Monday, October 26, 2020

Covid Vaccine by March, Govt. hopeful

  • Availability & Distribution big problem 
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 25

Even as a high-level National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration is working hard to prepare a blue-print as to who should be given the Vaccine first and how, encouraging reports are emerging about success of at least ten vaccines under trials globally.

The Prime Minister’s Task Force handling Vaccine program in tandem with countries and world agencies, is hopeful of availability of 3-4 vaccines early next year. Dr V K Paul headed Task Force reviewed Vaccine availability. Of them, at least three vaccines in India are at Phase-III of the trials of ten global vaccines undergoing phase-III trials. In addition to these 10, five Chinese vaccines are under trials in 20 countries and one is showing some success. A UAE minister was injected with the Chinese vaccine last week and is feeling fine.

The Bharat Biotech-ICMR joint venture drug Covaxin, ZydusCadila (phase-II) and Seerum-AstraZenca’s Covidshield is at Phase-III stage. In addition, Biological E, a Hyderabad based company is also testing a vaccine. This apart, Sputink V of Russia is also in phase II stage and crosses the hump for phase III trials.

Of the 154 vaccines in the preclinical phase, 44 in clinical trials, of which 10 are already in phase 3 trials, the first major success on this score may emerge by early next year. Florian Krammer, Professor of Vaccinology at the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, U.S, Dr. Gagandeep Kang of Christian Medical College, Vellore and other experts said at a webinar said vaccines will be available early. Even if vaccines are eventually licensed and enter the market, there will be many hurdles to be crossed.

Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS, said separately that it will take at least a year to immunize the whole country. He emphasized that India will have to keep evolving its vaccine distribution strategy, keeping in mind what is best for the country. Other experts felt that issues relating to large-scale production, distribution, success of the vaccine after it is inoculated, how long immunity will last etc. will need more careful handling.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Fly on the wall - Emergence of a New Amit Shah & What next for Chirag ?

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Emergence of a New Amit Shah 
Union Home Minister Amit Shah is known for talking straight without mincing words. Lately, he was out of action for almost three months after being hit by Covid and related health issues. His absence was felt by many because the Prime Minister is not known for opening up. Even the BJP Chief J P Nadda prefers to keep his counsel and shun the media. There is no one in the ruling establishment who carries authority to speak on thorny issues. After former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was made incharge of Bihar poll, powerful BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav also decided to maintain a low-profile. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh is coming out of his cocoon but confines himself to the task assigned and speaks on Defense related issues only. There is none in the hierarchy who commands authority. It was at this juncture that Amit Shah broke his silence and dwelt on many issues. But this was a different Amit Shah as he was not full of fire & fury. Rather, he maintained a completely low-profile. Yet, he put the record straight and disapproved many a things that the hardliners in the Parivar were doing; be it Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari’s letter to CM Uddhav Thackeray or linking of drug cartel probe to only Bollywood, media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput case, Tanishq advertisement on communal harmony and what not. He was telling clearly that neither the Centre nor he per se, had any hand in all that had happened during the past three months. In a way, he was rather clarifying that neither he and nor the party should be blamed for it or if it had hurt anybody. Whether he was trying to build bridges with Shiv Sena, could be anybody’s guess. But he clearly told Bollywood that he doesn’t approve of what the Narcotics Control Bureau had done or what the Paparazzi in TV channels were doing despite their political affiliations. Certainly, it’s a new Amit Shah not the one the country knew so far. (Click here to read original article)

Putting a cart before the Horse
There is considerable surprise in the medical fraternity as to why a hype is being created over
Coronavirus vaccine. A series of meetings are being held at the highest level lately and all concerned including states have been told to draw up detailed plans how the vaccine will be distributed and who will be vaccinated first. A list of roughly two crores priority people have already been drawn up. Remember the days when the Railway Ministry converted 20000 coaches into Covid beds without much planning which are still lying idle or ICMR setting August 15 deadline for Covid vaccine! Barring China, no country is claiming any vaccine at least until April 2021. The USA & Europe have rejected India’s claim to waive off Intellectual Property Right (IPR) for vaccines at the WTO. Of course, some companies including Indian ventures are working on antibody drugs instead which can give relief for six months or so. India has not paid a penny for any upfront payment to procure vaccines to any global company. But plans are being drawn up to get vaccines distribution. Experts say “It’s like putting a cart before the horse”.

What next for Chirag ?
All eyes are set on the Prime Minister who will begin his mega Bihar poll campaign on October 23 as to what he will say about Chirag Paswan. Though BJP’s Bihar unit called Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) as “vote katua”, Devendra Fadnavis, incharge of Bihar, avoided any such adjectives. Even Amit Shah ducked the question saying, “We will see after the elections.” The Janata Dal (U) is pressing BJP leadership hard to throw LJP out of the NDA at the national level right away and refusing to give Rajya Sabha to LJP fell vacant after Ram Vilas Paswan’s death. It seems NDA is somewhat on a weak wicket in Bihar.

Atmanirbhar Bharat, what a pity 
The government banned 101 items for being imported in the defense sector with big fanfare claiming these will be manufactured in India as part of Atmanirbhar Bharat. When the list was finally uploaded by the Defense ministry on its website, there was amusement. Why ? It turned out that more than 40 items were never imported for years. The ministry banned the Hull-mounted Sonar even though DRDO's HUMSA and USHUS sonar suits are mega successes already. In another bizarre move, the ministry canceled tenders of more than a dozen companies who had started their manufacturing units to meet defense needs only. Now these companies have been left high & dry and shut down. This was done after a series of negotiations for the supply of ammunition since 2016.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Govt Orders probe over Fake Farmers accounts

  • PM-KISAN fund embezzled
  • Rs. 61 crores recovered in TN alone 
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct. 20
Alarmed over the busting of fake farmer beneficiaries of the Prime Minister’s much touted PM-KISAN scheme, the Centre has ordered a nation-wide probe into the massive leakage of funds. The Centre has released more than Rs one lakh crores into 11.07 crores farmers accounts under the scheme including 1.10 crores in Maharashtra. 
  • Total Number of Farmers: 14.64 crores 
  • PM-KISAN beneficiaries: 11.07 crores
  • Maharashtra beneficiary: 1.10 crores
  • Amount Released: Rs 1.10 lakh crores
  • Fake farmers detected : 5.38 lakhs in TN
  • Probe ordered, Random checking to begin
The Centre has asked state governments to physically verify their genuineness and decided for random checking of at least 5-6% such accounts physically. The Centre transfers Rs 2000 every four months into all eligible farmers accounts. The massive scam surfaced in Tamil Nadu. Top government officials in the Agriculture Ministry told Lokmat that “some unscrupulous elements had misused the login-id and password credentials of district officials under the scheme for bulk booking of ineligible persons,” said the ministry. 

