Coronavirus | Rahul Gandhi cancels election rallies in West Bengal


‘I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances,” the Congress leader tweeted.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday announced the suspension of his political rallies in West Bengal because of the COVID-19 situation and appealed to other parties to reconsider organising large gatherings.

Mr. Gandhi’s move is likely to put pressure on other parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress.

“In view of the Covid situation, I am suspending all my public rallies in West Bengal. I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances,” Mr. Gandhi tweeted.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “Applause & respect. Lives are too important to be risked in rallies”.

Mr. Gandhi’s move also comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had come under some criticism on social media for appreciating large crowds at his rally in West Bengal’s Asansol (West Bardhaman district) despite an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases across the country.

Targeting Mr. Modi for referring to Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as “Didi-o-Didi” at his public rallies, former Union Minister P. Chidambaram tweeted, “Is this the manner in which a prime minister should refer to a chief minister? I cannot imagine a Jawaharlal Nehru or a Morarji Desai or a Vajpayee speaking that language”.

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Delhi High Court to hear only urgent matters from Monday


Considering the alarming rise of Covid cases in the national capital, the Delhi High Court, starting tomorrow, will take up for hearing only the “extremely urgent cases” filed this year.

Routine or non-urgent matters pending before the court and the cases filed between March 22 to December 31 in 2020 will not be taken up for hearing.

“In case of any extreme urgency, the request in the pending matters may be made on the already notified designated link,” Delhi High Court Registrar General Manoj Jain said in an order.

The order comes close on the heels of Chief Justice D N Patel testing positive for Covid-19. At least three other high court judges also tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week.

Chief Justice Patel has not been holding the court since April 12 “due to the ill health of Hon’ble Mr Justice Jasmeet Singh”. Similarly, two other judges also have not been hearing cases since earlier this week after testing positive for coronavirus.

The high court had resumed physical functioning from March 15, but reverted to virtual mode, like for most of the previous year, from April 9 . The high court will hear the cases through virtual mode at least till April 23, as per an order passed on April 8.

The medical team of Delhi government’s Health Department will conduct Rapid Antigen Diagnostic Tests at the high court premises at least twice every week till May 31. However, testing is voluntary. The court, with assistance from the health department, has also held RT-PCR camps for staff in previous months.

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In Assam, Advance Booking Of Hotels For Congress Amid Poaching Fear: Sources


The Congress has booked a few hotels across Assam to “insulate” its candidates.

The Congress has booked a few hotels across Assam to “insulate” its candidates from possible poaching by the BJP ahead of the declaration of Assam Assembly elections results on May 2, party sources said on Saturday.

Congress leaders on Saturday met at a hotel in Guwahati for a closed-door meeting with their candidates.

Sources said that the party has been planning to keep the candidates somewhere in Guwahati, Tezpur and Kaziranga on April 22 and not let them be in touch with the world beyond.

However, senior Congress leader Jitendra Singh dismissed the reports of hotel bookings and said that their alliance will “get a big majority”.

“Our candidates are not going anywhere. We just given some directions to the party candidates for the preparations of counting days because of past experiences,” said Mr Singh.

At least two Congress allies – Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) – have already shifted their candidates out of state amid fears of poaching.

The Congress, which is in power in Rajasthan, has already stowed away three of its candidates to a Jaipur luxury hotel.

Assam, where the BJP came to power in the 2016 election, voted for a new government in three phases between March 27 and April 6. The results are due on May 2 along with those for polls in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry.

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Weekend lockdown in Delhi till April 30


The weekend curfew will be effective from 10 pm on April 16 (Friday) to 5 am on April 19 (Monday)

NEW DELHI: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday announced a curfew this coming weekend and the closure of malls, gymnasiums and auditoriums till April 30 as part of sweeping restrictions to break the chain of the COVID-19 infection in the city. According to an official order, the weekend curfew will be effective from 10 pm on April 16 (Friday) to 5 am on April 19 (Monday), even as gymnasiums, auditoriums, malls, spas, entertainment parks and assembly halls will remain closed in the national capital till April 30.

Cinema halls will function with only 30 per cent capacity. However, officials said a decision to extend the weekend curfew will be taken after reviewing the COVID-19 situation next week. There will be no in-house dining in restaurants, the chief minister said at an online press conference a day after the city recorded the biggest single-day jump of 17,282 COVID-19 cases.

