The News Editorial Analysis 4th February 2022
Indian diplomats to boycott Beijing games
Selection of PLA’s Galwan soldier as torchbearer sparks rowTerming China’s decision to field a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier involved in the June 2020 Galwan clashes as the torchbearer for the Winter Olympics Games in Beijing as “regrettable”, India announced a diplomatic boycott of the games just ahead of the opening ceremony on Friday.State broadcaster Doordarshan also announced it will not telecast the opening and closing ceremonies live, where India has one athlete, skier Arif Khan, participating. The decision came after Chinese media reports identified Qi Fabao, a PLA regiment commander who received military honours for the Galwan clashes, where he was injured, as one of about 1,200 runners bearing the torch at a relay in Beijing.China’s decision to field him and New Delhi’s announcement of its first ever diplomatic boycott of Olympic Games, are likely to increase India-China tensions that have risen since PLA aggressions along the Line of Actual Control in April 2020.India had earlier expressed support for the Beijing Olympics, even as more than a dozen countries, led by the U.S. had announced a boycott of the games.“It is indeed regrettable that the Chinese side has chosen to politicise an event like Olympic,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, referring to the media reports. “The Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of India in Beijing will not be attending the opening or closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics,” he added.The Indian Ambassador to China, Pradeep Kumar Rawat is expected to take charge in the next few weeks, and hence the Charge d’Affaires Acquino Vimal is the top diplomat in Beijing at present.
Air traffic controllers overworked
House panel called for urgent steps to fill vacanciesAir traffic controllers (ATCOs) at some of the busiest airports in the country such as Delhi are unable to get their mandatory break of 30 minutes after every two hours because of manpower crunch, and at airports such as Guwahati, they work 365 days a year without even a day off. The shortage of staff has also led to women employees being denied childcare leave.The sanctioned strength of ATCOs in the country is 3,901, against which only 3,162 personnel are employed — a shortage of 19%. And the gap is growing. The matter was raised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture that tabled the government’s action taken report and its recommendation on Wednesday.The panel expressed “serious concern” that these vacancies should be filled urgently. It had said the huge vacancies of ATCOs “will adversely affect the work output by putting them under immense stress, compromising the safety of flight operations.”The Ministry of Civil Aviation said it was in the process of hiring 519 ATCOs and expected to complete the process by March 31.Those part of discussions within the Airports Authority of India (AAI) say that with several unused airports being revived under UDAN (regional connectivity scheme) in tier-2 and tier-3 cities and development of new airports like Jewar and Bhogapuram, another estimated 300 to 500 ATCOs need to be hired immediately.To cope with the current shortage, ATCOs at many airports have to work extra hours.
Winter is here
The games in China have taken on political significance, domestically and globally
On the eve of the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on Friday, India announced a diplomatic boycott of the games. The MEA said no Indian official will be present at the opening or closing ceremonies of the games, which run from February 4 to 20. The decision for an official boycott of the games — a lone Indian athlete who qualified, skier Arif Khan, will still take part in both the games and in the opening ceremony along with support staff — followed China’s move this week to choose a PLA commander as one of the participants of the traditional torch relay. The commander was involved in the June 15, 2020 clash in Galwan Valley. He was subsequently given military honours by Beijing. The MEA said the commander’s participation in the torch relay was “regrettable”. Until this week, New Delhi was considering having its top diplomat in Beijing attend the games. Only in November, India joined Russia in expressing support for the games, following a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China. If India, dealing with its own long list of problems with China and a continuing stand-off along the Line of Actual Control, had initially planned to not involve itself in the politics surrounding the games, Beijing’s torch relay changed that calculus. The broader context of the selection of the PLA commander is an on-going campaign by China to publicise Galwan and highlight the “bravery” of PLA troops.India’s statement of support for the games in November had come amid the U.S. and its allies announcing a diplomatic boycott because of rights violations in Xinjiang, where minority Uighurs have been sent to “reeducation” camps. China first denied the existence of the camps, but later said they were for “vocational training”. China denounced the diplomatic boycott by around a dozen countries — which India has now joined albeit for different reasons — as “politicising” the games. It is another matter that Olympic Games, through history, have been inherently political events. For host nations, holding a successful games carries the promise of burnishing the legitimacy of the government of the day. The games within China have certainly taken on particular political significance domestically, in the context of the country’s battle against COVID-19. Last month, President Xi Jinping noted that the 2022 Olympics would be “the first international multi-sport event to be held as scheduled since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic”. The underlying message is that the successful holding of the games amid the pandemic is another example of the superiority of the Chinese political model, which has been highlighted as a sharp contrast especially with how the U.S. handled the pandemic. Last year, the IOA added the word “together” to the official Olympic motto of “faster, higher, stronger”. If that is certainly a laudable aspiration, it is clear that as far as the Olympics are concerned, the politics is never far away. That will certainly be the case in Beijing as the latest games, both on and off the ski slopes, begin.
