons package, with the “Hammer” air-to-ground precision-guided munitions amidst the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.

The first five of the 36 omni-role Rafales, contracted from France under the ₹59,000 crore deal inked in September 2016, are slated to touch down at the Ambala airbase on July 29.

Even as preparations are in full swing to ensure the Rafales become fully-operational as soon as possible in the backdrop of the heightened military tensions with China, talks are under way with France to swiftly acquire the Hammer (highly agile modular munition extended range) weapons for the jets.

The 20 to 70-km range Hammer munitions, which are designed to destroy bunkers, hardened shelters and other targets in all terrains including the mountainous ones in eastern Ladakh, will be procured under the emergency financial powers granted to the armed forces during the confrontation with China.

The all-weather Hammer munitions are similar to the Israeli-origin “Spice” precision-guided bombs, which were used by Indian Mirage-2000 fighters during the Balakot aerial strikes in February last year. A Rafale jet can carry up to six Hammer weapons to hit as many targets simultaneously. While the Rafales will almost be combat-deployable when they arrive at Ambala, capable of firing its over 300-km range Scalp air-to-ground cruise missiles and other weapons, the integration of the 120-150 km range Meteor air-to-air missiles will take some time.

Of Mann’s mountain man....


An 18-year-old has taken it upon himself to overturn the dry fortune of Gondavle village in Satara’s Mann taluka. The hamlet’s drought-prone nature has stuck with the teen, who, since two years, has been digging the mountains and land for watershed management. His efforts have produced stellar results — Gondavle has been able to conserve 1 crore litres of water; praise from villagers has cascaded upon the young adult thereafter.

Rohit Bansode’s efforts have simply not stopped here. He has planted 10,000 trees in the environs and even dug up a well, earning much respect from the hamlet. His efforts offer an inspiring lesson all the more if one takes a look at his background. His father is the only earner in the family and the money comes through odd jobs; they barely make ends meet.

Two years ago, an epiphany struck Rohit when he was watching a TV talk show hosted by Aamir Khan. Inspiration drove him to work towards turning reversing the drought-prone state of the village, even if it meant striving over eight hours in the field.

Rohit said, “There was not much that was being done in the village to deal with the water crisis. I thought, even if I start small, I will be able to bring some difference in the village. The day I decided to do so, I replaced the books in my bag with tools used for digging and a water bottle and there was no looking back after that.”

The first two days at the rough slope under the scorching sun gave him boils and fever. It did not deter him for the efforts continued and now, two years later, he has achieved what he had set out to do. “I have made patterns on the hills and people’s fields, where the water could be stored for a year. This will help farmers plan their agriculture activities accordingly,” he said.

Rohit starts his day at 6 am, goes to the hills to dig, returns at 2 pm for lunch and then again leaves at 3 pm to hills and to return by 7 pm. He asserts that there’s nothing else in the world that makes him as happy as this activity.

Inspired by Rohit, his younger sister Rakshita (15) also started tagging along, after initially trailing him simply and watching him from a distance. She now helps him plant trees.

Their father, Shankar, is proud of Rohit’s work. “I was worried for my son when he returned with boils and fever. But his perseverance has only given me a reason to be proud. No one compelled him to take up this activity. Rohit is made for bigger things in life,” he said.

Gondavale village’s sarpanch, Ajit Pol, called Rohit a “blessing” for the village. “He has done so much for all of us. The gram panchayat is low on funds and cannot do much because of the same, but this young boy has changed everything. The efforts are commendable and cannot be praised enough. There is a lot of water that is being stored and conserved now.”

Land under Mumbai, Kolkata, Kandla ports to be made into townships

Three central government-owned major ports – Mumbai, Kolkata and Deen Dayal (Kandla) – are likely to generate nearly Rs.1 lakh crore by developing townships and office space on their under-utilised or unutilised land, according to government estimates.

This could be the first big ticket initiative to monetise large tracts of land by government agencies. Revenue generated from this would be used for port-related developments. The move comes amid the government’s growing emphasis on port-led development.