The Union Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar admitted that large scale bungling had taken place in the PM-KISAN scheme in Tamil Nadu. The probe revealed that out of 5.95 lakh beneficiaries accounts verified till 15th September 2020, 5.38 lakh were ineligible. The Services of 96 contractual staff were terminated, 52 persons including contractual staff were arrested and a large number of FIRs registered.

Since it is the responsibility of states to identify beneficiaries, the onus is also on them to recover money lost and refund the amount to the Centre. “An amount of Rs. 61 Crore has been recovered” said the official. A worried Centre has ordered a country-wide probe to find out the existence of bungling in other states too. Highly placed sources in the government told Lokmat that the Centre would initiate steps to physically verify beneficiaries of the PM-KISAN scheme soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Yogi’s mounting troubles & Big challenge for Chirag Paswan

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Yogi’s mounting troubles
There was a time when the graph of saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath was on top of the ladder among all chief ministers of the party. The 47-year young ‘Sanyasi’ had even pushed veteran Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan behind. The whispers in the corridors of power were that the Yogi had joined the club of the likes of Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Chouhan as a potential successor to the PM. Not anymore! Adityanath’s handling of cases particularly relating to crime against women, has hit him hard. Be it Kuldeep Singh Senger case or Swami Chinmayananda, the UP CM failed to act swiftly. No doubt, he has waged a war against hardened criminals. But the Hathras case has damaged Yogi’s image considerably. It also emerged that he may have been a prisoner of a handful of bureaucrats in Lucknow. The charge favouring a community be belongs to is also talk of the town and doesn’t act against them. The Central leadership of the party is also unhappy with him as he doesn’t listen to it in some instances. He doesn’t have a good rapport with Amit Shah either for obvious reasons and most of his baiters in Lucknow find patronage in Delhi. His running battle with Sunil Bansal, organizational incharge of UP, has added to his woes. In a way, he is now fighting a lonely battle when troubles are mounting.

Why Jagan is in deep mess!
If Yogi Adityanath is facing rough weather in Lucknow, his counterpart in Andhra Pradesh Y S Jaganmohan Reddy is in a deep mess too. Ostensibly, he is the first Chief Minister in the country to write a letter against a sitting Supreme Court judge justice N V Ramana and several judges of the AP High Court to the Chief Justice of India seeking probe. Interestingly, the charges have been leveled against the SC judge who is in line to become the next CJI in April 2021. Why did Jagan take such an unprecedented step? Insiders say that Jagan did it as he is perhaps the only sitting CM in the country who has 31 criminal cases against him. Of them 11 are being probed by the CBI and seven by the Enforcement Directorate for amassing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. The trial in cases is going on at a snail’s pace. On September 16, Justice Ramana ordered high courts across the country that criminal cases against all sitting & former MPs, MLAs, MLACs be completed within one year. All stays granted by any court in the country be vacated and SC registry will monitor them. Who will be the first to suffer if a trial is launched on a day-to-day basis? Obviously, Jagan woke up one month after the verdict and shot off the controversial letter against the Judge itself. Can Jagan’s letter torpedo action in cases against him? Doesn’t look so! 

Big challenge for Chirag Paswan 
Union Food & Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s death has taken place at a time when his son Chirag Paswan is in the midst of a major political gambit. Chirag’s father played many political gambles in his long political career and luck was always on his side. He was such a political weathercock that whichever alliance he joined before a Lok Sabha, the victory fell on his feet. Now all eyes are set on Chirag Paswan who lay in store for him. Of course, he will get huge sympathy and cut into Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) vote bank. During the 2015 Assembly polls in Bihar, LJP contested with BJP on 42 seats. It could barely win 2 seats and secured 4.38% votes. Pollsters say the LJP is capable of damaging JD(U) in at least 25 seats. This may help BJP emerge as the single largest party in Bihar after the polls on November 10. Will BJP reward Chirag then ? No one knows! Will the BJP give Rajya Sabha seat to Paswan’s widow Reena and induct Chirag into the Union ministry after the polls? No one knows what is cooking in the PM’s mind.

Tushar Mehta next AG
It is almost certain that Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta will be the next Attorney General of India after octogenarian K K Venugopal hangs up his boots. The Modi government was keen for the continuation of Venugopal in the post. But Venugopal declined the offer politely and told the PM that he will have to find a successor sooner than expected. With great difficulty, he was persuaded to continue for a period of one year. Tushar Mehta, a close confidant of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, is next in line. He has gained enough experience ever since he came to Delhi in 2014- first as Additional Solicitor-General and later as SG in 2017. In fact, Venugopal has not been appearing in most of the cases for the government lately. Instead, Tushar Mehta is representing the government and holding the fort.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Covid Vaccine by April 2021, say experts

  • Indian Vaccine trials on right track
  • Regulators tough after Remdesivir failure
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 17

The hype created by global drug companies notwithstanding, it is emerging that vaccines may not be possible before March-April 2021.

Highly placed sources who are handling vaccine trials in India told Lokmat on the condition of anonymity that trials on three vaccines were at various stages. The Prime Minister who chaired another meeting on Vaccine management today was told that two vaccines are undergoing phase-II trials while one is at phase-III stage.

The Bharat Biotech-ICMR joint venture drug Covaxin and ZydusCadila are at Phase-II stage and their data is yet to be shared with the regulators. The Covaxin trials are going on at 12 locations in India, the ZydusCadila vaccine trials are being done privately and its data has not been shared.

The Seerum-AstraZenca’s Covidshield is at Phase-III stage and the number of vaccine warriors has also been cut short. Yet the final product will take longer than expected. The Sputnik-V from Russia is yet to commence trails though it has been granted permission. The SinoVac Biotech of China had approached the Central Drugs Stan­dard Control Organisation (CDSCO) for trials in India. When CDSCO asked the Chinese to share data, the company never came back.

The Indian regulators are very cautious after the WHO disapproved Remdesivir which was termed as a wonder and after it was sold in 100 countries at a hefty price. Of the 26 vaccines undergoing trials at various stages, only seven are at Phase-III stage which is very crucial.

The regulators have relented on fast-tracking of procedures. But they are unwilling to compromise on the efficacy and safety of the vaccine as its effects are felt after a couple of years.

