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India saved itself with a timely lockdown, travel restrictions: Study

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On 16 September 2020, India had recorded 97,859 cases of Covid-19, the highest single-day number since the beginning of the pandemic. As cases had risen rapidly and the country had been put under one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, critics had viewed the restrictions with suspicion. However, since then, India has seen a major decline in total active cases and the number of daily cases, which dropped to about 11,000 per day in February 2021—something being termed now as a ‘mystery’.

To demystify India’s success with handling the pandemic and bringing about a drastic decrease in the number of daily cases, a recent research paper by Sunil Kumar Raina of Dr R.P. Government Medical College and Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Institute has reviewed the strengths and policies which worked in India’s favour, most prominently India’s restrictions on the movement of people and ramping up of testing capacities.

Among the existing strengths that India had were fewer urbanised areas, limited modes of domestic travel, a lower international tourist footprint and, most importantly, prior experience and success with pandemics. While the last factor made it easier to regulate the spread after the government took proactive measures, the first three factors limited transmission between communities and led to an uneven distribution in cases.

As the paper demonstrates, although Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the country, the highest numbers of cases were restricted to certain regions only. This had also been seen in the case of the 1918 Spanish flu, which had wiped out an estimated 10-20 million of India’s population then but had affected the state of Bombay more than Bihar, for example. Similar observations had been made during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Even currently, the majority of daily cases in India seem to be coming out of only six major states including Maharashtra.

However, just as India had done during the previous pandemics, with Covid-19 too, the country has shown a great ability to identify these strengths and leverage them to its advantage. The paper credits the policymakers and government for imposing the nationwide lockdown, which started on 25 March 2020, and putting stringent restrictions on person-to-person transmission, calling it probably the most effective step taken.

The government’s gradual move to a “smart lockdown”, where zones were identified and strict restrictions continued in the worst-hit districts and states, also helped India strike a balance between keeping an eye on affected areas and relaxing norms just enough to restart economic activities. In fact, stringent restrictions and curfews are still in place in certain parts of Maharashtra, where Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has threatened another lockdown if people do not follow safety protocols.

The closure of schools and universities for extended periods has also been listed by Raina and Bar-Yam as a major factor for lowering the number of Covid cases in the country. However, with plans being put into place about partial reopening of educational institutions, the researchers say that its epidemiological consequences remain untested.

Along with the nationwide lockdown, the country’s restriction on inter-state and foreign travel early during the pandemic also kept the spread in check. While movement between states and entering the country has been allowed to certain extents now, travel is still being regulated through e-passes and foreign travellers requiring to undergo quarantine and RT-PCR tests.

Besides the policy of shutting down places and taking punitive action against violators, the government’s strategy of immediate isolation and contact tracing for positive cases also proved to be a success. As the research paper notes, “Quarantines of locations (not just of individuals) are also applied (where) the area/building or site is sealed off if the cases come in a cluster. In one such case when 14 inmates of an old age home in the state of Himachal Pradesh tested positive on 31st of January 2021, a 50 meter area around the old age home was completed sealed off and contained.” The movements of the contacts are restricted till they are confirmed to be negative.

This also highlights a major leap taken by the Indian government in tackling an unprecedented public health crisis: The rapid development in laboratory testing capacities. “From a single lab capable of doing RT-PCR for Covid-19 to more than 2300 (in both Government and Private sectors) has been a significant public health initiative. The addition of a greater number of labs has reduced the test result return time, strengthening the isolation/quarantine strategy,” state the researchers. In fact, the ICMR-backed testing strategy had yielded 8 crore tests till 30 September 2020, out of which 3.1 crore tests had been done in September alone, with a daily average of 10,42,750 tests. The ability to conduct rapid tests, along with initiatives like door-to-door tracing and testing, helped highly dense states like Uttar Pradesh turn a morbid situation into a manageable one. Even as recently as 13 February, the total number of tests being conducted was 6,97,114, which add to the impressive cumulative total of 20,62,30,512 tests across the country.