Sources said the Centre has finalised the township policy for these three ports, which will allow them to prepare the detailed land use plan, including areas for redevelopment. The policy is likely to get Cabinet nod, sources said. According to an estimate, at least 1,600 hectares of land under 10 major ports can be redeveloped.

The policy will enable the three port trusts to renew thousands of old leases, which will generate more revenue and put an end to a plethora of litigations.

Sources said only in the case of Mumbai port, over half of the total 495 hectares under township area can be utilised for redevelopment that can generate over Rs.50,000 crore for the port trust. An estimate suggests renewal of leases would generate nearly Rs.2,000 crore and the annual income from these leased properties would increase more than four times, once the policy is implemented. One of the options being explored for Mumbai port is to develop a huge office complex, which can be given on rent to government departments, sources said.

Similarly, in the case of Deen Dayal port (Kandla), nearly 800 hectares out of the 2,768 hectares of township area has potential for redevelopment. The port has an estimated potential to generate Rs.1,600-crore revenue through allotment of about 819 hectares.

Sources said in the case of Kolkata port, about 100 hectares of the township area can be utilised for development. Moreover, the port trust can generate about Rs.25,000 crore by leasing out the already existing township land.

India-made N-plant achieves criticality

India declared its first indigenously developed atomic power plant built at the Kakrapar nuclear complex in Gujarat ready to be switched on.

PM Narendra Modi described the development as a “shining example” of his vision for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and a “trailblazer for many such future achievements”.

“Congratulations to our nuclear scientists for achieving criticality (ready for operation) of Kakrapar Atomic Power Plant-3! This indigenously designed 700 MWe KAPP-3 reactor is a shining example of Make in India. And a trailblazer for many such future achievements!” he tweeted.

The third unit is the first of the two nuclear power plants designed and developed by Indian scientists based on pressurised heavy water reactor technology. The fourth unit, also of 700 MW, is under construction.

Nuclear power accounts for roughly 3-4% of supply though India has 22 nuclear reactors in operation at seven nuclear power plants with a total installed capacity of 6,780 MW. Most of these reactors were based on Canadian heavy water technology, followed by Russian designs. Seven more reactors are under construction with a combined generation capacity of 4,300 MW.

The Kakrapar complex is built on the banks of Tapti river in Mandvi tehsil some 80 Kms from Surat. It has two units of 220 MW fuelled by natural uranium in operation.

In coming days, various tests will be conducted and power will be increased progressively before it is connected to the western grid. The unit is the 23rd nuclear power reactor of the country and is the front runner in a series of 16 indigenous 700 MW nuclear power reactors.

According to the Nuclear Power Corporation, the components and equipment for the reactor have also been manufactured by Indian industries.

The power plant in Kakrapar, Gujarat is the first of the two nuclear power plants designed and developed by Indian scientists based on pressurised heavy water reactor technology

22.7.20

Mumbai: Airport look for CSMT soon


The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus is all set to get an airport look from inside with its heritage look intact from the outside. The Indian Railways has decided to undertake the five-year project under the Public-Private Partnership model, which will include brand new platforms, foot overbridges (equipped with escalators), new offices, a mall, a five-star plaza and even a hotel, with a waiting area double the current size. The project will not tamper with the height of the station, which is 24 mt.

The Railway Board has already approved the master plan and the project will be undertaken by the Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation Ltd., the implementation arm of the railways.

Sanjeev Kumar Lohia, the managing director and CEO of IRSDC said a request for qualification will be invited from private parties after a nod from the PPP appraisal committee, which is the highest authority for approval. The committee comprises representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Railways.

Similar redevelopment has been planned for seven other railway stations, namely Thakurli, Kalyan, Lokmanya Tilak, Dadar, Andheri, Bandra Terminus and Borivali. While consultations for the Thakurli station master plan are under way, a draft conceptual plan is ready for the other stations. Whenever ready, a user fee, just like the airports, will be levied on passengers and visitors through platform or parking charges. This will be one of the main revenue streams for the concessionaire.