How the Vaccine is made
It is also disclosed that some of the manufacturers including producers in India are making vaccines by killing the Coronavirus itself to make the product. But they are using different methodology.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Race begins in BJP for 10 Rajya Sabha seats

  • Party to win 10 out of 11 seats in UP, Uttrakhand
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 13
The ruling BJP may be losing allies at a rapid speed but its strength will touch a whopping 94 seats in the Upper House when biennial polls are held in UP and Uttrakhand. The biennial poll process has been set in motion by the Election Commission.

As many as eleven members of the Rajya Sabha are retiring from UP (10) and Uttrakhand (1). The BJP is all set to grab nearly 10 seats out of these 11 on the basis of its strength in respective state assemblies. Currently, the BJP has 86 MPs in Rajya Sabha. The Congress Party's strength will go down further to 38. 

In UP alone, the BJP is likely to win 9 out of ten seats and the lone seat in Uttrakhand. The BJP's three retiring MPs - Civil Aviation & Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, general secretary Arun Singh and Neeraj Shekhar are looking for being re-nominated. But it will win six extra seats. The Samajwadi Party will win the lone seat in UP as it has 54 MLAs in the 403 member State Assembly. There is a likelihood that Ram Gopal Yadav, a brother of Mulayam Singh Yadav, may be nominated for it. Yet the SP will suffer a huge loss as its strength will come down from 8 to five.

The BSP will be left with just two MPs in the Rajya Sabha and cannot get any of its nominees elected as it has just 19 MLAs. The composition of the UP Assembly is such that even if the Opposition parties join hands, they cannot win more than one seat. The Congress' P L Punia will also be left high & dry as he too will retire in November. Raj Babbar of Congress who was elected from Uttrakhand, is also retiring in November. Congress's Raj Babbar will also be out of Rajya Sabha from Uttrakhand and BJP will win the seat instead.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Centre steps in to check NCB

  • Go after drug syndicates, peddlers, not consumers
  • Film stars may have a sigh of relief, for Now!
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 10
The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is understood to have been cautioned in the infamous Mumbai Drug case to go after the peddlers and drug syndicates rather than film stars. The NCB officials were quoted by several TV channels last week several big names of film industry will be called for questioning. The NCB officials did not deny these reports creating a panic. The NCB had arrested more than a dozen persons including Rhea Chakraborty and some associates of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput who was found hanging in June last.

It now transpires that the Union Home Ministry has cautioned the NCB to exercise extreme caution and it should go after drug syndicates and peddlers. But individual consumers should not be harassed if they are not part of the "drug syndicate".

If sources in the Union Home Ministry are to be believed, it had only directed that the SSR case be handed over to the CBI for probe instead of Mumbai Police. Even the Enforcement Directorate was roped in the probe. But it was never the case that innocents be harassed. The CBI Director R K Shukla, on his part did not play the role of an "over-enthusiastic" officer.

Even the AIIMS Forensic team headed by Dr.Sudhir Gupta ruled out the possibility of death by strangulation. Later, the ED also conveyed to the government no case of money laundering has been made out.

Meanwhile several representations, personal and written, were made to the Prime Minister's Office and Home Ministry that everything should not be seen with the political prism. Many in the BJP also told the leadership that dragging the drug consumption case to a battery of film stars will not give any political mileage to the party.

It is learnt that the NCB has now been told to focus on drug syndicate and big operators involved in the smuggling and those helping in it. The NCB has been told not to abandon the probe but to put the probe in the "slow lane."

Monday, October 5, 2020

Covid Vaccine may cost $5 per dose

India may have to spend Rs 50000 crores on Immunization

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 5
India will need Rs 50,000 crores approximately to vaccinate 20-25 crores people during the next one year. This is based on the estimates that one dose of Covid vaccine will be available to India at a price of $4-5 per dose.

The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has signaled that Covid vaccine price will be under ₹1,000. Every person will require at least two doses for immunization.

India will require at least 40-50 crores doses. Though India has been assured vaccine supplies by the WHO and Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) promoted by the Gates Foundation and Indian vaccine manufacturers and pharma companies. 

This is far less than Rs 80,000 crores indicated by Adar Poonawalla of Seerum Institute of India a few days ago.

India may require at least 5 billion doses of vaccine if it is to immunize 25 crore population. The government is heavily dependent on AstraZeneca by University of Oxford being produced by the Seerum Institute and Bharat Biotech-ICMR joint project undergoing phase-II trials.

However, the Indian government has yet to make an upfront payment to pharma companies like the US, UK, European and other countries have made.

It is learnt that the Prime Minister’s Task Force headed by Dr V K Paul has been holding regular parleys with the global pharma chains researching and undertaking trials and also vaccine manufacturers who are producing vaccines on their behalf. India is a global vaccine hub and has a capacity of manufacturing two billion doses a year. These companies can ramp up production provided the government gives them facilities and funds.

The WHO has urged wealthier member states to join its Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, to ensure the equitable global distribution by end 2021. Gavi, the Global Alliance vaccine backed by the Gates Foundation, has raised $8.8 billion from world leaders and companies. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $1.6 billion.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A mysterious Fadnavis-Raut Mission - Fly on the wall

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

A mysterious Fadnavis-Raut Mission
The tremors of Fadnavis- Raut close-door 150-minute meeting continue days after the event and even felt in Delhi. The top BJP leadership is also maintaining a studied silence except for saying that Fadnavis is tasked to oversee Bihar elections. There is no general secretary incharge of Maharashtra after the exit of the affable Saroj Pandey. Is the BJP smelling blood in Maharashtra again, not really? The party is in no hurry and feels the present government will crumble due to inherent contradictions. Then why Sanjay Raut’s 150-minute close-door meeting with former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis ? No one is buying the theory that it was held to discuss modalities of Fadnavis’ interview with Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece, Saamana. But there are no takers of Fadnavis’ statement either where he said “politics was not discussed”. Is the turf ready to pull down the Uddhav Thackeray ? The CM’s baiters allege that he has largely been confined to his Matoshri residence even once for eight months and his handling of the economy is dismal. However, Pawar is enjoying fruits of power in Maharashtra and Uddhav is reaping the harvest and never had it so good. Did he dispatch Sanjay Raut as his emissary on a secret mission? Doesn’t look like it! Was Raut playing solo? Political watchers say Sanjay Raut is his own master these days.

