Indian Economy To Grow 10% In 2021-22: Niti Aayog

India’s economy will grow at 10 per cent in real terms and by the end of next year it will reach pre-COVID-19 level, NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar said here on Thursday.

Asked about COVID-19 and its effect on the country’s economy, Kumar told ANI, “Our economy will grow at 10 per cent in 2021-22 in real terms. By the end of next year, we will reach the pre-COVID level. Growth will be in positive figures in the fourth quarter of 2020-21.”

Talking about the farmers’ protest against the three agriculture laws, the NITI Aayog Vice Chairman said the government is trying its best to get their understanding and that they are not misguided and their doubts are cleared. “The government is committed and has always been towards increasing farmers’ income and for the betterment of their lives,” he said.

On the Kerala Assembly resolution against Centre’s farm laws, he said, “I think this protest is going on for the sake of protest. These laws have been in discussion for decades and many times those who are in Opposition now have supported them. They should understand its objective. They should not oppose it for the sake of being in opposition because it is misleading the farmers. This type of resolution is not in the interest of the country and farmers.”

“To farmers, I say with confidence and trust that the government is only concerned about how to better the lives of farmers and how to increase their income. These laws have been supported in the past by those who are in Opposition now. Also, the government is now ready to discuss all their issues. The government is ready to clear any apprehension of the farmers. I hope that farmers will understand.”

Regarding the fight against COVID-19 and when will the country overcome the challenges, Kumar said, “I wish everyone a happy new year. This wish will be in a true sense because as you have seen our vaccine is on the verge of the rollout. It is approved in England. It is manufactured in Pune’s Serum Institute and I have read recently that they have prepared 5 crore doses and I feel that we will overcome challenges posed by coronavirus.” (ANI)

DDC Poll: BJP’s Botched-Up J&K Plan

Some diehard, liberal optimists are yet again jumping the gun with fake optimism by overwhelmingly asserting that the District Development Council (DDC) election results for about 278 seats in Jammu and Kashmir is “a return to democracy”. There also seems to a view that the election results have proved that the BJP is the single largest party of this former state and new Union Territory, and, therefore, it has been absolved of the arbitrary abrogation of Article 370, the prolonged communication & social lockdown, mass arrests and the military clampdown. This, too, is flagrantly off the mark.

In this freezing cold, the winter of discontent has yet again been reaffirmed and expressed unanimously by the people in the Valley, with all their mistrust and misgivings about the mainstream politicians of the various mainline parties. The DDC polls, if at all, are a reminder, that all is not well in the restive region, and the Valley desperately needs freedom, peace, dignity and democracy. A restoration of the autonomy which was forcibly snatched from the people in early August 2019 by the BJP-led government in Delhi.

The tally of 75 seats for the BJP is a pointer to the sharp religious polarization witnessed in Jammu and Kashmir, especially since 2014. The fact that the BJP had an alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) earlier, against the popular mood, which led to another round of mass unrest in the Valley, has not been forgotten in the region. Certainly, it did not help in mainstreaming BJP in the region, especially in the Valley, more so, after it broke the alliance, as arbitrarily as ever.

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The military clampdown followed by the arrests of scores of politicians and ordinary people, the total communication and social and political lockdown which continued for months, including a tacit and overt clampdown on the local media, has not erased from popular memory. If at all, the DDC polls have only highlighted the serious lack of faith, the universal bad faith, and the total alienation witnessed in the valley since August last year.

The BJP winning a large chunk in the Jammu region is predictable, though even the Congress and the National Conference led by the Abdullahs have made inroads there. The Congress won 26 seats. The alliance has won in both mixed areas, as well as in Muslim-dominated areas, overwhelmingly.

There have been palpable fears in the Jammu region that outsiders might usurp their land in the current scenario, and this fear has been widely shared in the region of Ladakh as well. Despite that, the Hindu-dominated Jammu has voted for the local candidates of the BJP. The independents have won over 50 seats. Predictably, there are allegations that the BJP is trying to appropriate the independents.

Members of the Gupkar Alliance in Kashmir

Significantly, the BJP has got only 3 per cent odd votes in the Valley, and three seats in the Srinagar region. The Farooq Abdullah-led People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), comprising the PDP, the CPM, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, and others, have overwhelming won the mandate with 110 seats. And it has not been easy for the alliance, with its leaders such as Mehbooba Mufti and Sajjad Lone widely seen as compromised leaders who had earlier aligned with the BJP, going against the popular mood.

Besides, there were complaints by the alliance that they were not allowed to campaign freely, their movements were restricted, that the central agencies were making life difficult for them, and that their top leaders were not able to reach out to the masses in the interiors. There were also complaints of the BJP using the state machinery to its benefit, as much as pumping in huge money and resources to win the polls.

