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5 THINGS FIRST

Today: Punjab’s fresh restrictions to curb Covid surge come into effect; PM Modi rallies in Kharagpur, West Bengal & Chabua, Assam; India vs England, 5th T20I, Ahmedabad; Tomorrow: Amit Shah to release BJP manifesto for Bengal polls; All England Open Badminton Championships finals

1. Vaccine for 50+ in 3 months, active cases rise highest since Sept
  • The second phase of the nationwide vaccination drive against Covid-19 could be expanded within the next three months to include people who are aged 50 and above, national Covid-19 task force member and AIIMS Delhi director Dr Randeep Guleria told TOI on Friday.
  • He said that within six to eight weeks there is hope that two more vaccines, Sputnik V and the one manufactured by Zydus Cadila, will get emergency authorisation as they have the required data. “If more vaccine players are there in the market, it will ease pressure off the existing companies and more age groups can be brought into the drive according to the demand and supply,” Guleria said.
  • However, he added that: “Unless the priority population is addressed and we have enough doses it is unlikely that you will see Covid-19 vaccines in the local chemist shops anytime soon.”
  • Further, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said that universal immunisation is not required against Covid-19 and that the government is following the recommendations of the national expert group on vaccine administration for Covid-19 and WHO guidelines on the matter. He added that it is “not necessary scientifically to give each and every person in the country the vaccine”.
  • Finally, India’s daily Covid cases crossed the 40,000 mark for the first time in 111 days on Friday, with as many as 17 states and UTs adding the highest number of infections since January or earlier.
  • Active cases had risen to nearly 290,000 on Friday, having surged by more than 54,000 in the past three days. Over 19,000 active cases were added to India’s count on Thursday, the highest single-day rise since September 10, when the pandemic was at its peak with over 90,000 daily cases being recorded.

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2. Centre blocks Kejriwal’s doorstep delivery of foodgrains
2. Centre blocks Kejriwal’s doorstep delivery of foodgrains
  • A faceoff: The union food ministry has informed the Delhi state government that it cannot use subsidised foodgrains procured under the National Food Security Act for the latter’s proposed doorstep delivery programme. The doorstep delivery scheme, called the Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojna, was a key poll promise by Arvind Kejriwal ahead of the 2020 assembly election.
  • The reason: The Centre said the AAP government can launch a separate scheme for such an initiative, which means the foodgrains cannot come from the central pool under the food security act. Subsidised foodgrains allocated by the centre “under NFSA cannot be used for operationalisation of any state-specific/other scheme under a different name or nomenclature other than NFSA, as the same is not permissible under the Act,” the union ministry said in a letter to Delhi government.
  • Context: The faceoff over the programme comes just days after the union government introduced in parliament a bill that seeks to give overarching powers to the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) in day-to-day functioning of the national capital. The L-G is appointed by the President on the Centre’s advice.
  • The bottom line: The latest faceoff will only fuel the already intense debate over Delhi’s administrative status. Should Delhi be a full state with an empowered chief minister or be governed largely by the centre through L-G, an unelected offical, considering it is the national capital?
3. Centre wants court to stop WhatsApp’s privacy updates
3. Centre wants court to stop WhatsApp's privacy updates
  • A standoff: The central government on Friday asked the Delhi High Court to restrain the Facebook-owned messaging service from updating its privacy policy, saying they do not meet the requirements of the IT Rules. In its affidavit, the centre also said the proposed Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which is yet to be passed by the parliament, will limit the ability of service providers such as WhatsApp to issue privacy policies that “do not align with appropriate standards of security and data protection.”
  • Context: The Centre’s affidavit was in response to a petition seeking a stay on WhatsApp’s proposed changes to its privacy policy. The company had earlier delayed the changes in India after backlash from users. The updates do not fundamentally alter the platform —messages are still encrypted end-to-end, with neither WhatsApp, nor Facebook, nor a third-party having access to it (unless the phone itself is compromised by spyware) — but details sharing of data such as payments or purchase info (on WhatsApp for Business) with Facebook.
  • But, the central government itself has in recent times introduced policies that threaten the encryption and privacy of online users. Its new code to regulate social media, digital news media and streaming services, for instance, would make it mandatory for platforms such as WhatsApp to aid investigation by identifying the “first originator” of information. That’s a mandate impossible to fulfil “without breaking end-to-end encryption,” says Kazim Rizvi, founder of tech policy think tank The Dialogue.
4. Will RSS have a change of guard today?
4. Will RSS have a change of guard today?
  • Expect the second day of the triennial meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, the RSS’s highest decision-making body, that began in Bengaluru on Friday — its first outside Nagpur — to be in sharp focus. That’s because speculation is rife that Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi (in pic) may step down as the ‘sarkaryavaha’ or general secretary of the Sangh.
  • Sources in Nagpur said there are chances that Dattatreya Hosabale from Shimoga, Karnataka, may take over. The second day may see the election of the ‘sarkaryawah’ only if the incumbent 73-year-old Joshi does not seek another term and all members agree to replace him. He is in his fourth term, each term lasting three years.
  • On Friday, the RSS said anti-national and anti-social forces were trying to foil efforts for a solution to the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the Centre’s farm laws. “The prolonged protests are apparently being aimed at creating an environment of disturbance and instability in the country for political gain,” the RSS said in its annual report of 2020-21 released on Friday. It’s the Sangh’s first official statement since the protests broke out late last year.
6. And the next CJI is…
6. And the next CJI is…
  • Setting the process for change of guard at the top of the judiciary in motion, the Union government on Friday wrote to Chief Justice S A Bobde, who retires on April 23, to recommend the name of his successor, a convention that has been followed since the collegium took over the process of selecting judges in the 1990s.
  • As per convention, the CJI recommends the name of the senior-most SC judge as successor a month ahead of his retirement. So, it is expected that CJI Bobde will recommend Justice N V Ramana, the senior-most among SC judges, as his successor by March 23.
  • The memorandum of procedure for appointment of CJI says “appointment to the office of the Chief Justice of India should be of the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court considered fit to hold the office”. “Whenever there is any doubt about the fitness of the senior-most judge to hold the office of the Chief Justice of India, consultation with other judges as envisaged in Article 124 (2) of the Constitution would be made for appointment of the next Chief Justice of India,” the MoP provides.
  • Justice Bobde had succeeded Justice Ranjan Gogoi as the 47th CJI and took oath on November 18, 2019. Justice Ramana, who is slated to become the next CJI, will have a tenure of one year, four months and three days.
7. Biden’s immigration reforms face roadblock in Senate
7. Biden's immigration reforms face roadblock in Senate
The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed progressive immigration laws that seek to create a pathway to citizenship for children brought to the country illegally, migrant farm workers and immigrants who have fled war or natural disasters.

