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‘Watching India-China standoff in Ladakh closely, important to work with like-minded partners’: US


The US said it welcomes increased Indian involvement in Southeast Asia including its military presence in the South China Sea.

A day after the US President Donald Trump’s “filthy” remark on India accusing it to be a major contributor in air pollution, the country delivers a friendly statement by saying that it is watching the India-China standoff in Ladakh closely

The US is sharing information with New Delhi and wants to ensure the situation does not escalate, senior officials of the Trump administration said on Saturday.

The US said it welcomes increased Indian involvement in Southeast Asia including its military presence in the South China Sea and has been working with like-minded partners to counter “China’s aggressive behaviour” from the Himalayas to the disputed oceanic region.

‘We have had an ongoing dialogue with the Indians about the increased cooperation in Southeast Asia, not just the South China Sea. And we encourage their involvement and that cuts across development investments, that cuts across security cooperation and that also involves presence and so, we welcome greater Indian participation across Southeast Asia in all three of those areas,” US officials said in an online news briefing.

“Given China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour across the Indo-Pacific from the Himalayas to the South China Sea, it is more important than ever that we work with like-minded partners such as India. We were pleased to see India’s recent announcement regarding Australia joining the Malabar Naval exercise,” they said.

Trump’s remarks had come at a time when he was explaining his move to withdrew from the Paris climate accord. He had said that the move would have made America a non-competitive nation.

“Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia. Look at India. The air is filthy. I walked out of the Paris Accord as we had to take out trillions of dollars and we were treated very unfairly,” he said during a debate with Democratic White House challenger Joe Biden.

The relations between US and India have been strengthening in last few months as the Quadrilateral grouping of US, Japan, India and Australia are sending their warships for the Malabar Exercise next month.

Quadrilateral grouping, which experts say is to be mirroring NATO, has already been criticized by China many times.

In another major development in direction of strengthening the ties, New Delhi and Washington are also stepping up efforts to conclude the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) ahead of the Indo-US 2+2 ministerial meeting on October 26-27.

 




BJP in J-K demands action against PDP chief Mehooba Mufti for making ‘seditious remarks’


‘We will raise the national flag only once our state flag is back. The national flag is here only because of this (the Jammu and Kashmir) flag and constitution,’ she had said.

BJP launches attack on the recently released Peoples’ Democratic Party chief Mehooba Mufti for making “seditious remarks”.

In her first press conference after being released from 14 months of detention, Mufti said, “We will raise the national flag only once our state flag is back. The national flag is here only because of this (the Jammu and Kashmir) flag and constitution. We are linked to the rest of the country because of this flag.

On her remarks, J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina told reporters: “I request Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to take note of (the) seditious remarks of Mehbooba Mufti, book her for the seditious act and put her behind bars”.

Last month, the Supreme Court had asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration that for how long can Mehbooba Mufti be kept in custody.

The apex court’s response came while hearing her daughter’s petition challenging the former Chief Minister’s detention under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA).

The court gave two weeks’ time to the Jammu and Kashmir administration to give its stand on how long Ms Mufti can be kept in custody and whether her custody can be extended beyond one year.

Mehbooba Mufti was released on late October 13 night after being in detention for 14 months since the abrogation of the Article 370 on August 5, 2019, by the Narendra Modi-led government at the centre.

Mehbooba Mufti had on the next day met former chief ministers and leaders of the National Conference (NC) Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah at her residence in Srinagar.




Over 53k new Covid cases reported in last 24 hours; out of 78 lakh, 70 lakh are active cases


A positive development has come up for the citizens as the country has been reporting a steady decline in its daily coronavirus infections after reaching a peak of about 90,000 cases a day in September.

The cases of coronavirus have crossed the 78 lakh mark with 53,370 new cases reported in the last 24 hours, Ministry of Health said on Saturday.

650 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours taking the total death count to 1,17,956.

India has been consistently improving in terms of recovery as 70,16,046 people have recovered since the beginning of the pandemic.

A positive development has come up for the citizens as the country has been reporting a steady decline in its daily coronavirus infections after reaching a peak of about 90,000 cases a day in September.

As of now, the number of active cases stands at 6,80,680, according to the data from the Union Health Ministry.

Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal and Delhi are the five states that reported the highest number of cases in the last 24 hours.




‘Covid-19 vaccines be free for all Americans if elected as President’: Joe Biden


As he laid out his emergency plan to battle the pandemic, Biden assailed President Donald Trump for his response.

Democrat Joe Biden said Friday that if elected president he would mandate Covid-19 vaccines be free for all Americans, part of a national strategy to “get ahead” of the coronavirus.

As he laid out his emergency plan to battle the pandemic, Biden assailed President Donald Trump for his response, saying the Republican incumbent has “given up” fighting the virus and has “quit on America.”

