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PM says these decisions were necessary in national interest

Reaching out: Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting people at Jangamwadi Mutt in Varanasi on Sunday.PTI

Despite international pressure, the government will continue to stand by its decision to revoke Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted on Sunday.

He said the country had “awaited” these decisions for many years. “In national interest, these decisions were necessary,” Mr. Modi said at an event in his parliamentary constituency Varanasi.

“Despite the various international pressures, we stand by these decisions and will continue to stand by them,” Mr. Modi said. The country was now taking decisions that were always left behind in the past, he added.

The Prime Minister’s tough talk assumed significance in view of protests against the CAA in various parts of the country.

Launches projects

In Varanasi, Mr. Modi launched projects worth ₹1,250 crore. He unveiled the statue of Deendayal Upadhyay, which, at 63 feet, is the largest statue of the leader in the country, as per the government. The Prime Minister also dedicated to the nation the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Memorial Centre.

Mr. Modi flagged off the third corporate train, Mahakaal Express, which links three Jyotirling pilgrim centres — Varanasi, Ujjain and Omkareshwar.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Modi attended the closing ceremony of the centenary celebration of Jagadguru Vishwaradhya Gurukul at Jangamwadi Mutt and released the translated version of ‘Shri Siddhant Shikhamani Granth’ in 19 languages. He also launched the ‘Shri Siddhant Shikhamani Granth’ mobile app.

Citing certain key decisions of his government, Mr. Modi referred to the trust set up for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and said it would work “rapidly.”

(With PTI inputs)

Political ambitions of ABSU, NDFB leaders have rubbed the BPF the wrong way

The third Bodo Accord signed with a set of extremist groups more than a fortnight ago appears to have unsettled another set of extremists who signed the second accord in February 2003 and went on to rule the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

BTC polls

The Centre had on January 27 signed the peace accord with all factions of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and two other organisations including the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU).

The signatories subsequently announced their political ambitions with Pramod Boro suddenly quitting as the ABSU president.

The elections to the 40-member BTC is expected in April.

The political ambitions of the leaders of ABSU and NDFB appears to have rubbed the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which has been ruling BTC since 2003 and is a partner in the BJP-led coalition government in Assam, the wrong way.

“The new accord that merely changes the name of BTC to Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) and gives us nothing. We cannot just accept this accord, we will not even use BTR as part of our vocabulary,” BTC chief Hagrama Mohilary said at a party meeting in Kokrajhar district’s Parbatjhora area on Saturday.

Outburst significant

Mr. Mohilary’s outburst attains significance ahead of the BTC elections where the ABSU has often sided with rival parties of BPF, such as United People’s Party Liberal. Moreover, he was a witness to the January 27 accord-signing in New Delhi along with Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

The BTC chief, who headed the now-disbanded extremist group Bodo Liberation Tigers, has also been critical of Mr. Boro.

“He used to say he would never become a politician and contest elections. He lied when he was with ABSU, he will lie more if he comes to power,” Mr. Mohilary said.

Boro retaliates

The former ABSU president retaliated by saying Mr. Mohilary has lost the trust the people of BTC had in him. “The people are desperate for a change in leadership that has foresight and is honest about serving them,” Mr. Boro said at a welcome ceremony for the new accord signatories in Baksa district’s Musalpur area on Sunday.

The bent-toed gecko, named Cyrtodactylus urbanus, was earlier thought to be same as the Khasi Hills lizard

The new species of lizard, Cyrtodactylus urbanus.Special Arrangement

Guwahati, the largest city in the Northeast, has yielded a new species of lizard – the urban bent-toed gecko.

Markedly different

Jayaditya Purkayastha and Madhurima Das, two of the five herpetologists and researchers who made the discovery, had teamed up with four others to be the first to record the brown blotched Bengal tree frog from urban West Bengal last year.