A disjointed response
Regulatory clarity on crypto assets should have accompanied the tax on traders’ profitsOne of the most striking moves in the Union Budget’s taxation proposals for 2022-23 is the introduction of a taxation regime for virtual digital assets — evolving manifestations of cryptocurrencies, codes and non-fungible tokens. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has proposed to tax all profits from transactions in such assets at 30% along with the applicable surcharge and cess, and a 1% tax to be deducted by buyers while trading in any virtual digital asset beyond a threshold. While the tax on profits will apply from April 1, 2022, which officials said will not preclude profits already booked before that date from the tax liability, the TDS provisions aimed at creating a transaction trail for the tax authorities, will kick in from July 1. While trading profits will be taxed at, according to crypto industry players, a higher rate compared to other jurisdictions, no deductions will be allowed on account of setting off losses from such trading or from any other capital losses. The only deduction permitted would be the cost of acquiring the asset. The term ‘property’ under the I-T Act is being expanded to include virtual digital assets so that such assets received as a gift shall be taxable except when received from relatives. However, the taxation regime by itself, Ms. Sitharaman has emphasised, does not grant legitimacy to the trade in these currently unregulated assets. A consultation process is underway, which will determine the legal position of such assets.This provides some relief for the growing flock of crypto investors. The Government may still not consider them fully legit, yet the tax regime indicates the hard option of an outright ban that was signalled in the nomenclature of a proposed crypto law last year is off the table. Listed first for Parliament’s monsoon session, then again in the winter, that legislation is also now off the agenda. All this time, India’s youth, who the Prime Minister worried were being lured by crypto players’ misleading ads, continue to be swayed, with no norms brought in place to rein in such ballyhoo, and no regulatory watch. Whether this case is different from collective investment and plantation schemes that were belatedly regulated is ponderable. The delay in arriving at a decision also pre-empts Indian start-ups and innovators from developing products and ideas that can be scaled up globally given the nature of these assets. In November, the Government had indicated a forward-looking approach to crypto market oversight. It is time those words are matched with a clear regulatory framework soon instead of ambiguous waffling and dithering.
A border move that will only bolster China
The attempt to delink the strategically important area of Depsang from the ongoing Ladakh border crisis is worryingAfter the 1962 Sino-India War was over, the Indian Army was confronted with the problem of bodies of around 190 Indian soldiers lying in areas around 8 kilometres to 16 kilometres inside the Chinese 1960 claim line in Ladakh. Collecting the bodies of the fallen soldiers after the war through mutual consent is an established military practice, and the Indian Red Cross wrote to its Chinese counterpart in April 1963. The Chinese turned down the request, stating that the bodies had been properly buried, and there was no need to send any Indian parties into disputed areas. As most Indian soldiers were to be cremated, not buried, the issue was again taken up with the Chinese. In August, the Chinese agreed to carry out the cremation and hand over the ashes to the Indian Red Cross.When the Indian Red Cross requested that Indian representatives be present during the ceremony, the Chinese cancelled the arrangements altogether. In its memo on September 16, 1963, the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the Indian government of trying to lay claim to these territories through this device.While cancelling these arrangements, the Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted that the Indians who died at their posts in Ladakh were ‘invaders’ and not defending their ‘motherland’. Earlier, after overcoming the stiff Indian resistance at Rezang La, memorialised in the Hindi film, Haqeeqat, and at Gurung Hill, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had buried the bodies of five Indian soldiers — wooden posts with the inscriptions in Chinese and English, ‘The Corpses of Indian Invaders’. The purpose of the elaborate exercise was to deny any legitimate Indian presence and claim over these areas in future negotiations. If Indian soldiers had died defending their motherland, then it was an area in Indian possession and control — that would belie the Chinese claim over the territories in Ladakh. Its efforts to create facts on the ground to bolster its ‘historical’ claim underline the extent of Chinese enterprise in asserting its territorial claims.
