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Phase 4 of Vande Bharat Mission begins with focus on fewer nations

Arun Dhanta

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India has begun Phase 4 of its massive repatriation exercise Vande Bharat Mission on Friday, with over 900 flights scheduled. Private airlines will play a major role with IndiGo and GoAir operating 498 flights. These numbers are likely to rise. This phase will be the biggest until now with the focus on only 17 nations.

Air India will operate 114 flights, Air India Express will operate 300 flights and private players such as IndiGo will be operating 457 flights and GoAir will operate 41 flights.

In this 4th phase of VBM, Air India will focus almost exclusively on longhaul destinations, leaving shorter routes for Air India Express and private carriers. Long-haul destinations include flights to Australia, UK, USA, Ukraine, Canada and Kenya. The Middle East, which has seen the highest demand, as well as Asia, will be flown by Air India Express, IndiGo and GoAir. These flights will operate between July 3 and 15.

Until now, private airlines had only operated few flights out of the thousands given to Air India. However, it seems this is set to change. As per the Civil Aviation Ministry, private airlines will be at the centre of the repatriation flights this time.

Before this phase began, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted, “We began VBM to bring back about 190K stranded citizens. But when numbers grew manifold we ramped up the mission. Since May 6, nearly 445K people have returned on VBM  and chartered flights(170K) including foreign charters (275K). More are expected to return in Phase 4.”

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Speaker-Governor clash takes a new turn in Bengal

On Wednesday, the Speaker of Bengal Assembly said that if the governor expressed his desire to visit the assembly, then the Assembly authorities would look into the reasons for his coming.

Arup Kali

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On Wednesday, the Speaker of West Bengal assembly Biman Banerjee said that if the West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar expresses his desire to come to the assembly in the future, he would be welcomed. And that is why analysts think that the state-governor conflict in West Bengal has taken a new turn.

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar with state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during the 73rd Republic Day Parade, at Red Road, in Kolkata on Wednesday. ANI

The speaker however, said that if the governor himself expressed his desire to come to the assembly, then the assembly authorities would look into the reasons for his coming. Earlier the speaker had said that the governor could no longer come to the assembly on his own.

The argument being made by the assembly authorities is that the manner in which the governor attacked the speaker on January 25 when he came to lay a wreath at the statue of BR Ambedkar is unprecedented. The speaker claimed that the governor’s behavior was totally disrespectful. The speaker remarked that the role played by Jagdeep Dhankhar in the assembly did not suit him, at least as the governor.

Incidentally, standing next to the Speaker on January 25, the Governor remarked that the Legislative Assembly was not abiding by the Constitution.

The Speaker said, “The previous Governor has inaugurated many programs in Bengal. Even then there was press, there was media. He went to the press corner and talked to everyone. But none of them behaved like that. He wanted to come to the assembly himself. We have brought him with dignity. But we did not understand, he will use this platform to make a political statement.”

“I have asked for a CD of his speech. After seeing that, I will decide what to do next. ” The speaker added.

“Let me be clear, if Dhankhar wants to come, he has to provide a reason behind his visit to the assembly. He has some constitutional obligations, for which he has to come there. We have nothing to say. But if he wants to come to the assembly voluntarily, we want to know why he wants to come. ”

Incidentally, the governors have repeatedly clashed with the state administration in the past. Such as Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who was the Governor of Bengal from 2004 to 2009. Or even earlier, Governor Dharambir dismissed the United Front government led by veteran Congress leader Ajay Mukherjee.

But this clash between the Governor and the Speaker is unprecedented. Analysts believe that this instance of attacking the authorities or the speaker while standing in the assembly has not been seen in Bengal before.

In this context, BJP leader Agnimitra Paul said, “The speaker’s statement is very sad. Which is unfortunate enough for this state to have a constitution. The Speaker does not have the power to control the motion of the Governor or to prevent the arrival of the Governor in the Legislative Assembly. It should be understood that the Speaker runs the Vidhan Sabha, it is not his house. “

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ANTIBODIES FROM OMICRON EFFECTIVE AGAINST ALL VARIANTS: ICMR

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The latest study conducted by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) shows that antibodies generated by Omicron, a COVID-19 strain, are not only effective against it but also other variants of concern (VOCs) including Delta.

“The individuals infected with Omicron have significant immune response which could neutralize not only the Omicron but also the other VOCs including most prevalent Delta variant,” a study by ICMR has revealed. “This suggests that the immune response induced by the Omicron could effectively neutralize the Delta variant making the re-infection with Delta less likely, thereby displacing the Delta as dominant strain. This emphasizes the need for the Omicron specific vaccine strategy,” it further said.

