Today News Diary on 16 March 2021
1. Principal Advisor in PMO P.K. Sinha resigns
2. Over 60% OBC, SC positions vacant in IIMs
3. Michael Holding awarded Best pundit at British Sports Journalism Award
4. ICC bans UAE players Mohammad Naveed and Shaiman Anwar for eight years on match-fixing charges
5. In a signal towards truce, News Corp inks Australia Facebook deal after blackout
6. China’s new rule on visa facilitation of no help for Indians
7. Commitment of India to Democratic values is a reality and is visible every day: IPU President
8. China: Monday witnesses largest sandstorm in Beijing - the first in a decade
9. North Korea warns new US administration: If it wants to sleep in peace, refrain from causing a stink England removes Portugal from travel red-list, lifts flight ban
10. Deb Haaland becomes first Native American US Cabinet Secretary
News in Detail
Principal Advisor in PMO P.K. Sinha resigns
Former Cabinet Secretary and Principal Advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) P.K. Sinha has relinquished his high-profile position on personal grounds.
Mr. Sinha’s sudden exit has triggered speculation and theories about possible causes.
He was appointed in the PMO first as Officer on Special Duty (OSD) briefly and then as Principal Advisor, a specially created position for him, in September 2019 after the 2019 parliamentary polls.
Earlier, he was Secretary, Ministry of Power in the government of India and served as Cabinet Secretary for four years from 2015. Mr. Sinha is a retired 1977 batch IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre and served in various capacities during the UPA and the NDA regimes. His is the second high profile exit from the PMO after PM’s Principal Secretary Nripendra Misra had resigned after the last Lok Sabha polls.
In the PMO, he looked after policy matters of all the Ministries and Departments and monitored important projects and programmes. Besides him, two senior officials are serving as Advisors in the PMO: Bhaskar Khulbe and Amarjit Sinha, both 1983 batch retired IAS officials.
Former Gujarat cadre IAS officer PK Mishra is the Principal Secretary to the PM while National Security Advisor (NSA) AK Doval is a former Kerala cadre IPS officer.
Over 60% OBC, SC positions vacant in IIMs
Glaring gaps in faculty reservations at central educational institutions
More than half of the faculty positions reserved for OBCs in central institutions of higher education are vacant, while about 40% of those reserved for Scheduled Castes and Tribes also remain unfilled, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank told Lok Sabha on Monday in a written response to a question from three Congress MPs.
The situation is particularly acute in the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), where more than 60% of SC and OBC reserved positions are vacant, while almost 80% of positions reserved for STs have not been filled. This means that out of 24 positions reserved for STs, only five have been filled. For the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), data has only been provided for non-faculty positions. Both IITs and IIMs have been lobbying for exemption from such faculty quota requirements.
Mr. Nishank’s response to another question from Congress MP N. Uttam Kumar Reddy showed that within the Central Universities, vacancies are higher at the level of professors. Out of 709 assistant professor positions reserved for STs at the 42 universities, more than 500 have been filled. However, when it comes to professors, only nine positions have been filled out of the 137 reserved for ST candidates. This means 93% of these posts remain unfilled. Less than 1% of the 1,062 professors in central universities are from ST communities.
Similarly, 64% of the 2,206 assistant professor positions reserved for OBCs have been filled in the Central Universities. However, less than 5% of the 378 professor positions reserved for OBCs have been filled.
Over 60% OBC, SC positions vacant in IIMs
Despite the high levels of vacancies, Mr. Nishank’s written response to the first question claimed that, “Now, after implementation of ‘The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act, 2019’, the OBC reservation has been implemented at all levels.”
In the second response, he noted that the Ministry of Education and University Grants Commission (UGC) continuously monitor vacancies, but put the final blame on universities themselves. “However, the onus of filling up the teaching posts lies on Central Universities which are autonomous bodies created under Acts of Parliament,” he said.
In fact, in June 2019, UGC had written to all Universities, giving them a six month deadline to fill up their vacancies, and warning that grants would be withheld if its directions were violated. According to the data presented in the Lok Sabha on Monday, there are now 6,074 vacant positions at the 42 universities, of which 75% are in reserved categories.
Michael Holding awarded Best pundit at British Sports Journalism Award
Holding had delivered a powerful message against racism during last year's England-West Indies series, saying that blacks have been dehumanised and their accomplishments wiped off from a history "written by people who do the harm."
West Indies cricket great Michael Holding, who came out in support of the 'Black Lives Matter' movement, has been named the 'Best Pundit' at the SJA British Sports Journalism Award 2020.
Holding had delivered a powerful message against racism during last year's England-West Indies series, saying that blacks have been dehumanised and their accomplishments wiped off from a history "written by people who do the harm." The awards were hosted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It is something that has been in me and in my head for many, many years," 'Sky Sports' quoted Holding as saying in his video acceptance speech.
