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States will soon be ranked on a new financial management index for rural development

The Narendra Singh Tomar-led rural development ministry will soon rank states on efficient management of financial resources allocated for implementing half a dozen rural development schemes.

The department has developed a financial management index that will map the performance of states and rank them on the basis of five parameters. These include preparation of annual plan, expeditious release of due state share, timely utilization of the funds and submission of the utilization certificates; optimum implementation of public financial management system (PFMS); optimum implementation of DBT module for the rural employment guarantee scheme, internal audit and the social audit.

The budgetary allocation for 2020-21 for the rural development ministry is Rs 1.2 lakh crore with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, taking the bulk of it at Rs 61,500 crore. However, the allocation to the scheme has later been extended by Rs 40,000 crore during the Covid-19 pandemic to create livelihood opportunities for millions of migrant workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The rural development ministry is of the view that it is imperative to lay down minimum essential norms of financial management and accountability for ensuring optimal utilization of funds by the state implementing agencies in the wake of ever increasing time bound targets and consequential higher allocation of funds under rural development (RD) programmes, to help them achieve the desired objectives.

“The Financial Management Index – Rural Development has been designed to capture the performance of the states on the four important pillars of financial management,” rural development minister Tomar said.

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India is at risk of losing hard-won gains in the fight against poverty, says World Bank

NEW DELHI: The World Bank has warned in its draft India Development Update (IDU) that the country is at “risk of losing its hard-won gains against poverty”, ET has learnt. It also said that several households are “likely to slip back into poverty due to income and job losses triggered by Covid-19”.

In the IDU report until June 2020, the draft of which has been shared with the government, the World Bank observed that the fiscal impact of the economic stimulus package, though pegged at Rs 20 lakh crore, was limited by way of central government spending.

Three potential risks

The spending was estimated by experts at 0.7-1.2% of GDP in the current financial year.

The finance ministry is believed to have circulated the draft among stakeholder ministries, seeking their responses and comments. The report is expected to be released shortly. Sudip Mozumder, spokesperson for the World Bank’s India’s office, told ET that only an “early draft” had been shared with the government.

“The report is yet to be finalised and is likely to be published in a week or so. The date is not yet final. The numbers are being re-crunched,” said Mozumder, also lead advisor, external affairs, for the World Bank for India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

While recognising the relief that government interventions can provide, the Bank identified three potential risks – if lockdown measures are extended and mobility remained “significantly constrained” over the second quarter (July-September); additional strains on the financial sector; and further deterioration of the global outlook.

India may see a reversal of gains made between 2011 and 2015 when the poverty rate dropped from 21.6% to 13.4%, based on the international poverty line.

“Preliminary analysis following the national Covid-19 lockdown suggests that these gains will be eroded… India is at risk of losing its hard-won gains against poverty, and pre-existing inequalities will widen,” it said, adding that nearly half of India’s population was vulnerable with “consumption levels precariously close” to the poverty line.

“These households are likely to slip back into poverty due to income and job losses triggered by Covid-19,” the draft noted while also emphasising the vulnerabilities of 90% of India’s workforce in the informal sector. “These workers are at risk of falling into poverty due to wage and livelihood losses triggered by shrinking economic activity, government-imposed closures and social distancing protocols. Migrants face the deepest risks due to a static social protection system in India, inter-state migrants are at acute risk of increased poverty and destitution.”

On the economic front, the draft IDU said the Indian economy will contract in FY21 by over 3% and that the rebound will be “muted” in FY22.

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Differences emerge between India and China, disengagement process at Pangong Tso lake stalled

NEW DELHI: The disengagement process at the Finger Area along Pangong Tso lake has been stalled since differences have emerged between India and China on the status and claims, with the two sides set to hold the next edition of the working mechanism for consultation and coordination (WMCC) meeting on Friday to resolve fresh issues.

The process of disengagement in the Finger Area is not moving ahead, beyond the withdrawal of troops from the base of Finger 4 to Finger 5, and fresh talks at the military and diplomatic levels are needed to clear the logjam, said people aware of the matter.

