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15 Days Optimum Time For States To Transport Migrants Home: Top Court
After Telangana, now Karnataka launches COVID-19 tracking platform developed by NASSCOM
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15 Days Optimum Time For States To Transport Migrants Home: Top Court

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The states will get 15 more days to transport migrants home from the cities amid the coronavirus lockdown, the Supreme Court said today, adding it will pass an order on the issue of stranded migrants on Tuesday. Today's hearing came days after the Supreme Court took up the issue on its own and passed several orders to the states to help them reach home. The centre requested the top court not to issue new guidelines for quarantine for now as all efforts need to be on bringing migrants home first.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the centre, said the railways has run 4,228 special "Shramik" trains till June 3 and taken 57 lakh people home. He said 41 lakh others have gone home by road, taking the total migrants who have left the cities to nearly one crore.

Mr Mehta said the maximum numbers of trains have gone to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. "We have on record a chart which shows how many workers are yet to be shifted and how many trains are required for it. The states have also prepared charts," Mr Mehta said.

A three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MR Shah pointed out that according to the chart, Maharashtra has only asked for one train.

"Yes," the Solicitor General replied. "We have already run 802 trains from Maharashtra."

"What we intend to do is we will give you and the states 15 days to transport all migrants. All states bring on record how they will provide employment and other kinds of relief. There should be registration of migrants," the Supreme Court said.

Advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for migrants, said the registration system is not working, leaving thousands of migrant workers unable to register. "Two high courts have made observations on the registration system. It needs to be simplified," Mr Gonsalves said.

One by one several states read out the data they have collected on migrants who have returned home. Gujarat said 20.50 lakh migrants have been sent home from the state; Maharashtra said 11 lakh have left the state, while some 38,000 remain, and Delhi said some two lakh migrant workers have stayed back in the national capital.

The Uttar Pradesh government said it hasn't charged for the special "Shramik" train tickets. Bihar said 28 lakh have returned and the Nitish Kumar government has identified 10 lakh migrants for possible employment.

West Bengal said nearly four lakh migrants are in camps and the state has been serving meals to around a lakh people. The other states that updated the number of migrant movement include Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and Odisha.

Odisha said it is taking extra care as a lot of migrants are returning to their states via Odisha.

The centre allowed the special "Shramik" trains to run over a month after the coronavirus lockdown was enforced in late March after thousands of migrants, running low on food and money, started walking home hundreds of kilometres as public transport was banned.

'Modifications in National Pension Scheme financially untenable,' says Finance Ministry

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The Finance Ministry has ruled out proposals by a federation of central and state governments employees seeking modification in the National Pension Scheme, saying its corpus is invested in a prudential manner to ensure optimal returns and suggested that changes will be financially untenable.

The response comes following a petition to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) by Manjeet Singh Patel, president of Delhi unit of the National Movement for Old Pension Scheme (NMOPS), seeking revival of the old pension scheme on account of uncertain returns, besides raising other matters.

Patel demanded modification in the National Pension Scheme (NPS) so that a large part of the contributory fund, which is currently invested in the market, can be made available to governments to supplement their fight against COVID-19.

"Regarding uncertainty of returns in NPS, it is stated that, though NPS is market-linked, the investments of the accumulated corpus are made in a prudential manner so as ensuring optimal returns," the Finance Ministry said in an order, a copy of which was shared with Patel.

Further, the investments under NPS are very well diversified, the ministry said, which was responding to the reference made to it by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions seeking its comments.

"In fact, the Asset Under Management (AUM) of the central government (Rs 1.45 lakh crore) and state government (Rs 2.20 lakh crore) schemes have been invested through pension funds across the government securities (around 50 per cent), corporate bonds (around 36 per cent) and only around 10 per cent is in equities and rest in money market instruments," it said, adding that the scheme has provided returns of around 9. 5per cent since inception.

Also, NPS investments are continuously monitored by NPS trust at the first-level and regulated by the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) under the PFRDA Act 2013, the ministry said, adding that the investment guidelines are also reviewed from time-to-time, as per the prevailing market conditions.

