India Newsletter

11 Dec 2020



Putting his own stamp on the Government's showpiece Central Vista

redevelopment project, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation

stone of the new Parliament building on Thursday and said that it will

fulfil the country's aspirations of the 21st Century while symbolising the

"coexistence of the new and the old".

The Prime Minister carried out the "bhumi pujan" for the building in the

presence of six priests from Sringeri Math in Karnataka at 1 pm, which was

followed by an interfaith prayer meeting.

The Rs 971-crore structure, covering 64,500 sq m, is expected to come up by

2022, in time for the 75th anniversary of independence.

In his address, Modi spoke about the "soul of democracy" and invoked Guru

Nanak to stress that while there is space for differences and various

streams of thought, they should not lead to a disconnect.

"I will never forget the day I entered Parliament for the first time, in

2014. This is the same building where our Constitution was drafted by

Babasaheb Ambedkar and our founding fathers. Every legislation drawn up in

this building is our pride. But we need to accept the reality as well. This

building is nearly 100 years old. There has been relentless repair work over

the years to keep it up and running," Modi said.

The event was green-lighted by the Supreme Court three days ago after it

obtained an assurance from the Government that that no construction,

demolition or translocation of trees will be carried out at the Central

Vista site till the court decides the various pending petitions against the


Defending the project, the Centre had told the court that the existing

Parliament building had many deficiencies, such as inadequacy of space,

structural weaknesses and security issues.





The farmers who have been agitating for the past two weeks against the new

farm laws on Thursday announced that they will block railway tracks if their

demands are not met by the government. The farmer unions, which held a

meeting on Thursday, said they will soon announce a date for blocking tracks

across the country.

Addressing reporters at the Delhi's Singhu border where they have been

protesting for almost two weeks to demand a rollback of the agri laws, the

farmer unions also reiterated that they will intensify their agitation and

start blocking all highways leading to the national capital.

"We will block railway tracks if our demands are not met. We will decide on

the date and announce it soon. The blocking of tracks will not be limited to

Haryana and Punjab but it will be done across the country," farmer leader

Boota Singh said at the press conference.

The announcement by farmers came on the day Union Agriculture Minister

Narendra Singh Tomar said it was not proper to announce the next stage of

agitation when talks were continuing and urged the unions to return to the

discussion table.

Addressing a press conference, Tomar also urged farmer union leaders to

consider proposals sent to them to break the deadlock over protests against

the three new farm laws and said the government was ready for further

discussions with them any time.

Asked about demands to repeal the laws, Tomar said any law cannot be

entirely defective. However, he said, the Government is ready to discuss

provisions that may adversely affect farmers.

Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Piyush Goyal, who

was present during the press conference, cited the BJP's strong performance

in the local body elections in Congress-led Rajasthan this week to say that

the people have welcomed the new Farm laws.

Goyal also appealed to farmers to end their agitation. "We believe that the

farmers had certain issues. We respect the farmers who have come and

discussed with us on several occasions. The issues that came out during the

course of discussions, we have tried to address them. If there are any other

issues, which need to be discussed or they need any clarification on our

current proposal, we are ready to discuss but whether there is any other

reason that is holding back them, we leave that on your wise counsel to

decide," Goyal said.





Union Minister for Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME)

Nitin Gadkari on Thursday said that India was a destination with huge

potential for attractive investments and urged people to invest in MSMEs in

the country.

While speaking at the virtual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Conference, Gadkari

added that with the world moving production away from dealings in China,

India was the next best alternative.

"I request all of you to please invest in MSMEs doing an excellent job. You

will get good returns. With huge potential, India is a destination for a

good investment. We know that the whole world is not very interested in

dealing with China at the moment, so the next alternative available is

India. We have the availability of huge raw materials, talent and young

manpower," he said.

He also elaborated on what he called the four most important sectors for

industry development - water, power, transport, communication. "India has a

lot of surplus power and are working towards more sustainable means like

solar energy. Water is also available. Communication is doing very well and

the country is moving towards 5G. Network connectivity has reached the

village level. The road sector is also moving very fast. We are making 30

kms of roads per day," he said.









With a chaotic and costly no-deal Brexit only three weeks away, gloom

settled on both sides of the English Channel as European Union and United

Kingdom trade negotiators sought to find a breakthrough in technical talks

where their leaders failed three times in political discussions over the

past week.

Facing a Sunday deadline set after inconclusive talks between EU Commission

President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Wednesday night, both sides realized their drawn-out four-year divorce might

well end on bad terms.

To prepare for a sudden exit on Jan. 1, the EU on Thursday proposed four

contingency measures to make sure that at least air and road traffic would

continue between both sides as smoothly as possible for the next six months.