ALSO READ: A Tale Of Two Elections In J&K

Let it also not be forgotten, that the Apni Party propped up by Delhi has done badly with only 12 seats. The fact is that the Centre’s manipulative moves to change the course of the region’s politics has not really succeeded, especially in the Valley. Since the military clampdown, the Centre has tried to create a new and alternative leadership, sponsored by the Indian State and aligned to BJP, from the local level leadership, such as the panchayats and the districts. This move has not only boomeranged, but failed singularly in creating an alternative leadership, with most of these local, sponsored chieftains unable to even visit their areas due to the fear of a collective backlash.

Several other myths seem to have been broken by the final results of the polls and the process of campaigning. The BJP’s campaign to remove dynasties simply did not work. Despite the bad faith, the people have restored faith in the old dynasties, including Sajjad Lone, Mufti and the Abdullahs.

Second, the DDC winners will involve themselves with strictly local issues — health, water, infrastructure, among other factors. These are municipal issues and in no way reflect the big political picture and social process of the state. People have clearly voted to make a categorical point in the Valley and in the mixed population areas elsewhere – that they unilaterally and unanimously oppose the abrogation of Article 370, the dissolution of the assembly, the arrest of mainstream leaders and others, the lockdown and the clampdown, and the totalitarian method adopted by the Centre under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah since August last year.

If anything, the poll results yet again reflect mass resentment and anger at the state of affairs and are a signal that the entire strategy of the ruling regime in the region has moved from one political failure to another.

In this context the rhetoric that the polls would end militancy or extremism is much too far-fetched. If anything, Pakistan-backed armed militancy has only increased since the state was turned into a union territory, and there is no sign of it abating. With China fishing in murky waters in Ladakh, hitherto a part of Jammu and Kashmir, allegedly occupying Indian land, despite the high-level talks, the border region will continue to be restive.

Indeed, with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris coming to power in America, there is speculation that the human and fundamental rights issue might be again raised by democrats, involving Kashmir. Pakistan is sure to raise it yet again internationally, tacitly backed by China. And with the new American leadership’s stated position in support of democracy, secularism and freedom, if there is a shift in American foreign policy on Kashmir, that surely will be another big headache for the regime in Delhi.

Despite all the shadows and black holes, the DDC poll campaign and the results are a good sign. It restores minimalist electoral democracy in a state under siege and virtual occupation. It also promises the final restoration of autonomy and the state assembly under federal principles of the Indian Constitution, whereby people of the region might once again choose to vote for an elected state government – and not a power structure controlled by the Centre with military clampdown.

India To Have Covid Vaccine In A Few Days: AIIMS Head

Terming the approval for Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the UK as a “big step forward”, AIIMS Delhi Director Dr Randeep Guleria on Wednesday said that India will have the COVID-19 vaccine within days.

“This is very good news that AstraZeneca got approval for its vaccine by UK regulatory authorities. They have robust data and in India and the same vaccine is being developed by the Serum Institute of India. This is a big step forward not only for India but many parts of the world,” Guleria told ANI in an interview.

“This vaccine can be stored at two to eight degrees centigrade. Therefore it would be easy to store and transportation. Storage can be done using a simple fridge rather than what is required in the Pfizer vaccine of minus 70 degrees centigrade,” All India Institute Of Medical Sciences, New Delhi Director Dr Guleria said.

On the issue of COVID-19 vaccination drive in India, he said, “India to roll out COVID-19 vaccines for a large part of the country and therefore we will see the vaccine available in our country in the very near future.”

When asked about how much time is needed for the roll-out of COVID vaccine in the country, Dr Guleria said, “Now, we have a data, and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved based on the studies in UK, Brazil and South Africa. There is also data from Serum Institute of India (SII). I think, once the data is shown to the regulatory authority, we should get approval for the vaccine in the county within a few days. I would say days rather than weeks or months.”Dr Guleria, who is a member of the national task force on Covid-19 management, said that the country has a “robust plan as far as the vaccination is concerned”.

“We vaccinate children and pregnant women as part of our universal immunization program. Using the same platform to store vaccines at 2 to 8 degrees centigrade, it will be easier for us to store COVID-19 vaccines,” he added while emphasising on the easy storage process in comparison to Pfizer vaccine of minus 70 degrees centigrade.

Meanwhile, the Pune-based Serum Institute of India has sought emergency approval for the vaccine–Covishield– developed along with global pharma giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

In what could be termed as New Year gift, Adar Poonawalla, Chief Executive Officer, Serum Institute of India on Monday said 40-50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been stockpiled, adding that Covishield rollout is expected in January. (ANI)

Surat Diamond Industry Bounces Back In Business

After a fall in diamond exports due to lockdown, the diamond polishing industry in Gujarat’s Surat is back on track after seeing the rise in demand by the end of November.