And a Failed Amit Shah- Jagan meet
If the Fadnavis-Raut meeting is shrouded in mystery, another unreported meeting between India’s second most powerful man Amit Shah and Andhra CM Jagan Mohan Reddy ended in a damp squib. The Union Home Minister who was incommunicado since August 2, held a rather long chat with Jagan after declining to meet him twice before. Amit Shah granted the audience after a word came from the PMO to grant him time. Jagan wanted funds for Polavaram project, GST compensation among other favours. But Amit Shah was worried as the NDA has weakened after the exit of Sena and Akali Dal. Insiders say that Amit Shah sounded out Jagan if his party, YSR Congress would join the NDA. Amit Shah is reported to have told Jagan that TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu is also keen to re-join the NDA. But the BJP wants to start a new inning with YSR Congress. It transpires that Jagan expressed his reluctance to join the NDA due to his party’s strong Christian-Muslim-Reddy vote bank. But he agreed to lend support to NDA wherever needed. Amit Shah was not impressed and the meeting ended in a fiasco.

BJP's New Modi from South!
Ever heard of B L Santosh ? If not, the loss is entirely yours. He is the new man on the horizon in BJP. Many in the ruling party go to the extent of saying that he is Narendra Modi of South though not as charismatic as the PM is. If Modi brought BJP in power in Gujrat, Santosh brought the saffron party to power in Karnataka in 2008. If Modi installed Kesubhai Patel as CM, Santosh installed B S Yediyuruppa as CM. Santosh never looked back since then and was promoted as BJP general secretary incharge of the Organisation 11 years later. A chemical engineer, bachelor and 24X7 RSS worker, Santosh is a no-nonsense, tough man. He is tech savvy and a person with an open mind and new ideas. He watched Shahrukh Khan’s “Chuck de India” ten times to understand how the spirit of patriotism can be inculcated among the party workers through visual medium. He reminds of the days of late Sunder Singh Bhandari who built the party with Atal-Advani-Nanaji Deshmukh. The recent shake up in the BJP is attributed to Modi-Shah-Nadda Trimurti. But the man behind the entire exercise where 4 powerful generals secretaries and seven Vice presidents were shown the door is B L Santosh. Of course, some may be accommodated in ministries and others as Governors. But Santosh convinced the RSS and party high command that new blood is needed for 2024 now if BJP wants to gain in five major Southern Indian states, North East and West Bengal. The Growing Beard

Why is PM Modi growing his beard these days? Everyone in the town's talking about it but no one has the answers. Not even those who interact with him. One explanation is that the PM doesn’t want anybody in his immediate proximity due to Covid. A hairdresser to trim his beard can cause infection. Therefore, everybody is kept at arm’s length including those who serve at his official residence. There are a few who feel it may have something to do with ‘divine” help he is seeking to fight Coronavirus.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

RTI goes for a toss, 6 of 11 posts go vacant

Y K Sinha may be new CIC

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, Sep 24

For the first time since its inception, the Central Information Commission will function at less than half of its strength. Of the 11 members including the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), there are five members now with D P Sinha retiring tomorrow.

The CIC has been headless ever since Bimal Julka retired and senior-most member D P Sinha was not named as the new CIC. The country’s watchdog has lost a lot of teeth and in doldrums with mounting cases due to vacancies galore. Even the ministries and departments have been ducking giving replies to RTI applications on one ground or the other.

If reports are to be believed, Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha, a former officer of the Foreign Service, may be the new CIC. Sinha is senior-most and is the son of late Lt. Gen. S K Sinha, Governor of Jammu & Kashmir.

Interestingly, there is no rule in the CIC that the senior-most member alone is made the Chief Information Commissioner. Neeraj Gupta, an IAS officer, is also in the reckoning and also considered close to the government. 

The government, however, assured the Parliament that the process of appointment of a new Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners has been set in motion. The government is contemplating issuing an advertisement to fill up the vacancy in a timely manner.

“The High level Search Committee follows a method of obtaining relevant information in respect of various candidates while scrutinization of applications and shortlists the candidates for the post of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission,” said the Minister.

Fadnavis flying to Patna, Delhi for talks

  • BJP not to buckle under Nitish Pressure
  • Wants JD(U) to contest 102 seats only
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 26

Former Maharashtra Chief Minister and incharge of BJP’s Bihar unit Devendra Fadnavis will be flying to Patna and later Delhi to finalise party’s strategy for October 28 Assembly polls.

If sources close to Fadnavis are to be believed, the party is unlikely to buckle under Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s pressure in seat-sharing arrangements. Fadnavis will come to Delhi in the first week of October after visiting Patna. 

Fadnavis had gauged the mood on tie up when he visited Patna immediately after his surprise appointment to over-see Bihar Assembly polls by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Obviously, Modi was unhappy with the way the BJP had to surrender five extra Lok Sabha seats to Janata Dal (U) during the 2019 polls. The BJP contested 17 seats instead of 22 sacrificing five sitting MPs and gave 17 seats to JD(U). The party high command accepted this humiliation at the hands of Nitish Kumar despite the massive Modi wave.

But now there is no such compulsion. Secondly, Fadnavis is reported to have conveyed to the party high command about the dwindling graph of Nitish Kumar due to mishandling of Coronavirus and migrant labours and floods issues. 

Internal field surveys ordered at the instance of Fadnavis showed that PM Modi has a lead of 12% over Nitish Kumar in popularity and its time Nitish made to pay the price. Nitish wants to contest 118 seats but the BJP is unwilling to concede more than 100-102 out of 243 seats.

The BJP also wants to contest 102 seats leaving 39 for LJP, HAM and other new entrants.

Insiders say that open revolt against Nitish Kumar by Chirag Paswan, president of the Bihar LJP is being engineered by the BJP. The BJP brought HAM party’s Jitan Ram Manjhi into the NDA fold and instigated RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha to leave the RJD-Congress. Perhaps, Modi has not forgotten the day when Nitish Kumar walked out of the NDA in 2013 after he was declared BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. It is a different matter that Nitish Kumar defected to NDA in 2017 to remain in power. Its pay back time for Nitish Kumar.

Fly on the Wall - How Modi ticked off his Cabinet Minister

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

How Modi ticked off his Cabinet Minister

Harsimrat Kaur Badal who quit as Cabinet Minister for Food Processing in protest against 3-farm-related bills, had a taste of Prime Minister Modi’s style of functioning. She tried hard to persuade Modi to defer them and failed. When she sought an appointment, she was politely told by the PM’s aide to contact the Home Minister or party president J P Nadda. Amit Shah was convalescing after returning from the AIIMS and not available. Left with no option, she knocked at the doors of Nadda. She told Nadda that if these bills were passed, she would be left no option but to quit the government and maybe even the NDA. She wanted the bills to be sent to “Select Committee of Parliament” as a last ditch effort. An ever smiling Nadda had a tough task in hand as Akalis are BJP’s oldest ally for five decades. What transpired between Nadda and the government is not known. But Harsimrat Kaur was told that if she tendered her resignation from the Cabinet, it will be accepted without delay. When the bills were finally passed in the LS on Friday last, she sought an urgent appointment again as she wanted to tender her resignation. The PM was sitting inside his Parliament House chambers and she walked up to the room. She told the PM’s aide that it's urgent for her to meet the PM. But the worst was in store for her as the PM refused to meet his own Cabinet Minister when she went to his office as he was extremely busy. A frustrated Harsimrat Kaur handed over her resignation letter in a sealed cover to a junior aide in Modi’s office. Rest is history. Modi accepted it without blinking. 

