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Opposition questions Modi govt’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic, seeks compensation for migrants who died during lockdown




NEW DELHI: Opposition parties in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday questioned the Modi government‘s claim that the lockdown helped prevent over 29 lakh Covid-19 cases and thousands of deaths, and said it should have ensured better coordination with the states.

Members of the Upper House were participating in a discussion on ‘Covid-19 pandemic and steps taken by the Government of India’.

Several opposition members, including from the DMK and CPM, also pointed out that the government took almost two months to impose the lockdown after the first case came to light in January, and claimed the delay had proved costly.

Some of them also took a jibe at the government saying it was busy hosting US President Donald Trump, who was on a two-day India trip in the last week of February.

Initiating the discussion, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma questioned the government’s claims that the lockdown prevented up to 29 lakh Covid-19 cases.

He argued that the people of the country should know if the lockdown really helped in containing the spread of the disease and sought compensation for the migrant workers who died during the lockdown.

“He (health minister) has said that it has been estimated that this decision prevented approximately 14 to 29 lakh … and 37,000 to 78,000 deaths … The House must be informed as to what is the scientific basis on which we have reached this conclusion that but for the sudden lockdown, the number of cases could have risen up to 29 lakh,” Sharma said.

He was of the view that the Centre should have taken the state governments into confidence so that they could have prepared better for the lockdown.

“Were we prepared for the lockdown? I am not levelling any allegation as nobody in the world was prepared, but you could have spoken to the states, alerted them … to make preparations at the district level …

“This did not happen so what happened was that in four hours railways stopped. This led to painful scenes and the picture of the country which went out was not good,” Sharma said, adding the sudden decision led to immense problems to the migrant labourers.

Sharma said that the government has in a reply stated that no compensation has been given because there are no figures regarding the death of migrant workers during the lockdown.

“This is such an unfortunate situation for the country. Why don’t you have figures? Every state knows who died. They should be given compensation,” the Congress leader said.

He said for the future the government should make a database regarding migrant workers in the country.

“There should be a register and those people who live in cities who did not get food security, ration, please find a solution for such exigencies,” Sharma said.

Referring to an article in a leading medical journal which questioned the credentials of Hydroxychloroquine, Sharma said, “They had to take it back because it was completely fabricated … a case should be filed here as well because the pharma lobbies, as it is an affordable drug, want to discredit it.”

Accusing the Centre of not consulting experts to draw a strategy to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) MP Derek O’ Brien said that the central government should not use the pandemic “to convert democracy into autocracy”.

“Did you consult global experts? … We set up a Global Advisory Committee with half a dozen people … The problem is that when things are going good, you want to take the credit and when things are tough, you start talking about the chief minister and bulldoze us in a serious speech like this,” he said.

He asked if the Centre transferred funds to the informal sector and migrant workers, as demanded by the 12 opposition parties.

“You need humility … This government needs humility to work together with states. You don’t know at all … Unless you have this one thing how will we go forward,” O’Brien said.

He also took a swipe at the government over the PM CARES Fund. “The most opaque and dark fund in the world is called the Prime Minister’s couldn’t care less fund. Oh! I said the name wrong,” he said.

Tiruchi Siva (DMK) alleged late action by the government in tackling Covid-19.

“The first case was detected in January and the self-imposed curfew started from March 23,” he said.

According to him, the lockdown was delayed for the “gala welcome” of the US President Donald Trump, who was here on a two-day visit on February 24 and 25.

Swapan Dasgupta, a nominated member, said the government should clear the confusion caused by claims that India is “under-reporting” its numbers and urged the health minister to come out with some clarification over the statistical robustness of the figures.

BJP MP Vinay P Sahastrabuddhe said that the Centre held discussion with state chief ministers and secretaries around 15 times and no one during their conversation even once said that the lockdown should not have been imposed.

He criticised the Maharashtra government over its handling of the pandemic, claiming ther is a lack of coordination among officers and political leaders in the state.

Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan said even her family members suffered due to the pandemic.

“The way people were being treated in hospitals, the way Mumbai roads are getting sanitised every hour, it is incomparable. There should be no politics on this subject,” Bachchan said.

K Keshava Rao of TRS said that there was a need for better coordination between the Centre and the state governments for handling the pandemic.

RCP Singh of the JD(U) said over 20 lakh migrant workers from Bihar were sent back by the states after the pandemic without recognising their contribution and now they are being called back by their respective employers

Elamaram Kareem (CPM) cited data from CMIM (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) to claim that around 15 crore people have lost jobs and alleged that the government has not taken any steps to address the situation.

While talking of the Covid-package, Kareem said that it is just one per cent of the GDP, while the packages from other countries are up to 21 per cent of their GDP.

Manoj Jha of the RJD also raised the issues of workers who were turned down by their employers during the pandemic.

Earlier in the day, Santanu Sen of AITMC recalled that in the initial days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when his party members were wearing masks they were asked to remove them by the Chair.

