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How India can bounce back and become ‘aatmanirbhar’

India has had a history of coming out strong from every economic crisis. Just as the 1991 balance of payment crisis ushered in liberalisation and changed the economy, there is a huge potential for the country to usher in a new era of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

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With a second consecutive quarter showing a negative growth, our economy is officially in recession. The deadly pandemic and the lockdown have had a detrimental impact but the fact is that even before the pandemic had set in, the economy was vulnerable and already reeling under the twin blows of a poorly implemented demonetisation and GST. The Indian economy is a mixed economy where services, industry and agriculture, each one of them, have a significant role. It is a delicate balance and the government needs to walk a tightrope. Here are my suggestions to boost the economy in today’s testing times:

A GENUINE STIMULUS PACKAGE

A lot of people confuse between liquidity and stimulus. The truth is that stimulus actually means a demand-booster. Today there is no dearth of liquidity. Easy loans and rebates on them are readily available, but the big question is: Why would someone take a loan to set up a new plant or unit at a time when the demand is low?

The government has been largely into supply side measures like reducing corporate tax. Corporate tax cuts help corporates in either buying back their stock or increasing their production capacity. It does nothing to boost the consumer demand. That is the reason why bikes, cars and other goods continue to pile up in warehouses with very little takers today.

The government needs to come up with innovative ways to put money in the pockets of the common citizen who can spend and spur up the economy. The Paycheck Protection Plan in the United States is one such example that helped small businesses stay afloat. It is one of the reasons why the US economy is bouncing back at a much faster pace.

LOWER/ABOLISH PERSONAL INCOME TAX

The personal income tax needs to come down drastically or even better be removed completely. It will light up the morale of the middle class like never before. Barely 5% of the Indian population which is largely the middle class pays income tax. Lowering this or even waiving it off, will result in a tax deficit of around 4-5 lakh crore per year. However, with the same amount now in the pockets of the people, imagine how massive an impact the same amount would have on the demand and savings aspect of the economy.

INCENTIVISE SAVINGS

There used to be a time when the savings used to account for around 36% of our GDP. Back in 2007, during the great recession, it helped our economy stay afloat. Today the savings have plummeted to less that 28% as a percentage of our GDP. It is a steep decline. Lower return rates on fixed deposits have done little to incentivise savings. We need to go back to our strengths and incentivise savings. A tax cut and a better return on deposits can serve that purpose.

INCREASE INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING

To truly make an Aatmanirbhar Bharat, the government needs to loosen its purse strings and spend on infrastructure, healthcare and education. I will go a step further and say the government should even not hesitate in printing currency to fund infrastructure projects like construction of roads and bridges.

The naysayers might say that there could be a surge in inflation, but the truth is that the economic growth would balance that effectively. Construction is a labour-intensive sector and a boost in this sector would also act as a huge job multiplier.

RESTRUCTURE NPAS & STOP HARASSMENT

Let’s not paint the entire corporate class with the same brush. There are some economic offenders who obviously need to be booked under PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) but largely the government and the banks need to sit down with the struggling companies and negotiate with them a better deal and assist them in standing up on their own feet. This is the hour when the business class needs the government’s help rather than ostracisation and strict compliance norms. It is the business class that will generate employment and eventually drive the economy.

INVEST IN SKILL DEVELOPMENT

Pharmaceuticals, solar energy and artificial intelligence are the big three sectors going forward in the post-pandemic world. The government cannot afford to miss this bus. We have immense talent in these sectors waiting to be tapped and channelised correctly. India today has the potential to be the pharma capital of the world.

Ditto for solar energy and artificial intelligence. All these sectors are also incredibly labour intensive. The government needs to incorporate skill development in our education curriculum. Skill development centres and incubation centres need to come up big time. Skills like coding, machine learning and robotics require investment and growth.

AGRICULTURAL EXPORTS NEED A BOOST

In a country like India the climate conditions are so suitable that we can grow multiple crops in a year. The fact that we can grow the same quality of crops at a rate which is around 6-7 times cheaper than Europe, Japan and most of the world is a huge competitive advantage that is waiting to be tapped.

India is the 10th largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, even though it is amongst the top-2 in production of many food items such as dairy, mango, cereals, fruits and vegetables. We need to open up the world markets for our farmers and create a system for them to export their produce. The logistical problems and transportation bottlenecks are the biggest hurdles. Besides that our bilateral trade negotiators and diplomats need to negotiate for greater access in the world markets for our farmers.

All in all, this is a time when the government needs to focus on ways to boost the consumer demand rather than be strict on compliances and regulations. It is also a time when a massive disruption like Covid-19 brings with it an opportunity to realise potential in sectors like pharma. The dream of Aatmanirbhar Bharat can only be realised when every entrepreneur, trader or a small business owner has a fair shot and a level-playing field.

These are testing times, but India has had a history of coming out strong from every economic crisis. Just as the 1991 balance of payment crisis ushered in liberalisation and changed the economy, I believe there is a huge potential for India to usher in a new era of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

The writer is a public speaker, author and entrepreneur. The views expressed are personal.