Stating that currently the equity market is volatile, it said, "Volatility in the equity market gets evened out in the long run, for a very long term product like pensions, with vesting period of around 30-40 years."

It said NPS is a considered policy decision of the central government for its employees and balances providing old age income security to employees with managing fiscal burden of the government on account of pensions and other developmental needs.

Responding to a suggestion made by Patel that NPS corpus equivalent to employees' contribution may be transferred to the government's treasury and declared as General Provident Fund (GPF), the finance ministry said, adding that it was "not legally tenable in terms of PFRDA Act, 2013 and PFRDA (Exit and Withdrawal) Regulations, 2015, specified by PFRDA, as they stand today".

"Further, the request is also not financially tenable as lump-sum withdrawal/disinvestment of such a huge amount of Rs 1.80 lakh crores suddenly would amount to off-loading about Rs 90,000 crores of government securities and state development Loans, about Rs 65,000 crores of corporate bonds and Rs 18,000 crores of equities, which will have catastrophic impact on financial and securities markets and will have very serious adverse fiscal implications," the order said.

Therefore, it said, the suggestions made in the representation are financially untenable and may be counterproductive for the economy, NPS subscriber and the government's goal of reducing unproductive expenditure and unfunded liability.

Since January 2004, the Centre and state governments have implemented a share-market based pension system for their employees, including the ones in autonomous organisations, said Patel, who represents NMOPS, a non-profit organisation with over 13 lakh central and state government employees as its members.

NMOPS has demanded that the central and state governments should come out with relevant legislations to modify this NPS, where both employees and employer contribute a certain sum of money, close on the lines of the old pension scheme, Patel said.

The old scheme allows contribution of a definite amount of basic salary of the employees into the government's treasury by declaring it as general provident fund (GPF).

The GPF, which would be in many crores of rupees, can then be used by the central and state governments to supplement their fight against COVID 19, as the amount will be with their respective treasuries, which are under their control and free from the risk of the stock market, said Patel, who works with the Delhi government.

In his petition, Patel said PFRDA has Rs 3.41 lakh crore assets under management in the form of contributions from the central and state government, and their employees as on January 31.

There are around 67.76 lakh subscribers of NPS, 20.82 lakh in the central government and 46.93 lakh in state governments, Patel said quoting PFRDA data.

For many years, NPS is being criticised by some associations of central and state government employees and many protests have been held by them demanding restoration of a guaranteed older pension system for old age social economical security, he said.

NMOPS, formed to oppose NPS system, is working actively in over 16 states and Union Territories, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, among others.

After Telangana, now Karnataka launches COVID-19 tracking platform developed by NASSCOM

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In wake of rising cases of coronavirus, first Telangana and now Karnataka government has deployed a COVID-19 tracking platform developed by the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) taskforce. The NASSCOM taskforce drawn from 20 odd companies has put together an open architecture platform with its various advanced AI technology models to assist state governments. Launched in Karnataka on May 30, it is an "end to end COVID-19 tracking platform that is based on a plug and play concept, providing the benefit to users to decide which features they want to use and integrate with their existing platform as needed. The platform can be hosted on any cloud platform based on the preference of the state government."

These analytics-driven dashboards will assist the state governments in sustainable industry recovery and help them in taking informed decision in managing the path to recovery and phased opening across the state. All these are based on the data that is fed into it. A senior NASSCOM official says talks are going on with other states and more such announcements will follow. While it is up to the concerned state to use it to its optimal and feed the data it needs.

As part of the launch, the NASSCOM taskforce will provide the first set of dashboards for the state government's use and will add more in the coming weeks. The NASSCOM taskforce team includes companies like Intel India, Fractal Analytics, Microsoft India, AWS, Mindtree, SAP Labs India, Infosys, Accenture, Wipro, Sprinklr, Tableau, Mapbox, and others. A note shared by NASSCOM says, "The pandemic response platform is designed to benefit the central and state governments and boost their efforts by analysing a diverse set of population scale indicators that can predict certain outbreaks and advance medical care administration. The platform will provide real time streaming of data about the pandemic, across regions and states in the country and source this data from public sources that includes select social channels, websites, blogs, forums and public data sets to create actionable reporting dashboards, which will allow the government to project insights sourced from the information with public datasets display on command centre screens."

