Odisha Registers Highest Single Day Spike In COVID-19 Cases This Year

Odisha registered its highest single day spike so far this year in coronavirus cases on Wednesday when its tally surged to 3,40,917 after 297 more people tested positive for the infection amidst preparations by the state to inoculate two lakh people from Thursday, a health department official said. The state during the day also registered the recovery of 161 patients taking the total number of cured persons to 3,37,091, which is 98.87 per cent of the caseload.

Over 8 Lakh Vaccine Doses Administered In Pakistan

Pakistan on Wednesday said 8 lakh doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the country, as more anti-COVID jabs were being procured and the immunisation process fast-tracked. So far, COVID-19 has claimed 14,434 lives along with 6,67,957 confirmed cases in the country, with 78 fatalities and 4,757 infections reported in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of National Health Services said.

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve wildfire brought under control after two days; no loss of animals or birds reported, says official

Bhopal/Umaria: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Wednesday reviewed the wildfire situation at Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (BTR) in the state’s Umaria district.

According to forest authorities, wildfires have been reported in parts of the reserve for the last two days and had spread to several zones.

The chief minister reviewed the situation and instructed the authorities to take necessary action in case of casualties of wild animals in the blaze, an official from the state public relations department said.

The principal secretary (forest) has informed the chief minister that the incidents of fire have been controlled and there has been no loss of any kind, the official said.

“No wild animals or birds have died in the fire and the blaze was totally controlled by 11 AM,” Madhya Pradesh”s Head of Forest Force (HOFF) Rajesh Shrivastava told PTI.

The fire spread fast due to high-speed winds and dried leaves of bamboo plants and shoots in the affected areas, he said.

“We are probing the fire that spread to four zones of the reserve. It is not clear if the fire had started due to natural reasons or it was mischief,” the official said.

Meanwhile, local forest sources in BTR said the fire, which broke out two days ago, had spread to several zones of the reserve including Magadhi, Tala and Dhamokhar ranges.

Visuals of flames engulfing the forest land have also surfaced on social media, it was stated.

The BTR”s field director Vincent Rahim could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.

COVID-19 vaccination for all above 45 years opens today; Centre asks states to identify low coverage areas

New Delhi: As India prepares to open up its COVID-19 vaccination drive to people above 45 from April 1, the Centre on Wednesday asked states and union territories to identify low vaccine-coverage pockets, particularly in districts reporting a surge in new infections, and take corrective action.

National Health Authority CEO and Empowered Group on COVID Vaccination chairperson Dr R S Sharma and Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan chaired a high-level meeting with health secretaries, mission directors of NHM and immunisation officers of all states and UTs during the day, a statement said.

The status and pace of the inoculation drive across the country were reviewed at the meeting held through video-conferencing, as were the preparations for April 2021, when vaccination would be extended to cover everybody above the age of 45, the ministry said.

“A key theme underlying the meet was the identification of low vaccine coverage pockets particularly in districts showing COVID-19 surge and for taking corrective actions there,” it said in the statement.

On vaccination coverage of healthcare workers (HCWs) and frontline workers (FLWs), the states and the UTs were advised to ensure that only eligible beneficiaries were registered and inoculated under the respective categories.

They were also advised to archive incorrect and duplicate entries on the Co-WIN platform, identify pockets of low vaccination coverage health facility, professional association, blocks, districts for taking corrective action and ensure saturation of vaccination of these groups on priority.

States and UTs were asked to conduct regular reviews of capacity utilisation at private COVID Vaccination Centres (CVCs).

They were also asked to undertake GIS analysis of CVCs to identify the need for more such facilities, and address apprehensions of private CVCs regarding vaccine supply and guidelines, the statement said.

The states and UTs were also advised to ensure that there was no sedimentation of vaccine stocks at any level of storage and that their distribution was based on consumption to avoid overstocking or under-stocking at cold chain points and CVCs.

They were asked to conduct regular reviews of vaccine stocks and consumption to identify gap areas and address the same, the ministry said in its statement.

The Centre also advised the states and UTs to maintain vaccine wastage at less than one per cent (current National Wastage Percentage being six per cent).

They were asked to ensure timely utilisation of available stock to avoid the expiry of vaccines and update the vaccine consumption data on Co-WIN and eVIN portals.

