Parliament’s Winter Session likely to conclude; Union Cabinet may extend PMGKAY beyond December; Players’ auction for the 2023 IPL in Kochi; AICC to hold meeting with senior leaders to prepare for ‘Haath Jodo’ campaign; 76th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy 2022-23 begins
Amid a spurt in Covid cases in China and some other countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday cautioned against complacency and directed officials to strengthen the ongoing surveillance measures, especially at international airports.
A high-level meeting
The PM’s assertion came during a high-level meeting, which he chaired to assess the Covid-19 situation in the country, preparedness of health infrastructure and logistics, status of the vaccination campaign and the emergence of new variants and their public health implications. The meeting came on a day several states such as Uttar Pradesh and Delhi also conducted a review of the Covid situation.
Modi urged everyone to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour, including wearing masks in crowded public places, at all times, especially in view of the upcoming festive season, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Testing and vaccination
He also urged that precaution dose may be encouraged especially for vulnerable and elderly groups. During the meeting, Modi directed officials to ramp up testing and also genomic sequencing efforts.
Call for an audit
The PM advised states to audit Covid-specific facilities to ensure operational readiness of hospital infrastructure, including oxygen cylinders, PSA plants, ventilators and human resources, the statement said.
Earlier in the day, Union health minister Mansukh Madaviya said in Parliament that India has started two per cent random sampling of international travellers coming to the country and may consider making it mandatory for all, if necessary. More details here
Meanwhile, the Congress will follow all Covid-related guidelines, but the Bharat Jodo Yatra will not be stopped, senior party leader Salman Khurshid said on Thursday. “Health Minister writes a letter to Rahul Gandhi yesterday. PM is reviewing situation today. Bharat Jodo Yatra will enter Delhi day after. Ab Aap Chronology Samjhiye…. (now, understand the chronology),” party leader Jairam Ramesh said in a tweet.
India-China talks: Days after a clash between their troops in the Tawang sector, India and China have concluded the 17th round of high-level military talks on the eastern Ladakh border standoff but there is no indication of any forward movement in resolution of the remaining issues.
A joint statement released on Thursday said both sides exchanged views in an “open and constructive” manner to resolve the “relevant issues” and described the talks as “frank and in-depth”. It said the two sides agreed to stay in “close contact”, maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and work out a mutually-acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest.
Modi-Xi meet: The corps commander-level talks took place over a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping shook hands and exchanged pleasantries at the G20 summit in Bali.
India’s stand: The Indian side is believed to have insisted on resolving the issues at the remaining friction points of Demchok and Depsang in eastern Ladakh as soon as possible. In line with a decision taken at the 16th round of military talks, the two sides carried out disengagement from Patrolling Point 15 in the Gogra-Hotsprings area in September.
The standoff: The Indian Army and the Chinese PLA have been locked in a standoff in eastern Ladakh since May 5, 2020. The ties between the two countries nosedived significantly following the fierce clash in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 that marked the most serious military conflict between the two sides in decades.
Meanwhile… Lok Sabha proceedings were adjourned for the day on Thursday as the Opposition pressed for its demand for a discussion on the border issue with China.
Expert opinion: Amid demands for snapping trade ties with China for its transgressions on the border, former NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya told PTI that cutting trade with Beijing at this juncture would amount to sacrificing India’s potential economic growth.
The defence ministry on Thursday gave the initial approval to 24 military modernisation proposals worth Rs 84,328 crore, which included major indigenous projects to develop light tanks for the China front as well as futuristic infantry combat vehicles and mounted gun systems for the Army. This came on a day when IAF chief highlighted “critical deficiencies” in the Air Force.
The “capital acquisition proposals” granted acceptance of necessity (AoN) by the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC), headed by defence minister Rajnath Singh, include 21 indigenous projects worth Rs 82,127 crore.
Who gets what
Of the 24 projects, there are 10 for the Navy, six each for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Army, and two for Coast Guard. The clear takeaway was the three big projects for the 12-lakh strong Army.
TOI earlier reported that Project `Zorawar’ for 354 light tanks, at a cost of around Rs 17,500 crore, was all set to be cleared by the DAC. The Army needs such indigenous tanks, each weighing less than 25 tonnes with a high power-to-weight ratio as well as superior firepower and protection, for high-altitude warfare given the continuing threat posed by China all along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control.
