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NEW DELHI: The September work demand under MGNREGA has been identical to the previous month, notching a straight fourth month decline in households seeking employment under the distress scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around 2 crore households sought work under the job scheme in September, which is a slight dip from August when around 2.02 crore households applied for employment. These figures, however, mark a sharp fall from July.

The decrease comes amid reports that sections of migrants have returned to cities after the end of the nationwide lockdown. The reverse migration of workers from cities to villages at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, captured by the heart-rending scenes of families with women and children walking hundreds of kilometres to their native places, compounded the already soaring work demand caused by the collapse of the informal economy as well as traditional job hubs in the countryside.

After the restrictions were partially relaxed on April 20, the need for work under MGNREGA shot up manifold from previous years. As many as 1.30 crore households applied for work in April for just the last 10 days of the month. In May, the number of households seeking jobs increased to 3.46 crore and then to 4.06 crore in June.

It is after June that MGNREGA witnessed a steep decline which has continued during the July-September period.

According to the rural development ministry, the downward graph, that seems to surprise all given the dismal state of the informal economy, is because of three factors — monsoon, agriculture operations and return of some migrant workers to cities.

In terms of trends, MGNREGA witnesses seasonal swings. The demand is lesser during monsoons as workers are engaged in farm operations of their own to a lesser extent while largely finding work in the fields of big farmers. On the other hand, the demand is higher during summers and during calamities like drought.

Going by history, the dip in work is not extraordinary but follows the pattern witnessed over past years. In 2019-20, the work demand rose from 2.18 crore households in May to 2.23 crore in June before slipping to 1.50 crore in July to 1.04 crore in October, before picking up again to maintain an upward trend till February.

However, during the pandemic period, the margins of increase have been unprecedented.

If MGNREGA’s past is taken as the marker, then the job demand may fall in October too before picking up. What will be interesting to see is if the rise again is as sharp as seen in the April-June phase. It will have a direct bearing on the budgetary support required for the demand-based programme.

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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Union minister Hardeep Puri in BJP’s candidate list for Rajya Sabha polls

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TIMESOFINDIA.COM / Oct 26, 2020, 22:08 IST

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India, US to ink pact for geospatial intelligence, will help in missile-targeting & navigation

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NEW DELHI: India is now set to get access to advanced satellite imagery, topographical and aeronautical digital data in real time from the US for further enhancing the accuracy of its missiles and armed drones as well as long-range navigation of military aircraft.

The signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA), just days ahead of a bitterly contested US election, reflects the Indian government’s close cooperation with the Trump administration as well as its confidence that the pact will enjoy bi-partisan support in America.

Live updates: India-US 2+2 dialogue

The access to high quality geospatial data will become possible after India and US ink their fourth and final foundational military pact BECA during the “two-plus-two” dialogue on Tuesday. The two are also set to sign the Maritime Information Sharing Technical Arrangement (MISTA) to enhance cooperation between their navies.

The inking of BECA for exchange of highly-classified geospatial intelligence, without the risk of it being compromised, was officially announced after defence minister Rajnath Singh conducted a delegation-level meeting with his US counterpart Mark Esper on Monday afternoon.

India is delighted to host the US Secretary of Defence, Dr. Mark Esper. Our talks today were fruitful, aimed at fu… https://t.co/9HHTLpoKxQ

— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) 1603710711000

After a separate meeting with foreign minister S Jaishankar, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said, “We see each other for what we are: great democracies, global powers, and really good friends.”

The two sides discussed several bilateral measures to further enhance their already expansive defence cooperation and intelligence-sharing as well as developments in the Indo-Pacific region in the backdrop of India’s ongoing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh with China.

With China indulging in expansionist and belligerent behavior in the entire Indo-Pacific region, Esper also welcomed India’s recent decision to invite Australia to take part in its top-notch trilateral Malabar naval exercise with the US and Japan next month.

The inking of BECA will be a major takeaway. India inked the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with the US in 2002, which was followed by the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, and then the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) in 2018.

TOI had last week reported India and the US were all set to ink BECA, which had been hanging fire for well over a decade, during the two-plus-two dialogue on Tuesday.

The previous UPA regime had stonewalled LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA during its 10-year tenure on the ground that it would compromise India’s “strategic autonomy”. In its initial period, UPA was held back by Left being a supporting party. But the NDA government has stressed there are “enough India-specific safeguards” built into these pacts to protect the country’s sovereign interests.

LEMOA provides for reciprocal logistics support like refueling and berthing facilities for each other’s warships and aircraft, while the COMCASA has paved the way for India to get greater access to advanced military technologies with encrypted and secure communications and data links like armed Predator-B or Sea Guardian drones.

There are still some lingering concerns about BECA, especially since India has its own robust satellite imaging capabilities. “But we don’t have the capabilities that provide real-time and accurate data for long-range missile-targeting and navigation,” said an official.

