Will double headcount; lot of headroom for growing user base: Koo


Homegrown microblogging platform Koo is planning to double its headcount in the next one year as it significantly scales up its user base on the platform, especially vernacular subscribers, its co-founder said.

Koo co-founder Aprameya Radhakrishna said the platform with its current user base of 6 million has a lot of headroom for growth.

“When folks join Koo, they bring their followers as well, we don’t have too many Bollywood folks yet, we don’t have too many cricketers yet. There are lots of politicians, writers…who will find their unique reasons to be on Koo because we are enabling local languages,” he said.

Radhakrishna said Koo is growing exponentially as people are looking for ways to converse online in local languages with community members, and that the platform is helping people express themselves in their local language.

“We want to hit 100 million downloads in the next year or so. It is plausible, a 20X growth is very much possible, it depends on what all events lead to it. There are a lot of people who are yet to join Koo,” he said.

Koo, which was launched last year, has seen a massive surge in its user base over the past few months after Union ministers and government departments endorsed the homegrown microblogging platform following a spat with Twitter.

Koo has about 60 lakh users on its platform. Twitter, on the other hand, has 1.75 crore users in India.

India remains a critical market for Internet companies like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter with its large population base and burgeoning Internet adoption. The country is the world’s second-largest telecom market and the biggest consumer of data.

To keep pace with rapid growth in both users and usage, Koo is looking to at least double its headcount from about 75 professionals currently over the next 12 months, he added.

“We are aggressively hiring, especially for the engineering team because every idea, everything we want to do on product, boils down to engineering efforts. We want the best of engineers in India to work with us,” Radhakrishna added.

He said the company is recruiting talent across different capabilities including Android, iOS, machine learning, and quality assurance and testing among others.

The Twitter rival is also undertaking a slew of initiatives amid the deadly second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, to make it easier for people to find leads for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and other resources.

It will soon allow potential plasma donors to sport “badges” on their profile pictures for increased visibility, and a new feature is also in the offing that would notify users about vaccine availability.

Asked how Koo is cracking down on misinformation around Covid-19, Radhakrishna said the platform has a robust reporting system in place to deal with such content.

He added that users can flag content that they think is incorrect or inappropriate, and Koo deploys automated tools as well as manual intervention to handle such content.

“Our job is to make sure that people talking about Covid and those looking for information around Covid can find each other. It is not our job to push down content to anyone, but giving options helpful around the Covid period. Our goal is to get people who use Koo to access the right information,” he said.

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DCB Bank Q4 Results: DCB Bank Q4 results: Profit rises 13% to Rs 78 crore


NEW DELHI: Private lender on Saturday reported a 13 per cent increase in net profit to Rs 78 crore for the January-March quarter compared to that of Rs 69 crore in the year-ago quarter. Total income of the bank during the January-March quarter of 2020-21 fell to Rs 971 crore from Rs 1,012 crore in the same quarter of 2019-20, DCB Bank said in a regulatory filing. The income from interest as well as from investment fell during the reported quarter from a year ago.

For the FY2020-21, the bank’s net profit remained nearly flat at Rs 336 crore against Rs 338 crore in FY20. Income also was a tad down at Rs 3,917 crore in FY21 against Rs 3,928 crore in FY20.

The bank’s asset quality worsened with the gross non-performing assets (NPAs) spiking to 4.09 per cent of the gross advances as of March 31, 2021, as against 2.46 per cent by the end of March last year.

In value terms, the gross NPAs stood at Rs 1,083.44 crore, significantly higher than Rs 631.51 crore in the year-ago period.

Provisions for bad loans and contingencies in Q4FY21 came down to Rs 101.18 crore from Rs 118.24 crore a year earlier. Net NPAs stood at 2.29 per cent (Rs 594.15 crore) as against 1.16 per cent (Rs 293.51 crore).

On returning the compound interest to eligible borrowers post the Supreme Court final order in March and subsequent the RBI notification, the lender said it is in the process of account by account calculation of interest relief due to the eligible customers.