BJP looks for life without Akalis?
Many in the BJP are upbeat who say it is time the party should dump the Akalis and reinvent itself in the key Northern state. It dumped Chautalas in Haryana and emerged victorious. The Akalis have lost miserably, barely winning merely 17 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha seats in Punjab. S S Dhindsa and several senior leaders have quit the “Parkash-Sukhbir-Harsimrat private limited company”. But some in BJP have cautioned not to risk the border state in over enthusiasm and go-slow. The BJP suffered huge setbacks in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and yet to gain ground in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu etc. It is thriving on defections in Manipur, Goa, Madhya Pradesh etc. Even in Bihar, it is playing second fiddle to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Therefore, efforts must be made to consolidate alliances not break them. However, there are no takers of this contrarian view in the BJP.

Race for new TRAI Chairman
All eyes are set on the next chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as R S Sharma demits office on September 30. The TRAI plays a crucial role in making and breaking the fortunes of telecom companies. During Sharma’s 5-year tumultuous tenure, the “Punjabi lobby” lost a lot of its clout and the “Mumbai lobby” emerged Number One. The new chairman will decide on spectrum pricing, entry of 5G players, predatory price and many more. Of the 88 applicants, the selection committee headed by Cabinet Secretary is reported to have short-listed Rita A Taeotia’s name for the post. If appointed, she will be the first woman to become TRAI chief. Teotia is a tough bureaucrat and a former Commerce Secretary belonging to the Gujrat cadre of the IAS.

CBI groping in the Dark 
For six years, the CBI has been going after the “FAM” (Gandhi Family) and “AP” (Ahmad Patel) in the AgustaWestland helicopter Rs 3727 crores deal. It was alleged that AP got 3 million euros while FAM got 15 million. The deal was clinched during the UPA regime for the purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters. When the charges of bribery surfaced, Dr Manmohan Singh canceled it and a CBI inquiry was ordered. The country was rocked over the scandal and hogged headlines. The CBI filed two chargesheets against former Indian Air Force Chief and other officials, middlemen including middlemen Christian Michel James, Rajiv Saxena and others. But lately, there is a silence of the grave and as no politician was found to be involved in the second supplementary chargesheet. The CBI continues to be groping in the dark. The BJP says “wait for the third chargesheet!”.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Indo-China trade worsening for three years - FDI inflow/outflow fell rapidly

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 19

Indo-China relations may have soured after the Ladakh stand-off. But the FDI inflow from Chinese companies has been falling at a rapid pace to India for the past three years. Even Indian companies have been keeping away from China. 

This was revealed in the FDI inflow figures saying if $350 million was invested in India by the Chinese companies in 2017-18, it came down to $229 million next year and further fell to a record low of $ 163.77 during 2019-20.

It is not as if only FDI inflow has been falling regularly. The Indian companies have been investing less and less in China for the past three-four years. If Indian companies invested $49.19 million in 2017, it came down to just $12.61 million next year and rising slightly to $27.57 million during 2019. 

When the Minister asked in the Lok Sabha if the Government has any proposal to not accord any permission to any Chinese firms to invest in India, he emphatically denied “No.”

Piyush Goyal, Minister for Commerce, Industry and Railways informed the Parliament separately that India’s trade deficit with China came down to $5.8 billion in the April-June 2020-21 period from $13.1 billion in the same period of the last financial year. Even the total trade between the two nations also slipped to $16.55 billion in Q1 FY21 from $21.42 billion in the April-June period of 2019-20.

Interestingly, when asked if trade barriers have been imposed against China to ward off trade deficit, Goyal said at present, about 550 products) are under the restricted/prohibited category for imports under the Foreign Trade Policy not only from China but from all countries. Obviously, the ban was not China specific.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

After SAD, JJP in Haryana worried

Harsimrat wanted Bills be sent to Select Committee
Harsimrat Kaur Badal quit the Union Cabinet 

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 17

After Harsimrat Kaur Badal quit the Union Cabinet in protest against the passage of the three agriculture related bills on Tuesday by voice vote, the NDA may face trouble in Haryana too.

The JJP of Dushyant Chautala which is an NDA ally in Haryana and sharing power may find the going tough. The farmers in Punjab and Haryana are up in arms against the passage of the three bills.

The Shiromani Akali Dal leaders including Sukhbir Singh Badal had been talking to the NDA leaders for the past three days to defer the passage of the bills as farmers in Punjab and Haryana are on the streets. But the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was determined to pass these bills as they will usher in huge reforms in the sector.

The SAD for the time being is unlikely to withdraw support to the NDA but quit the Modi government.

A senior Akali Dal leader and member of the Rajya Sabha Naresh Gujral said, “We wanted the bills to be sent to the Select Committee of the Parliament. But the government is not listening.”

The Bills are likely to come up in the Rajya Sabha on Saturday and it is yet to be seen whether some behind the scenes parleys are held.

It is because of these behind the scenes parleys that Harsimrat Kaur Badal took two days time to quit the government though the bills were passed on Tuesday.

The SAD is feeling pressure from the ground in Punjab and its survival is at stake.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra quarantined, Cook Covid +ve

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
Priyanka Gandhi

New Delhi, Sep 14

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, AICC general secretary incharge of UP is understood to have been quarantined.

Highly placed sources in the Gandhi household say that since her cook has been found Covid positive, she has been advised home quarantined until September 21.

It was due to this sudden development that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had to abandon her plans to accompany her mother Sonia Gandhi to the USA.

At the last minute, Rahul Gandhi had to chip in and go with the mother for her annual checkup. Rahul Gandhi had to skip the Parliament session though he was scheduled to take on the government on the very first day during the Zero Hour.

It is also emerging now that Priyanka Gandhi will shift from her Gurgaon residence and shift to Lutyen’s Delhi flat soon. Her new address will be a duplex apartment in Sujan Singh Park facing Ambassador Hotel near Khan Market.