It also proposes that fishermen will still have access to each other's

waters for up to a year, to limit the commercial damage of a no-deal split.

The plans depend on the U.K. offering similar initiatives. The move was

indicative of how the EU saw a bad breakup as ever more realistic.

Britain has not said whether it will agree to the contingency measures.

Johnson's spokesman, Jamie Davies, said "we will obviously look very closely

at the details."





A US government advisory panel has endorsed Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation

issued Thursday by its expert advisers. The advisory group, in 17-4 vote

with one abstention, concluded that the shot appears safe and effective

against the coronavirus in people 16 and older.

A final FDA decision is expected within days. Millions of shots would then

ship to begin vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents.

Widespread access to the general public is not expected until the spring.









Eight BJP workers were admitted to hospital and senior party leaders Kailash

Vijayvargiya and Mukul Roy suffered minor injuries after the motorcade of

the BJP national president J P Nadda was attacked with stones and sticks,

allegedly by Trinamool Congress supporters, outside Kolkata on Thursday


Several cars in the convoy, which was headed to Diamond Harbour, the Lok

Sabha constituency of Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of Chief Minister Mamata

Banerjee, were damaged.

The vehicles of Vijayvargiya, BJP national general secretary; Roy, national

vice president; Dilip Ghosh, state president; and Anupam Hazra, national

secretary, had their windscreens smashed in the attack. Several BJP workers

and security personnel suffered injuries.

Nadda, who was travelling in a bulletproof vehicle, was not hurt.

Lawlessness and anarchy ruled in West Bengal, he said after the incident.

In the evening, the Centre sought a report on the attack from the West

Bengal government,

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee suggested that the attack was "staged" even

as several Union ministers, including Home Minister Amit Shah, and West

Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, hit out at the ruling party. "Every day

they (BJP activists) are coming out (for rallies) with firearms. They are

slapping themselves and blaming it on the Trinamool Congress. Just think of

the situation. They are roaming around with the BSF, CRPF, Army, CISF..then

why are you so scared," Banerjee said.





Amid a grave political crisis in Tripura, a majority of state MLAs and

ministers have vouched faith in Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb and said

they wanted him to continue in his post. The assertion on Thursday came

after Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb said he would hold a "public mandate

event" in Agartala on December 13, claiming that he would resign if he was

rejected. He, however, cancelled the event after the central BJP stepped in

two days ago.

A "pained" Deb had called for the event after some BJP workers raised

slogans of 'Biplab Hatao, BJP Bachao' (Remove Biplab, Save BJP) during BJP

state observer Vinod Sonkar's visit in Tripura on Sunday.

Speaking to reporters here this afternoon, Deputy Chief Minister Jishnu

Devvarma said BJP chief Jagat Prakash Nadda and Sonkar urged the CM to

cancel the "public opinion test". "All the MLAs and ministers also met with

the CM and urged him to call off the December 13 event. He has accepted our

request. There will be no such programme."

Devvarma also said his party would investigate the sloganeering episode.





More than two dozen men forced their way inside the official residence of

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Thursday.

The Aam Aadmi Party said the men were from the BJP. Delhi Police registered

an FIR and arrested six men.

The BJP acknowledged protesting outside Sisodia's house but denied that

members of the party had entered the premises. It said the protest was

against a remark by AAP leader Durgesh Pathak against mayors of the

BJP-ruled civic bodies, who have been protesting outside Chief Minister

Arvind Kejriwal's residence in Civil Lines since Monday.

Responding to a tweet by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh expressing concern

over the attack on the convoy of BJP president J P Nadda in West Bengal,

Kejriwal tweeted: "Rajnath ji, don't you think the violent attack on the

Deputy CM's house in presence of the police is wrong? Why is BJP so worked

up over AAP and Delhi government's support to the farmers' agitation?"





While Haryana Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala continues to stand by the BJP in

defending the three contentious farm legislations, his own party MLAs do not

seem to be on the same page with him.

As the standoff between the Union government and various farmer unions

continues, discussions on withdrawing support from the BJP in Haryana have

started taking place within the Dushyant-led JJP.

In the 2019 Assembly polls, when BJP fell short of majority by six seats in

the 90-member House, it entered into a post-poll alliance with JJP, which

had 10 MLAs. In return for enabling the BJP to form the government, Dushyant

had bagged the post of Deputy CM. Both the parties have recently announced

that their "alliance is rock-solid" and they will also contest the upcoming

municipal body elections in Haryana together.

JJP MLAs have begun saying that they have discussed the issue of

"withdrawing support from BJP in Haryana", if the farmers continue to

believe that they were being "exploited by the Union government" and the

standoff does not end, "soon".