It thus comes as a surprise that in a recent television interview, the Indian Army Chief, General M.M. Naravane, argued that “out of the five or six friction points (in Ladakh), five have been solved”. ‘Friction point’ is an Indian euphemism for points of Chinese ingress into hitherto India-controlled territory in Ladakh, where this control is exercised by the Army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) through regular patrols to the claimed areas. These ‘friction points’ are Depsang, Galwan, Hot Springs, Gogra, North bank of Pangong Tso, Kailash Range and Demchok. By asserting that only one of the friction points is remaining to be resolved — he was referring to Hot Springs or PP15, the only one discussed in the last round of talks with the Chinese — he implicitly ruled out Depsang as an area to be resolved. This attempt to delink the strategically important area of Depsang from the ongoing Ladakh border crisis is worrying. It may suit the domestic political agenda of the Narendra Modi government of proclaiming an early end to the crisis, but it has long-term strategic consequences for India.Depsang is an enclave of flat terrain located in an area the Army classifies as Sub-Sector North (SSN), which provides land access to Central Asia through the Karakoram Pass. A few kilometres south-east from the important airstrip of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO), the Chinese army has blocked Indian patrols since early 2020 at a place called Y-junction or Bottleneck, denying it access to five PPs: PP10, PP11, PP11A, PP12 and PP13. A joint patrol of the ITBP and Army would patrol these five PPs approximately once a month. Y-junction is around 18 km on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control, even though the Chinese claim line lies another five kilometres further west, to the east of Burtse town. Satellite imagery from November 2021 confirms Chinese deployments at the Y-junction: two PLA Ground Force camps with six infantry fighting vehicles split between two positions while a small Indian Army forward camp is stationed 1.2 km west of the Y-junction.
Stand-off in 2013 and patrols
The Indian forward camp is the new patrol base, with a permanent patrol deployed there, that was created after a 22-day long stand-off at Y-junction in April 2013. Since then, it has observed and stopped Chinese patrols from moving further to the Indian side, but a PLA patrol had still managed to get up to around 1.5 km short of Burtse in September 2015. Essentially, till the current blockade, the Indian side was able to access the five patrolling points, asserting Indian control, while the PLA had been denied access to its claim line since the late 2000s. That status quo has been disturbed since early 2020.Since the Ladakh border crisis came to light in May 2020, a section of the security establishment has tried to bury any conversation about Depsang. Media reports attributable to ‘sources’ have labelled it a ‘legacy issue,’ suggesting that the crisis has continued since April 2013. The 2013 stand-off was resolved diplomatically after negotiations led to reversal of an Indian ingress and bunker construction on the Chinese side in Chumar, while the PLA stepped away from the Y-junction. Lt. Gen. K.T. Parnaik (retd.), the then Northern Army Commander, has confirmed “resort(ing) to a quid pro quo, as we did during the Depsang intrusion in 2013. Early response creates leverage.”Former Ladakh Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma (retd.) was categorical in asserting that “patrolling had continued, as planned, since [the] April/May 2013 stand-off” and “to now state that we were not able to reach our LOP since 2013 as [the] PLA was blocking our movement, is pure heresy”. The fact that specific major general-level talks for Depsang were held with the Chinese on August 8, 2020 proves that it is part of the ongoing crisis. A 22-day stand-off in 2013 generated much public and media outrage but a 22-month long blockade of patrolling rights in the same area now has been greeted with silence.
The Army has always identified Depsang plains as where it finds itself most vulnerable in Ladakh, devising plans to tackle the major Chinese challenge. SSN’s flat terrain of Depsang, Trig Heights and DBO — which provides direct access to Aksai Chin — is suited for mechanised warfare but is located at the end of only one very long and tenuous communication axis for India. China, in turn, has multiple roads that provide easy access to the area. This leaves SSN highly vulnerable to capture by the PLA, with a few thousands of square kilometres from the Karakoram Pass to Burtse, likely to be lost. Nowhere else in Ladakh is the PLA likely to gain so much territory in a single swoop.SSN lies to the east of Siachen, located between the Saltoro ridge on the Pakistani border and the Saser ridge close to the Chinese border. On paper, it is the only place where a physical military collusion can take place between Pakistan and China — and the challenge of a two-front war can become real in the worst-case scenario. If India loses this area, it will be nearly impossible to launch a military operation to wrest back Gilgit-Baltistan from Pakistan.
Theoretically, Depsang is also seen as a viable launchpad for a mechanised force-based military offensive launched by India inside Aksai Chin, if the Army has to fulfil Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s parliamentary vow of getting back Aksai Chin from China.