While the third round of the WMCC meeting on India-China border affairs is expected on Friday, a fresh round of corps commander level talks is expected to take place next week to take ahead the process.

“It is our expectation that the Chinese will sincerely work with us for complete disengagement and deescalation and full restoration of peace in the border areas at the earliest as agreed to by the special representatives,” said the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson.

The people cited earlier said the disengagement process has hit an obstacle, as Chinese troops have not completely withdrawn from the LAC. At Patrol Point 17, more than 50 Chinese troops remain deployed inside India’s perception of the LAC while at PP 15, the Chinese army has agreed to move back without any conditions. At PP 14 in Galwan valley, the Indian Army has moved out some of its vehicles that had been stranded there as the flow of the river changed. The vehicles were evacuated through crossings made on the river for their de-induction.

“Their numbers have further been reduced in Galwan valley and Gogra heights but Chinese soldiers continue to occupy tactical positions in Depsang plains,” said an official, who did not wish to be identified.

Reports of a fresh build-up around the heights at Finger 4 were under verification and likely to be raised during the WMCC, said the official.

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SC refuses to hear PIL for standard Yoga protocol to enhance COVID-19 resistance

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to entertain a PIL seeking directions to the Centre to develop “standard Yoga protocol” to enhance coronavirus resistance and its customisation to control common diseases as well. A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan told lawyer petitioner and BJP leader Ashwini Updhyay that it was not willing to direct the government on the issues raised in the plea and allowed him to approach authorities with the representation.

“After making submissions for some time, learned counsel for the petitioner seeks permission to withdraw the petition to enable him to approach the competent authorities. The writ petition is dismissed as withdrawn,” said the bench, also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah, conducting the hearing via video conferencing.

The plea, filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey, said that Ministry of AYUSH has failed to develop a standard Yoga protocol to resist coronavirus or COVID-19 and sought directions to take steps to broadcast COVID-19 Yoga protocols as well as other customised Yoga Protocols in order to strengthen body immune system.

“The injury caused to the public is very large because COVID-19 pandemic is spreading rapidly and no vaccine or medicine has been discovered till date,” it said. Experts say that regular Yoga can protect people from COVID-19 but AYUSH Ministry has failed to develop a standard Yoga protocol to resist the virus, the plea said.

It alleged that AYUSH Ministry has also not developed customised protocols to control common diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, tumours, digestive diseases, fever and infections and diarrheal diseases.

The PIL has also sought directions to the Ministry of Human Resource Development to develop standard textbooks on ‘Environment, Health and Yoga Science’ for students of I-VIII standard and make its study compulsory throughout the country. “Direct the ministry of AYUSH to frame a ‘National Yoga Policy’ to promote and propagate Yoga Science in order to make people fully aware about health-hazards, health-hygiene and health safety,” the plea said.

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Amid looming Chinese presence, India woos Bhutan with trade and connectivity

(This story originally appeared in on Jul 22, 2020)

NEW DELHI: From identifying more border trade points to carrying out a feasibility study for a railway link between the two countries, the government is going all out to thwart China’s attempts to wean Bhutan away from India’s sphere of influence.

After opening a new trade route last week, India is likely to approve Bhutan’s request for another permanent land customs station (LCS) to facilitate more Bhutan exports to India and Bangladesh. India is also considering opening another integrated check post (ICP), sources here said.

These initiatives are significant as Bhutan dodges attempts by China to establish formal diplomatic relations with India’s only neighbour which is yet to join Beijing’s BRI initiative. The government realises though that Bhutan could still be susceptible mainly because of its border dispute with China which recently saw Beijing making a new territorial claim in Bhutan’s east and close to the border with Arunachal Pradesh.

Sources here said that while a feasibility study is being carried out for a railway link between Mujnai in West Bengal and Nyoenpaling in Bhutan, Land Ports Authority of India has also identified Jaigaon in West Bengal’s Alipurduar district for development of an integrated check post (ICP).