"People don't understand what it is like to go through life and always thinking that people think less of you than what you think of yourself," he added.
Asked if he thinks that 2020 will play a vital role in bringing about change in social and racial equality, Holding said: "I believe so and I hope so." "If you just look at the protests on the road and look at the faces of the people that were on the road. I saw a Swedish women's football team take a knee before a game, so it is going all over the world that people are recognising that things need to be done, and it's about time it did." BLM gained momentum in the wake of African-American George Floyd's death at the hands of a white police officer in the USA in May last year.
ICC bans UAE players Mohammad Naveed and Shaiman Anwar for eight years on match-fixing charges
The bans are related to their alleged role in trying to fix matches in the T20 World Cup qualifier in 2019
The ICC on Tuesday slapped eight-year bans on United Arab Emirates (UAE) cricketers Mohammad Naveed and Shaiman Anwar Butt for their alleged role in trying to fix matches in the T20 World Cup qualifier in 2019.
The bans are backdated to October 16, 2019, when they were provisionally suspended for attempting to corrupt matches and found guilty of breaching global body's Anti-Corruption Code.
The 33-year-old former captain and right-arm pacer Naveed has played 39 ODIs and 31 T20 Internationals for his country, while 42-year-old middle-order batsman Butt has played 40 ODIs and 32 games in the shortest format.
"Mohammad Naveed and Shaiman Anwar represented their adopted country, the UAE at the highest level in cricket," Alex Marshall, ICC General Manager - Integrity Unit, said in an ICC release.
"Naveed was the captain and leading wicket taker. Anwar was the opening bat. Both had long international careers and were well versed in the threat from match fixers.
"That they both chose to engage with this corrupt activity was a cynical betrayal of their positions, their teammates, and all supporters of UAE cricket." According to the release, the two cricketers were found guilty of: Article 2.1.1 – for being party to an agreement or effort to fix or contrive or otherwise influence improperly the result, progress, conduct or other aspect(s) of a match or matches at the ICC Men's T20 World Cup Qualifier 2019.
Article 2.4.4 - Failing to disclose to the ACU full details of any approaches or invitations received to engage in corrupt conduct under the Code at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier 2019.
Naveed was also found guilty of breaching the following two counts of the Emirates Cricket Board Anti-Corruption Code for Participants of the T10 League 2019: Article 2.1.1 – for being party to an agreement or effort to fix or contrive or otherwise influence improperly the result, progress, conduct or other aspect(s) of a match or matches at the T10 League 2019.
Article 2.4.4 - Failing to disclose to the ACU full details of any approaches or invitations received to engage in corrupt conduct under the Code at the T10 League 2019. Marshall expressed happiness that both have been given significant sanctions.
In a signal towards truce, News Corp inks Australia Facebook deal after blackout
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp reached a content-supply deal with Facebook Inc in Australia, the companies said on Tuesday, a step toward settling a dispute that saw the social media giant briefly shut down thousands of pages in the country.
The agreement, terms of which were not disclosed, makes News Corp the first major media outlet to strike a Facebook deal under controversial new laws that let an Australian government-appointed arbitrator set fees if companies fail to do so.
Facebook’s shutting out all media content in the country for a week last month angered world leaders, as the blackout included emergency services and government health pages. It ended the shutdown when Australia agreed to soften some parts of the new regulations.
News Corp, which owns about two-thirds of Australian metropolitan newspapers, was among media companies calling for the government to make Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google pay for the media links that drive viewers, and advertising dollars, to their platforms.
Google had also objected for months and threatened, like Facebook, to withdraw core services from the country, before signing deals with most media outlets - including News Corp - in the days before the rules became law.
“The agreement with Facebook is a landmark in transforming the terms of trade for journalism, and will have a material and meaningful impact on our Australian news businesses,” News Corp CEO Robert Thomson said in a statement that thanked the Australian prime minister, treasurer and chief antitrust regulator by name.
“This digital denouement has been more than a decade in the making,” Thomson added.
Facebook’s head of news partnerships in Australia, Andrew Hunter, said the deal meant Facebook’s 17 million users in the country “will gain access to premium news articles and breaking news video from News Corp’s network of national, metropolitan, rural and suburban newsrooms”.
As well as the country’s top-selling tabloids The Daily Telegraph in Sydney and The Herald-Sun in Melbourne, News runs a subscription cable TV network called Sky News, which struck a separate Facebook deal, the terms of which were not disclosed, according to News Corp.
China’s new rule on visa facilitation of no help for Indians
China today remained evasive on the utility and genuineness of its so-called “facilitating measures” for visa to foreigners in countries which are not using Chinese vaccines.