Danger of delinking
The biggest danger of delinking Depsang from the current border crisis in Ladakh, however, is of corroborating the Chinese argument, which invalidates the rightful Indian claim over a large swathe of territory. In sparsely populated areas like Ladakh, with limited forward deployment of troops, the only assertion of territorial claims is by regular patrolling. By arguing that the blockade at Y-junction predates the current stand-off — a ‘legacy issue’ that goes back years — the Chinese side can affirm that Indian patrols never had access to this area and thus India has no valid claim on the territory. Already living with the disadvantage of being a lesser power vis-à-vis China, this argument further weakens India’s hand during negotiations in Ladakh.This will be akin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement during the all-party meeting in June 2020 that no one had entered Indian territory, which ended up bolstering Chinese position during the talks. India cannot afford to repeat that blunder again and lose its land. As was demonstrated by China in the aftermath of the 1962 War, there should be no holding back in painstakingly asserting one’s claims when it comes to safeguarding the territory. Denial of truth for domestic political gains, in this case, will certainly be to the detriment of India’s strategic interests.
HC stays Haryana job quota for locals
Industry bodies welcome order; Govt. vows to ensure local employmentThe Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday granted an interim stay on the controversial law for reservation of 75% jobs in private companies, societies and trusts for local Haryana candidates.While several industrial associations welcomed the order, Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala tweeted that the government would continue to fight for employment opportunities for the local youth.The matter came up for hearing before the division bench of Justices Ajay Tiwari and Pankaj Jain with the petitioners seeking an interim stay on the law that came into force on January 15. The hearing on the matter slated for January 12 earlier was adjourned due to COVID-induced restrictions.Advocate Tushar Sharma, representing Manesar Industries Welfare Association, one of the petitioners, said the court, granting the interim stay, put only one question to the State as to how they could grant reservation in employment on the basis of a domicile as it violated Article 16 of the Constitution.Around eight petitioners, including different industrial associations and individuals, moved the court last December against the law, pleading that it was against the provisions of the Constitution and the basic principle of meritocracy that acted as the foundation for businesses to grow and remain competitive. The court had then issued notice to the government seeking a reply.Deepak Maini, secretary-general, Federation of Indian Industry, Haryana Chapter, hailed the stay order as “good news for the world of business”.“The FII welcomes the order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and expresses its gratitude. Jobs in private sector should only be granted only on the basis of merit,” said Mr. Maini.Indian Staffing Federation (ISF), a representative voice to the Indian staffing industry with over a hundred organised staffing companies employing around one million contract workers across India, also welcomed the decision.“The court order will allow Haryana Government to reconsider the appeal from industries and companies to scale up the skills of youth, infrastructure and economic development, which would create sustainable and long-term employment opportunities within the state. Legislations like the Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Act are unnecessary barriers, which impact both economic and employment growth in the state,” said Lohit Bhatia, president, ISF.Mr. Chautala said the government would analyse the court order along with the legal experts and take the next legal step to ensure the implementation of the law.
SilverLine has in-principle nod, claims Kerala Finance Minister
K.N. Balagopal alleges attempts to mislead the public about the K-Rail projectKerala Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal on Thursday claimed that the SilverLine semi-high-speed rail corridor project had in-principle nod but attempts were being made to mislead the public by creating an impression that no such approvals existed.Mr. Balagopal told reporters here that pre-investment activities related to the project had been taken up on the strength of the in-principle approval and joint discussions. Quoting letters from the Centre, Mr. Balagopal claimed that the in-principle approval was accorded in December 2019.The process for obtaining the remaining approvals was on and they were expected soon. People in high positions should refrain from misrepresenting facts and misleading the people. In the reply given to Parliament on Wednesday, the Union government pointed out that the detailed project report (DPR) was under examination by the Ministry of Railways, he said.
“The letter reads, ‘Sufficient details for technical feasibility are not available in the DPR. Therefore Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd (K-Rail) has been advised to provide detailed technical documents such as alignment, alignment plans, particularly of railway land and private land crossing over the existing railway network.’ It goes on to add that ‘Financial viability will also be examined and firming up after finalisation of technical parameters’,” Mr. Balagopal said.A letter from the Centre in August 2019 stated that the proposal had been examined in the Ministry of Railways and ‘the competent authority has accorded in-principle approval for taking up pre-investment activities for the above-mentioned project’, he said.A further letter from the Centre informed the State that at a meeting on October 9, 2020 it was decided that the project implementation agency (PIA) and the Kerala government may engage with the Japan International Cooperation Agency to move forward to finalise the designing of packages which would facilitate co-financing and, in the meanwhile, land acquisition and other clearances may be expedited.“These are part of a process. It’s quite evident that, ordinarily, such a project cannot move forward without an in-principle approval,” Mr. Balagopal said, adding that the State government had the best interests of the people in mind.