CSMT is the first railway station of the city to be redeveloped under the PPP model. It handles over 1,000 local trains and nearly 100 long-distance trains. Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, it had an average daily footfall in the range of five to six lakh. Recently, a conservation project was undertaken for the terminus, which will be improved upon as part of the redevelopment. A senior IRSDC official said all new construction will not be taller than the current height of 24 metre.

Earlier in June, IRSDC had opened RFQ applications for Nagpur, Gwalior, Amritsar and Sabarmati railway stations and shortlisted a few developers under the PPP model. As part of a nationwide plan, the railway authorities are looking at a huge capital investment in station infrastructure in the next five years.

Amarnath Yatra cancelled due to Covid-19

The Amarnath Yatra 2020 has been cancelled due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board announced on Tuesday. The decision to cancel this year’s annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas was reportedly taken in the wake of the closure of religious places in Jammu and Kashmir due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the second year in a row that the pilgrimage has been called off. Last year it was cancelled mid-way, days before the Centre announced its twin decisions to scrap Article-370 and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories.

“The Board is aware of and respects the sentiments of millions of devotees. To keep the religious sentiments alive, the Board shall continue live telecast/virtual darshan of the morning and evening aarti. Further, the traditional rituals shall be carried out as per past practice. Also, the Chhadi Mubarak shall be facilitated by the government,” the statement read.

The Board discussed the Supreme Court’s order dated July 13 in which the decision to conduct the Yatra was left to the administration/government after assessing the ground realities prevailing in Jammu & Kashmir in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

23.5% people in Delhi affected by Covid-19: Survey

A sero-prevalence study has found that 23.48 per cent of Delhi residents have been affected by Covid-19.

Director of the National Centre for Disease Control Dr.Sujeet Kumar Singh said the remaining 77 per cent are still vulnerable to the viral disease and containment measures need to continue with the same rigour. The study was conducted from June 27 to July 10 by the NCDC in collaboration with the Delhi government and involved testing 21,387 samples. It showed that 20 per cent population in eight of the 11 districts in the national capital have developed antibodies against COVID-19. The survey also indicated that a large number of infected people remain asymptomatic.

A sero-survey involves testing of blood serum of individuals to check for the prevalence of antibodies against infection. Delhi recorded 1,349 fresh COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, taking the tally in the city to over 1.25 lakh, while the death toll mounted to 3,690, authorities said.

21.7.20

The Rural - Urban Divide


Right from literacy, accessibility to schools and household expenditure on education, the rural-urban gap remains significant.

There is a digital divide, too, with just 4% of rural households having access to computers as compared to 23% in urban areas. The rural-urban gaps in education are revealed in a survey conducted by the National Statistical Office.

The “Household Social Consumption: Education” survey covered 1.1 lakh households in over 8,000 villages and 6,000 urban blocks between July 2017 and June 2018. The study involved 1.5 lakh students.

While 92.7% of rural households have a primary school within 1 km compared to 87.2% in urban areas, only 38% of rural household have access to secondary school compared to 70% in the urban areas on similar parameters.

While accessibility to a neighbourhood school at primary level is not an issue in rural areas, the gross attendance ratio is also satisfactory with nearly 100% of boys and girls in rural as well as urban areas attending classes. However, in sync with reduced accessibility, there is a gap at secondary level between rural and urban settings.

The all India literacy rate among persons aged 7 years and above is 77.7%. However, for the same age group, the rural literacy is 73.5% and in the urban areas it is 87.7%. The digital divide between rural and urban households is stark with just 4% of the rural population having access to computers. The report highlighted that while 15% surveyed population in the rural cluster has internet access, 42% of the surveyed students in the urban areas have access to the internet. Only 24% of the persons between age 15-29 years in rural areas are able to operate a computer as compared to 56% of their urban counterparts.

There is also a big gap in expenditure in education, especially at school level. Annual average expenditure per student at secondary and senior secondary level in a rural household stands at Rs.5,856 and Rs.9,148 respectively. An urban household for the same classes spends Rs.17,518 and Rs.23,832 respectively. As per the report, the average expenditure per student incurred during an academic session for basic courses was nearly Rs.8,331 for general courses and Rs.50,307 for technical and professional courses.

