Saturday, February 4, 2023
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To ease or not to ease lockdown: Dailies discuss Delhi’s dilemma; GST relief coming soon?

A round-up of the most important reports in major newspapers around the country – from TOI and HT, Express and The Hindu to The Telegraph, Mumbai Mirror and The Tribune, as well as top financial dailies.

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Monday’s newspapers tiptoe around the possibility of a prolonged lockdown and speculate about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming consultation with chief ministers today.

The financial papers note that as incomes dry up, people are digging deep into their EPF savings. And, could there be a GST relief package in the offing?


 

The Times Of India’s lead story in its Delhi edition is bad news for its residents: ‘Won’t ease lockdown, says CM…’. The paper reports that Arvind Kejriwal warned, “Delhi will continue to follow the lockdown guidelines without giving any relaxation till at least May 3, except allowing standalone nonessential shops to operate in neighbourhood markets as suggested by the Centre on Friday…’’

And, in a story that blew up on the weekend, “50 IRS officers face probe for unsolicited hike-tax call”. According to TOI, “An annoyed government distanced itself from controversial tax proposals such as a Covid-19 cess and a wealth tax on the rich from a group of revenue service officials…’’

Seems like Prime Minister Modi has set a deadline to defeat Covid-19 as he said, ‘Pray that we can beat virus before Eid’. TOI says he also asked people to “observe Ramzan as a time of restraint, sensitivity and service..’’

Pandemics may come and pandemics will go, but weddings will go on forever: ‘A wedding with just two cops as guests…’ notes that “when 27-year-old Kushal Walia, who lives in Govindpuri, got married to Pooja — the love of his life — on Saturday, his baraat included two police officers…”

The bride did her mehendi, make-up on her own and wore her mother’s wedding saree “…the cops gifted the couple a chunni and got masks and sanitisers in return. The vidaai took place in a police Gypsy”.


 

The Indian Express’ lead  ‘On table in PM meeting with CMs today’ says, “Four key demands are likely to be made by states… special trains to transport migrant workers to their home states, permission to allow more economic activities in non-hotspots, financial resources to support small businesses and the vulnerable, and additional testing kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment.”

The paper also reports on the Covid battle of India in four parts: in ‘The Agra model?…’ it reports that “a person wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) can be seen throwing water bottles and food packets from outside a locked gate…to people inside…”

It finds `Alarm bells ringing in Ahmedabad…’ which has the second highest Covid related deaths after Mumbai. “… more than 60 per cent of Ahmedabad deaths have come in the last one week”, it writes.

Express then moves to Delhi where, ‘33 healthcare workers test positive at Max hospital…’ in East Delhi’s Patparganj. The paper added that 145 nurses had been quarantined in their hostel.

The bad news continues as ‘Bengal doctor in charge of Covid supplies falls to virus’. Dr Biplab Kanti Dasgupta, 64, who led the distribution of Covid-19 medical supplies across the state died nine days after he tested positive to be “the first frontline health provider in West Bengal to die of the virus”.


 

Hindustan Times carries Modi’s message in his Sunday `Mann Ki Baat’ address, ‘India leading fight, must keep guard up, says Modi’. He warned against “any complacency” but also “hailed citizens”.

In its main lead, ‘PM, CMs to discuss…’ HT  says there’s a “growing consensus among these states” on the following points: “…a continued ban on mass gatherings; educational institutions must remain closed; interstate transport prohibited — except in cases of enabling the movement of migrant workers – and social distancing must be strictly observed.’’

In another story, ‘Rapid testing stands withdrawn as field exams inconclusive’, HT reports, “Field tests to determine the reliability of the new, quick-result blood tests bought by India have been inconclusive… according to an official from India’s top medical research body. He added that these kits should not be used to “detect” coronavirus infections “for now”.

This is a blow to many states as they had imported these kits less than a fortnight back, writes HT.


 

Always the record-keeper, The Hindu’s lead is ‘Cases near 27,000-mark with increase of 1,975 in 24 hours’. It notes there were 826 fatalities and 26,917 cases, according to the Health Ministry.

The other big story ‘Industries hobbled by curbs on mobility of men, material’ reports, “Almost half of the industries which have been allowed to reopen still face hurdles in obtaining permits to function and passes for employees, according to a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) survey.”

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of India Bobde said, ‘Executive best placed to deal with pandemic’. In an interview with Hindu, CJI said courts cannot dictate to the government how and when to deploy its resources in the present crisis.


 

The New Indian Express is the only newspaper to highlight, on page 1, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement, ‘Don’t blame Muslims for Corona..’  Bhagwat alluded to the Tablighi Jamaat and said, “We should not blame the entire community for the mistakes of a few individuals”. He also “indirectly blamed the police and the attackers” for the Palghar lynching incident in Maharashtra, adds the report.

NIE also reports on infections to more medical staff: The men’s hostel of PG doctors in the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH) was closed down after a “sweeper” there tested positive. This, just days after the hospital’s cardiology department was shut down “after four PG doctors there tested positive”.

And, in another report, Kerala will soon face “counter-migration” with “2.5 lakh to 3 lakh Malayalis returning home jobless from West Asia alone”. The last time this happened was “during the Gulf War of 1990-91, the global recession of 2008 and after the enactment of Nitaqat Law” in 2013, says the paper.


 

The Tribune briefly reports former RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao’s concerns about a prolonged lockdown. Subbarao says it is “no consolation” that India is expected to come out of the coronavirus crisis better than most countries. “We are a very poor country and if the lockdown is not lifted soon enough, it is possible that millions of people will be pushed into margins of subsistence,” he said during a webinar.

Talking of subsistence, another grim report finds major food insecurity in India amid the lockdown. ‘In food insecure Indians…’ Tribune cites a study that says nearly 44 per cent Indians “are eating less than before and even skipping meals”, due to “fear of the disease… and no clarity on either the span or the scope of the lockdown”. Even more troubling, only 35 per cent “were aware of the three key symptoms (fever, cough and short breath)”, indicating their inability to distinguish Covid-19 from the common cold.


 

To prop up the economy, the Centre is considering a GST relief package that “could include a six-month suspension of GST payments for the worst-hit sectors such as restaurants, aviation and hospitality as well as a lower rate for the real estate sector”, reports The Economic Times.

In some heartening news, seven “top-rated” NBFCs like Bajaj Finance, Mahindra Finance and Tata Capital are planning to band together and “raise up to ₹10,400 crore this week”.


 

In its lead ‘India doubled down on hotspots’, Mint notes that the Centre has raised its risk assessment of the Covid-19 situation from “high” to “very high” and a “scenario-based approach” is being prepared. The report adds: “The government faces the dilemma of having to continue the shutdown to stem the contagion and risk tipping millions of poor people deeper into poverty.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, as indicated in the paper’s anchor story. In ‘As incomes dry up…’ it reports: “More than 650,000 people have dug into their employee provident fund (EPF) savings to offset the income loss caused by the lockdown…” However, the silver lining is that “exempted provident fund trusts have risen to the occasion” having “facilitated the withdrawal of almost ₹500 crore for their employees”.

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