INDIA’S FATALITY RATE STANDS AT 1.43% WITH 87 NEW DEATHS - The Daily Guardian
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INDIA’S FATALITY RATE STANDS AT 1.43% WITH 87 NEW DEATHS

Sabyasachi Roy Choudhury

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India’s Covid-19 infection tally climbed to 1,08,80,603 with 9,309 new cases in a day, while 1,05,89,230 people have recuperated so far pushing the national recovery rate to 97.32 per cent on Friday.

There are 1,35,926 active cases of coronavirus infection in the country which accounts for 1.25 per cent of the total caseload. The death count climbed to 1,55,447 with the novel coronavirus virus claiming 87 lives in a span of 24 hours in the country. The Covid-19 case fatality rate stood at 1.43 per cent

Delhi recorded 141 fresh Covid-19 cases and three deaths on Friday, while the positivity rate stood at 0.22 per cent. On February 9, no fatality was registered in the national capital. The positivity rate on Friday stood at 0.22 per cent.

Maharashtra reported 3,670 new coronavirus infections on Friday, taking the caseload to 20,56,575. The state also reported 36 new fatalities, taking the death count due to the pandemic to 51,451. Of new deaths, 19 were from the past 48 hours and 13 from the last one week, while four deaths had taken place even earlier. A total of 2,422 patients were discharged from hospitals on Friday, taking the overall number of recoveries in Maharashtra to 19,72,475. The state has 31,474 active cases now.

Andhra Pradesh reported 68 fresh cases, taking the tally to over 8.88 lakh on Friday. One death took the toll to 7,162. The state also reported 106 more recoveries. The total confirmed positive cases were 8,88,760 while the recoveries stood at 880,784.

Gujarat recorded 285 new coronavirus cases and two deaths in the last 24 hours on Thursday. The caseload in the state thus rose to 2,64,450, while the death toll due to the pandemic reached 4,399. Both the latest fatalities were reported from Ahmedabad district.

With 302 patients being discharged, the number of recoveries rose to 2,58,270. Gujarat’s rate of recovery went up to 97.66 per cent on Thursday. There are only 1,781 active cases in the state at present, 30 of them are on ventilators.

Odisha’s Covid-19 caseload on Thursday mounted to 3,35,984 after 95 more people tested positive for the infection. The toll remained unchanged at 1,910 as no fresh fatality was reported since Monday. 

Two more persons tested positive for Covid-19 in Mizoram, taking the state’s tally to 4,390 on Thursday. Mizoram at present has 22 active cases, while 4,359 people have recovered from the virus so far. The Covid-19 death toll in the state is nine.

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Dream big is my success mantra: Taxolawgy founder Farooq Haque

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Farooq Haque, Founder and CEO of Taxolawgy recently joined NewsX for a chat as part of its special series NewsX India A-List. Farooq not only gave us an insight into his journey from being a CA to a successful entrepreneur but also on how certain businesses can thrive in the new normal.

Speaking about his journey and how it all led to Taxolawgy, he said, “The journey has been a rollercoaster ride. When I was doing my CA, it was quite difficult but that experience taught me a few lessons such as being resilient and to stand up and fight again. These two lessons that I learned as a student helped me throughout my career. In 1998, when I cleared my CA exams, I followed my passion rather than the norms of the industry. I started my own coaching business. Although at that time, it was not called a startup, it was a startup for sure. In two to three years, I became a top coach in Nagpur. Then I faced a dilemma, what to do next? What should you do once you reach the top of the mountain? You can either sit there and enjoy and let the money come in or dream of something bigger.”

“I dreamt of something big and came down that mountain, left Nagpur and went to Mumbai which was a bigger market. This led to another difficult phase in my life. Setting up your business is not that easy so I struggled for almost two years. Then, I moved to Pune and found myself again at the top of the game. Somewhere in 2013 when I was leading a very busy life, taking classes in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and many other cities, I realised this is not the thing for the future. There has to be something better than this. There has to be a way through which I can reach multiple places at the same time. That’s when I came up with the idea of video classes. In 2013, I left the business of face-to-face classes and started an ed-tech company called Yo EduTech Solutions Pvt Ltd. We were the pioneers of CA online classes in India. That journey started in 2014 and continued till 2019. In 2019, I realised that there are still much better oceans out there. When GST came in, we realised that we need to have a global knowledge base, especially for taxation. So, we started building a knowledge platform where we can share knowledge. During this phase, my colleague Divya Varma came up with the idea of a freelancing portal wherein we can provide opportunities to chartered accountants and lawyers of this country. That’s how Taxolawgy came into existence and she is the Chief Operating Officer of the company as well as Co-Founder, “ added Farooq.

