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Each crisis comes with an opportunity to think over and repurpose ourselves. This is a time when the government’s call to Aatmanirbhar Bharat and Vocal4Local can turn the tide in the favour of our handicraft and handloom sector.



The handicraft and handloom sector in India is a Rs 24,300-crore industry and has been one of the most crucial industries in terms of employment generation, especially in the rural areas. The industry contributes nearly Rs 10,000 crore annually in export earnings, which underlines the potential and significance of this sector in the nation’s economy. Each handicraft in our country defines the identity of a particular place and narrates the story of the history and tradition of the community. The handicrafts sector is a home-based industry, which requires minimum expenditure and infrastructure to establish. Therefore it can create jobs at minimal cost. It generates a revenue stream which is ploughed back into the local economy and stems the flood of rural-urban migration. It assumes more significance as the majority of the workforce in this industry comprises women giving them a means to social and financial independence.

Covid-19 has been an unprecedented crisis across the entire spectrum of our economy. But the sector which was amongst the worst impacted is the handicraft and handloom sector when both the production as well as the sales came to an absolute standstill during the lockdown. Even as we are returning back to the new normal, there is still the impact of the Covid-hit households incomes resulting in altered consumption patterns where consumer spending behaviour is inclined more towards purchasing essential goods. The artisan goods, being ‘non essential’ in nature, have therefore led to huge piling of the unsold inventories which has led to poor incomes of the artisans affecting their access to essential commodities and basic healthcare services.

This is the time when we can change this crisis into an opportunity where we can revamp this sector having the tremendous potential of employment generation and turn it into a game changer for the rural economy. To begin with, we need to understand what ails the sector and why the potential of the handicraft sector remains untapped. The sector is highly unorganised with limited access to capital, markets, and market intelligence, changing designs and technology and purchase of raw materials. There is little compliance to the international standards, thus hitting the competitiveness of the Indian handicrafts in the global markets. Little awareness of the government schemes supporting the handicraft sector leads to poor utilisation of the schemes or marginalisation of the small artisans by the middlemen.

As we recover in the time of the pandemic, there is an immediate need for a financial bailout for small artisans who are reeling under severe financial stress through easy access to credit and raw materials.

With the call of Aatmanirbhar Bharat, Vocal4Local and Make in India, there is a need to strengthen institutional procurement of artisan products which will help bring cash in the pockets of the artisans and help them bounce back into business. There is a need for capacity building of the artisans, training for improved design interventions and product development, impetus on good branding and marketing strategies and adherence to international standards.

E-commerce and online marketing provide a window to the artisans from the remotest corners of our villages into untapped markets in urban India and also in other countries.

We need an inclusive approach to support the artisans by revamping the entire value chain, strengthening both production and marketing to increase the competitiveness of the products internationally.

Collaboration with the corporates to take it up as a CSR project or collaborating with the art schools to help in the design improvement keeping in mind the latest trends can go a long way in providing the small artisans the resources and skills required to keep them abreast with the changing needs and dynamics of the markets.

At Samarpann, we conceptualized the Initiative of Rebuilding Lives under our Social Enterprise – ‘From the Countryside’. We reached out to 500 artisans in Uttarakhand and Maharashtra who are engaged in the traditional art forms of Moonj Grass Basketry and Warli Painting respectively. The difference we could bring out specially in the lives of the women artisans based out of Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand has been phenomenal. Nestled in a small hamlet in the Himalayas, these women lost all their meagre sources of income which was through the sale of the moonj grass boxes and baskets in the local markets. This impacted their access to essential goods and also forced their children to agriculture or daily wage activities, thus decreasing their chances of returning to schools on reopening. We provided a market for their products by connecting these women artisans with the corporates and individuals. Taking Diwali as a pilot project, we redesigned the products as per the market needs and curated gift hampers suited for the occasion. Providing their products a visibility through the internet and social media, we were able to bring in the much needed advertising component to showcase the beautiful handwoven basket to the domestic as well as international markets. The Diwali project of “Rebuilding Lives” helped these women increase their revenues by over 300% of the pre-Covid time. This not only provided them with an immediate financial relief but also provided an evidence-based methodology to scale up the project and make it sustainable while keeping it aligned with the rich and diverse human and cultural capital of our country.

