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UN chief urges countries to protect people on move during COVID-19

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Antonio Guterres

United Nations, June 3 : UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday asked for protection of people on the move in face of COVID-19.

In a video message for the launch of a policy brief on the impact of coronavirus on people on the move, Guterres asked countries to develop a new mindset on human mobility, Xinhua news agency reported.

“The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to re-imagine human mobility. Four core understandings must guide the way,” he said.

First, exclusion is costly and inclusion pays. An inclusive public health and socio-economic response will help suppress the virus, restart the economies and advance the Sustainable Development Goals, said Guterres.

Second, human dignity must be upheld in face of the pandemic. Lessons should be learned from the handful of countries that have shown how to implement travel restrictions and border controls while fully respecting human rights and international refugee protection principles, he said.

Third, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Diagnostics, treatment and vaccines must be accessible to all, said the UN chief.

Fourth, people on the move are part of the solution, he noted. “Let us remove unwarranted barriers, explore models to regularize pathways for migrants and reduce transaction costs for remittances.”

Guterres expressed gratitude to countries, especially developing countries, that have opened their borders and hearts to refugees and migrants, despite their own social, economic and health challenges.

Those countries offer a moving lesson to others in a period when doors are closed. It is essential that those countries are provided with increased support and full solidarity, he said.

“We all have a vested interest to ensure that the responsibility of protecting the world”s refugees is equitably shared and that human mobility remains safe, inclusive, and respects international human rights and refugee law.”

People on the move, such as refugees and internally displaced persons who are forced to flee their homes from violence or disaster, or migrants, face three crises rolled into one: a health crisis, a socio-economic crisis, and a protection crisis, said Guterres.

People on the move face a protection crisis as more than 150 countries have imposed border restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. At least 99 states make no exception for people seeking asylum from persecution. At the same time, fear of COVID-19 has led to skyrocketing xenophobia, racism and stigmatization, he said.

And the already precarious situation of women and girls is ever more dire, as they face higher risks of exposure to gender-based violence, abuse and exploitation, the UN chief added.

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Government failed to curb COVID-19: Shashi Tharoor

He highlights the failure of the government to curb COVID-19, adding that government’s ₹20,000 crore package inspired little confidence.

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Shashi Tharoor in Lok Sabha
Senior Congress Leader and Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor (File Picture)

New Delhi: As Lok Sabha discusses COVID-19 situation, Shashi Tharoor shares WHO data to state that India has the highest number of daily Infections and deaths in the world.

Government did not listen to Rahul Gandhi’s warning. Instead it was more interested in toppling the government in Madhya Pradesh.

He highlights the failure of the government to curb COVID-19, adding that government’s ₹20,000 crore package inspired little confidence.

He states that there was minimal effort by government to reach out and consult other stakeholders, particularly state governments in opposition.

The Opposition MP also spoke about the danger faced by students while giving exams and thanked the healthcare workers for their services.

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Covid-19 joblessness pushing youths to extremist groups in Northeast

Adding to this are the reports of a large consignment of China-made weapons reaching the hands of the secessionist Myanmar-based radical groups, who share close links with militant groups in India’s Northeast.

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Unemployment Rate in India

India’s Covid-19 pandemic lockdown is now giving headaches to the national security agencies. Youth, left jobless during the pandemic, are reported to be joining the banned rebel groups such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and other such, in droves.

Adding to this are the reports of a large consignment of China-made weapons reaching the hands of the secessionist Myanmar-based radical groups, who share close links with militant groups in India’s Northeast.

The emerging scenario is threatening to upset the delicate balance achieved through years of hard work by the Indian security and intelligence officers, according to senior executives in the national security establishment, who requested to stay unnamed, citing government service rules.

The Arakan Army (AA) — which seeks an independent homeland in Myanmar’s Rakhine state — has received the fresh cache of Chinese weapons and is known to be one of the key suppliers of arms and ammunition to the rebel groups in Northeast India.

In addition, the AA opposes India’s Kaladan Multi Modal Project, which provides states like Mizoram — a landlocked province — an outlet to the sea through the Sittwe port in Myanmar, officials said. Interestingly the AA has not opposed the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.

Security agencies have told the government that insurgent groups active along the Indo-Myanmar border find easy recruits among youth left unemployed by Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

“The successful induction of the Chinese-made weapons by the AA will have an impact on the security situation in India’s Northeastern states, as much of these weapons are finding their way to some of the dormant militant groups of the Northeast,” the official said.

“The new weapons provide firepower to the northeastern groups whose ranks are increasing as youth left jobless by the pandemic are signing for militant groups.”

Strengthened by new recruits and rearmed, the Khaplang faction National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) — a banned militant group of Northeast based out of Myanmar — is gathering along the Indo-Myanmar Border in areas such as Mon to plan and execute attacks against the Indian security forces.

In 2016, the NSCN (K) killed 18 soldiers of the Indian Army, forcing India to launch cross border strikes on the militant hideouts taking refuge in Myanmar.

Worryingly, for India, peace talks with the Naga rebel groups have failed despite efforts of the Narendra Modi government.

Agencies have warned that groups like the People’s Democratic Council of Karbi Longri (PDCK) had recruited 15 fresh cadres in Assam. “There was recruitment of 10-15 cadres by the Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger in the outfit,” the source said.

Further, United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) had recruited 15-20 youths in the outfit from Meghalaya.

In Tripura, intelligence input indicates that extremist Parimal Debbrama of National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) is trying to revive his group and some newly recruited members of the outfit had completed their basic training in a hideout of Khagrachari District of Bangladesh.

“These cadres are planning to infiltrate into India for operations,” the source further added.

