Sunday, July 12, 2020

PMO’s sermon to Ministers & leaders, No Anti-China rhetoric, for now

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

  • No Anti-China rhetoric, for now
  • No Lowering of Guards either

New Delhi, July 10
Without lowering the guards on the LAC in Galwan and other areas, the government has signaled the anti-China rhetoric be kept at low pitch.

The Prime Minister’s Office has signaled to the ministers and the BJP functionaries nothing should be spoken or hinted even remotely in public until Pre-May status quo in restored in Ladakh.

The frontal organizations and trade bodies closely connected with the saffron party have been conveyed to restrain in their anti-China rhetoric.

In fact, no government minister including members of the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) has uttered a word since disengagement announcement on July 7. The Modi government is closely watching how fast the Chinese move back to their original positions and holding its horses till then.

The Chinese foreign Minister Wang Li had added an interesting line in his July 7 statement while smoking the peace pipe. He said, “We hope India can work with China to guide public opinion in the right direction……. avoid amplifying the differences and complicating matter so as to jointly uphold the big picture of Indo-China relations.”

Obviously, the Chinese want India to guide its public opinion and stop strong anti-China rhetoric and recall all anti-China steps taken by any departments, states and companies to restore full normalcy.

The boycott Chinese goods call has suddenly gone silent. It is authoritatively learnt that a workable formula is being evolved with the promoters of some of the 59 Chinese Apps to restore status quo ante.

It is in this context that the Tik Tok’s owner ByteDance company is even considering moving its headquarters out of China along with the video-conferencing operations. It means India’s security concerns will be addressed in terms of data safety as servers will be moved to India too. It has two servers already in India.

Authoritative sources in the government say that except for the 59 App ban, there has not been any strong action initiated against any of the Chinese companies by any of the ministries and departments. Even cancellation of contracts here and there by any agency was on technical ground and not because of their place of Chinese origin.

Friday, July 10, 2020

How Modi used UPA era Act to control Covid-19 - Fly on the wall

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

How Modi used UPA era Act to control Covid

The Congress has been strongly criticizing Prime Minister Modi for usurping the powers of states while dealing with Covid epidemic/pandemic. But it conveniently forgot that the Disaster Management Act (DMA) under which Modi did it was enacted during the UPA regime in 2005. Modi as Gujrat Chief Minister had vehemently opposed the proposed Bill and alleged that the UPA wants to swallow powers of the states. But he was the lone voice in his own party as the Central BJP leadership looked the other way. When the Coronavirus broke out in 2020, Modi invoked the same 2005 Act to declare it a as national epidemic and took complete charge under the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The NDMA is directly under the Prime Minister who is its chairman. Shockingly, Section 6 & Section 10 of the DMA, 2005 give enormous powers to the PMO which some experts considered harsher than provided for in the Article 356.

Why Amit Shah came on the scene late

Suddenly, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is in the fore-front of fighting the battle against Covid. But It’s a wrong popular notion that Home ministry is nodal agency to handle the Corona pandemic. But its not. The Act clearly says the MHA is responsible for response, relief and preparedness for natural calamities and man-made disasters. But not ‘drought and epidemics’ which is under NDMA with PM as Chairman. The NDMA website reveals that Amit Shah is not even a member of the NDMA. Though the NDMA should to be 9-member body with a Vice Chairman. But currently, it has five members; G V V Sarma, Kamal Kishore, Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (retd), Rajendra Singh, and Kishore Vatsa and no Deputy Chairman. The Union Home Secretary is Chairman of the National Executive Committee (NEC) under the NDMA. But its a dual role. He issues orders to ministries and states not as Home Secretary but as Chairman of the NEC on the direct orders of the PMO.

Priyanka Gandhi’s House riddle

After being told to vacate the 35 Lodhi Estate bungalow, the last word on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s next destination continues to baffle political class. The widely reported speculation is that she will shift to Lucknow in late Shiela Kaul's house to strengthen the party in UP. It is said she is unwilling to shift to Lucknow immediately due to on-going Covid-19 pandemic and UP emerging as a new hot spot. Secondly, she doesn’t want to take the risk of traveling to UP along with the family now. She will not go to her husband Robert Vadra’s palatial flats in Gurgaon. Reason; Robert Vadra loves to walk in the Lodhi Gardens in the morning and Priyanka in the evening. Vadra keeps tweeting photos while walking in the Lodhi Gardens. Insiders say that she may temporarily shift to 10 Janpath House of her mother with daughter Miraya.Robert can keep shuffling between Gurgaon and Delhi.