The complex was built by author-editor Khushwant Singh’s father Sir Sobha Singh. Priyanka will be staying in the apartment as a tenant. It is learnt that Rahul Gandhi will come back early from the USA while Sonia Gandhi will stay back and later be joined by Priyanka Gandhi.

Friday, September 11, 2020

CVC whips the corrupt babus

  • Stern letter issued to Ministries, PSUs,
  • Timeline for action fixed
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 10

The country corruption watchdog, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has come down heavily on the ministries and departments for adopting delaying tactics when it comes to punishing the corrupt.

The CVC discovered that disciplinary action against a large number of Babus is delayed by the ministries on the ground that the files have been sent to the CVC for reconsideration.

The Commission was tired of file pusher Babus who were delaying action being taken on one ground or the other. Therefore, the CVC decided that action once recommended by it against the guilty officers will not be reconsidered for “second-stage” advice.

The Babus were taking advantage of a rule brought in the year 2000 and 2008 whereby they were sending files back to the CVC for reconsideration not once but twice; first stage advice and second stage advice.

In a significant order, the CVC plugged second stage advice and capped the time limit for even first stage by one month. In the process, the action against the corrupt and those involved in misconduct was delayed for a long time.

In a Demi-Official letter sent to all the secretaries of ministries & departments, Chairman & MD of all PUSU, autonomous organizations and others, the CVC came down heavily on such practice.

The Lokmat has a 2-page copy of the official DO letter sent yesterday.

The CVC said after detailed analysis of the long pending cases, it has been decided that there will be no second stage advice for such cases. The ministries and departments must adhere to timelines for finalisation of disciplinary cases.

The CVC directed that no proposal for reconsideration would be entertained in future.

The CVC amended its Manual to make it clear that the first stage advice would be final unless fresh material/evidence is brought before the CVC for a review.

Asthana may be CBI Chief! Fly on the Wall

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The three months long Rhea Chakraborty saga may finally come to an end after the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) doused the political fire in Bihar by arresting her. The graph of Rakesh Asthana, DG, NCB has jumped manifold in the eyes of political masters in Delhi. Asthana has succeeded where CBI Director R K Shukla and Enforcement Director Sanjay Kumar Mishra failed in the task even after 50 hours of grilling running for weeks together. A top ED officer who specially flew down from Delhi to Mumbai and part of the extensive grilling told his bosses: Sorry Sir! Not an iota of evidence.” Thus, the NCB stepped in. This column had said last week itself that NCB will arrest Rhea. Insiders tell us that Asthana’s prospects of becoming new CBI chief have brightened when Shukla retires early next year. Asthana had been extremely unhappy ever since he was shunted out from the CBI last year.

The 23 dissident Congress leaders are running for a cover after raising a banner of revolt against the Gandhis. Instead of buckling under the pressure, Congress’ interim president Sonia Gandhi has gone on the offensive. If she shocked dissidents by appointing Rahul loyalists in key parliamentary panels, she humiliated a few by dropping them from UP committees. As if this was not enough, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and Bihar Campaign Committee chief was dropped from the powerful Bihar Election Committee. If sources are to be believed, the G-23 is a house divided with Mukul Wasnik, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor singing different tunes. Tewari went public recently saying the letter’s drafting could have been better. Obviously, it’s a dig at Anand Sharma who drafted the letter. Tharoor is buying peace as BJP has no strong presence in Kerala while Mukul Wasnik has his own reasons for backtracking. Prithviraj Chavan who owed his rise to the post of Maharashtra Chief Minister to Sonia Gandhi, has gone into hiding after raising a banner of revolt.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah is back at his Krishna Menon Marg residence and recouping after suffering from Covid and fatigue. Being Prime Minister Modi’s Man Friday, Shah has been batting from the front foot. But for the past some time, he has been away from public glare.
The Fly learns that he is fully active and clearing files at a faster pace though avoiding attending office. The gossip mongers in Lutyen’s Delhi have all kinds of tails like Amit Shah being upset for not being invited to the Ram Janmabhoomi foundation stone laying ceremony, appointment of C R Patil as Gujrat BJP chief etc. etc. Insiders assert there is no truth as the equation between the PM-HM remains strong. The PM inquired about his health on a daily basis since August 2 when he was admitted to Medanta and visited him after he returned from AIIMS. These sources say, “Modi-Shah relationship is like that of Ram and Hanuman and no power on Earth can separate them.”

India’s flagship Air India is first on the block among the 26 PSUs to be sold before March 31 next year. While there are many takers for BPCL and others, selling Air India is turning out to be a Herculean task for the Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. It transpires that the House of TATAs is somewhat disinclined. The TATAs already operate Air Asia & Vistara and CEO N Chandrasekaran is reluctant to put in this kind of money in the aviation business. However, two gulf nations have shown interest riding on the back of cordial relations with PM Modi. The government is keen to mop up at least two lakh crores from the PSU sale during 2020-21 to bridge 8% Budget deficit.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Modi to prune Bureaucracy, “Deadwood” above 50 years on Way out

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
  • 320 officers already dismissed
  • Quarterly review of 36L Central Govt. employees
  • All above 50 years of age under lens
  • Retirement prematurely is no punishment
  • 50 IRS officials among 320 dismissed so far by Modi
  • Review includes all non-Gazette to Secretary level posts
Harish Gupta 
New Delhi, Sep 6
With the Prime Minister outlining his plans to provide a “responsible, responsive and efficient administration,” pnic has gripped 36 lakh employees.

The 10-page circular notified by the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), directly under PM Modi, has kick-started review of every three months instead of earlier practice of every year. The plan is aimed at weeding out the inefficient and persons of doubtful integrity. 

Modi has also brought down the age of review from 55 years to 50 years to start Quarterly review of all employees. Modi has already sent a record number of 320 officers packing of Class A & B and wants to fast-track this process now at all levels. The DoPT has directed all ministries and departments to undertake a first review by December 2020 and on a “Quarterly basis” regularly from next year. 

Modi may be ridiculing the Congress regimes for the country’s mess. But when it comes to cleansing the government he invoked laws and rules enacted by late Indira Gandhi in 1972 to weed out corruption in the bureaucracy. The Act was made by the Indira Gandhi government in 1972 and rules so framed give enough powers to any government to change them as needed.

The process of fresh hiring has also slowed down due to pandemic. According to official sources 6.80 lakh posts are vacant at the Centre including Railways. All recruitments in the PSUs are halted for the time being. Fresh hiring of consultants/advisers discouraged.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Worried Pawar deputes Patel on Congress crisis

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, Aug 26

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar is extremely worried over the internal crisis developing in the Congress Party. Since the Congress is the catalyst for the unity among the Opposition parties in the country, any weakening at this juncture will have a direct bearing on the stability of many Opposition ruled states.