Biden, who has made it a point to follow scientists’ guidelines such as wearing facemasks and engaging in social distancing, said that if he is elected he would be focused on bringing the pandemic to heel, and to help struggling Americans with the costs.

“Once we have a safe and effective vaccine, it has to be free to everyone — whether or not you’re insured,” Biden said in a speech laying out his pandemic response plan just 11 days before the US presidential election.

Trump, who trails Biden in the polls, has also stressed that a vaccine — which he says will be ready in the coming weeks — should be free.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Covid-19 vaccine doses purchased with taxpayer dollars — through billions of dollars in funding approved by Congress — would be administered to the American people at no cost.

Trump, in his second and final debate with Biden, on Thursday tried to signal that the US was overcoming the pandemic.

“We’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner, it’s going away,” Trump said.

But Democrats led by Biden have hammered Trump for failing to lay out and implement a nationwide response to a pandemic that has now killed more than 223,000 Americans.

“Covid-19 dwarfs anything that we’ve faced in recent history, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down,” Biden said in a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, adding that the virus is “surging” in almost every state.

“We’re more than eight months into this crisis and the president still doesn’t have a plan,” the 77-year-old former vice president said.

“He’s given up. He’s quit on you. He’s quit on your family. He’s quit on America.”

Biden said that if elected he would “immediately” put in place a national strategy “to finally get ahead of this virus, and get back our lives.”

That would include consulting governors of all 50 states during the presidential transition.

After inauguration, Biden would urge Congress to pass major legislation addressing the country’s needs to battle the pandemic, implement a national mask mandate in federal buildings and interstate transportation and launch a national testing plan equivalent to a seven-fold increase over today’s testing level.

Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, told donors Friday that the coronavirus crisis is “probably one of the greatest mass casualty events we have ever experienced as a country.”




IPL 2020: CSK’s campaign almost over after embarrassing 10-wicket defeat to Mumbai Indians


Going by their poor form – this was their first defeat by 10 wickets in IPL history – three-time champions CSK are virtually out.

New Zealand speedster Trent Boult’s four-wicket haul and an unbeaten 116-run opening stand between Ishan Kishan and Quinton de Kock steered the reigning Mumbai Indians (MI) stroll to a 10-wicket win over Chennai Super Kings (CSK) on Friday, and go atop the Indian Premier League (IPL) points table.

Going by their poor form — this was their first defeat by 10 wickets in IPL history — three-time champions CSK are virtually out, but they still have a mathematical chance of qualifying for the playoffs. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team now has six points from 11 matches, out of which they have lost eight, and are now placed at the bottom of the eight-team table.

With Friday’s comprehensive win, three-time champions Mumbai have gone atop the table with 14 points. Although Delhi Capitals and Royals Challengers Bangalore also have 14 points, they are placed second and third respectively on net run rate.

After winning the toss, the MI bowlers came all gun blazing on a batting-friendly Sharjah track as they restricted their opponentsto 114/9 wickets in 20 overs, thanks to Boult, who wreaked havoc with stunning figures of 4/18 from his quota of four overs.

Boult received able support from teammates Jasprit Bumrah and Rahul Chahar, who bagged two wickets each conceding 25 and 22 runs respectively.

The three-time champions, who suffered a batting collapse, had made as many as three changes in their playing XI. However, the decision backfired as just three of their batters — Sam Curran (52), Dhoni (16) and Shardul Thakur (11) — were able to touch the double digit.

CSK lost their top six batsmen with just 30 runs on board. However, it was Curran’s patience with the bat which helped him notch-up up a half-century besides taking his side past the 100-run mark.

In return, MI openers Quinton de Kock (46 not out) and Ishan Kishan (68 not out) made light of the small target as their unbeaten 116-run stand drove the team home quite comfortably with 46 balls to spare.

The two handed an ideal start to MI, taking their side to 52 runs in the initial six overs before adding another 46 runs in the next four overs to inch closer to victory. In the process, Kishan also completed his half-century off 29 balls.

de Kock put the final nail in the coffin, smashing Thakur for a boundary over square-leg to garner MI’s seventh win of the season.

The South African stumper’s innings contained five boundaries and couple of sixes while Kishan’s knock was laced with six fours and five maximums.

Brief scores: CSK 114/9 wkts in 20 overs (Sam Curran 52, MS Dhoni 15; Trent Boult 4/18) lost to MI 116/0 wkt in 12.2 overs (Ishan Kishan 68 not out, Quinton de Kock 46 not out; Hazlewood 0/17) by 10 wkts

 




‘Whenever need was felt, Bengal always led way’: PM Modi addresses Durga Puja pandals


PM listed an array of Bengali freedom fighters, writers, artists and others in his address.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday while addressing the Durga Puja pandals paid tribute to icons of Bengal.