Widening 900-km Char Dham road a Himalayan blunder

Two expert members in the Supreme Court-appointed committee on Char Dham road project – to connect the Char Dham shrines in Garhwal Himalayas with an “all-weather” road --have flagged serious issues over the widening of this 900-km road to 10 meters uniformly and termed it as “a Himalayan blunder”.

This “minority view” has been incorporated in the “main report” that the panel chairman environmentalist Ravi Chopra has submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

In their note, the two members – Hemant Dhyani and Navin Juyal – have raised concern over the road transport and highways ministry’s decision to divide the entire stretch to 53 smaller projects to avoid conducting environment impact assessment study despite the hills being contiguous. Each divided stretch is less than 100 km. The MoEFCC norms make it mandatory for a linear project of more than 100 km to go for EIA study.

Dhyani and Juyal are among five members who have objected to widening of the road to 10 meters while the majority (21) have favoured widening of the corridor to 10 meters. The majority group has also submitted its “final report” to the MoEFCC, recommending several damage mitigation measures. Sources said with the deep differences may end up the matter going back to Supreme Court.

Era of great caution behind us: Jaishankar

If India has to grow, it has to shed its traditional caution, step out more, be more confident and articulate its interests, said external affairs minister S Jaishankar amid indications that China’s aggression on the Line of Actual Control may have spurred New Delhi to discard the historical hesitations and explore fresh geostrategic options.

Speaking at an interaction, Jaishankar said India has moved away from the traditional notions of nonalignment. “If we are to grow by leveraging the international situation, we have to exploit the opportunities out there. Can’t do that by saying, ‘I’m going to stay away from it all, and when I find it convenient I will step out’. Either you’re in the game or you’re not in the game. The era of great caution, and greater dependence on multilateralism, is behind us. We have to step out more. We have to be more confident, we have to articulate our interests better. We need to take risks. Without taking risks, you can’t get ahead. Those are choices we have to make,” the minister said.

Jaishankar’s remarks come as the Covid-19 pandemic and China’s border challenge pose both a crisis and an opportunity for India to reset its own economic and international compact.

Answering a question whether non-alignment is all about distance from the US, he said, “Non-alignment is a term of a particular era and a particular geopolitical landscape. There are two aspects to it. One part of it is to be independent, which has resonances from our history and freedom movement. That remains and is the continuity factor. The other part was legitimate in the ’50s and ’60s — stay out of trouble, don’t get entangled in other people’s problems.”

The minister further said: “Today, India has a contribution to make. People turn to us for solutions. We’re no longer the bystander. We have a contribution to make. We have to weigh in on big issues — like the rules for connectivity, maritime security, terrorism and climate change.”

Changing Times....



How times change. Nearly 50 years after then US President Richard Nixon ordered the Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to threaten India in the face of its imminent victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war, Washington has sent the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Nimitz to the same waters in a show of solidarity with New Delhi amid tensions both face with China.

Currently the world’s largest aircraft carrier, Nimitz sailed into the Bay of Bengal on Monday to be greeted by the Indian Navy’s Eastern Command for what was described as a “passex,” an incidental naval exercise during a warship’s passage (rather than a planned exercise). It was a far cry from December 1971 when the Indian Navy was tasked with confronting the US Navy battlegroup, and the Soviet Union rushed its nuclear submarines to support Delhi.

“The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is transiting through IOR. During the passage, #IndianNavy units undertook Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with #USNavy. Indian Navy had also conducted similar PASSEXs with (Japan’s) #JMSDF and #FrenchNavy in recent past,” an Indian Navy spokesperson said in a tweet on Monday, seeking to place the exercises, which will extend into Tuesday, in a broad context.

The US too made no reference to China, but its language preceding the exercise was unmistakably aimed at Beijing. “Don’t underestimate the strength of free democracies,” US defense secretary Mike Esper tweeted, supplementing a US Navy tweet that said “The strength of @USNavy aircraft carriers includes the friendships they help build.”