The Joint Entrance Examination (JEE - Mains) will be held four times

starting February 2021. Union Minister for Education Ramesh Pokhriyal

'Nishank' made the announcement on Thursday during an online interaction

with teachers, parents and students on board exams and competitive exams.

Usually JEE-Mains are held twice a year.

According to reports, the test will be conducted every month from February

to May 2021 in order to provide candidates with enough flexibility. The

candidates can choose to appear in one or all of the tests and the highest

score among all the appearances of the candidate will be considered for the

rank list and admissions. He also said that while the syllabus for the

examination will remain unchanged, a proposal to permit the students to

answer 75 questions out of the total 90 questions is under consideration.

During JEE 2020 (Mains), the candidates had to answer 75 questions -- 25

questions each in Physics, Chemistry and Maths.

The score in JEE-Mains is considered for admissions into National Institutes

of Technology (NITs), several other engineering and architecture courses and

for eligibility to write JEE- Advanced. Candidates aspiring for a seat in

the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) across the country are expected

to clear JEE-Advanced.





South Africa's Renergen Ltd. has patented cryogenic cases that can keep

vaccines at ultra-cold temperatures for 30 days, a potential way of getting

some of the first coronavirus shots to be approved to remote areas, said

Chief Executive Officer Stefano Marani.

Renergen's design uses helium to keep the vaccines at between minus 70 and

minus 150 degrees Celsius without the need for a power supply, Marani said

in an interview on Wednesday.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE's vaccine, which has been approved for use in

the U.K., must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius for extended periods of

time. Moderna Inc's vaccine must also be kept at ultra-cold temperatures.

The cases are made from aluminum and can transport at least 100 doses of the

vaccine. When in its liquid form, helium can stay cold for much longer than

dry ice and liquid nitrogen, said Marani.

Depending on where the helium is sourced, the operating cost of the device

should be under $0.07 per dose per day, he said. Renergen is seeking

partners for the large-scale manufacturing of the cases, said Marani.





Long after ATMs were made interoperable for bank customers, the whole gamut

of banking is becoming membership agnostic.

Earlier this week, ICICI Bank created some buzz by announcing its banking

app - iMobile Pay - would be free for all to use. A customer need not be

with the bank but can link his bank account with a UPI ID with ICICI Bank

and start using it for all kinds of payments across all platforms. Much like

how Google Pay is being used for paying bills and purchases through UPI.

Feeling the competition pinch, the country's largest lender, SBI has said it

would also make its app YONO open for all in 30 days.

In many ways, this is the ATM-isation of banking.





Contemporary Indian dancer Astad Deboo, known for amalgamating Indian and

western dance techniques, died at his hoe in Mumbai, on Thursday. He was 73.

Deboo employed his training in Indian classical dance forms of kathak as

well as kathakali to create a unique fusion dance form.

"He leaves behind a formidable legacy of unforgettable performances combined

with an unswerving dedication to his art, matched only by his huge, loving

heart that gained him thousands of friends and a vast number of admirers,"

the family said.

Deboo is noted for creating a modern dance vocabulary that was uniquely

Indian. His innovative style of Indian dance may have raised some eyebrows

in the 1970s and '80s, but the 1990s saw people embrace this new idiom.





Space wars are here again, but with a difference. Pitted on one side is

India's telecom czar Sunil Mittal who has taken a big gamble by buying a 50

per cent stake in the once bankrupt low earth orbit constellation satellite

company OneWeb. The company, Bharti Global, is planning to invest $2 billion

(of which it has already put in $500 million) to put up more satellites and

it has set a stiff deadline to launch its commercial internet services by

October next year in the UK, Alaska, northern Russia and northern Europe.

Taking him on will be the formidable tech entrepreneur Elon Musk whose

competing broadband offering through Starlink is much ahead of its rival.

The company has put in over 800 satellites (compared to 74 by OneWeb) and, a

few weeks ago, invited consumers to participate in its beta testing in the

US at $99 a month for the data service and $499 for the kit consumers have

to use to connect to the satellite.

Despite that steep price, Starlink has received 700,000 responses and is

planning to increase the number of authorised user terminals from the

planned one million to five million. And Musk, whose electric car company

Tesla has a market cap equivalent to all other major car companies in the US

together, never appears to be short of cash.

Musk is ahead of Mittal in his timeline for an India launch too - he says it

will be sometime in mid-2021, whereas Mittal is looking at May-June 2022.





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The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus. - Bruce






A man accompanied his wife when she went to get a haircut. Reading a

magazine, he found an interesting article. He asked the receptionist if he

could take the magazine next door to make a copy of the article.

"Leave some ID, a driver's license or a credit card," she said.

"But my Wife is here getting a haircut," he explained.

"Yes," she replied. "But I need something you'll come back for."

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