“Whenever the need was felt in India’s history, Bengal has always led the way for India and shown the path. There have been many renowned people who have come from Bengal and have contributed immensely in guiding the nation is the right direction,” PM Modi said.

PM opened celebrations at a Puja in Salt Lake via video link.

PM listed an array of Bengali freedom fighters, writers, artists and others in his address.

PM remarked: “If I continue to take names of such Bengalis, we will come to the end of the day, but the names shall continue.”

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took part in commencement of Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata via video link.

He also addressed the people of the state which was telecasted in every booth of the state’s 294 constituencies, following social distancing norms.

“The festival of Durga Puja is a festival that reflects unity and strength of India. It is also a reflection of the traditions and culture that comes from Bengal,” PM Modi said.

“We are celebrating Durga Puja in times of Covid-19, all devotees have shown exemplary restrain. The number of people might be less but the granduer and devotion are the same. The happiness and joy are still boundless. This is the real Bengal,” he said.

“I urge everyone to ensure ‘do gaj ki doori’ and wear masks during celebrations at all times,” PM said.

“We are continuously working for the fast development of the state of West Bengal. Under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, houses have been constructed for around 30 lakh poor people. Over 90 lakh free gas connections given under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana,” he asserted.




Maharashtra government withdraws its general consent for CBI probe in state


The move triggers a fresh rift between state ruling Shiv Sena and its former ally BJP in Centre as the later now needs to get the state government’s permission to conduct investigations in the state.

The Maharashtra government on Wednesday has withdrawn the general consent it extended to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to conduct probe in the state.

The move triggers a fresh rift between state ruling Shiv Sena and its former ally BJP in Centre as the later now needs to get the state government’s permission to conduct investigations in the state.

Maharashtra joins the league of opposition-ruled states which has withdrawn the general consent for CBI probe which include Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and more recently, Rajasthan.

Interestingly, the Maharashtra government’s move also comes hours after the CBI filed a case to investigate the ratings scam on the basis of a complaint filed in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh.

A few weeks ago, the Mumbai Police had said that three channels including Republic TV are being investigated for ratings or TRP manipulation.

Addressing a press conference, Mumbai police chief Paramvir Singh had said “Police are probing a scam involving manipulation of TRPs. identified three channels, including Republic-TV which is reportedly involved in distorting the apparatus used by BARC to rate television channels.”

“The bank accounts of the channels would be investigated, besides the funds, they receive from advertisers and whether they are from proceeds of crimes,” he added.

“Household data were used by the channels for ratings manipulation and they received illegal advertising funds. This will be considered proceeds of cheating,” he said.

“There was false TRP spreading. TRP ratings were being bought. The manipulation was mainly for advertising revenues,” he said.

“As part of this, households were told to keep a certain channel switched on all the time. Illiterate homes were asked to keep English channels on. The households were offered monthly payments of Rs 4-500 in return,” Singh had contended.




US proposes not to issue temporary business visas for H-1B speciality occupations; likely to affect many Indians


The proposal, if finalised, will eliminate any misconception that the “B-1 in lieu of H policy” provides an alternative avenue for foreign professionals to enter the US for skilled labour.

The State Department has proposed not to issue temporary business visas for H-1B speciality occupations which allowed companies to send their technology professionals for a short stay to complete jobs on site in the US, a move which could affect hundreds of Indians.

The proposal, if finalised, will eliminate any misconception that the “B-1 in lieu of H policy” provides an alternative avenue for foreign professionals to enter the US for skilled labour that allows, and potentially even encourages them and their employers, to circumvent the restrictions and requirements relating to the “H” non-immigrant classification established by the Congress to protect US workers, the State Department said.

The move, made public on Wednesday, less than two weeks ahead of the November 3 presidential election, is likely to affect several Indian companies which send their technology professionals on B-1 visas for a short stay to complete jobs on site in the US.

In December 2019, the Attorney General of California announced a $800,000 settlement against Infosys Ltd to resolve allegations that approximately 500 Infosys employees worked in the state on company-sponsored B-1 visas rather than H-1B visas, the State Department said.

“The proposed changes and the resulting transparency would reduce the impact of foreign labour on the US workforce of aliens performing activities in a speciality occupation without the procedural protections attendant to the H-1B classification,” it said.

In its notification issued on Wednesday, the State Department said US architecture firms seeking protection from rising labour costs in the country might believe they could lay off US architects and contracts for the same services to be provided by a foreign architecture firm.

If a foreign firm sought H-1B visas for its architects, it would be required to pay the prevailing wage for architects in the area of intended employment in the US, presumably the same wage the US architects had been paid, and meet the other requirements enacted by the Congress to protect US workers.

