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It’s all about the economy

Joyeeta Basu

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economy

As the caravan of migrants—in this case, trains full of migrant labourers returning to their home states—rolls on, it’s time to take another look at the decision to let lakhs of people return home just when the economy is gearing to open up, at least partially. The Telangana and Karnataka governments have already voiced their concern about the situation. Labour-intensive sectors, particularly construction and agriculture are likely to take a hit in many states if the workforce is not available. But perhaps the Centre did not want to be seen as anti labour by disallowing migrant movement, for the fear of unrest was real, and it could have led to law and order problems, apart from aggravating the health crisis. Also tales of suffering dominating TV screens could have turned the public mood against the lockdown. Considering these teeming millions are also voters, it is no wonder many state governments are falling over each other to bring them back, without much thought to what happens next. Some of the labourers returning to Uttar Pradesh have already tested positive for coronavirus. The fear is that at this rate the virus will spread to the hinterlands, which have been, hitherto, more or less untouched by the spread. And if that happens all the arguments being proffered in favour of “business as usual” because hundreds of districts are coronavirus-free, may just fall flat in their face.

So it is incumbent on the part of the state governments that are making a song and dance over bringing back their people, that the follow-up quarantine is also undertaken with equal enthusiasm. And then there are states such as Bihar that are not too keen to bring back the migrants, and justifiably so. Apart from the logistical problems involved in moving masses of people, the question that is foremost on the minds of these state governments is, what now? What will these people do once they return home? If their meagre farm incomes could sustain them, they wouldn’t have left their state in the first place. Rural industries in the traditional “BIMARU” states—add Bengal to this list—do not exist. So the best option would have been to ensure that the “prosperous” states made it mandatory for industry to hold back the labourers, for which incentives could have been provided by the respective state governments. But then do the states have the money for that? It is May and the Centre is yet to pay the states over Rs 30,000 crore as Goods and Services Tax compensation for December 2019 and January 2020. But then does the Centre have the money to pay the states? In other words, it all boils down to the economy and it’s not in good health. The bottom line is that the money has to be found and the Central government has to find it soon.

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ARMY TO UNVEIL NEW DIGITAL COMBAT DRESS

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The Indian Army would unveil its new digital pattern combat dress in January next year during the Army Day celebrations. “A digital pattern uniform would be unveiled during the Army Day celebrations where it would be worn by one of the contingents,” Army officials said. The Army Day parade would also see contingents wearing different combat uniforms worn by the force in the past, they said.

The decision to bring out the new combat dress for the force was taken at the recently held Army Commanders’ Conference, the officials said. These camouflage uniforms would be totally different from the existing dress and the shirts would not be required to be tucked in by troops. The new camouflage dress would include a mix of colours including earthen and olive.

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‘24 nations affected by Omicron variant’

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As the new strain of Covid-19 Omicron has reached several countries, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday said there is a “toxic mix” of low vaccine coverage and very low testing—a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants.

“WHO continues to call on all countries to optimize public health and social measures and ensure that high risk and vulnerable individuals in all countries are fully vaccinated,” Tedros said at a press briefing. Tedros suggested against blanked ban on travel and said the variant can be kept in check by mandatory quarantine of international travellers.

On Thursday, the Omicron variant was reported to have reached 24 countries, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Press Agency said the citizen carrying the variant came from a North African country.

Amid the scare, the government made RT-PCR mandatory at Delhi airport, for all flyers coming from abroad.

Tedros said: “We are learning more all the time about omicron but there is still more to learn about its effect on transmission, severity of disease and the effectiveness of tests therapeutics and vaccines.” Tedros was keen to call on all countries to rational proportional risk reduction measures in keeping with international health regulations, this includes measures to delay or reduce the spread.

“Several WHO advisory groups have met over the last couple of days to evaluate the emerging evidence, and prioritise the studies needed to answer these questions,” he added. Amid the new variant, many countries have imposed ban on travel since the new strain was discovered at the end of last week.

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‘MODI GOVT WORKS IN COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM SPIRIT’

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Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat on Thursday asserted in the Rajya Sabha that the ‘Dam Safety Bill-2019’ will not encroach on the powers of the states, stating that “we (Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government) work in cooperative federalism”. Addressing the Upper House in his concluding statement for the passage of the Bill, Shekhawat said: “The Centre hasn’t any intention of taking over the power of the States as well as encroaching any of their rights.”

The Union Minister mentioned the point as it was the major concern of various Opposition parties. Shekhawat said 90 per cent of India’s dams are built on inter-state rivers. He explained that when water is released by a state then the states downstream are affected due to this. “There have been several efforts undertaken to ensure a national body on dams has been constituted since the last 40 years. The Centre is trying to ensure that the body is constituted to ensure dam safety,” Shekhawat said.

