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To boost India economy, Sitharaman announces 8 new schemes with health, tourism in focus

NEW DELHI, June 28: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday announced eight new schemes to give a boost to the sectors reeling under the Covid-19 induced restrictions. Under the news schemes, the Centre extended a federal guarantee on bank loans to healthcare sector while waiving visa fees for 500,000 foreign tourists to perk up tourism.

As per Sitharaman's announcement, the government will expand federal guarantees on loans to businesses to $60.7 billion. For the health sector, Sitharaman announced a guarantee of $14.8 billion dollars on loans for medical infrastructure.

The government also extended benefits from the free foodgrain programme for unprivileged people till November. For this Sitahraman announced 938.7 billion rupees, bringing the total cost of the programme to more than $30.5 billion.

For tourism, Sitharaman said once the visa issuance for international travel is restarted, the first five lakh (500 thousand) tourists will be issued visas free of charge. "The scheme would be applicable till March 31, 2022, or till 5 lakh visas are issued, whichever is earlier. This would incentivise short-term tourists visiting India," she said during the press briefing.

The government will also provide working capital or personal loans to people in the tourism sector to discharge liabilities or restart businesses impacted due to Covid-19.

"The focus is on new lending, and not repayment of old loans," she also said, adding, "all borrowers (including defaulters upto 89 days) are eligible for the scheme."

The announcement comes as comes as India’s states start lifting restrictions amid a decline in coronavirus infections after the country suffered the unprecedented Covid-19 surge.

Local restrictions imposed during the last months of April and May, have severely hit economic activities such as retail, transport and construction while putting millions out of work.

Drone Strike At An Indian Military Base, 2 Blasts At Jammu Airport

JAMMU, June 27: In what is believed to be the first use of drones in a terror attack on an Indian military facility, two blasts took place at the Air Force base in Jammu Airport in the early hours of Sunday.

Two Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel suffered minor injuries in the explosions that took place a little before 2 am at the high security airport located around 14 km from the border with Pakistan. Reports say the explosions, at 1.37 am and 1.43 am, were heard a km away.

One of the blasts caused damage to the roof of a building in the technical section while another bomb exploded in an open area.

"The attack at the IAF station in Jammu is a terror attack," said Jammu and Kashmir police chief Dilbag Singh.

An FIR has been registered under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act that allows the arrest of suspects and their detention for up to six months without evidence. The National Investigation Agency has taken over the probe.

Teams from the IAF, the National Bomb Data Centre, forensic experts and the Jammu and Kashmir police are also investigating the attack.

The police chief said another major strike was averted when a terrorist, believed to be working for the Pakistan-based outfit Lashker-e-Taiba, was arrested with an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) that was to be used for a strike "in a crowded place". The arrest is not linked to the airport attack, Dilbagh Singh said.

"Drones with payload were used in both the blasts at Jammu airfield. Another crude bomb was found by the Jammu police. This IED was received by a Lashkar e Taiba operative and was to be planted at some crowded place," said Singh.

The Jammu airport is a dual use facility under IAF control, also used to operate passenger flights. Jammu Airport director Pravat Ranjan Beuria said there was no disruption in flights.

There have been reports over the past two years of Pakistan using drones to drop weapons across the border.

The first incident emerged in August 2019 in Punjab when a crashed drone was found in a village in Amritsar.

In September, terrorists arrested by security forces allegedly revealed that drugs and weapons were dropped in Punjab in eight drone sorties.

In June 20 last year, the Border Security Force (BSF) shot down a suspected spy drone in the Kathua district of Jammu. The very next month, a network of tunnels from across the border were revealed in Jammu.

In September, the Jammu and Kashmir police found weapons dropped from drones at a village in Akhnoor, also in Jammu. Three militants who had received weapons through such drops were arrested.

Prodded By Supreme Court, Centre Presents Covid Vaccination Roadmap

NEW DELHI, June 26: The Centre on Saturday told the Supreme Court that it expects to get around 188 crore vaccine doses - from at least five manufacturers - to inoculate the entire adult population by the end of the year. Only about 5.6 per cent of India's adult population has received two doses, according to the government.

