Today Picture



Enforce the Test-Track-Treat protocol: Govt amidst upsurge


The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)’s Covid-19 Guidelines for April, issued today, emphasised the need “to strictly follow the prescribed containment strategy, and strictly observe the guidelines/SOPs issued by MHA and Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW) and other Ministries/Departments of the Central Government and State/UT Governments.”

Taking note of the fresh surge in coronavirus cases in some parts of the country, the Central government has asked states and Union Territories to strictly enforce the Test-Track-Treat protocol, ensure Covid-19 appropriate behaviour, boost proportion of RT-PCR tests and to scale up the vaccination drive to cover target groups.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)’s Covid-19 Guidelines for April, issued today, emphasised the need “to strictly follow the prescribed containment strategy, and strictly observe the guidelines/SOPs issued by MHA and Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW) and other Ministries/Departments of the Central Government and State/UT Governments.”

The MHA order will be effective from 1 April and remain in force up to 30 April, 2021.

The government has launched the world’s largest vaccination drive against Covid-19, MHA said. While the vaccination drive is proceeding smoothly, the pace is uneven across different States and UTs, which is a cause for concern, it added. Vaccination against Covid- 19, in the present scenario, is critical to break the chain of transmission, the MHA said.

States were told to take all necessary measures to promote Covid-19 appropriate behaviour in work places and in public, especially in crowded places. For strict enforcement of such rules, States and UTs may consider administrative actions.

The guidelines said the states and UTs, where the proportion of RT-PCR tests is less, should rapidly increase it, to reach the prescribed level of 70 per cent or more. The new positive cases need to be isolated/ quarantined at the earliest and provided timely treatment; all their contacts should be traced and similarly isolated, the guidelines said.




RS returns Central govt’s two Appropriation Bills


Anurag Thakur tells House fiscal deficit had fallen, would remain under control

The Rajya Sabha today returned the Central government’s Appropriation Bills for 2020- 21 and 2021-22, after minister of state for finance Anurag Thakur told the House that fiscal deficit had fallen and would remain under control.

The House discussed the Budgets of the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Puducherry also and returned Appropriation Bills for them for the current and the coming financial year. The Puducherry Bill for 2021- 22 would cover expenditure for a part of the year.

Several members complained during the discussions that the government claimed not to have raised taxes but prices of petrol, diesel and gas had risen substantially, putting burden on the common man.

Thakur said the fiscal deficit of the government had fallen from 5.4 per cent to 3.5 per cent and the government was following a plan to keep it under control.

The Goods and Service Tax (GST) collections were up following steps taken by the government.

He said the UPA government, too, had its plans to disinvest in the public sector units but could not do much. Thakur said the corporate tax was reduced with a view to encourage Make in India. The government steps like productivity linked bonus for manufacturing would yield results. India had become the second largest producer of mobiles.

The minister said Defence expenditure had taken care of bullet proof jackets, Rafale jets, tanks and helicopters. The farmers were provided fertilisers with ease, and Rs 6000 paid to needy farmers in three instalments a year.

The MGNREGA budget during the UPA’s rule was Rs 30000 crore and it had risen to Rs 1.10 lakh crore now.

BSNL and banks were helped to be financial strong. Jammu and Kashmir had elections at several lower levels from sarpanches and was given funds to recover financially.

Three thousand Kashmiri Pandits were resettled, 44000 were getting Rs 13000 per month and 6000 more would get houses.

The Puducherry expenditure would cover the period till the coming elections in the Union Territory.




India, Pakistan hold water-sharing talks


The Indian delegation is being led by Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters P K Saxena while the Pakistani delegation is headed by its Indus Commissioner Syed Muhammad Meher Ali Shah.

Amid reports that the UAE was brokering peace between them, India and Pakistan today began a two-day crucial meeting of the Permanent Indus Water Commission in New Delhi, thus returning to the dialogue table after a gap of more than two years.

The Indian delegation is being led by Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters P K Saxena while the Pakistani delegation is headed by its Indus Commissioner Syed Muhammad Meher Ali Shah.