Rohan Jaitley for DDCA ?

Late Arun Jaitley’s son advocate Rohan is in the news these days. Jaitley’s friends and associates want him to become DDCA president, a post once held by Jaitley himself. Elections are due after Rajat Sharma resigned. The last word is yet to be known.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Nadda set to reshuffle BJP team

Harish Gupta ( National Editor, Lokmat Group)
New Delhi, July 7
  • 25 Morchas, Departments may be over-hauled
  • New General secretaries too
  • Cabinet reshuffle later
BJP president J P Nadda will have a new team anytime, before July 15-16. The Cabinet reshuffle may follow later.

Highly placed sources say Nadda will have some “new faces” as vice president, general secretaries and heads of 25 Morchas and Departments. Nadda’s focus will be giving new direction to these departments and Morchas.

Of the eight general secretaries at least two may be replaced including Dr Anil Jain. Another general secretary incharge of Maharashtra, Saroj Pandey may be inducted into the Union Council of Ministers. Manoj Sinha, a former Railway Minister of State, may be brought in as new general secretary.

Bhupendra Yadav and Kailash Vijayvargiya over-seeing two poll bound states of Bihar and West Bengal respectively will be retained. The Yuva Morcha chief, Poonam Mahajan may be replaced by another young face. Tejswasi Surya, a Lok Sabha MP from Karnataka, is in the reckoning. Vijay Rahatkar, Mahila Morcha Chief may also be entrusted with new responsibility.

Similarly, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister may be replaced by Raghubar Dass of Jharkhand as Vice president. There are 10 vice presidents and a couple of them may be accommodated elsewhere. 

Nadda’s main strength is the new general secretary (org) B L Santosh who replaced Ram Lal. Santosh reminds days of late Sunder Singh Bhandari who was a tough task master and comes from the RSS.

The changes were finalized after the high-level meeting that took place last Saturday at the Prime Minister’s residence where top RSS and BJP leaders were present. 

It is clear that the Foreign Affairs Department will be strengthened and taken to a new high as PM Modi wants BJP to play a major role in this arena. A full fledged high-tech foreign affairs department will be strengthened under Vijay Chauthaiwale who hails from Maharashtra.

Nadda has a difficult task to fill the vacancies in parliamentary board arising out of the tragic demise of Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Anant Kumar.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Fast-tracking Covid vaccine to cut red tape, safety norms in place: ICMR clarifies on Aug 15 deadline

Company hopeful; Vaccine may be launched after Phase-I, II trials

Harish Gupta ( National Editor, Lokmat Group)
New Delhi, July 4

The cat is out of the bag as to why the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) set  August 15 date for developing and launch  a coronavirus vaccine.
It transpires that the developer of the most-sought vaccine in the world, Bharat Biotech company of Hyderabad, may be allowed to launch the vaccine immediately after the successful Phase-I and Phase-II trials without waiting for  four phases of trials which takes  minimum six months to one year. But in the instant case, the government and ICMR, may short-circuit the process.
A clue was given by none other but the Chairman and managing director of the Bharat Biotech company, Dr Krishna Ella himself.
When he was asked, “Is there anything that the government can do make sure that Covaxin can come into the market faster?” Dr Krishna Ella couldn’t resist his temptation.
Dr Krishna Ella told aa business daily on June 30, “ That is a decision for the government to take. If phase I & II data is good, it is up to the government and regulators. Our job is to execute the project and show the results.
It is clear that the vaccine can be launched after the phase-I and Phase-II trials if the regulators and government so permits.
Interestingly, the regulator (ICMR)  itself is a partner in the Covaxin with Bharat Biotech and Institute of Virology in Pune is also a partner which is owned by the government itself.
The ICMR which was playing coy since yesterday on the issue. Asserted today“the letter by DG-ICMR (Dr Balram Bhargava) to investigators of the clinical trial sites was meant to cut unnecessary red tape, without bypassing any necessary process, and speed up recruitment of participants."
“The process of Vaccine development “is exactly in accordance with the globally accepted norms to fast-track the vaccine development for diseases of pandemic potential wherein human and animal trials can continue in parallel."
Dr  Bhargava had sent out letters to 12 top clinical research agency  "envisaged" launching a novel coronavirus vaccine by Independence Day. The Union Health Ministry refused to comment and no government authority was willing to join the issue as it created a furore among experts and political class.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Major shake up in Prasar Bharati in offing

Harish Gupta ( National Editor, Lokmat Group)
New Delhi, July 3

For the first time after its creation 23 years of its existence,  the Modi government has decided to set up a separate Recruitment Board for the public broadcaster.