The curious case of Meghalaya’s COVID-19 relief package
Audits, transparency and citizen-centric accountability need to be a part of fund support and disbursementEvery COVID-19 wave in India has brought us face to face with the dire precarity of life and livelihood for India’s vast numbers of unorganised workers, and the inadequate response of the state and society to their plight. The latest global OXFAM inequality report highlights how India’s billionaires have grown dramatically in numbers and wealth, while 84% have reduced income and 4.6 crore working people have plummeted into acute poverty. It provides damning indicators of how poor the state response has been in terms of relief and social sector expenditure during this period. The delivery systems of the meagre amounts that have been allocated by the Centre and State governments, therefore, become even more important. A massive public audit of a gratuitous relief scheme in Meghalaya for unorganised workers provides important lessons about the critical importance of transparency, public participation, and peoples monitoring for those who have had to bear the brunt of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
When the Government of Meghalaya announced relief for workers affected by the COVID-19 lockdown through the Chief Minister’s Relief Against Wage Loss (CRAWL) scheme, it was welcomed by many. But this announcement came without necessary details. There was no notification outlining the quantum of financial support. There was no published scheme, or guidelines with minimum norms for identifying beneficiaries, and verifying their eligibility. Nevertheless, the state of economic desperation led a large number of people to apply for the assistance.
RTI and response
Unfortunately, people had no way to check whether their application for support had been successful or not. Payments began trickling into the bank accounts of some of the applicants, but even they were confused about the amount of support they were supposed to get. Some unions of unorganised sector workers such as street vendors and domestic workers immediately brought this to the attention of the government, but not much was done. In October 2020, a local civil group, Thma U Rangli-Juki (TUR), filed an RTI application asking for the list of unorganised workers to whom payments had been made. This information should have been mandatorily and proactively disclosed in the public domain by the State government as mandated under Section 4, RTI Act.
The response to the RTI was provided in December 2020 with details of around 1,60,000 people and transfers. The response also seemed to indicate that the scheme for financial assistance to unorganised workers facing a wage loss was worth ₹2,100, and to construction workers registered under the Building and Other Construction Workers (BoCW) Act was ₹5,000. The unions decided to widely disseminate this information over WhatsApp, community websites, and through local electronic news channels. The RTI response was subsequently also converted into a searchable digital database with the help of Graamvaani, a social tech company, via a dedicated site called hokmeghalaya.in. This enabled people to ascertain whether and how much money they had been transferred as per government’s records, with the option provided of filing a grievance with the Chief Minister’s Office if they contested the Government’s claim. Using IVRS, calls were also made to 1,35,617 people to inform them that as per the Government’s record, ₹2,100 or ₹5,000 had been transferred to their bank account.
What an audit showed
This virtual “public audit” and facilitation exercise was carefully planned and carried out by civil society groups and workers’ unions using digital technology at a time when COVID-19 restrictions made physical verification impossible. The results were an eye-opener. Out of 11,509 people who responded to the IVRS calls, only 13% stated that they received the full amount that was mentioned in the RTI response; 47% received nothing, in spite of the Government records showing ₹2,100 having been transferred to each of them. Nearly 8,000 people submitted individual grievances to the Chief Minister’s Office and the Labour Department. Thousands of others searched through the RTI data and submitted their grievances. This was a process that should have been carried out by the Government, which was far better resourced, and duty bound to check on whether the money had reached the beneficiary. Instead, the Government became defensive and refused to accept or even engage with the findings. Faced with a deadlock of mounting dissatisfaction among workers who had not received their benefit, and the Government’s attitude of denial and obfuscation, the unions and civil society groups organised a public hearing in Shillong on World Human Rights Day, in December 2021, to draw additional focus to the issue.
Need for responsibility
Chaired by Justice Madan B. Lokur, a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, the four-hour public hearing was an example of the democratic potential and social ethos of Meghalaya and its people. Over 200 workers gave up another day’s wages, and came armed with their bank passbooks and labour cards to show that the money had not been credited in their bank accounts more than a year after it was due. The issue was about the need to get answers. Regrettably, as Justice Lokur noted, the Department of Labour boycotted the public hearing. Faced with such a situation, civil society groups have now approached the Legal Services Authority to pursue and enforce independent mechanisms of grievance redress and accountability.