The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi said on Tuesday, it will start issuing visas to foreigners who need to travel to China but only if they have taken a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine. The rule, however, will not make it any easier for Indians to get visas since New Delhi has not approved use of China-made vaccines in the country.
The Chinese embassy statement did not specify if Beijing is in talks with New Delhi to make its vaccines available in India. China also does not recognize other COVID-19 vaccines. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reporters on Monday that foreign vaccine producers could file a request with the relevant Chinese authorities for a decision to consider them for international travel. He said on Tuesday that China is making its own facilitation arrangements for those who have inoculated with China’s vaccines.
China said the new rule is a meaningful attempt to facilitate cross border travel after massive inoculation, but this raised more practical questions and its utility rather than facilitation, because people in many countries cannot access Chinese jabs due to regulatory issues. It is also not clear whether the new rule applies to students - the largest chunk of Indians – more than 20,000 students who are waiting for China’s nod for more than a year to return to their universities.
Chinese Embassies in many countries which do not use Chinese vaccines, have issued such notices but did not specify how residents in those countries can get Chinese jabs or whether China approached them to recognize Chinese vaccines. Without these clarifications, these announcements rather sound hollow. So far, China has not allowed vaccines made in other countries to be used in the country. Moreover, China also remained non-committal on recognizing WHO approved vaccines for international travels like AstraZeneca which India is using. None of the Chinese vaccines have been approved by WHO till now.
The new provisions come at a time; China has been promoting its vaccine shots across the world specially in emerging economies, amid calls for publishing phase 3 clinical trial data of its vaccines. Experts suggest it looks like an effort by China to increase its vaccine footprint using indirect methods.
It also comes in the backdrop of the United States, India, Australia and Japan announcing an ambitious Vaccine Initiative to distribute vaccines in Asia by enhancing vaccine production by extra 1 billion doses in India by the end of 2022.
Commitment of India to Democratic values is a reality and is visible every day: IPU President
Inter Parliament Union President Duarte Pacheco today addressed MPs at the Central Hall inside the Parliament House. At the outset Pacheco thanked the distinguished gathering for their invitation, friendship and honour.
He added that Friendship is a two way street-we receive and we give, and I needed to come to India to say thank you to all of you face to face. Pacheco thanked India for its support in his campaign for IPU President. Pacheco added that it was a commitment of Indian diplomats, Indian Parliament, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He informed the distinguished gathering that in him India has a special friend in the IPU who is ready to work side by side with India and its Parliament.
Pacheco added that this relationship is not just personal; because India and Portugal have a special relation going back more than five hundred years. He declared that India and Portugal have very close relations saying, “We are not just friends, we are brothers.”
Pacheco informed that the IPU is the oldest organization for parliamentary diplomacy, which is more than 130 years old. He added that IPU has won two Nobel Peace Prizes, because of its work in defending democracy and finding global solutions to global problems. We need to work every day to defend democracy because it is essential to our life.
Pacheco also spoke about the pressing global challenges of our time. How to win the war against poverty, terrorism and corruption and in these times, how to win against the COVID 19 pandemic and its social, economic consequences, these will be the main topics of discussion in the IPU Assembly in May. He added that India is the world’s largest democracy, which respects the political and religious conviction of each person. The commitment of India to Democratic values is a reality and can be seen every day.
He also said that India has achieved a huge economic and social development under the leadership of PM Modi. COVID has shown that only with multilateral efforts we can defeat this pandemic. Speaking about India’s role in vaccination against COVID 19 Pacheco said that “India is an example for the world, because you don’t only look out for your own welfare but also the entire world.” Pacheco also renewed Portugal’s support for India’s permanent membership of UNSC, saying that Portugal supports UN reform process.
China: Monday witnesses largest sandstorm in Beijing - the first in a decade
China's capital Beijing faced a heavy sandstorm on Monday as the city was covered with a thick brown dust cover due to heavy winds blowing in from northern parts of China, reducing visibility to less than 1,000 meters.
The China Meteorological Administration announced a yellow on Monday morning, saying that the sandstorms had spread from Inner Mongolia into the provinces of Gansu, Shanxi and Hebei, which surrounds Beijing.
The meteorological agency called it the “the strongest sandstorm in the past decade" which has reached the level of a strong storm which has smothered the capital and other northern Chinese regions.
Beijing’s official air quality index reached a maximum level of 500 on Monday morning, with floating particles known as PM10 reaching 9,000 micrograms per cubic metre in some districts. Readings of PM2.5, smaller particles that infiltrate the lungs, were also crossed 700 micrograms per cubic metre.
State media reported that more than 400 flights have been cancelled at the two international airports in Beijing. As per reports, Beijing faces regular sandstorms in March and April as a result of its proximity to the massive Gobi desert as well as deforestation throughout northern China. Beijing and surrounding regions have been suffering from relatively high levels of pollution in recent weeks, with the city also shrouded in smog during the opening of parliament starting on March 5.