"Total population - above 18 years of age - is approximately 93-94 crore. As such, administering two doses to these beneficiaries would require an estimated 186 to 188 crore vaccine doses. Out of this requirement, 51.6 crore doses will be made available for administration by July 31, leaving a requirement of approximately 135 crore vaccine doses for complete vaccination to the eligible population," the Centre said in an affidavit filed by Manohar Agnani, Additional Secretary, Health Ministry.

In its 375-page affidavit - filed in response to the Supreme Court's pointed questions on its vaccine policy, the centre presented a roadmap on how it plans to procure the remaining 135 crore doses.

"Sputnik V vaccine, developed by M/s Gamaleya Institute, Russia has received Emergency Use Authorization by the DCGI in April 2021 and is now being administered in India," it said.

In addition, vaccines from domestic pharmaceutical companies Biological E and Zydus Cadila are in the late stages of clinical trials and subject to regulatory approvals, it said. Zydus Cadila is working on a vaccine for 12-18 years of age and a vaccine for the age group will be available soon, the government said.

Walk-in vaccinations have been allowed for all ages and the digital divide is not a constraint for access to vaccines anymore, it added.

"Till June 25, 31 crore vaccine doses have been administrated across the country. COWIN platform registration is not mandatory, people in rural areas can visit the nearest vaccination centre go get vaccinated," it said.

About 56.24 per cent of the rural population have taken the jabs, it said.

Calling its vaccination policy dynamic and not static, the centre said COVID-19 shots are now free for all above 18 years under the new policy in effect since June 21.

The 375-page government affidavit was presented to the court in response to the Supreme Court's pointed questions on its vaccine policy.

In a sharply worded order earlier this month, the top court had said that the centre's policy of paid vaccination for those between 18 and 44 was "arbitrary and irrational".

The Supreme Court will examine the affidavit on June 30.

Restore statehood, if you want elections in J&K: Omar Abdullah

NEW DELHI, June 26: Former J&K chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on Saturday said the political parties of J&K conveyed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah that they want the restoration of statehood to J&K to happen first. Any other timeline is not acceptable, Omar Abdullah said.

"Azad sa'ab (Ghulam Nabi Azad) had spoken on behalf of all of us that we don't accept this timeline. We don't accept delimitation, election, statehood. We want delimitation, statehood and then the election. If you want to hold polls, you will have to restore statehood first," he said.

After the cordial meeting between J&K leaders --- many of whom were imprisoned for a long time after August 2029 -- and PM, People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti said her party won't fight elections until Article 370 and 35A are restored.

Echoing the same demand, the National Conference leader on Saturday said this is a demand of all the political parties in J&K. "Not only Mehbooba Mufti but Farooq sa'ab also said that it took 70 years for BJP to succeed in their agenda of abrogation of Article 370. We won't back off from our mission, even if it takes us 70 weeks or 70 months or more time," Omar Abdullah said.

For the first time after the Union government scrapped Article 370 on August 5, 2019, and bifurcated the state into two Union territories, Jammu and Kashmir leaders were invited to Delhi for a meeting with Modi and home minister Amit Shah.

Several issues, including elections, delimitation and the restoration of statehood, were discussed in the meeting. Modi and Amit Shah assured the J&K leaders that the Centre is committed to restoring statehood to J&K as the leaders conveyed to them that people were not happy. As PM Modi stressed bridging the gap between Dil (heart)/Dilli (Delhi) and J&K, he said delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that elections can occur.

After the meeting, now National Conference and People's Democratic Paty have raised question over the government's will to restore statehood to J&K. While Mehbooba Mufti said her party won't take part in elections if elections are held before J&K is given back its statehood, Omar Abdullah on Friday said it is foolish to expect the restoration of statehood from this government.