India is the 10th largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, even though it is amongst the top-2 in production of many food items such as dairy, mango, cereals, fruits and vegetables. We need to open up the world markets for our farmers and create a system for them to export their produce. The logistical problems and transportation bottlenecks are the biggest hurdles. Also, our bilateral trade negotiators and diplomats need to negotiate for greater access in the world markets for our farmers.

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Opinion

THE PANDEMIC: US NEEDS TO CLEAN UP ITS OWN HOUSE, COUNTER CHINA

Joyeeta Basu

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the United States has admitted what was being suspected for a long time—that the US has poured money into gain-of-function research in China and that money has funded bat coronavirus research at a Wuhan laboratory. In a letter to members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, last week, the NIH admitted that it funded the EcoHealth Alliance, which researched on bat coronavirus in partnership with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to try and see how the virus could be made more infectious than normal. At the same time, NIH claimed that the research being done by the EcoHealth Alliance could not have started the pandemic, because the genetic composition of that virus was different from that of the SARS-CoV-2. But such is the trust deficit resulting from the NIH’s unwillingness to share information, not everyone is ready to buy that argument.

EcoHealth Alliance, a non-governmental organization, is led by the now-infamous British zoologist Dr Peter Daszak, who has been in the forefront of pushing the no-lab-leak theory. He was the one who on 19 February 2020 had written a letter to the medical journal Lancet—co-signed by 26 scientists—saying, “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin…and overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” The letter also made it clear that the Chinese should not be held accountable for the pandemic. It was again Dr Daszak who was part of the World Health Organisation’s investigation team that “probed” the origin of Covid-19 last year. He was thus responsible for shifting the whole focus of the probe, because of which China got away. In fact, he played a major role in shifting the narrative to such an extent that any question asked about China’s culpability in the spread of the virus got branded as “racism”. Questions are also being raised about how much the powerful Dr Anthony Fauci, who has been in the forefront of US’ fight against the coronavirus and who is currently the Chief Medical Advisor to the US President, knew about this. During a Congressional hearing earlier this year, Fauci had flatly denied that he knew that the NIH, through EcoHealth was funding coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The NIH is now claiming that Dr Fauci did not perjure himself in that hearing. However, according to media reports, EcoHealth Alliance has said that they had made all the research data available to the NIH as far back as 2018, thus raising grievous questions about what Dr Fauci has been hiding.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the NIH’s role in the gain of function research in coronavirus in bats has been problematic, and much of its efforts have been directed towards cover-up, when the need is transparency. As a result, the investigation into the origin of the virus has been compromised right from the beginning. The truth has been a casualty in the process. Considering the difficulties of cornering China over the spread of the virus, it is the US that will have to take the lead in speaking the truth and bringing those guilty of the cover-up to book, even if they are important people who are part of the administration. Until and unless the US leads by example, how can it lead the world in putting pressure on China to confess to its role in the spread of the virus? The investigation ordered by President Joe Biden into the origin of the virus was inconclusive. It could not determine if there was a lab leak or if the virus jumped from animal to human. The report was along expected lines, with China stonewalling any probe. But questions are bound to be raised about the US’ inability—or is it unwillingness?—to come to a definitive conclusion about the origin of the virus.

At this rate, where is the world headed? Millions of people have died from the virus. It has been one of history’s worst genocides and it is ongoing. Billions of people have been financially impacted. Will there be no justice for them? Will China get away with murder? The US is a superpower, it calls itself the world leader. It should live up to that claim and lead from the front in holding China accountable, for which it needs to clean up its own house first.

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Opinion

One billion doses: PM Modi must get full credit

While addressing the nation on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave full credit to all those who made the world’s largest vaccination programme successful.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be given full credit for the feat India has achieved of administering one Billion doses to Indian citizens. Although healthcare workers and the entire administration must get the credit, there was one man behind all of them who believed this was possible despite serious doubts raised by opposition and critics. And this was Narendra Modi. He kept inspiring people amidst chaos and ensured that the administration was totally focused on the target.

While critics kept raising asking how would illiterate population that did not have smart phones register under Co-win App and how could infrastructure be created overnight to administer the vaccine, Modi had immense trust that people would come forward and script India’s success story. While opposition parties were criticizing, he was working with scientists and bureaucrats and trying to tie-up the loose ends, learning from mistakes and applying correctives.

Debates after debates BJP spokespersons would be asked how would the Government achieve this impossible task. They asserted that when the Government had announced the target this would be achieved. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that India would be able to vaccinate citizens only by end of 2024, whereas, the Government asserted it would do so by end of December 2021. Modi always works to a plan and his dateline has been proved to be correct. By 21 October, the One Billion doses mark was already achieved. By end of December the country would add many more millions.

The Prime Minister never takes credit. He has always given credit to citizens for the country’s progress. While addressing the nation on Friday, Modi gave full credit to all those who made the world’s largest vaccination programme successful. He thanked, in particular, the health workers who took extra efforts to achieve the task. This gratitude to them and to people was there even in his mann ki baat on Sunday.