The meeting comes a month after the two countries agreed to strictly observe all understandings and agreements to cease fire along the Line of Control (LoC) amid renewed hopes of the resumption of the stalled dialogue between them.

The two countries have not held any meeting for more than two years, a period that saw the Pulwama terror attack which was followed by the Balakot air strike on terror camps in Pakistan by the Indian Air Force.

Later in August, India abrogated article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir that put paid to any hopes of immediate reconciliation between the two countries. Official sources said today’s talks were held in a cordial atmosphere.

A host of issues under the Indus Waters Treaty, including Pakistan’s objections to the design of Indian hydropower projects on Chenab river, are understood to have figured in the meeting. The two sides are expected to try and narrow differences over the hydroprojects.

Bloomberg news agency and Foreign Policy magazine have reported that the UAE, with whom both India and Pakistan have close ties, might have played a role in secret efforts to bring the two countries to the negotiating table.




Supreme Court restrains banks from charging interest-on-interest on borrower during moratorium


The bench pronounced the verdict in the case of Small Scale Industrial Manufacturers Association vs Union of India the judgment for which was reserved on December 17, 2020.

Any amount collected during the moratorium period by banks as interest on interest or compound interest should either be refunded or adjusted against the next EMIs payable by the borrowers, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.

The verdict was pronounced by a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna. The top court said it could not understand the rationale behind waiving interest on interest on loans up to Rs 2 crore and why this limit has been set by the government, has not been explained.

The bench pronounced the verdict in the case of Small Scale Industrial Manufacturers Association vs Union of India the judgment for which was reserved on December 17, 2020.

The top court said it would not get into the matters of trades and commerce and emphasized that judges are not experts on financial matters.

“Not for us to decide if public policy could have been better,” noted the top court. However, the court also rejected the petitioners’ prayer seeking extension of the 6-month loan moratorium period granted by the RBI in the backdrop of Covid-19 pandemic.

The top court stressed that the government cannot be directed to ask banks to waive off interest on loans during the period of lockdown.

“Economic and fiscal policies are not amenable to judicial review and merely because a sector is not satisfied with a policy decision,” observed the SC.

(With IANS inputs)




Uttar Pradesh closes schools till Holi as Covid surges


Since children under 10 years come under the high risk zone, directives have been issued not to allow schools to function till March 31.

The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has ordered closure of all schools in view of the surge in number of Covid cases in the state.

Classes from 1 to 8 will remain suspended from March 24 to 31 for Holi vacation.

All other educational institutions, including schools between Classes 9 and 12, and higher education institutions where examinations are not scheduled, will be closed from March 25 to 31.

All examinations of classes 1 to 8 scheduled between March 24 and 31, therefore, have also been postponed.

A decision to this effect was taken at a late-night meeting on Monday, chaired by the chief minister.

Basic Education Minister Satish Dwivedi said: “All examinations of classes 1 to 8 stand cancelled till further notice. After March 31, depending upon the situation, we will decide whether to promote all students or extend the academic session and hold examinations in state government-run institutions.”

All other educational institutions where examinations are scheduled between March 25 and March 31, will remain open only for examinations. Students will appear for the examinations while following all necessary Covid-19 protocols, the state government spokesman said.

Since children under 10 years come under the high risk zone, directives have been issued not to allow schools to function till March 31.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the state government has also cancelled the leave of all police personnel till the Holi festival.




Delhi Cabinet clears establishment of 100 ‘Schools of Specialised Excellence’


The NEP advocates for gifted students to be provided with adequate enrichment opportunities, guidance and encouragement.

The Delhi government plans to establish ‘Schools of Specialised Excellence’ to cater to the needs of students, enrolled in government schools, who are gifted in various areas of study such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), performing and visual arts, humanities and high-end 21st century skills.

The Delhi Cabinet today approved the establishment of about 100 such schools. These schools will be choicebased and will cover grades 9 to 12 — the last four years in the 5+3+3+4 framework of schooling introduced by the New Education Policy (NEP)- 2020.

The NEP advocates for gifted students to be provided with adequate enrichment opportunities, guidance and encouragement.

Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia said, “As we are going to live in an era of specialisation and excellence, our children need an opportunity to be ready for the next-generation challenges. Every child is unique and gifted. We want to ensure that they get the opportunity and the support to achieve higher success in their lives. Schools of Specialised Excellence will provide the right platform to our children to nurture their talent and excel in areas of their specialised interests.”

Sisodia also shared that while all schools of the Delhi government will be upgraded to the level of the existing RPVVs and SoE, these new Schools of Specialised Excellence will nurture specialisation among children having special aptitude and interest in the four domains. Operating with the vision of discovering and nurturing innate talents in gifted students, Schools of Specialised Excellence will focus on providing holistic and experiential learning opportunities through state-of-the-art infrastructure, creativity and problemsolving focused learning and teaching, strong partnerships with universities and industry leaders, mentorship schemes and easy access to role models to empower students to achieve their highest potential.

Sisodia said these schools hold the potential to serve as examples of how providing the correct environment and opportunities to students can catapult them from even the most marginalised backgrounds to great heights of success in various fields. These schools will act as hubs of excellence in their respective zones and provide other schools with inspiration and technical knowhow to foster excellence.




India reducing dependence on oil import, exploration of oil and gas underway in country


Oil Industry Development Cess at the rate of 20% ad valorem is applicable on crude oils produced from pre-NELP blocks and at present, there is no such proposal to amend the rate of cess.

The government is making all efforts to reduce import dependence. India’s oil and oil equivalent gas import dependence in 2014-15 and 2015-16 were 68.9% and 72.2% respectively and during current April-January, 2020-21 is 77.1%.

Oil Industry Development Cess at the rate of 20% ad valorem is applicable on crude oils produced from pre-NELP blocks and at present, there is no such proposal to amend the rate of cess.

Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has taken several steps inter alia promotion of renewable and alternate fuels like ethanol, second-generation ethanol, compressed biogas and biodiesel, promotion of natural gas as clean fuel/feedstock in the country with a view to moving towards a gas-based economy, refinery process improvements, promoting energy efficiency and conservation, efforts for increasing production of oil and natural gas through various policies under Production Sharing Contract (PSC) regime, Discovered Small Field Policy, Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy, Setting up of National Data Repository, etc.

The government has also provided functional freedom to National Oil Companies and wider private sector participation by streamlining approval processes including an electronic single-window mechanism. Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is also working in collaboration with various Central Government Ministries/stakeholders to make efforts to achieve a reduction in import dependency on oil.

Exploration of Oil and gas in the country are taking place under:

Nomination Regime – by ONGC and OIL

PSC/RSC Regime – by Indian & Foreign Companies & JVs, including PSUs

At present, Exploration and Production activities are taking place ~2,75,000 sq. km area across different sedimentary basins across India in onshore and offshore areas under Nomination, PSC and RSC Regimes.

This information was given by the Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on Monday.




PM Modi launches ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan: Catch the Rain’ campaign on World Water Day


The Prime Minister also interacted with sarpanches and ward panches in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan: Catch the Rain’ campaign on World Water Day, i.e. today via video conferencing. A Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the Union Minister of Jal Shakti and the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to implement the Ken Betwa Link Project, the first project of the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers, in the presence of the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister also interacted with sarpanches and ward panches in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister said on International Water Day, a major step has also been taken for the Ken-Betwa Link Canal along with the introduction of the Catch The Rain campaign. He added this agreement is important to realize Atal Ji’s dream in the interest of millions of families of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. He said rapid development is not possible without water security and effective water management. He added that the vision of India’s development and India’s self-reliance is dependent on our water sources and our Water Connectivity.

The Prime Minister noted that the challenge of the water crisis is increasing equally with India’s development. He said it is the responsibility of the present generation of the country to fulfill its responsibility for the generations to come. He asserted that the government has made water governance a priority in its policies and decisions.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the better India manages rainwater, the lesser the country’s dependence on groundwater. Therefore, the success of campaigns like ‘Catch the Rain’ is very important. He noted that both urban and rural areas have been included in the Jal Shakti Abhiyan. He called upon to step up water conservation efforts in the days leading up to Monsoon. Emphasizing the importance of sarpanches and DMs/DCs, The Prime Minister said that the ‘Jal Shapath’ which is being organized all over the country should become everybody’s pledge and second nature. He said when our nature changes with respect to water, nature will also support us.