A beginning was made on July 1 when Jagdish Upasane, senior journalist was appointed as its chairman.

The 5-member recruitment board for will recruit persons for the various TV channels, Radio division and other institutions under it. Upasane will have a scale of pay less than that of a Joint Secretary to the government of India.

A former journalist and Director Bharat Prakashan Jagdish Upasane has been named as the chairperson of the recruitment board.

The government is set to appoint new Chairman of the Prasar Bharti Board also after A Surya Prakash retired a few months ago. There are reports that a leading TV Hindi journalist & anchor Umesh Upadhyay is in the reckoning for the coveted post.  For the recruitment board, Joint Secretary (B-II) in the  Information and Broadcasting Ministry will be an ex-officio member of the board. The board will have four other members -- Deepa Chandra, Retired ADG (Prog), Prasar Bharati; PN Bhakta, Retired ADG (Engg), Prasar Bharati; Kimbuong Kipgen, Secretary, Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB); Chetan Prakash Jain, GM (HR), Rail Vikas Nigam Limited.

This is the first time India’s public service broadcaster has got its own recruitment board after it was set up as an autonomous body in 1997 under the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990.

The chairperson and members, other than ex-officio members, shall be entitled to a sitting fee and not be entitled to any salary or remuneration. Prasar Bharati comprises All India Radio and Doordarshan Television Network.

Modi tightens Ministries belt, Cut 25% Expenditure

Railways to cut costs, Reduce Staff, Others follow Piyush Goyal Acts fast

Harish Gupta (National Editor, Lokmat Group)
New Delhi, June 23
Acting swiftly on the directions of the Prime Minister, the Railways and other Central ministries have started taking a slew of austerity-measures to cut expenditure.
The ministries have been directed to avoid
holding ceremonial functions physically and move over to  digital platforms. The Railways under Piyush Goyal and , Road Transport under Nitin Gadkari and others used to hold at least 6-7 functions per day on an average. Not anymore.
The Ministries have been told to cut down the use of stationary at least by 50 per cent and identify areas where costs can be cut immediately by 20%-25%.
Among the austerity measures underway, the Railway Minister Piyush Goyal plans for freezing creation of new posts, dumping outsourced work to companies to involve CSR pattern and rationalizing  manpower at its workshops. On the directions of the Minister, the financial commissioner directed GMs  on June 19 that the traffic earnings dropped by 58 per cent at the end of May. It also asked the zones to review contracts, and reduce energy consumption. There is a freeze on creation of any new post except for safety-related posts. All file work be moved to the digital sphere and advised that all correspondence must be done through secure e-mails system.
Earlier, the Modi government had put on hold all proposed foreign training stints for its officials during 2020-21. Any foreign training needed in “exceptional circumstances” will be permitted, but with the prior approval of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), said the June 15 order. The officials are sent for mid-career training programs to  foreign universities, including Harvard, Cambridge, UCLA, Berkeley, Australia and New Zealand.
Last fortnight, the Department of Expenditure had directed the ministries to suspend all new schemes with funding commitments of up to Rs 500 crore till March next year. The order exempts the Covid-related schemes.
Earlier, the Central government had also frozen increments of DA to government employees and pensioners. It was forced to resort to such drastic measures after the government’s revenue receipts hit an all-time low due to Covid-19 and other problems.

Telangana tops in Covid +ve Cases rate Maharashtra slips to second slot

Corona Testing to touch One Crore Mark this week 
Harish Gupta (National Editor, Lokmat Group)
New Delhi, July 2
Telangana emerged on top of the Coronavirus cases in India in terms of percentage today. It pushed Maharashtra to the second slot and Delhi as cases are rising there very rapidly while these are on the decline in these hot spot states. This has caused a new worry to the Centre which had been nudging Telangana to conduct more tests.

The data accessed by Lokmat suggest from
official Health ministry sources revealed that positive cases touched a record high 18.7% pushing Maharashtra to 18.5% and Delhi 16.3%.