Modi described the vaccination programme as “a journey from anxiety to assurance that has made the country stronger” despite efforts by sections of opinion to create distrust. That this feat was achieved in nine months very few could imagine. But this was made possible because he trusted science and scientist and did not allow politics to deter their approach.

While addressing health workers in January this year in Varanasi, the Lok Sabha seat he represents, Modi had brushed aside criticism over emergency use of Covaxin produced by Bharat Biotech. He described the scientists as modern rishis who had worked day and night to devise the elixir for saving lives.

Modi clarified that he was guided completely by advice of scientists and not by what was said by political parties. “And when the go-ahead from the scientists came, we had to decide from where to start. Then we decided to start from health workers who remain in contact with patients constantly,” he told a gathering of health workers. During his address on Friday he said: “It is a matter of pride for us that India’s vaccination programme has been science-born, science-driven and science-based.”

Vaccination drive was launched on 16 January 2021 with target of inoculating three crore health workers and front-line workers. This proved to be a smart move to reduce vaccine hesitancy since people get convinced when doctors and health workers take the vaccine, Modi acknowledged. This helped them save many lives without fearing their own lives while treating patients during the second wave.

Now the task may appear easy, but the context should not be forgotten. It was efforts of these scientists that India developed its own vaccine and also became the centre for manufacturing the other one- Covishield. When more than a hundred countries are awaiting supply of vaccine to them to tide over the crisis, India is on the verge of a recovery that has become a shining example to the world. The WHO has lauded this achievement and given full credit to the political leadership.

When the Union Government had told the Court that it would have enough vaccine to inoculate 93-94 crore adults by the end of the year, the Supreme Court had sought a roadmap. Actually, very few were ready to believe that more than 900 million (90 crore) people would get the vaccine by the year end.

The liberalised vaccination procurement framework issued in April last month was based on scientific analysis of global best practices, SoPs of WHO and recommendations of experts. This allowed larger role for private players and gave operational flexibility to States. Besides procuring vaccine from indigenous manufacturers they could also seek vaccine directly from foreign vendors.

This met demand of various states for more power since Health is a state subject. Some States had promised free vaccines and were trying to project central government in poor light without realising that vaccine was in short supply. When some of the States floated global tenders, they did not get the response due to this very fact. Some vaccine manufacturers told the states that they would deal only with the Federal Government.

Rather than trying to do politics over vaccine they should have merely executed the vaccination drive. If they were sincere in their efforts, they could have remitted to the Centre the expenses for free vaccine promised. Their criticisms and approach demonstrated that they were merely trying to score political point. Their propensity to find fault with every decision taken by the Prime Minister created confusion and panic all around.

Some mavericks said that the Centre should invoke compulsory licensing and allow other players to make vaccine hardly realising that making Covid-19 vaccine required lot of bio-safety measures which others were not equipped with. The solution was to increase capabilities of existing manufacturers which was an easier option.

While explaining this Niti Ayog member VK Paul had cited the example of Moderna, a US pharma giant. Moderna had said (October 2020) that it would not sue company which makes its vaccines but not a single company did this. Vaccine making is not an easy process, he had explained.

Imagine the contradiction between a chief minister sitting in Delhi or Maharashtra talking about vaccine like an expert and the Prime Minister talking to world experts and leader on vaccine availability and administration and trying to devise strategy for the country. Who was better equipped knowledge wise or by the capabilities to decide? The former was only waving swords in the air without any knowledge or competence whereas, the real fire-fighting was done by the latter through cold calculated steps.

It is only after some opposition ruled States raised their hands in sheer desperation and created an impression that the task was impossible that the Prime Minister announced free vaccine for all and allowed private players to cater to those who were willing to pay. The opposition had created a mess of the situation and it was clear that they were not able to rise to the occasion. People were upset and angry and these States were trying to shift the blame to the Centre on one pretext or the other. While opposition attitude reflected contempt and derision of Indian efforts, the Prime Minister’s attitude reflected trust and confidence.

The opposition was found in the race to undermine India’s own vaccine. When Covaxin was declared as India’s answer to search for vaccine, the opposition questioned its efficacy without knowing that this was the amrit that would save people. They questioned emergency use authorisation without realising that these were Indian scientists who had recommended this and not PM Modi.

While Indian scientists rejoiced and the country felt proud, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor questioned saying this would be dangerous to use Covaxin. Questioning the Emergency use approval of Covaxin, former Union Minister, Manish Tiwary had said, “if the vaccine is so safe and reliable and efficacy of the vaccine is beyond question then how is it that not a single functionary of the government has stepped forward to get themselves vaccinated as it has happened in other countries around the world?”

One Congress leader from Bihar asked why had the Prime Minister not taken the jab first even when Modi had announced that nobody would jump the queue. The Prime Minister pointed out on Friday that the vaccine driver had kept the VIP culture away. Those who were eligible got the jab first. Others despite their political clout waited in the queue for their turn.