Another crucial area where India showed a tremendous response was manufacturing of necessary protective equipment like masks and suits and medical equipment like ventilators. “The industry responded to the needs of the pandemic like never before. From a country producing no high-end masks and personal protective equipment to its capability of being able to supply to the world, the shift was swift and decisive,” say Raina and Bar-Yam. In fact, the scaling up of manufacturing capacities was so quick that India’s production of PPE kits went from zero to the second-highest in the world within two months.

Now, with what is being called the world’s largest vaccination drive, the Government of India is one of the leading forces in the battle against Covid-19. Depending largely on the indigenously made Covaxin and the Serum Institute’s Covishield, India started its vaccination programme on 16 January. While the first phase covered the country’s healthcare professionals and frontline workers, the second phase, which began earlier this week, will cater to senior citizens and older adults with co-morbidities. The approach is expected to have an increasingly significant impact on the outbreak, foresee the researchers.

According to the paper, to further reduce the number of daily cases, India needs to strengthen what it has been doing so far with its strategic combination of restriction and relaxation and quick response to new cases. “As the country intends to vaccinate 300 million individuals by July 2021, a vaccination strategy integrated into the pandemic response programme may be helpful,” suggests the research article.

India’s strategy has served a major example for other countries, especially Western observers. With global powers like the US still struggling to rein in the virus, India has shown a prime example of how the “travel and time of local response are the key components of this pandemic’s outcomes”. As the researchers highlight, the states which continue to have restrictions on travel have done better than others, for example, Kerala, which had a significantly high number of cases, owing also the large number of expatriates coming back.

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NCPCR going to check beggars’ kids for substance abuse in Chandigarh

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The National Commission For Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is going to check beggars’ kids for substance abuse. On 26 July 2021, NCPCR is going to instruct Chandigarh Administration to utilise all mediums to check beggars’ kids for substance abuse using medical tests in case required. This whole program would be managed under the recently launched Joint Action Plan (JAP), in which the Narcotics Control Bureau, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Education are actively involved as stakeholders. NCPCR is going to start such initiatives under JAP across India.

NCPCR has identified 272 such vulnerable districts across the nation where State stakeholders would extensively work on Children who are substance abused and would wean away drugs from their lives while adopting various mediums. A recent study by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment identified 4.6 lakh children in the country who are addicted to inhalants, the only category of substance in which the prevalence was higher among children than among adults. The five states with the highest prevalence of inhalant abuse among children were Uttar Pradesh (94,000 children), Madhya Pradesh (50,000 children), Maharashtra (40,000 children), Delhi (38,000 children), and Haryana (35,000 children).

Priyank Kanoongo, Chairperson of NCPCR told The Daily Guardian, “We introduced to have exclusive De-addiction and Rehabilitation Facilities for Children in 272 Vulnerable Districts. The MoSJE shall expedite the process to establish exclusive de-addiction facilities meant for children. However, if there are any constraints or lack of space, a separate portion in the existing facility has to be identified and partitioned for the children. Also, there has to be a provision of separate toilets; and safety and security of children have to be ensured.”

“The action plan mandates that ‘Prahari Clubs’’ be set up in schools in collaboration with Gandhi Smriti Darshan Samiti, in which children will discuss issues related to drug abuse and become monitors of the abuse,” he added.

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TECHNOLOGY WILL BE A KEY PART OF FASHION INDUSTRY’S GROWTH: SUNAINA KWATRA

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Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra spoke to NewsX India A-List about doing business during the pandemic, the impact of technology in the fashion industry and more. Sunaina has proven expertise in international retail management, brand positioning, and turnaround execution. She has almost 20 years of work experience, the majority of which has been leading fashion brands at the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesey (LVMH) group in the Asia Pacific. Sunaina began her career as an entrepreneur in the homeware and lifestyle industry working with retailers in the United States including Barneys New York and Pottery Barn. She pivoted into luxury fashion brand management after completing her MBA and has held strategic positions to expand and reposition brands within LVMH’s Asia Pacific portfolio.

In her most recent role, Sunaina was the country head of Louis Vuitton in India and legal director for all operations in the country. She was responsible for developing and expanding Louis Vuitton’s omnichannel retail operations, people and brand equity in this high growth market. She successfully led her team to achieve the highest sales, client experience and brand growth that had ever been achieved for the brand.

