Guru Nanak Dev showed people path of unity, harmony: President Ram Nath Kovind

Opposition parties request President Kovind not to give assent to contentious farm bills

President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday greeted citizens on the eve of Guru Nanak Dev’s birth anniversary, saying he showed people the path of unity, harmony and service.

The life and teachings of Guru Nanak Dev are an inspiration for all human beings, he said.

“He showed people the path of unity, harmony, fraternity, comity and service, and gave an economic philosophy to realize a lifestyle based on hard work, honesty and self-respect,” Kovind said.

Guru Nanak Dev gave the basic mantra of Ek Onkar’ to his followers and insisted on treating all human beings equally, without discriminating on the basis of caste, creed and gender, the president said.

His message of ‘Naam Japo, Kirat Karo and Vand Chhako’ contains the essence of all his teachings, he said.

“On the sacred occasion of Guru Nanak Dev’s birth anniversary, let us resolve to conduct ourselves in a manner so as to emulate his teachings,” Kovind said.

In a message, the president has said, “On the auspicious occasion of Guru Nanak Dev’s birth anniversary, I extend my heartiest greetings and best wishes to all the citizens living in India and abroad, especially the brothers and sisters of the Sikh community”, according to a statement issued by the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

India At A Crossroads

India’s June quarter GDP contraction, the steepest that the country has ever seen shows the impact of the lockdown is much worse than what experts had anticipated. After earning the distinction of being the world’s fastest growing major economy, India is fast turning into one of the worst impacted at -23.9 percent. The panel will debate on the opportunities this crisis presents for India and would cover a variety of macroeconomic as well as micro issues the country is facing today.

Now you can apply for IPOs using Paytm Money. Here are the details

India’s homegrown digital financial services platform Paytm today announced that its wholly-owned subsidiary Paytm Money now facilitates investments in Initial Public Offers (IPOs) in India.

This launch will benefit retail investors with wealth creation opportunities, the company said, adding that the users will be able to seamlessly apply and join the growth story of rapidly expanding companies.

The company has made the process of IPO application completely digital for retail investors across the country. It aims to continue to innovate and add new tech-savvy features for enhanced user experience.

Paytm Money has enabled investors to instantly apply for all the latest IPOs via UPI ID, linked to their bank accounts to quickly complete the process. The company is leveraging the convenience of UPI infrastructure to offer a faster turnaround time reduced to 3-4 days for completion of the entire process.

The platform offers an interface to make changes, cancel or reapply the bidding application within the IPO window. It enables investors to track upcoming IPOs, view company history & details, download prospectus, and also check the performance of past IPOs. This service is available on both the Paytm Money app and website.

Varun Sridhar, CEO – Paytm Money said, “The Indian start-up ecosystem has a growing appetite for entering the capital market, now more companies want to raise capital from a broader set of investors with a public listing. Likewise, investors are also increasingly willing to diversify their portfolio. This presents a big opportunity and we intend to make the process more accessible to our fellow citizens. In near future, we plan to launch IPO funding, derivatives trading, margin finance and a host of other value-adding features to make investing seamless and convenient. This is aligned with our mission to drive financial inclusion across the country.”

In the period March-November 2020, the country’s stock exchanges (both NSE and BSE combined) witnessed 12 IPOs and raised proceeds worth Rs 249.73 billion (or Rs 24,973 crores) in total.

Some of the successful IPOs of 2020 were SBI Cards, Mazagaon Dock, Rossari Biotech, Happiest Minds, and CAMS among others. Within these, Happiest Minds and Rossari Biotech were oversubscribed by 150.98x and 79.37x and have delivered a listing day return of 111% and 77% respectively as per NSE’s data.

India’s COVID-19 tally rises to 94.31 lakh with 38,772 fresh cases

The number of COVID-19 cases reported in India in a span of 24 hours dropped below 40,000 for the seventh time this month, taking the infection tally to 94.31 lakh, while the recoveries surged to 88,47,600, according to the Union Health Ministry’s data updated on Monday.

The total coronavirus cases mounted to 94,31,691 with 38,772 new infections, while the death toll climbed to 1,37,139 after 443 more fatalities were reported, the data updated at 8 am showed.

The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 88,47,600, pushing the national recovery rate to 93.81 percent. The COVID-19 case fatality rate declined further to 1.45 percent.

