Saturday, January 30, 2021

Fly On the Wall | Sonia rises, takes charge

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Sonia rises, takes charge

Sonia Gandhi is trying to do what she is known for; stitching alliances. She successfully dislodged Vajpayee in 2004 by fixing alliances. But 2021 is not 2004. She has lost her most-trusted aide in Ahmed Patel and Rahul Gandhi has failed to enthuse workers and people at large. In 2004, Rahul had brought with him a hope to rejuvenate the party. Be it as it may, Sonia made a passionate appeal to all CWC members including dissidents that the first priority is to defeat the BJP in the ensuing Assembly polls. After clinching peace within the party, Sonia Gandhi has now charted on a course to retain Puducherry and wrest AssamIn Kerala, the Congress may be face-to-face with the Left parties but both are in alliance in West Bengal. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress is playing a second fiddle to the DMK. The way Sonia Gandhi deputed Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel as observer to Assam and he clinched alliance with five other Opposition parties in no time, has made BJP worried. The BJP and Bodoland People’s Front have already parted ways. Baghel is keeping the faction-ridden state unit together after the death of party’s tallest leader Tarun Gogoi and creating a new positive narrative. Sonia also over-ruled Rahul for a change and allowed Congress-Left alliance in West Bengal. A loss for Congress in these crucial states is a big worry for Sonia as BJP has left no stone unturned to win West Bengal, retain Assam and toy hold in TN, Puducherry and Kerala.

CBI Truly Independent

Those doubting independence of CBI need to change their opinion, for a change. It showed great alacrity in completing probe into the Hathras rape & murder case. Yogi Adityanath denied these charges saying it was a conspiracy to destabilize his government. The September 2020 incident had rocked the nation and a probe was entrusted to the CBI. It was presumed that the CBI will sit over it for months or even years. After all, there are many such cases where the CBI continues to probe awaiting forensic evidence, viscera report etc etc. Even the last example is of Sushant Singh Rajput alleged suicide in June 2020. The Mumbai police was no evidence of murder, the NCB found no evidence against Sushant’s live-in partner Rhea Chakraborty oabout drugs, the ED was forced to eat the humble pie and other agencies went silent. But the CBI continues to investigate it giving no explanation of abnormal delay even after Bihar elections are over. But the CBI confirmed within four months it was a case of rape and murdere. It came as a huge setback to the Yogi. When Yogi expressed his unhappiness with political masters in Delhi, he was politely told, “We don’t interfere in CBI’s functioning. It’s truly independent.” No doubt, the steady rise of the saffron-robed monk may have created heart-burns in Delhi. For the saffron brigade, he is an icon and favourite leader and in great demand across the country for campaigning. In the power corridors of powers, the CBI’s Hathras case is seen as a politically-loaded move to cut Adityanath to size. Wait for the last word!!

Lucky CBI Chief?

A big exercise is on for the selection of new CBI Chief as present incumbent R K Shukla is set to retire on February 1. But there is no sign of meeting of the Selection Committee comprising Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of the single largest party in Lok Sabha (Congress) to pick a new chief. Rakesh Asthana, DG, BSF and Dr Y C Modi, DG, NIA are the top contenders for the post. Both are PM’s favourite buddies. But a PMO insider says something else is cooking too. There may be a surprise in store for the low-profile, nameless, faceless R K Shukla. He has done a commendable job during the past two years. He doesn’t meet the media, doesn’t come on TV. The Boss likes such officers. So why disturb the arrangement? Why not give an extension, asked the source.