Each crisis comes with an opportunity to think over and repurpose ourselves. This is a time when the government’s call to Aatmanirbhar Bharat and Vocal4Local can turn the tide in the favour of our handicraft and handloom sector and make it achieve its true potential.

Megha Bhargava is Deputy Commissioner, Income Tax. Ruma Bhargava is founder, Samarpann. The views expressed are personal.

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Three days before the US-Russia summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said that the two countries need to engage in a constructive dialogue and establish mechanisms for interaction as there are areas in which Moscow and Washington can cooperate.

“[We need] to restore our personal contacts, relations, establish a direct dialogue, create really functioning mechanisms of interaction,” Putin said in an interview broadcast by the media outlet. The President noted that the US side is well aware that there are a number of areas that are of mutual interest, such as strategic stability, regional conflicts, environmental protection measures, and climate. “There are areas in which we can really work effectively,” Putin added.

In the process, President Putin said that Russia would be ready to hand over cyber criminals to the United States if Washington did the same for Moscow and the two powers reached an agreement to that effect.

The Russian leader said he expected the Geneva meeting to help establish bilateral dialogue and revive personal contacts, adding that important issues for the two men included strategic stability, Libya and Syria, and the environment.

Putin also praised Biden for having shown “professionalism” when the United States and Russia agreed this year to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty.

The White House has said Biden will bring up ransomware attacks emanating from Russia at the meeting. That issue is in the spotlight after a cyberattack disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.

A Russia-linked hacking group was behind that attack, a US source familiar with the matter said last week.

Asked if Russia would be prepared to find and prosecute cyber criminals, Putin said Russia’s behaviour here would depend on formal agreements being reached by Moscow and Washington.

Both sides would have to commit to the same obligations, he said.

“If we agree to extradite criminals, then of course Russia will do that, we will do that, but only if the other side, in this case the United States, agrees to the same and will extradite the criminals in question to the Russian Federation,” he said.

“The question of cyber security is one of the most important at the moment because turning all kinds of systems off can lead to really difficult consequences,” he said.

With agency inputs

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12 killed, 138 injured in gas explosion in China



HUBEI: At least 12 people were killed and 138 were injured in a huge gas explosion in central China on Sunday, state media reported.

A gas pipe exploded in the Zhangwan district of Shiyan city, in Hubei province at about 6:30 am local time. The number of casualties is still being verified as the search and rescue operation is underway. According to the local authorities, 150 people have been pulled from the debris, and the injured are being treated at local hospitals.

Apparently, the explosion destroyed a wet market there and greatly affected nearby residents. “Hearing the loud bang, I immediately scrabbled beneath the table, thinking it was an earthquake,” a resident surnamed Liu, told the Global Times via phone.

Images are circulating on social media, which appeared to be from the scene, showed rescue workers in orange jumpsuits working through the wreckage of flattened houses.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, according to the city government, which informed on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

Rescue operation is underway and more details are awaited. ANI

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Amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia has once again barred foreigners to perform the Hajj, and set a limit of maximum of 60,000 pilgrims inside the Kingdom.

“Only 60,000 vaccinated residents and citizens living in the Kingdom will be allowed to perform this year’s Haj pilgrimage due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the Ministry of Haj and Umrah announced in a statement cited by Gulf News on Saturday. The Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars. Every able-bodied Muslim who has affordability tries to visit it at least once in a lifetime.

“Against the backdrop of what the world is witnessing and due to the continuous developments of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the emergence of new mutations, Haj registration will be limited to residents and citizens from inside the Kingdom only,” the ministry also Twitted.