Intelligence agencies also stated that the India-Myanmar border remained susceptible to threat due to the presence of insurgent groups.

“Many insurgents groups are camping in Myanmar and trying to infiltrate through Tirap, Longding and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh, Mon District of Nagaland and Charaideo district of Assam,” the source said.

(Sumit Kumar Singh can be reached at [email protected])

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Coronavirus Outbreak: 3 MPs, 6 MLAs, ex-Prez among COVID’s VVIP victims

The biggest name in COVID casualty in India has been former President Pranab Mukherjee. He underwent a brain surgery at Army’s R&R Hospital here, but it was the killer virus that caused a deterioration in his condition, and finally demise.

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Pranab-Mukherjee

The dreaded COVID-19 is taking a heavy toll on human life and is sparing none. Not even the VVIPs. Six sitting MLAs and three sitting MPs have succumbed to the virus till date. Among the MLAs were state Ministers as well. More than 85,000 people in India have died of COVID-19, so far.

The biggest name in COVID casualty in India has been former President Pranab Mukherjee. He underwent a brain surgery at Army’s R&R Hospital here, but it was the killer virus that caused a deterioration in his condition, and finally demise.

Among the sitting MPs who died due to the virus was newly-elected Rajya Sabha member of BJP, Ashok Gasti. The 55-year-old was diagnosed with severe COVID-19 pneumonia and admitted to Manipal Hospital on the Old Airport Road on September 2. What made his condition worse was multi-organ failure. Gasti was on life support when he passed away.

Earlier, Tirupati MP Balli Durga Prasad Rao died in a Chennai hospital. The 64-year-old Lok Sabha MP had comorbidities when he tested positive for Covid-19. The YSRCP leader was also a four-time MLA from Gudur in Nellore. He first won the Assembly poll when he was just 28.

Rao was the second sitting MP to have succumbed to the virus. The Congress MP from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, H Vasanthakumar, was the first Covid-19 casualty among sitting MPs. A shocked Prime Minister tweeted his picture with the MP to condole his death.

The 70-year-old too breathed his last in Chennai, at the Apollo Hospital.

After the death of the Working President of Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, the Apollo Hospitals said that the MP was treated in a critical care unit for severe COVID pneumonia. “Despite all active medical measures, his condition deteriorated gradually due to COVID complications and he passed away,” was how the Apollo Hospital summed up after the MP’s death.

It is just September and the pandemic far from being over, in the words of the WHO itself, India has already seen at least six MLAs lose the battle of life against the virus. From the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh to the Gangetic Bengal, the loss has been sudden and painful for their respective political parties and constituents.

In Uttar Pradesh, two Ministers lost their lives in a span of one month due to the virus. First, it was the only woman Minister in the Yogi Adityanath’s Cabinet — Uttar Pradesh’s Technical Education Minister Kamal Rani Varun — followed by cricketer turned Sainik Welfare and Civil Security Minister Chetan Chauhan.

As for Chauhan, he was put on a ventilator after his health deteriorated, affecting his kidneys. Meanwhile, Varun had comorbidities like diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and hypothyroidism, according to the hospital she was admitted in. Both fell victims to the virus.

Meanwhile, in Madhya Pradesh, at least one MLA has lost the battle against COVID-19. Congress MLA from Biaora in Rajgarh, Govardhan Dangi, died due to COVID-19 on September 15 in Gurugram’s Medanta Hospital at the age of 54.

In West Bengal, the situation is equally grim. Bengal lost two MLAs to COVID-19 — Samaresh Das, the Trinamool MLA from Egra in East Midnapore, and his party colleague Tamonash Ghosh from Falta constituency in South 24 Parganas district. While 76-year-old Das developed kidney complications, 60-year-old Ghosh’s death shocked many in the party.

Down south, Tamil Nadu saw one of the first COVID-related deaths of any lawmaker in the country. DMK MLA J Anbazhagan from Chepauk-Thiruvallikeni constituency died in June. He was 61. He was put on ventilator support on June 3 when his breathing problem worsened. His cardiac and chronic kidney diseases only contributed to his critical condition, resulting in his death.

Quite a few ex-lawmakers too died of Covid-19. Senior Congress leader of Leh and former Union Minister P Namgyal (83) died in June at SNM Hospital in Leh after contracting the virus. He was a three-time Ladakhi parliamentarian. He served in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet.

The same month, former Maharashtra MP Haribhau Jawale also died of COVID-19. This two- time MLA was the first senior politician to succumb to the novel coronavirus in Maharashtra.

In Pune, Sudharak Paricharak, a five-time MLA from Pandharpur, passed away at a private hospital this August. The 85-year-old was with the Nationalist Congress Party till recently. He contracted COVID-19 on August 5, following which he was admitted to a hospital.

Veteran CPI-M leader Shyamal Chakraborty also died just days after testing COVID positive. The 76-year-old had served as the West Bengal Transport Minister in the Left Front government in the state. Early August, he lost his battle against corona at a private hospital in Kolkata.

The list of such former leaders/public representatives of yesteryear’s goes on. Though authorities claim India’s death rate has been one of the lowest in the world, deaths of sitting lawmakers have forced the opposition to sound the alarm bell.

On Saturday, opposition parties raised concerns over their health safety in the Business Advisory Committee meeting, which forced the central government to agree to possibly curtail the Monsoon session of Parliament. Even on Saturday, Rajya Sabha Chair M Venkaiah Naidu warned members to adhere to ICMR protocols in the House for their own benefit.

By the time of filing this report, India had 85,619 deaths and more than 10 lakh active COVID cases. With infections showing no signs of slowing down and the killer virus not discriminating between the ‘aam aadmi’ and VVIPs, India’s politicians are a worried lot.

(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at [email protected])

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