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India restores all existing visas, barring electronic, tourist and medical categories

India|: New Delhi: The government on Thursday decided to restore with immediate effect all existing visas, except electronic, tourist and medical categories, almost eight months after their suspension following the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent imposition of a nationwide lockdown. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also announced giving permission to all Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card holders and all other foreign nationals to visit India for any purpose, except on a tourist visa. The move will enable foreign nationals to come to India for various purposes such as business, conferences, employment, studies and research. The ministry said in a statement that in view of the situation arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government had taken a series of steps to curtail the inward and outward movement of international passengers since February, 2020. The government has now decided to make a graded relaxation in visa and travel restrictions for more categories of foreign nationals and Indian nationals who wish to enter or leave India. Under this graded relaxation, the government has decided to restore with immediate effect all existing visas, except electronic visa, tourist visa and medical visa, the statement said. If the validity of such visas has expired, fresh visas of appropriate categories can be obtained from Indian mission or post concerned. Foreign nationals intending to visit India for medical treatment can apply afresh for a medical visa, including for their medical attendants. The government has also decided to permit all OCI and PIO card holders and all other foreign nationals intending to visit India for any purpose, except on a tourist visa, to enter by air or water routes through authorised airports and seaport immigration check posts. This includes flights operated under 'Vande Bharat' mission, air transport bubble arrangements or by any non-scheduled commercial flights as allowed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. All such travellers will, however, have to strictly adhere to the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare regarding quarantine and other health/COVID-19 matters. While the restrictions on visas were imposed following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in February, commercial flight operations were suspended when the nationwide lockdown came into effect on March 25. However, the government has been allowing limited operations of Air India flights under the 'Vande Bharat' mission for certain categories of OCI and PIO card holders and those Indians who were stuck due to COVID-19 outbreak since June. The number of coronavirus infections reported in a span of 24 hours remained below 60,000 for the fourth consecutive day on Thursday as India's caseload went past 77 lakh, while recoveries have crossed 68 lakh, according to data updated by the Union Health Ministry. The active cases of coronavirus infection remained below eight lakh for the sixth consecutive day.

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India government issues warning to Twitter, conveys strong disapproval over map misrepresentation

India|Media|: New Delhi: The government has shot off a stern letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, conveying its strong disapproval over misrepresentation of the Indian map, and asserted that any attempt by the micro-blogging platform to disrespect the country's sovereignty and integrity is totally unacceptable. In a strongly-worded letter, IT Secretary Ajay Sawhney has warned the platform that such attempts not only bring disrepute to Twitter, but also raises questions about its neutrality and fairness as an intermediary. IT Ministry sources told PTI that Sawhney shot off a stern letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, conveying strong disapproval of the government over misrepresentation of map of India. Earlier, Twitter had shown geo-location of Leh in Jammu and Kashmir, People's Republic of China. The IT secretary, in his letter, has reminded Twitter that Leh is the headquarter of Union Territory of Ladakh and both Ladakh as well as Jammu and Kashmir are integral and inalienable parts of India, governed by the Constitution of India. The government had asked Twitter to respect the sensitivities of Indian citizens, and has also made it clear that any attempt by Twitter to disrespect sovereignty and integrity of India, which is also reflected by the maps, is totally unacceptable and unlawful. Issuing a stern warning, the IT secretary has said that such attempts not only bring disrepute to Twitter but also raises questions about its neutrality and fairness as an intermediary.

