The News Editorial Analysis 30 October 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 30 October 2021

Indian Navy’s stealth frigate Tushil launched in Kaliningrad, Russia

The stealth frigate was launched in presence of D Bala Venkatesh Varma, Indian Ambassador and senior dignitaries of Russian Federation

The News Editorial Analysis 30 October 2021

                                         Indian Navy’s stealth frigate Tushil. (ANI Photo)

Kaliningrad: The 7th Indian Navy Frigate of P1135.6 class was launched on October 28 at Yantar Shipyard, Kaliningrad, Russia, the navy said.

During the ceremony, the ship was formally named as Tushil by Datla Vidya Varma, the Navy said in a statement. “Tushil” is a Sanskrit word meaning Protector Shield, it said.

Based on an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) between the Government of Republic of India and the Government of Russian Federation for the construction of two ships of Project 1135.6 ships in Russia and two ships in India at M/s Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL), the contract for construction of two ships was signed between India and Russia on Oct 18.The construction of these ships is based on the Indian Navy’s specific requirements to meet the entire spectrum of naval warfare in all three dimensions of Air, Surface and Sub-surface. The ships with a potent combination of state-of-art Indian and Russian Weapons and Sensors are equipped to operate in Littoral and Blue waters, both as a single unit and as consort in a naval task force, the release said.

They feature “stealth technology” in terms of low radar and underwater noise signatures. These ships are being equipped with major Indian supplied equipment such as Surface to Surface Missiles, Sonar system, Surface Surveillance Radar, Communication Suite and ASW system along with Russian Surface to Air Missiles and gun mounts.The stealth frigate was launched in presence of D Bala Venkatesh Varma, Ambassador of India (Moscow) and senior dignitaries of the Russian Federation and officials of the Indian Navy.Ilya Samarin, Director General, Yantar Shipyard, Kaliningrad, in his address dwelt upon the challenges faced by the shipyard in executing the complex shipbuilding project. Despite challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic, production of the ships was continued by the utilisation of innovative solutions. He thanked the Indian Government for their unstinted support and reiterated the shipyard’s commitment to delivering the ships as per contractual timelines.

Govt. approves 8.5% interest rate on Employees’ Provident Fund for FY21

UPDATED: OCTOBER 29, 2021 15:35 IST

The decision will affect over five crore subscribers of the Employees Provident Fund Organisation.

The government has approved 8.5% rate of interest on employees’ provident fund for the 2020-21 fiscal, a source said.

Just ahead of Diwali, this is a good news for over five crore subscribers of the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).

The 8.5% rate of interest on provident fund deposits for the last financial year was decided by the EPFO’s apex decision making body Central Board of Trustees (CBT) headed by Labour Minister in March this year.

A source said on Friday, “The rate of interest on EPF for 2020-21 has been ratified by the Ministry of Finance and now it would be credited into the accounts of over five crore subscribers.” In March last year, the EPFO had lowered interest rate on provident fund deposits to a seven-year low of 8.5 % for 2019-20, from 8.65% in 2018-19.

The EPF (Employees Provident Fund) interest rate provided for 2019-20 was the lowest since 2012-13, when it was brought down to 8.5% .

The EPFO had provided 8.65% interest rate to its subscribers in 2016-17 and 8.55% in 2017-18. The rate of interest was slightly higher at 8.8 % in 2015-16.

It had given 8.75% rate of interest in 2013-14 as well as in 2014-15, higher than 8.5 % for 2012-13. The rate of interest was 8.25% on provident fund in 2011-12.

India, Israel adopt measures to strengthen military ties.

It was agreed to form a Sub Working Group on defence industry cooperation.

To further advance the bilateral defence cooperation, India and Israel have agreed to form a task force to formulate a comprehensive 10-year roadmap to identify new areas of cooperation.

This was agreed at the 15th India-Israel Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting on bilateral defence cooperation held on October 27 in Tel Aviv, Israel, a Defence Ministry statement said on Friday.

“The two sides reviewed the progress made in military to military engagements including exercises and industry cooperation. The Co-chairs were also appraised on the progress made by the Sub Working Groups (SWG) on Defence Procurement and Production and Research and Development,” the statement said.

