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Flights to start from Gulf on May 7

The government has decided to allow hundreds of thousands of Indians stranded in different parts of the world to return home in a “phased manner” beginning May 7, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced on Monday.

In the first phase, “distressed citizens” will be brought back on commercial aircraft and naval ships, according to a list prepared by the respective embassies, strictly on “payment-basis”, the government added. The returnees would also have to pay for quarantine and hospital facilities that they need on return.

Sources told The Hindu that in the first phase from May 7- 14, the government would allow more than 60 “non-scheduled, commercial” flights to operate from about 12 countries to India to bring back 15,000 citizens. At least half of those flights will be from the Gulf region, including UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, while the rest would bring passengers from the U.S., the U.K., Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Bangladesh.

The flights would be spread over 10 States identified as having the largest numbers to return, with Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Delhi (NCR) receiving the maximum number of flights.

A meeting held at the Ministry of Civil Aviation looked specifically at flights, mainly operated by Air India, while it awaits a final plan from countries where Indians need to be airlifted from. The first flights planned at present are from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh and Doha, flying directly to Kozhikode and Kochi.

In a tweet, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said the State is “hoping to meet the challenge of more than 5 lakh Keralite migrants returning home”, indicating that the State expects to receive the bulk of returnees in the next few months.

Five States account for majority of H1N1 infections

Five States — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Tamil Nadu — account for about 70% of India’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, that on Monday stood at 46, 416.

However, data from the Health Ministry’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), show that these are also States that consistently accounted for the bulk of swine flu cases, or seasonal influenza (H1N1) since 2015.

Last year, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi and Maharashtra accounted for 15,580 cases of confirmed H1N1 — or 54 % of the confirmed infections. In 2018 again, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat, made up 65% of H1N1 cases.

In 2015, which saw 42,592 cases, the largest spike in cases since the swine flu pandemic of 2009-10, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Delhi polled 63% of the cases .

Excluding 2016, Maharashtra and Gujarat have either led or been among the top three in India’s swine flu count.

The State faces spectre of massive unemployment with arrival of migrant workers

Faced with the possibility of a steep rise in the rate of unemployment in villages following the arrival of large-scale stranded migrant workers from other States, the Jharkhand government on Monday launched three labour intensive programmes to restore the rural economy.

These three schemes have been devised in convergence with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CIME) data, the State is reeling under severe joblessness with unemployment rate pegged at 47.1% — double that of the national average (23.5%). The arrival of an estimated 5 lakh to 6 lakh migrant workers is likely to worsen the situation.

In Ranchi, Chief Minister Hemant Soren unveiled three schemes — Birsa Harit Gram Yojana (BHGY), Neelambar Pitambar JAL Sammridhi Yojana (NPJSY) and Veer Sahid Poto Ho Khel Vikas Scheme (VSPHKVS) — to create wage employment for workers in rural areas.

The BHGY is envisaged at bringing over two lakh acres of unused government fallow land under the afforestation programme. About five lakh families will be provided 100 fruit-bearing plants. The initial plantation, maintenance, land work and afforestation will be taken up through MNREGA.

Fruit harvest

Each family is estimated to receive an annual income of ₹50,000 from fruit harvest after three years while the ownership of land will remain with the government

As per NPJSY, the government is aiming at creating agro-water storage units by arresting rainwater and runaway groundwater. Nearly 5 lakh acre of cultivable land can be irrigated through the initiative, said the State government. An estimated 10 crore person days will be generated through the scheme in the next 4-5 years.

Under VSPHKVS, as many as 5,000 sports grounds will be developed across the State. The government hopes to generate one crore person days through the scheme in the current financial year.

Pak. SC allows govt. to hold elections

The External Affairs Ministry issued a “strong protest” on Monday over an order by the Pakistan Supreme Court allowing the Imran Khan government to hold elections in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

India said it had issued a demarche to protest what it called Pakistan’s attempt to make “material changes” to the disputed area, by bringing federal authority to Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), which has functioned as a “provincial autonomous region” since 2009.

Centre issues demarche

On April 30, a seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Islamabad, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed, had allowed the government to organise general elections in G-B, and to set up a caretaker government there before that. As a result of the coronavirus lockdown, the demarche was issued via email to the Minister (Political) in Pakistan’s High Commission in Delhi.