In the meantime, as of March 31, 2021, the bank has created liability towards estimated interest relief of Rs 10 crore and reduced the same from the interest income.

The bank said it held contingency provision of Rs 229.11 crore against the likely impact of Covid 19 regulatory package, impact of the conclusion of the interim order (of Supreme Court on not declaring accounts as NPAs till August 31, 2020 and after) and other contingencies.

On the impact of second wave of the pandemic, it said under the current circumstances the bank during March quarter, on a prudent basis, has made a contingency provision of Rs 124 crore towards further likely impact of Covid-19 on restructured and stressed assets.

“In addition to this contingency provision of Rs 124 crore, the bank also holds floating provision amounting to Rs 108.80 crore, besides, provisions for standard assets and specific non-performing assets,” it said.

Besides, the amount in overdue categories where the moratorium or deferment was extended as of March 31, 2020 was Rs 1,908.08 crore at end of March this year, it said. The provisions held on these by the end of September 2020 was Rs 68 crore and similar amount was kept as provisions adjusted against slippages (NPA and restructuring), DCB Bank said.

The lender also said that its board has not recommended any dividend for fiscal ended March 2021 in view of the situation developing around Covid-19 in the country and the related uncertainty that it creates.

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Maharashtra government to set up committee to study SC order on Maratha quota


The Maharashtra government will set up a committee under a retired judge to study the Supreme Court order striking down reservations for the Maratha community, state minister Ashok Chavan said on Saturday. The apex court on May 4 struck down the Maharashtra law granting quota to Marathas in admissions and government jobs, terming the statute as “unconstitutional”, and also refused to refer the 1992 Mandal judgement, setting a 50 per cent cap on reservation, to a larger bench for reconsideration.

Speaking to reporters, Chavan, who heads the state government’s sub committee on Maratha reservation, said the panel will study the SC judgement, which runs into over 500 pages, in detail and then submit a report in 15 days, after which a decision on filing a review petition will be taken by the state government.

He also said Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte will take stock of the pending Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) recruitment process in every department, adding that the SC had upheld recruitments till September 9, 2020.

“The entire process comprises selection comprises selection and recruitment. The CS will review this process. The state is positively considering giving justice to SEBC candidates affected by the court decision, and the future course of action will be based on the CS report,” he added.

Chavan said Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is likely to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind on this issue, and ask the Centre to provide quota to the community if the state does not have the right to do so.

Meanwhile, state home minister Dilip Walse Patil urged the Maratha community to exercise restraint, asking it to not do anything that would put the police in further stress amid the coronavirus outbreak.

State minister and senior Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde said the MVA government was committed to reservations for the Maratha community.

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Third wave of the pandemic can be handled if stringent steps taken on time: Govt


New Delhi: Rising number of infections continues to grip the population in fear which is still struggling hard to find hospital beds and oxygen to survive this second wave of pandemic. As per reports, the current wave is expected to peak by June end and thereafter there may be some respite. Dr K. Vijay Raghavan, chief scientific advisor, said on Friday that the third wave of the pandemic can be handled if stringent, necessary steps are taken on time.

Two days ago Dr Raghavan had said the third wave was “inevitable given the high levels at which this virus is circulating”. He, however, did not give a timeline of the third wave. But on Friday he clarified that the third wave may not take place everywhere in the country if sufficient precautions are taken. “The pandemic has different peaks and falls across the country. The only condition for third wave waves is the presence of a susceptible population. If we take strong measures, the third wave of Covid-19 may not happen at all places or even anywhere. It depends much on how effectively Covid guidelines are implemented at the local level, in the states, districts and in the cities everywhere,” Dr Raghavan said.

 

Several states and UTs have imposed strict lockdowns to break the chain of transmission. Goa on Friday announced a 15-day curfew from Sunday during which only essential services, including medical supplies, will be allowed while grocery shops will be allowed to remain open only from 7am-1pm.