Though the number of Covid cases in Telanagana are 17357 only compared to Maharashtra’s 1.86 lakh and Delhi’s 89802 cases.  But these states (see the table) have undertaken record tests since February and due to sustained efforts, cases are on the decline.  Even these cases had not been possible had the Centre not pushed and the High Court not scolded the state for less tests. The daily testing in Telagana was just 1096 on June 17 which has now risen to 7691 until July 1 night.

If the positive cases were 269 cases on June 17, they rose to 17357 yesterday, a jump of more than 60 times in less than a fortnight.  The testing during the last fortnight rose seven times only – from 1096 tests to 7691 on July 1 night.

Surprisingly, neighbouring Andhra Pradesh


conducted 9.18 lakh tests and its positive cases rate is just 1.7% - lowest in the country.  But Maharashtra was on top in the country in conducting highest with 50825 tests. Interestingly, Tamil Nadu conducted 12.02 lakh cases and positive cases are 7.8%.

One Crore tests by this weekend
Interestingly, India will set a new record when it may cross one crore Covid test mark. It nearly touched  2.30 lakh tests per day record today.

India conducted 37.37 lakh tests on May 31 and positive cases were 4.9% which has now risen to 6.7%- a jump of nearly two percent. In terms of numbers, the cases rose from 1.82 lakhs to 6.04 lakhs..

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Cabinet reshuffle, party rejig on cards

PM holds high-level meet , Nadda, top RSS leaders present

Harish Gupta (National Editor, Lokmat Group)
New Delhi, June 30
Final touches are being given for a reshuffle in Union Cabinet and Team-Nadda this month.  A high-level meeting took place  at the Prime Minister's residence  where top leaders of the RSS, BJP president J P Nadda and others were present. 

 Two top functionaries of the RSS, joint general
secretaries Dattratreya Honsabole and Dr Krishan Gopal, BJP general secretary B L Santosh, incharge of organisation along with party chief J P Nadda were present. This is the first time after the 100-days long lockdown that the top  leadership of the government and party apparatus came face-to-face. Insiders say that the meeting among the top leaders continued for more than two and half hours where thorough review of the achievements of the party, challenges and short-comings were discussed. 

Now that the Rajya Sabha biennial polls are over and Unlock 2.0 is in the process and the Parliament's Monsoon session is being planned sooner than expected, a much-delayed rejig is likely.  

There is a buzz that party's key functionary in West Bengal Mukul Roy may be brought into the Cabinet and may get a heavy weight ministry. Similarly, Jyotiraditya Scindia who was recently elected to Rajya Sabha and instrumental in BJP forming the government in Madhya Pradesh will be brought into the Cabinet. Similarly, there is a strong talk of Himanta Biswa Sarma may be brought into the Union Ministry who has done excellent work in the North East as a reward for his services.  The party has to win West Bengal elections and the induction of Mukul Roy will have some electrifying effect. 

It is learnt that some of the Cabinet Ministers were also called in at the PMO for a brief period and they left after a while. What transpired among them is not immediately known. But it is clear that some of the Ministers are under the radar for their poor performance. Those holding more than one portfolio in the government are likely to shed some weight.

Similarly, Nadda has been waiting in the wings to have a team after taking over as party chief on January 20. There are three vacancies in the parliamentary board due to the untimely demise of Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar. There is a talk that any of the two women leaders, Nirmala Sitharaman or Smriti Irani may be brought in. There is also a suggestion that Irani be made the party's face of Delhi while retaining Cabinet post to take on Arvind Kejriwal.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Monsoon Session in August-September !

Both Houses to meet in their Chambers

Harish Gupta (National Editor, Lokmat Group)
New Delhi, June 29
The government has decided to hold the Parliament’s Monsoon session as per provisions of the Constitution mandating no gap of more than six months between the two sessions.

Setting aside all such speculations, the government will now hold the session in August-September rather than July-August. The Monsoon session has to be held before September 22 as Budget session was curtailed on March 23.

The precise dates will be announced after taking into account the pandemic which the experts believe will peak out by July 10-15 and starts flattening. The government is also expecting that diplomatic level talks with China may also bear some fruits.

However, a couple of issues have been crystallized after a series of discussions at various levels in the government and also among presiding officers of the two houses for the past few weeks.

One, the session will be of a short duration.

