Modi speaks with Aus PM; initiatives for equitable access to vaccines, medicines discussed

New Delhi, May 7  Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Friday as the two leaders agreed on the importance of ensuring equitable access to vaccines and medicines, and discussed possible initiatives for it.

Modi and Morrison also reiterated the importance of working together for a rules-based international order and a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.

During his telephonic conversation with Morrison, the prime minister conveyed his appreciation for the prompt and generous support extended by the government and the people of Australia for India's fight against the second wave of COVID-19, according to a Prime Minister's Office (PMO) statement.

The two leaders agreed on the need to ensure an affordable and equitable access to vaccines and medicines for containing COVID-19 globally, it said.

"Spoke with my friend @ScottMorrisonMP to thank him for Australia's solidarity and support for India's fight against the pandemic," Modi tweeted after speaking with the Australian prime minister.

"We agreed on the importance of ensuring affordable and equitable access to vaccines and medicines, and discussed possible initiatives in this regard," he said.

During the call, the prime minister sought Australia's support for the initiative taken at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa to seek a temporary waiver under TRIPS in this context, according to the PMO.

In October 2020, India and South Africa submitted a proposal suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19.

The agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on intellectual property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets.

In their telephonic conversation, Modi and Morrison also took note of the progress made in the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership since the virtual summit held on June 4, 2020 and discussed ways to further strengthen cooperation and foster people-to-people ties.

"The leaders also discussed regional issues and reiterated the importance of working together for a rules-based international order and a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region," the statement said.

World shaken by India's COVID-19 situation; Modi govt focussed on imagery, brand-building: Rahul

New Delhi, May 1  As India logged a world record of over four lakh coronavirus infections on Saturday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the entire world is shaken by what is happening here and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of "dropping the ball and throwing it to states" after prematurely taking credit for having "won against COVID-19" when the second wave was already underway

"Rely on yourself is the motto. No one will come to help you. Definitely, not the prime minister," Gandhi said, while alleging that the COVID-19 situation has gone completely out of control for the Modi government, and wondered whether it was their way of making the states and the citizens truly 'Aatmanirbhar'

In an exclusive interview to PTI, the former Congress chief alleged that the government completely failed to understand or to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, right from the very beginning, despite repeated warnings including from scientists

Training his guns on the prime minister and Home Minister Amit Shah, Gandhi said India must be the only country in the world facing this massive pandemic without the guidance of an expert and empowered group that is charged with fighting the virus and protecting the people, with planning ahead, anticipating needs and taking the decisions that will result in swift action to save lives

"They continuously ignored rising cases and were busy instead with election campaigns. They encouraged super-spreader events. They even bragged about them. Our Prime Minister and Home Minister were not even wearing masks in public over the past few months. What sort of a message is that sending to citizens?" Gandhi said

He was referring to election rallies that were recently held for five assemblies for West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Leaders of all major parties including BJP and Congress participated in rallies, but decided to curtail the size of meetings and even cancelled some towards the end of the campaign for West Bengal when cases began rising more sharply

Gandhi, who was among the first to cancel his rallies and had also urged other political leaders to do so, noted that the second COVID-19 wave is a tsunami that has brought absolute devastation and has destroyed everything in its way

The former Congress chief termed the story of vaccine pricing in the country as one of "discount sales" and a "complete eyewash" alleging that the vaccine makers first marked up the prices and then reduced that while making a show of the entire exercise

Asked who is responsible for the current situation, Gandhi said, "The prime minister is at fault. He runs a highly centralised and personalised government machinery, is solely and substantially devoted to building his own brand, is utterly focused on imagery rather than substance."