Samajwadi Party leader and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh has crossed all limits of valid criticisms by terming the vaccine as BJP vaccine and declaring that he would not take the vaccine. This is what he said: “Main toh nahi lagwaunga abhi vaccine. Maine apni baat keh di. Aur woh bhi BJP lagayegi uska bharosa karunga main? Arre, jao bhai. Arre, apni sarkar ayegi, sabko free vaccine lagegi. Hum BJP ka vaccine nahin lagwa sakte (I will not get the vaccine now. I am telling you about myself. Am I going to trust a vaccine given by the BJP? Oh, get lost. When our government comes, everyone will get the vaccine free)”.

How ridiculous one can become was evident when Samajwadi Party MLC Ashutosh Sinha said that people might become impotent after taking Covid vaccine. Rumours were spread that vaccine intended to decrease population of some community.

All these increased vaccine hesitancy so much that people were often seen running away from health-workers deployed to inoculate them. Some delayed taking the jab for the fear that this would harm them. India’s vaccination programme and its success now must be seen in this context. There was one man who has been absolutely sure of science and his people. The world knows who he has been.

But there is no time to relax. One that the drive must be stepped up to bring all under vaccine drive as soon as possible. The festivals season, the country is witnessing, is a testing time. If proper care is taken and people keep taking the Covid protocols seriously, India would come out of the pandemic and move on to a faster economic recovery. The Prime Minister has appealed to people to make wearing mask a routine of their life. Just following this simple routine will save life until everyone gets fully vaccinated.

The festival season the country is witnessing, is a testing time. If proper care is taken and people keep taking the Covid protocols seriously, India would come out of the pandemic and move on to a faster economic recovery. The Prime Minister has appealed to people to make wearing mask a routine of their life. Just following this simple routine will save life until everyone gets fully vaccinated.

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Opinion

AMARINDER LIKELY TO HOLD WORKERS’ MEETING IN DELHI

Pankaj Vohra

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In an obvious attempt to entice Congress activists to join his proposed new political party, former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is likely to convene a workers’ conclave in Delhi in the coming week. The erstwhile soldier is essentially banking on sitting MLAs, who may be denied renomination by Congress to meet him to discuss the current situation in the border state. He appears to be in no tearing hurry to resign from the grand old party while simultaneously working to weaken it from within. The strategy is clear that being a part of the Congress, he can always continue to meet his colleagues and fellow MLAs, and if the High Command was to act against him, the only action possible could be expulsion. This would also suit him since he would continue to be a member of the legislative assembly and can participate in the deliberations of the Assembly whenever it meets. The anticipation is that taking advantage of the intense infighting, the Captain may ask the Charanjit Singh Channi government to take the floor test at an appropriate time. The Workers meet in the national capital is designed to test the loyalty of some of those who benefitted from their association with him in the nine and half years he remained the Chief Minister. It is also to assess his own strengths and weaknesses before he floats his own party, the blueprint of which is ready. The battle-hardened Captain is likely to launch a twin attack on the Congress. The first would be to ensure that it is weakened from within and the second to put his own party on a firm footing. Unconfirmed reports from Punjab suggest that there were as many as 20 MLAs, who were expected to meet him in Delhi this week. Whether this happens or not would depend on how the Central leadership of the Congress is able to rein in various factions, which are working against each other. On Sunday, Pradesh president, Navjot Singh Sidhu lashed out at his own government and reminded the Chief Minister and his Cabinet that the real issues were being swept under the carpet while unimportant matters were getting undue attention. Anandpur Saheb MP, Manish Tewari also referred to the infighting and stated that he had not seen such chaos in the 40 years he has been with the Congress. He questioned the wisdom of those who constituted the three-member committee headed by Malikarjun Kharge to hear out the grievances of the MLAs. The exercise finally resulted in Amarinder being ousted. The Congress versus Congress war is only hurting the party and by introducing the element of personal attacks on the former CM, the political waters have been muddied further. Sidhu’s wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu continued her attack on Aroosa Alam, the Captain’s Pakistani companion and stated that she used her proximity with the former Chief Minister to get important postings done after receiving expensive gifts. Aroosa on her part told a news channel on Saturday that the photograph of hers with Sonia Gandhi, released by the Amarinder camp was from 2005, a year before she met the Captain. A lot of stories regarding Aroosa are doing the rounds in political circles and they are not helping anyone. Congress as in other states is totally unprepared to dictate the political agenda and the astute and perceptive Captain is certainly going to take advantage of this vacuum. However, for Amarinder to succeed in his designs, he would have to somehow get the farmers on his side. Without the peasants’ support, his political party would be a non-starter. Therefore, the speculation is that he might meet the Prime Minister before Narendra Modi leaves for Europe by the weekend and discuss the farm laws. Amarinder has to play his cards properly and should remember that actions driven by anger do not necessarily lead to political dividends.

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Opinion

Infrastructure through Gati Shakti will help build the nation

The spirit behind the Gati Shakti initiative by PM Modi will serve two purposes. One, fill the infrastructure gaps in various sectors to serve people’s needs to improve their living standards and second, expected additional growth of the economy of our country for 4% to 5% by 2025 will help the country to become a US$ 5 trillion economy.