Excerpts:

Q. Tell us more about your background and how your Indian roots brought you back to India?

A. I’m from Thailand. I am ethnically Indian but fourth generation, born and brought up in Thailand. I was very blessed to have an international upbringing. I have worked in five continents, travelled extensively. My last few roles have been within the LVMH group based out of Hong Kong.

My first role within the group was as the Regional Head of Asia Pacific for Emilio Pucci. In this role, I managed the entire scope of the brand’s direct retail business in Hong Kong and China as well as franchise, department store and multi-brand distribution in the Asia Pacific. My next role within the LVMH group was as the Commercial Director for Givenchy to identify and execute growth strategies to maximise brand development and repositioning. In my tenure, I oversaw 61 locations, opened 24 stores in line with the brand vision and improved productivity across the network. When they offered me the position to come back to India to amplify the Louis Vuitton business in India, I was thrilled at the opportunity and I am very proud of all we did to build the business and our team in India.

Q. What are the tools that have allowed you to succeed?

A. While growing up my father always said that travel is the best form of education. I had a very international education in Asia, Australia, and Europe and have worked in five continents. This allows me to be sensitive to people and cultures while executing different strategies to grow businesses. I am a commercially driven leader and am passionate about people and delivering excellence. My general management and end-to-end experience overseeing teams, networks, finance, logistics, merchandising, client development, and marketing allow me to be detail-oriented yet see and set the big picture.

Q. What have we learned in retail during the Covid-19 pandemic?

A. The biggest learning is that we have to embrace e-commerce and the online experience. The word ‘omnichannel’ was a buzzword a decade ago. I think successful businesses during the pandemic had to integrate different methods of shopping available to consumers. You have had to expand the supply chain through localities, fulfilment centres or direct consumers. E-commerce has been a key to successful businesses in the pandemic. Businesses had to be agile and responsive to different means of reaching consumers. The lockdown has also led to less physical interaction with consumers. Brands have had to re-think the consumer experience and how they engage with clients. The big thing is how we engage with clients in a number of different ways.

Q. How do you think technology will impact the fashion industry in the future?

A. Technology will be a key part of the growth of the fashion industry. Coming out of the pandemic, sustainable materials are important and a key focus for a lot of brands. Opting for materials that are good for the environment as well as good for us: non-toxic and more breathable. We know that there are now going to be ways to bridge e-commerce and the successful physical presence of stores. We can have VRs, augmented reality to help you try out clothing; jewellery, fashion and many brands have done it successfully. Just the engagement of technology and digitisation is the key to the success and supply chain management. This is an exciting time for us and technology will enable future growth in retail.

Q. What advice would you give to business owners in India as we come out of second Covid-19 wave?

A. I am sitting in the US right now and we are starting to see lines in retail stores again. People really want to embrace human connection. I would just like to say that there is hope and light. I hope that businesses now use this time to strategise and further activate their omnichannels, integrate, and improve their e-commerce presence, engage with their communities on social media platforms and really use technology to enhance the supply chain and logistics to better prepare them for the future.

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Time out: Yoga asanas amid busy work meetings

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Work from home means longer working hours, with more emails and even more work meetings. Attending those long back to back video calls can be boring, hectic, and it definitely makes your body stiff and sore due to long sitting hours at the work desk. It also affects your focus and productivity. Obviously, how can one properly concentrate while in pain? However, a little movement and stretching in between busy work meetings can save you from unwanted mind and body stress.

On International Self-Care Day, let’s decide to prioritise a healthy lifestyle amid busy schedules. 

Try these simple yoga asanas that you can do while sitting on your chair or while standing in between breaks:

1. GARUDASANA

This asana can be done while sitting on a chair or while standing. It is a great shoulder and upper back opener. It also works towards removing stiffness from the lower body as well. Remember to repeat this asana on both sides.