IndiGo to lay off 10% of its workforce

Low cost carrier IndiGo said it is laying off 10 per cent of its workforce due to the adverse financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although sources said that pilots will not be affected, numbers indicate that almost 2,500 of their estimated 25,000 employee strength will lose their jobs.

The airline, which was believed to have cash reserves of Rs.20,000 crore, had earlier announced pay cuts and leave without pay to cut costs.

The airline announced a “6E Care Package” to help the impacted employees which included several measures to support them. The company said impacted employees will be paid a notice pay based on the gross salary as per their notice period, and a severance pay of their CTC (cost to company) for every completed year of service.

“At a minimum, an impacted employee will receive at least 3 months’ gross salary. Those with higher tenure will receive more as per the calculation,” the airline said.

IndiGo also announced that it would be paying performance linked incentives to non-crew employees for 2019-20 even after their exit. It also announced a longevity bonus for cabin crew which would be paid along with the full and final settlement.

The airline said that the medical insurance coverage for the impacted employees would be extended till December and there will be a provision to continue the policy even later.

An “outplacement allowance” has been announced to support impacted employees to explore career opportunities outside IndiGo. It is also launching a talent directory to ensure that if and when the airline hires again, the laid-off employees will be given first preference. An in-house emotional support programme will help those who need it. Employees are also being given one-way air tickets to travel back home.

India resumed domestic passenger flights from May 25 after a gap of two months due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the airlines have been allowed to operate only a maximum of 45 per cent of their pre-Covid domestic flights.

IndiGo, which has more than 250 aircraft in its fleet, had increased its domestic market share of 48 per cent in March to 52 per cent in June. The April to June quarter was a washout for all airlines as international commercial operations could not commence due to several curbs. The limited domestic operations also failed to increase income as expected, as the occupancy rate has been around 50-65 per cent.

20.7.20

India surges past 1m cases

India has recorded over 1 million Covid-19 cases and 25,000 deaths from Coronavirus, crossing the twin milestones on Thursday amid a massive surge in the pandemic. The country added over 36,000 new cases and 684 deaths during the day, both by far the highest in a single day.

India is the third country, after the US and Brazil, to log one million cases and the eighth to register over 25,000 deaths. India’s caseload has risen from 8 lakh to 10 lakh (1 million) in just six days, as compared with nine days while moving from 6 lakh to 8 lakh and 11 for the previous 2 lakh cases. Likewise, the death toll has risen from 20,000 to 25,000 in just 10 days.

On Thursday, India recorded 36,139 new cases, over 3,600 more than the previous peak of 32,498 a day earlier, as per data collated from states. With this, India’s caseload rose to 10,04,806. Active cases rose by nearly 12,000 while around 23,000 patients were declared cured during the day.

Thursday also saw the highest single-day rise in the Covid-19 death toll, with 684 fatalities reported from across the country. The previous highest toll of 616 (discounting 2,003, mostly backdated death reported on June 16) was recorded on Wednesday. Karnataka saw a huge spike in fatalities, adding 104 to its toll. It became the third state, after Maharashtra and Delhi, to register 100 deaths in a single day.

The day’s toll was also high in Tamil Nadu (69), Delhi (58), Andhra Pradesh (40), Uttar Pradesh (34), Bengal (23) and J&K (16). In what would be another record, at least 11 states reported their highest singleday surge in cases, led by Maharashtra, which recorded a massive 8,641 new infections.

Amid a major spike in the pandemic in the state, Karnataka became the third state to log 4,000 or more cases in a day, nearly 1,000 more than Wednesday’s number. Even as fresh cases rose to a new high in Tamil Nadu, Chennai continued to report declining numbers. As Chennai detected 1,157 cases on Thursday, a mathematical model suggested that the infection was no more an epidemic in the city.

Telangana recorded 10 deaths and 1,676 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, taking the total tally of cases beyond the 40,000 mark.