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India, Russia line up engagements in run-up to annual meet in December

India and Russia are planning to hold a series of high-level engagements in November and December in the run-up to the proposed annual summit in Delhi in December.

Besides exploring the possibility of holding their maiden 2 + 2 ministerial meet (foreign and defence ministers) this month, two joint commission meets are being planned, according to people aware of the matter.

The Joint Military Commission and Joint Economic-Technical Cooperation Commission are led by the two defence ministers and Russian deputy PM and Indian foreign minister respectively. Russian Deputy PM Yury Borisov is expected to travel to India for the Joint Economic Commission meeting.

While the two sides concluded a long-term pact on coking coal and India received the first direct LNG supply from Russian assets under the pact, the two sides are considering major projects in the energy sector and with respect to the supply of fertilisers. Besides connectivity projects via Iran and Vlapostok-Chennai shipping link, the Northern Sea route is being explored by India. Far East Russia is a key focus for India.

The 2 + 2 meet could be held mid-November and see foreign minister S Jaishankar and defence minister Rajnath Singh travelling to Moscow. The decision to set up a 2 + 2 ministerial dialogue mechanism was taken during the April phone call between PM Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin. The Afghan situation is expected to figure high during the 2 + 2 meet, said persons familiar with the issue.

A document on the next ten years of military cooperation and mutual logistics pact for the two militaries could be inked at the annual summit besides new pacts in the energy sectors – hydrocarbon and civil nuclear energy. The summit could also focus on India-Russia cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region and Central Asia.

Ahead of the 2 + 2 meet, India will host a key meet of national security advisers (NSAs) from Russia, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran. While Pakistan has ruled out its NSA’s participation in the meet, being held in Delhi on November 10-11, Russian NSA Gen Nikolay Patrushev may attend the meeting.

PM Modi meets PM of Palestine too on COP26 summit sidelines

In what would mark a traditional balancing act in Indian foreign policy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Palestinian counterpart Mohammad Shtayyeh on the sidelines of the COP26 summit in Glasgow to discuss developments in West Asia and New Delhi’s support to Palestine.

This high-level meeting is the first of its kind between Palestine and India since Modi’s last visit to Palestine in February 2018 to meet President Mahmoud Abbas. Modi had also met his Israeli counterpart in Glasgow in what was the first meeting between Naftali Bennett and Modi.

The Palestine PM briefed his Indian counterpart on the latest political developments in Palestine, informed sources told ET.

Shtayyeh stressed that the Palestine attaches great importance to its relations with India, which has a growing weight in international politics. During the meeting, the Palestinian PM said: “We are ready for all forms of cooperation with India, which serves as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2021-2022, and was re-elected to the Human Rights Council for the 2022-2024 term.”

The PM is understood to have said, “We look forward to a well-established and distinguished Indian role in the Middle East based on the historical perspective of India’s foreign policy.”

About 37,000 people displaced in Myanmar’s northwest, many have fled into India: UN spokesperson

About 37,000 people, including women and children, are now displaced in Myanmar’s northwest and many have fled their homes in anticipation of the current fighting, including into India, a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

The UN team in Myanmar “remains deeply concerned over the recent escalation in fighting in the northwest between the Myanmar Military and the local Popular Defence Forces in Chin State, as well as Magway and Sagaing regions,” Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Florencia Soto Nino said at the daily press briefing Monday.

She said this has led to more people being displaced and the property being destroyed, nine months after the military seized control over the Government of Myanmar on February 1. There have also been worrying reports in recent days of the shelling and burning of more than 160 houses of civilians in the town of Thantlang in western Chin.

“Our humanitarian colleagues say that some 37,000 people, including women and children, are now displaced in the country’s northwest. Many have fled their homes in anticipation of the current fighting, including into India,” Nino said adding that this is in addition to more than 7,000 people who remain displaced from the previous fighting since December 2019.

The UN team repeats its calls for parties to the conflict to meet their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and humanitarians, and reiterates that aid workers and their properties should never be a target, she said.

Maharashtra logs 809 COVID-19 cases, lowest after May 2, 2020; 10 fatalities

Maharashtra on Monday reported 809 fresh COVID-19 cases, the lowest additions in a day after May 2, 2020, and ten fatalities, a health department official said. The tally of cases now stands at 66,11,887 and the death toll at 1,40,226, he said.

On May 2, 2020, Maharashtra had recorded 790 cases.

On Sunday (October 31), the state recorded 1,172 cases and 20 fatalities.

A total of 1,901 patients were discharged in the last 24 hours, taking the number of recoveries in Maharashtra to 64,52,486 so far, leaving the state with 15,552 active cases.

Maharashtra’s case recovery rate now stands at 97.59 per cent and the fatality rate is 2.12 per cent.