The Centre has said it has so far provided more than 17.35 crore vaccine doses to states/UTs and more than 90 lakh doses are still available with states/UTs to be administered. It added over 10 lakh doses in addition will be received by the states/UTs in the next three days. 

 

The Centre has decided to deploy AYUSH professionals to boost availability of medical personnel to fight Covid-19. The Union health ministry said AYUSH doctors are institutionally qualified professionals, well-trained in various aspects of medical care and have proven their competence in various Covid-19 management roles in different institutions across the country. States/UTs have trained nearly 1.06 lakh AYUSH professionals in different aspects of Covid-19 management, and 28,473 professionals have been deployed for Covid-19 activities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with the chief ministers of Manipur, Sikkim and Tripura on the Covid-19 situation in their states. Mr Modi had on Thursday spoken with the chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Telangana besides the lieutenant governors of Jammu & Kashmir and Puducherry in this regard.

 

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VUI-21APR-02 reclassified as ‘variant of concern’, says U.K. govt.


Move aimed at alerting health authorities all over the world to the threat the mutations on the variant pose

Public Health England (PHE) has declared a coronavirus variant, closely related to the Indian Variant (B.1.617) as a Variant of Concern. While such a labelling is specific to the United Kingdom as scientists there are seeing the variant making up a growing proportion of cases in the United Kingdom, it is more aimed at alerting health authorities all over the world to the threat the mutations on the variant pose to the future evolution of the pandemic.

Dr. Anurag Agrawal, Director , Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, told The Hindu that an advisory group in India, INSACOG (India SarsCOV Genome Consortium), concerned with the genome details of Indian coronavirus variants, too had classified B.1.617 and all its sub lineages as VOC.

“Following a rise in cases in the U.K. and evidence of community transmission, PHE has reclassified VUI-21APR-02 (B.1.617.2), classified as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) on April 28 as a Variant of Concern (VOC), now known as VOC-21APR-02. This is based on evidence which suggests this variant, first detected in India, is at least as transmissible as B.1.1.7 (the Kent variant). The other characteristics of this variant are still being investigated,” the government authority said in a statement as part of its weekly updates on the coronavirus variants.

Insufficient evidence

“There is currently insufficient evidence to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective. PHE is carrying out laboratory testing, in collaboration with academic and international partners to better,” their statement further noted.

While there are several coronavirus variants identified as ‘variants of interest’, only a few such as the U.K. strain (B.1.1.7) or the South Africa variant (B.1.351) the Brazil variant (P.1) are globally considered VoCs because of their ability to rapidly spread globally, infect easily and pose a threat to the efficacy of existing vaccines as well as treatments.

The Indian variant, (B.1.617) also known as the ‘double mutant’ was characterised by two mutations L245R and E484Q in the spike protein of the coronavirus, the region that plays the most significant role in gaining entry into lung cells. However there are now at least 3 affiliated lineages: B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3 and Health Ministry officials and experts warned this week that these lineages were becoming the dominant variants in India. India doesn’t yet officially classify B.1.617 as a VOC, though a scientist connected with India’s genome sequencing efforts told The Hindu that India’s Health Ministry may now classify it so. “B.1.617 should be a VOC but 617.2 doesn’t have E484Q whereas there are a whole set of other mutations in the spike protein in 617.2 that are helping it proliferate,” the person cited earlier added.

Shahid Jameel, virologist and head of an advisory committee to India’s genome consortium, said the U.K. naming a variant as a VOC could be seen as “request” by a country to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to classify a new variant as a VOC. “India too could have done so. This variant is rapidly rising in India and would likely promote efforts by other bodies to test the efficacy of our vaccines against the mutations in this lineage.”

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Ahead of re-opening, London’s V&A museum unveils new Raphael gallery


London’s Victoria & Albert museum unveiled a revamped look for its gallery holding the Raphael Cartoons on Thursday, following a refurbishment carried out to mark 500 years since the Italian Renaissance master’s death.

The renovated Raphael Court features acoustic panelling, LED lighting and bespoke furniture, all aimed at showcasing the works’ colours and intricate details, the museum said.