On 'Digital Divide', Chief Justice Of India Writes To Law Minister

NEW DELHI, June 26: Chief Justice of India NV Ramana has written to Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad seeking steps to resolve the poor digital connectivity in rural, tribal, remote and hilly areas that is "adversely impacting the pace of justice delivery".

The CJI referred to the digital divide and said that "a whole generation of lawyers is being pushed out of the system" due to the technological inequality.

He was speaking during the release of a book, "Anomalies in Law and Justice", authored by former Supreme Court Judge Justice R V Raveendran in a virtual function here.

During the course of the panel discussion that followed the launch of the book, he informed that the matter of connectivity figured prominently in the two-day conference of chief justices of high courts that he had held recently.

"The poor connectivity in rural, tribal, remote and hilly areas is adversely impacting the pace of justice delivery and is also depriving thousands of young lawyers across the country of their livelihood.

"A whole generation of lawyers is being pushed out of the system due to digital divide," the CJI said.

Justice Ramana also said that he recently wrote to the minister of Law, Communications and IT highlighting these issues and requested him to initiate steps on priority to bridge the digital divide and also to evolve a mechanism to help the advocates who have lost livelihood due to the Covid pandemic and who are in dire need of financial assistance.

The CJI also highlighted the need to declare the legal professionals and associated functionaries as frontline workers and the need to vaccinate them all on priority.

J&K To Become State Again 'At Right Time': PM

NEW DELHI, June 24: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a 3-hour meeting with political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir today, spoke about removing "Dilli ki Doori as well as Dil Ki Doori" and assured his commitment to restoring full statehood at the right time.

Fourteen mainstream Jammu and Kashmir leaders from eight political parties, including four Chief Ministers, attended the three-hour meeting aimed at getting the political process back on course in the region after it lost its special status under Article 370 of the Constitution in 2019 and was downgraded from a state to two Union Territories - Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Modi, say sources, said statehood would be restored "at an appropriate time" but urged the parties to get on board with delimitation or the redrawing of assembly constituencies to enable elections. Elections can happen soon after delimitation, it was said, and "most participants expressed willingness for it", said sources.

"The main focus of the meeting was to strengthen the democratic process. PM said that we are fully committed to the democratic process in J&K. He stressed that the holding assembly elections just like the successful District Development Council elections is a priority," government sources said.

Former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah of the National Conference met with Modi last on August 1, 2019. They were stunned when three days later on August 4, they were detained and hours later, the abrogation of Article 370 was announced in parliament.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while announcing the colossal move in parliament, had said that full statehood would be "restored at an appropriate time". After today's meeting, Shah tweeted: "The future of Jammu and Kashmir was discussed and the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in parliament."

Omar Abdullah, however, told reporters that "almost all leaders" were unhappy with delimitation only in Jammu and Kashmir. "In other states, delimitation will be taken up in 2026, why has been Jammu and Kashmir been singled out? We told the PM delimitation is not needed," said the former Chief Minister, adding that "trust has broken between the Centre and Kashmir".

The seven-party Gupkar alliance led by Farooq Abdullah and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, accorded front row status with the PM in photos of the meet, pressed for restoration of full statehood and special status. "We will struggle for 370, be it months or years. We didn't get this (special status) from Pakistan, but from India, Nehru. There can be no compromise on this," Ms Mufti said after the meeting.

The Prime Minister, said sources, "patiently heard suggestions and inputs from all participants" and expressed happiness that all participants shared their frank and honest views. "It was an open discussion which revolved around building a better future for Kashmir," they said.

This was the Centre's first major outreach since August 2019 towards political leaders who have been severely critical of the Article 370 decision. Many of the leaders attending the meeting had been detained as part of security measures to prevent any protests over the sweeping changes.

At the meeting, it was also decided that the Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha would set up a committee to review cases of political prisoners, be it those released - like the Abdullahs and Ms Mufti - and those still in detention.

