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Death toll mounts to 1,008 even as 22,982 cases are active

India reported 70 COVID-19 deaths — the highest in a single day — in the past 24 hours. The total death toll as of Wednesday evening had reached 1,008 and propped India among 17 countries that had over 1,000 deaths. The total confirmed active cases were 22,982 and 7,796 had recovered, the Health Ministry website said in its evening update.

At a conference, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that in the last three days, India’s doubling rate was 11.3 days. Although global mortality rate was around 7%, India’s was around 3%, and around 86% of those who died had a co-morbidity, he said.

Data from the State Health Departments put the nationwide death toll at 1,067 and the total number of positive cases at 32,741, with 23,334 active ones.

Preeti Sudan, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said non-COVID essential medical care ought not be neglected. Patients needing care such as dialysis, cancer treatment, diabetics, pregnant women and those suffering from cardiac ailments must be given adequate care. She also urged States to promote the Arogya Setu App which was a self-assessment tool useful in the prevention efforts of the government, said a press statement. The customary daily briefing for journalists, conducted by the Health Ministry, was not held on Wednesday.

India continues to be on the ‘Priority Watch List’ of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) for lack of adequate intellectual property (IP) rights protection and enforcement, the USTR said in its Annual Special 301 Report, released on Wednesday.

India remained one of the most challenging economies for IP enforcement and protection, the report said, using language it has used previously. Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Venezuela are also on the Priority Watch List. While India made “meaningful progress” to enhance IP protection and enforcement in some areas over the past year, it did not resolve recent and long-standing challenges, and created new ones, the report said.

This is 82% lower than in previous year

Labourers at an MGNREGA work site in Amethi.PTI

Although the Centre gave explicit instructions to reopen its flagship rural jobs scheme from April 20, only 30 lakh people were provided work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in April, about 17% of the usual, government data show.

In mid-April, only 1% of the usual number of workers had found employment.

The figures for this April are the lowest in five years, and show an 82% drop from the previous year’s figure of 1.7 crore workers. Some States had zero workers as on April 29, showing they had not restarted their work sites at all. Only 1,005 people got work in Haryana, along with 2,014 in Kerala and 6,376 in Gujarat, showing very low rates of employment. Andhra Pradesh, on the other hand, has provided 10 lakh jobs, though it is still lower than the 25 lakh jobs provided last April.

In the light of government failure to provide sufficient work at a time when the loss of livelihoods due to the lockdown and returning migrant workers have increased the need for work in Indian villages, there is a rising demand for compensation wages to be paid to workers instead.

High Court had stayed the govt. order

Pinarayi Vijayan

The Kerala Cabinet has cleared a draft Ordinance empowering the government for deferring six days’ salary of employees and teachers for five months to face the extraordinary fiscal crisis triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters here on Wednesday that there was a steep fall in income and the crisis was unbearable. The decision on deferment was made to overcome the crisis. Since the High Court had pointed out that the decision was legally untenable, the Cabinet decided to recommend the Governor to promulgate an Ordinance, he said.

The Ordinance will also empower the government to impose a 30% cut in the salary, allowances and honorarium of Ministers and MLAs for a year. The draft explains that in the event of any disaster or public health emergency, it shall be competent and lawful for the government to defer up to one-fourth of the total salary of an employee in any institution owned or controlled by the government, including aided and grant-in-aid bodies.

The High Court had said there was no sanction of law for the order to defer the salary and it amounts to deprivation of property of the employees and teachers who were affected by it. Hence, the government had to issue the Ordinance under extraordinary circumstances, it said.

Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac clarified that the government had the powers to deduct up to one-fourth of the total monthly salary of an employee for the management of the crisis that stemmed out of the public health emergency, but would strictly go by the earlier decision to defer the salary.

It is a country of a billion-plus people working together in a democratic framework, says the outgoing Permanent Representative of India to the UN

Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, retires on Thursday. The diplomat discussed a range of topics related to India at the UN, including the country’s bid for permanent membership at the Security Council. Edited excerpts:

India is due for election to the temporary membership of the UN Security Council later this year, for the 2021-22 period. What do you think will be the priorities for India to work on?

India in many ways is a sui generis country. It’s a country of a billion-plus, it’s a country which is a democracy, perhaps the only example in history of a billion-plus people working together in a democratic framework. We will bring to it those values and strengths of being able to work cohesively among disparate entities. That’s our USP, we try and work out solutions.

One of the biggest issues that will confront all multilateral organisations and certainly the Security Council will be issues which are beyond borders. Issues of … the global commons, whether it is in cases of public health as we are now seeing in the current pandemic, but other issues, for example, cyber [issues]. There are no regulatory mechanisms or no rules on that, and that’s another.

A third one is issues of high seas. Again, beyond your EEZ [exclusive economic zone], there is very limited understanding of what states can do and what states can’t do. Now, why should we focus on these broader thematic issues? It’s because you’ll see our experience has been: ungoverned spaces lead to opportunities for those who are inimical to global governance to breed, whether it is in states or it is beyond state boundaries, this has been the experience, and therefore, we as a country would like to focus on these things.

Has India got closer to permanent member status at the Security Council in the past four or five years?

