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PM to convene videoconference

Pakistan PM Imran Khan has deputed his special adviser to the meeting.

Two days after he made the surprise offer, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will convene a meeting of SAARC leaders on the coronavirus pandemic over a videoconference on Sunday evening.

The conference, which will include leaders of seven countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka — and the special adviser (Health) to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Dr. Zafar Mirza, will discuss the number of coronavirus cases in the subcontinent, different measures taken to stop the spread of the virus, and treatment methods.

‘For common good’

“Coming together for common good,” tweeted Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, making the announcement of the videoconference, which will begin at 5 p.m. IST on Sunday.

The conference will come a day ahead of a similar “virtual conference” convened by France for members of the G-7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — which will be held on Monday.

Reduced allocation will affect modernisation and triservice organisations, says parliamentary standing committee

The parliamentary standing committee on Defence has expressed concern that the widening gap between projections and allocations in the outlay for the Defence sector will affect modernisation and recommended a dedicated fund for committed liabilities and procurements.

The shortfall in allocation has affected the setting up of three triservice organisations and the operational readiness of the Andaman and Nicobar Command, the committee noted.

“From the information submitted by the Ministry, the committee notes that since 2015-16, none of the three Services has been given the matching allocation as per the projection.”

The gap in capital allocation for the Army increased from ₹4,596 crore in 2015-16 to ₹17,911.22 crore in 2020-21 (14% to 36%). For the Navy, the gap increased from ₹1,264.89 crore to ₹18,580 crore (5% to 41%). The Air Force’s gap rose from ₹12,505.21 to ₹22,925.38 crore (27% to 35%).

At a disadvantage

“The committee opines that such situation is not conducive for preparation of country to modern-day warfare, where possession of capital intensive modern machines are a prerequisite for not only tilting the result of war in our favour but also having a credible deterrence,” the report said.

The committee noted the considerable shortage in the allocation in the capital head, which is 35% less than the projection, for all the forces put together.

“The committee observes that the Navy’s fighting capabilities depend on the high-value platforms like aircraft carrier, submarines, destroyers and frigate but the allocation of the capital budget for Navy [percentage-wise] has the sharpest decline,” the report said.

On the committed liabilities, which are payments anticipated during a financial year for contracts concluded in previous years, the committee noted that they constitute a significant part of the capital head.

Inadequate allocation would definitely lead to a “default situation” on contractual obligations, the committee said. “Therefore, the committee has no option but to recommend that a dedicated fund should be earmarked for committed liabilities and new schemes, invariably from the next Budget onwards.”

Commitments made

The Navy and the IAF have committed liabilities higher their share of the capital allocation in the Budget. To offset this, the Services have been forced to defer payment of committed liabilities of the defence public sector undertakings among other measures.

In the allocation for the joint staff, the projection under miscellaneous expenditure was ₹660.94 crore while allotment is ₹294 crore. The standing committee was informed that the carry-forward burden from previous year is ₹32.14 crore. Hence, the net availability is ₹261.86 crore and the net shortfall ₹399.08 crore.

“The implications of shortfall in miscellaneous expenditure include inability to operationalisation of Defence Space Agency (DSA), Defence Cyber Agency (DCYA) and Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD).”

Other implications are lower operational readiness of Andaman and Nicobar Command ships due to impact on annual refit plans, maintenance of SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) equipment and administration of training institutes and operational units.

Action to continue for the next two days; local residents caught unawares

A bird being taken away to be culled at Palathingal in Kerala’s Malappuram district on Saturday. SAKEER HUSSAIN

Over 500 birds, mostly poultry, were culled on Saturday in a few areas within one km from Malappuram’s Palathingal, where avian flu was detected two days ago.

Ten rapid response teams (RRTs) of the State Animal Husbandry Department, supported by health and civic body officials, took up the operation in wards 15, 17, 18 and 19 of Parappanangadi municipality near Palathingal. About 4,000 birds are expected to be culled in the next two days.

Chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigeons and doves were among the birds culled.

Some local people were caught unawares, as the RRTs wearing protective gears swooped down on the village in the morning. Local people said they had not been informed of the culling.

As many as 20 veterinary surgeons, 119 livestock inspectors and 30 attendants are involved in the exercise.

Public announcements were made on Saturday asking the people not to let their poultry from cages. S. Nandakumar, disease investigation officer from the State Institute for Animal Diseases, Palode, who led the operation, said culling would continue on Sunday and Monday. Birds in Munniyoor and Tirurangadi regions will be culled on Monday.

Licences suspended

The district administration has suspended the licences of poultry shops within 10 km area from Palathingal in Tirurangadi and Parappanangadi municipalities.

Sale or transport of poultry or any other pet bird is banned in the region for the next three months. District Collector Jafer Malik said people would be compensated for the culled birds as per government rates. A special three-day cleaning drive will begin after the culling.

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