He shared with us the concept of Taxolawgy and his vision for the company, “We built Taxolawgyas a platform where we can collect all the domain experts such as legal experts, financial experts, website developers, digital marketers, cost accountants, and others working in a business environment and give services to businesses on a global scale. We wanted all of them to come on our platform Taxolawgy.com and provide services on a global scale. It is called Taxolawgy as it started as financial domain, tax and law are the main aspects of it but slowly we expanded it on a much bigger scale. Currently, we have over 3000 experts on-board, all experts of different domains from India, Australia, the Philippines, the US and other countries.”

Along with Taxolawgy, Farooq is also the man behind successful online portals like BookMyWizard, and YoWorkPlace. Giving us an insight into these projects, he shared, “We started Taxolawgy in 2017 after GST came in. While working on this portal we realised that there are a lot of other opportunities out there. Artificial Intelligence is coming in a big way and into everything. However, when it comes to sharing real knowledge based on experience and wisdom there is nothing better than human interaction. The way one human can communicate real knowledge, understanding, and lessons to another person are through human communication. Therefore, we built BookMyWizard which is based on human intelligence and the transfer of human knowledge through human connection. We are using technology for that. What we want is that people who are experts in their domain, who are wizards of their domain, should share their knowledge with people out there and we need this on a big scale today. The world is moving so fast that people want to learn fast. They can’t attend a large number of lectures and classes to gain knowledge. If I am stuck somewhere in my venture like coding then I need help instantly. The way to do that is to connect to a domain expert. That’s what we are trying to build with BookMyWizard. The experts, who are wizards and experienced in their fields, can help people through mentoring, training, or consulting.”

When asked about YoWorkPlace, Farooq replied, “When the pandemic struck, everyone was working from home. Even today most people are working from home and big companies have said that they will continue working from home till the end of 2021. During this stage, when people realised the benefits of work from home and a lot of research was done, I had an intuition that the world is going to move permanently. The way people work is going to change in the future and remote working is going to be the thing. With YoWorkPlace, we are building a complete ecosystem around that. We realised that people who are hired for a job in an office are suddenly shifted to work from home so they face a lot of problems as they were not meant to work from home. You need a complete ecosystem to survive.”

On a parting note, when asked if the pandemic has been an opportunity for all his businesses, he answered, “Yes, I think we were at the right place at the right time. Remote working needs a lot of things to come in, including creating job opportunities. What is happening right now is that people are hired to work from the office but they are working from home. The companies who hire these people hired them as they were living in that place. The location was most important but it is going to become redundant in future as talent will rule. We want to make that shift. We should not hire someone based on his or her location but because of their talent. Since people are working from home, they feel lonely at times. To overcome that, we are building a robust community and network which will provide them with several activities and events for skill development. We are also working towards building a robust network of co-working spaces because if you are not able to work from home, you can go to a nearby co-working space, hire it and work from there.”

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WHY WE SHOULD NOT CREATE UNWARRANTED EXAM HYPE

The government, in association with teachers, parents and communities, has made wonderful efforts to ensure that students continue learning as smoothly as they can during the Covid-19 pandemic. After all the challenges faced and initiatives taken over the past year, everyone must rest assured that each student is well-equipped to face the upcoming examinations.

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A video of the Delhi government’s Director of Education addressing school students in their classroom, telling them to “attempt every question even if it means just copying out the question again”, has raised eyebrows and become a subject of public disdain. Later, on being queried, a senior member of the Education Department clarified that the official’s statement should not be “misinterpreted” and that it is part of an attempt to encourage students in “a very bad year” as lots of them have lost out on their writing practice, and that the official was trying to tell students to “not be disheartened, not worry about the CBSE or anyone else, and just write”.

However, no clarification can justify the statement which was made. It was negative and discouraging for teachers who made Herculean efforts to complete the syllabus and also for the hardworking students who, despite the lockdown, used all available digital tools to study.