The cumulative number of tests conducted so far in Maharashtra rose to 6,27,52,687 on Monday with 85,476 samples being examined in the last 24 hours, the lowest in the recent past, the official said.

In Maharashtra, 15 districts and nine municipal corporations did not report any new COVID-19 cases on Monday. Several districts and municipal corporations logged new cases in a single digit.

Mumbai district reported the highest 258 new infections, followed by Ahmednagar with 74 cases.

Among the eight regions in Maharashtra, the Mumbai region reported the highest 428 fresh cases, followed by 187 cases in the Pune region.

For the first time, the Nagpur region did not report any fresh COVID-19 case.

Among other regions, the Nashik region reported 132 cases, Kolhapur 28, Latur 18, Aurangabad 10 and Akola one, the official said.

At four, the Mumbai region reported the highest number of fatalities among the eight regions. Pune region and Latur region reported two deaths each due to COVID-19. One fatality each was reported from Nashik and Kolhapur.

Aurangabad region, Nagpur region and Akola region did not report any COVID-19 death in the last 24-hours, the official said.

Mumbai city witnessed 258 new infections. Pune city added 50 cases but no fresh fatality was reported.

Among 15,552 active patients in Maharashtra, the Mumbai district has the highest 4,503 active cases, the official said.

Among 64,52,486 recovered patients in Maharashtra, the highest number of recoveries at 11,31,762 is from the Pune district.

Coronavirus figures for Maharashtra are as follows: Total cases 66,11,887, new cases 809, total deaths 1,40,226, fresh deaths: 10, total recoveries 64,52,486, active cases 15,552, total tests conducted 6,27,52,687.

You’re most popular man, join my party: Israeli PM to Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the newly elected Israeli PM Naftali Bennett on Tuesday and discussed possibilities of expanding ties in innovation, technology, space, security, farm and food technologies.

The two met on the sidelines of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in what was their maiden meeting. Modi invited Bennett to visit India and the Israeli prime minister is expected to be here in first quarter of 2022 to commemorate 30 years of bilateral partnership.

In a video of the interaction shared on social media, the Prime Minister of Israel can be heard saying to PM Modi, “You are the most popular man in Israel. Come and join my party.”

“Our goal is to continue the wonderful path that you placed with my predecessor, and bring it to a whole new level, so we can ensure that our two nations work together on innovation, technology, space, security, agriculture, food technologies, and of course climate-related technologies,” Bennett is understood to have told Modi.

Modi on his part told Bennett, who had replaced Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister in June, that the people of India deeply value the friendship with Israel.

The two had a brief meeting on Monday as well where Modi was accompanied by foreign minister S Jaishankar.

“Indeed! We shall continue working together for stronger bilateral ties and for a better planet,” Modi tweeted on Tuesday along with a video of the two leaders exchanging pleasantries during their discussion.

India and Israel elevated their bilateral relations to a strategic partnership in July 2017 when Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel.

Since then, the relationship between the two countries has focused on expanding knowledge-based partnership, which includes collaboration in innovation and research, including boosting the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Modi, Deuba to Work Together on Post-covid Recovery
Modi on Tuesday also met his Nepalese counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba and the two leaders resolved to work together towards post-pandemic recovery. It was the first meeting between Modi and Deuba since the latter assumed the PM’s office in July.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the leaders discussed “ways to further strengthen our close bilateral ties” besides climate and Covid-19. They “resolved to work together toward post-pandemic recovery”, he tweeted.

MakeMyTrip, Amazon Pay join hands for travel services

tLeading online travel firm MakeMyTrip India and Amazon Pay on Monday announced a long-term partnership to offer travel services, including flights, hotels, and bus bookings, to the latter’s customers. With this partnership, MakeMyTrip will be able to extend its distribution further via Amazon Pay’s large customer base, especially in smaller cities and towns, and accelerate online booking of travel services across the country, MakeMyTrip said in a statement.

“We are excited to partner with Amazon…There is an accelerated digital shift happening as a result of the pandemic and through this partnership, we look forward to making travel bookings extremely convenient for new adopters, thereby increasing the online penetration of travel bookings,” MakeMyTrip Co-founder & Group CEO Rajesh Magow said.

Booking of bus services via Redbus is already live on Amazon.in and other travel services powered by MakeMyTrip will be going live over the next few months, the statement said.

“Our partnership with MakeMyTrip will benefit millions of our customers, allowing them to choose from the best-in-class offerings and services across the country, followed with the ease of using Amazon Pay, facilitating a seamless journey.” Amazon Pay India CEO & VP Mahendra Nerurkar said.

Asus in talks with Indian EMS players to start local laptop manufacturing

Taiwanese laptop maker Asus is in talks with local EMS players to begin local manufacturing of its laptops in the country and it is aiming to capture 20% market share in the consumer laptop segment this year.