The continuing military confrontation with an intransigent China in eastern Ladakh has accelerated the inking of BECA, much like the decision to invite Australia for the Malabar naval exercise last week.

The US, of course, is providing military intelligence to India during the current crisis like it did during the 73-day military confrontation at Doklam near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction in June-August 2017. “BECA will further smoothen the process,” he said.

China will also be in the cross-hairs when the 24th edition of Malabar is held in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea in two phases in the first and third weeks of November. It will mark the first time the “Quad” countries will come together for the combat manoeuvres on the high seas after a gap of 13 years.

The US, of course, has bagged lucrative Indian defence deals worth $21 billion just since 2007, which include the $3 billion ones for 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ naval helicopters and six Apache attack choppers signed during President Donald Trump’s visit here in February.

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Hearing through video-conferencing successful, says SC, allows HCs to decide on virtual proceedings

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday said the system of video-conferencing in providing access to justice to citizens during the ongoing pandemic situation has been “extremely successful” and granted liberty to the high courts to frame rules for such virtual hearings for themselves and the subordinate courts.

The apex court said it would think later over the issue of live-streaming of its proceedings, when Attorney General K K Venugopal referred to such practices being adopted in the Madras High Court.

The top court, after taking suo motu (on its own) cognizance of a letter written by former Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president and senior lawyer Vikas Singh, had on April 6 issued a slew of directions to use technology for conducting hearings in courts across the country to avoid congregation due to the “extraordinary” outbreak of Covid-19.

“We must say that the system of video-conferencing has been extremely successful in providing access to justice,” a bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao said, adding that the directions issued by it earlier need not change except the one related to the power of the high courts to decide on the course of the virtual hearings.

“We propose to substitute sub-para (vii) of Paragraph 6 with the following: The Video Conferencing in every High Court and within the jurisdiction of every High Court shall be conducted according to the Rules for that purpose framed by that High Court.

“The Rules will govern Video Conferencing in the High Court and in the district courts and shall cover appellate proceedings as well as trials. We are given to understand that several High Courts have framed their rules already. Those High Courts that have not framed such Rules shall do so having regard to the circumstances prevailing in the state. Till such Rules are framed, the High Courts may adopt the model Video Conferencing Rules provided by the e-committee, Supreme Court of India…,” it said in the order.

The bench also noted in the order that its directions were issued “in furtherance of the commitment to the delivery of justice” and were intended primarily to cover the measures that the top court had to adopt to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“There has been a change in the situation since April, 2020. In many states, the situation has eased and it has been possible to even commence hearings in congregation,” the bench said.

At the outset, Venugopal said the system of video-conferencing has worked very well and pointed out the “glitches” in the functioning of the facility in the apex court, while urging Justice Chandrachud, who is heading the e-committee, to take the necessary steps.

Justice Chandrachud said tenders have been issued to find a person to take care of the complete video-conferencing facility of the apex court and for the high courts and trial courts, a national tender would be given to ensure a common virtual hearing platform.

“Right now, every high court is either on Zoom or Cisco or Vidyo,” he said.

“Once we are doing that on a pan-India basis, some degree of financial help will be needed from the Centre. We have appointed a committee of four high court judges. That committee has formulated rules for the video-conferencing, which was circulated to all the high courts, and the suggestions have been incorporated and the model rules formulated. Eleven high courts have adopted the model rules,” the judge said.

Venugopal raised the issue of live-streaming of the apex court’s proceedings and said it has been working well in Madras High Court.

The court said there are a lot of issues that cannot be discussed publicly and it would think over the matter later.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said live-streaming would lead to people filing petitions just for the sake of “being heard all across the country”.

Granting the liberty to the high courts to decide as to what kind of video-conferencing facilities they would like to use, the bench said there is the issue of “e-literacy” as well and moreover, there are issues related to the types of network available in a particular state.

“We would like the Centre to give us access to the optical fibre network. Earlier, we wanted the Centre to give us the satellite but later, was advised against it and now, we seek access to the optical fibre network. We have an eye on the e-filing of cases,” the bench said and asked Venugopal to consult government officials and help the e-committee.

Senior advocate Harish Salve told the court that Reliance Jio has the “best optical fibre network”, which is not expensive.

The bench told Salve that the company can formally meet the e-committee of the apex court in this regard.

It also said a committee comprising some apex court judges, the attorney general and the solicitor general would be formed to consider suggestions to improve the functioning and facilities in the apex court.

Earlier, the top court had issued a slew of directions on the functioning of courts through video-conferencing during the pandemic.

A court hearing in congregation must become an “exception” during the “extraordinary outbreak” of the Covid-19 pandemic and it is necessary that all courts respond to the call of social distancing to ensure that they do not contribute to the spread of virus, it had said.

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