The JWG is the apex body between the Defence Ministries of the two countries to comprehensively review and guide all aspects of bilateral defence cooperation.It was also decided to form a SWG on defence industry cooperation and in this regard a Terms of Reference was signed between the two sides, the statement said. The SWG would enable efficient utilisation of bilateral resources, effective flow of technologies and sharing industrial capabilities, the statement added.

Some PF staffers moonlight for private sector: vigilance report. at a single PF office.  

Official held after being caught receiving payment.

Officials entrusted with the safekeeping of workers’ retirement corpus worth lakhs of crores have been found to be working on the side to further private employers’ interests instead, in a blatant and widespread violation of civil services rules in PF offices across the country.

The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has ‘discovered’ that several officers and staff are offering their ‘services’ to private firms in return for monetary remuneration routed directly to them or to their family members. While one officer has been arrested after being caught red-handed ‘negotiating and accepting illegal payments’ from an employer, 16 such PF staffers were found to be involved in such activities at a single PF office. In a separate case, a social security assistant was trapped in the act of helping a firm secure a PF code number.

“Recently, during surprise checks in EPFO offices several instances of staff engaging in private PF consultancy work were discovered,” the retirement fund manager’s vigilance wing has flagged in a note warning all personnel of strong action for violating government rules that bar them from taking up any private sector work.

“In some of the offices, the practice of PF consultancy is so entrenched that it has come to be viewed as normal. Recent joint surprise check in one office yielded incriminating evidence against as many as 16 officials which demonstrates how pervasive the malaise has become,” the vigilance wing has pointed out in a missive to top PF commissioners across regions on Thursday.

₹37 crore of PF savings withdrawn illegally

“Instances of staff actively engaging in consultancy abound and have only increased over the years with no fear or understanding of the consequences,” said the communiqué, urging senior officers to stop ‘ignoring or taking a lenient view’ on such matters and take prompt action with ‘requisite gravity’ against all such officials. Calling for ‘random surprise checks to detect and prevent such cases’ as well as a close watch on ‘suspected cases’, EPFO’s vigilance wing said: “The matter needs to be handled with requisite gravity and the cases notices should be dealt with firmly and swiftly under the disciplinary rules and exemplary punishment meted out to the guilty.”

CBI books three EPFO officials for multi-crore fraud

Coming on the back of a multi-crore fraud in a Mumbai EPF office where several staffers connived to siphon out funds from the country’s largest retirement fund’s corpus, the letter approved by the Central PF Commissioner (CPFC) Mukhmeet Singh Bhatia, stressed that the ‘reputational risk to the organisation’ by the conduct of employees moonlighting for the private sector is ‘incalculable’.

“It is observed that the disciplinary authorities often tend to ignore or take a lenient view when such misconduct is noticed and the delinquent officials are allowed to get away without disciplinary action,” the directive dated October 28 recorded.Mr. Bhatia is the Director General of the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) but has been given additional charge of the EPFO following the previous CPFC Sunil Barthwal’s transfer as Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and Employment which oversee.

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | The New Quad and Iran.

This week on Worldview, we discuss the new Quad on the block: Will India’s latest Quad with Israel run into trouble with Iran?

Earlier this month, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar joined Israel FM Yair Lapid in Jerusalem for a video conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UAE FM Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed- being called the new Quad in West Asia or the Middle East – as opposed to the other Quad in the Indo-Pacific.
Within a week, New Delhi became the venue for an Israel-Iran spat. After the new Israeli Ambassador Naor Gilon accused Iran of destabilising the region, and indicated that last year’s Abraham Accords that saw UAE and Israel recognise each other, as well as the new Quad were a result of concerns about Iran, the Iranian embassy in Delhi hit back- calling the Ambassador childish and adventurous, and Israel a murderous regime.   While such spats are not uncommon between Tehran and Jerusalem/ Tel Aviv, it is rare to see New Delhi, which has thus far been careful about maintaining good ties with both countries become the setting for the latest round.   Some speculation that Iran’s decision to hold a foreign minister’s meeting that didn’t include India was connected with its unhappiness over the new quad as well.