"The fact is that this government completely failed to understand or to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic -- right from the very beginning, despite repeated warnings," he alleged

Attacking the Modi Government over the handling of the situation, he alleged it is "plainly arrogant and focuses on perception over reality"

"Now that the situation is completely out of control, they have dropped the ball and thrown it to the states... The need of the hour is to hold hands, work together and heal our people," Gandhi said

Gandhi alleged that the government declared victory against the virus too soon and that this was "absolute insanity" and demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of the nature of what this virus was

The only way to fight Corona is with humility and by realizing that you are faced with a relentless opponent, who can adapt and is very resilient, he said, noting that the prime minister had an entire year to better prepare, to protect India, and to think through this crisis but did nothing

"The Modi Government was both grossly negligent and blindly overconfident. The BJP announced the end of the pandemic and congratulated the Prime Minister for his 'success' even as the second wave was just beginning. The Prime Minister himself is on record as having said that India had successfully fought the pandemic and won. In reality, there was no coherent strategy," he said

The former Congress chief said the only solution we have is vaccination and India is supposed to be the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world.

"And yet, India is desperately short of vaccines. We are making them, why were our people not the first in line to be vaccinated? If that is not a failure to plan and execute, what is?"

Gandhi said since the start of the pandemic in 2020, he warned the government about the disaster ahead if urgent steps to prepare were not taken, but they attacked me and ridiculed me

"It's not just me -- anyone who tried to sound the alarm, the state callously and thoughtlessly ignored," he said

He alleged that the Modi Government let this virus enter India through our airports in February and March of 2020 and then it panicked and without consultation or thought imposed the world's harshest lockdown

Gandhi alleged that this is a government that wants to control everything. "When cases went down, they declared victory, and the Prime Minister took all the credit as he always does. Now that the situation is terrible, why are you blaming the states?"

He said Congress is willing to support the government in this crisis, but the problem arises when the government doesn't believe in consultation, in carrying everyone along, in tapping expertise it lacks

"This government seems to think that acknowledging help is needed is a sign of weakness. The hubris and pettiness of this government is unbelievable," he said

On the Madras High Court recently accusing the Election Commission of being a super spreader, Gandhi said the Court was echoing a widely held view

In the past 7 years, like so many other institutions, the Election Commission of India has also crumbled and "The Court has said what it believes, I don't want to make any further comment. Let your readers judge for themselves."

He said our institutions are a warning system -- they give us feedback and information on how to respond to crisis but our institutions have been completely destroyed and taken over

"The press, judiciary, election commission, bureaucracy - none of them have played their role of guardian/watchdog. This means India today is like a ship in a storm, sailing without any information

"Corona is just part of the problem -- the real problem is that India now doesn't have the capacity to respond to any major crisis because of what has been done to its systems over the last six years," he said.

Gehlot attacks Modi govt over rising fuel prices

Jaipur, Feb 20 Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Saturday said fuel prices have been increasing for 11 days and the common man is suffering as a result of "wrong" economic policies of the Centre.

In a series of tweets, Gehlot targeted the Centre and cleared his stand on the rumours that Rajasthan levies highest tax on fuel prices.

"The Modi government imposes excise duty of Rs 32.90 on petrol and Rs 31.80 per litre on diesel. Whereas during the UPA government in 2014 there was an excise duty of only Rs 9.20 on petrol and just Rs 3.46 on diesel. The Modi government should reduce excise duty in the interest of the public without delay," he tweeted in Hindi.

"People are affected by petrol and diesel prices. Prices have been increasing continuously for the last 11 days. This is the result of wrong economic policies of the Modi government. Crude oil prices in the international market are currently half of what it used to be during the UPA rule, but petrol-diesel prices have reached an all-time high," Gehlot said in another tweet.

The chief minister claimed that the Centre has continuously reduced the part of basic excise duty of the states and increased the additional excise duty and special excise duty on the central portion "only to fill its treasury". Consequently, the state governments have to increase VAT (value-added tax) to raise their economic resources, the chief minister said.

Gehlot said the economy of Rajasthan has been badly affected due to COVID-19 and the state's revenue has decreased. But, the state government reduced VAT by 2 per cent in the last month to give relief to the common people, he added.

"Instead of giving any such relief, the Modi government is increasing the prices of petrol and diesel every day," Gehlot said.

He further said, "Some people spread rumours that the Rajasthan government imposes the highest tax on petrol, so the price is high here. Petrol in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh is taxed more than Rajasthan, so the price of petrol in Jaipur is less than Bhopal. PTI

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