Industry experts said that the reason behind the increase in demand from abroad is due to approaching international festivals like Christmas and Chinese New Year after a relatively long halt of the industry.

Dinesh Navadiya, Regional Chairman, Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), Gujarat, said that as compared to the exports in November 2019, there was a 92 per cent increase in November 2020.

“After COVID-19 lockdown, the diamond industry is getting back on track from November first week. In November 2019, we exported diamonds worth 620 million USD. In 2020 November, exports reached more than 1100 million USD. This means there is a jump of 92 per cent,” said Navadiya.

“During this time (lockdown) the diamond polishing industry was closed. After the markets started opening, there was an increase in demand ahead of festivals,” he added.

Nilesh Bodki, a diamond exporter, said that the tradition of gifting diamond jewellery in the West was the reason behind an increase in demand.

“Before the lockdowns across the world, there was a panic in the market due to the news of the spread of the virus. But once the production started ahead of Chinese New Year and Christmas, there was an increase in demand. The main reason is the American and English tradition of gifting diamonds on special occasions,” he stated. (ANI)

China Deploying Underwater Drones In Indian Ocean: Report

China has deployed a fleet of underwater drones called Sea Wing (Haiyi) glider in the Indian Ocean, which can operate for months on end and make observations for naval intelligence purposes, according to defence analyst HI Sutton.

Writing for the Forbes magazine, Sutton said that these sea gliders, which the Chinese are deploying “en masse”, are a type of Uncrewed Underwater Vehicle (UUV) which were launched in mid-December 2019 and recovered in February after making over 3,400 observations.

Citing the government sources, Sutton in his report said that these gliders are similar to those deployed by the US Navy, one of which was seized by Beijing in 2016 to ensure “safe navigation of passing ships.”

“Taken at face value, it may be surprising that China is now deploying these types of UUV en masse in the Indian Ocean. China has also deployed the Sea Wing from an ice breaker in the Arctic,” Sutton wrote.

According to the defence expert, reports from December last year suggested that 14 would be employed in the Indian Ocean mission but only 12 were used. Sutton said that these gliders are unpowered with large wings to glide that can run for long periods of time, adding that they are not fast or agile, however, they are employed for long-range missions.

Furthermore, the defence analyst said these Chinese gliders that are placed in the Indian Ocean were reportedly gathering oceanography data, which “sounds innocuous” however, is commonly gathered for naval intelligence purposes.”

Noting the rising challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat earlier this month had said the world is witnessing a race for strategic bases in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), adding that it is only going to gain momentum in the times to come.

“Of late along with geostrategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, we are also witnessing a race for strategic places and bases in the Indian Ocean region which is only going to gain momentum in the times to come,” General Rawat had said while delivering a keynote address at the Global Dialogue Security Summit.

CDS Rawat had said, “In the military field, technology must be a means of deterrence not a source of destruction. Our approach to security hence needs to shift from unilateral to the multilateral mode which mandates increasing training engagements with partner nations in order to fortify the future.”

He said that based on the challenges that India face, “we require structured long term planning for capacity building and capability development of our defence forces.” (ANI)

Govt-Farmer Talks: 2 Issues Agreed On, Next Meet On Jan 4

A consensus on two out of four issues has been reached between farmer leaders and the government at the seventh round of talks held in New Delhi on Wednesday with the Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar stating that the next meeting will now be held on January 4.

“Today’s talks were held in a very good environment and it concluded on a positive note. Consensus on two out of four issues was reached between both sides,” Tomar said while speaking to media on 6th round of talks with farmers’ unions at Vigyan Bhawan, the venue of the talks.

During today’s meeting, the farmer leaders have demanded justice and compensation for the families of the farmers who died during the protest.

Union Ministers Piyush Goyal and Narendra Singh Tomar had food with farmer leaders during the lunch break at Vigyan Bhawan.

“Considering the chilly weather in Delhi, I have requested the farmer leaders to send home the elderly, women and children. The next round of talks will be held on January 4,” Tomar said.

“First issue was an ordinance related to the Environment. Unions were apprehensive about farmers being included along with stubble ones. Both sides agreed to farmers’ exclusion,” he said

The union agriculture minister said that Farmers feel that if reform is introduced in the Electricity Act, they’ll suffer loss. “Unions wanted that electricity subsidy given to farmers by states for irrigation should continue. The consensus was reached on this issue also,: he said.

Ahead of the meeting, the delegation of farmers from several states, who have been protesting at the borders of the national capital for over a month, maintained that they want the government to repeal the new farm laws.