Dr Sharma assured that there was no problem in the storage and logistics of the vaccines. He re-emphasized that there was no value in conserving vaccines for the second dose and that states must promptly supply vaccines to all government and private hospitals where there is a demand, the statement stated.

A countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on 16 January with healthcare workers (HCWs) getting inoculated first, and vaccination of frontline workers (FLWs) started on 2 February.

The next phase of COVID-19 vaccination commenced on 1 March to cover people above 60 and those in the age group of 45-59 but with specified co-morbid conditions.

India falls 28 spots to 140th rank in WEF Gender Gap report; third-worst performer in South Asia

New Delhi: India has slipped 28 places to rank 140th among 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, becoming the third-worst performer in South Asia.

According to the report, India has closed 62.5 percent of its gender gap to date. The country had ranked 112th among 153 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index 2020.

Noting that the decline also took place on the economic participation and opportunity subindex, albeit to a lesser extent, the report said India’s gender gap on this dimension widened by 3 percent this year, leading to a 32.6 percent gap closed to date.

Most of the decline occurred on the political empowerment subindex, where India regressed 13.5 percentage points, with a significant decline in the number of women ministers (from 23.1 percent in 2019 to 9.1 percent in 2021).

“Among the drivers of this decline is a decrease in women’s labour force participation rate, which fell from 24.8 percent to 22.3 percent. In addition, the share of women in professional and technical roles declined further to 29.2 percent. The share of women in senior and managerial positions also remains low: only 14.6 percent of these positions are held by women and there are only 8.9 percent firms with female top managers,” the report said.

Further, the estimated earned income of women in India is only one-fifth of men’s, which puts the country among the bottom 10 globally on this indicator, it said.

Discrimination against women is also reflected in the health and survival subindex statistics. With 93.7 percent of this gap closed to date, India ranks among the bottom five countries in this subindex.

Wide gaps in sex ratio at birth are due to the high incidence of gender-based sex-selective practices. In addition, more than one in four women has faced intimate violence in her lifetime, the report said.

“Conversely, 96.2 per cent of the educational attainment subindex gender gap has been closed, with parity achieved in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Yet, gender gaps persist in terms of literacy: one-third of women are illiterate (34.2 per cent) compared to 17.6 per cent of men,” it added.

Among India’s neighbours, Bangladesh ranked 65, Nepal 106, Pakistan 153, Afghanistan 156, Bhutan 130 and Sri Lanka 116.

Among regions, South Asia is the second-lowest performer on the index, with 62.3 percent of its overall gender gap closed.

“Within the region, a wide gulf separates the best-performing country, Bangladesh, which has closed 71.9 percent of its gender gap so far, from Afghanistan, which has only closed 44.4 percent of its gap.

“India is the third-worst performer in the region, having closed 62.5 per cent of its gap. Because of its large population, India’s performance has a substantial impact on the region’s overall performance,” the report said.

In South Asia, only Pakistan and Afghanistan ranked below India.

The report stated that India, home to 0.65 billion women, has widened its gender gap from almost 66.8 percent one year ago to 62.5 per cent this year.

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the income of an average woman is below 16 per cent of that of an average man, while in India it is 20.7 per cent, it said.

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years, the report noted.

Now in its 15th year, the report benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. It also examines the drivers of gender gaps and outlines the policies and practices needed for a gender-inclusive recovery.

For the 12th time, Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world. The top 10 most gender-equal countries include Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Rwanda, Sweden, Ireland and Switzerland.

Two Haridwar monks go on hunger strike to protest against sand mining, dam construction on Ganga

By Varsha Singh

Millions of Hindu pilgrims have taken a dip in the holy Ganga in the past month, and millions more are expected in Haridwar, Uttarakhand for the next big dates of the Kumbh Mela festival – 12, a14 and 27 April. Yet out of sight of the pilgrims, two Hindu monks are on hunger strike in an attempt to protect the holy, but increasingly threatened, river.

Swami Aatmabodhanand of the Matri Sadan Ashram began his hunger strike on 23 February; he made it more rigorous on 8 March by renouncing water as well. On 13 March, police took him from the ashram to a hospital, where he was force-fed through a drip. In protest, the head of the ashram Swami Shivanand Saraswati began his own hunger strike. He is now living on three glasses of water a day.