The new species of lizard, zoologically named Cyrtodactylus urbanus, is markedly different in molecular structure, blotch and colour from the Cyrtodactylus guwahatiensis, or the Guwahati bent-toed gecko, that was discovered two years ago.

The study on the urban bent-toed gecko has been published in the latest edition of Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed scientific mega journal for animal taxonomists. Apart from Mr. Purkayastha and Ms. Das, the study was co-authored by Sanath Chandra Bohra, Mumbai-based Ishan Agarwal and Aaron M. Bauer, a global authority on geckos based in Pennsylvania, U.S.

“All bent-toed geckos in Northeast India were thought to be a single species, the Cyrtodactylus khasiensis found primarily in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. Photographs I had taken of the urban bent-toed from the Basistha area of Guwahati in 2011, when compared with other species, made global experts realise it was a different species,” Mr. Purkayastha told The Hindu.

Though the urban bent-toed gecko falls within the khasiensis group, it differs from other members of this group in mitochondrial sequence data as well as aspects of morphology such as the number and arrangement of certain pores in males, the number of mid-ventral scales and colour pattern.

The study on the urban bent-toed gecko also provided additional information on the Guwahati bent-toed gecko, the first of the two Cyrtodactylus endemic to the areas covered by the city and the fourth from Assam.

12th from Northeast

It was also the 12th recorded gecko from the Northeast.

“What this study tries to establish is that some urban spaces too have life forms that are often overlooked but in danger of being wiped out because of concrete development. More studies need to be done before time runs out for such life forms,” Mr. Purkayastha said, adding more than 50% of the species of bent-toed geckos on earth was described in the last decade.

Guwahati is home to 26 species of amphibians, 57 species of reptiles, 214 species of birds and 36 species of mammals. The city provides that edge for urban biodiversity to thrive because it encompasses 18 hills, eight reserve forests, two wildlife sanctuaries and a Ramsar site (wetland) besides the Brahmaputra river.

Live relay of surgeries from a remote hospital organised for 100 London doctors

For long, the massive enlarged thyroid glands among the Korku tribals living in Amravati’s Melghat region have puzzled doctors. Doctors would see Korkus, mainly women, with these abnormal growths, known as goitre, weighing over one to two kilograms. An annual surgery camp held at a remote hospital in Chikhaldara has however changed that. While goitre remains prevalent, doctors now see smaller growths in the tribe.

At the 19th annual camp held early this month, 16 people from the tribe — 13 women and three men — underwent goitre surgeries. “Earlier we would see exceptionally large growths. That has changed over the past three to four years,” said ENT surgeon Dr. Madan Kapre who operated on four of the 16 patients.

“Lack of adequate medical attention is the main problem. They would seek medical help only when it became difficult to function with the growth on the neck,” Dr. Kapre, who is also the founding president of Indian Society of Thyroid Surgeons, said. He said the annual camp brings senior specialists closer to the patients instead of the patients travelling for treatment.

Iodine deficiency is known as the common cause of goitre. But the staple diet of Korkus is fish, a rich source of iodine, and there is availability of iodised salt too. “We believe there are genetic factors at play,” Dr. Kapre said.

The recent camp was unique in many ways. A live relay of the surgeries was organised for over 100 doctors at St Mary’s Hospital in London. “Prof Neil Tolley of Imperial College, London, had visited us two years ago and he was impressed with our surgeries carried out with minimum facilities. It was his idea to have a live broadcast,” Dr. Kapre said, adding besides the large size of glands, the London doctors were exposed to a unique technique of anesthesia.

Lack of reliable internet network posed a challenge for the live transmission. However, a company called Valuable Edutainment helped in the transmission using its V-SATs.

Head and neck surgeon Dr. Abhishek Vaidya, who operated on two of the 16 patients, said the operation theatre in the rural hospital was built in 1994 by the Rotary Club of Nagpur South that organises the camp.