AoN was also accorded for 480 futuristic infantry combat vehicles (FICVs), with enhanced lethality, night-fighting and ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities, at a cost of around Rs 20,000 crore. “The FICVs will replace some of the old Russian-origin BMP-II vehicles,” an officer told TOI.
IAF chief flags concern
The “critical deficiencies” of IAF like shortage of fighter squadrons and force multipliers must be addressed on priority so that the force retains its combat edge, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said at an event on Thursday, amid mounting concerns over China boosting its air power at a rapid pace.
The number of fighter squadrons is going down as several of them have been phased out in recent years while a number of others are due for number-plating (retirement) in the next few years that include the Jaguar fleet.
At present, the IAF has around 31 fighter squadrons against the sanctioned strength 42. Each squadron comprises around 18 jets.
Indian Police Service officer and former Director General of Tihar Prisons Sandeep Goel has been suspended by the Union Home Ministry for alleged dereliction of duty. Departmental proceedings against Goel are “contemplated”, said the suspension order, adding that he shall not leave Delhi without prior permission of the competent authority.
While the ministry in its order issued on Wednesday did not specify reasons behind Goel’s suspension, it came close on the heels of conman Sukesh Chandrasekhar, who is currently lodged in the prison in connection with a money laundering case, alleging that he had paid Rs 12.5 crore to the officer as “protection money” for his safety in jail.
The case so far
Goel, a 1989-batch IPS officer, was temporarily removed as the head of Delhi’s Tihar prisons on November 3 and sent to Delhi Police headquarters, without being given a specific posting. Goel, however, said that Chandrashekhar made the allegations because he had acted sternly against the prisoner.
In a letter to Delhi LG V K Saxena on October 7, Chandrasekhar had also claimed that he paid Rs 10 crore to AAP minister Satyendar Jain, who is also in jail in connection with a separate money laundering case, as “protection money”.
After that, Saxena appointed a committee to look into the allegations. The committee is learnt to have found CCTV footage that showed Goel purportedly visiting Jain in his cell on October 6 and talking to him for at least 50 minutes after the lock-up time for prisoners.
The ongoing protest of members of the Panchamasali Lingayat community, which is a sub-group of the dominant Lingayat community in Karnataka, intensified on Thursday, with hundreds of members of the community, who were part of a march, reaching Belagavi – where the state Assembly session is underway.
Why they are protesting
The Panchamasali Lingayats have been demanding that they be included in the 15% reservation category meant for OBCs, instead of the separate 5% category meant for Lingayats – which, they say, would increase their chances of meeting their education and professional needs.
While some of the protesters had on Wednesday threatened to lay a siege at the Assembly premises if their demands were not met, Karnataka home minister Araga Jnanendra said on Thursday that the Panchamasali Lingayats did a peaceful protest.
Why timing is important
The development is crucial because Karnataka goes to assembly polls early next year and CM Basavaraj Bommai himself belongs to the Sadar Lingayat community – another sub-group under the larger Lingayat umbrella. Lingayats are an important community in the state’s politics.
It can potentially turn into a bigger political issue ahead of polls, amid an ongoing anti-incumbency wave in the BJP-ruled state, especially because Panchamasalis constitute more than 50% of the state’s entire Lingayat population and they have been claiming for a while that they are under-represented in politics, despite forming a large chunk of the Lingayat community.
Lessons from Gujarat
In 2015, the Patidar reservation agitation shook Gujarat and its effects were visible in the 2017 assembly election results – helping the Congress win 77 seats, up from 61 in the previous polls, and bringing down BJP’s number of seats from 115 to 99.
Meanwhile, on border row
The Karnataka Assembly on Thursday passed a resolution to protect the state’s interests amid the ongoing border row with Maharashtra, PTI reported. The resolution was moved by Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and was adopted by a voice vote.
The BJP-led Karnataka government has in an affidavit before the Supreme Court supported the prosecution of a man accused of raping his wife – a stand that significantly differs from the view taken on multiple occasions by the BJP-led Union government, which has opposed the criminalisation of marital rape, saying there is a need for wider consultations on the subject.
No special privilege for men
The state government filed the affidavit on Thursday in response to a notice by the Supreme Court on an appeal filed by the man against a judgment of the Karnataka high court.