India vaccinates over 8 million people in one day

NEW DELHI, June 21: The first day of the Centre’s new vaccine policy turned out to be a blockbuster vaccination day for India as the country administered 80.96 lakh jabs as of 8 pm on Monday — almost double the earlier highest mark of 43 lakh recorded in early April.

As per data released on the CoWin website, the highest daily vaccinations have been carried out by Madhya Pradesh with 13.71 lakh inoculations followed by Karnataka with 9.82 lakh vaccinations. Uttar Pradesh is ranked third with 5.84 lakh vaccinations followed by Gujarat and Haryana with 4.86 lakh and 4.5 lakh vaccinations respectively.

As per reports, this high vaccination figure is a result of the new Centre driven free vaccination policy which kicked-off from today. India's earlier highest single day vaccination mark was 43 lakh which was achieved in early April.

India logged 53,256 new coronavirus infections, the lowest in 88 days, taking the total tally of COVID-19 cases to 2,99,35,221, while the active cases further reduced to 7,02,887, according to the Union Health Ministry data.

Recoveries continue to outnumber daily new cases for the 39th consecutive day.The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 2,88,44,199, while the case fatality rate has increased to 1.30 per cent, the data stated.

Twitter Officials Appear Before Shashi Tharoor-Led Parliamentary Panel

NEW DELHI, June 18: Twitter representatives on Friday appeared before a parliamentary panel that had called the social media giant to discuss the issue of safeguarding citizens' rights and preventing misuse of online platforms.

The parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, heard their views on the subject.

Top officials of Twitter are being called at a time when the government has clashed with the American social media giant over a range of issues including its stand on the new IT rules.

Twitter also faces charges, including inciting communal hate, over posts on an assault on a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad on June 5. On Wednesday, Twitter, several journalists and Congress leaders were named in an FIR in Ghaziabad over "provoking communal sentiments" with posts sharing the elderly man's allegations.

Government sources said Twitter "has lost the legal shield" as it failed to comply with the new IT rules. Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Twitter was given "multiple opportunities to comply" but it chose the path of "deliberate defiance".

Uttar Pradesh Police has now sent a legal notice to Twitter's India head for "provoking communal unrest" and has asked him to report to a police station near the Delhi border and record his statement within seven days, according to news agency ANI.

Last month, Manish Maheshwari, Managing Director of Twitter in India, was questioned by Delhi Police last in a case involving an alleged "Congress toolkit", sources said.

On Galwan clash anniversary, Sonia Gandhi wants Govt to take nation into confidence

NEW DELHI, June 15: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday attacked the government over a lack of clarity on the killing of 20 Indian soldiers in a clash with Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15 last year. An undisclosed number of Chinese troops were also killed in the first such clash between Indian and Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in over five decades.

“Having patiently waited for the government to come clean and inform the nation about the circumstances in which the unprecedented incident happened and reassure the people that the sacrifice of our brave jawans was not in vain, the Congress Party reiterates its concern that no clarity is yet available and the Prime Minister’s last word on the subject a year ago was that no transgression had occurred,” said Gandhi in a statement.

She added the Congress has repeatedly sought information on the episode and details on what progress has been made to return to the status quo ante along the LAC. Gandhi said the disengagement agreement with China has proved to be a disadvantage to India. She urged the government to take the nation into confidence and ensure their performance is worthy of the commitment of the soldiers standing bravely and resolutely at the borders.

There was no immediate response to Gandhi’s comments from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or the government.

Rahul Gandhi’s words carry weight, several of his demands implemented later: Shiv Sena

MUMBAI, June 8: Terming Rahul Gandhi’s words to be “factually correct”, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut told reporters on Tuesday that most of the demands of the Congress leader were eventually implemented by the Union government.

"Many things said by Rahul Gandhi in the past were factually correct. Not just that, several of his demands were later implemented by the Union government,” said Raut.

Raut also said that Gandhi’s words carry “weight” no matter what he is talking about.

"Whether he was speaking about vaccination or coronavirus, his comments are true. His words carry weight," he added.