“Such large size goitres are only seen in textbooks by most. The thyroid gland is beneath the adam’s apple and it should be imperceptible. But in these cases, the enlargement is much bigger than the size of a lemon,” Dr. Vaidya said, adding the average growth seen was 6x4cm.

This satellite will keep a constant watch on borders: official

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is preparing to launch GISAT-1, a new earth observation satellite, in the first week of March.

GISAT-1 — Geo Imaging Satellite — will be the first of two planned Indian EO spacecraft to be placed in a geostationary orbit of around 36,000 km. It will apparently be in a fixed spot looking over the Indian continent at all times.

All Indian EOs have been placed so far in a 600-odd-km orbits and circle the earth pole to pole. GISAT-1 will be launched from the Sriharikota satellite launch centre. “With this satellite, which has high-resolution cameras, we can keep a constant watch on our borders, monitor any changes in the geographical condition of the country, etc.,” said Alok Kumar Srivastav, Senior ISRO scientist and Deputy Director, U.R. Rao Satellite Centre, Bengaluru.

Chandrayaan-3

On Chandrayaan-2, he said that after the failed lunar landing of the project owing to technical reasons, ISRO had planned to repeat the project. “The government has already approved the [Chandrayaan-3] project. We are working on it. We are planning to relaunch the project within a year. I am hopeful that this time we will be successful in our endeavour to land our rover near the lunar southern where no rover has landed so far,” he said.

Space station

ISRO is expected to develop its own space station within a decade. “ISRO scientists are making every effort to develop our own space station. Hopefully, in the next ten years, India will have its own space station like the U.S. and China,” Dr. Srivastav said. To achieve this gigantic target, preparations are already under way at ISRO. He said ISRO had planned to first send two unmanned spacecraft within a couple of years, and later a crewed mission in the third phase.

“Our astronauts are already undergoing training in Russia. After the completion of their training, they will be part of the first manned mission. The success of the mission will open new avenues for the setting up of our own space station, which will be possible within a decade from now,” he said.

Dr. Srivastav said that as a space scientist, he was hopeful that life existed in some or the other form somewhere in the galaxy. “We are searching for them, and possibly they are searching for us, and hopefully some day we will meet.”

‘Will soon send a consignment of medical supplies’

Major relief: Indians who were airlifted from Hubei province of China, at ITBP’s quarantine facility in New Delhi. All 406 people at the facility tested negative for the virus.PTI

India will do everything within its means to assist the people of China to combat the deadly COVID-19 outbreak and would soon send a consignment of medical supplies, Indian Ambassador Vikram Misri said on Sunday.

The death toll from COVID-19 outbreak in China has climbed to 1,665 after 142 more people died, mostly in the worst-hit Hubei province, officials said on Sunday.

“As a concrete step to tackle the outbreak, India will soon send a consignment of medical supplies to China,” Mr. Misri said, adding this would fully demonstrate the goodwill, solidarity and friendship of the people and the Government of India with the Chinese people.

Ban lifted

Indian officials said the details of the aid required by China were being worked out and the consignment would be sent as soon as they were finalised.

India has also lifted the export ban and cleared some of the medical equipment ordered by Chinese importers.

China has said it needed medical masks, gloves and suits, especially for the medical staff attending the virus-affected patients. Masks have become scarce in China in view of the nationwide demand in the last three weeks.

Staff crunch, low community referrals major factors: National Health Mission

Madhya Pradesh has recorded the highest percentage of newborn deaths of 11.5% against the total admissions to government-run sick newborn care units (SNCUs) in the past three years across the country, a rate ominously spiralling since 2017, according to the National Health Mission (NHM). The country’s average is 7%.

Although admissions of neonates (under 28 days) in the State have dropped from April 2017 to December 2019 — remaining lower than West Bengal, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — the percentage of deaths at 12.2% surpassed Bihar’s last year.