Raphael, who died in 1520 aged 37, painted the seven large designs for tapestries, which depict scenes from the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, after they were commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel.

“Cartoon in this context is a work which is a design for something … It’s a work which is a kind of design tool,” Philippa Simpson, director of design, estate and public programme at the V&A, told Reuters.

“The works … are probably some of the most significant Renaissance masterpieces in the U.K.”

Visitors will also be able to use a QR code for a detailed digital explanation of the Cartoons, on loan to the museum from the Royal Collection.

The newly refurbished Rafael Court is seen at the V&A in London, Britain. (Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)

The V&A, named after Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, will re-open its doors to the public on May 19 in the next phase of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Though entry is free, visitors will need to book timed tickets and wear face coverings.

“It has been a really tough year,” Simpson said.

“Galleries … really do feel like a ghost ship without the visitors in them. It’s a building which is brought to life by the public.”

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Covid: US backs waiver on vaccine patents to boost supply



Supporters say the move would increase vaccine production but the pharmaceutical industry disagrees.

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PUBG owner announces new game for India called Battlegrounds Mobile India


Krafton Inc, the South Korean video game developer behind PUBG has announced the launch of Battlegrounds Mobile India, its new dedicated game for the Indian market.

The new battle royale game will offer a “AAA multiplayer gaming experience on mobile,” the company said in an official release. “The game will be released with exclusive in-game events like outfits and features and will have its own esports ecosystem with tournaments and leagues,” it said.

It will be launched as a free-to-play experience on mobile devices and will have a period of pre-registration before the launch. The game will be available to play exclusively in India.

Also read: At $131 million, funding for Indian online gaming platforms at 6-year high in 2020

“Krafton will collaborate with partners to build an esports ecosystem while bringing in-game content regularly, starting with a series of India specific in-game events at launch, to be announced later,” it said.

The company also detailed its measures to ensure privacy and security. The company will be working with partners, to ensure data protection and security, at each stage, it said. “This will ensure privacy rights are respected, and all data collection and storage will be in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in India and for players here,” it said.

A video teaser for the game hinted at certain similarities with PUBG which was banned in India last year. Centre last year banned hundreds of mobile apps in India due to security concerns including PUBG, PUBG Mobile Nordic Map: Livik and PUBG Mobile Lite.

Krafton Inc in November last year had also announced its plans to make investments worth $100 million in India “to cultivate the local video game, e-sports, entertainment, and IT industries.”

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Blue Dart Express Q4 results: Posts net profit of Rs 90 cr


NEW DELHI: Logistics services provider on Wednesday reported a consolidated net profit of Rs 90 crore for the fourth quarter ended March 2021.

The company had posted a net loss of Rs 30.57 crore in the January-March period a year ago, Blue Dart Express said in a BSE filing.

Total income was up 34.11 per cent to Rs 975.64 crore as against Rs 727.49 crore in the corresponding quarter of the previous fiscal.

Total expenses were at Rs 853.63 crore, up 12.49 per cent from Rs 758.87 crore in Q4 FY20.

For the fiscal year 2020-21, the company reported a net profit of Rs 101.81 crore. It had logged a net loss of Rs 41.86 crore in the previous year.

Total income for the entire fiscal was at up 3.69 per cent to Rs 3,308.43 crore compared to Rs 3,190.65 crore earlier.

Blue Dart Express Managing Director Balfour Manuel said, “We look back with pride on our performance in the financial year delivered with the support of all our stakeholders! It has been a challenge to navigate through the pandemic and the lockdowns, however, our single-minded customer centricity combined with tenacity and the organisation’s ability to perform has helped us during this time.”

Out the outlook, he said the company is “cautiously optimistic” about the new financial year against the backdrop of the current wave and the impending third wave of the pandemic.

“While we had started reaping the benefit of cost efficiency measures and restructuring exercise in the quarter under consideration, lockdown due to Covid-19 in the second fortnight of March impacted our revenues and bottom line.