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India, US set for military pact on satellite data during Pompeo visit

India|: New Delhi: India is closing in on an agreement with the United States that will give it access to satellite data for better accuracy of missiles and drones, government and industry officials said, as it tries to narrow the gap with the powerful Chinese military. The two sides are expected to announce the pact during the visit next week of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper for talks in New Delhi with Indian counterparts Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh. The United States, which antagonised Beijing this week by approving the potential sale of three weapons systems to Taiwan, has also been pushing for stronger security ties with India to help balance China's growing regional influence. US companies have sold India more than $21 billion of weapons since 2007 and Washington has been urging the Indian government to sign agreements allowing for sharing of sensitive information and encrypted communications for better use of the high-end military equipment. Final draft discussed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet discussed the final draft of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Cooperation on Wednesday, an Indian government source said. An accord would provide India with access to a range of topographical, nautical and aeronautical data, a defence industry source said. It would also allow the United States to provide advanced navigational aids and avionics on US-supplied aircraft to India, the defence source said. "It is a foundational agreement, which the US has signed with many of its partners for greater interoperability," the source said. India has traditionally been hesitant about getting drawn into a U.S.-led security alliance and antagonising China. But tensions have risen dramatically with China this summer, erupting into a clash between border troops in the western Himalayas. This week New Delhi agreed to invite Australia into next month's naval exercises scheduled with the United States and Japan, disregarding concerns it would anger China, which sees such a grouping as directed against it. "In tandem, the moves signal a new level of strategic convergence between the two democracies and a break from India's 'non-aligned' past," said Jeff Smith, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, about the proposed pact. Already there is robust intelligence sharing between US and India, particularly about Chinese activity in the region, a second government official said. This includes information on PLA deployments on the Indian border and also Chinese maritime activity, including its deep water fishing fleets, which have caused friction between Beijing and other countries. "They are sharing a large amount of data," said the official.

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BJP promises free COVID-19 vaccines in Bihar election manifesto

India|: Patna: The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party on Thursday promised to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to all residents of Bihar should the party come to power after the elections. The BJP made this promise while releasing its manifesto for assembly elections in Bihar which goes to poll from next week (October 28). “Various countries are working on COVID-19 vaccines. In India too, the trials are going on at least four such vaccines. But once the vaccine is available for production at a mass scale, it will be provided for free to everyone in Bihar,” federal Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the media on Thursday while releasing the party manifesto. She said vaccines are currently at various levels of trials adding the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in New Delhi had set an example for the country in its fight against Coronavirus. She, however, didn’t explain if the free vaccine would be available for only one state and not for the rest of India reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has claimed 116,616 lives while infecting 7.7 million people so far. Poll gimmick The Opposition parties in Bihar rejected the BJP’s free vaccine promise as a poll gimmick only aimed at deceiving the innocent voters. “Everybody knows no Corona vaccine is available right now in the world and none knows when it will be available. How can they promise free vaccines to all? They are simply making such promises out of sheer desperation,” state Congress spokesperson Prem Chandra Mishra said. He said the BJP had been making only fake promises for the past six years just to stay in power. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) spokesperson Shivanad Tiwari too wondered over the BJP promise. “They have not fulfilled even a single promise they made to the voters but now they are making another promise. Who will believe them,” asked Tiwari. The RJD heads the three-party Grand Alliance in Bihar giving a serious challenge to the BJP-led NDA in the state. COVID-19 cases which had shown a downward trend by the beginning of this month have suddenly gone up in Bihar owing to a sudden spurt in the political activities in the state and health experts warn they could prove deadlier. Reports said until the first week of October the Covid cases were reported around 1,000 per day but now it has touched the level of 2000. On October 20, the daily Covid cases went up to 1,837. Bihar is the first state in India going to polls at the time of Corona pandemic. According to the Election Commission guidelines, a maximum of 200 people could attend an outdoor public meeting but its guidelines have gone for a toss now with thousands attending election rallies of the political parties. Also, the crowds attending the rallies have been violating the Covid safety norms but ignoring face marks and social distancing. That happens even after Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the masses to strictly follow the COVID-19 protocol. “We must keep in mind that the lockdown may have ended but the virus is still here. This is not the time to be careless or to believe that COVID-19 has ended. If you are careless and are moving around without a mask, you are putting yourself, your children and the elderly in your family at risk,” the PM said in an address to the nation on Tuesday evening.