The year-long lockdown has been a matter of deep worry for one and all, especially for students, parents, teachers, administrators and law makers. A large number of questions were raised in both the Houses of Parliament during the current session about the impact of the lockdown on education and students. For instance, Ram Nath Thakur, asked a Starred Question (No.117) on 11.2.2021 in the Rajya Sabha to Ramesh Pohkriyal Nishank, Minister for Education, about the closure of schools due to COVID-19 and the action taken by the government to compensate for the loss of study hours. There were also questions in the Lok Sabha by Prathap Simha and Tejasvi Surya (SQ No.81 on 8.2.21) regarding online education. The minister informed the Parliament that education being a concurrent subject, his Ministry had taken a whole range of initiatives in the best spirit of cooperative federalism to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Instructions were issued to the States and UTs from time to time for ensuring continued education with quality and equity.

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) conducted a survey in July 2020 with the help of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) and the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) to understand the scenario of online learning among school students including girls and the children of migrant workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCERT prepared an ‘Alternative Academic Calendar’ and Students’ Learning Enhancement Guidelines. The guidelines suggest models for the following three types of scenarios to ensure that no student is deprived of the reach to education during the pandemic: learning enhancement for students without digital devices, learning enhancement for students with limited accessibility to digital devices, and learning enhancement for students with digital devices.

Further, a multi-pronged approach has been adopted by leveraging technology to reach the students. Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing Digital infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA), Study Webs of Active-learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM), SWAYAM PRABHA (32 TV channels), MANODARPAN for psychosocial support to students, teachers and families for mental health and emotional wellbeing, PRAGYATA (Plan, Review, Arrange, Guide, Yak (Talk), Assign, Track and Appreciate), etc. have been put to good effect. Guidelines on digital education, e-textbooks using e-pathshalas web portal and mobile apps for Android, iOS and Windows are being used by schools, colleges and universities to provide learning facilities. Where internet facility is not available, SWAYAM PRABHA—one class, one TV channel—is being used to impart education. Besides, community radio stations and a podcast called Shiksha Vani by the CBSE are also being used effectively in remote areas where online classes are difficult. The Ministry is also implementing Samagra Shiksha, under which a number of initiatives for the promotion of education are being taken viz., opening of schools in the neighborhood to make access easier.

To a question in the Rajya Sabha (USQ No.1177 on 11.02.2021) by Elamaram Kareem on the reduction in syllabus by the CBSE, the Minister replied that the CBSE has rationalised the syllabi for major subjects of classes IX-XII only for the purpose of summative examinations 2021 as a one-time temporary measure to mitigate the effect of school lockdown. The CBSE has reduced the syllabi by 30% for the purposes of the 2021 Board examinations for classes X and XII. The concept of ‘Fail’ has also been done away with and replaced by ‘Essential Repeat’ with effect from the 2020 Board exams.

To a question by Sanjay Singh (USQ No.1164 on 11.2.2021), the Minister replied that online classes are being conducted at schools by employing various digital tools. Various efforts have been made for the creation of a digital infrastructure which would not only be helpful in the current circumstances but would also be a valuable asset for online learning in the future. The steps taken by all the states are in the report, India Report Digital Education June 2020. Learning programmes were also started in the form of offline learning tools – radio, community radio and CBSE podcasts, toll free numbers, missed call and SMS-based requests for audio content, localised radio content for edutainment, etc. The mediums of TV and radio have been used for students who do not have digital means, besides the learning enhancement and online education guidelines which were issued on 19 August 2020 for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Responding to the question of Derek O’ Brien (USQ 1145 on 11.2.2021) in the Rajya Sabha about displaced migrant workers’ school-going children, the Minister replied that his ministry issued guidelines to all the states and UTs for the identification, smooth admission and continued education of migrant children on 13.07.2020. States have been asked to identify and enrol all children of migrant workers without any procedural hassles and maintain a database of the migrant children admitted. The Minister said that he had a series of meetings with the states/UTs where he reiterated the whole range of measures, outlined above, that have been taken to meet the challenges. Also, during the pandemic period, mid-day meals in the form of food security allowance/dry ration have been provided to students at the elementary level.

A comprehensive initiative, PM e-VIDYA, has been launched for infusing technology with equity. This overarching initiative covers in its ambit DIKSHA, Swayam Prabha, comprising of 32 dedicated channels, of which 12 channels are “one class, one TV channel”, e-content for Open School, extensive use of radio, community radio and podcasts, and e-content for visually and hearing-impaired students. DIKSHA has 1,65,204 pieces of e-content and during the pandemic period between March to October 2020, it had over 5000 million page hits and over 450 million QR scans for the e-content of textbooks. Hundreds of videos on maths and science prepared by the teachers of JNV and KVS have also been uploaded on DIKSHA. There were 70 crore total learning sessions as on 18 October 2020. Under the Vidya Daan scheme, teachers, private bodies and experts contributed 38,206 contents, of which 29,069 have been approved and are available to students. Open Virtual Labs (Olabs) too were tied up with to facilitate practicals for senior students. E-comic books were released to continue learning joyfully and imbibe critical thinking skills. Measures were also instituted to address the issues of cyber safety and prevent cyber bullying.