One of those aspirational goals was, is and will remain permanent membership to the Security Council, because we feel by any present day calculus, we would qualify. Now, the issue of the expansion and reform of the Security Council is not an India-centric issue. It is an issue which entails a whole host of teams, because, as I told you, everybody acknowledges that India is sui generic. A billion-plus people not being permanently in an organisation which starts with, ‘We the peoples of the United Nations’. You can’t have that dichotomy between an organisation, which says, “I’m ready, I work on behalf of the peoples of the world,” and keeps such a big country representing more than a billion people out.

On India’s membership, there are very few discordant notes, but there are other issues. There are people who feel that matters relating to, for example, the veto are important factors. There are others who feel, ‘Should it be that every region expands or are there some regions that are already represented adequately (or not).’ There are a multiplicity of other issues which are fairly complex in nature.

What is India’s position on accepting permanent membership in case it doesn’t carry veto power? And what, if anything, will actually change China’s position on India becoming a permanent member?

If you look at the voting pattern at that stage when the reform or the expansion from 11 to 15 happened by increasing four non-permanent members, none of those present there as permanent members right now voted in favour. There were some who opposed, there were others who abstained. The only representative at that stage who voted in favour of change was the Republic of China. Now, even with that sort of vote, in two years, everybody accepted the vote and ratified it…in diplomacy, there is no finality in these things of what people say, people evolve, situations change, global pressures will mount.

The choice will have to be, do you want an organ which is moribund, which is not effective, which is not legitimate, which is not credible, or do you want, in the evolving situation, a body which is able to work — with its difficulties, but it’s able to work. Therefore, we bet on optimism and we bet that change will happen and people who may have reluctance today will join.

On the veto…

Of course, there are many of us who feel that veto was the outcome of a situation in 1945 when the world was different. Our view is that we do not oppose any approach that is non-discriminatory in nature. You are aware that on the issue of discrimination, we have a very strong historical record, whether it was going back to the NPT [Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty]. At that stage, it was discriminating among those who had nuclear weapons before a certain date or later, similarly on the issue of veto. If there are restrictions, these need to be applicable to everyone. These are difficult calls and those discussions have not yet happened.

Would you agree that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir has been internationalised after the August 5 decision by the government, given how many times it’s been raised including by the Secretary-General and the Security Council after so many decades [last taken up in 1971]?

[Mr. Akbaruddin said that the Secretary-General issues a list of all items that are/were discussed formally in the Security Council, including those that have not been discussed in decades but are listed at the behest of delegations. These include ‘The Hyderabad Question’ and ‘The India-Pakistan Question’ of 1948].

I’m not contesting that is on the agenda because the agenda, the way it works is that one country can put in anything on the agenda to continue, even if not discussed for… in the case of Hydrabad now, 70 years. Being on the agenda is not an issue of concern to anybody.

But it [Jammu and Kashmir] was discussed informally...

Informal consultations by definition are not considered to be formal if in any nature. Yes, any country can raise anything on the agenda or outside the agenda in an informal setting. Like you and I when we sit and have a cup of tea, discuss anything under the agenda. Sure. We have not contested that this was informally raised, but you also are aware of those outcomes. No country, not even the informal outcome was shared with anybody, so you can see what the inclination of most members is. I can repeat it, I’ve done it many a time before, that there is no interest in addressing that issue in the Council in any format. That’s why those who had raised it raised it three times, but look at the way each time they raised it, the returns have diminished.

So is it fair to say that you disagree that it’s been “internationalised”?

In a globalised world, you can say anything is internationalised, but I don’t think there is any fear that if something is... States are sovereign, they can do what they want, but if you don’t have resonance, it’s a loss.

How does plurilateralism — a concept India has backed — work during a pandemic? Wouldn’t multilateralism — which is, in many senses, under attack right now — work better given the pandemic affects everyone?

I don’t see a conflict between the two frameworks. There are multiple levels at which you can address the same issue and perhaps that’s the way to go about it. There is a national effort under way. That does not detract from a regional effort like we’ve tried in SAARC with our Health Ministers. The EU is trying in some way in the European Union countries, there are others trying elsewhere. However, at some stage, you will also have to address it multilaterally, beyond plurilaterally. A virus knows no borders, so there will always be a threat to us unless we address it across the board, and that’s the role of multilateralism.

India has achieved quite a bit in having its position on a global response to terrorism acknowledged. However, we haven’t been able to make headway on the proposal for a comprehensive convention on international terrorism, the CCIT. Which regions and countries have been the biggest hurdles?

We need to look at the global context in which we made that submission and what is the situation today? We made the submission when I was a young First Secretary here in 1996. At that stage, terrorism was not even looked on as anything beyond a law and order issue.

Today, we’ve come a long way on that. There are multiple elements… of what we put in there, which are now norms in the global discourse. They are now part of many Security Council resolutions, itself. The discourse has absorbed many elements from that.

There still remain areas where we need to address them. Terrorism financing — there are Security Council resolutions; terrorism nuclear issues — there is a separate convention. The norm that nothing justifies terrorism is now accepted globally. We’ve come a long way on that, of course.

(With inputs from

Suhasini Haidar)

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(For the full interview, log on to bit.ly/Akbaruddin)

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