This exercise has implications beyond Meghalaya. The Centre and various State governments have collected and spent thousands of crores, including the use of District Mineral Foundation Trust Funds, disaster relief funds, Compensatory Afforestation Management Funds Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds, etc. for “relief payments” with almost no disaggregated information in the public domain. Expenditures made by governments under these various funds for COVID-19 relief have not been subject to either statutory audits of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India or institutionalised social audits, and necessary grievance redress platforms are conspicuous in their absence.This assertion, demanding transparency, and citizen-centric accountability cannot be seen as an isolated movement in a small State. Rajasthan too for instance has an ongoing movement and campaign demanding an accountability law, which is drawing support. This is a demand by marginalised groups to be acknowledged and heard, raising pointed questions that apply to all, and demanding precise answers in order to make democratic participation meaningful. The strong human assertion emerges from the pain and the ruins of a crisis, but it has creative implications for all. It is eventually about the power and the dignity of democratic citizenship — and once again, it is our most marginalised who are showing us the way.
78,264 Central government recruitments made in 2021-22
Number of vacancies stood at 8.72 lakh on March 1, 2020Special CorrespondentNew DelhiThe Union government recruited 78,264 people in Central Ministries and departments in the financial year 2020-21. On March 1, 2020, the total number of vacancies in central government offices stood at 8.72 lakh, the Ministry of Personnel informed the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions was replying to a question from Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut. In a written reply, the Minister provided details of recruitment made through three major recruiting agencies–Staff Selection Commission (SSC), Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and the Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs) in the Central government from financial years 2018-19 to 2020-21.The reply stated that in the years 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, the total number of recruitments made was 38,827, 1,48,377 and 78,264 respectively — a total of 2,65,468 appointments. Out of the 2.65 lakh people who were appointed in the said period, 13,238 were recruited by the UPSC, 1,00,330 by the SSC and 1,51,900 by the Railways.In 2020-21, the UPSC recruited 3,609 people, the SSC 68,891 people and the Railways hired 5,764 people.The reply stated that the number of vacant posts as on March 1, 2018 was 6,83,823, in 2019 it was 9,10,153 and in March 2020 the number of vacancies stood at 8,72,243.In response to another question by Mr. V. Sivadasan about the number of Group A and Group C posts that remain unfilled, the Minister said that as on March 1, 2020, there were 21,255 Group A and 7,56,146 Group C positions that were vacant.“The details regarding persons engaged through outsourcing by various Ministries/Departments as per their requirement are not maintained centrally,” the reply stated. It added that filling up of vacancies is a continuous process. “Government issues instructions to all the Ministries from time to time to fill up the posts,”
Supreme Court dismisses plea to postpone GATE 2022 exam
Interference could cause chaos for students, says BenchThe Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea made by aspirants to postpone the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) examination 2022 due to COVID-19, saying interference merely 48 hours before the scheduled examination would create a potential for “chaos and uncertainty” for students.
“Postponement of GATE exam 2022 barely 48 hours before the scheduled date is replete with a potential for chaos and uncertainty for students who have registered for the exam,” a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed in a short order dismissing the petition.
The court said there was no “overarching situation for the court under Article 32 of the Constitution to supplant the duties and functions of the regulatory authorities to hold the examination”.The Bench said that after a “considered perspective of the position” and considering the circumstances while dealing with the issue, the court should not interfere in academic matters.The students, represented by advocate Pallav Mongia, said there was complete lockdown in various States such as J&K. The virus had spread widely in States such as Kerala, which had imposed a lockdown during the weekend. The lives of students were at risk. They sought the examination to be rescheduled by a month.Justice Chandrachud observed that there would never be an “absolutely clear situation” under the circumstances, and the court would not want to intervene and create havoc in the future of the students because the virus was dominant in some of the States. The Bench said the examination was notified months back and the students should have prepared for it.