Under online MOOCs, there were 92 courses and 1.5 crore students enrolled, On Air-Shiksha Vani, DAISY (Digitally Accessible Information System) by NIOS for the differently-abled, e-Pathshala, National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) to develop e-content and energise books, telecast through TV channels, e-learning portals, webinars, chat groups, distribution of books and other digital initiatives. Besides, states also managed the critical task of providing digital education at the doorsteps of the students. Social media tools like WhatsApp groups, YouTube channels, Google Meet, Skype, e-learning portals, TV, radio, etc., were used to the hilt. A total of Rs 5784.05 crores was allocated under Samagra Shiksha alone to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 during the current fiscal year. An online course for 42 lakh school teachers has been launched too, wherein 16 lakh teachers were trained as on 22 October 2020 and 17 crores courses conducted on the DIKSHA platform.

My conversations with the Education Ministers of states like Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan and with the senior officials of many states have made it emphatically clear that in areas of poor connectivity, other available means were put to use effectively with the willing cooperation of the community. To everyone’s delight, the attendance percentage was higher than the usual school attendance. This proves beyond any manner of doubt that despite the pandemic, our students and their parents, the teachers, the line departments and the community made wholehearted and sustained efforts to learn and impart education, thanks to India’s fast expanding digital architecture. Our students are well-equipped mentally and emotionally to write the Board exams.

Thus, the talk of ‘copy the questions’ is absurd and undermines the self-esteem and ability of our students and the honest efforts made by the teachers to impart education. In the hoary tradition of India, meditation, concentration and self-study occupy preeminent place. Eklavya’s story is more apt and inspirational in these pandemic times. Our students have faced the challenges of the pandemic with grit, determination and great perseverance, made full and proper use of digital tools and they will surely come off with flying colours in the exams. Exams are like festivals—let us celebrate them instead of fearing them.

The author is former Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha, and a scholar of comparative governments and politics. The views expressed are personal.

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MEHBOOBA SLAMS DENIAL OF BAIL TO PDP LEADER WAHEED PARRA

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MEHBOOBA ALLEGES HOUSE ARREST

PDP chief and former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has reacted to the recent decision of a special court rejecting the bail application of her party’s youth leader, Waheed Parra, who was arrested by CID wing of J&K police and has been in their custody.

She took to Twitter on Wednesday and said that without having any proper evidence, the court has rejected the bail of a political activist purely on the basis of accusations by police.

On Tuesday a special court, while rejecting the bail application of Waheed Parra, said that between the liberty of a person and the security of the state, the second one is more important. The court said that charges against Parra “were grave, serious and heinous in nature” and that a preliminary analysis of evidence collected so far showed that he was “aiding” militancy in Jammu and Kashmir in the garb of being a politician.

In her tweet Mehbooba said, “Worrying trend that bail is no more the rule but an exception, and an accused is assumed to be guilty without proof. Current state of affairs is such that under trials are jailed for months and even years languishing behind bars before charges are proven”.

It is in place to mention that he was first arrested by NIA and obtained a bail from NIA court on 9 January last month. The NIA had arrested Parra on 25 November last year in a terror-related case.

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FARMERS’ PROTEST RAKESH TIKAIT DEMANDS ESTABLISHMENT OF AGRI RESEARCH CENTRE IN PARLIAMENT

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GHAZIPUR: Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait on Wednesday demanded establishment of a agriculture research centre in the Parliament premises so that rates of crops can be determined.

“The government dispels the Swaminathan report and thinks that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that is being asked for is too much. Why not establish an agriculture research centre in the Parliament premises, grow crops there and decide their rates according to profit and loss after harvesting?” Tikait told ANI. The BKU leader also said with this farmers’ protest, political parties will now have to include farmer welfare in all elections and will have to address farmers’ issues.

Earlier, Tikait had threatened the Centre that if the three newly enacted farm laws are not repealed, the farmers will march to the Parliament with 40 lakh tractors.

Speaking at a farmers’ rally in Sikar in Rajasthan, Tikait said, “Our next call will be for a march to Parliament. We will tell them before marching. This time it won’t be just 4 lakh tractors but 40 lakh tractors will go there if farm laws are not taken back.”