The active COVID-19 caseload remained below five lakh for the 20th consecutive day.

There are 4,46,952 active cases in the country which comprise 4.74 percent of the total caseload, the data stated.

India’s COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7, 30 lakh on August 23 and 40 lakh on September 5.

It went past 50 lakh on September 16, 60 lakh on September 28, 70 lakh on October 11, crossed 80 lakh on October 29, and surpassed 90 lakh on November 20.

According to the ICMR, 14,03,79,976 samples have been tested up to November 29 with 8,76,173 samples being tested on Sunday.

Oil prices slip in cautious trade ahead of OPEC+ meet

Crude oil prices fell on Monday, amid investor jitters ahead of a meeting of producer group OPEC+ to decide whether to extend large output cuts to balance global markets, but vaccine hopes helped keep them on track to rise more than a fifth in November.

January Brent crude futures, which will expire later on Monday, dropped 46 cents, or 1 percent, to $47.72 a barrel by 0355 GMT. The more actively traded February Brent contract was at $47.83 a barrel, down 42 cents.

US West Texas Intermediate crude futures for January fell 48 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $45.05 a barrel.

However, both benchmarks are still set for a rise of more than 20 percent in November, the strongest monthly gains since May, boosted by hopes for three promising coronavirus vaccines to limit spread of the disease and thus support fuel demand.

Analysts and traders also expect the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia – the OPEC+ grouping – to delay next year’s planned increase in oil output as a second COVID-19 wave has hit global fuel demand.

OPEC+ previously agreed to raise output by 2 million barrels per day (bpd) in January – or about 2 percent of global consumption – after record supply cuts this year.

The group held an initial round of talks on Sunday, but has yet to reach consensus on oil output policy for 2021 ahead of key meetings on Monday and Tuesday, four OPEC+ sources told Reuters. Monday’s meeting begins at 1300 GMT.

“While we base-case a 3-month delay to prevent a return to a global oil surplus through 1Q21, not all producers appear onboard,” Goldman Sachs analysts said.

A lack of extension, representing a downside of $5 a barrel from current spot levels in the analysts’ modelling, would further contribute to short-term price gyrations, they added.

The winter wave of infections is expected to crimp global oil demand by 3 million bpd, they said, which would only partially be offset by heating and restocking demand in Asia.

ANZ estimated that the oil market surplus could run as high as 1.5 million to 3 million bpd in first half of 2021 if OPEC+ did not extend cuts.

Rising Middle East tension over the weekend, over events ranging from the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist to Islamic State’s rocket attack on an oil refinery in northern Iraq propped up oil prices.

In the United States, the number of operating oil and natural gas rigs has risen for the fourth month in a row as producers return to the wellpad with crude prices mostly trading over $40 a barrel since mid-June.

China, the world’s second-largest economy and top oil importer, expanded factory activity at its fastest in more than three years in November, keeping on track to be the first major economy to fully recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Kevadia a family holiday spot, more tourists at Statue of Unity than Statue of Liberty: Official

Gujarat’s Kevadia, where Sardar Patel’s Statue of Unity has been drawing more tourists than the Statue of Liberty in the US, has emerged as a family holiday destination of international standard with a children nutrition park, Arogya Van, and camping and river rafting facilities, top officials said.

Described as a ”must-visit” place by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the town, nestled amid Satpura and Vindhayachal ranges along the banks of the Narmada river, has a number of small and big tourist spots.

Gujarat’s Additional Chief Secretary Rajiv Gupta, who has been associated with the project since its beginning, said it was the prime minister’s vision to develop this place as a model tourist destination for the entire family.

“Under the guidance of Prime Minister Modi, the town has been developed as a tourist destination for the entire family while preserving its ecology and local heritage,” Gupta told PTI.

He said the main attraction of the town, the Statue of Unity, ideated by Prime Minister Modi himself, attracts more tourists than the Statue of Liberty in the United States.

Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, around 13,000 tourists were visiting the statue daily, while around 10,000 tourists visited the Statue of Liberty last month.

Development in the town generated direct employment for 3,000 tribal boys and girls, and indirect employment to 10,000 more, Gupta said, adding it has also opened up new avenues of micro-entrepreneurship for women.

