Covid is a global challenge; only way to address this is to act together: EU envoy - The Daily Guardian
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Covid is a global challenge; only way to address this is to act together: EU envoy

Megha Sharma



Given the global challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the international partnerships required to face them, Ugo Astuto, the EU Ambassador to India, spoke in an interview about the EU’s civil protection mechanism providing help to India, what lessons can be learn from the EU regarding Covid management, and whether the TRIPS waiver can provide a relevant opportunity during the crisis. Excerpts:

Q: First of all, congratulations and gratitude for the much-needed aid that had and has been pouring from the 27-nation European Union.

A: Thank you very much. We are trying to reciprocate and to help as much as we can, just like India helped us in the past few months when it exported the medic events and vaccines all around the world. We have set in motion what we call European civil protection mechanism, a mechanism to coordinate help from all of the 27 member states in case of need.

Q: There have been funds that have been allocated separately that have been provided to the WTO to go ahead and help India. In the grants format there’s another set of funds that have been segregated. Please tell us more about them.

A: It’s a coordination mechanism. So, this is the civil protection authorities of the 27 member states coming together and seeing how best they can pull the capacities and resources in order to avoid duplication and optimise support, and the mechanism itself can help with logistics and funding of transport. So far we have had the support in kind coming from member states for an amount of around 100 million euros which makes it probably one of the largest operations so far. We have had flights coming and landing in Delhi for the past week or so from Romania, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy. Now we see more coming from the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic and Spain. This is a very robust and massive contribution from a number of member states and as we speak others are joining in. The European Commission has also mobilised 2.2 million euros in emergency funding and to respond to Covid, for instance, to strengthen testing capacity. But that’s separate to European civil protection mechanisms.

Q: At the recently held summit between India and the EU, the French President came out in support of India and said that India does not require lectures when it comes to the vaccination programme and the help that it has provided to various nations. What is the message that the EU would like to give to other nations?

A: As you say, at the Leaders’ Summit, we were on the same page, where all 27 member states recognised the extraordinary effort made by Indians in the past few months in exporting vaccines. And I can say that the same has been done with the European Union. We started from the same proposition here that we want the response to this global crisis to be based on solidarity and the European Union has exported almost as many doses as it has used domestically so we believe it’s important that we follow the same example and allow the export of vaccines and not disrupt supply chains.

Q: What lessons could be learned by India in view of all the programmes and vaccination drives being carried forth in the EU?

A: Well, I don’t know whether there are lessons to be learnt. I think we are learning by doing all this together in the international community, facing the successive ways of the virus in the European Union. Europe was in a pretty bad situation until recently. Now it’s the time of India, unfortunately. So we are all, unfortunately, facing unforeseen circumstances. In the EU, we took important decisions at the very outset to procure the vaccines together. I think that was a turning point in our reaction and you could ensure that the response when it came to the procurement of vaccines was cohesive and coherent. You could negotiate good terms with the pharma company. We procured from a number of potential suppliers. We have run into some difficulties with one supplier but others have come up. At this stage, I can say that the roll-out of the vaccines all over the 27 member states is proceeding smoothly.

Q: In the wake of China facing a lot of criticism from a number of European nations, the US and Asian nations, could there be an opportunity lurking here for India to be an important source point for the 5G roll-out in the future for the EU?

A: As open societies and democracies we start from the same starting point from the same assumptions because we want the digital transition to be taking place in an environment which is competitive, which fosters innovation but also that respects our democratic setting, human rights and individual freedoms, privacy. So, we want the digital transition to take place in a secure context. So, the challenges are very similar that we face in Europe and India. That’s why we believe that the conversations around these challenges are particularly open to us. When it comes to data protection, India is in the process of passing its own set of regulations. In Europe, we did a couple of years ago, which is the first of its kind, so inevitably it’s sort of a parameter and has set some criteria which is of interest also to India on the security of networks. The roll-out of 5G is something we are both looking into in the EU and in India and we are both concerned about the security of this network. In the EU, we have set up a toolkit meant to establish objective criteria to identify secure providers which do not pose a risk to the security of our network and the privacy of our citizens. These criteria are of some interest to India and it’s a topical subject that we have already touched on without Indian interlocutors. The digital transition has a number of other aspects of interest, the development of artificial intelligence, for instance. The commonality of the challenges and the intention to face them is challenging. Starting from a human-centric vision, we want a digital transition which meets the expectations and needs of our citizens.