Bureaucracy Supreme

The DoPT under the PMO keeps issuing one circular after the other urging the babus (IAS) to submit their immovable property details under the Conduct Rules, 1968 inherited by them or owned or acquired or held on lease or mortgage, either in his/her own name or in the name of any member of family or in the name of any other person. Half of the Babus don't care to respond. There is nothing unusual about it.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Fly on the Wall | Modi’s baffling gift to Yogi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi’s baffling gift to Yogi

The nomination of A K Sharma, Prime Minister Modi’s most trusted bureaucrat, as BJP MLC in UP continues to baffle the political class. Sharma was among Modi’s inner circle of officers when he was Chief Minister of Gujrat in 2001. Be it P K Mishra, K Kailashnathan, J C Murmu, R K Asthana, A K Sharma etc, they were all part of Modi’s CMO. When Modi moved to Delhi in 2014, a battery of around 12 officers moved along. But Modi decided to keep K Kailashnathan in Ahmedabad itself as Anandiben Patel’s CMO. The status of KK, as Kailashnathan is known in the bureaucratic fraternity, didn’t change even after Vijay Rupani took over as CM. KK was Chief Principal Secretary of Modi in 2013 and remains so in 2021 irrespective of who is CM, Gujrat. He is considered “Saheb’s proxy” because Modi talks only to KK and the wheels of administration move accordingly. PK Mishra replaced Nripendra Mishra as Principal Secretary in the PMO and RK Asthana continues to be a powerful IPS officer. J C Murmu was made Lieutenant Governor of Jammu & Kashmir to be Modi’s eyes & ears in Srinagar. But somehow, he could not pass the muster and was brought back to Delhi as CAG. Therefore, the shifting of A K Sharma being sent to UP for a political inning is baffling given Modi's style of functioning. No one in the BJP handling UP affairs was willing to throw any light as to how A K Sharma was chosen as MLC? Who proposed his name? And why did Modi lend his most-trusted officer to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath? If he was most trusted, then why was he ousted from the PMO in the first place in 2020?

Another KK in Lucknow?

It is no secret that Yogi Adityanath is on his trip in UP and not like other BJP Chief Ministers who pay obeisance to political masters. Insiders in the BJP say that Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappayu is another pain in the neck of the party high command. Yogi doesn’t take the call of many senior leaders. The Central high command was also upset after Yogi Adityanath cut Sunil Bansal, the unquestioned king of Lucknow to run the affairs, to size.
Lately, there have been issues relating to handling crimes in the state and law & order problem, the latest being the Hathras case. Many complain that Yogi has not risen from caste-politics either despite being a loner, unmarried and honest. One school of thought is that it was Yogi who requested the high command to give him a competent person as he doesn’t trust his two deputy Chief Ministers. A K Sharma hails from Azamgarh and can play some role. No one is sure if Nitin Gadkari had a role in Sharma’s going to UP because he worked under him in the MSME as Secretary. No final word has come out about the future role of MLC AK Sharma. Will he be another KK in Lucknow?

Nadda’s rising clout

BJP president J P Nadda is back in action and batting on the front foot in West Bengal polls. He played a key role in the selection of seven Union Ministers who were made incharge of seven regions for Assembly polls. Obviously, Nadda's graph has risen after big Bihar won. Only recently, a couple of Chief Ministers of BJP ruled states wanted to call on the PM. But Modi politely conveyed to them to first apprise “Nadda ji” about the issues. Another major change jolted the party when three posts of joint general secretaries (Organisation) were discarded. Is RSS allowing a free hand to Nadda and General secretary (Organisation) B L Santosh? One will have to watch.

Why Govt doesn't communicate

Be it farm laws or any other issue, the Modi government’s bane is it to rush into decisions and lacking in communication. The classic example is of giving Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxine without phase-III trial data. It was alleged that the government had rushed into giving preferred treatment violating rules and risking lives of people. But no one, not even the IMCR, Drug Controller General of India or even the Health ministry said that the rules for EMA were amended way back in March 2019, a year before the Covid break out. The policy was changed by regulators to give EUA for vaccines without waiting for phase-III trial results. No favours were shown to Covaxine per se. When controversy engulfed the scientific community, the rules were dug out from the grave.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Fly On the Wall | Pandemic over by June!

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group 

Click here to read in Hindi & Marathi

Pandemic over by June!