Modi announces free vaccine for all from June 21

NEW DELHI, June 7: Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced today that the Centre would provide vaccines free of charge to all above 18 from June 21 and would take back control of vaccination from states, reversing a policy change that was enforced just about a month ago.

"The Centre is taking back total control of vaccination now. It will take over the 25 per cent doses assigned to states and this will be implemented in the next two weeks. From June 21 (International Day of Yoga), the Centre will provide free vaccines to states," Modi announced in an address to the nation, in which he parried criticism of his government's policy and a slow rollout that has covered less than five per cent of the population.

"Whether it is the poor, the lower middle class, the middle class, or the upper middle class, under the central government programme, everyone will get free vaccines," the Prime Minister said.

The Centre will buy 75 per cent of the vaccines produced by companies, including 25 per cent assigned to states. Private hospitals will continue to buy the remaining 25 per cent and inoculate those willing to pay for their jabs. They can't, however, charge more than ₹ 150 as service charge per dose over the fixed price of the vaccine, the PM said.

"75% of vaccination will be free and under the Centre, 25% will be paid and by private hospitals," he said.

Under the earlier policy, the central government gave free vaccines to those above 45 and frontline workers, and left state governments and private hospitals to administer doses at a cost to people between 18 and 44. States were also providing free shots to this group.

In a speech that took on critics, Modi put out an emphatic defence of his vaccine policy, which has come under opposition attack and was last week questioned by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court had on June 2 called the policy of free vaccines for people who are above 45 and paid doses for the 18-44 group "arbitrary and irrational". The court had asked the centre to review its policy and "place on record a roadmap of projected availability of vaccines till 31 December 2021". The Centre was asked to furnish complete details on its vaccination policy, including all documents and file notings.

Government sources, however, said the plan for centralised free vaccination was presented to Modi on June 1 - a day before the Supreme Court comments - and that he had given an in-principle approval in the meeting, after which ground work began.

The Prime Minister sought to point out that the vaccine drive was decentralized because states had complained about disparities. "Many states demanded vaccinations to be decentralized. Some voices even questioned prioritising certain age groups, including the elderly," he said.

States had complained about having to buy doses at higher prices compared to what the Centre paid vaccine makers. Chief Ministers like Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi) had demanded that the Centre buy doses and provide them to states free of cost.

India's vaccine policy had been a success because of "good intentions and clear policy", Modi asserted, comparing his government's performance on that score to its predecessors.

"In 2014, India had 60% vaccine coverage, we managed to take it past 90% during our term," PM Modi said.

He said India's fight against the second wave of the coronavirus was on. "Against an unseen, ever-changing enemy, our biggest weapon is maintaining Covid protocol like masks and distancing. Vaccines are our shield," he said.

"If we did not have a made-in-India vaccine, can you imagine what would have happened in a country like India?"

He pointed out that earlier, India would take decades to get vaccines from abroad. "The pace at which it was going, it would take 40 years for 100 per cent coverage," he said.

Seven companies are producing various vaccines against the coronavirus and the trial of three more vaccines is at an advanced stage, the Prime Minister explained, addressing concerns that India may fall short of doses for its goal of vaccinating all by the year-end.

Modi said research is ongoing on a nasal spray vaccine which, if successful, can significantly boost India's vaccination drive.

Under the new "liberalized" policy that came into effect on May 1, states and private hospitals were allowed to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers. At the same time, the Centre opened vaccinations to all adults and said it would continue to offer free inoculations for those above 45.

18 Dead In Fire At Pune Sanitiser Firm

PUNE, June 7: At least eighteen employees of a chemical factory in Maharashtra's Pune have died and several are missing as a massive fire broke out in the sanitiser-manufacturing unit of the firm on Monday.

At least six fire engines were rushed to the plant of SVS Aqua Technologies in Pune.

The local fire department said that 37 employees had been working inside the unit when the fire broke out; 20 of them were rescued.

In visuals, a thick plume of black smoke is seen over the campus of the sanitiser firm. People run towards safety near the gate, while others stand still to watch the fire.