“Like other brands/ companies we will need to work with the EMS players to leverage the PLI scheme. We are working with our EMS to align with the PLI scheme with the government. The talks are already ongoing. We don’t have a precise timeline, but we want to make it happen as early as possible,” Arnold Su, Business Head, Consumer and Gaming PC, System Business Group, ASUS India told ET.

Asus is the number four consumer PC brand in India and grew close to 40% year-on-ear in the second quarter. Citing IDC figures, he said that the company’s market share in the entire consumer PC was around 9% in Q2 2021.

In the consumer laptop segment, Asus reached 10% market share in Q2 2021. Arnold said that for the third quarter, Asus is expected to report 30% year-on-year growth. “In terms of gaming, there is close to 60% year over year growth expected in Q3.”

“If we look at the overall market, India is the biggest consumer PC market in the entire Asia Pacific and a very important market for Asus as well. So, this year, we are aiming to capture 20% market share in the consumer laptop segment in India,” Arnold said.

India’s PC penetration ratio is still very low at around 10%, he said, adding that the pandemic has driven the growth for PCs and laptops. “So, there is a very big opportunity for all the PC makers to further invest in India to do business and meet the spike in demand.

The company is also betting big on the gaming PC market in India with its ROG range. “India’s PC gaming sales increased almost by 15 times. So this is surely the most important growth engine for all PC makers and ASUS is pretty strong in the gaming segment,” he said.

In the mainstream laptop segment, Asus is trying to drive growth for the thin and light laptop segment. “Thin and light drives almost 70-80% of the non-gaming segment already. It is the key growth engine for the non-gaming segment and ASUS,” he said.

The company has ZenBook, Vivobook Ultra and Vivobook Pro laptops in the thin and light laptop segment. “…this is the segment through which we want to capture more market share,” he said, adding that the company is also seeing growth for its 2-in-1 products due to various use cases like.

“Especially after COVID, due to the work from home and study from home scenario, the touchscreen and using a stylus to write on your laptop has become a very common user case scenario for the laptop users. Till 2019, 2-in-1 only occupied around 5% of the entire PC market, making it a very niche segment. But in the first half of 2021, the segment has already occupied close to 9% of the PC market. In the past two years, we grew by almost seven times in the 2-in-1 segment,” he added.

Asus’ laptop range is priced between Rs 20,000- Rs 2.9 lakh.

On competition, Arnold said that the entry of more players will make the market much bigger as the PC penetration level is already very low.

Arnold said that Asus is investing in offline retail expansion and is looking to add 20 to 30 exclusive stores every quarter along with another 20-35 shop-in-shops taking the overall count to 140 shop-in-ship stores “Every quarter we are adding around 300 premium kiosks with ASUS in tier III and tier IV cities. So you can see in a quarter we are investing close to 400 shops in terms of retail expansion in India,” he added.

Arnold said that the offline channel still contributes to around 60% of India’s consumer PC market. “We will continue to invest in our retail expansion. So, right now, we already have close to 150 exclusive stores in India. And by the end of this year, we aim to have around 200 stores in India,” he added.

Asus also has eight ROG (Republic of Gamers) stores in India. “The shop expansion is the key for us to continue to grow since it is still around 50 to 60% of India’s PC market.”

Intent of message traceability under IT rules not to weaken encryption of platforms, says government

The requirement for messaging platforms to trace the originator of a message has not been brought in with an intention to break or weaken encryption, and companies are free to come up with alternative technological solutions to implement this rule, as per FAQs released by the government on Monday. The new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 were announced by the government earlier this year.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp had then approached the Delhi High Court challenging the new IT rules for social media intermediaries that require the messaging app to make provisions to identify the first originator of information.

WhatsApp had said the traceability provision would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermine people’s right to privacy.

A set of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQs) around the intermediary guidelines were released on Monday to enable better understanding of goals and provisions of the new rules among internet and social media users.

As per the FAQs, the intent of the traceability rule for messaging platforms “is not to break or weaken the encryption in any way but merely to obtain the registration details of the first Indian originator of the message.”

“The electronic replica of the message (text, photo or video, etc) will be shared by the requesting agency along with a lawful order,” it added.

The FAQs explained that a typical principle of detection is based on the ‘hash value’ of the unencrypted message, wherein identical messages will result in a common hash (message digest) irrespective of the encryption used by a messaging platform.

“How this hash will be generated or stored needs to be decided by the concerned SSMI (significant social media intermediary), and SSMI are free to come up with alternative technological solutions to implement this rule,” it added.

The rationale of this requirement, the FAQs said, is that if the intermediary has to convey to its users not to upload or share a particular type of content as part of its terms of use, it should have the capability of determining so.

Otherwise, the platform loses its own capability to enforce its own terms of usage, it noted.