Two; there will be no Lok Sabha session in the Central Hall of Parliament and Rajya Sabha MPs being shifted to the Lok Sabha chambers.

Three; a proposal to hold LS session at Vigyan Bhawan was also found unworkable after a great deal of exercise due logistics.

Four; It has also been decided that “virtual Parliament session” is not feasible at least during 2020 as no IT infrastructure is in place to provide lease lines to all the Members of Parliament as their respective places and officers. There is no Zoom-type network available within India to meet the requirement either as on date.

The two presiding officers, if sources are to be believed, have made up their mind to conduct proceedings of both the houses keeping the “social distancing norms” as may be needed during the Corona times.  The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are likely to hold their sittings in their respective chambers only but with highly reduced strength.


Intense consultations are at work to decide the number of MPs to attend session on a given particular day and how they should be rotated. It is learnt that some parties are agreeable but smaller ones are reluctant to accept it.

Monday, June 29, 2020

M K Meena appointed as the new Goa DGP

Harish Gupta (National Editor, Lokmat Group)
New Delhi, 28 June
M K Meena (IPS:1989:AGMUT) has been
appointed as the new DGP of Goa. Meena is presently the additional DGP in Mizoram.

He has also served as senior superintendent of police in Puducherry and in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, apart from holding various ranks in the Delhi police including joint commissioner of police — New Delhi range, special commissioner — New Delhi range.


This will be Meena’s second posting in Goa. He said that he was first posted in the state soon after joining the IPS. The post of DGP in Goa had been lying vacant since the death of former chief Pranab Nanda on November 15 last year. Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, inspector general of police (IGP).

Thursday, June 25, 2020

India Covid tests touch 75 lakh tests, Highest 2.15 lakh tests in a single day

* Number of positive cases rose to 6.2%
* Telangana jumps to 3rd slot after Maharashtra, Delhi
* 1000 laboratories testing in India
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, June 24
India achieved a new milestone in Covid-19 tests when it crossed two lakh tests a day. Until 9 this morning, more than 2.15 lakhs tests were conducted in a single day. The total number of tests in the country till date was 73.52 lakhs and set to cross 75 lakh tests mark by tonight. It is also heartening that the total number of laboratories in the country undertaking three type of tests rose to 1000 (730 government & 230 private) which is another record.

However, the data alarmingly revealed rising number of Covid-19 cases across India touching an all time high of 4.56 lakhs. The number of positive cases was 1.90 lakhs as on June 1 this year. But it more than doubled in merely 24 days. The percentage of cases (tests to positivity) also rose 4.96% to 6.2% during this period.

Data accessed by Lokmat from official sources revealed that positivity rate continues to soar by the day in Maharashtra  and Delhi with Telangana taking the third slot in the country.  (See the table)

Interestingly, Tamil Nadu is at the top in testing with 9.44 lakh tests and its positivity rate is less than Maharashtra (17.7%) and Delhi (16.6%).

On June 15, Maharashtra’s positivity rate was 15.9% and it conducted 6.59 lakh tests. Thus in less than 10 days it rose by 2% which is a sign of worry. Similarly, Delhi’s positivity rate was 14.2% on June 15. But it rose by 2.4% which is highest in term of percentage term.

The new state rapidly rising in positive cases is Telangana where positivity rate is 15.1%. It was no where on the scene on the map as it was not testing enough. However, within ten days of rapidly testing, it gained number 3 slot in the country.

Interestingly, UP and Maharashtra have highest number of laboratories with 110  and 105 respectively.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Pawar, Stalin, nixed Congress proposals - Lokmat Exclusive

Sonia wanted "physical not virtual" meeting with PM 

All-party meeting on China

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, June 20
No Opposition party leader supported the idea floated by the Congress that the Prime Minister should hold a face-to-face meeting rather than “virtual meeting.” The Congress wanted the PM should call leaders physically for effective interaction on thorny Galwan Valley crisis.

But no one agreed. Nationalist Congress president Sharad Pawar rejected the proposal out-right saying “virtual meeting is as good as physical meeting in the times of Covid.”
A senior NCP leader, on the condition of anonymity told Lokmat that Pawar Saheb reminded that Sonia Gandhi had herself held a virtual meeting with 22 leaders on May 22.
CPI’s Secretary D Raja told Lokmat over the phone confirmed saying, “I personally had no objection to the physical meeting. But other leaders were perhaps not willing,” he said.
DMK leader M K Stalin did not agree either. It transpires that a top aide of Sonia Gandhi contacted leaders personally after the government initiated move to hold the meeting on June 19. But there was no positive response from leading parties.