STEPS

· Sit up tall on the chair with your spine erect and feet flat on the floor 

· Bring both your hands together, elbows touching each other. Take the right arm around the left and bring it around so both palms are facing each other

· Lift your right leg and place it over your left thigh, tucking your right toes around the left calf

· Gaze straight and breathe normally. Remove the bind to come out of the pose

· Repeat on the other side 

2. SITTING SIDE BENDS 

Sitting at the desk for a long time can make the upper body very stiff. Hence, it is important to engage in some simple movements like side bends.

This pose can also be performed while sitting on a chair or hile standing.

STEPS

· Sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the ground

· Inhale, raise both your arms up in the air and palms facing each other 

· As you exhale, take your right arm over your head, stretching it over to the left

· Simultaneously, bring your left arm down to the right side

· Breathe normally, feeling the stretch in your right-hand side of the body

· Hold this pose for 30 seconds

· Repeat on the other side 

3. TADASANA 

This is one of the most simple and effective poses. It is beneficial for overall health. It helps with aligning body posture, relieves back pain, increases focus, and balance.

STEPS

· Stand straight on the floor and keep a small gap between your feet

· Inhale and raise both your arms

· Interlock your fingers and stretch your arms upwards

· Now come on your toes, raising your heels 

· Feel the stretch in the sides of your body and be in this pose for a few seconds

· Release your arms and come down on your heels

4.  SHOULDER OPENER

This is an excellent stretch for the shoulders as well as the upper back. This stretch not only helps with stiff shoulders but also calms the mind as you fold forward.

STEPS

· Sit comfortably on the chair with your feet flat on the floor

· Take your arms behind your back, interlacing your fingers 

· Bend your torso forward, bringing your hands over your head, straightening it as much as possible

· You can place your head on your lap if that’s comfortable or else, just gaze towards the floor 

· Be gentle and know your limit 

Remember to do deep breathing during these asanas. It will help you relax and destress. Take out at least a few minutes every day to rejuvenate and recharge yourself.

The writer is a Yoga Instructor at SARVA.

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WORLD ORDER AND INDIA: NEGOTIATING THUCYDIDES TRAP & GREAT CONVERGENCE

Standing as a gateway between Western hegemony and Chinese authoritarianism, India holds a global promise that is much more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and economic growth-centric.

Rudra P. Pradhan

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Harvard Professor Graham Alison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ and Geneva School of Economics Professor Richard Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ are two dominant geopolitical perspectives today that guide and capture current global geopolitical transitions and turbulence of our times. Thucydides Trap and Great Convergence are recent propositions. There is, however, a very interesting third perspective too that was prophesied back in 1940s by former Director of London School of Economics, Sir Halford John Mackinder. 

Mackinder’s perspective centred around the imagination and theoretical construct of China and India rising to world centre stage. Back in 1943, Mackinder, writing the last article of his life, prophesied that “the Monsoon Lands of India and China holding a thousand million people of ancient oriental civilisation will grow to prosperity and balance the remaining great geographical regions.” Mackinder further added, “They will then balance the other thousand million who live between the Missouri (River in the USA) and the Yenisei (Russian River).  A balanced globe of human beings, and happy, because balanced and thus free.” In the midst of the World War II, Mackinder wrote this piece at the request of Foreign Policy magazine and imagined a great geopolitical turning point emerging from the Asian highlands where China and India shall hold and define the thread of international geopolitical balance. 

After over 75 years of Mackinder’s hypothesis, while China’s rise has greatly ruptured the global power balance and distorted world order today, the rise of India into the world stage offers an alternative narrative. Away from the communist jingoism and carefully balanced from Western political prescriptions, India, as Mackinder imagined, has indeed emerged as the largest democratic polity in the world with a world view that is entirely native of India and flows from the civilisational values of the subcontinent while being organic in character and symbiotic with larger aspirations of the world.

RISING MULTIPLEX WORLD ORDER

Bretton Woods system is under great stress today symbolising a visible decline of American eminence in international affairs. The United Nations — the largest organ of Bretton Woods — is unable to respond to conflict situations in Syria, Afghanistan, Crimea, South China Sea dispute, terrorism, and radicalism issues. Demand for UN reform is quite rightfully growing. Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) emerging as new frontiers of conflict, newer security alignments and counter alignments like QUAD, joint military exercises like Malabar and MILAN, Sea Guardian et al are new strategic security experimentations. Given Chinese infrastructure investments in several Island Chain countries, long-neglected Island nations have suddenly emerged as critical investment destinations and phenomena of Island shopping by big powers. 