After a request from Bhutan, India is also considering notifying the Jitti-Nagrakata LCS as a permanent LCS which has until now been a seasonal station for trade in crops like orange, ginger and cardamom.

According to Indian authorities, Bhutan requested for it mainly to facilitate export of boulders and river bed materials to India and Bangladesh. “The Bhutanese exporters are finding it difficult to export these products through the nearest permanent LCS (Loksan-Bhimtar) due to high transportation costs and restriction on load capacity of river bridges en route,” said a source, who described Bhutan as India’s closest partner.

“The idea is to positively engage Bhutan and boost trade through enhanced connectivity. These efforts will further have a positive effect on the trade growth with northeast states,” he added.

After a request from Bhutan, India had last week opened an additional trade route under Jaigaon LCS at Ahllay, Pasakha, as a “temporary measure” during the current Covid 19 situation.

This new land route for movement of industrial raw materials and goods destined for Pasakha Industrial Estate will boost bilateral trade and commerce and lead to decongestion of vehicular traffic along the Jaigaon – Phuentsholing route, the government had said.

There is annual trade worth Rs 6,000 crore between India and Bhutan at Jaigaon-Phuentsholing border, according to India.

“The trade with countries other than India through this border trade point is an additional Rs 1,400 crore. This trade point caters to around 75% of the overall trade between the two countries and around 74% of Bhutan’s overall trade with the world including India,” said an official, adding that the trade and transit agreement last renewed in 2016 allows free trade and commerce between the two countries.

“The said agreement also mentions about 21 entry/exit trade points between the two countries including ten trade points with Land Customs Stations at the Indo-Bhutan border. Some of these trade points are also used by Bhutan for trade with third countries,” he added.

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One-third of high-risk Covid-19 patients fully recover in Karnataka

BENGALURU: A third of high-risk Covid-19 cases in Karnataka have walked out of hospitals, fully recovered, in the past three months raising hopes among health administrators about reining in the death rate in the coming weeks.

According to the data compiled by the government, there have been 18,779 high-risk cases, as of July 20, and 6,639 patients have been discharged. Most of these patients are in government hospitals.

“Bengaluru Urban has the highest of these cases. Other cases are spread across Mysuru, Dharwad, Mangaluru, Kalaburagi, Bidar and Belagavi districts,” special officer for Critical Care Support Unit and Tele ICU Dr KV Thrilok Chandra told ET.

What gives health administrators hope about controlling the case fatality rate (CFR) or the number of deaths among the Covid-19-positive cases is that the majority of those who succumbed to the infection had comorbidities. “Of the 1,400 deaths reported in Karnataka as of July 21, about 1,087 of them had one or the other morbidity,” Chandra, a qualified doctor himself, said.

The government defines high-risk cases as patients above 50 years of age or children less than 10 years with comorbid conditions such as hypertension, acute diabetes, cancer, hyperthyroidsm or ischemic heart disease requiring ICU, high-flow oxygen beds and ventilator support.

Over the past three months, and until Tuesday, the hospitals had 163 cases that were either ‘brought dead’ or ‘died at home’. “As many as 368 people died within 24 hours of admission, 281 died within 48 hours and 162 persons died within 72 hours of admission. The data suggests that in about 70% of the cases, patients reported late after their health condition worsened. There was not much time for treatment,” Chandra, an IAS officer monitoring the high-risk cases in Karnataka, said.

“The inference that we can draw from the data available is these persons were either under self-medication or were being treated by a local doctor or were taking over-the-counter drugs. They were already in a critical condition when they were brought to hospitals,” Chandra said. “The chances of survival are high if patients report to us early. That will also reduce Karnataka’s death rate due to Covid,” he added.

Meanwhile, chief minister BS Yediyurappa, in a review meeting on Wednesday with ministers overseeing four zones in Bengaluru, asked them to ensure expert doctors attend to high-risk patients so that Karnataka’s recovery rate improves.