Dinakar Lanka

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Infrastructure along with good governance creates a conducive atmosphere for investment attraction from global entrepreneurs, which leads to the growth of the nation’s economy in the form of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for better living conditions among the general public in the nation. Here, infrastructure consists of roads and other transport facilities for the best connectivity among affordable clean energy, reliable transmission and distribution, roads, railways, inland waterways, seaports and till end-user of the product and service, irrigation, industrial parks and social infrastructure for enhancing the human living standards in all the required parameters which has been stipulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi under Gati Shakti plan. Whether it is Union or state governments, they should plan and implement accurately the infrastructure requirements in a particular state to connect other destinations across the country meaningfully.

Union government under the leadership of PM Modi has been giving utmost priority to all kinds of physical infrastructure post-2014 with the coordination of state governments for achieving US$5 trillion economy. Though there were infrastructure facilities that evolved gradually after Independence in 1947, those facilities were minimal and inadequate to serve the people of the nation. In these circumstances, PM Modi’s leadership of Bharat had intended for the improvement of all kinds of infrastructure in tandem with a proper blueprint worth around 100 lakh crore, as announced by PM Modi, flag off the Gati Shakti plan under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP). Thereafter, PM Modi has insisted it time and again including his recent Independence Day speech from the Red Fort as the need of the hour as already it has been in progress and the present value of the projects have reached to nearly 111 crore to boost our country’s economy for the creation of huge employment-related opportunities for the youth.

 The spirit behind the Gati Shakti initiation by PM Modi is to serve two purposes in tandem. One, fill the infrastructure gaps in various sectors to serve people’s needs to improve their living standards, and second, expected additional growth of the economy of our country to 4% to 5% by 2025 that facilitates to become a US$ 5 trillion economy. PM Modi led Union government has included sector-wise projects such as water, sanitation, social infrastructure, power, roads, railways, ports, airports, OFCs, hospitals, agriculture, and other infrastructure projects in the PM Gati Shakti road map. These projects have been in progress under the PPA system, consisting of the Centre share for 39%, the state share for 40%, and the private participation for 21% on 6835 projects and already 42 lakh crore worth of these 100 lakh crore projects are already in various stages in different states. The primary aim of PM Gati Shakti is raising the living standards of the people of the country and turning the country into an “economic force” with the initiation of these 100 lakh crore infrastructure projects.

Already, both Sagaramala and Bharathmala projects are vital in the process of infrastructure creation along with all other sectors to augment the GDP growth of our nation till Bharat reaches close to a manufacturing giant in the world. In this process, Make in India is a key initiative to achieve the ambitious US$ 5 trillion economy by 2025 for better living standards and infrastructure pipeline India provides. The bilateral trade between India and the US has grown from US$ 16 billion to US$ 149 billion in the last two decades and it has projected to reach over US$ 500 billion by 2025 with Greenfield or Brownfield projects. Already Vizag and Chennai Industrial Corridor (VCIC), Bangalore and Chennai Industrial Corridor (BCIC) are under progress and those are playing a prominent strategic role for the sea-based industrial infrastructure in South India under Sagarmala project for the estimated augment of GDP around 4%. Also, there is expressway road connectivity, railways connectivity, and air connectivity to the seaports and industrial parks and cities around it under Bharathmala projects. 

The prestigious Delhi – Mumbai Expressway for 1350 km distance comprises various industrial parks with 92,000 crore project cost has almost completed and getting ready for service within a year with the estimated earnings Rs 1200 crore to 1500 crore per month. One more New 8 line Expressway has been announced by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari to connect North to South of Bharath between Pune and Bangalore covering Surat – Nashik – Ahmednagar – Solapur – Akkalkot – Gulbarga – Yadgir – Kurnool – Chennai with an estimated cost of 40,000 crore with various industrial clusters with an aim to complete the project for service by 2024.

NHAI is playing the key role under Bharatmala project initiation to connect roads with railways, airports, and seaports for faster transportation connectivity to reduce the time log of the goods and travellers transport from one place to another part of our nation. In this process, where the National Highways around 90000 km were constructed prior to 2014 since Independence, it has reached more than 1,36,000 km till now by laying more than 46,000 km by NHAI for seven years of PM Modi led Union government. Further, NHAI is working with an aim to complete 2 lakh km roads as National Highways by 2025. The role of the Bharatmala project is vital for the connectivity of transportation in the Gati Shakti initiation of 100 lakh crore infrastructure projects.

How the funds are available for the PM Gati Shakti projects for 100 lakh crore is the big question raised by the critics. But the sector-wise projects and cost structure thereof planned beautifully and the same was announced in 2019 itself as NIP with a professional task force and already 42 lakh crore worth projects of various sectors under progress across the country with Centre, state, and private participation. Funds were planned by the Central government sector-wise through budget allocations, toll, and other revenues, National Monetisation Policy (NMP), disinvestments, and sources from financial institutions and similarly, state governments should have their plans for their projects approved under NIP and rest of 60 lakh crore to 70 lakh crore worth projects shall be completed in the next three years to gear up the economic activity with a sharp rise in the growth rate to reach the PM Modi’s ambitious US$ 5 trillion economy by 2025.