It was primarily because of this very reason that he deputed his Man-Friday and NCP general secretary Praful Patel to keep a close watch on the development and get an update at the earliest. It was perhaps because of this very reason that Praful Patel rushed here from Mumbai yesterday and is camping here.

When contacted, Praful Patel told Lokmat, “We have no role in the internal affairs of the Congress. Of course, it’s a matter of concern as we are running a government in Maharashtra in alliance with Congress and any such development may have a bearing.” When asked if he had talked to Congress leaders, he smiled and said, “We talk to everybody on a daily basis. We want Congress to be strengthened and become a strong party so that the Maharashtra experiment can be taken at the national level.” However, he declined to say anything on the issue and also clarified that the main purpose of his visit here was to attend the meeting of the Standing Committee of Parliament on Finance. 

If sources are to be believed, many top Congress leaders were talking to Praful Patel on a daily basis. The NCP sees an opportunity in the Congress if there is another split in the party as it happened in 1999. “Any such development will prove the point Sharad Pawar has been making for a long time that Rahul Gandhi is not capable of leading the Congress,” said another senior NCP leader on the condition of anonymity. Patel is understood to have briefed Pawar on the internal crisis which has been pushed under the carpet for now.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sonia may offer step down on Monday, May appeal to elect a non-Gandhi

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug. 22

Congress Interim president Sonia Gandhi may offer to step down from her post at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee on Monday next.

Highly placed sources in the party told Lokmat tonight that Sonia Gandhi has made up her mind and informed a select group of leaders about her intentions to make room for a non-Gandhi to occupy the post. This in a way, is bowing to the wishes of her son Rahul Gandhi who took moral responsibility for the debacle of the party in 2019 Lok Sabha polls and quit. He also desired that a non-Gandhi be elected to run the party.

But the entire CWC rejected the decision and later elected Sonia Gandhi an interim president. However, the experiment failed and now it is emerging that an upset Sonia Gandhi may offer to quit. Though she has full one more year to go an Interim president of the Congress, she is pained and may offer to quit. 

It is reliably learnt that some of the senior Congress leaders including Kapil Sibal and Anand Sharma among others have written a letter to Sonia Gandhi about the state of the party and how it should be reorganised. 

When contacted, no senior leader was willing to comment. Kapil Sibal did not respond to phone calls and neither Anand Sharma responded. Ghulam Nabi Azad has also been upset as he had not been renominated to the Rajya Sabha and may not remain Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha. However, Mallikarjun Kharge, senior-most member of the CWC and Rajya Sabha MP told Lokmat over the phone that he would participate in the virtual meeting on Monday.  He declined to say anything more exceot that he is a loyal soldier of the party.

Monday, August 17, 2020

India conducts 3 crores Cvoid tests

  • Set to touch 10 lakh tests a day mark
  • Positivity rate coming down

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug 16

India achieved a new milestone by conducting 3 crores coronavirus tests today. It touched 2.93 crores tests yesterday and with more than 7 lakh tests conducted till the time of going to the press, a new record has been set. India ramped up testing during the 15 days with a lightning speed that it could touch the three crore mark from two crores. Earlier, it took a month to touch the two crore mark. (see the table).

India is all set to make a record shortly when it will conduct 10 lakh coronavirus tests per day. It achieved a record 8.69 lakhs tests yesterday and if official sources are to be believed, the number will now touch 10 lakh tests a day mark anytime.

The Prime Minister had given the target to the ICMR to conduct 10 lakh tests per day on August 1. There was a time when India was testing less than 300 tests per day in March and touched the mind-boggling figure of 10 lakhs a day.

India conducts 3 crores Cvoid tests
The laboratories conducting Covid tests rose from 3 to 1500 in five months. Maharashtra alone has 144 labs including 67 in the private sector. 

The PM wanted states to undertake more tests so that the clear scenario could emerge and states ramped up testing on a large scale. The most heartening aspect is that the positivity rate of India has started coming down from 9.5% to 8.8% on August 15. Similarly, Maharashtra’s positivity rate came down from 20.2% on July 31 to 18.8% on August 15.

Official sources say that Covid cases are rising in the country rapidly. But this is largely due to very high testing and cases are coming down in percentage terms.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

India cautious in buying Russian Vaccine

PM Task Force on Covid Vaccine to meet again

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug 13

The Prime Minister’s high-powered Task Force on Vaccine headed by Dr V K Paul will be formulating its strategy to obtain the Russian vaccine to fight Covid pandemic.

The multi-member committee which met for several hours yesterday has not only to submit its report to the Prime Minister about the efficacy of the Russian Sputnik-V but also in how much quantity and what should be the funding mechanism.

The Task Force has to take a crucial decision about whether to procure several other Covid Vaccine candidates being manufactured in various parts of the world.

The Indian government has not assigned any fund for the research & development for Covid vaccines. Five vaccines are in the advanced stage of producing it including three Western and two Chinese. These all are in Phase 3 efficacy trials involving thousands of people.

Oxford University, working with the Swedish-British pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca, hopes to have results by September, while the US biotech company Moderna, partnering with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), is aiming for the end of the year, possibly November.

The Trump administration has spent nearly $ 10 billion to seven vaccine developers and signed manufacturing contracts with five of them to provide nearly one billion doses.

Japan is also negotiating with three suppliers and Britain is also signing deals with such manufacturers.

But India is banking on its own Convaxin being jointly produced by Bharat Biotech-ICMR and Zydus which are still in phase-I and Phase-II trials. The Task Force has to urgently take a view on Russian vaccine as it’s a friendly country. The presence of the secretary of the ministry of external affairs in the meeting indicates that India will try to obtain the Russian vaccine. The modalities are being worked out, these sources say.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

PM Task Force Scouts for Covid Vaccine as Russia set to hit the market

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug 10
India is scouting on a war footing basis to obtain Covid vaccine as many leading global companies have gone into phase 3 trials. The Russian University has signaled to register its wonder drug early next week and go into mass production.

The Prime Minister’s Task Force on Vaccine procurement & management headed by Dr V K Paul is keeping a close watch on vaccines being tested by global players like Oxford, Cansino and Pfizer which have gone into phase-3 trials. With Indian vaccine trials still at an early stage, the PM’s Task Force is exploring alternative sources to procure vaccines from global sources.

According to WHO at least 165 vaccines for Coronavirus were being developed and 23 of them are in human trials including two drugs being tested in India. These drugs are still a far cry. 