Why are the Middle Eastern Quad and the Indo-Pacific Quad being compared- apart from the fact that they involve four countries:

1. Both Quads have the US and India in them, indicating a degree of strategic closeness
2. While the US would like to see the Indo Pacific Quad as a way to counter China, Israel would like to see the new arrangement possibly as some sort of a counter to Iran
3. Neither is being billed as an alliance – much like the Indo Pacific Quad is largely discussing “soft” subjects like Climate change, Covid vaccines, disaster management, data flows and resilient supply chains, officials insist the Middle Eastern Quad is only meant for economic and infrastructure cooperation.

4. Interestingly, all IP Quad countries take part in the Malabar maritime exercises together, and this year for the first time, Israel’s largest ever Blue flag air force exercises in October, that include India and US, saw the UAE join as an observer.
5. For India, both Quads involve partnerships with countries relatively far away, with repercussions in India’s own neighbourhood.

There are also some important differences between the two, apart from geography:

1. The IP quad grew out of a 15 year old process, revived in 2017, and grew from coordination between officials, to ministers, and saw a summit only this year.   The ME quad has begun with a Foreign Minister level meeting, so is expected to be upgraded much faster.
 2. While the IP Quad has a definite strategic focus, that of keeping a Free and Open Indo Pacific, along with the centrality of the ASEAN region in mind, the ME Quad is not at present looking at any strategic focus, and is not involving the rest of the Gulf region in its deliberations.
 3. The IP Quad has branched out in a number of different areas needing G2G collaborations, while ME Quad officials say they are presently only looking at economic collaborations, by private companies that will bring together US and UAE financial and knowledge support, with Israeli technical R&D expertise, and India’s manufacturing capabilities.
4. But most importantly: The IP Quad has been strengthened due to India’s tensions with China, and the PLA’s incursions at the Line of Actual Control…but India’s relations with Iran have actually been very strong.
As we discussed in a previous edition of WV India and Iran have close ties for a number of reasons, and India is not going to wish to jeopardise them at present:

– Traditional and historical ties as neighbours, cultural affinities
– Until US sanctions, Iran was a top supplier of oil to India
– India sees Iran as an alternative access route to Afghanistan and Central Asia
– India is part of a trilateral with Iran and Afghanistan to develop Chabahar port
– India and Iran share common concerns about terrorism in Afghanistan
– India’s connectivity dreams to its west lie along the INSTC via Iran

The quad came about when Mr. Jaishankar was in Israel for a bilateral visit, and of course India and Israel relations are very important for a number of reasons
 – India and Israel are strategic partners, made stronger by the fact that Israel has no ties with Pakistan
– Defence trade: India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest defence supplier to India after Russia.
– India and Israel have agreed to grow trade through FTA negotiations
– They have common concerns on terrorism, and a very strong CT relationship
– Agricultural partnership, Israel has its only water attache  in India.
All in all, the new Quad is very much a work in progress, and it is not at all clear how far the partners really wish to go with the new formation.   Remember just a few months ago, the US announced a Quadrilateral with Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan as well, which appears to be suspended for the moment.   And as we have discussed, India is part of so many other arrangements- with Russia and China, and also Iran, it will be hard to strengthen this partnership without upsetting others.

Finally, India has too much at stake in good ties with Iran and Israel, it must avoid the overlap or clubbing them together in any sphere.

Railways Ministry withdraws order on sharing IRCTC’s convenience fee

Earlier, IRCTC was asked to share 50% convenience fee with Ministry of Railways. 

The Ministry of Railways has decided to withdraw the decision on The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) convenience fee, Department of Investment and Public Asset Management Secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey said in a tweet on Friday. The decision comes when  the company’s shares fell as much as 25% on the BSE during the morning trade.

It regained nearly all losses after the withdrawal of the decison. The share were trading 3.15% lower at ₹885/share at 11.17 am.

On Thursday, the IRCTC said that the Ministry of Railways has asked the company to share 50% of the revenues earned by it from convenience fee, next month onwards. “…it is to be informed that Ministry of Railways…has conveyed its decision to share the revenue earned from convenience fee collected by IRCTC in the ratio of 50: 50 w.e.f 1st November 2021,” the company said in a filing to the stock exchange.

IRCTC is a Mini Ratna company which is the sole entity authorised to deliver catering, online ticket booking and packaged drinking water in trains and railway stations.

As per the company’s annual report, it earned service charge or convenience fee of ₹552 crore in 2015-16 and ₹362 crore in 2016-17, after which service charge was withdrawn by the Ministry of Railways from November 2016 till August 2019 for promotion of digital transactions.