‘Russia deploys more troops in Belarus’
NATO: 30,000 combat troops are in Ukraine’s northern neighbour for joint drillNATO said Russia had stepped up deployments to Ukraine’s northern neighbour Belarus in recent days and was expected to have 30,000 troops there for joint exercises this month.The Russia-Belarus exercises, running until February 20, have provided Moscow with cover to further increase forces near Ukraine at a time when the United States and Britain have warned that Moscow may be gearing up for war.Ukraine’s Defence Minister said Russia had currently massed a total of 1,15,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders.Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine and has described the Allied Resolve exercises with Belarus as a rehearsal in repelling external aggression. It has not disclosed the size of its forces there but says they will withdraw after the drills.NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Over the last days, we have seen a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus. “This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War, with an expected 30,000 combat troops” as well as Spetsnaz special operations forces, SU-35 fighter jets, S-400 air defence systems and nuclear-capable Iskander missiles, he said.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Belarus on Thursday to inspect Russian and Belarusian troops and was due to meet Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Interfax news agency said.Meanwhile, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, after meeting his counterpart in Kiev, reiterated that Ankara was ready to do what it can to resolve the Ukraine-Russia crisis and offered to host a meeting of the country’s two leaders.
G.L. Peiris to visit India from Feb. 6
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris is scheduled to visit New Delhi between February 6 and 8, official sources told The Hindu, even as India extends emergency financial support to the island nation amidst a severe economic crisis.“Minister Peiris is scheduled to travel to India, this would be his first visit to Delhi after he assumed charge as Foreign Minister in August 2021 [in a Cabinet reshuffle],” an official said, declining to comment on meetings scheduled during the visit, coming amid frequent high-level bilateral talks.A January 6 tweet from External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said: “Greeted FM G.L. Peiris of Sri Lanka in the New Year. A reliable friend, India will support Sri Lanka in these difficult times. Agreed to remain in close touch.” The Foreign Ministers met in New York in September, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.Early in December 2021, Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa was in New Delhi, when he sought comprehensive assistance from India to help Sri Lanka cope with depleting foreign reserves and shortages of essentials, including food, medicines, and fuel. India expedited assistance to Sri Lanka after a deal to jointly develop the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farms was signed on January 6, 2022.
Democratising honours and overcoming colonial shadow
It was really heartening to listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ last Sunday where he referred to India’s rich music heritage. Days before, at the launch of the Pandit Jasraj Cultural Foundation, he suggested that in today’s era of globalisation, Indian music should also make its global identity and create an impact internationally.Sadly, endeavours to make Indian music globally popular have been misconstrued and also opposed by some people. A few days ago, a group of musicians and singers, at the initiative of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), had approached Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia with a different kind of request. Their plea was to encourage airlines operating in our country and managers of airports here to play Indian music in aircrafts and also at the airports. Curiously, while the question of imposing any particular music simply didn’t arise, this request came in for criticism in sections of mainly English media. This criticism of a democratically raised demand is indicative of a needless inferiority complex on the one hand and a strong colonial mindset on the other. What is wrong in demanding preference for Indian music in India? If not here, should this be demanded in Brazil or Tanzania? Sadly, even after 75 years of Independence, this colonial mindset refuses to go away. The divide-and-rule strategy of the British has made many of us habitually pro-fragmentation and we don’t even realise the same.Twin controversies manufactured by motivated sections of media in India and abroad provide a case in point: firstly, the merging of Amar Jawan Jyoti into the eternal flame now lit up at the National War Memorial; secondly, needless criticism from some quarters about the proposed statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose under a canopy near India Gate.Let’s start with Amar Jawan Jyoti. Tragically, previous regimes deliberately discriminated in multiple ways simply to ensure that only a particular ideology or a family and persons close to them were decorated. This was absolutely against the very grain of democracy and yet nobody took exception. India had witnessed many prime ministers. But before 2014, except for Nehru Jayanti, recognised as Bal Diwas, Indira Gandhi Jayanti recognised as National Integration Day, and Rajiv Gandhi Jayanti as Sadbhavana Divas, anniversaries of other PMs were ignored.Rejecting this pattern of recognising only select chapters of our glorious history, PM Modi created a National War Memorial and recognised all martyrs—and not just a select few—who made the supreme sacrifice while protecting the motherland. It was but natural that the Eternal Flame is lit and continues forever unextinguished at this place as a mark of respect and gratitude. Obviously then, the government decided to merge the flame at India Gate with that of the National War Memorial. One can’t forget that India Gate was created to honour the memory of 90,000 British India troops lost in various operations, notably the First World War, between 1914 and 1921. The memorial