Official sources, however, concede that India will have some difficulty as it has not made advance payments or invested in research & development of vaccines in any global company like many rich nations.

These sources insist “some grants have been made available from the department of biotechnology.” But these are meager amounts.

The Task Force is banking on the Bill Gates Milinda Foundation and also on Covax (Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access) in which some Indian companies and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have partnered. It is expected that this alliance (Gavi) will supply vaccines to low- and medium-income countries. The WHO’s Somumya Swaminathan has been on record that countries could go in for bilateral deals and it is for them to take the risk.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently said in an official statement that the Covid vaccine be Made available to the health workers first. But a lot of efforts will be needed as demand for the covid vaccine will be huge as and when it hits the market.

At least one manufacturer of the vaccine in India told Lokmat on the condition of anonymity said that the government had not initiated any discussion with it on procurement of vaccines. India has the capability to produce two billion doses of vaccine.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

ICMR sets Aug 15 deadline for Covid Vaccine - AIIMS says Phase-I trials not over yet

“Covaxin initial results encouraging”, Dr Sanjay Rai AIIMS Principal Vaccine Investigator

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, Aug. 9

PM Narendra Modi may have cut short bureaucratic delays to fast-track Coronavirus Vaccine trials in India. But the wonder drug will continue to elude as trials and may take longer than the August 15 deadline set by Indian Council of Medical Research.

It is authoritatively learnt that the Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine trials that began at the prestigious AIIMS and 11 other facilities across India last month, has not even completed Phase-I stage. The ICMR has partnered with the Hyderabad based Bharat Biotech to invent and manufacture vaccine.

Zydus Cadila’s ZyCov-D has was also been given permission for phase-I & II human clinical trials at its own facilities.

The ICMR raised the hopes when its director Dr Balram Bhargawa told reporters last week that phase-I and Phase-II trials for Covaxin drug would be completed before August 15.

But Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS clarified, “We are rushing trials for the vaccine and clubbed phase-I & II trials. The human clinical trials will follow all safety norms.”

When contacted, Dr Sanjay Rai, Principal Investigator, AIIMS who is coordinating the Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin trials, told Lokmat this morning, “We have completed the Phase-I trials results which are very encouraging. There was no reaction to the drug. We gave single dose to Vaccine warriors and now double dose will be given to them to test its efficacy.”

In reply to a question, Dr Rai said phase-II trials will begin only after results of double dose are out in the next 10-15 days.

When asked why reports have been surfacing that the wonder drug will be out shortly, Dr Sanjay Rai said, “The government clubbed the phase-I & II clearances only. This was to cut delays and not aimed at compromising safety norms.”

Currently, trials of three vaccines including the one produced by the Oxford University & Seerum Institute, Pune are under way. Experts say that no Covid vaccine is likely to make it before the year-end.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

India touches 2 crore Covid Test mark

  • Maharashtra doubles testing in July, UP Triples.
  • Delhi tops in per million population tests, Bihar refuses to test more

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug. 1

India is set to touch two crores Covid testing mark ever since testing began in March this year. In a new record, more than one crores tests were conducted in the month of July itself according to data accessed from official sources. 

Of the two crores tests, five states alone- Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, UP, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan – accounted for one crore tests. Maharashtra doubled its daily testing from 25182 tests on July 1 to 58192 tests on July 30. It also doubled its monthly testing from 9.95 lakh tests on July 1 to 20.21 lakhs on July 30. Similarly, India’s testing also doubled during July – from 2.18 lakh tests to 5.25 lakh tests yesterday. The Prime Minister has set a target of crossing 10 lakh tests per day on the back of ramping up testing capacity in the country.

However, it’s the national Capital of Delhi where the highest number of tests were conducted among per million people. It tested 50000 per million people while Maharashtra’s averaged 16,408 tests only. Maharashtra has one solace i.e. it is higher than the national average of 13181 tests per million. (see the table)

Till the end of June, testing was lacklustre across Maharashtra as different departments were involved in testing. But now all kinds of testing was brought under one department and it paid rich dividends, said a source in the state government. 

The data clearly showed that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath set a record as the state is at number two in the country and its positivity rate is lowest with 3.6% only. Surprisingly, UP had conducted 7 lakh tests on July 1. But it tripled within one month to 21.20 lakh tests which is a record.

Compared with Bihar’s 'Sushashan Babu' as Nitish Kumar is known where 5 lakh tests have been conducted so far with a positivity rate of 9.1%. Its per million population test is the lowest in the country with 4160 tests. Sources in the Union Health Ministry say that low testing is despite repeated pleas by the PM and other agencies. 

Official sources say that with fatality rate down to 2.20% in the country and the virus is not deadly either, there is a hope that India will see Coronavirus peak sometime in September-October.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Uddhav Thackeray, other CMs not invited to Ayodhya

No Governors invited either
VHP blasts Shiv Sena & Uddhav

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, July 27

Setting all speculations at rest about Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray attending the Ram Temple Foundation Stone laying Ceremony to be held on August 5, it is disclosed that he has not been invited to the function.

It has also been confirmed that not only Uddhav Thackeray but no other Chief Minister across the country has been invited to attend the historic function.

This was disclosed Working President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Alok Kumar in an exclusive conversation today.

He told Lokmat over the telephone this morning that “the VHP is deeply hurt by the statement of Uddhav Thackeray ji for his suggestion that foundation ceremony be held through Video Conferencing”.

However, the decision not to invite him for the ceremony is not linked to his statement issued last night. It was a policy decision that no Chief Minister be invited for the ceremony in view of the Covid pandemic.

When asked whether an exception be made, Alok Kumar disclosed that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will certainly attend the ceremony. He also signaled that a few exceptions could be made if needed. In response to another question, Alok Kumar also disclosed, “No Governor has been invited to the function either.”

Interestingly, the BJP has 12 Chief Ministers of its own and sharing power in 6 other states with allies. But none has been invited. The public statement by Alok Kumar puts an end to uncertainty about Uddhav Thackeray traveling to Ayodhya to attend the ceremony on August 5.

Meanwhile, Alok Kumar said, “Uddhav ji’s statement only shows his blind opposition and we do mourn such a fall of what once was a Hindutava Party led by the legendary Shri Bala Sahab Thackeray.”

“Bhumi Pujan is an essential and sacred ritual.. we worship the Mother Earth, seek Her permission to dig…….this cannot be done by e-conference.”

“The VHP has always made it clear that the Bhumi Pujan will be done by restricting participation to 200 persons and in this situation, the concern about public health expressed by Shri Thackeray are only false pretensions”, he added.