Tikait also demanded that a new law should be enacted ensuring minimum support price for farmers.

This comes weeks after the violence that broke out in the national capital on January 26 during the farmers’ tractor rally.

Farmer groups protesting against the Centre’s agricultural laws strayed from the prearranged route and broke barricades to enter Delhi. They clashed with the police and vandalised property in several parts of the national capital.

Many also entered the Red Fort and unfurled their flags from its ramparts.

Several public and private properties were damaged in acts of vandalism by the protestors. A total of 22 FIRs have been filed by the Delhi Police and in an incident at ITO a farmer died after his tractor overturned during the same rally.

Farmers have been protesting on the different borders of the national capital since November 26 against the three newly enacted farm laws – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and farm Services Act 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. 

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Punjab Cabinet okays new policy for construction of over 25,000 houses for economically weaker sections

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CM Captain Amarinder Singh.

The Captain Amarinder Singh led Punjab Cabinet on Wednesday approved a new EWS Policy, paving the way for construction of more than 25000 houses for the economically weaker sections, with developers and authorities required to develop 5% of project area for EWS housing.

These houses would be constructed in reasonably sized pockets, along with social infrastructure, such as schools, community centres and dispensaries, at convenient locations to ensure comfortable living for the beneficiaries. They will be provided access to basic civic amenities.

This decision was taken during a Cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh through video conferencing.

The houses under the new policy would be constructed with the latest brick-less technology, using services of qualified Project Management Agencies (PMAs). They will be offered to eligible families, who will be financed by banks at affordable monthly instalment rates.

The policy provides for eligible applicants to furnish proof of birth in Punjab or of 10 years’ stay in the state from the date of application, such as Aadhaar card, copy of ration card, extract of voter list, copy of driving license, passport etc. Family income should not be more than Rs.3 lac per annum from all sources, as revised by GoI or Punjab from time to time. The applicant/his spouse/minor child must not already own freehold/leasehold residential plot/dwelling unit in Punjab or Chandigarh, and the applicant would be required to self-certify on these counts.

The applications will be received and verified by the authorised banks. Only an application for which a Bank provides loan, or applicant undertakes to make lump sum payment within 40 days of issue of letter of intent, would be considered for allotment through draw or otherwise. Applicant must be married and the application must be in the joint name of husband and wife. There will be bar on sale, gift, mortgage with possession, exchange, long lease of the so allotted EWS dwelling units for a period of 15 years except within the family case of death of allottee.

The government would fix sale price for EWS keeping in view the cost of construction of unit, proportionate cost of site development and common infrastructure such as school, community centre etc. and administrative charges such as PMC, advertisement cost, which would not exceed 5% of the total project cost. Land cost will be taken as zero and there would be exemption from EDC on such EWS projects.

Developers may consolidate their EWS areas in pockets which must be at least 1km apart, be it of 12 to 16 acre in size, in residential zones of SAS Nagar and New Chandigarh Master Plans, on already constructed master plan roads, 5 acre to 16 acre on existing roads with minimum 40 feet right of way in case of rest of Punjab, within 4km of their colonies. Apart from these, the value of area transferred to government and area reclaimed in the colony must be same as per collector rates of the two lands.

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HARYANA CM WANTS EDUCATION FROM KG TO PG UNDER SINGLE ROOF

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Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal has directed the officers concerned to develop a system under which a single educational institute could be set up for imparting education from kindergarten (KG) to post-graduate (PG) levels. He directed the officers to identify two such universities wherein such systems can be implemented initially.

The Chief Minister gave these directions while presiding over a review meeting with the State Educational Research and Training Council (SCERT), District Institute for Education and Training (DIET) and Block Institute of Teacher Education (BITE) held here on Wednesday. Haryana Education Minister Kanwar Pal was also present in the meeting.

The CM directed the officers to chalk out a plan for the accreditation of private institutions and this should be continuously monitored so that they can meet the required standards. During the meeting, it was informed that in the new National Education Policy (NEP), from the year 2030, it will be mandatory for a teacher to hold a BA-B.Ed integrated degree.

CM Manohar Lal directed that work on this programme should be started from next year rather than to wait for the year 2030. He further directed that 10 schools should be identified in three districts of Haryana including Gurugram, Jhajjar and Kurukshetra where internships for the students taking BA-B.Ed integrated degree can be provided. He said that apart from in-service training, training should be made compulsory even before recruitment.

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