About the various tourist attractions in Kevadia, Gujarat’s Tourism Secretary Mamta Verma said there is variety, something for every member of a family in Kevadia.

“If there is Arogya Van for elders, there is a children nutrition park for kids, then there are options for camping and river rafting for youngsters,” she said.

For nature lovers, Verma said there are Sardar Patel Zoological Park and Geodesic Aviary Dome, home to more than 1,100 birds and animals and five lakh plants.

Under the guidance of Prime Minister Modi, this place has been developed with least commercialisation, so that its natural beauty remains intact, she said.

E-commerce firms monopolising market by violating FDI policy: CAIT to PM Narendra Modi

Amazon discounts, CCI probe

Big e-commerce companies having deep pockets are leaving no stone unturned in monopolizing the e-commerce business and retail trade of India with their malpractices and violating FDI policy, traders’ body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 29.

CAIT said the absence of concrete action against e-commerce companies has led to a roadblock for small businesses to run their operations online.

“It is most unfortunate that even being the custodian of the law, various government authorities have failed to protect the sanctity of the policy and law of the government,” it said in the letter.

In the past, CAIT has blamed the online marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart for undertaking predatory pricing, deep discounting, loss funding, and exclusivity of various products, by violating the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy.

However, both Amazon and Flipkart have repeatedly denied the allegations and claimed complete compliance with the FDI laws.

“While urging for a strong action against them, it is requested that an e-commerce policy should be announced immediately with an explicit provision of an empowered Regulatory Authority to regulate and monitor the e-commerce business in India,” the letter added.

The trade body also sought the issuance of a fresh Press Note and removal of anomalies and disparities of Press Note No.2 of FDI policy.

Last week, CAIT’s National President B C Bhartia and Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal had said in a statement that no permission for FDI could have been granted for the inventory-based model of e-commerce being pursued by both (Amazon and Flipkart) of these companies by the way of indirectly controlling the inventories of most prominent sellers on their e-commerce marketplace platform, Financial Express has reported.

The body wrote to DPIIT Secretary Guruprasad Mohapatra claiming violation of the rules under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999.

Earlier on November 4 also it sought action against Amazon for alleged violation of various sections of the act that helped it amass Rs 40,000 crore.

In a letter to Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, the CAIT has sought an investigation against Amazon.com, Amazon Inc, Amazon.com NV Investments Holdings LLC and Amazon India Limited (collectively “Amazon”).

The CAIT alleged that Amazon is indirectly acquiring Future Retail Ltd.

“Over the past few months, our organisation has been examining various public documents pertaining to the investments by Amazon and it has come to light that Amazon has been conducting its activities in blatant violation of Foreign Exchange Management (Non-debt Instruments) Rules, 2019 (“FEMA Rules”), the CAIT letter alleged.

Serum COVID vaccine safety concerns: Co threatens to countersue volunteer; experts seek transparency

RDIF ties up with Hetero Pharma to manufacture Sputnik V vaccines

Seen widely as harbingers of hope against the rampaging virus, vaccines are quickly taking a controversial turn. Close after a serious adverse event, that saw a Serum Institute vaccine volunteer experiencing ‘severe adverse reaction’, the issue may be headed for an acrimonious court battle.

Raising serious concerns on the safety and transparency of ‘Covishield’ clinical trials, a 40-year-old trial participant sued the Serum Institute of India (SII) alleging that the experimental vaccine caused a ‘severe adverse reaction’. The trial participant has demanded a Rs 5 crore compensation on charges that after getting the vaccine shot, he experienced a neurological breakdown and an inability to get back to normal life.

Apart from Serum Institute, the 18-page notice has also been served to trial co-sponsor ICMR, drug regulator DCGI, trial site Ramachandra Higher Education and Research, AstraZeneca and Professor Andrew Pollard, Chief Investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial. Serum Institute has collaborated with Oxford University & Astrazeneca and is conducting clinical trials for Covishield, which is seen as the country’s most viable vaccine option so far.

The volunteer had participated in phase 3 clinical trials and has claimed the vaccine is “not safe” and that the testing, manufacture and distribution of the vaccine should be stopped.

Serum Institute has not taken the allegations or the legal notice lightly and has, in turn, threatened to seek damages in excess of Rs 100 crore from the volunteer.

