Friday, October 30, 2020

JD (U) slide worries BJP - Priyanka back in Lutyen’s Delhi

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

JD (U) slide worries BJP
Irrespective of Modi’s undiminished Charisma and immense popular appeal, the BJP leadership has a reason to worry in Bihar. As the state enters the second phase of bitterly fought polarized battle, the BJP is rattled as its key partner Nitish Kumar’s graph is on the downhill. The mishandling of migrant labourers and Coronavirus issues may cost him dearly and hurt BJP more in the months to come if the NDA loses Bihar. It is not as if the BJP was not aware of the sliding graph of Nitish Kumar. All internal surveys conducted by the RSS and the BJP signaled that Nitish Kumar's popularity is waning. The vocal Bihar BJP leadership wanted to go alone smelling blood riding on Modi wave. It was in this background that PM Modi, BJP president J P Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah held two rounds of talks on Bihar in June-July. A conscious decision was taken to go with Janata Dal (U) as the consequences of dumping Nitish Kumar could have been fatal. It would have pushed Nitish Kumar to go back to the RJD-Congress. In order to off-set the anti-incumbency factor of Nitish Kumar, a buffer zone of sort in the form of LJP’s Chirag Paswan was created. It was done with the hope that LJP could cut into anti-Nitish Kumar votes which otherwise would have gone to the RJD-Congress-Left combine. But as the campaigning picking up, collapse of JD (U) is more visible. Secondly, Coronavirus has invaded the top leadership of the BJP beginning with Devendra Fadnavis, Sushil Modi, Mangal Pandey, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Shahnawaz Hussian and others. Amit Shah is also out of action.

BJP's Bihar Waterloo 
The BJP was on the seventh Heaven after its tumultuous win in May 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But its stars started fading as it suffered one loss after the other in states. If it failed to form a government in Maharashtra, it had to depend on Dushyant Chautala in Haryana to form the government. Then it suffered humiliating defeats in Jharkhand and Delhi in 2020. Therefore, a Bihar win is vital for the BJP. A Bihar loss will have a direct bearing in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, kerala, Puducherry and Assam where Assembly polls are due early next year. Many in the BJP say it will be happy to emerge as a single largest party in Bihar. Therefore, the BJP has changed its strategy mid-way. It may hold a few rallies of the PM in constituencies where BJP candidates are contesting without Nitish Kumar. Some posters are already out in the public without Nitish Kumar. Secondly, the PM will be more aggressive in his speeches in the days to come.

Priyanka back in Lutyen’s Delhi
After a brief stint in Gurugram in Haryana, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is back in Lutyen’s Delhi. She vacated her government bungalow a couple of months ago when the Modi dispensation served a notice. She shifted to Gurugram for a short while and now back in Sujan Singh Park near Khan Market. However, she doesn’t meet political workers at her residence due to paucity of space. Her security guards are having a tough time as the residential complex itself is very small.

Ram Madhav’s big slide
It seems BJP’s rising star has run out of luck with the party. He was incharge of the Jammu & Kashmir affairs and North East. He too played a key role in formulating BJP's J&K policy and helped forming governments in some of the North East states. He runs India Foundation which worked for Modi in the US and other countries before he became the PM. When he was removed as BJP as general secretary, it was widely believed that he will get a Rajya Sabha seat and possibly a ministerial berth when reshuffle takes place. It was also expected that he will be nominated to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh where the BJP is set to win at least eight out of ten seats. But his name didn’t figure in the list. It now transpires that he is vacating his South Avenue government flat also which he had been allotted as general secretary. The last word on his new assignment is yet to be heard. One report is that he may now go back to the RSS as he is now full time “Sangh Pracharak”.

Govt. picks Yashwardhan Sinha as new CIC - Six other IC also appointed

Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 27

Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha, a former officer of the Foreign Service, is set to be the new Chief Information Commissioner (CIC).

There were as many as 154 claimants for the post of CIC and 355 for the five Information Commissioners. Yashwardhan Sinha was already serving as the Information Commissioner and senior-most among them. Secondly, he is the son of late Gen. S K Sinha who was Governor of Jammu & Kashmir during the Vajpayee era.

Among the new Information Commissioners, the Modi government also picked up a journalist from Maharashtra for the post. More than half of the vacancies had arisen in the CIC during the past many months and the government had invited applications for the post. Mostly retired bureaucrats, social activists and public servants had applied for the posts.

A high-powered panel headed by the Prime Minister and comprising of Leader of the Congress Party in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, cleared Sinha’s name for the top post after close scrutiny. The 3-member panel also cleared the names of five other Information Commissioners. The posts were vacant for the past many months leading to accumulation of thousands of RTI cases with the CIC. As many as 37,000 appeals have accumulated with the Right To Information watchdog due to the vacancies galore. 

The CIC had been headless ever since Bimal Julka retired months ago. 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.

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.