Q: Recently, the issue of the intellectual property waiver, which has been proposed by India and South Africa and gotten cognizance from the US; what is the stand of the EU on this?

A: These are important topics to discuss and we are ready to discuss them but we should also be aware of the fact that these are topics for the short-term or even for the immediate time. What we should do is to not lose sight of the urgency. As quickly as possible, I will ensure that these boxes are fairly distributed around the globe. The EU has exported vaccines for around 200 million dollars. India has also been a major exporter of vaccines. It’s important that other players follow this example and allow the export of vaccines. We need to increase production and support the vaccination roll-out internationally. That’s why the EU has been, since the beginning, a strong supporter and leading voice behind the creation of COVAX, which is meant for all those who need vaccines, irrespective of where they live. We are one of the major contributors, with 2.2 billion. In short, the priority now is to ramp up production of vaccines and make them available to all those in need.

Q: Do you think the TRIPS waiver is going to help developing nations, including India, ramp up the production of vaccines and other allied medical treatments?

A: In our view, that’s not the key matter. What we try to do is to ramp up production and help the international community roll-out vaccines, which is universal because we are all in this together. So we need to have vaccinations all around the world, not just in one region or another. So we definitely believe that’s a major objective for the international community to pursue.

Q: Why has the US already gone ahead and showcased its support for the waiver? The EU has raised objections, demanding the US administration to lift off the duties on the number of medical exports that it brings about in the entire world. Your comment.

A: It’s a matter of priorities. What is most necessary is to ramp up production and we believe that unimpeded supply chains are one of the key factors now.

Q: Before I let you go, Ambassador, one message that you would like to give to Indians and the entire mankind fighting this menace? 

A: It is a global challenge and the only way to address this is to act together.

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BK Tripathy General Manager Helicopter Division HAL and OK Dabidin Secretary of Home Affairs Prime Ministers Office Government of Mauritius signing the contract



Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has signed a contract with the Government of Mauritius for export of one Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH Mk III) which will be used by Mauritius Police Force.

The Government of Mauritius already operates HAL built ALH and Do-228 aircraft. “With this contract, HAL and Government of Mauritius have further strengthened the long standing business relations spanning over three decades,” HAL said in a statement. The agreement is in line with the Government of India’s vision to boost defence exports to friendly foreign countries.

The contract was signed by BK Tripathy, General Manager, Helicopter Division-HAL and OK Dabidin, Secretary of Home Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office, Government of Mauritius recently at HAL’s Transport Aircraft Division, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.

The ALH Mk III is a multi-role, multi-mission versatile helicopter in 5.5 tonne category. It has proven its mettle in various utility role including numerous lifesaving missions during natural calamities in India and abroad.

More than 335 ALHs have been produced till date logging around 340,000 cumulative flying hours. HAL also ensures technical assistance and product support to the customer to ensure healthy serviceability of the helicopter, the statement said.

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Dream come true: Akashdeep Sengupta on composing Sooryavanshi’s Mere Yaara

In this exclusive interview as part of NewsX India A-List, Akashdeep Sengupta opened up about composing a song for Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif starrer Sooryavanshi.



Music composer Akashdeep Sengupta joined NewsX for a candid chat as part of NewsX India A-List. In the exclusive conversation, Akashdeep opened up about composing a song for Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif starrer Sooryavanshi, his journey till now and much more.

Talking about composing the song, ‘Mere Yaara’ in Sooryavanshi, Akashdeep expressed, “It is a dream come true to be a part of such a big production, such a big casting, working with the likes of Karan Johar, Dharma Productions, Akshay Kumar, Rohit Shetty and such a big franchise. It is a dream come true. It is a lovely song. We always had that trust. Me, Kaushik and Guddu, they are my fellow composers in the song. It is a dream come true for me to compose such a track for them. It took some time for this song to come out but eventually it has.”