Meanwhile, West Bengal, where 34,344 neonatal deaths occurred in the period, the most in the country, the declining percentage of deaths from 9.2% in 2017 to 8.9% in 2019 coincided with a slump in admissions.

Several factors

Staff crunch, low community referrals, absence of a special neonatal transport service to health centres, and the non-availability of enough units to cater to increasing institutional deliveries had contributed to the spike in the percentage of deaths, said Dr. Saloni Sidana, Additional Mission Director, NHM State unit.

“We have just half of the required staff nurse strength at the units across the State. For instance, in the Jabalpur unit, there are only 14 against a required 22 nurses,” she said.

The crunch is magnified as only one against the requisite five (82% shortfall) of surgeons, gynaecologists, physicians and paediatricians is available at hospitals.

As the units are located at hospitals with the delivery load of more than 3,000 infants per year, mostly in district headquarters, transporting neonates on time is crucial. “Although there is a dedicated service to transport pregnant women to hospitals from remote areas, there is none for neonates, who are mostly dependent on the 108 ambulance service,” said Dr. Sidana.

Madhya Pradesh has also recorded an abysmal sex ratio in admissions. Even with a sex ratio of 931 as per the 2011 census, 663 girls were admitted against 1,000 boys in the three years, against the country average of 733.

Bias against girls

“In almost three fourths of the cases relating to boys, more admissions can be attributed to the prevailing bias against the girl child in society,” said an NHM official, requesting anonymity.

In Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh, one in every five children admitted to a unit died in the three years — the highest death percentage of 19.9% in the State, ten times above the NHM’s mandated key performance indicator of below 2%.

Under-reported deaths

“Urban areas report a higher death percentage as they offer tertiary care, and admit several serious cases from peripheral districts,” said the official, who stated that several districts had under-reported deaths as well.

The issue of under-reporting is illustrated by the NHM’s Child Health Review 2019-2020, which highlights 43 districts where government officials didn’t report more than 50% of deaths of children under five, to falsely jack up their score.

They cover modern T-90 tanks, Pechora air defence systems

Military assistance: T-90 Tank Bhishma during the 2018 Republic Day parade rehearsal in New Delhi. File photo

In a step forward towards addressing the issue of regular spares and support for Russian military equipment with the armed forces, 14 MoUs were signed between Indian and Russian companies for setting up joint ventures covering a range of equipment from modern T-90 tanks to legacy Pechora air defence systems.

The MoUs were signed during the 5th India Russia military industry conference held during the Defexpo 2020 in Lucknow. They come under the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on joint manufacturing of spares in India signed last September for mutual cooperation in manufacturing of spares, components, aggregates and other material related to Russian or Soviet-origin arms and defence equipment.

Lack of timely spares and support has been a constant issue faced by the military, a major part of which consists of Russian defence hardware.

“The first ‘Request for Proposal’ for manufacturing of parts in India under the provision of IGA was also handed over by the Navy to the identified Indian industry,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement. The conference was co-chaired by Dr. Ajay Kumar, Defence Secretary and Oleg Ryazantsev, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade of Russia.

One important MoU was signed between the Bharat Dynamics Limited and the Almaz Antey of Russia for exploring the feasibility of a joint venture in India for the production of various sub systems of “air defence missile systems like Tunguska, Kavadrat, the OSA-AKA, Pechora air defence system as well as the Shilka self-propelled air defence gun system”.

There are also agreements on emerging technologies — Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain and robotics based on Russian technologies under the proposed Indo-Russian Joint Venture ICT Center of Excellence.

Former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman says steps taken by the government are not going to succeed in reviving private investment

Reaching a $5 trillion economy will require a GDP growth of 9% and revival of private investment, which the Union Budget does not address, says former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. His latest book, Backstage, offers an insider’s view of how economic policies were formulated during the UPA tenure.

From a ‘Hindu rate of growth’, we are talking about a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25. Is it possible in this time frame?