States tighten Covid-19 curbs


India records biggest jump in cases in 4 months with close to 40,000 new cases added in span of 24 hours.

India on Friday added close to 40,000 new Covid-19 cases in the biggest daily increase in nearly four months, even as states such as Maharashtra and Punjab, which account for much of the surge in cases, imposed fresh restrictions in a bid to control the spread of the virus (see side-bars).

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, meanwhile, told Parliament that the Covid-19 vaccination drive will be extended in the coming days.

He also said it is not necessary, scientifically, to administer the vaccine to each and every person in the country.

The Union Health Ministry, in its morning bulletin, reported 39,726 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, the highest since November last year, taking the total tally to 1,15,14,331.

The country has registered an increase in the number active cases for the ninth consecutive day, reaching 2,71,282 as of Friday morning.

A net rise of 18,918 cases was recorded in the total active caseload in a span of 24 hours. With the death of 154 people in the last 24 hours, the fatality toll has reached 1,59,370, according to the Health Ministry’s bulletin issued at 8 a.m.

Apart from Maharashtra and Punjab, the states of Karnataka, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh are also reporting a surge in daily Covid19 cases, the five states accounting for over 80 per cent of the new infections. A day after Maharashtra witnessed the highest oneday spike of 25,833 Covid19 cases, the state recorded 25,681 cases on Friday, according to the state health department, with Mumbai reported the highest spike of 3,062 new infections.

Punjab reported 2,369 new cases in a 24-hour period while Kerala reported 1,899 new cases, the health ministry said in its morning update.

The new cases in Punjab rose by 2,490 on Friday, according to a state medical bulletin issued in the evening. During the Question Hour in the Lok Sabha, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said India has vaccinated 3.5 to 4 crore people so far and side effects of the vaccines has been recorded at 0.000432 per cent.

“Every vaccine doesn’t require universal immunisation and all these priority groups whom we are vaccinating today like healthcare staff first and then senior citizens and people aged between 45 and 59 years, it will be extended in the coming days, all these are based on experts’ opinion.




Military cooperation, eastern Ladakh on US defence secy’s agenda in talks with India


India and the USA may also discuss measures to encourage American companies to set up local manufacturing facilities for defence equipment, including possibilities of joint ventures with Indian partners.

The situation in the IndoPacific region, China’s aggressive behaviour against its neighbours and a strong India-US defence and strategic partnership are likely to figure prominently during US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s talks with Indian leaders, sources said today.

Mr Austin arrived here this evening on a three-day visit, becoming the first top American leader to visit India since the inauguration of the Joe Biden administration in January.

Mr Austin will hold talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tomorrow and also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


 
Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar, Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat and the three services chiefs are likely to be part of the Indian delegation at the talks.

Mr Austin was scheduled to meet National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval late in the evening.

Mr Austin is the first US Secretary of Defence to include India on his maiden foreign trip, reflecting the importance the new administration in Washington gives to ties with New Delhi.

The visit comes days after the virtual summit of four ‘Quad’ countries attended by Prime Minister Modi, President Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The leaders decided to work towards an “open and rule-based” Indo-Pacific region in the backdrop of the aggressive posturing by China on maritime and territorial issues. Sources said China’s aggression in Eastern Ladakh is also likely to come up during the talks since Mr Austin is arriving in New Delhi after visits to Japan and South Korea, two of Washington’s key allies which have their own disputes with Beijing.

India and the USA may also discuss measures to encourage American companies to set up local manufacturing facilities for defence equipment, including possibilities of joint ventures with Indian partners.

India’s decision to purchase S-400 Triumf air defence systems from Russia may also come up. However, India is yet again expected to convey to the US administration its decision to continue diversifying its defence imports keeping in mind the country’s security needs in a volatile region.





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