When asked how did he bag the project, Akashdeep shared, “It was something that completely happened because of Azeem Dayani. Azeem is the music supervisor for Dharma films. He supervises all the films for Dharma music. He had immense faith in the song and in us. He took this song a long time back. It was with him since 2017-18. He tried to put the best film with the best cast and the best people. He got it in Sooryavanshi.”

Talking about the response to song, Akashdeep said, “I am simply overwhelmed. It is a dream come true. Before this, it never happened but now that the song is out, people have messaged and congratulated me and my team. We have all been benefitted a lot from this song and people have really loved it. They have really welcomed us in the industry as music directors.”

On composing music for Amazon Prime’s Sherni and Modern Love, Akashdeep shared, “These projects came to me out of the blue. Aniket, who is the head of Amazon’s music studio originals, called me one day and he told me that he was interested in my profile and he wanted me to supervise music. I have been associated with Pritam Da for a long period of time as a assistant to him. I have been vocally supervising his songs, like dubbing singers and all. From there, he got to know about me and he called me up. I gave them some ideas of mine. Sherni happened. I supervised the title track of Sherni, got all the artists together like Raftaar, Utkarsh, Akasa. For Modern Love, it happened the same way. There was already a song called Setting Sail. He made the Hindi official cover for it. I got Zaedan and Lisa Mishra onboard for that song. It is pretty much like you recruit the right artist, you choose the correct melody and you try to give a superb soundtrack to the audience. That’s how supervision works.”

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Daler Mehndi, the star of the original Green Screen technology revolution in Indian music back in 1998, is all set to present the nation with its first Metaverse concert on Republic Day. His fans can expect to have an unforgettable experience at, where they will be able to view his avatar in a larger than life virtual concert.

While it might not seem like a big deal at first glance, it is fairly important anyone who takes part in this online concert will have the chance to be more immersed than watching a live-streamed video. Instead you will be able to attend the concert as yourself in an exotic metaverse landscape as your customized avatar so you can groove with Daler Mehndi. From your mobile or PC, you can take part in this experience at home or wherever you are, on your own terms and invite friends along too. Daler Mehndi will be performing his evergreen hit albums, like Namoh Namoh, India India & Jago India! Dedicating an exclusive and first special performance to Shri Narendra Modi on this special occasion, Mr. Mehndi is all ready for what promises to be an unforgettable experience geared up to entertain thousands of fans all eager to let loose at ‘PartyNite!’

Selected NFTs will also be dropped during this event. Daler Mehndi’s deep ties to Indian soil made it the perfect choice for PartyNite to showcase its Indian Metaverse. Gamitronics, a Hyderabad-based game studio, has created this blockchain powered Metaverse which offers playable NFTs. The Pre-Alpha version of Party Night is a 2GB game install available for download on the internet.

The core of the Metaverse is based on parties and celebrations where brands and celebrities will reach the direct audience. Life is a party, get a life here! PartyNite offers various settings like island, campfire, amphitheater, lounge, cruise ship, Dragonpur from Chhota Bheem etc where each individual can have their own avatar as per their preference. People can buy & sell exotic locations, claim and mint NFTs, play to earn while having all the fun. One of the best features of this is that it is based on a blockchain and NFT game, which means you can earn NFT while playing it, which will be credited to your ApnaDao wallet. NFTs are digital goods that can be purchased, sold or exchanged for the same value on a blockchain. In this game, the blockchain is ApnaDAo Wallet, where your NFTs are stored. “Daler Mehndi is the voice of the nation. His voice reaches the god and common man with the same intensity. We wanted to launch our Metaverse with the very same sentiment, voice of India and global icon so when the world sees him in India ka Apna Metaverse, they feel the big huge roar of Digital India that YES, WE HAVE ARRIVED,” said Rajat Ojha, CEO, Gamitronics.

Gamitronics has used state of the art AI technology to use various behaviors and patterns of Daler Mehndi using various video sources and created his virtual avatar with lifelike animations.