It had earlier deployed the platform in Telangana which has been designed to augment the governments' effort with a robust set of population scale COVID-19 indicators that help predict outbreaks and improve medical care administration.  It also talks of an external citizen facing dashboard, which has been developed by Fractal, to allow the government to project critical information to the public for transparency, awareness, and guidance.

Coronavirus in India: 7,466 cases in 24 hours, highest 1-day jump, death toll at 4,706; Maharashtra worst-hit

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India reported 7,466 fresh COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, its highest single-day spike as of date, taking India's total count of confirmed coronavirus cases to 1.65 lakh on Friday morning, according to the latest update by the Union Health Ministry.

This is the first time that over 7,000 new virus cases have been recorded in a 24-hour duration, following seven consecutive days of over 6,000 new cases per day.

Also, 175 more people succumbed to the infection during the same period, taking India's toll to 4,706. The total count of 1,65,799 COVID-19 cases includes 89,987 active cases, 71,105 recoveries, 1 migration, and 4,706 deaths so far.

As per the Health Ministry, the country's recovery rate has improved to 42.88% while the fatality rate is at 2.8%. The surge in the COVID-19 cases comes with only two days left in lockdown 4.0 ending Sunday (May 31).

Maharashtra remains on edge as being the worst-affected state in India with 59,546 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 18,616 recoveries and 1,982 deaths. Tamil Nadu follows suit with 19,372 virus cases, along with 10548 recoveries, and 145 deaths.

Delhi is third on the list with 16,281 cases, comprising 7,495 recoveries, and 316 deaths. Fourth on the list is Gujarat, which reported 15,562 cases, consisting 8,003 recoveries, and 960 deaths, as per the Health Ministry.

Rajasthan currently has 8,067 confirmed cases with 4,817 recoveries, and 180 deaths. Madhya Pradesh's tally stands at 7,453, including 4,050 recoveries, and 321 deaths. Uttar Pradesh's count is at 7,170, along with 4,215, and 197 deaths.

West Bengal, which has also been ravaged by cyclone Amphan has a total of 4,536 COVID-19 cases comprising 1,668 recoveries, and 295 deaths. Bihar has 3,296 cases, with 1,211 recoveries, and 15 deaths, whereas Andhra Pradesh's count stands at 3,251, including 2,125 recoveries, and 59 deaths.

India became the ninth worst-affected nation in the world last week after crossing 1.6 lakh COVID-19 cases.

Lockdown 5.0: Centre may let states decide on restrictions post-May 31

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The Centre may ask states and union territories to take a call on future curbs on their respective jurisdictions after lockdown 4.0 ends on May 31.

However, the same will be outside a nationwide 'negative' list that is likely to continue to prohibit international flights and resumption of schools and colleges.

According to sources cited by the Times of India, the lockdown measures may be assessed every fortnight until restrictions are gradually phased out, in line with the developing situation.

The role of the central government will eventually be limited to announcing a step-wise and smaller list of barred activities nationally and defining national directives on COVID-19 management such as wearing masks compulsorily, as well as observing social distancing, the news report added.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs came out with the last set of lockdown guidelines on May 17 that had left it to states to decide on delineation of red, green, and orange zones as well as taking a call on the degree of relaxations to the states/UTs.

The Centre had allowed everything except a select few barred activities such as re-opening of educations institutions, cinema halls, gyms, shopping mall, swimming pools, resumption of domestic and international passenger flights, public gatherings comprising religious assemblies.

Eventually, domestic passenger flights were resumed from May 25 but with specific rules and guidelines such as the mandatory wearing of face masks by passengers, cap on ticket pricing, no food service onboard flights, and furnishing details of medical conditions by travellers via the Aarogya Setu app or by filling up a self-declaration form.


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