The monks are protesting sand mining and the construction of dams and barrages in the Ganga and its tributaries. These are the latest in a long series of hunger strikes in protest of the damage wrought on the holy river. GD Agarwal of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, died on 11 October, 2018, after a hunger strike of 111 days for the same cause. The 86-year-old hydrologist had changed his name to Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand after joining Matri Sadan Ashram.

Other monks have been on repeated hunger strikes for years. Ashram authorities have alleged that one monk was poisoned while being force-fed in a hospital.

Authorities unmoved

The current strike represents Swami Aatmabodhanand’s eighth for the sake of the Ganga. On his release from hospital on 19 March, he restarted his hunger strike at once. “Matri Sadan has been working for the last 22 years for the health of the Ganga,” he told The Third Pole. “Three monks have sacrificed their lives for this. We are opposing dams in a sensitive area like the Himalayas. But the government does not care about those who love the Ganga and the environment. The government is close to those mining the riverbeds and building dams.”

“The riverbed is being mined to kill the Ganga in Haridwar,” said Swami Shivanand Saraswati. “The river will regain its quality if you break down the dams, but mining kills the very nature of the river.” While there is little proof that the river is being intentionally destroyed, the destruction is undeniable, despite repeated judgements, including ones giving rights to rivers.

Showing The Third Pole letters from the prime minister’s office, Saraswati said, “They have acknowledged our protest and the concerns we have raised. India’s Jal Shakti [Water Resources] ministry has instructed the authorities in Haridwar to stop mining the Ganga in Haridwar. But the Uttarakhand [state] government is not ready to obey the instructions.”

Noted environmentalist Medha Patkar wondered in a recent tweet if anyone was going to listen to the monks.

The monks had started by protesting against the construction of the many dams and barrages upstream in the Ganga and her tributaries. Listing the projects, Saraswati said the central government’s National Mission for Clean Ganga “had promised us that they would close down four projects [dams] – Tapovan-Vishnugad, Tapovan-Pipalkoti, Singoli-Bhatwari and Phata-Byung. But when the flash flood came down the Rishi Ganga [in Uttarakhand, on 7 February], it was found that work on the Tapovan-Vishnugad hydropower project was going on. The government did not listen to us; nature did.”

A female monk, Sadhvi Padmawati, was sitting in a wheelchair while the head of the ashram was speaking to The Third Pole. On 25 March, 2020, she returned to the ashram from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi. She cannot walk and can barely speak. Doctors have said she has a neurological disorder.

Saraswati said 25-year-old Padmawati did not have any such problems when she joined the ashram in 2017 following a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. On 15 December, 2019, she began a hunger strike, demanding a stop to riverbed mining and the building of dams on the Ganga. Close to midnight on 30 January, 2020, the police arrested her and took her to hospital, a process which was captured on video. On 17 February, she was moved to AIIMS in New Delhi.

A little over a month later, Padmawati returned in a wheelchair. Saraswati said she has been unable to speak clearly since a pipe was inserted into her throat.

Asked if she will go on a hunger strike again for the sake of the Ganga, Padmawati nodded.

Support from the clergy

While the vast majority of those crowding the banks of the Ganga for a holy dip may not be aware of what the monks of Matri Sadan Ashram are doing, they have received support from senior figures in the Hindu religious hierarchy. A follower of Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati visited the ashram on March 14 to express solidarity. A Shankaracharya is considered one of the top four figures in the Hindu religious order.

Support has also been heard from other water activists. Environmentalist Rajendra Singh, often called the “waterman of India”, said recently, “These are the people willing to sacrifice their lives for the Ganga. But the government doesn’t listen to people like us.”

The monks and other activists have four main demands: to stop all dams being built and planned on the Ganga and its tributaries in the Himalayas; to stop riverbed mining and deforestation along the Ganga in the Indian plains; to set up a council that will work to improve the health of the Ganga; and to pass a law to protect the river.

The monks have held repeated hunger strikes to press their demands, both at the ashram and in jail when they have been imprisoned for agitating. The head of the ashram said 65 hunger strikes have been held so far, the longest for 194 days.

In 2014, a hunger strike led to orders banning riverbed mining in the stretch of the Ganga in and around Haridwar where the river descends from the mountains to the plains. India’s National Green Tribunal also banned illegal riverbed mining in the area in 2015. When the Uttarakhand government issued new mining licences in 2016, these had to be scrapped after another round of hunger strikes.