In this study, the ICMR has analysed the IgG and neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) against B.1, Alpha, Beta, Delta and Omicron variants with the sera of individuals infected with the Omicron variant (B.1.1529 and BA.1) as currently India is facing the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ICMR has said that within a short span of time, the variant has shown high transmissibility and capability of evading the immune response generated against natural infection and vaccination. The immune escape potential of Omicron is a serious concern and further needs to be explored.

The study, where antibodies response was assessed in those who are infected by Omicron, is pre-print. And not peer reviewed.

Although COVID-19 cases are showing a downward trend in the big cities, the ICU admissions and deaths are being driven by patients with comorbidities, people who are immunocompromised, and the aged.

Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, senior consultant, Internal Medicine, Apollo Hospital said, “It is comorbidity which is causing ICU admissions. Even before COVID-19, people with comorbidities, extreme age require ICU admission quite a few times with any of the infections. Rather than Omicron causing ICU admissions, it is the comorbidities, because superimposed infection which happens to be Omicron is causing the ICU admission.”

“When numbers are high, deaths actually follow them. Cases have started coming down in metropolitan cities but people actually die a couple of weeks down the line. They become more serious and come up with more complications and start dying. Thus, the discrepancy occurs that when peak has already been seen and cases are reducing each day (especially in Mumbai and Delhi) the deaths have slightly risen and this what happens epidemiologically,” Dr Chatterjee said.

MARKET NOD

The regular market approval from Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) to COVID-19 vaccine Covishield and Covaxin is expected soon, but only after price is fixed, official sources said on Wednesday.

Recently, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), DCGI, Drug regulators and senior officials of the Union Health Ministry conducted a meeting regarding fixing the prices of Covishield and Covaxin, but no final decision has been taken yet.

It is expected that the price of a vaccine will be fixed below Rs 275 per dose and additional service charges of 150 to make both the vaccines affordable for all.

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MAJITHIA WILL TAKE ON SIDHU, PARKASH BADAL WILL CONTEST FROM LAMBI

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Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia will contest the Punjab Assembly election against State Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, said SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal on Wednesday. “Bikram Singh Majithia will contest against Navjot Singh Sidhu to dismantle his arrogance in this Assembly elections,” Badal told journalists. Sidhu has retained his candidature from his traditional seat of Amritsar East for the upcoming state Assembly elections. Amritsar East Seat is in the Malwa region of Punjab which has the largest share of Assembly seats and has always been a deciding region for getting the numbers to rule Punjab.

Five-time Punjab Chief Minister and senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal will fight the Assembly elections from Lambi. Making the announcement, his son and SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal said they requested the party patron not to retire from active politics. The presence of Parkash Singh Badal, 94, in the fray is likely to strengthen the SAD poll effort in the tough multi-party contest in Punjab. “The entire party pleaded with Sardar Parkash Singh Badal not to retire from politics and he has acceded to our request to contest the forthcoming elections from Lambi. Badal Sahab has always been in the forefront to offer his services for the welfare of Punjab and Punjabis and he is doing so again,” Sukhbir Singh Badal said.

Sukhbir Badal added that Satinder Singh Chajjwalwadi, son of three-time legislator Ranjit Singh Chajjwalwadi, would be the party nominee from Baba Bakala seat. He also inducted the Chajjalwadi family into the SAD along with a large number of Congress sarpanch and block Samiti members on the occasion.

Hitting out at Sidhu, Sukhbir Singh Badal said his “arrogance will be his undoing”.

“He has been harping on his support among the masses. Now his support will be tested with ‘Majha da sher’ taking him on in his home constituency. He (Sidhu) should get ready to fight the brave SAD workers. We will break his arrogance by ensuring he loses his security deposit,” he said.

“We have called Sidhu’s bluster. We know he has not done anything in his constituency for the last five years. He did not do anything in his constituency even as local bodies’ minister. Amritsar East has drinking water and even sewerage issues which have not been addressed by Sidhu. Now the people of his constituency will hold him to account,” Sukhbir Singh Badal added.

The SAD president said the Congress government had targeted Majithia and even registered a “false case” against him as he had always raised the issues of the people.

Majithia is the brother-in-law of Sukhbir Singh Badal.

“Majithia is known to fight for the people. This was not to the liking of the Congress government. They have registered a false case against a Gursikh who is known to do ‘nitnem’ (Sikh hymns) for two-and-a-half hours every day,” he said.

Badal announced that the party’s chief sewadar from Amritsar East, Gurpreet Randhawa would be the election in-charge of Majithia.

Majithia was booked by Punjab Police under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act at SAS Nagar Police Station on the basis of a 2018 report submitted by the anti-drug Special Task Force (STF).