Bretton Woods financial architecture is also under stress. BRICS Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are seen as alternatives to World Bank. While the dollarised world economy is threatened by the Eurozone, cryptocurrencies, and the Chinese digital Yuan, the international trade regime is vacillating between trade liberalism and aspiration for protectionism. New players and economic clusters demanding and competing for power and influence, it’s new world order of pluralism and multipolarity which Professor Amitav Acharya captures as phenomena of multiplex world order. While the political analysts from Robert Keohane to Joseph Nye, and Kishore Mahbubani et al are largely in agreement with the multiplex world order hypothesis, economists have far too matured explanations of this change and the change drivers. 

GREAT CONVERGENCE HYPOTHESIS

‘Thucydides Trap’ sensitises all of us of a visible war. Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ hypothesis on the other hand squarely simplifies this puzzle. Baldwin argues that a fundamental shift in the world’s mode of production has occurred leading to the emergence of wealth in many parts of the world — a critical structural shift. Baldwin calls it as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ where North American and Western European capital has integrated with cheap labour in China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Vietnam et al. The net result — the erstwhile capitalist block is rendered de-industrialised and at their cost and expense, several countries of the world have become wealthier and correspondingly aspirational too. Knowledge economy and its critical arsenals like AI, algorithm, big data, digital currency, and decision tree et al have become new factors of production. 

While China took great advantage of this shifting mode of production to build the Chinese economic power and its corresponding geopolitical influence and ambition, several other countries like India, East Asian countries, Brazil, and Mexico et al also prospered as growing economic powers. Goldman Sachs former Chairman Jim O’Neill spotted this transition and coined the BRIC acronym in 2001. Baldwin called this a phenomenon of ‘Great Convergence’ that led to the pluralisation of the wealth of the world which was earlier limited to industrialised G-7 countries only. Several cluster economies like BRICS, ASEAN, and EU et al also emerged as sovereign country clubs to share the benefit of this change and better negotiate their fortune and influence.   

INDIA AS A SWING STATE

Meanwhile, Richard Fontaine and Daniel Kliman’s hypothesis of ‘Global Swing States’ is yet another explanation that captures countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey as the possible Swing States of the world and its transition. Global Swing States, as Fontaine and Kliman would see, are those nations that possess large and growing economies, occupy central positions in a region or stand at the hinge or gateways of multiple regions, and embrace democratic governments at home. They are increasingly active, aspirational, and desire changes in the existing international order. They greatly represent the aspirations of the developing countries that were systematically marginalised in the Bretton Woods arrangement.

DOES INDIA OFFER THE WAY?

India, in many ways, offers a very proactive and positive way forward towards a smooth transition of international order. In spite of being a nuclear power, India traditionally has downplayed military adventurism or musclemanship in foreign policy practice and choices. As a country of civilisational value order, India champions participatory and inclusive international governance order. While India’s democratic polity is an assured global value, as a critical representative of developing countries’ aspirations, India symbolises consensus than conflict. Since 1947, India has always advocated respect for territorial sovereignty for all nations and demanded strategic autonomy for itself in foreign policy choices. As the second-largest global market, India boasts of a huge labour force and attracts much more global interest than all other Swing States put together. In the Indo-Pacific Sea lanes, India talks of rule-based governance and ‘security and growth for all’ — a cooperative development module than predatory hegemony. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, India acted as a benevolent vaccines supplier than monopolising or profiting out of the crisis. 

India characteristically holds a ‘goodwill value’ which is beneficial to the world at large. While Mackinder imaginatively predicted the rise of China, he was equally apprehensive of the rise of ‘Yellow Barbarian’ and anticipated that the rise of India shall beneficially balance the world order. Standing as a gateway between Western hegemony and Chinese authoritarianism, India, undoubtedly, holds a global promise that is much more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and economic growth-centric.