SII says the claims are malicious and misconceived and while the company “is sympathetic with the volunteer’s medical condition, there is absolutely no correlation with the vaccine trial and the medical condition of the volunteer. The volunteer is falsely laying the blame for his medical problems on the COVID vaccine trial.”

The statement however does not mention or clarify what protocols were followed to establish if the adverse reaction was related to the COVID vaccine trial or not. The statement also does not highlight if the Data Safety Monitoring Board and the Drug Controller General of India were immediately informed of the adverse event and subsequent protocols. Besides, it is not known whether regulators and DSMB gave a clearance or sought more details.

CNBC-TV18’s detailed queries sent to Serum Institute of India still remain unanswered.

Concerns on transparency

While the merits of the allegation will take time to be established, the manner in which the adverse event has been handled has certainly raised questions on transparency.

The adverse events were reported almost a month ago and were serious in nature. The volunteer’s hospital discharge summary states that he had suffered “Acute Encephalopathy” and was discharged “in an altered mental state” and was “disoriented”. He also had Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D deficiency, and had a probable “connective tissue disorder”.

However, there have been no statements from the trial sponsors or the regulators highlighting the event.

Serum Institute in its statement says “the claim is malicious because the volunteer was specifically informed by the medical team that the complications he suffered were independent of the vaccine trial he underwent.” It is still unclear if the DSMB or the DCGI has reviewed the clinical information or not and who assessed if the event was related to the trial or not.

The eerie silence from both the DCGI and the Drug Monitoring and Safety Board has added to the concerns on adherence to protocols and the overall safety of the vaccine.

One of the most respected scientists and vaccine experts Dr Gagandeep Kang told CNBC-TV18, “I think we definitely need greater transparency in terms of who has reviewed the clinical information to make the determination of the event not being related. The newspaper says Principal Investigator, but what about the institutional ethics committee, the Data Safety and Monitoring Board and DCGI. The company has little or no role in determining the relatedness of the event.”

Experts have questioned why the trials were not paused to investigate the matter. Similar adverse events reported in Oxford trials or Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine trial led to the trial being paused and resumed only after the investigation from DSMB established that the adverse event was not related to the experimental vaccine.

Vaccine experts have called for more transparent communication from the drug regulator on why the trial has not been halted and from the trial sponsors on the handling of SAEs, detailed protocol of the trial and if any amendments were made for knowledge of other trial participants.

All India Drug Action Network in a statement said, “We are shocked at this blatant attempt at intimidation of a clinical trial participant by Serum Institute. Instead of explaining why they have been silent about the reports of the SAE, Serum Institute is attempting to divert public scrutiny of its trial. Bear in mind that in Serum’s Phase 2/3 trial, safety is one of the primary endpoints in addition to immunogenicity.”

What caused the adverse event?

In his notice, the trial volunteer has stated that he participated in the trial after reading categorical assertion about the safety of the vaccine in the Participant Information Sheet. The sheet explained what might happen after vaccination, “which is not even remotely close to what our client experienced”.

Dr Shahid Jameel, senior virologist and Director at Ashoka University said there must be full transparency. “Whether associated with vaccine or not is for the regulator to determine. They should seek full disclosure from the company and then decide whether trial should be halted or not.”

ICMR’s Head of Epidemiology & Communicable Diseases Division, Samiran Panda, was quoted by a daily newspaper as saying that “any hurried inquiry or inference is prone to be wrong. Both the institutional ethics committee and the DCGI are investigating the causal links, if any, between the adverse events and investigational product, which is an anti-coronavirus vaccine. A preliminary assessment has not indicated any causal link as yet.”

There has been no formal statement from the ICMR or the DCGI so far.

Some virologists have raised a question – if acute neuro encephalopathy, the neurological breakdown which the trial participant suffered, was an associated risk with the flu vaccine category. Dr Kang explained, “Adeno infections rarely cause encephalopathy but even that mainly in children. This is chimpanzee adenovirus so we should have this data reviewed by experts for possible relatedness.”

However, experts add the causality may still not be clear unless more cases emerge as trials progress. Covishield is based on an adenovirus vector that infects chimpanzees. The virus is genetically altered to insert spike proteins from Sars-Cov2 to stimulate an immune response in the body.