 

However, the restaurants will be allowed to operate home-delivery and take-away services, he said, adding that bars will be remain closed till April 30.  The chief minister made these announcements after he met Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal. He said the essential services and weddings will not be affected by the weekend curfew and passes will be provided to those attending weddings.

In its order, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) said during the weekend curfew, the movement of people for wedding-related (up to 50 people) and funeral-related (up to 20 people) gatherings will be allowed. People going to airports, railway stations and lSBTs will be allowed to proceed on the production of valid tickets.

 

However, those going for vaccination will be required to apply for a curfew pass. Media persons have been exempted from the weekend curfew. People dealing in food, groceries, fruits, vegetables and dairy products will also have to seek a curfew pass for their movement.

CM Kejriwal said the reason behind the weekend curfew was that on these days, people often indulged in recreation and other such activities that could be “curtailed” and “curbed” without much inconvenience to them. “Therefore, the weekend curfew is being imposed to break the chain (of COVID-19) and prevent contact among people.

“But we will not allow any inconvenience to those involved in essential services like going to hospitals, railway stations or airports and also weddings. We will issue passes for their movement quickly and without harassment,” he said.

 

The DDMA said public transport such as the metro, buses, autorickshaws and taxis will be allowed to function within the stipulated time for the transportation of only those who have been exempted from the weekend curfew. The government has already imposed a night curfew in the city from 10 pm to 5 am till April 30 in a bid to check the spread of the coronavirus.

Mr Kejriwal also said there is no shortage of hospital beds in Delhi and over 5,000 are still available for COVID patients. Efforts to increase the number of beds on a large scale will be made, he said and appealed to people not to “insist” on beds in particular hospitals.

Only one weekly market in a zone will be allowed to open per day and steps will be taken to control the crowds in those, Mr Kejriwal said. The government scaled down the occupancy of restaurants and cinema halls to 50 per cent of their seating capacity last week in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Kejriwal said the number of cases is rising every day in Delhi and the restrictions were needed to check the spread of the virus.

 

The government will also ensure a strict enforcement of COVID-appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks, he said, noting that many people are still not following it.

The chief minister said he expects the support of people in implementing the restrictions, adding that the government will tide over the fourth wave of COVID-19 with the help of the citizens as it did earlier.

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India’s Kumbh festival attracts big crowds amid devastating second Covid wave


The fear of increased Covid risk prompted Sachdanand Dabral, another resident, to petition the court last year, asking to know how the state was prepared in case of a Covid surge. Mr Dabral blamed the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat for the rise in cases, for allowing people in to the state unchecked. The BBC was unable to reach Mr Rawat for comment.

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How the RBI forced bond market to tango


 

The ‘bond vigilantes’ who were warned by the RBI to stop demanding high yields in bond auctions do not seem to be in any mood to listen. The central bank is clearly livid, and this is apparent in the action that unfolded in the bond market on Friday.

Yields rise

The yield on 10-year bonds, which had moved lower to 6.01 per cent after the central bank unveiled the G-SAP 1.0 programme, spiked above 6.12 per cent after the first G-SAP auction on Thursday. The market was apparently not happy with the quantum of purchase in the 10-year bucket.

The bond market was on the edge through Friday, with 10-year yields trading at around 6.16 per cent, ahead of the weekly auction amounting to ₹26,000 crore in which 10-year securities accounted for ₹14,000 crore.

The auction results reveal that the RBI has not purchased any 10-year paper, though bids worth ₹28,000 crore were received for these securities. Ten-year bond yields plunged sharply after 3 pm, when auction results were announced, and are now trading at 6.08 per cent again. The RBI intended to offer bonds worth ₹25,000 crore in the first G-SAP auction. The response to the auction was robust, with offers worth ₹1,01,671 crore received.

The RBI accepted the entire ₹25,000 crore that it originally offered to purchase. The problem in the G-SAP auction, according to market sources, was that the ₹25,000 crore notified by the RBI was spread across maturities (see table). The amount intended for the 10-year bonds was only ₹7,500 crore. The bond market wanted higher purchases in this maturity because the government tends to borrow mainly in this bracket.

For instance, in the weekly auction scheduled for April 16, more than 50 per cent was ear-marked for 10-year securities. The level of nervousness among underwriters was obvious in the commission auctioned for 10-year bonds shooting up to 47.17 paisa on Friday.

 

Other reasons

The other reason why 10-year yields moved higher is because the cut-off yield for 6-year bonds bought in the G-SAP auction was 6.13 per cent.