“Muslims between the ages of 18-65 and are fully vaccinated, or those who received their first dose at least 14 days prior, those who are vaccinated and have recovered from a Covid-19 infection are allowed to register,” the ministry added.

This is the second year in a row that Saudi Arabia limits the Haj pilgrimage to Muslims inside the Kingdom. However, only 10,000 Muslims were allowed to perform Hajj last year.

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The US and Japan have been deepening their engagement with Taiwan to help guard it against a growing threat from China. The move has out Beijing in tight spot.

J. Michael Cole, writing in The National Interest said that the regime in Beijing, which continues its effort to isolate Taiwan internationally, is now in the difficult position of having to express its discontent over coronavirus response while avoiding overreaction that could create the rationale for even closer relations between Taiwan and other countries. Taiwan has had a fairly positive past month in terms of its engagement with, and support by, regional partners.

Beijing’s setbacks began back in April, with the joint statement between US President Joe Biden and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which “underscore[d] the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”

Such direct reference to Taiwan by a Japanese prime minister had not been heard for more than half a century, reported The National Interest. This was followed the next month by a similar statement, this one by President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which again “emphasise[d] the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

The unprecedented reference to Taiwan by a South Korean leader also signalled those countries within the region were becoming increasingly alarmed with China’s destabilising behaviour—particularly the high number of intrusions by aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and Navy into Taiwan’s southern Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), wrote Cole.

Four days before the Biden-Suga joint statement, a total of twenty-five PLA aircraft–14 J-16 multi-role fighters, four J-10 multi-role fighters, four H-6K bombers, 2 Y-8 anti-submarine planes, and one KJ-500 airborne early warning and control plane–entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, a new high since the PLA began intensifying its military activity in the region in 2020, reported The National Interest.

But now, China is in a tight spot as Taiwan is receiving more attention from allies. One strategic mistake Beijing may have committed earlier this year was its refusal to reduce its military activity around the Taiwan Strait during the transition period in Washington, wrote Cole.

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WHO chief asks China to cooperate with probe into Covid-19 origins



Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Ghebreyesus has called on China to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 amid renewed call to further probe the virus.

Dr Tedros made these remarks after taking part in the Group of Seven (G7) summit by video conference on Saturday, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

The WHO Director-General hoped there would be better cooperation and transparency when the next phase of the probe into the virus’s origin is underway. “As you know we will need cooperation from the Chinese side,” he said. “We need transparency to understand or know or find the origin of this virus…after the report was released there were difficulties in the data sharing, especially in the raw data.”

He further said that the preparations for the probe’s next steps were underway and that the issue of the origin of the virus was discussed by G7 leaders on Saturday, WSJ reported.

Earlier this week, the US and the UK had extended support to a “timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process” for the next phase of the WHO-convened study of Covid-19 origins. “We will also support a timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened COVID-19 origins study, including in China, and for investigating outbreaks of unknown origin in the future,” a joint statement said after US President Joe Biden met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday.

This comes amid growing calls for a timely, transparent, and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened origin study.

Recently, the calls to investigate further the origins of the virus have intensified. President Biden has also ordered a fresh US intelligence inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.

The origin of novel coronavirus that caused havoc around the world has remained a mystery even after 1.5 years the first case of infection was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Now, scientists and world leaders are calling for further investigations to figure out whether the virus originated naturally or leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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In a veiled criticism of the Dragon, Group of Seven (G&) leaders called on China to respect human rights in its Xinjiang region, allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, and refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilise the East and South China Seas, Reuters reported quoted a draft version of the G7 summit communique.

“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said in a communique that was almost finalised.

Before the G7 criticism emerged, China cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.

The G7 also said they underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”.

“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.”

“We also call for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 Covid-19 origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China,” the communique, which is almost finalised, said.

“The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said.

“We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.”

Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China, and says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.

UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang.

China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse. It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated”.

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