The volunteer’s notice claims that after his discharge from the hospital, there have been no follow-ups or investigation of the severe reaction of the test vaccine on him. “Even after a month of the severe adverse reaction to the vaccine, neither have the regulators (Drugs Controller General of India/ Data and Safety Monitoring Committee), the sponsors (ICMR and Serum Institute of India) or the collaborators of the sponsors (Astra Zeneca and Oxford University) got in touch with him to find out about the severe adverse effect after vaccination and investigate the severe reaction the test vaccine has had on him.”

Serum’s statement threatening for a countersuit is not helping matters either and is seen as a step that will erode the confidence in volunteering for vaccine trials. Dr C S Pramesh, Director of Tata Memorial Centre, in a tweet said, “Why will clinical trial volunteers participate in research if sponsors intimidate them? There are better ways of responding than counter suing.”​

Penumbral lunar eclipse on November 30: All you need to know

The fourth penumbral lunar eclipse or (Chandra Grahan) of the year will take place on Monday (November 30) and will be visible across various parts of the globe if the weather does not play spoilsport. However, it will not be visible in much of India except partially in some northern and eastern states. The phenomenon, coinciding with the Hindu festival of Kartik Purnima could be experienced in large parts of Europe, Africa and the Americas.

 What is penumbral lunar eclipse

In a normal lunar eclipse, the moon passes through the central part of the Earth’s shadow called umbra, forming considerable darkening of the lunar disc. But a penumbral lunar eclipse will cover a small part of the moon with the outer part of its shadow, also known as the penumbra.

A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth and Moon align in an almost straight line. The Earth blocks some of the Sun’s light from directly reaching the Moon’s surface.

“To a naked eye it is sometimes a little difficult to recognise a penumbral lunar eclipse, though it is interesting to see the larger than usual appearance of the moon, and the shifts in shadow during the 4-hour period,” said renowned astrophysicist Debiprosad Duari.

When will it take place

As per Indian Standard Time, the lunar eclipse will begin at 1.04 pm and will continue until 5.22 pm. It will reach its peak at 3.13 pm.

Delhi govt issues work-from-home orders for 50% of its non-essential services employees

The Delhi government on Saturday issued work-from-home orders for 50 per cent of its employees associated with non-essential services and advised private establishments to follow the practice as far as possible amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the national capital.

Delhi chief secretary and DDMA executive committee chairman Vijay Dev, in an order, said all Delhi government offices, autonomous bodies, public sector undertakings, corporations, local bodies will function with officers of grade-one level or equivalent and above to the extent of 100 per cent.

“The remaining staff will attend up to 50 per cent as per requirement to be assessed by heads of the departments concerned (remaining 50 per cent of the staff will work from home) till December 31, 2020, or till further orders whichever is earlier,” stated the DDMA order.

Private offices are advised to stagger the office timings and also presence and quantum of staff with an objective to reduce the number of employees attending office at the same time. They are further advised to follow the practice of work from home as for as possible, it said.

In a tweet, Delhi Revenue minister Kailash Gahlot said, “DDMA has decided to reduce number of government employees attending office at the same time, it has been decided that in respect of officials lower than Grade 1, only 50% of the strength shall attend office. Private offices are also advised to stagger timings & presence of staff.”

The proposal from the Delhi government’s revenue department to reduce presence of non-essential services staff in offices to 50 per cent was sent to the Lt Governor on Friday who is also chairman of Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) for approval, Gahlot said.

L-G Anil Baijal on Saturday approved the proposal.

“The heads of departments will decide about how to implement it according to the requirement of staff at their disposal,” Gahlot told PTI.

According to officials, the move, applicable to all Delhi government employees except grade-one and above officers, aims to bring down a number of non-essential services staff in the offices in view of COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposal was made in line with an order of Union Ministry of Home Affairs on November 25 for considering steps to reduce the number of employees in government offices through a various measure to ensure social distancing, an official said.

The proposal does not cover departments concerned with essential services, including health, police, home guards and civil defence, district administrations, fire, electricity and water,  municipal services among others, the officer said.

However, other Delhi government offices, autonomous bodies, public sector units, corporations and local bodies, associated with non-essential services, are covered by the proposal.

The heads of departments and agencies concerned will prepare a schedule for assigning office timings and employees to be required for work purpose, the officer said.