It also transpires that they were also uncomfortable with the very line the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi had taken on the Indo-China violent clashes.

This was reflected in the meeting yesterday where a combative Sonia Gandhi raised several tough questions and accused the government of many failed opportunities. Sonia spoke first and wanted to set the tone immediately after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made the presentation tracing the history of conflict.

But she stood virtually isolated as neither Sharad Pawar and nor DMK supported her line of attack. Pawar said, “issues such as whether soldiers carried arms are decided by international agreements, and everyone should respect such sensitive matters.” Obviously, he was distancing himself from Rahul Gandhi line. Stalin also supported the government on the issue including most Opposition parties.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Rising number of Hot Spots worries Centre, states

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group


Rising number of Hot Spots worries Centre, states
1150 sealed off zones today

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, April 10


The Centre is extremely worried over the rising number of hot-spots or containment zones in states as total sealing and cordoning off large population is a new experience for state machinery. Even for the Centre it’s a new kind of challenge and strategy to deal with national-wide prolonged crisis is evolving by the day if not hour.

Sources in the Union Home Ministry say that there are as many as 1150 such hot-spots spread over 15 states and union territories. Earlier, the parameter for deciding the Hot-spots was 100 cases. But it has now been brought down to  ten considering the fact that enough testing could not be done. The best way was to seal off these areas first, confine the large population inside and undertake intensive testing. The antibody testing is now being done on a large scale.

Some of these cluster containment zones are as small as two lanes in a locality in Delhi and as large as Bhilwara in Rajasthan  where more than 20 lakh people were locked down from March 20 itself.
These sources say Maharashtra alone has more than 400 zones with Mumbai being the largest city in the country and Uttar Pradesh 105. Tamil Nadu is the second state where the number of containment zones is 222, 120 plus in Andhra Pradesh and 125 in Telangana.
It’s a matter of surprise that Covid-19 made serious inroads in Madhya Pradesh with 180 containment zones.
The Centre and state governments are working in complete tandem round the clock to monitor these hot-spots.   
The Centre is working on various modules to handle these clusters comprising more than 1150 hot-spots to contain spread of virus and give all facilities to the residents. The areas under drones and CCTV watch 24x7.
Special team of sanitary workers and health care and local officials going door-to-door. Mumbai has seen double digit growth has during the past two days taking the number to 380 hot-spots has sent shock waves. It is these rising number of hot-spots that has forced the hands of the Centre and states to extend the lock-down.
Ends 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Lockdown to continue But……..

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group


Lockdown to continue But……..
Govt. Mulls opening some services  to  mitigate hardship
 Harish Gupta
 New Delhi, April 9

As the Covid19 cases are mounting by the day after more testing, the Centre is mulling whether to allow some more areas to open for activities in a staggered manner while continuing the lock-down.
Following areas are on the table of the government to open up after April 15 along with sealing of hot-spots and highly vulnerable areas and lock-down in other parts.
On the top of the agenda is to open up Food processing industry as new crop will arrive at the mandis with the harvesting season beginning from April 14. The vegetables and fruits markets alone cannot consume all products.
Whether to allow the e-commerce companies to open supply chain of essential goods and other goods worth Rs 40,000 crores locked down ready for delivery on roads in trucks and factory gates.
While truckers and service centers have  been opened up on the national highways, the roadside lakhs of eateries and related activities continue to remain shut.
Liquor shops, either owned by the state governments or in private sector is a major source of state revenue. Whether they should be opened for limited hours is also an issue on the table though not many are not in its favour.
How to allow the plumbers, electricians and other maintenance activity in a limited manner through permits be allowed.
Whether to allow the hailing taxi apps to operate service for  limited hours  is under consideration. This is coupled with allowing private vehicles with strict plying norms. There is a proposal that odd-even formula be introduced to curtail vehicular activity.
There is a complete No No for the opening of the Metro service and bus service. But three-wheeler with one passenger rule is under consideration.
Mobile shops and outlets of related activities companies be allowed for limited hours.
The agriculture labour and factory workers need to be moved out of their caves and how this should be done is a major issue.
Railway & Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has also advocated opening up of certain essential industries be moved from their caves and need traveling facilities.
As of now, daily grocery and milk & milk products need, fruits & vegetables and agriculture activities have been opened up by the Centre. The medical supply chains also need work force to maintain supply line and e-commerce companies are virtually non-functional.
Reports of death of patients suffering from other ailments as most hospitals are now giving priority to Covid-19 patients
The 11 task forces set up by the Centre are considering various scenarios to be placed before the Group of Ministers headed by Rajnath Singh.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Centre refutes Maharashtra charge