Strange it may sound but true. The Modi government signed the vaccine purchase agreement with the two Covid Vaccine manufacturers (Serum Institute, Pune & Bharat Biotech Ltd, Hyderabad) only at the eleventh hour. It has not signed any agreement with any of the world Pharma companies including Pfizer or Moderna or for that matter with Russia’s Sputnik V. Yet India is set to launch the world's first & largest adult immunization program. Many other nations including the WHO financed billions of dollars for vaccines. But Modi showed his true Gujrati skills and waited till the end when sellers were desperate as they had stock-piled. Modi could do this largely because the pandemic is receding in India and there is no clamour among the people to get vaccinated like in the West. The Covidshield may not have been invented in India, but it is being treated as one because Seerum is supplying to the world. But many leading scientists may have questioned the way BBL’s Covaxin was given emergency clearance by waiving efficacy data. These include immunologists like Ms (Dr) Gagandeep Kang and Dr. Vineeta Bal, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune. Even Dr Ganga Khedkar, ex-head of Immunologist department said he won’t take the Covaxin until efficacy data comes. Yet, the going for Modi has been good. Many in the PMO say that India will overcome the pandemic by May-June without vaccinating 80 crore people. He may, perhaps, get rid of his grown up beard then.

How Govt pushed for Covaxin

There is an interesting tale behind the Covaxin. As soon as the pandemic broke out in March, the PMO tossed a question towards ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava – Can you develop a vaccine and by when? The ICMR and its battery of scientists & immunologists have been bossing around for decades. But such a question was never posed to them by the PMO. Frankly speaking, the ICMR never invented any vaccine either of its own. Bhargava went back to his 9-member vaccine panel headed by Dr Gangandeep Kang. There was silence of the grave. The PMO was getting restive. One fine morning, Dr Bhargava dissolved the ICMR vaccine panel in early May as the PM constituted the National Task Force on Vaccine directly under him. Dr Kang quit ICMR to go back to Vellore. Modi may not be a scientist but he knew there is enough politics among the scientists too and took the command in his own hand. Within days, the ICMR-Bharat Biotech signed an agreement on vaccines.

Why was Bharat Biotech chosen?

No answers are available till date as to why ICMR chose BBL to make the vaccine. No doubt, ICMR has been working closely with Bharat Biotech and many other Pharma companies for years and has partnered with it for Rotavirus and H1N1 vaccines earlier. No one has a clue till this date of the clauses of agreement between ICMR-BBL. What is known is that the ICMR had transferred the Coronavirus strain isolated at its National Institute of Virology, Pune to BBIL for making the vaccine in May 2020 itself. What is also known is that Dr Bhavgava had created a furor by asking the BBL to produce the Covid vaccine by August 2020. He even issued a terse letter in this regard. The letter surfaced in public domain embarrassing the government as it was felt Modi wanted to make an announcement from the Ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15. The ICMR had to eat crow when BBL couldn't produce the vaccine by August 15. But the Covaxin is ICMR’s baby and all regulators had to fast-track clearances tweaking laid down procedures without Phase-III efficacy data.

Kejri’s Konkani love

Arvind Kejriwal is considered a maverick and is not the one to give up. After his failed 2017 attempts, he has set his eyes on Punjab, Goa, Uttrakhand and UP again going to polls in 2022. In order to gain a toy hold in Goa, he hit upon a novel way and set up Konkani Academy in Delhi. There was no such demand for academy and no one was clamouring for it either. But Kejriwal’s sudden love for Konkani is not missed by rivals in Goa who are poking fun at him. Obviously, the national Capital will see a lot of cultural activities to promote Konkani language and Goan culture. Will it fetch votes for AAP in Goa where Kejriwal had lost deposits in all the seats? You guess!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Big global demand for Indian Vaccines

  • As Chinese vaccine Efficacy below 50%
  • Covidshield, Covaxin may reap the harvest
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Jan 14

With doubts emerging about the efficacy of China’ Coronavirus vaccine, CoronaVac during trials in Brazil & elsewhere, countries are scouting for Indian vaccines now.

With reports surfacing that CoronaVac, manufactured by Beijing-based Sinovac, showed only 50% efficacy, these countries are now knocking at India’s door. India is one of the largest vaccine suppliers.

While Seerum had already signed MOUs with Gavi-COVAX under the aegis of the World Health Organization (WHO) to supply up to 400 million doses and Bangladesh , a crisis of sort is erupting in Brazil, Indonesia and ten other countries who were dependent solely upon the Chinese Vaccine.