The fire started during packing of plastic materials in the premises, the fire department said.

"Due to some spark at the (packaging) section, the fire broke out and as there was plastic around, so it spread rapidly," said an official.

The fire is now under control and search for the missing workers is underway, officials said.

Centre revises vaccine rules for those going abroad for education, jobs, Tokyo Olympics

NEW DELHI, June 7: Students and those travelling abroad for jobs or as part of the Indian contingent for Tokyo Olympic Games can take the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Covishield after 28 days, the Centre said on Monday.

As per the revised rules, the facility will be available to those who need to undertake international travel for the specified purposes till August 31 this year, and the mention of the vaccine type as “Covishield” is sufficient and “no other qualifying entries are required,” the Health Ministry said in a statement.

While the States and Union Territories will designate a competent authority in each district for permission for such administration of second dose of Covishield, the order states that CoWIN certificates will be linked to the passports of such travellers.

At present, based on the recommendations of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC), the schedule of the Covishield vaccine is to administer the second dose at 12-16 weeks interval (i.e. after 84 days), after the administration of first dose.

The Ministry said the CoWIN system would soon provide the facility for the administration of second dose in such exceptional cases.

The Ministry said it was advised that vaccination might be availed of in such cases through passport, which was one of the permissible ID documents as per the current guidelines, so that the passport number was printed in the certificate. If passport was not used at the time of administration of the first dose, the details of the photo ID card used for vaccination would be printed in the vaccination certificate and mention of the passport in the vaccination certificate was not to be insisted upon.

“Wherever necessary, the competent authority may issue another certificate linking the vaccination certificate with the passport number of the beneficiary,” said the Ministry.

The Ministry has issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) in this regard and the States and Union Territories have been advised to widely publicise and take all necessary measures to immediately implement them, said the statement. It said the change had been brought to provide full coverage of vaccination and facilitate international travel.

Delhi Unlock 2.0: Metro, malls, shops to open from Monday

NEW DELHI, June 5: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday announced that markets will re-open in the national capital and metro services will be resumed from Monday with conditions.

"Lockdown will continue with more relaxation in other activities. Shops in markets and malls to be opened on an odd-even basis from Monday. The shops will be allowed to open from 10 am to 8 pm. The private offices will be allowed to function with 50 percent staff," Kejriwal said.

"In government offices, Group A staff will be allowed to function with 100 per cent capacity while group B with 50 per cent staff. Delhi Metro to resume services with 50 per cent capacity," said the chief minister.

Kejriwal informed a team of doctors and experts will be set up to examine the demand of medicines to tackle the WhatsApp forwards of medicines.

On preparation against potential third wave of COVID-19, the chief minister said, "We are making arrangements considering a peak of 37,000 cases in mind. A pediatric task force has been made. A storage capacity of 420 tonnes of oxygen is being created. Indraprastha Gas Limited has been asked to set up a plant to produce 150 tonnes of oxygen. 25 oxygen tankers are being brought. 64 small oxygen plants are being established. Buffer stocks of potential medicines will be made."

Kejriwal said two genome sequencing laboratories will be set up for the detection of new variants.

With a dip seen in active COVID-19 cases, Delhi had begun the unlocking process from May 31 with factories and the construction sector resuming operations.

Firm In Malta Wants To Supply 60 Million Doses Of Sputnik V, Says Haryana

CHANDIGARH, June 5: A company in Malta has expressed interest to supply up to 60 million doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V to Haryana directly, the state government said today.

Pharma Regulatory Services Ltd, whose headquarters is in the European nation, has given an "expression of Interest" but did not bid for a contract yet, the state government said in a statement.

The foreign company offered to sell the vaccine at ₹ 1,120 per dose.

"As per the offer made by the firm, the per dose cost of the vaccine will be nearly ₹ 1,120. The firm has further given a timeline of 30 days to supply the first batch of 5 lakh doses, followed by 1 million doses every 20 days till supply is completed against a letter of credit issued in their name," the state government said in the statement.