But under the B-1 in lieu of H policy, the foreign architects could ostensibly seek B-1 visas and travel to the US to fill a temporary need for architecture services, as long as they retained a residence in the foreign country and continued to receive a salary, perhaps significantly lower than what is customary for US architects, dispersed abroad by the foreign firm (or under the auspices of a foreign parent or subsidiary), the State Department said.

“If the architects who intended to perform skilled labour were ‘of distinguished merit and ability… seeking to perform (temporary architectural services) of an exceptional nature requiring such merit and ability, one might argue the current regulatory language suggests this type of labour is a permissible basis for B-1 non-immigrant visa issuance,” the State Department said.

This potential outcome is harmful to US workers and contrary to the policies of the Trump administration, it said. The State Department said the application process for a B-1 visa does not include similar procedural requirements to protect the US workers like that of H-1B visas. Also, the fees for the B-1 visas are far less than that of H-1B visas.




India’s covid tally surpasses 77 lakh mark, recoveries cross 68 lakh


India’s coronavirus case tally stands at 77,06,946, with 7,15,812 active Covid-19 cases. The active cases in the country which comprise 9.29 per cent of the total caseload.

With a spike of 55,839 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, India Covid-19 tally crosses the 77 lakh mark, according to Ministry of Health.

India’s coronavirus case tally stands at 77,06,946, with 7,15,812 active Covid-19 cases. The active cases in the country which comprise 9.29 per cent of the total caseload. The number of active cases remained below eight lakh for the past few days in the country.

In the last 24 hours, the country has recorded 79,415 recoveries taking the total recoveries to 68,74,518. The recovery rate now stands at 89.20 per cent.

India,which remains the second worst Covid hit nation in the world, has recorded 702 deaths in the last 24 hours. With this the death toll now stands at 1,16,616 and fatality rate of the country stands at 1.51 per cent.

Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh have reported the maximum cases in the last 24 hours. These states together account for almost half of all the new cases of coronavirus in the country.

Maharastra which remains the worst affected state has reported a singe day spike of 8,142 Covid-19 cases taking the states’s total tally to 16,17,658 cases and 42,633 fatalities.

Kerala has reported 8,369 and Karnataka has reported 5,872 in the last 24 hours taking the states coronavirus case tally to 3.61 lakh and 7.82 lakh respectively.

West Bengal has reported 4,069 new cases taking its toll to 3,33,126 cases and 6,244 fatalities.

Delhi has reported 3,686 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 3,40,436 cases and 6,128 fatalities.

India has conducted a total of 14,69,984 tests, taking the total tally of Covid-19 tests conducted to 9,86,70,363.




Kalaikunda airbase to play vital role in eastern theatre airspace


In the wake of the IndoChina conflict, the Eastern Theatre is increasing its operational preparedness.

What was set up during World War II and designed to serve as an airbase for the B-24 Liberator American heavyweight bombers, the Kalaikunda airbase in West Bengal will play a key role in thwarting possible attacks by China in the Eastern Theatre airspace of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Located few kilometres from Kolkata, the airbase served as a major airfield in the supply route for the nationalist Army of China in its fight against the Japanese forces.

Aircraft of both the US Air Force and Royal Air Force flew regularly to China via Chabua, Jorhat and Vijaynagar across the Hump route over Arunachal Pradesh and East Tibet.

In the wake of the IndoChina conflict, the Eastern Theatre is increasing its operational preparedness.

“Kalaikunda will play a key role in air operations during a conflict in the Eastern Theatre. It has excellent infrastructure to house several operational units, especially fighter aircraft. It is located far from the border and hence enjoys ‘defence-indepth’. It is currently used for training with friendly air forces from across the world, besides fighter flying training for newly inducted combat pilots, as well as armament training for fighter fleets”, the former IAF chief Arup Raha told The Statesman.

“The IAF has a large number of air bases in the Eastern Theatre including Kalaikunda, Panagarh, Bagdogra and Hashimara in West Bengal. Civil aviation airports like Kolkata, Patna, Guwahati etc. would be available for air operations by IAF should the need arise, providing dispersal and flexibility in deployment of air assets” said the former IAF chief.

IAF sources highlighted that Kalaikunda’s finest moment came in 1971 IndoPak war where it survived two air raids by the Pakistan Air Force. An IAF Hunter aircraft shot down an F-86 Sabre of PAF.

The Kalaikunda base was then home to Gnats, Vampires and Canberra aircraft and later housed the MiG-27 squadrons. Commenting on whether the IAF should now base fighter squadrons in Kalaikunda, Air Chief Marshal Raha (retd.) said, “It is not necessary to permanently deploy several fighter squadrons in a base during peacetime. In a conflict situation, combat force levels are enhanced based on the need since rapid deployment of combat assets from one theatre to another is an intrinsic charateristic of air power. Obviously, Kalaikunda is expected to be augmented with additional fighters and combat assets during a war-fighting contingency.”




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