“While encryption ensures safety and security of the data, and the privacy norms self-imposed by the intermediary may be needed, it is also imperative that the platforms should not be used to carry out sharing of any unlawful content as specified under the IT Rules, 2021 and other applicable laws,” the FAQs said.

When contacted, a Meta spokesperson said: “We appreciate the Government’s efforts in bringing more clarity on the 2021 IT Rules. We look forward to studying the FAQs.”

Last week, Facebook’s parent company changed its name to Meta. Apps under Meta include Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger and Oculus.

The FAQs introduced on Monday comprise questions that people ask about the rules, and are geared to make it easier for users to understand the norms around internet and social media in the country.

The new IT intermediary rules enforced earlier this year aim to bring greater accountability for big tech companies, including Twitter and Facebook.

The rules require social media platforms to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours and set up a robust complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country.

Social media companies are required to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

Significant social media companies — those with over 50 lakh users — also have to publish a monthly compliance report disclosing details of complaints received and action taken as also details of contents removed proactively.

Apart from reiterating the timelines for action under various cases, the FAQs clarified that while social media companies cannot name the same person as their Chief Compliance Officer and the nodal contact person, the roles of the nodal contact person and Resident Grievance Officer may be performed by the same inpidual.

“However, keeping in view the functional requirements of the nodal contact person and the Resident Grievance Officer, it is desirable that SSMI appoints separate persons for the two roles,” it added.

The government, through this rule, expects the intermediary to provide separate contact details for grievances submitted by users and the requests/orders made by the government or authorised agencies, since the nature of requests might vary in view of different compliance timelines, the FAQs said.

Besides, a parent SSMI can appoint common officers across its products/services, which could potentially benefit companies like Google and Facebook that operate multiple services.

“However, the contact details to approach these officers are required to be clearly mentioned on each of those product/ service platforms separately,” the FAQs noted.

G20 Summit: Leaders agree to increase cooperation against pandemic

The G20 leaders have decided to establish a Joint Finance-Health Task Force to increase cooperation to combat the pandemic and work towards reopening international travel by mutual recognition of vaccine certificates.

These two issues had dominated proceedings in the run-up to G20 summit. India has been pushing for mutual recognition of certificates across continents as well as the recognition of indigenously developed Covaxin by the WHO.

Briefing reporters after the summit, commerce minister and India’s Sherpa Piyush Goyal said the leaders decided to work on steps for international travel. Lots of issues of the developing world that India highlighted were acknowledged by the G20, Goyal said.

The G20 is understood to have decided to work for the recognition of Covid-19 vaccines deemed safe by the WHO and in accordance with national legislation and circumstances, and to strengthen the organization’s ability regarding approval of vaccines, including optimising procedures and processes, with the aim of broadening the list of vaccines authorised for emergency use, while continuing to protect public health and ensuring privacy and data protection.

“We establish a G20 Joint Finance-Health Task Force aimed at enhancing dialogue and global cooperation on issues relating to pandemic PPR, promoting the exchange of experiences and best practices, developing coordination arrangements between finance and health ministries, promoting collective action, assessing and addressing health emergencies with cross-border impact, and encouraging effective stewardship of resources for pandemic PPR, while adopting a One Health approach,” according to the draft declaration.

Modi, Biden lay emphasis on stable global supply chains

PM Narendra Modi on Sunday underscored three vital aspects for improving global supply chains during the session on Global Supply Chain Resilience convened by the US President on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Rome.

Modi asserted that trusted sources, transparency and time-frame are three vital fields that regulate the global supply chain.

The PM noted that while India is already a trusted source in IT and Pharma supply chains, it is keen to participate in the clean technology supply chain. He laid emphasis on the need to have a stable and resilient global arrangement.

The leaders discussed ways in which “governments can alleviate pressure points in the global supply chain ecosystem,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted.
Resilient global supply chains have topped Modi’s agenda over the last two years as he has pitched India as a reliable partner in the initiative. While addressing session one of the summit on Saturday, Modi invited G20 countries to make India their partner in economic recovery and supply chain persification. He also brought out the fact that despite challenges posed by the pandemic, India continued to be a trusted partner in the supply chain.

It may be recalled that a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) was launched by India, Japan and Australia in April to help promote trade facilitation by identifying risks and mapping out complementarities. The SCRI aims to reduce dependence on China amid a likelihood of rechurning of supply chains in the Indo-Pacific region due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden on his part highlighted disruptions in the global supply chain. The idea of the meet was to discuss ways through which governments can alleviate pressure points in the global trading system. During Sunday’s meeting, the US president discussed how each country can identify and resolve bottlenecks. The goal is to help relieve pressures and boost growth.

The world’s supply chain — already disrupted by the pandemic — is continuing to bear the brunt of surging consumer demand, labour shortages and overseas manufacturing delays, which has led to higher transportation costs and inflation.