To this, Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said: “At that time, the Chair was guided by the guidelines issued by ICMR. On that day, when this comment was made, there was no such thing.”

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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Facebook India moves Supreme Court seeking to set aside Delhi assembly panel notice




NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a plea by Ajit Mohan, the India head of social media giant Facebook, challenging a notice sent to him by the Delhi assembly.

The petition is listed before a bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari.

On Sunday, the Delhi assembly panel on peace and harmony served a fresh notice to Mohan to appear before it on September 23, after no representative from the social-media company appeared before the committee earlier to clarify allegations of “deliberate inaction on the part of (the) social media platform to apply hate speech rules”.

Earlier in the month, the panel had issued the first notice to Facebook India head and sought his presence before it. The plea questioning the notice said, “Whether the privileges of Respondent No. 1, the Legislative Assembly of the NCT of Delhi, include the power to compel the appearance of non-members before Respondent No. 1 to express their views or subject them to examination?”

The plea has urged the apex court to set aside the summons issued on September 10 and 18, and also restrain the Delhi Legislative assembly from taking coercive action against the petitioner in furtherance to these summonses.

The plea said on September 2, 2020, at the request of the Parliamentary Committee, Mohan appeared before the Parliamentary Committee and offered his views.

Specifically, the Committee is seeking to make a “determination of the veracity of allegations levelled against Facebook” in the Delhi riots, which intrudes into subjects exclusively allocated to the Union of India”, said the plea.

The “Peace and Harmony” committee was set up by the Delhi assembly after riots over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which left 50 people dead and hundreds injured. The plea said the committee improperly seeks to exercise its powers and privileges in a manner that exceeds the constitutional limits of the Legislative Assembly.

Mohan cited that Delhi Police, which filed a 17,000-page chargesheet in connection with the riots recently, reported to the Centre and not to the Delhi government.

The committee summoned the social media giant after reports by US publications alleging non-application of hate speech rules in the case of inflammatory posts by BJP leaders and right-wing activists.

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India, China agree not to further escalate border situation but no breakthrough on disengagement in military talks




NEW DELHI: India and China have agreed not to further escalate the border situation through a series of measures, which significantly includes not sending more troops to forward areas, but a tangible breakthrough on de-escalation eluded the marathon military commander-level talks held on Monday.

The test of the joint statement issued on Tuesday will lie in actual Chinese actions in disengaging and de-escalating along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, in accordance with the “consensus” reached between foreign minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on September 10.

The 14-hour long dialogue on Monday, between the delegations led by 14 Corps commander Lt-General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, did not lead to any forward movement in defusing the almost five-month long troop confrontation, said sources.

But the joint statement signaled a more positive outcome, with the two countries agreeing to “earnestly implement the important consensus” reached earlier between PM Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping to maintain peace along the LAC.

The Jaishankar-Wang talks had also agreed to both sides taking actions to “quickly disengage” in the high-altitude region, where both sides have amassed well over 50,000 soldiers each as well as tanks, armoured vehicles, howitzers, surface-to-air missiles systems.

As per the joint statement on Tuesday, the two armies will also refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground and taking any actions that may complicate the situation. They will also strengthen communication between the local commanders to avoid “misunderstandings and misjudgments”.

The statement seems to signal that the current standstill may continue, with senior government sources hinting that “apex leadership” level discussions may be needed to break the logjam.

The two sides agreed to hold the 7th round of military commander-level meeting as soon as possible, take practical measures to properly solve problems on the ground, and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area.

Sources, however, said there was “hardly any meeting ground” on the actual troop disengagement and de-escalation during the military talks, which included diplomatic representation from India for the first time. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in fact, has assiduously used the cover of diplomatic and military talks to crank up its troop and logistics build-up in the region.

At the military talks, India pressed for a concrete roadmap for “complete de-escalation” at the immediate face-off sites as well as the “depth areas” along the entire frontier in eastern Ladakh. China, in turn, kept insisting on the withdrawal of Indian troops from the heights on the southern bank of Pangong Tso-Chushul area.

“There was a mismatch between the rival proposals. But then, it is a complex issue, which will need sustained dialogue to arrive at a mutually-acceptable plan. We will not lower our guard,” said a source.

The PLA remains upset at the way Indian troops preemptively occupied multiple tactical heights on the ridge line stretching from Thakung on the south bank of Pangong Tso to Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Reqin La (Rechin mountain pass) on August 29-30.

These heights, which were left unoccupied since the 1962 war, allow Indian soldiers to clearly observe PLA positions and roads as well as the Moldo military garrison in the region.

There have been at least four incidents of warning shots being exchanged after the PLA tried to dislodge Indian troops from the heights through aggressive manoeuvres between August 29 and September 8. “During the talks, the PLA delegation kept returning to the need for Indian soldiers to vacate those heights,” said another source.

For India, apart from the “friction points” at Pangong Tso, Chushul and Gogra-Hotsprings, the heavy PLA build-up in the strategically-located Depsang-Daulat Beg Oldie sector also remains a major concern.