Daler Mehndi becomes the first Indian performer to join the list of artists who have already performed in Metaverse virtual concerts, which have only occurred 4-5 times in terms of size and scale at this point in time. Other performers include Travis Scott, Justin Bieber, Marshmallow and Ariana Grande. India certainly needs more production like this. Much like augmented reality and virtual reality mediate between digital and physical realities, they are opening up new possibilities for pop music online by bridging connections between foreign artists who want to collaborate across borders or even trade show recordings of concerts with their fans all around the world. Metaverse concerts are also great because artists can perform live from anywhere in the world while audiences watch them from the comfort of their own homes. The Metaverse gives musicians a sense of creative freedom. As the creators and owners of the worlds they build, Metaverse offers users an immersive 3D experience that is shaped and transformed by their own content. The Metaverse is not owned by any one company but rather established as a peer-to-peer network where anyone can connect with one another.

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‘I would like viewers to forget the hustle bustle of their metropolitan life and get back into flashbacks of their own childhood memories and start smiling and laughing, enjoying when they stand in front of my paintings.’



Artist Shiv Kumar Soni’s exhibition, Treasure Trove of Childhood Memories, is going on at The Project Café in Goa. The exhibition is a cohesive presentation of art, food, music and design woven around the curated polychromatic artworks of the young artist. The exhibition is being curated by Kirti Parihar. It is co-hosted by Samira Sheth, an independent Art curator from Goa. The exhibition is on until 31 January. Soni spoke to The Daily Guardian.


Window of my dream homeArtist Shiv Kumar Soni

Puppy on the Drive

Flying with kites

Butterflies over the face of puppy

Q: Tell us something about yourself.

A: I was born in 1992 in a goldsmith family in Churu district of Rajasthan. During my school days I used to draw on walls of my house using a chalk or pieces of bricks. Day by day that interest increased and I enjoyed the process. After my schooling I joined Rajasthan School of Arts, Jaipur and completed my Bachelors in Visual Arts in 2013. Along with my Bachelors I participated in group exhibitions in Jaipur in 2011 and 2012 organised by Jawahar Kala Kendra and Lalit Kala Academy. Since then I have done many solo and group exhibitions, some of my key shows are

Q: What made you become an artist?

A: My first choice was to draw and paint when I started to understand things around me. During my school days I would do more artwork than homework of other subjects. Doing art was like a routine for me since my early adolescent days. Eventually I bunked classes and came back home to do something creative and that would give me immense joy. So my art practice started quite early; I don’t remember how and when I chose to become an artist, I think it was my everyday ritual which is followed till now. I love working full time as an artist and would want to enjoy my time in this field.

Q: Tell us a little bit about “Treasure Trove of Childhood Memories”. What inspired you to create this work?

A: During my childhood I would stay on the terrace most of the time and while sitting there for hours I would draw/paint the birds, clouds, rainy sky, kites etc. I was mesmerised by them in my childhood so I decided to paint those things in my compositions. For my current series I worked on these compositions as I think childhood memories and dreams are no less than a treasure of life for human beings. Curator Kirti Parihar and I discussed to exhibit them and I started working on it for the exhibition.

Q: How much time did it take you to complete the art pieces for the collection?

A: It depends upon the design of the creation. Sometimes a painting finishes within one week or so and sometimes it takes two-three weeks to a month, so it totally depends on the concepts and objects in the painting.

Q: Each painting from the collection has a different story, tell us which one is closest to your heart and reminds you of your childhood.

A: Butterflies on the face of the puppy is my favourite amongst this collection. One fancies a particular thing in their childhood and wants infinites of those, for example, toys. A child would not be satisfied with one or two but would want to have a number of them. Likewise, I was enchanted by butterflies in my childhood and wanted to have a number of them around me, hence this is my favourite of all works. It truly shows the objective of my collection.

Q: Your views on the art world and the art market in India. Do you accept that art is instinctively an elitist activity or are things changing in India?

A: Yes, as we know that art market in India is very small in comparison to other developed countries. Main reason of this is that art education is not a part or a priority in the syllabus. So it should be improved, and to an extent now art is being accepted by parents as a career. However, in today’s times, through print and social media interactions people are engaging with art and artists a lot and I can see the contemporary art market gaining momentum in a few years. Also, the notion of art being an elitist object has got cracks in it and more and more millennials are buying art and showing interest in making art a part of their portfolio.

Q: Tell us about your latest exhibition at The Project Cafe? What is the one thing you want each visitor at TPC to take back with them after going through the art pieces?