They had agreed to buy 400 million doses of CoronaVac and now want alternative vaccines too. Bharat Biotech is now in talks with Brazil to supply Covaxin, according to sources.

The Indian Government has given permission in principle to Indian vaccine manufacturers to export after meeting domestic demand. Rather, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is actively involved in the process through members of his task force on vaccine management headed by Dr V K Paul and Ministry of External Affairs.

Seerum has capacity to produce up to 100 million a month and got funding of $300 million from the Bill Gate Melinda Foundation to supply vaccines to GAVI. Bharat Biotech can raise its annual capacity to 200 million a year from the present 100 million.

The government has said Covishield & Covaxin can export to neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, African and South American countries. The shipments will also reach Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Myanmar at a later stage.

Modi had spoken to leaders of various SAARC nations earlier in this regard. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had said last week there was no bar on the export of Covishield or Covaxin but India’s requirements will get the first priority.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Bank frauds treble in 2020, Amount touches Rs 67000 crores

Delhi oust Mumbai in Bank frauds during Lockdowns 

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Jan 11

If you thought lockdowns and restrictions during most of the 2020 due to Covid pandemic prevented financial frauds, you may be in for a shock.

A report by the CBI for year 2020 says bank fraud cases more than doubled compared to 2019 from 91 to 196 during 2020. The bank frauds accounted for the maximum number of cases in the CBI- 196 out of 543 total FIRs registered during 2020.

The amount in bank frauds in 2020 was equally mind-boggling at Rs 67,319.40 crore compared to Rs 19,830.14 crore in 2019.

Interestingly, Delhi upstaged Mumbai in bank frauds during 2020. While over 50 bank fraud cases were registered by the CBI, nearly 30 were instituted in Mumbai, apart from some others in Pune and Nagpur and Chennai unit registered 17, Gujarat’s Gandhinagar 16 cases.

Of the total amount of frauds in cases registered by the CBI, Rs 53,379.38 crore (79.29 per cent) were in 27 FIRs only each one with over Rs 500 crore. In 47 cases amounts were between Rs 100- Rs 500 crore, amounting to Rs 9,423.78 crore (13.99 per cent).

The bank fraud cases accounted for over 3% of all cases during 2017 and these started rising jumping to 36 per cent in 2020.

Some of the biggest and noteworthy fraud cases from last year include the massive Yes Bank, DHFL, RKW Developers and Avantha Group, the Surana Corporation and group companies, TDP leader Rayapati Sambasiva Rao-linked Transstroy's Rs 7,926.01 crore alleged fraud and Educomp Solutions' Rs 1,995 crore cases.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Covaxin Vaccine cleared for Emergency Use today

Govt. to buy Both --Covidshield or Covaxin 
Covidshield & Covaxin
Regulators to clear both vaccins soon

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, Jan 2
With the Emergency approval granted to Covaxin, jointly produced by Bharat Biotech-Indian Council of Medical Research late in the evening today, India has got another shot in its arm.

Covaxin is the country's 100% indigenous vaccine while Covidshield of Seerum Institute, Pune-Astrozeneca, UK was approved yesterday by the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) yesterday. The SEC cleared the Covaxin today. 

However, the formal approval of both the vaccines by the drug regulator Central Drug Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) is yet to be granted.

While Seerum Institute has said that it already has stock-piled 40-50 million doses which it can supply to the Government of India by March this year itself, the authorities have not reacted to the proposal so far. In fact, the government has not signed any contract with the Seerum for the supply of Covidshield so far.

Neither Dr V K Paul who is head of the Prime Minister's Task Force on Vaccine management nor the Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said anything so far as to which vaccine will be injected/inoculated to the 3 crore frontline health workers and other related categories. 

Whether the government will buy the Covidshield or Covaxin or a combination of both the vaccines for the Emergency usage, is still being worked out. 

For three crore frontline workers, India will need 60 million doses as every person has to be given two doses. As per the estimates, these three crore priority workers can be covered during the next four-five months. There is a strong possibility that the government may now involve the private sector in the entire vaccination drive. 