North Korea warns new US administration: If it wants to sleep in peace, refrain from causing a stink
The sister of North Korean leader, Kim Yo Jong, criticised ongoing military drills in South Korea and warned the new U.S. administration against “causing a stink” if it wants peace, state news reported on Tuesday.
The statement comes a day before America’s top diplomat and defence chief are due to arrive in Seoul for their first talks with South Korean counterparts.
“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land,” Kim said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA. “If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are travelling in Asia this week for foreign policy and security talks with allies in Japan and South Korea, among other stops.
The timing of Kim’s comments seems designed to ensure that North Korea will be at the top of Blinken and Austin’s agenda when they land in Seoul, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea expert at King’s College London.
“Until now, the discussion was focusing on The Quad, dealing with China and the North Korea policy review,” he said. “Now Kim’s statement will be central to discussions.”
North Korea has so far rebuffed entreaties from the United States to engage in dialogue, the White House said on Monday, as a chill in relations that began under then-President Donald Trump has extended into Joe Biden’s presidency.
Leader Kim Jong Un had three high-profile summit meetings with Trump and exchanged a series of letters, but the nuclear-armed state ended talks and said it would not engage further unless the United States drops its hostile policies.
There was no immediate response from the White House and State Department, or South Korea’s government. Biden’s team has been conducting a review of North Korea policy, which it expects to wrap up in coming weeks.
South Korean and American troops began a joint springtime military drill last week, which was limited to computer simulations because of the coronavirus risk as well as the ongoing efforts to engage with the North.
“War drills and hostility can never go with dialogue and cooperation,” said Kim Yo Jong, who has become a vocal critic of Seoul in state media dispatches.
She mocked South Korea for “resorting to shrunken war games, now that they find themselves in the quagmire of political, economic and epidemic crisis.”
The inter-Korean engagement that had improved in 2018 and is sought by South Korea “won’t come easily again” and North Korea will be watching to see if there is further provocations, she said.
North Korea would consider pulling out of an inter-Korean military agreement aimed at reducing tensions along their shared border, and would review whether to dissolve several organisations aimed at cooperation with the South, Kim said.
Kim Yo Jong’s statement, as colourful as it is, is generally consistent with past North Korean statements expressing frustrations at disparities between words and actions, said Jenny Town, director of 38 North, a U.S.-based website that tracks North Korea.
“How despite the agreements in place, positive actions especially on the inter-Korean agenda have been too few while actions that reinforce the ‘old’ adversarial relationship persist,” she said.
England removes Portugal from travel red-list, lifts flight ban
Portugal has been removed from England’s travel red-list, Britain’s department for transport said on Monday, adding that a ban on flights had also been lifted as it was confident the risk of importing coronavirus variants had reduced.
Travellers from the country will not have to quarantine in a government-approved facility but will still have to self-isolate at home for ten days, as is the case with travellers from other countries, and have to take a test on day 2 and day 8 to end self-isolation early.
“Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores) and Mauritius will be removed from England’s red list. The flight and maritime ban from Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores) will also be removed, following evidence that shows the risk of importing a variant of concern from these destinations has reduced,” the transport ministry said.
“Portugal has put steps in place to mitigate the risk from its links with countries where variants have become a concern, and now has genomic surveillance in place. “
Ethiopia, Oman, Somalia and Qatar were added to England’s travel red list.
Deb Haaland becomes first Native American US Cabinet Secretary
US Representative Deb Haaland was confirmed on Monday as Secretary of the Interior, becoming the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency and securing a central role in President Joe Biden’s sweeping plans to fight climate change.
The U.S. Senate confirmed the New Mexico Democrat 51-40 after she clinched support from Republicans including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Maine Senator Susan Collins.
Haaland became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress in 2018. Her ascension to the cabinet followed weeks of campaigning by Native American tribes and environmental groups in support of her historic appointment. She faced resistance from Republican lawmakers who grilled her at a two-day hearing last month about her involvement in pipeline protests, her support of the Green New Deal climate resolution, and the Biden administration’s pause on new federal drilling leases.
Haaland will oversee polices guiding use of 500 million acres of federal and tribal land, a fifth of the nation’s surface. A member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, Haaland will also oversee the U.S. government’s relationship with some 574 federally recognized tribal nations.
New Mexico Democratic Senator Ben Ray Lujan, who presided over the Senate during Monday’s vote, said Haaland’s appointment sends a signal to young Native Americans.
“She’s the embodiment of the old adage that if you see it you can be it,” he said.
Native Americans watched Haaland’s confirmation vote in homes across Indian country. In interviews, two young Native Americans said they hoped Haaland’s appointment will prompt the federal government to consult more with tribes over issues ranging from environmental protection to policing.
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