A: I would like viewers to forget the hustle bustle of their metropolitan life and get back into flashbacks of their own childhood memories and start smiling and laughing, enjoying when they stand in front of my paintings. I am sure everyone who visits my show will relate to at least one of the artworks, and this has happened. During the show I got feedback from the curator that some people related to the curly hair and some to the innocent flamboyance of the protagonist “puppy”. It gives me immense joy to see that all age groups connect to my work some or the other way.

Q: Why did you choose The Project Café Goa to showcase your work? How did it help you as an artist?

A: The location of the project cafe is good and Goa is a very good place for holidays, tours and people are in a relaxed mood. Also, many people have moved to Goa post the first wave and are doing their up homes. Moreover, the curated audience in The Project Cafe is always remarkable. I have seen their past exhibitions and what I like about their presentation is that it’s an experiential space and not a regular gallery. They create multidisciplinary events around art which makes it even more interesting and engaging with the viewers, so we planned to do a show here.

Q: Is there a subtle message for our society that you are trying to convey through your work, “Treasure Trove of Childhood Memories”? What are your future plans?

A: I just wish that during tough times people remember some good memories from their childhood days, something that can bring a smile to their face and can make them time travel to those days for a few seconds. That’s what I try to do with my work and that’s what I wish for all.

So far I haven’t planned anything in specific for myself but wish to work till the last breath of my life.

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Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has constituted a three-member review committee under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary, Sanjeev Kaushal aiming to expedite the execution of Rs 100 crore development projects in the state, said an official spokesperson on Wednesday.

“CM Manohar Lal Khattar would review the projects to ensure inter-departmental coordination, and would preside over one such meeting on January 24,” said the spokesperson. While stating, the official spokesperson added that the three-member committee headed by the Chief Secretary would review the development projects on a monthly basis.

An official spokesperson said that the Additional Chief Secretary and Financial Commissioner, Revenue and Disaster Management and Consolidation Departments, Additional Chief Secretary, Finance Department, and Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister are the members of the said Committee. Further, it is informed that the Chief Minister would personally review the projects to ensure immediate removal of all the problems being faced by the departments concerned if any. The Chief Minister is scheduled to chair the review meeting of the Committee on January 24, 2022, added the spokesperson. At present work to implement 82 such projects in the state is going on, which will be completed within the stipulated time period.

The projects costing worth more than Rs 100 crore are being run by 14 departments, including two of Technical Education Department, three of Home Department, three of Health Services Department, one of Transport Department, three of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Department, seven of Medical Education Department, seven projects of Town and Country Planning Department, six projects of Public Health Engineering Department, eight of Power Department, 19 of Public Works Department and Architecture Department, one of Civil Aviation Department, two projects of School Education, two projects of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department and 18 projects of Irrigation and Water Resources Department.

With inputs from ANI

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SILIGURI: With many health care workers getting infected with COVID-19, the family members of the patients in North Bengal Medical College Hospital (NBMCH) on Wednesday claimed that the COVID situation has hit normal patient care services in the hospital.

According to the authorities of North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, there are around 70 nursing staff and 12 faculties including other medical students who were infected with the COVID-19. The relatives of the patients claimed that in view of the present COVID scenario, the scheduled surgeries have been postponed at NBMCH.

Sabir Alam, a family member of a patient admitted to the orthopaedic department said, “COVID infections among the NBMCH health workers has affected the services. My mother’s operation was postponed. We waited three and half hours in front of the operation theatre. They shouldn’t have done it.” According to him, the government should take alternative ways to carry on with the health service considering the present COVID-19 scenario.

Dr Sandip Sengupta, Dean, Students Affairs, NBMCH said, “There is rising COVID-19 cases for the last two weeks and it is increasing. Many were hit by the virus in our medical college.” Dr Sengupta informed that no surgeries are being cancelled and the OPD and emergency services are running.

Dr Sanjay Mallick, Medical College Superintendent and Vice Principle (MSVP) said that a good number of sergeants and anaesthetists were affected. “As some sergeants and anaesthetists were infected, we had to cancel some of the surgeries because of manpower shortage” He added that despite the shortcomings, the hospital is trying their best to give proper care to the patients.

As per hospital information, there are 40 departments functioning at the NBMCH with a workforce of hundreds of doctors, nurses, junior doctors and interns.

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