If the other population is also to be vaccinated at the earliest, the government will take a decision at the highest level. 

Secondly, the CDSCO and DCGI have yet to approve Covidshield and Covaxin. Once these medical bodies clear these vaccines for usage, various government institutions including the ministries of Health and others will take up follow-up action and allocate funds accordingly.

Sources say that the government will start the process around Makar Sankranti day on January 14 or so.

Fly on the Wall - Why Blame Rahul Gandhi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Why Blame Rahul!
Why Blame Rahul Gandhi for his usual year-end sojourn in Italy abandoning the Foundation Day function of his party. There is no denial that he pushes off on vacation many times during the year and that has been his routine ever since he stepped into politics since 2004. But why blame him! He doesn't even hold any office in the party. Isn't it? Even Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav left for London with his family. As if this is not enough, another farmer leader and Haryana’s Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala is holidaying in the Rann of Kutch. Want to know where Bihar’s Tejashwi Yadav goes for holidaying? Delhi is his destination and he doesn’t meet anybody here. He is not even seen with the agitating farmers or sending a contingent from Bihar either. Young ministers belonging to the BJP may be sulking as Modi is keeping a close watch on them and a couple of them have paid the price too in the past. But other parties have no such problem.

A Saffron Flag in Srinagar, finally
BJP may have won three Councilors out of the 140 seats in the District Development Council (DDC) polls in the Valley and 72 of the 140 in the Jammu region. Of the three, it won just one in the Srinagar rural DDC. But it is trying hard to capture it by engineering a majority. A couple of Councilors belonging to the National Conference and PDP have already switched sides to the Apni Party of Altaf Bukhari, a local businessman & ex-minister in the PDP-BJP government who floated his own party after the abrogation of Article 370. The BJP is also wooing 4 Independents as the PDP, NC & Apni Party won three seats each. Nobody has a majority. The BJP’s top leadership is working overtime to capture the Srinagar DDC as it will be a great day in the history to have BJP-Apni Party DDC in the heart of the Valley.
The BJP has perfected the art of converting a minority into the majority in many states and this process will now continue in the Valley too. Interestingly, the BJP recently captured the Srinagar Municipal Corporation indirectly by engineering defection of Junaid Azim Mattoo to the Apni Party. Junaid Azim Mattoo was part of Sajad Lone-led People's Conference (PC). Later, he quit the PC in 2013 to join the National Conference and after winning the polls, switched to the Apni Party. Altaf Bukhari and Junaid Mattoo have declared their Endeavour to make Srinagar a world class city. If this alliance works, the saffron flag may fly in Srinagar rural while Srinagar city is already under control of a friendly party of the BJP.

Will Modi Blink ?
In his first term Modi tried to tinker with the Land Acquisition law. But the first Minister for Rural Development, Gopinath Munde, didn’t agree. Even his successor Nitin Gadkari couldn’t deliver what Modi desired. Finally, Modi brought in Chaudhary Birender Singh who too failed. The PM was persuaded to bring back the UPA government’s Land Acquisition law and Modi had to swallow the bitter pill. Now six year into the job, Modi is facing another Waterloo and it is not the creation of the Opposition nor gifted in his lap by Rahul Gandhi. Riding on the massive mandate of 2019, he pushed these Agri reforms. He may still succeed. But the situation looks grim and he doesn’t have too much time in his hand either. Modi's other problem is that he doesn't trust anybody and doesn't share what’s cooking in his mind. Insiders in the government say that he has been advised by certain well meaning people to allow the states to do whatever they want to do with these three Acts. Even the Supreme Court had suggested deferment of these Acts and start negotiations. A negotiated settlement before the Republic Day and Parliament session is a better option in any case. Modi had certainly not bargained for this.

No News is good news
For All India Radio, the agitation of farmers on Delhi borders is no news. Listen to the prime time news bulletins of AIR in the evening slot at 8.30 pm. It seems the agitation doesn’t exist. The entire bulletin is full of government handouts and news sent from states. Why so? The AIR has stopped taking the news service of PTI, UNI, ANI and other agencies. Whatever news is sent by its correspondents from across the world is broadcast.