bears the names of 13,000 people, including a few commanders and troops from the United Kingdom. The India Gate’s foundation stone was placed in 1921, and it was dedicated in 1931. As a result, this monument could never become a National War Memorial dedicated to all troops who died before or after India’s Independence. For record’s sake, India lost almost 87,000 men in the Second World War as members of the British Army. The Amar Jawan Jyoti with the Eternal Flame was built in 1972 under the arch of the India Gate monument to honour fallen Indian soldiers, sailors, and airmen from the 1971 war, despite the fact that it has no names etched on it pertaining to the same. And what about the 1962 or 1965 wars? Are post-Independence wars inferior to those fought under British rule?Let it be remembered that the BJP had pledged to establish a National War Memorial in the run-up to the 2014 elections. Later, the Memorial was finally dedicated to the country by the prime minister on 25 February 2019, after decades of protest from veterans and military historians. Since then, all commemorative and ceremonial events honouring India’s fallen military men have been held at the National War Memorial, which has names of every single Indian soldier, sailor and airman who made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty inscribed on it. Sadly, forces of status-quo-ism with prejudiced minds failed to understand the importance of democratisation of national honours and recognition.About the Netaji statue decision, columnists from abroad, with a perverse mindset and preconceived notions, have tried to paint Subhas Chandra Bose as someone who had sought support from the enemies of the British in World War 2. Many of those raking up Netaji’s German connection ironically are seen as supportive of several dictatorial governments including that of Pakistan. Regardless of the fact that Netaji’s family members had to remain under surveillance even during the Nehru regime, today neither the so-called liberals nor Congressmen can dare oppose the idea of installing Bose’s statue at India Gate. Sadly, no one from the opposition or like-minded sections of intellectuals graciously and wholeheartedly welcomed the decision on the Netaji statue.Unfortunately, the shadow of colonialism is so dark and deep that the spirit of democratisation as the basis of several decisions of the government is ignored, at times wantonly. As a result, most senior journalists did not come forward to join issue with an associate editor of Financial Times over his irrational objection to the Netaji statue. Even 75 years after Independence, the virus of inferiority is afflicting our confidence, preventing us from asserting and telling the world that we won’t dance to the tune of global giants.
Singapore approves Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill for COVID-19 treatment
Singapore has approved Pfizer’s Paxlovid as the first oral tablet for the treatment of COVID-19 in adult patients in the country who are at risk of severe disease after health authorities reviewed clinical data for the drug, media reports said on Thursday.Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said it has reviewed available clinical data for Paxlovid, and found that it could reduce Covid-19 related hospitalisation or death by 88.9 per cent when given within three days from the onset of symptoms.The efficacy rate was 87.8 per cent when given within five days of symptoms appearing, The Straits Times newspaper reported.Interim authorisation for the oral drug was granted under the Pandemic Special Access Route (PSAR) on January 31.”This is the first oral tablet approved in Singapore for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in adult patients who are at high risk of progression to severe disease, to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death,” Channel News Asia reported.The pill should be administered twice a day for five days, HSA said, with treatment being initiated “as soon as possible after a diagnosis has been made, within five days of the onset of COVID-19 symptoms”.HSA added that the pill will be prescribed and prioritised to those at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness, as directed by the Ministry of Health.Paxlovid has been found to reduce the risk of COVID-19-related hospitalisation or deaths by 88.9 per cent when administered within three days of the onset of symptoms, according to HSA’s review of the available clinical data based on rolling submissions of the results from an ongoing Phase II/III study.When administered within five days of the onset of symptoms, the pill reduces that risk by 87.8 per cent.The efficacy analysis included patients infected with the Delta variant.HSA said in vitro data has also shown that Paxlovid is “active” against the prevailing variants of concern, including the Delta and Omicron.More than 2,000 people aged 18 to 88 years had participated in the randomised, placebo-controlled study.All participants had mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms and one or more risk factors for progression to severe COVID-19, the report said, quoting the health authority.A total of 1,039 participants were given Paxlovid and the rest – 1,046 people – received placebos.The results showed that 0.8 per cent of patients who received Paxlovid were hospitalised, compared to 6.3 per cent of those who received the placebo.There were also no deaths in the Paxlovid group, compared to 12 deaths in the placebo group, HSA said.HSA said the safety data showed that Paxlovid is “well-tolerated”.Based on the available clinical evidence, HSA said the benefits of Paxlovid outweigh the risks, and there is a “favourable benefit-risk profile” for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults who are at high risk of progression to severe COVID-19.Meanwhile, Singapore reported 3,101 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, which included 2,919 local and 182 imported infections.There was one fatality reported, according to the latest infection statistics on the MOH website.This takes the death toll from coronavirus complications to 859.As on Wednesday, Singapore has recorded 362,176 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic two years ago.