“…we expect to see our operations coming to near normal soon after the lockdown is lifted, thanks to passionate Blue Darters who are ever willing to meet and exceed customers’ expectations,” he added.

In a separate filing, Blue Dart said its board on Wednesday recommended a dividend of Rs 15 per share for the year ended March 31, 2021.

Shares of Blue Dart Express Ltd on Wednesday settled at Rs 5,319.80 on BSE, up 2.01 per cent from the previous close.

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Punjab FM writes to Sitharaman, seeks immediate GST Council meeting


Congress leader and Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal Wednesday demanded a GST Council meeting immediately for serious mid-term corrections on tax issues, saying the federal body has not met for six months now.

In a letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, he said the GST Council has to meet to discuss key issues relating to taxation and GST rules being framed without states’ assent.

“We hope that the GST Council meets soon as we would like to review the rules of the GST Council and address certain pending issues,” he told a virtual press conference later, adding if a meeting is held through video-conference, the voting procedure should be intimated in advance.

“I am hoping that the finance minister would respond positively and also with the spirit with which the letter has been written to her,” he said.

Badal said some issues that require urgent discussion in the context of Covid-19 are whether GST be exempted on hand sanitisers, face masks, gloves, PPE kits, temperature-check equipment, oximetres, ventilators and the like.

Badal lamented that the states have given away their rights to the Centre and “we now feel cheated” as the government has changed certain rules without consulting the states.

“They have carried out substantive changes in the rules without consulting states and without taking state legislatures into account, due to which businessmen are being harrassed and intimidated,” he alleged.

“We have voting rights, but the meetings are not happening,” he said.

He alleged that established businessmen are being harrassed under the garb of these rules, which were framed primarily to curb fly-by-night operators.

Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh supported Badal’s demand.

“He has raised some very important issues on GST that require urgent action. Hope Madam FM will consider in the spirit with which the GST Council was set up, that hasn’t met for 6 months now,” Ramesh tweeted.

Badal also said the GST is in the formative years and unless corrective measures are taken now, things will go out of hand and the malaise will spread.

“I hope corrective steps are taken and these pending issues resolved at the next meeting to be convened soon,” he said.

On whether Punjab would go in for a lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, he said, the state has taken a slightly different route and restrictions are already in place.

“We do not want to prolong the misery of businessmen and the industry,” he said, but added oxygen, life-saving drugs and vaccines are in short supply in the state.

Badal, who is a member of the GST Council, said he is writing on the GST issue when the country is in the middle of battling the new wave of Covid-9 which is more devastating in many ways than the one before.

“I have been particularly persuaded to write this letter because there has been no meeting of the GST Council for the last six months even though council’s own rules drafted in terms of Article 279A of the Constitution provide for holding at least one meeting every quarter,” he said.

Badal said the GST revenues constitute nearly 50 per cent of the tax revenues of states, while this percentage for the Centre is nearly half of that. States have a voting share of 75 per cent in the GST Council.

“However, failure to hold any constructive consultation with states for so long in such critical times makes me wonder whether the Centre has usurped all the power of states putting the spirit of cooperative federalism, that formed the very foundation of achieving consensus on the epic reform, on the back burner,” it said.

He also pointed that the Centre had not appointed a vice chair to the council from among the states.

The Punjab finance minister said a number of provisions have been enacted in recent times through the route of subordinate legislation (rules) bypassing both the GST Council as well as the legislatures.

“It is the basic principle of justice system that substantive rights of a person cannot be taken away except by a due process of law. The recent amendments in GST Rules (like restricting tax credits) have far reaching implications and have been made without even of an iota of discussion in the council,” he said.

Badal also highlighted that harassment of taxpayers has taken an entirely new dimension with officers resorting to threats of arrest, provisional attachment of productive assets and freezing of bank accounts without any established norms.

“I’m informed it is difficult to repair a bad tax system if not done in the formative years,” the Congress leader said.

“The promise of assured compensation does provide a ready catalyst for such a mid-course correction for some more time,” he said.

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