Overall, both sides have amassed well over 50,000 soldiers each, along with tanks, armoured vehicles, howitzers, surface-to-air missiles systems, along the entire frontier in eastern Ladakh.

Even if the two sides finally arrive at a de-escalation plan, the de-induction of such high levels of troops is likely to stretch till the end of this year. India, of course, will be extremely cautious because the PLA had earlier reneged on the agreement to withdraw from the Galwan Valley, which had led to the violent skirmish and casualties there on June 15.

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IIT-Guwahati convocation: NEP will turn India into global education destination, says PM Modi




GUWAHATI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 will bring fame to India by turning it into a global education destination.

The PM said this while addressing the 22nd convocation of IIT-Guwahati through video conference from New Delhi.

“NEP advocates opening up the education sector. The goal is to set up campuses of foreign universities in the country so that our students can get global exposure,” Modi said, emphasizing on promoting research collaboration and student exchange between Indian and foreign universities.

The PM added that high-performing institutions from India will be encouraged to set up campuses on foreign lands as the country is opening up its education sector for foreign universities. “The credits acquired by our students in foreign universities can now get counted in the institutions of the country,” he said.

The PM added that the education policy will make India a global leader in science and technology and features policies that were on top of their wishlist. Modi urged the youth to be future-ready and future-fit.

“Education and examination should not be a burden on students. They should get more freedom to study subjects of their choice and that’s why the NEP has been designed. Flexibility has been given in choosing subjects, multiple entry and exit options have been given and most importantly, technology will become an integral part of education,” Modi said.

He added that NEP has paved the way for use of artificial intelligence in education and growth of online education.

Modi said the country is heading towards such an ecosystem where the youth will learn from technology and will innovate new technology for teaching. He added that the National Research Foundation will coordinate with all funding agencies, irrespective of disciplines — whether it’s science or humanities. “The potential research works, which have the scope of practical implementation, will be recognized. For this, coordination and close linkage will be established between the government and the industry,” the PM said.

Modi expressed high hopes that IIT-Guwahati will play a key role in this “beyond boundary expansion” from the northeast. “The NE region is the focal point of India’s Act East Policy and gateway to connect with the southeast Asian countries. The foundation of the relationship with these countries with us has been culture, commerce, connectivity and capacity. Now education is going to be the new medium of engagement with these countries. IIT-Guwahati can be a major centre of this,” he added.

The Prime Minister said new opportunities are being created in the northeast as the government is ramping-up infrastructure in the region. He added that the northeast has huge potential in solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric energy as well as rice, tea, and bamboo as resources. Modi appealed to young graduates to explore how innovation can boost the tourism sector in the diverse NE region of the country, known for its exquisite natural beauty.

“Here in the northeast, we have the biodiversity and immense sources of traditional knowledge. Transmission of science and technology has been linked with traditions, passing from one generation to the other. Can we build new technology with this fusion?” he asked.

Modi suggested IIT-Guwahati to set up a centre for Indian knowledge system through which the premier technology institute can offer “invaluables” to the northeast as well as the country and the world. He also urged the institute to come up with a centre for disaster management and risk reduction with expertise to manage disasters — natural and industrial — often encountered by the region and turn it into blessings.

The PM lauded the efforts of the institute in contributing towards making the country self-reliant in spite of the difficulty in conducting academic sessions and continuing research work during this pandemic. “Convocation is a special day for every student. But this year, it is a different experience for them in the time of pandemic. The pandemic has changed the way convocation is conducted. But still it is as special as it was before. I congratulate students for their bright future. The future of the nation is in what the youth think today. Your dreams will shape the reality of India in future,” said Modi.

Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal, Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, Union MoS for education Sanjay Dhotre and several other dignitaries were virtually present in the convocation with a graduating class of 1,803 students (1532 males and 271 females).

“IIT-Guwahati has also worked towards the idea of Atmanirbhar Bharat during Covid-19 pandemic. Convocation is not the end of education but a new beginning. You came to the institute as a student but now you will enlighten the world. You are the ambassador of the country. The key to success is positive attitude and positive aptitude,” said Pokhriyal.

The CM lauded the role of IIT-Guwahati in the battle against Covid-19. “Right from the initial stage, we have been striving hard to prevent and contain the spread of this pandemic. IIT-Guwahati has played an important role in assisting the state government in fighting this disease. I acknowledge and thank the IIT-Guwahati team for their contribution in developing Covid-19 kits and other infrastructure help.”

IIT-Guwahati director Prof TG Sitharam said there are 291 research projects in progress with a total sanctioned value of about Rs 437.00 crore. “In the year under report, we received 131 new projects with a sanctioned value of Rs 183.00 crore. A total of 153 new consultancy projects were carried out during the year. The total value of consultancy projects undertaken during this year is Rs 10.76 crore and Rs 11.27 crore was received for all consultancies,” he added.

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