  • The talking point feature: Offering legal status to around 2 million undocumented children brought to the US, called “Dreamers” after a previous failed law called the Dream Act. These children were offered temporary protection from deportation by an Obama-era rule that Donald Trump had unsuccessfully tried to end — courts rejected his attempts.
  • Now the Democrats are seeking to create for them a pathway to citizenship. The bill will also benefit many undocumented Indian children, the Economic Times reports.

But… The bills now need 60 votes in a Senate that is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Only after the Senate clears it can President Joe Biden sign it.

  • That means 10 Republicans are to cross party lines and vote in favour, a highly unlikely scenario.
  • The Democrat-controlled House had approved “Dreamer” and farm worker bills in 2019 by similar partisan margins, and both died in what was a Republican-run Senate.
8. Sindhu downs Yamaguchi in a thriller to reach semis
8. Sindhu downs Yamaguchi in a thriller to reach semis
  • P.V. Sindhu recovered from a game down to overcome Japanese busybody Akane Yamaguchi, the world no.3, to reach the semifinals of the All England Open on Friday.
  • Having lost the first game 16-21, the reigning world champion brought out her big guns to take the second. The decider swung one way and then the other as the two players went toe to toe, two contrasting styles of badminton in full flow. 1 hour and 16 minutes down, Sindhu got her wish. Scoreline: 16-21, 21-16, 21-19.
  • Next up is 6th seed Ponpawee Chochuwong, who beat Beiwen Zhang 21-16, 21-19 in just 38 minutes. World no. 2 Nozomi Okuhara face no.5 Ratchanok Intanon in the other semifinal.
  • Out: In the men’s singles, Lakshya Sen, in his maiden All England quarters, lost to Mark Caljouw of the Netherlands 17-21, 21-16, 17-21. In the women’s doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy lost 22-24, 12-21 to Netherlands’ Selena Piek and Cheryl Seinen.
  • World No. 1 and two-time world champion Kento Momota was stopped at the quarterfinals by Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia 21-16, 21-19. Momota was competing for the first time in 13 months, after suffering a car crash in January 2020 and then being forced to withdraw from the tour for having tested positive for Covid-19.
9. Spring’s here!
9. Spring’s here!
  • What: A day with an equal amount of daylight and night time, roughly 12 hours for each. The vernal equinox also officially marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. The term ‘equinox’ comes from Latin — ‘aequus’ means equal and ‘nox’ means night.
  • How: It’s the exact moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator — an imaginary line in the sky that matches up with Earth’s equator (itself an imaginary line that divides the planet into the Northern and Southern hemispheres).
  • The 23.4° tilt in the Earth’s axis causes varying amounts of sunlight to reach different regions during its year-long orbit around the Sun. But during equinoxes, the Earth will neither tilt toward nor away from the Sun, creating a balance between day and night.
  • When: Today afternoon. Per earthsky.org, the exact time the Sun crosses the celestial equator is 3:37 pm IST.
  • Other key dates for 2021 (Northern Hemisphere, India): Summer Solstice: Monday, June 21; Autumn Equinox: Thursday, September 23; Winter Solstice: Tuesday, December 21
Answer to NEWS IN CLUES
Untitled - 2021-03-19T175545.597

Prasidh Krishna. The fast bowler has earned his maiden India call-up for the three-match ODI series against England. Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Krunal Pandya, Washington Sundar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Siraj were also drafted in the 18-member squad announced on Friday.

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Written by: Rakesh Rai, Judhajit Basu, Sumil Sudhakaran, Tejeesh N.S. Behl
Research: Rajesh Sharma



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