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group


Centre refutes Maharashtra charge 
No Permission was needed to Hold Tablighi Markaz
Centre stepped in to diffuse crisis
Harish Gupta
New Delhi, April 8

The Centre today refused to be drawn into any controversy with the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at its Nizamuddin headquarters saying it was for the Delhi government to deal with it. 
The Delhi government, on its part, said since the conference was not to be held at a public place and inside its own six storeyed  building at Nizamuddin, no permission was needed. It was held inside their own building and for their own followers.
The Union Home Ministry deals only with the cases of those persons who come to India from abroad on various kinds of visas. The home ministry through the special branch of the police regularly keeps itself posted through a Foreigners register maintained by the holders of such conferences.  Since no permission was needed to hold a conference inside the Markaz from the special branch, no permission was given.
Without getting involved into the slinging match with the Maharashtra government, sources in the MHA  say that the Tablighi Jammat  was refused permission by the state as they wanted the conference to be held in an open area. But the case in Delhi was different as it was inside its own building.  There were no orders against holding any congregation before March 13 when it began.
The whole problem began when they refused to disperse after the conference on March 16.
Sources in the Home Ministry say that when the Delhi government headed by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal through the office of Lt. Governor Anil Baijal sought help in getting the followers of TJ dispersed and that too on March 22-23, the Delhi Police stepped in a formal manner.
The MHA sources refused to say anything with regard to the indulgence of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to resolve the issue.
 However, sources in the PMO say that Doval has always been a backroom boy whenever it comes to handling tricky issues for the Prime Minister particularly relating to minorities. When the minorities were needed to be wooed in Jammu & Kashmir, Ajit Doval was deployed to undertake an extensive personal tour for three days and camped there.
Doval was the top official to visit the North East Delhi’s riot-stricken areas in February 27-28. Obviously, the PM deployed Doval as Amit Shah could not have done this for variety of reasons.
In the case of Tablighi Jamaat, the government tried hard to woo them through various sources including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s close associate from Gujrat, Zafar Sareshwala who is a Tablighi himself. But the chief of the TJ, Moulana Saad refused to listen to him. Then Doval stepped in on March 28 to diffuse the situation.
Efforts to solicit response from Ajit Doval did not succeed and it remain a mystery as to why the Delhi Government, Delhi Police and  Union Home Ministry did not disperse the crowd immediately after the conference was over on March 15.

PM To hold meet with CMs on Lock down on April 11

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group


PM To hold meet with CMs on Lock down on April 11

Harish Gupta
New Delhi, April 8
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will start the process of holding extensive consultations with Chief Ministers of states and union territories on April 11, Saturday.
Highly placed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office say this second interaction with the CMs will enable the government to take a final call on extending the country-wide lockdown or resort to easing of some of the restrictions.
The meeting with the Chief Ministers will be held through the video conference as was done earlier. The President and Vice President had also interacted with the Governors, Lieutenant Governors and administrators of Union Territories to directly assess the ground-level situation.
Since many states have advocated continuing the lock-down in the wake of mounting Covid-19 cases and results of large scale testing still in the pipeline, the most vulnerable states do not want to risk human lives. All agriculture related activities in states including of farm labour have already been permitted by the Central government. The Prime Minister is likely to obtain the views of the Chief Ministers about a way forward after April 14. In the last meeting the PM had sought the suggestions of the CMs on lifting the lockdown in a partial/staggered manner. Since many chief ministers have already expressed their views on the subject, the PM wants them to update the Centre their “final view” about the next course of action after April 14.
Sources say the government is exploring the reopening of certain sectors in a phased manner with huge restrictions. But it has not made up its mind  and wants to take a decision only after consulting the states. It is also pointed out that some of the state including Punjab had imposed lock-down even before the PM’s announcement of lockdown on March 24.  Capt. Amrinder Singh, Punjab Chief Minister, is on record to say that he will review the continuation of lock-down on April 10th evening. It is likely that all Chief Ministers will undertake a review in their own states and apprise the Centre on April 11.   
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Rapid diagnostic kit being developed by Pune based startup for COVID 19 screening