The high court had refused, on May 23, to set aside rape charges under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code against the man, holding that marriage does not confer any special male privilege for “unleashing of a brutal beast”.
State says HC was right
In its affidavit, the Karnataka government told the Supreme Court that the high court was correct in dismissing the man’s petition.
In 2017, the BJP-led Union government had said that criminalising marital rape would destabilise the institution of marriage in Indian society and, it also said, criminalisation would become an “easy tool” for women to harass husbands.
The Centre, in an affidavit filed on January 12 before the Delhi high court, had said that criminalisation of marital rape “could open floodgates of false cases being made with ulterior motives”.
In February, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani told the Parliament that condemning each marriage as violent and every man as a rapist was not advisable.
Also, in February, the Centre urged the high court to suspend the proceedings in a case, saying that it needed to hold consultations with states and other stakeholders. And later, stuck to the same position, following which the high court refused to defer the proceedings. On May 11, Justices C Hari Shankar and Ravi Shakdher of the Delhi high court passed a split verdict on the matter.
India, China and Russia abstained in the UN Security Council on a draft resolution that demanded an immediate end to violence in Myanmar and urged the military junta to release political prisoners, including former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
A first in 74 years
This is the first UNSC resolution on Myanmar adopted in 74 years. The Security Council had passed a resolution in 1948 when the member-states recommended “that the Union of Burma”, as Myanmar was known after its independence from British rule, be admitted as a member of the United Nations.
The 15-nation Security Council, under India’s Presidency this month, adopted the resolution after 12 members voted in favour, none against and India, China and Russia abstained.
India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj, presiding over the meeting, delivered the explanation of the vote in her national capacity and said New Delhi believes that the complex situation in Myanmar calls for an approach of “quiet and patient diplomacy”.
Since the February 1, 2021 coup, India has been treading cautiously vis-à-vis its Southeast Asian neighbour. While New Delhi appealed for cessation of violence and early restoration of democracy, it did not openly condemn the Tatmadaw or Myanmar’s military for its excesses, due to strategic reasons.
What about China & Russia
Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun said Beijing has concerns about the draft resolution and feels it would be more appropriate for the Council to adopt a presidential statement rather than a resolution.
Russian Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia said it is Moscow’s principled position that the situation in Myanmar does not pose a threat to international peace and security.
Union commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday introduced in Lok Sabha the Jan Vishwas Bill, which seeks to decriminalise minor offences by tweaking 183 penal provisions with a view to promote ‘ease of doing business’.
Sent for scrutiny
The bill, which proposes to amend 183 provisions across 42 Acts administered by 19 ministries, was later referred to a 31-member joint committee of Parliament for scrutiny. The committee is required to submit its report to this House in the second part of the Budget session in 2023.
‘We have to trust people’
Introducing the bill, Goyal said that there are many laws in the country, under which punishment provisions are there for minor offences and for that people have to approach courts. “We have to trust people. For minor mistakes, people should not be penalised. For minor offences, there should be a provision for paying fines.”
About 1,500 old laws have been repealed, 39,000 compliances have been simplified and about 3,500 norms were introduced to decriminalise offences, the minister said. The proposed law, he said, “will also help in reducing the burden on judiciary”.
Besides the decriminalisation of minor offences, the bill envisages the rationalisation of monetary penalties, depending on the gravity of the offence and bolstering trust-based governance.
Don’t need antiquated laws
It added that India needs to shed the baggage of antiquated laws that adversely affect developmental trajectory. “The government is committed to make India the most preferred global investment destination by boosting investor confidence. The fear of imprisonment for minor offences is a major factor hampering the growth of the business ecosystem and individual confidence,” it said. Read more here.
Academy Awards: India has four entries, including one for “Chhello Show” for best international film and “Naatu Naatu” from the blockbuster “RRR” in the music (original song) categories, in the Oscars shortlist announced on Thursday. Besides the Gujarati film and the popular Telugu song, “All That Breathes” has made it to the documentary feature shortlist and “The Elephant Whisperers” in the documentary short category, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced. This is perhaps the first time India has made it to four Oscar shortlists, the stage before nominations, reported news agency PTI. The final nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced on January 24 and the final awards ceremony will take place on March 12 in Los Angeles.
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Written by: Rakesh Rai, Jayanta Kalita, Prabhash K Dutta, Abhishek Dey Research: Rajesh Sharma