While the RBI is trying to cool the yield in the 10-year bonds, the yields on 6, 7, 8 and 9 year bonds are higher than the 10-year, implying that the market does want the bond prices to trade lower across maturities, given the large supply scheduled to flood the market. The WPI inflation number released yesterday was yet another dampener for bonds.

“The expected trajectory of the WPI inflation, and its partial transmission into the CPI inflation, going ahead, supports our view that there is negligible space for rate cuts to support growth, in spite of the growing uncertainty related to the surge in Covid-19 cases, localised restrictions and emerging concerns regarding migrants returning to the hinterland. This is likely to keep a floor under the G-Sec yields,” says Aditi Nayar, Chief Economist, ICRA.

It’s clear that market forces dictate that 10-year yields have to move higher from here. It has to be seen how long the RBI can keep yields in check with these strong arm tactics and threats of ‘tandav’.

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Mindtree Q4 results: Net profit rises 54% to Rs 317 cr


Pune: Mindtree’s fourth quarter net profit rose 53.9% to Rs 317.3 crore, while revenues were up 2.9% to Rs 2,109.3 crore on large orders from global customers.

For fiscal year 2021, the mid-tier IT services provider reported net profit of Rs 1,110.5 crore, up 76% and revenue of Rs 7,967.8 crore, up 2.6%.

In dollar terms, Mindtree’s profits were $150 million on revenue of $1.08 billion in the year.

The company declared a final dividend of Rs 17.5 per share.

“We are proud to deliver another strong quarter, driven by significant traction in our client portfolio globally, leading to revenue growth of 5.2%, Ebitda of 21.9%, and an order book of $375 million at the end of Q4,” said Debashis Chatterjee, CEO and MD of the L&T Group company.

“For the year, we delivered…margin expansion of 680 bps, while increasing our order book by 12.3%. As we enter FY22, we are confident that continued client demand for our transformative services, a strong order book, and our strategic investments positions us well to deliver double digit growth and sustain Ebitda above 20%,” he added.

The company said it had 270 active clients as of March 31. Its total headcount was at 23,814, with an attrition rate of 12.1%. Mindtree rolled out its annual salary hikes in January, it said.

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Ajay Seth takes over as new Economic Affairs Secretary


Newly appointed economic affairs secretary, Ajay Seth, took charge of the department of economic affairs on Friday, the finance ministry said in a Twitter update.

The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet had approved the appointment of the 1987-batch Karnataka cadre IAS officer earlier this month, replacing Tarun Bajaj.

Prior to this, Seth was posted in his cadre state as the managing director of the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited since July 2018.

The new position marks Seth’s return to a central posting after a gap of 13 years and will be his second stint in the department of economic affairs, where he previously served as a director.

Apart from heading the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation, Seth held various positions in the Karnataka government including additional chief secretary of health and family welfare and commissioner of commercial taxes.

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Scott Morrison wants overseas vaccination travel plan


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is urgently asking medical experts to formulate a plan on how vaccinated Aussies can travel overseas and skip hotel quarantine upon return.

The PM said the country’s “main goal” was vaccinating the most vulnerable parts of the population, but said an international travel plan was “what I’d like to see happen next”.

“This is what I’ve tasked the medical experts with, is ensuring that we can know when an Australian is vaccinated here with their two doses, is able to travel overseas and return without having to go through hotel quarantine,” he told 6PR Perth Radio.

“I think we’re still some time away from that. The states, at this stage, I’m sure wouldn’t be agreeing to relaxing those hotel quarantine arrangements for those circumstances at this point in time.

“But what we need to know from the health advisers is what does make that safe and what does make that possible.”

Mr Morrison warned reopening the international borders now could result in more than 1000 cases of coronavirus a week.

“Vaccinations are not a silver bullet. We’ve never said they are,” he said.

“Australians have become very used to the fact … of having zero case numbers and zero community transmission.

“I don’t think Australians … would welcome restrictions and closures and borders shutting and all of those things, again, out of states concerned about the rising numbers of case numbers.

“So everyone needs to get on the same page with that. And so they’re the important threshold issues we’ve got to work together through as a national cabinet.

“And that’s why I’m calling them back together again to work on that same operational tempo that we were during the pandemic, because these are the challenges we need to solve together now.”

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton backed the PM’s plan and said he hoped for a home quarantine setup for vaccinated Aussie travellers “soon rather than later”.