“Our stand is clear that the three farm laws should be taken back,” said a farmer leader before making his way to the meeting.

Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait was also seen heading to the meeting from the Ghazipur border (UP-Delhi border).

Tikait had earlier hit out at the opposition saying the opposition was weak and are not supporting the cause as they should.

“This is the reason farmers have had to come on the roads. The government doesn’t fear them. They should sit in pitched tents and stage protests on roads against the farm laws,” Tikait said.

Earlier in the day, Union Minister Som Prakash said that the government would go into the meeting with an open heart and mind and would try to resolve the issue so that people can go back to their homes for New Year.

This will be the seventh round of talks of government with farmers, including one with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Farmers have been protesting at different borders of the national capital since November 26 against the three newly enacted farm laws – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. (ANI)

9 Countries Keen To Buy DRDO’s Akash Missile System

Nine friendly foreign countries from Southeast Asia and Africa have shown interest in the acquisition of the DRDO-developed Akash air defence missile system, government sources said on Wednesday.

After a clearance by the Union Cabinet today, a public sector unit under Defence Ministry will explore the opportunities of exporting the weapon system to these countries, they added.

Earlier in the day, the Cabinet approved the export of Akash Missile System aiming to achieve the target of USD 5 billion of defence export and improve strategic relations with friendly foreign countries.

Akash is a Surface-to-Air Missile with a range of 25 kilometres. The missile was inducted in 2014 in Indian Air Force (IAF) and in 2015 in Indian Army.

“Besides Akash, there is interest coming in other major platforms like Coastal Surveillance System, Radars and Air platforms. To provide faster approvals for export of such platforms, a Committee comprising of Raksha Mantri, External Affairs Minister and National Security Advisor has been created,” read a release by the Ministry of Defence. (ANI)

Watch – ‘Medical Langar Will Continue Till Farmers Are Here’

As farmers from Punjab and Haryana continue their protest at Singhu border, several Sikh organisations have set up medical kiosks at the protest site. The organisers told LokMarg that the facilities include digital check-ups for blood-pressure and sugar level, and medicines for common ailments or discomforts in cold weather.

Trained pharmacists run these units, aided by organisations like Akaal Aid and Initiators For Change, among others. The medicines and facilities are also provided to the local populace free of cost. Calling these units as ‘Medical Langar’ the organisers say the services will continue as long as the protests stays on, be it six months or a year.

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BJP Launches ‘Lokkho Sonar Bangla’ Drive In West Bengal

West Bengal BJP unit on Wednesday launched “Lokkho Sonar Bangla” campaign in the run-up to state Assembly polls in 2021 at party’s election office in Kolkata.

Rajya Sabha MP Dr Swapan Dasgupta and BJP Intellectual Cell’s convenor Rantideb Sengupta were present on the occasion.

BJP leaders will visit all 294 assembly constituencies in West Bengal from January 2.

BJP will reach out to voters on issues including good governance, development and economic revival, youth’s future, women empowerment, health infrastructure, poverty alleviation, rural and agricultural development, world-class infrastructure for West Bengal, Sabka Sath Sabka Viswas and the strengthening the role of West Bengal in the cultural and academic stage of the country.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah had recently gone to West Bengal for a two-day visit.

He had expressed confidence that BJP will form government in West Bengal with over 200 seats in the next assembly polls and the party will turn the state into “Sonar Bangla” in five years.

“Give a chance to Narendra Modi’s leadership, we will make ‘Sonar Bangla’ (Golden Bengal) within five years. Our aim is the development of West Bengal,” he had said. (ANI)

Nawaz Sharif Shehbaz Pakistan

Pakistan To Cancel Nawaz Sharif’s Passport On Feb 16

Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) supremo and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s passport will be cancelled on February 16, Pakistan Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced on Wednesday.

“We have decided to cancel Nawaz Sharif’s passport on February 16,” Geo News quoted Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed as saying.

Earlier this month, the PML-N founder was declared a proclaimed offender in two cases, Avenfield properties and Al-Azizia by the Islamabad High Court after he failed to appear before the court, Dawn reported.

It is up to the British government to decide on the extradition of the former premier, Geo News quoted Shahzad Akbar, Advisor to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior as saying.

The Pakistan government has already approached United Kingdom authorities to extradite Nawaz Sharif.

The PML-N founder, who is currently residing in London for medical treatment, had been granted an eight-week bail on medical grounds in October 2019 and a month later he was allowed to travel abroad for treatment for four weeks.

Pakistan government maintains that Nawaz was permitted on the condition and he would share details of treatment which he did not do. The deposed premier has been declared proclaimed offender by Islamabad High Court and accountable for failing to appear before the bench, Geo News further reported. (ANI)