The Haryana Medical Services Corporation Ltd (HMSCL) launched a global tender on May 26 inviting pharma firms to supply vaccines directly. The tender closed yesterday after no bid was received. The Maltese firm also did not meet the deadline in sending its expression of interest.

However, the state government is going through the expression of interest "carefully", even though the offer came after the tender ended, to check whether it meets the conditions mentioned in the tender, Haryana Additional Chief Secretary of Health Rajeev Arora said in the statement. Arora said the objective is to ensure the state has a smooth supply of vaccines.

"Although no bid was received in the tender but an international pharma company with its headquarters in Malta namely Pharma Regulatory Services Limited has given an expression of Interest to HMSCL to provide up to 60 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine manufactured by Gamaleya Institute and Russian Direct Investment," the Haryana government said in the statement.

Sputnik V is one of the three vaccines approved by the drugs regulator in India.

The first dose of Sputnik V was administered in Hyderabad on May 14 as part of a soft launch by Dr Reddy's Laboratories. The Russian jab has now been registered for use in more than 65 countries but has yet to be approved by the EU or US health authorities.

Russia registered with its drugs regulator Sputnik - named after the Soviet era satellite - in August last year ahead of large-scale clinical trials. Trial results published in the medical journal The Lancet said that with two doses, it is more than 90 per cent effective in symptomatic cases.

Editors Guild welcomes SC judgment on sedition case against journalist Vinod Dua

NEW DELHI, June 4: A day after the Supreme Court quashed a sedition case lodged in Himachal Pradesh against journalist Vinod Dua while stressing that “a citizen has the right to criticise or comment upon the measures undertaken by a government”, the Editors Guild of India welcomed the judgment.

Saying the judgment “underlines the importance of protecting journalists from sedition cases”, the Guild appreciated the apex court’s concerns over the “chilling effect that sedition laws have on free media and democracy”.

“While the reference to the earlier judgment of Justice Kedar Nath Singh and the need to protect journalists from sedition charges is welcomed, the manner in which such laws are implemented by law enforcement authorities in different parts of the country, leading to pre-trial incarceration, needs further intervention by the apex court,” the Guild said in a statement.

It added, “The Guild demands repeal of these draconian and antiquated laws that find no space in any modern liberal democracy.”

The Himachal Pradesh police had registered an FIR against Dua for sedition, public mischief and other offences over the contents of a talk show broadcast on YouTube last year.

The FIR was registered on a complaint filed by Ajay Shyam, a local BJP leader, that Dua “had asserted that the Prime Minister used deaths and terror attacks to garner votes and that the Prime Minister garnered votes through acts of terrorism” in the Hindi talk show uploaded on March 30, 2020.

A bench of Justices U U Lalit and Vineet Saran said every journalist is entitled to protection specified under the Supreme Court’s 1962 judgment in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State Of Bihar case.

The bench ruled that “every journalist will be entitled to protection in terms of Kedar Nath Singh, as every prosecution under Sections 124A (sedition) and 505 (public mischief) of the IPC must be in strict conformity with the scope and ambit of said sections as explained in, and completely in tune with the law laid down in Kedar Nath Singh”.

Kerala Tops Again, Bihar Last In NITI Aayog Sustainable Development Index

NEW DELHI, June 6: Kerala has retained the top rank in NITI Aayog's Sustainable Development Goals India Index 2020-21, while Bihar has been adjudged as the worst performer, according to a report released today.

The Index for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) evaluates progress of states and union territories on social, economic and environmental parameters.

Kerala retained its rank as the top state with a score of 75. Both Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu took the second spot with a score of 74.

Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam were the worst performing states in this year's India index.

The third rendition of India's SDG Index was launched by NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar on Thursday.

Further, Chandigarh maintained its top spot among the UTs with a score of 79, followed by Delhi (68).

Mizoram, Haryana and Uttarakhand are the top gainers in 2020-21 in terms of improvement in score from 2019, with an increase of 12, 10 and 8 points, respectively.