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group



Rapid diagnostic kit being developed by Pune based startup for COVID 19 screening

FastSense Diagnostics, a start up incorporated in 2018, developing innovative products for rapid disease diagnosis, funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) is now developing two modules for detection of COVID 19.
"The major challenges of testing for COVID-19 are speed, cost, accuracy and accessibility at the point-of-care or use. Several startups have developed rather creative and innovative ways to address these needs. DST is supporting the most promising of these to facilitate their development to commercialization chain if found suitable on technical grounds” said Professor Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST.
 In the lines of their existing universal platform “Omni-Sens” for early detection and screening of complex diseases i.e. cancers, liver ailments and neonatal sepsis etc., the company has proposed a technology CovE-Sens specifically for COVID 19. A patent has been filed for CovE-Sens which would provide a rapid, point of care detection along with screening and confirmatory test as well with ease of operation.
 The company plans to roll out two products --- a modified Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based detection kit for confirmatory analysis in lesser time compared to existing detection methods (approximately 50 samples can be tested in an hour) and a portable chip based module for rapid screening of target population based on the on-chip sensing technology that would provide on the spot results in less than 15 min per sample. The sample size for confirmatory tests can also be increased in the future to 100 samples/ hour.
The point of care detection kits of FastSense Diagnostics that can provide on the spot detection rapidly and without highly trained technicians could boost India’s testing efforts in the fight against COVD 19.
 The two proposed modules can be deployed at any real locations and hotspots like airports, densely populated areas, hospitals where screening of population can be done to prevent corona spread to healthy individuals and data can be generated with ease in less than an hour. The company is working on the cost to make it more affordable.
The team is also planning to collaborate with National Institute of Virology for which the formal approval is under process for performance evaluation and they are in touch with existing market players for scaling up and large-scale deployment of the device.
The team working on this comprises experts in virology, molecular biology and bioinstrumentation that can deliver the prototype in 8 to 10 weeks. The company also has few in-house facilities to scale up the production for deployment.
Besides, preventing further spread of the disease during the current pandemic, the portable rapid diagnostics kit can also prevent future relapse by regular monitoring. The low cost and ease of operation can make help reach out to the rural population and prevent overloading of urban health infrastructure. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Lifting of Lock-down

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group


special report

Lifting of Lock-down 
Centre’s Twin strategy as States Differ
30 states want Lock-down Relaxed
“Cluster Containment Plan” successful, says Govt.
 Harish Gupta
 New Delhi, April 7
 The Centre is toying with the idea of allowing the states to take a decision as they deem fit to lift the lock-down after April 15.
Since states of UP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have advocated continuation of lock-down due to situation prevailing in their states. But there are 30 other states & Union Territories which are pleading with the Centre to relax curbs to allow other activities.
The Centre today gave a big clue of its thinking saying,  the “Cluster Containment Plan (Hot Spots)” has shown “good results”. Love Agrawal, senior Health Ministry official said that the situation on sensitive districts of “Agra, Gautam Budhh Nagar, Buldhana, Bhilwara and even Mumbai had shown considerable improvement.”
However, he evaded a direct reply on lock-down lifting as some states want its continuation, saying, “the Cabinet Secretary (read Committee of Secretaries) is looking into the issue.”
 The Centre does not want to allow inter-state movement of regular traffic will be opened including rail and plane journey. It is for states to open local bus service within the district allow inter-district movement of passenger traffic. It is for the states to allow movement of certain category of private vehicles with strong riders and “Covid-19 clusters” be strictly out of bounds like a war zone.
The example set by Bhilwara in Rajasthan is a living example of its success what is now called the “Bhilwara formula.” Under this plan, the entire Bhilwara township with a population of 22 lakhs was locked down on March 20 itself. “Today, not a single case of Covid-19 has been identified after massive testing,” said a top government official.
The government is keeping a close-watch on the rising numbers of the Covid-19 cases and expressed satisfaction that no major out-break was witnessed from any cluster and more than one lakh testing was done.
The government is keen to bring the economy back on the rails and if the numbers stop rising in a big way after massive testing, the lock-down will be lifted in a partial manner.
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