The writer holds a degree in commerce and works as an FCA. The views expressed are personal.

Union government has included sector-wise projects such as water, sanitation, social infrastructure, power, roads, railways, ports, airports, OFCs, hospitals, agriculture, and other infrastructure projects in the PM Gati Shakti road map. These projects have been in progress under the PPA system, consisting of Central share for 39%, the state share for 40%, and the private participation for 21% on 6,835 projects and already Rs 42 lakh crore worth of these Rs 100 lakh crore projects are already in various stages in different states.

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Opinion

PRIYANKA DECLARES WOMEN QUOTA IN U.P. UNILATERALLY

Pankaj Vohra

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Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh took party circles by surprise when she unilaterally declared that 40 percent of tickets in the forthcoming Assembly elections would be given to women. Although, the announcement appears to be a progressive step in the right direction, yet it would have been better had the party thought through the ramifications of this decision before making it public. It is also inconsistent with what the Interim president, Sonia Gandhi had said at the Working Committee meeting last Saturday that the party leaders should directly communicate with her instead of conveying matters through the media. In this instance, it is possible that Priyanka may have discussed the issue at length with her mother and brother, Rahul but if any declaration had to be made, it should have been done by Sonia. How can a decision as crucial as this be specific to a single state. What about Punjab, Uttrakhand, Goa and other states going to polls along with Uttar Pradesh. Why should there not be ticket distribution at par with what the party has apparently decided. This is a policy matter and should have been debated at length in the Working Committee itself instead of leaving it to just one individual or the family.

It is also not known as yet whether to give shape to this concept of 40 percent tickets to women, would Priyanka be projected as the Chief Ministerial face of the party. If not, the entire exercise may prove to be futile. The impression which one gets by this lofty pronouncement is that the Congress would be contesting the UP polls on its own since other parties such as Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj Party may have their own opinion on this important matter and may not necessarily concur with Priyanka’s views. In the past, the SP like so many other regional parties have opposed giving such a large proportion of seats to women without studying the fallout at the grass roots level. The BSP has provided a woman chief minister in Mayawati, who had a very successful tenure, but has yet to take a call on reservations for women in Assembly polls.

In fact, before Mayawati, Sucheta Kripalani had served as a Congress UP CM in the early 1960s. The reason why the views of the SP and BSP are important is because if the Congress has to enter into any kind of alliance, there should be some agreement on issues. There is no doubt that Priyanka has been active in the state and has tried to infuse life into the party cadres, even though the number has dwindled over the years. The Congress on its own steam is not capable of being in the fight in more than 30 to 40 seats at present, so it is a difficult task ahead for the party general secretary. There are some who believe that the Priyanka show so far is only for optics and is helping in diluting the challenge from both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. In any case, every party has a right to evolve its own strategy and this is true for the Congress as well. However, what is going to be difficult is on how the Congress would explain this UP specific decision to other states. Parties opposed to the Congress shall certainly make this an issue in the polls. The Congress can always claim that Indira Gandhi, the only woman Prime Minister of the country was from the party as so many Chief Ministers of several states. To carry the Priyanka thesis forward, a lot of spadework would have to be done, for which there is hardly any time left. The Congress has to hit the ground running in the forthcoming polls.

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Opinion

Modi 2.0: India’s journey to a billion doses

India’s response to Covid-19 under the outstanding leadership of ‘Global Goalkeeper’ Modi, is a textbook case in how great leaders do not escape—rather, they take the bull by its horns.

Sanju Verma

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In an unprecedented achievement, the cumulative Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country surpassed the mammoth 100 crore milestone on 21st October 2021. In a tweet, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi congratulated the countrymen and expressed gratitude to the country’s scientific community and health professionals for working towards achieving this stupendous feat,in his typical characteristic style,completely being modest about his own superior leadership,which eventually delivered,when it mattered the most.India’s recovery rate currently stands at 98.15%. Recovery rate is currently at its highest peak since March 2020.The active caseload is only 1.79 lakh cases,the lowest in the last 221 days.Active cases presently constitute 0.52% of the country’s total positive cases, which is again,the lowest since March 2020. India has so far conducted over 59.57 crore cumulative tests.

Weekly positivity rate at 1.34% remains less than 3% for the last 118 days in a row. The Daily positivity rate at 1.48% has remained below 3% for last 52 days and below 5% for 135 consecutive days in a row, now.India is only the second country globally after China to reach the 100 crore milestone. But the basic difference between the two nations is accessibility to related data.China claims to have vaccinated over 2.23 billion individuals. It even claimed last month of fully vaccinating over 100 crore people but there is no open-source data accessible to validate it. China even asserts that it has produced more than half of the world’s Covid vaccines so far,which is absolutely false and nothing but a frivolous claim by the CPC to reclaim lost ground,after reports have emerged that the Wuhan virus was engineered and incubated in a laboratory in China.