IRCTC restarted collection of convenience fee on e-ticket bookings September onwards, earning ₹352 crore in 2019-20 and ₹299 crore in 2020-21. “Due to the Pandemic, the bookings during FY2020-21 have dropped by 42.35% over FY 2019- 20. Therefore, there has been a substantial decrease in the Convenience Fee also,” it has said in the report.

Additionally, in a recent earnings conference for April-June 2021 quarter, IRCTC CMD Rajni Hasija had said that IRCTC had earned about ₹149 crore from internet ticketing during the quarter by booking around 6.37 crore tickets. Convenience fee accounted for about 69% of these revenues.

Incredible India 2.0, free visa for five lakh in new tourism policy to mitigate lockdown impact

‘Incredible India 2.0’ campaign focuses on niche tourism products including yoga, wellness, luxury, cuisine, and wildlife among others.

As the Covid pandemic situation is under control in the country, Union tourism ministry has initiated several measures to boost the sector and facilitate stakeholders to overcome losses caused by lockdown restrictions.

Revised national tourism policy, loans to tour operators or guides, new data-driven ‘Incredible India 2.0’ campaign, free tourist visa to first five lakh applicants after opening of international borders, appointment of tourism officers in 20 Indian missions abroad and extension of e-visa to 169 countries are among various initiatives.    

Under the new national tourism policy, the government is making provisions to ensure adequate investments in the sector, employment generation and community participation in tourism development with focus on development of tourism in a sustainable and responsible manner.The draft of the policy is ready and may be released soon. The policy also envisages setting up of an inter-ministerial coordination committee, a policy implementation unit and also a task force for better implementations.

‘Incredible India 2.0’ campaign focuses on niche tourism products including yoga, wellness, luxury, cuisine, and wildlife among others.

“The Central and state governments have taken several measures to boost tourism and also encouraged investments in the tourism sector. Initiations include a national tourism policy that we wish to unveil after close consultations with the states and all stakeholders, consultation to provide industry status to various tourism projects, unsecured loans to tour operators and tourist guides who have been affected by the Covid pandemic,” said Union tourism minister G Kishan Reddy on Thursday.He was speaking at a conference held to discuss and deliberate tourist promotion in the southern region.

Andhra Pradesh to set up digital libraries; First phase from Ugadi

CM directed the officials to prepare an action plan to complete phase-II works by December 2022 and phase-III works by June 2023.

 Chief Minister held a review meeting on the progress of works related to YSR digital libraries.

Andhra Pradesh is all set to have digital libraries across the state from Ugadi. Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy said digital libraries, including computer equipment, of phase-I, would be made available by Ugadi 2022 and directed the officials to prepare an action plan to complete phase-II works by December 2022 and phase-III works by June 2023. The Chief Minister held a review meeting on the progress of works related to YSR digital libraries and directed the officials to make use of the latest technologies and ensure that uninterrupted bandwidth internet was provided to every village for the smooth functioning of the digital libraries.

During the review meeting held at the camp office here on Friday, the Chief Minister directed the district collectors of Anantapur, Chittoor, Visakhapatnam and East Godavari to pay special attention to the construction of digital libraries in their respective districts. He said the facilities should be provided in such a way that the libraries were useful for work from home conditions and the youth preparing for competitive examinations. He instructed the officials to focus and ensure proper maintenance of the libraries.

The officials informed the Chief Minister that 12,979 digital libraries were being set up across the state in three phases of which the works related to 4,530 digital libraries would be completed in the first phase by January 2022.

Reddy instructed the officials to focus on arranging computers, printers, scanners and other infrastructure facilities and added to ensure desktop computers, system chairs, plastic chairs, fans, tube lights, iron racks, books and magazines in every digital library.

Industries, commerce and IT Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy, Chief Secretary Sameer Sharma, panchayat raj and rural development principal secretary Gopala Krishna Dwivedi, IT electronics and communications principal secretary G. Jaya Lakshmi, energy secretary Nagulapalli Srikanth, finance secretary Gulzar, panchayat raj and rural development commissioner Kona Sashidar, APSFL MD M. Madhusudan Reddy, APTS MD M. Nanda Kishore and other officials were present.


The News Editorial Analysis 29 October 2021

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