“As quickly as we can and as the Prime Minister pointed out, if people have had properly recognised the vaccine, if they are living in London or the United States or anywhere else in the world and they want to come back home and see family or see their grandparents, bring their newborn grandchild back home, then we want to facilitate that as quickly as possible,” he told the Today show on Friday morning.

“But we just need to do it in a safe way.

“And if we are having a situation where people are coming back and bringing the virus back with them, then we will see community transmission – So again it is trying to get that balance right.

“But if we can get people away from hotel quarantine into home quarantine and people do the right thing, then you can scale up the numbers obviously much more significantly than if we are just relying on hotels.”

But Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Australians should have been home already.

“There are more than 40,000 Australians still stranded overseas,” Mr Albanese said.

“Scott Morrison said that Australians would be home by Christmas; that‘s Christmas 2020.”

Australia slammed its borders shut in March last year when the global coronavirus pandemic first began to unravel.

Just two weeks ago, Australia entered into an agreement with New Zealand allowing travel between the two countries.

Mr Morrison hinted at a travel bubble agreement with more countries ahead of the trans-Tasman travel arrangement’s official start on April 19.

“I think I can see a future where we could be in a similar arrangement with Singapore and we’re working on that now,” he said.

“Other Pacific countries, that’s possible. But when you’re talking about countries, you know, for example, like Indonesia or India or Papua New Guinea or countries where we know that the virus is in a very strong form, including in Europe and even still the United Kingdom, the United States. Australians, I don’t think would welcome the incursion of the virus into the country. So we have to weigh all of that up.”

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EC rules out clubbing poll phases


Kolkata/Berhampore: Undeterred by the exponential rise in daily cases of the coronavirus disease across the country and West Bengal, the Election Commission of India (EC) ruled out a possibility of clubbing the remaining phases of the ongoing Assembly elections in the state due to lack of availability of another 1,500 companies of the Central paramilitary forces.

“There is no such plan of clubbing” the three poll phases, the Election Commission said after new Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra took stock of the ground reality from various poll observers deputed in the state and chief electoral officer West Bengal Ariz Aftab in a video conference.

 

At the meeting, opinions were also sought from them about the deployment and distribution of the Central forces in case of clubbing the last three poll phases after the state recorded daily new Covid-19 cases at 6,769 till Thursday with 22 fresh deaths in the last 24 hours, sources said.

This time, election to the West Bengal Assembly is being held in eight phases. Polling for four phases have ended and the fifth phase will be held on Saturday. Polling for the sixth, seventh and the eighth phase will be held on April 22, April 26 and April 29, respectively.

 

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday evening also appealed to the EC to club the “remaining phases” of the polls into one, within few hours of the central poll panel’s decision to go ahead with the existing poll schedule even after the deadly virus claimed a Congress candidate’s life and infected two others, including one from the Trinamul Congress in the state. She also stressing that her party had opposed the prolonged eight-phase poll schedule.

The TMC supremo tweeted, “Amid an ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed @ECISVEEP’s decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in #COVID19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to #COVID19.”

 

Ms Banerjee’s plea to the EC’s move came a day after Mr Aftab called an all-party meeting, to be attended by one representative each from 10 political parties, at 2 pm on Friday to discuss the strict compliance of Covid-19 guidelines in light of the fresh wave.

All political parties in West Bengal have been asked to send only one representative each for the meeting. The meeting will discuss matters related to campaigning for the remaining phases of the election.

Among the deceased, was a Congress candidate at Shamshergunj in Murshidabad: Rejaul Haque Biswas (51), alias Montu, who was infected by Covid-19 two days ago. He was brought from Basumati Hospital in Jangipur of the district on Wednesday night to a private hospital off EM Bypass in Kolkata. He died there at around 5 am on Thursday becoming the first poll candidate to fall prey to the virus.

 

State Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “I spoke to him two days ago. I was scheduled to address a rally in his support in Shamshergunj. But Covid-19 snatched his life so early.” Besides Sanjkuta Morcha candidate from the RSP at Jangipur: Pradip Nandy tested covid positive. Admitted at the Berhampore Covid Hospital, his condition is stated to be critical. In the TMC, Goalpokhar candidate Golam Rabbani has also been infected by Covid-19.

Mr Chowdhury added, “I request everybody, including the EC, with folded hands to check this pandemic during the polls. The Congress will abide by any decision for the sake of life.”

 

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