“The Government of Pakistan or its judiciary has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it. India completely rejects such actions and continued attempts to bring material changes in Pakistan-occupied areas of the Indian territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Instead, Pakistan should immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation,” the Ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) responded to the demarche by referring to the government’s decision in August last year to amend Article 370 as “illegal and in clear violation of UNSC resolutions”.

India’s reaction is consistent with its previous objections against elections in G-B and in other parts of PoK, which it refers to as “Azad Jammu Kashmir”.

With depleting income amid the extended lockdown and mounting healthcare bills, Gehlot urges massive infusion of funds

The revenue collection in Rajasthan in the first month of fiscal 2020-21, after the COVID-19 lockdown was enforced, has fallen by 70%, even as there was a shortfall of ₹18,000 crore in the last fiscal 2019-20, according to the State Finance Department.

While the State had budgeted for revenues of ₹8,400 crore, including ₹6,800 crore through taxes and GST compensation and ₹1,600 crore of non-tax revenue, it has achieved only ₹1,800 crore by April-end.

Massive shortfall

In March, there was a shortfall of ₹3,500 crore, putting the State in a fiscal crisis. Rajasthan has allocated ₹1,200 crore for the expenses to deal with the impact of COVID-19, including the expenditure for providing free wheat under the public distribution system to the beneficiaries of National Food Security Act.

The biggest decline in tax revenue earnings has been witnessed in stamp duty and registration and vehicle taxes, as there was almost no sale of property and vehicles during the lockdown. Against the target of ₹466 crore for stamp duty and registration in April, the State has got only ₹6 crore. For vehicle tax, the target was ₹500 crore, while the State collected only ₹8 crore.

In view of the adverse impact on revenue collection of States due to the lockdown, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who also holds the finance portfolio, has demanded from the Centre a grant of ₹1,00,000 crore for the States, which can be distributed according to the States’ share in Central taxes or as per the standards prescribed by the GST Council or Inter-State Council.

In a 15-point note submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his video-conference with the Chief Ministers on Monday, Mr. Gehlot said the revenue loss compensation given to the States for five years since the implementation of GST should now be increased to 10 years, looking at the local circumstances and economic situation of every State.

Besides, a six-month, interest-free moratorium should be granted on payment of instalments of principal amount and interest on loans taken by the State governments, their boards, corporations or companies, including the power companies, from the Union government and its various institutions, such as the Power Finance Corporation.

The fiscal expenditure should be encouraged to bail out the economy at this challenging time, said Mr. Gehlot. For this, the Union government should immediately release the first instalment of its share of centrally sponsored schemes and the process of releasing the amount should also be simplified.

The Chief Minister welcomed the decision of increasing the limit for Ways and Means Advances to 60% and demanded that full rebate should be given on interest on advances to the States. Also, the limit of net loan that the States can take should be increased from 3% of State GDP to 5% without any conditions.

As the State’s GDP is around ₹11,00,000 crore, the 2% raise will enable the State to borrow about ₹20,000 crore more from the open market.

As part of the measures to deal with the crisis situation amid rapid deterioration of financial condition, the Rajasthan government has partially deferred the salaries of MLAs and its employees, including the all India services officers, in March, while five days’ salary was deducted as contribution to the Chief Minister's Relief Fund for COVID-19.

In the postponement of salary payment, 75% salary of legislators, 50% salary of all India services officers and 30% salary of other government officials has been deferred.

UV Blaster can disinfect gadgets

The UV disinfection tower.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed an ultraviolet (UV) disinfection tower for rapid and chemical-free disinfection of high infection-prone areas.

The equipment named UV Blaster is “useful for high-tech surfaces like electronic equipment, computers and other gadgets in laboratories and offices that are not suitable for disinfection with chemical methods. The product is also effective for areas with a large flow of people such as airports, shopping malls, metros, hotels, factories and offices,” a DRDO statement said.

It was designed and developed by Laser Science & Technology Centre (LASTEC) based in Delhi with the help of New Age Instruments and Materials Private Limited, Gurugram.

For a room of about 12 ft x12 ft dimension, the disinfection time is about 10 minutes.

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