The Punjab and Haryana high court on Monday rejected the anticipatory bail plea of Majithia in the case.

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‘HM SAID, JAYANT IN WRONG ALLIANCE, DOORS OPEN FOR HIM’

Amit Shah met more than 200 Jat leaders on Wednesday.

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Union Home Minister Amit Shah

Ahead of the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections on 10 February, Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with Jat leaders in the national capital on Wednesday.

The meeting was attended by Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan, and BJP MPs Satyapal Singh and Parvesh Verma. Western Uttar Pradesh BJP leaders Mohit Beniwal and Captain Abhimanyu were also present in the meeting. More than 200 Jat leaders attended the meeting held at MP Parvesh Verma’s residence.

During the meeting, the Home Minister is supposed to have said that RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary has chosen the wrong path, referring to the RLD-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh. According to Parvesh Verma, “On (RLD chief)

Jayant Chaudhary, he (HM Amit Shah) said that there are many possibilities after the polls. For now, he has chosen a party. People of the Jat community will speak to Jayant. BJP’s doors are always open for him.”

“We wanted to welcome (RLD chief) Jayant Chaudhary to our home (BJP) but he has chosen the wrong path,” the BJP MP added.

Responding to this news, RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary tweeted, “Don’t give this invitation to me. Give it to all those 700 farmers’ families whose houses you have destroyed.”

At the meeting, Amit Shah also said, “There are some similarities between you (Jat leaders) and us (BJP). You have fought with Mughals for around 650 years. Just like, Jats do not think only about themselves, but always prioritise nation’s security, BJP also has the same ideology.”

He also said, “We have revoked Articles 370 and 35(A) because you have voted us to power since 2014. You have always supported us.”

Citing the example of farmers, Shah stated that both Jat and BJP think about the welfare of farmers. “We have also worked for implementing ‘one rank one pension’ under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many youths who belong to the Jat community are already working in the Defence sector. Only BJP has given Ministers from the Jat community. You (Jats) have always strengthened the party,” he added.

“Under the leadership of PM Modi, we have given around Rs 80,000 crore to farmers. Work of Ganga Expressway has started. The maintenance yard will be built in Jewar. Work is underway to transform Agra, Saharanpur, Mathura and Firozabad into smart cities. Medical Park is about to be built. Now the state ranks at first place for the market of sugarcane, wheat and mango,” the Home Minister said.

Reacting to Shah’s statements, Captain Abhimanyu, Western Uttar Pradesh BJP leader said that the party does politics of nationalist ideology. “For us, the nation is first, then party. This state was being exploited by foreign invaders, but now, BJP is working to save the interest of farmers in the state,” Abhimanyu added.

Another attendee to the meeting said, “We have demanded a Bharat Ratna for (former PM) Chaudhary Charan Singh, reservation for Jats and proportionate representation in Central government and Uttar Pradesh government. The Home Minister has responded positively to our demands.”

Baghpat BJP MP Satyapal Singh said that no Jat leader or member of the Jat community was angry with the party. “Such a meeting is not being held for the first time. Before this, meetings with the Brahmin community and other sections of society have also been held. Every section of society will make the Bharatiya Janata Party alliance win,” he said.

On the SP-RLD coalition, Satyapal Singh said, “There is no support base for SP and RLD on the ground.”

Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan, known to be one of the biggest leaders of the Jat community in western Uttar Pradesh, said that the meeting was on the agenda of the elections. He said that the meeting was supposed to be held earlier but could not be held due to the COVID situation.

On the resentment of the farmers of the Jat belt, Balyan said, “This perception is created before the elections but in the elections, Jats always vote for the BJP. Jats have always voted for the BJP. They voted for BJP in 2014, 2017 and in 2019. This time also Jats will vote for BJP. Nobody wants Akhilesh Yadav to become the Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh.”

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who is one of the BJP’s star campaigners for Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, will campaign in the western region of the state on Thursday. The senior BJP leader will attend a “Chaupal” in Bagpat and interact with people at Modinagar in Ghaziabad during campaigning.

AKHILESH DEFENDS CRIMINAL CANDIDATES

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav on Wednesday defended the party’s decision to give tickets to some candidates facing criminal cases and said most of these cases had been filed by the BJP government.

“Gayatri Prajapati’s wife doesn’t have any case against her, cases are against the husband. Most cases against Azam Khan were lodged under BJP rule. As far as Nahid Hasan is concerned, BJP (government) lodged most cases against him,” Akhilesh Yadav said. Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya on Tuesday slammed Akhilesh Yadav saying that his party and his allies cannot stop BJP from returning to power and alleged that SP was giving tickets to criminals.