G.D. Agarwal was on hunger strike for long stretches in 2018. Uma Bharati, the central water resources minister at the time, went to Matri Sadan Ashram to meet him; Nitin Gadkari, another union minister, asked him over phone to end his hunger strike. But his demand for a dam-free Ganga was not met.

What’s more, on 25 February, 2021, permission for riverbed mining was given afresh. Umesh Kumar Tripathi, regional manager of Uttarakhand Forest Development Corporation, says the decision was taken after receiving permission from the central government.

Riverbed mining study

The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) had asked the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur to study whether riverbed mining should be permitted in the Ganga in and around Haridwar. Rajiv Sinha, who led the study, told The Third Pole, “We have said sand mining cannot be permitted between Raiwala and Bhogpur [locations near Haridwar]. The area should have a sediment management strategy. There are stretches where the sediment should be removed so that the river can flow. Sediment load has increased due to deforestation upstream in the Himalayas. But there is a long stretch that passes through the Rajaji National Park. You cannot even touch the river there – there are some ecological hotspots.”

On 2 September last year, NMCG director Rajiv Ranjan Mishra wrote to Matri Sadan Ashram referring to this study and said the central environment ministry had been asked to reconsider its decision to permit riverbed mining in the area.

But the mining goes on.

***

Varsha Singh is an independent journalist based in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. She covers issues related to the environment, climate change, social aspects and peoples’ concerns, and tweets @BareeshVarsha

The Third Pole is a multilingual platform dedicated to promoting information and discussion about the Himalayan watershed and the rivers that originate there. This report was originally published on thethirdpole.net and has been reproduced here with permission.

COVID-19 vaccination: Third phase starts tomorrow; Centre asks states to identify low coverage areas

New Delhi: As India prepares to open up its COVID-19 vaccination drive to people above 45 from April 1, the Centre on Wednesday asked states and union territories to identify low vaccine-coverage pockets, particularly in districts reporting a surge in new infections, and take corrective action.

National Health Authority CEO and Empowered Group on COVID Vaccination chairperson Dr R S Sharma and Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan chaired a high-level meeting with health secretaries, mission directors of NHM and immunisation officers of all states and UTs during the day, a statement said.

The status and pace of the inoculation drive across the country were reviewed at the meeting held through video-conferencing, as were the preparations for April 2021, when vaccination would be extended to cover everybody above the age of 45, the ministry said.

“A key theme underlying the meet was the identification of low vaccine coverage pockets particularly in districts showing COVID-19 surge and for taking corrective actions there,” it said in the statement.

On vaccination coverage of healthcare workers (HCWs) and frontline workers (FLWs), the states and the UTs were advised to ensure that only eligible beneficiaries were registered and inoculated under the respective categories.

They were also advised to archive incorrect and duplicate entries on the Co-WIN platform, identify pockets of low vaccination coverage health facility, professional association, blocks, districts for taking corrective action and ensure saturation of vaccination of these groups on priority.

States and UTs were asked to conduct regular reviews of capacity utilisation at private COVID Vaccination Centres (CVCs).

They were also asked to undertake GIS analysis of CVCs to identify the need for more such facilities, and address apprehensions of private CVCs regarding vaccine supply and guidelines, the statement said.

The states and UTs were also advised to ensure that there was no sedimentation of vaccine stocks at any level of storage and that their distribution was based on consumption to avoid overstocking or under-stocking at cold chain points and CVCs.

They were asked to conduct regular reviews of vaccine stocks and consumption to identify gap areas and address the same, the ministry said in its statement.

The Centre also advised the states and UTs to maintain vaccine wastage at less than one per cent (current National Wastage Percentage being six per cent).

They were asked to ensure timely utilisation of available stock to avoid the expiry of vaccines and update the vaccine consumption data on Co-WIN and eVIN portals.

Dr Sharma assured that there was no problem in the storage and logistics of the vaccines. He re-emphasized that there was no value in conserving vaccines for the second dose and that states must promptly supply vaccines to all government and private hospitals where there is a demand, the statement stated.

A countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on 16 January with healthcare workers (HCWs) getting inoculated first, and vaccination of frontline workers (FLWs) started on 2 February.

The next phase of COVID-19 vaccination commenced on 1 March to cover people above 60 and those in the age group of 45-59 but with specified co-morbid conditions.