While in 2019, 10 states/UTs belonged to the category of front-runners (score in the range 65-99, including both), 12 more states/UTs find themselves in this category in 2020-21.

Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Punjab, Haryana, Tripura, Delhi, Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh graduated to the category of front-runners (scores between 65 and 99, including both).

The country's overall SDG score improved by 6 points - from 60 in 2019 to 66 in 2020-21. This positive stride towards achieving the targets is largely driven by exemplary country-wide performance in goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) and goal 7 (affordable and clean energy), where the composite goal scores are 83 and 92, respectively.

Our effort of monitoring SDGs through the SDG India Index and Dashboard continues to be widely noticed and applauded around the world. It remains a rare data-driven initiative to rank our states and union territories by computing a composite index on the SDGs, Mr Kumar said.

NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said, The report reflects on the partnerships we have built and strengthened during our SDG efforts. The narrative throws light on how collaborative initiatives can result in better outcomes and greater impacts.

On the theme of partnerships which is central to goal 17, NITI Aayog Member (Health) VK Paul said, It is clear that by working together we can build a more resilient and sustainable future, where no one is left behind.

First launched in December 2018, the index has become the primary tool for monitoring progress on the SDGs in the country and has simultaneously fostered competition among the states and union territories by ranking them on the global goals.

The index, developed in collaboration with the United Nations in India, measures the progress at the national and sub-national level in the country's journey towards meeting the global goals and targets and has been successful as an advocacy tool to propagate the messages of sustainability, resilience, and partnerships, as well.

From covering 13 goals, 39 targets, and 62 indicators in the first edition in 2018-19 to 17 goals, 54 targets and 100 indicators in the second; this third edition of the index covers 17 goals, 70 targets, and 115 indicators.

The sustainable development goals, constituted through an unprecedented consultative process, have 17 goals and 169 related targets to be achieved by 2030.

The goals are an ambitious commitment by world leaders which set out a universal and an unprecedented agenda which embraces economic, environmental and social aspects of the well-being of societies.

Second wave rendered 1 crore Indians jobless; 97% households’ incomes declined in pandemic: CMIE

MUMBAI, June 1: Over 10 million Indians have lost their jobs because of the second wave of COVID-19, and around 97 per cent of households’ incomes have declined since the beginning of the pandemic last year, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) chief executive Mahesh Vyas said on Monday.

The unemployment rate measured by the think-tank is expected to come at 12 per cent at the end of May as against 8 per cent in April, Vyas said, adding this signifies that about 10 million or 1 crore Indians have lost jobs in this period.

Stating that the main reason for the job losses is “mainly the second wave” of COVID-19 infections, Vyas said, “As the economy opens up, part of the problem will be solved but not entirely.”

He explained that people who lose jobs find it hard to get employment, specifying that while the informal sector jobs come back quickly, the formal sector and better quality job opportunities take up to a year to come back.

Unemployment rate had touched a record high of 23.5 per cent in May 2020 because of the national lockdown. Many experts opine that the second wave of infections has peaked and states will slowly start to ease the economic activity-impacting restrictions in a calibrated fashion.

Vyas further said an unemployment rate of 3-4 per cent should be considered as “normal” for the Indian economy, hinting that the unemployment number will have to decline for longer before the situation improves.

He said CMIE has completed a nation-wide survey of 1.75 lakh households in April which throws up worrying trends on income generation during the last one year — which has witnessed two waves of the pandemic.

Only 3 per cent of those polled said they have witnessed an increase in incomes, while 55 per cent said their incomes have declined, he said.

An additional 42 per cent of the people said their incomes remained the same as that in the year-ago period.

“If we adjust for inflation, we find that 97 per cent of the households in the country have witnessed a decline in incomes during the pandemic,” he pointed out.

The labour participation rate, or the percentage of the working age population which is in the market, has come down to 40 per cent as of now from the pre-pandemic levels of 42.5 per cent, he added.



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