“SP will not be able to stop the lotus of BJP from blooming in the state. The list of candidates that the SP has released for the upcoming elections shows that it is not a political party but the party of gangsters, criminals, mafias. They are not fighting polls in UP but threatening the people of the state. I wish to tell him that however many criminals you give tickets to, your cycle is punctured and will remain punctured,” he had said.

Samajwadi Party has given ticket for upcoming UP polls to jailed former Uttar Pradesh minister Gayatri Prajapati’s wife Maharaji Devi from Amethi. Lok Sabha MP Azam Khan, SP candidate from Rampur seat, is lodged in Sitapur jail since February 2020 as many cases are registered against him.

SP’s candidate from Kairana Nashid Hasan was arrested by UP police earlier this month under the Gangsters Act and is currently in judicial custody.

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WORLD LEADERS WISH INDIA ON REPUBLIC DAY

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Many heads of states and governments extended their wishes on India’s 73rd Republic Day and highlighted the country’s special place and importance in the world. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his message spoke about how the two countries were “tied by bonds that span over decades”.

Johnson in his message wrote, “Want to send my best wishes from the UK to the people of India, and to all British Indians, on India’s Republic Day. The UK and India are tied by bonds that span over decades, through generations and across some of the greatest challenges we have faced.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison also extended his wishes to India on the occasion. Morrison wrote in a tweet, “Australia and India enjoy a wonderful friendship. While, we celebrate Australia Day today, I also extend my very best wishes to my good friend Narendra Modi and all Indians on Republic Day.”

The United States also released an official statement extending Republic Day eve greetings to India and expressing hope for the future of bilateral ties.

Another statement was issued by the United Kingdom’s Ministry Of Foreign Affairs which read, “As two diverse democracies, we are proud of our strong friendship, demonstrated by the launch of free trade negotiations this month and our partnership manufacturing the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine, we look forward to fortifying those bonds as we bring our ambitions, people, and economies together to prosper for the next 75 years and beyond.”

India celebrated its 73rd Republic Day on Wednesday, with a grand parade on the Rajpath, apart from parades in different state capitals. Republic Day was also celebrated in Indian high commissions, embassies and consulates across the globe. From this year the Government of India has decided that Republic Day celebrations will be a week-long programme which will commence on 23 January, the birth anniversary of the great freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and culminate on 30 January which is observed as Martyrs’ Day.

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TRAIN SET ON FIRE, RAILWAY RECRUITMENT EXAM POSTPONED

Railway Ministry forms panel to look into the concerns of the aspirants.

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Indian Railways have postponed the Railway Recruitment Board or RRB NTPC examination following the ruckus created by students in Bihar protesting against alleged irregularities in Non-Technical Popular Categories examinations.

A committee led by Principal Executive Director (Industrial Relations) of the Railway Ministry, Deepak Peter Gabriel was formed on Wednesday to look into the concerns of the students who are complaining against alleged irregularities in RRB exams.

Several videos showing protesters in different parts of Bihar disrupting train operations and destroying railway property have gone viral. “Almost over 1,000 students have been protesting and we are on the site, we still need to monitor the situation,” a member from the police told The Daily Guardian.

The matter got sensitive when some aspirants set on fire a train in Gaya, Bihar. Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav urged the students not to take the law into their hands and assured them of addressing their concerns. “I request students not to take the law into their hands. We will seriously address the grievances and concerns raised by them. Whatever concern students want to share, they can share with the committee set up by Railway Ministry and we will take note of it but do not take law and order in your hands,” he said.

Indian Railways have also issued a warning against the protesting aspirants with a lifetime disqualification from the recruitment process, which is currently under review by the ministry.

The second round of exams, RRB NTPC CBT-2, scheduled to be conducted on 19 February, has been postponed for now. The committee has plans to review the results of RRB NTPC CBT-1 without impacting the shortlisted candidates. The Railway Ministry has also released an email ID to address the concerns of the students. The aspirants have three weeks until 12 February to report their concerns, and after that, the committee will examine them and make recommendations by March 4.

One of the protesters said, “CBT 2 exam date was not notified; there was no update

on railway exam which was notified in 2019. The result is still awaited. We demand cancellation of CBT 2 exam and release of exam result.”

However, currently, the situation is stable and as per local sources, some of the miscreants have been arrested. Gaya SSP Aditya Kumar said: “We want to tell the students that they should not get influenced by anyone and not damage the government’s property. A committee has been formed by the government to look into the matter.”

The RRB NTPC CBT 1 results were issued on 14 January for all five levels, and shortlisted candidates were to participate for CBT 2, which was to be held separately for each level. However, the NTPC exam has been postponed for the time being and further details are still awaited.

WITH AGENCY INPUTS

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