The Bill proposes the constitution of the National Committee on Dam Safety and the National Dam Safety Authority. The National Committee on Dam Safety will form policies and recommend regulations to the National Dam Safety Authority.

The National Dam Safety Authority implements the policies advised to it. It will also constitute two state bodies—State Committee on Dam Safety and State Dam Safety Authority—if the legislation is passed. The state committees’ functions are restricted at the state level and are akin to those of national committees. The Centre, can, however, amend the functions of these state committees through a notification, if and when it deems necessary.

The provisions of the Bill are proposed to be applied to all specified dams in the country which have a height of more than 15 metres, or between 10 metres to 15 metres. The Lok Sabha had passed the Bill on August 2, 2019. Mentioning that 22 MPs took part in the debate on the Bill, Shekhawat said: “The people of the country have been waiting for the Bill for the last 40 years as it ensures the security of those residing in downstream states, and that the move is to create an environment of security by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government.” Rejecting claims of Opposition leaders that states were not approached before the Bill was moved, the Minister said that a Bill linked to dam safety was circulated to States in 2002 based on 1982 recommendations but only Bihar showed its positive approach then. The Minister made it clear that the Centre neither has any intention to encroach the powers of state on the ownership of dams, its water, electricity or operation, it only made an amendment to give power to the Centre to keep a tab on the safety procedures.

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Kashmir sees highest-ever tourist footfall in 7 years

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A total of 127,605 tourists visited Kashmir in November this year, which is more than all the figures in the month in the past seven years, according to the Jammu and Kashmir government officials. The officials are planning to organise various festivals for the winter season in the Union Territory.

According to the official, 6,327 tourists had visited Kashmir in November 2020 which is way lower than the current figure of nearly 127,000. Director, Tourism Kashmir, Dr G.N. Itoo said, “On the direction of the LG, we conducted some of the iconic festivals like houseboat festival, the Sufi festival in which the national level celebrities had participated and also literary festival because of which a buzz was created at the national as well as the international level. So the tourists from all over the world preferred visiting Kashmir. Almost 1,27,000 tourists have visited in November and almost 93,000 tourists have visited in October. It is the first time in the past 7 years, that tourists in such large number have turned up in October and November.”

Itoo further said that this is the result of a vigorous campaign including the roadshows in the country to promote tourism in Kashmir along with other measures to attract the tourists after the second wave of Covid-19. “The department has started a vigorous promotional campaign after the first wave of Covid-19. We have conducted almost 21 roadshows within the country. When the second wave hit the country, we vaccinated all the members of the tour and travel fraternity as a confidence-building measure,” he said.

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PARAM BIR SINGH SUSPENDED WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT

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The government of Maharashtra on Thursday placed former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh under suspension with immediate effect until further orders, said the State Home Department on Thursday.

During this period Singh shall be paid subsistence allowance, dearness allowance and other allowances as admissible under Rule 4 of All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969, on the production of certificate that he is not engaged in any other employment, said the Maharashtra government. The headquarter of Singh, during this period, shall be the office of the Director-General of Police, Maharashtra State, Mumbai and he shall not leave the said headquarter without obtaining the permission of the Director-General of Police, Maharashtra State, added the government.

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INDIA FORESEES ‘VERY INTENSIVE’ ENGAGEMENT DURING PUTIN’S VISIT

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Ahead of the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit next week, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday said that India foresees a “very intensive” engagement culminating with the Summit. Putin will arrive in New Delhi on 6 December for the annual India-Russia summit. This will be the first in-person meeting of the Russian President and Prime Minister Narendra Modi after their meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brasilia in November 2019. “The visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin will take place on 6th December. He will be here for the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit. There will be a series of meetings. We foresee a very intensive engagement during the day and culminating with the Summit,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said during a weekly media briefing.

“Day will begin with Defence Minster and Russian counterpart co-chairing intergovernmental commission. External Affairs Minister will have a bilateral meeting with their Russian counterpart. It’ll be followed by an inaugural meeting of the newly instituted 2+2 dialogue mechanism at the level of Foreign & Defence Ministers,” he said.

Bagchi said that the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit will be held in the afternoon, and India looks forward to welcoming President Putin to New Delhi for this Summit. “A joint statement is proposed to be issued at the end of the Summit,” he added.

During the summit, the leaders will review the state and prospects of bilateral relations between the two nations and will discuss ways to further strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries. The last India-Russia annual summit took place in 2019 during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Vladivostok city in Russia. The annual summit could not take place in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation.

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