On January 3rd this year, India gave emergency-use approval to Covishield and Covaxin. Covishield is a two-shot Covid vaccine developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford University. Pune-based Serum Institute of India is its major producer. On the other hand, Covaxin, also a two-shot vaccine, is completely an indigenous achievement. It is developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech,in collaboration with ICMR.Covishield is a viral vector vaccine using an adenovirus or common cold virus found in chimpanzees. The vaccine has an efficacy rate of 70% but, when both doses are given 8 to 12 weeks apart, it can go up to 91%. Covaxin also uses an inactive viral strain (killed coronaviruses) and has a 77.8% efficacy rate.India,under Prime Minister Modi, started its vaccination drive on January 16,2021, targetting healthcare workers. Other frontline workers were added as intended beneficiaries in February.In April 2021,India approved the third vaccine made by Russia’s Sputnik V and opened the vaccination drive to everyone above 45 years.

On May 1,2021, India opened its vaccination drive for all adults. On June 12,2021, the country crossed the mark of administering 25 crore doses,in 148 days from January 16th,when the vaccination drive had begun. From June 21,2021,the Modi government announced free vaccines for everyone in the 18-44 age group,in a landmark decision.

World’s first DNA-based Covid vaccine by the Indian pharmaceutical company Zydus Cadila was approved on August 20,2021. It is a three-shot vaccine and the population base above 12 years of age can be innoculated with it. It is expected to hit the markets soon.

On August 26,2021,the country reached the mark of giving at least one jab to half of its 94 crore adult population.September 13,2021, saw the country crossing the 75 crore total vaccination mark. On September 17, the country, for the first time, crossed the ‘two crore doses a day’ mark and in fact became only the second country after China to achieve it. Over 2.15 crore jabs were given that day.On September 18, 2021,India achieved the mark of fully vaccinating 20 crore adult individuals.

The vaccination drive under PM Narendra Modi has been outstanding in more ways than one. For instance,to connect remote areas of the country, the health ministry started drone delivery of Covid vaccines on October 4,2021,a first in Southeast Asia. The vaccines, through drones, were delivered to a government health centre on a Manipur island in the Northeast and, currently, remote areas of Manipur and Nagaland and the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands are being covered under this ‘supply through drones’ initiative,which is exemplary.

In effect,India’s vaccine roll-out is not only the largest in the world,but also the most affordable,with no compromises whatsoever,on any standard operating procedures (SoPs).The PM-Cares fund will shouldered the entire cost of the 1st phase aimed at innoculating 30 million or 3 crore frontline Covid workers.Earlier,in June 2020,over Rs 2000 crore was allocated from the PM-Cares fund,for supply of 50000 ‘Made-in-India’ ventilators to government run Covid hospitals in all States and UTs.Out of the 50000 ventilators, 30000 ventilators were manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited,yet again showcasing India’s indigenous manufacturing prowess. While a jaded,directionless and clueless Rahul Gandhi keeps taking needless jibes at the Modi government,the fact of the matter is that,for over six decades,India just had 47000 ventilators,whereas in one go,in June 2020,the Modi government made available 50000 ventilators,to ensure no life is lost,for want of life saving equipment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s food security scheme for the needy,called the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKAY), provided free ration to 81 crore,as in 810 million people,every single month for nine months in a row,during the pandemic,both last year and this year,too.Effectively speaking,this means,a population 2.5 times the size of America,was being fed every single month,for months together, showcasing the Modi government’s generous,welfarist and people centric approach.

The essence of Modi government’s management of the pandemic is that, PM Modi has been continuously communicating with the people by addressing the nation at regular intervals. He meaningfully coordinated with the Chief ministers of the State governments. When Modi asked countrymen to applaud the doctors and para-medical staff for their commitment to handling the Covid-19 crisis by clapping for a few minutes, everyone responded with great enthusiasm. The same response was seen when he asked everyone to switch off the lights and light candles.Moreover, when Modi wanted people to wear masks and observe social distancing, there was no protest from the people, like in other countries like the USA. It is quite true that some people did not follow guidelines but that was more due to indiscipline by few, rather than any broad opposition to the guidelines.In most democracies,often people do not hesitate to conduct protest marches even for trivial reasons.It is extraordinary therefore,that Prime Minister Modi could manage the pandemic,without giving room for unrest and turmoil,despite a complete lockdown,during the second wave and the months preceding that.

India is a vast country of 1.38 billion people that shares a 3488 kilometre long border with China. India’s response to Covid-19 under the outstanding leadership of ‘Global Goalkeeper’ Modi, is a textbook case in how great leaders do not escape— rather, they take the bull by its horns. Modi took the lead in hosting a video conference of SAARC nations,where India pledged to share disease surveillance software,work towards a common research platform and provide all help required, including assistance from the Indian Council of Medical Research,(ICMR) to its SAARC partners.India also took the lead in setting up a Covid-19 emergency fund,with a voluntary contribution of $10 million.Taking a cue from Modi’s intiative, the G-7 group decided to host it’s summit via video conferencing,in June 2020.And then ofcourse,virtual meetings became the norm,thereafter.