To reach the $5 trillion target by 2024-25, the economy has to grow at something close to 9% starting with 2019-20. [But] We are going to end the year 2019-20 with growth below 5%. The economy may have bottomed out and next year, growth will be somewhere between 5% and 6% on optimistic assumptions.

But with that pace of recovery, we will not get to $5 trillion in 2024-25. We must acknowledge that we are not growing at the kind of growth rate needed to reach that target. We will get to $5 trillion ultimately, but not by 2024-25.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently said there were green shoots and the economy was not really in trouble. You, too, have said the economy may have bottomed out.

Bottoming out just means that next year will be better than 4.5%. You could claim to have bottomed out if growth next year is above 5%. But it would be wrong, on that basis, to say the economy is not in trouble. What people are now looking for, is a quick and strong recovery.

What we are likely to get is a rather slow recovery. And there is no evidence of an early return to 8%-plus, which is what we need.

Many experts have said the focus of the government has been wrong — instead of pushing consumption, focus has been on the supply side.

For a cyclical revival, you have to look at the demand side and I don’t think the actions taken so far will actually have the impact that is expected on the demand side. I think the key areas on the demand side are reviving investment and reviving exports. I don’t believe that the steps taken are going to succeed in reviving private investment.

Private investment is subdued because of a lack of animal spirits. Investors, who have the capacity to invest, are not able to get credit from the banks. Banks are not extending credit because they are very cautious. Some people have also talked of a fear factor depressing investment. Many people say that our tax laws have become so complex and cumbersome, and we are also criminalising certain aspects of tax avoidance, that people are discouraged from adopting a high profile and are trying to cover their tracks. I don’t think there is anything in the Budget that changes all this.

These days, there is a lot of questioning about the reliability of our data. What is your view on this?

It is worrying that there is a widespread perception that we are not adopting totally transparent methods of producing and clearing data. We did change the method of calculating Gross Domestic Product [GDP]. And the way it’s calculated, the negative impact of demonetisation on the informal sector was not reflected in GDP growth. There have been other instances when survey [NSSO] data have been held up and trashed.

You have seen several Prime Ministers from close quarters. Who do you think was the most decisive and also a quick decision-maker?

That is very difficult because each Prime Minister operated in a different political and economic context. Indira Gandhi’s decision to go in for imported wheat seeds was a highly controversial decision at the time, but we wouldn’t have had the Green Revolution now.

I worked directly in the office of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and he was the first to signal the need for getting ready for the 21st century. He said in Parliament that we could not expect to be competing with other countries if we were working with systems that were 20 years out of date.

Under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s government, very dramatic changes were made. He gets full marks for backing his Finance Minister [Dr. Manmohan Singh], who orchestrated a broad-ranging reform programme. Prime Minister [A.B.] Vajpayee continued the reforms and also brought in privatisation.

In the case of the UPA 1, the coalition by itself didn’t have a majority and had to depend on the Left for outside support. And of course, Dr. Singh was not the political head of the Congress. Nevertheless, working within those constraints, in the first seven years of the UPA, we saw a growth rate of 8.4%, which had never been seen earlier. The Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was a very bold decision by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taken in the face of opposition.

If you were to advise this government on key issues, what will you tell it to do?

In my book, I have outlined a number of ideas which I think should be on the future agenda. The bottomline is that the government should outline a credible action plan to get the economy back to 8% growth as quickly as possible.

Reviving private investment and rejuvenating public sector banks is critical. We also need to bring about much-needed reform in GST. In all this, we need the widest possible consultation, listening to expert opinion outside the government.

But to do this, we need to be realistic. If we feel we are on track to hit the $5 trillion target, nothing more needs to be done. The trouble is we are not. The problems are very clear. We have to get the GDP growth up to 8% as quickly as possible. Unless we do this, we will not be able to generate the jobs we need. We also need to improve our export performance which has actually deteriorated.

(For full interview, visit

http://bit.ly/AhluwaliaInterview)

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