Of the 61 Covid deaths Karnataka reported on Tuesday, Bengaluru Urban accounted for a third of them. Untreated hypertension and diabetes have been found to be a major factor in several cases of Covid deaths in the state. Keeping these under control with treatment is the best immunity against any complications, health officials said.

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Ashok Gehlot govt may find it difficult if floor test takes place before disqualification of MLAs

NEW DELHI: Rajasthan assembly Speaker’s move to file a special leave petition in the SC seeking permission to go ahead with the process of hearing the 19 rebel Congress MLAs led by Sachin Pilot has given credence to the belief that the Gehlot government is precariously placed as the numbers on the two sides are very close.

While Gehlot has claimed that he commands a majority in the assembly, it is a touch-and-go situation which may turn against the state government in the coming days if BJP succeeds in its plans. In the 200-member House, BJP has 72 MLAs while its ally RLP has three. Pilot is likely to get the support of three of the 13 independents.

This would take the tally of the anti-Gehlot group to 97. One Congress MLA, Bhanwarlal Meghwal, a Pilot loyalist, is seriously unwell and not in aposition to cast his vote. The speaker can vote only in case of a tie. The two BTP MLAs have kept both sides guessing about their support and their position will be clear only in the House when a floor test is held.

This puts a question mark on Gehlot’s stand that he has the support of 105 or more MLAs. BJP insiders maintain that the Speaker’s step of filing an SLP vindicates their stand that the Gehlot government is in a minority. Congress has realised that disqualification of 19 rebels is the only way to save the government, they said.

The SLP is aimed at pre-empting an adverse HC verdict. If the court orders a floor test, there are strong chances that the government will lose. Though defying the whip will lead to disqualification of the rebels, their vote will be counted as per the rules.

There are clear indications that the opposition camp is engaged in behind-the-scenes activity to wean away more MLAs from the Gehlot camp. The chief minister wrote a letter to the PM expressing his concern over possibilities of horse-trading.

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Congress paid over Rs 12 cr to its candidates to meet Delhi poll expenses: EC submissions

The Congress paid over Rs 12 crore to its candidates to meet expenses in the Delhi assembly polls held earlier this year, according to submissions by the party before the Election Commission. In its “part election expenditure” statement submitted to the poll panel in March on the “lump sum amount” paid to candidates for the February polls, the party said it gave Rs 12,25,00,000 to its 64 candidates, all of whom lost with some forfeiting their security deposits.

The document, signed by Congress general secretary Motilal Vora, was put in the public domain by the EC recently. The Congress had left some of the seats to its ally RJD in the Delhi assembly election held on February 8 this year.

The lump sum amount paid to each of the candidates by the party varied from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 25 lakh. Most of the payments were made in two installments. A candidate contesting assembly polls in Delhi cannot spend beyond Rs 28 lakh as election expense. There is no election expenditure limit or ceiling for political parties.

The amount paid by political parties to their candidates to meet election expenditure is reflected in the statements submitted by both to the EC after the polls. The Aam Aadmi Party won 62, while the Bharatiya Janata Party took the remaining eight of the 70 seats in the Delhi elections.

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BSP chief Mayawati: ‘Crime virus’ spread by criminals more active than coronavirus in UP, says Mayawati

LUCKNOW: BSP chief Mayawati on Wednesday said “crime virus” spread by criminals is more active than coronavirus in Uttar Pradesh.

“The way heinous crimes like murder and those against women are continuing unabated, it is clear that instead of law and order, jungle raj is prevailing in UP. Crime virus of criminals is more active than coronavirus in UP. People are fed up and the government must address this issue,” Mayawati said in a tweet in Hindi.

The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister did not mention any specific incident in her post.

However, the Bahujan Samaj Party chief’s tweet came hours after a Ghaziabad-based journalist, who was shot in the head by some assailants, succumbed to injuries early Wednesday.

Vikram Joshi had lodged a complaint with the police alleging harassment of his niece on July 16 and was shot at around 10.30 pm on Monday near his home in Vijay Nagar area.

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