Now,contrast the policy of obfuscation and apathy followed by China,with the probity and transparency shown by India,in taking Covid,head-on.Be it building over 116 million toilets under the “Clean India” or “Swachh Bharat” mission,making India’s 5.5 lakh villages open defecation free (ODF),giving free health insurance to 50 crore Indians under the “Ayushman Bharat” scheme, producing over 60 million PPE kits and 150 million N95 masks in between April and October 2020,bringing home over 3.9 million stranded Indians from different parts of the globe,via the “Vande Bharat Mission”,or extending medical and humanitarian assistance to over 150 countries in the fight against the pandemic, the Modi government’s fight against the Wuhan virus was made easier by the fact that,a humungous amount of effort went into ramping up India’s health infrastructure and making cleanliness a way of life,in the last 7 years.What is worth mentioning here is that,during the initial days of Covid outbreak,there was only one lab in the country that could undertake testing for the infection,but today there are over 2000 testing laboratories.

A key concern is vaccine wastage.What is vaccine wastage?While wastage cannot be fully eradicated,it has to be within recommended limits.In general,high vaccine wastage inflates vaccine demand and increases unnecessary vaccine procurement and supply chain costs.Vaccine wastage is directly linked to vaccine usage, which is the proportion of vaccines administered against vaccines issued to a vaccination site. What is causing the wastage? For instance,each Covishield vial has 10 doses in total, while a Covaxin vial contains 20 doses — each dose being 0.5 ml (for one person). Once opened, all doses have to be administered within four hours, otherwise, it goes to waste and the remaining doses have to be destroyed. The vaccine wastage in India can be largely be attributed to low turnoutof beneficiaries turning up to get vaccinated,due to inadequate planning of sessions by a few States. For instance, if the vial contains doses for 10 people and only six turn up, four doses would go waste. In few opposition ruled States,opening vials,despite inability to mobilise critical mass of people led to huge vaccine wastage in the initial phases, particularly in States like Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Punjab, with wastage rate being as high as 18% and 12% in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh,during the second wave.Despite the Opposition ruled States completely abdicating their responsibility,the sheer will power to deliver,showcased by the Modi government,eventually resulted in the epoch making 100 crore number,possible,on October 21,2021.From Taali,Thaali,Janata Curfew to Jan Bhagidaari,Prime Minister Narendra Modi ran the world’s largest vaccination drive by putting his political and personal credibility to test and needless to say,he emerged unscathed and stronger than ever before.

The Modi government’s CoWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network) app, is owned by the Ministry of Health and Family welfare and was earlier the platform used for conducting Pulse Polio and other crucial and highly successful immunisation programmes across the country. The same platform was expanded for doling out Covid-19 vaccines and the ministry of Electronics and IT along with the National Informatics Center are now handling the backend and the tech infrastructure for it.CoWIN,is again an example of how the Modi government has seamlessly embraced technology,to ensure last mile delivery.Needless to add,in the final analysis, Modi’s “Make in India” model runs high on both the growth and humanitarian quotients whereas Xi’s “Make in China”, lacks the emotional quotient that separates a robotic,authoritarian regime,from an aspirational India, helmed by a “karmayogi” like Modi,who leads by example,never playing on the backfoot and always keeping the nation first,above everything else.Covid-19,which is still unfolding in many parts of the globe,will also be remembered for the global outreach by the Indian political diaspora,which has shown to the world,how a responsive and nimble footed government can tackle any emergency,with the right mindset.

In the final analysis,it can be said with no “ifs” and “buts” whatsoever, that the Indian response to the Coronavirus pandemic has been awe inspiring at various levels. While the US and Europe are dealing with endless queues of people lining up at malls and stores that have run out of toilet paper and hand sanitizers, India’s calibrated approach by the government,without causing panic, has had a salubrious impact. Also,don’t forget,while India reported its first case only on 30th January 2020,it had started screening incoming passengers from affected countries, via infra red thermometers,from 7th January 2020,itself.

“Good governance is not fire-fighting or crisis-management. Instead of opting for ad-hoc solutions, the need of the hour is to tackle the root cause of the problems”,is a famous quote by PM Modi.Better words have not been said. Undoubtedly,India’s outstanding and successful war againt Covid will go down in history as a textbook case of what a sensitive and nimble footed leadership can accomplish. It would be apt to conclude with a quote by John F. Kennedy,who said–”When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity”. Undoubtedly, while a reckless China foisted the Wuhan virus on an unsuspecting mankind,a visionary leader like Prime Minister,Narendra Modi,utilised this unprecedented global crisis as an opportunity,to reach out to and heal millions, both in India and outside,showcasing India’s true spirit of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, which means,”the world is one family”.

Writer is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘Truth & Dare-The Modi Dynamic’.

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