Rudra P. Pradhan is an Associate Professor at the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani, KK Birla Goa Campus and serves as a Distinguished Fellow, Political Economy at Centre for Public Policy (CPPR), Kerala.

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BID-HUB IN PGIMER CHANDIGARH WORKS TOWARDS ‘MAKE IN INDIA’ MISSION

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The Biomedical Instruments and Devices Hub (BID-Hub) has been established at postgraduate institute of medical education and research (pgimer) chandigarh, with the support of the department of science and technology dst, government of india, to promote indigenous development. a team of doctors led by Prof. G. D. Puri and Prof. Mathews of PGIMER made a proposal to the DST for sanction of bid-hub in 2015 which finally became functional in 2018.

The center is also working towards the mission of ‘Make in India’ by promoting the indigenous development of high-quality medical devices through innovation, design, and clinical validation steps. The hub has already delivered indigenous medical devices prototypes, patented and commercialized novel medical devices.

Prof. GD Puri, Dean (A), PGIMER, Chandigarh explained that BID-Hub at PGIMER is not only testing the new prototypes and devices made locally but also testing and validating the devices which are being used by clinicians in different parts of the hospital. The calibration testing lab at BID-Hub aims to make the medical devices safer by calibration-testing of all medical devices. The fully functional lab is currently doing in-house testing of different medical equipment types already in-use at PGIMER settings. Notably, the newly procured medical devices are also being subjected to the in-house calibration testing center at BID-Hub for their performance and safety evaluation. This practice of testing the equipment before the procurement or installation in the hospitals ensures critical analysis of the medical equipment regarding its accuracy and defined standards, thereby improving patient care at PGIMER and saving the cost.

A one-day virtual symposium “3rd BID Workshop: Role of Clinical Validation & Calibration Testing in bringing Medical Devices to the Markets” was specially designed to decipher the role of calibration testing and clinical validation of medical equipment. The seminar was inaugurated by Prof. Rajeev Ahuja, Director IIT Ropar. The seminar highlighted the common issues faced by the medical device R&D, Industry etc.

Prof. Jagat Ram, Director PGIMER said that the multidisciplinary center is facilitating device development by acting as a bridge between the engineers and clinicians. The hub acts as a node for CRIKC institutes IIT-Ropar, IIT Mandi, Panjab University, IMTECH, IISER, CSIO, INST etc., in the region for a diverse range of medical devices research & development.

Prof. Joseph L Mathew, Department of Paedriatics, PGIMER explained briefly the activities of the (BID-Hub) and highlighted the clinical expertise at BID-Hub, PGIMER, Chandigarh. He emphasized upon the clinical expertise at the Hub which can act critically in the success of most medical devices.

Being the end-user of the medical devices, clinicians can be the better judges of how well a device performs in clinical settings.

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SUPREME COURT DISMISSES DELHI GOVT’S PLEA AGAINST HARYANA ON WATER SUPPLY

Ashish Sinha

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The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the Delhi government’s contempt plea against Haryana alleging violation of a 1996 order on the water supply to the national capital.

During the hearing, Supreme Court asked Delhi government to negotiate THE matter with the Haryana government.

While dismissing the plea filed by Delhi Government, the Supreme Court told Delhi Government’s advocate, “Please advise your client not to file application after application,”

The apex court was hearing petition filed by Delhi Jal Board (DJB) seeking contempt proceedings against Haryana Chief Secretary Vijai Vardhan and the Additional Chief Secretary, Irrigation and Water Resources Department, Devender Singh, for “willfully” disobeying a February 1996 order of the court to maintain the water level at the Wazirabad reservoir at full capacity to serve the drinking water needs of the Capital.

The DJB in its petition stated that “Due to non-supply of adequate water by Haryana, the water level in the Wazirabad reservoir is only 31% full. This has the possibility of triggering a severe water crisis in Delhi. The petitioner has already had to curtail water for several areas in Delhi, including the President’s Estate, the Parliament House, and other institutional and diplomatic buildings as well as many residential areas, it added.

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