A) Data breaches expose emails, passwords of several government officials to hackers.
Emails and passwords of hundreds of Union government officials have been exposed to hackers due to the recent data breaches of Air India, Domino’s and Big Basket, the government has warned officials. The internal communication, accessed by The Hindu, said the compromised emails on government domains such as @nic.in and @gov.in are potential cyber threats as they are being used by adversaries to send malicious mails to all government users. Days after the alert was sent on June 10, several government offices, including Defence Ministry officials, were targeted by a malicious web link sent on WhatsApp and SMS, asking them to update their vaccination status. The message asked officials to click on https://covid19india.in to generate a digital certificate of COVID-19 inoculation, redirecting them to a page @gov.in that resembles the government website mygov.in, and asked for the official e-mail and password. According to Rajshekhar Rajaharia, cyber researcher, the website was hosted in Pakistan in June. The page mentioned @nic.in email IDs to make the official believe it is a government page. The purpose seemed to be getting the e-mails and passwords of only government officials and get unauthorised access to government systems, the page does not accept any other domain such as gmail.com, said Mr. Rajaharia. Air India informed passengers on May 15 that its passenger service system, provided by multi-national IT company SITA, was subjected to a sophisticated cyber attack in the last week of February which affected around 45 lakh data subjects in the world registered between August 26, 2011 and February 3, 2021. Government officials are frequent Air India flyers. The alert sent to officials said, It is intimated that recent data breaches of Air India and other companies like Domino’s, Big Basket etc. have resulted in exposure of e-mail ID and passwords of many users, which includes lots of government email IDs as well. All such compromised gov. domain emails are potential cyber threats as they are being used by the adversaries to send out malicious mails to all gov email users. It may please be noted that largely these are name based email IDs which are available with the malicious actors. A government official said while such phishing attempts were common, in the past one year it has intensified. The Union Power Ministry on March 1 said State-sponsored Chinese hacker groups had targeted various Indian power centres. U.S. cyber security and intelligence firm, Recorded Future, discovered that Chinese state-sponsored actors may have deployed malware into Indian power grids and seaports after border tensions between India-China began escalating in May last. The National Informatics Centre (NIC) under the IT Ministry provides web hosting services to various ministries and department through nic.in and gov.in domains.
B) Rajnath Singh approves new policy for declassification of war history.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday approved a policy on archiving, declassification, compilation and publication of war and operations histories by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). However, declassification of older wars like the 1962 war is not automatic and will be taken up on case by case basis by a committee to be constituted under the new policy. According to the policy, records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years. Records older than 25 years should be appraised by archival experts and transferred to the National Archives of India once the war/operations histories have been compiled, a Ministry statement said on Saturday. Asked about cases like the highly confidential Henderson Brooks report on the 1962 war with China and Operation Bluestar of 1984, a defence official said the committee will consider, and take a view on earlier wars and operations. The compiled history on wars and operations, within five years will be for internal consumption first, and later committee may decide to publicly release whole or parts of it, considering sensitivity of the subject, the official stated. The policy mandates constitution of a committee headed by Joint Secretary, MoD and comprising of representatives of the Services, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and other organisations and prominent military historians, if required, for compilation of war and operations histories, a Ministry statement said on Saturday. The History Division will be responsible for coordination with various departments while compiling, seeking approval and publishing of war and operations histories. The policy also set clear timelines with regard to compilation and publication of war and operations histories, the statement said adding the above-mentioned Committee should be formed within two years of completion of war and operations. Thereafter, collection of records and compilation should be completed in three years and disseminated to all concerned. The policy envisages that each organisation under the MoD such as Services, Integrated Defence Staff, Assam Rifles and Coast Guard, will transfer the records, including war diaries, letters of proceedings and operational record books, etc., to the history division of MoD for proper upkeep, archival and writing the histories, the Ministry said. The responsibility for declassification of records rests with the respective organisations as specified in the Public Record Act 1993 and Public Record Rules 1997. The requirement of having war histories written with clear cut policy on declassification of war records was recommended by Kargil Review Committee headed by K Subrahmanyam as well as N N Vohra Committee in order to analyse lessons learnt and prevent future mistakes. Post Kargil conflict, Group of Ministers (GoM) recommendations on national security also mentioned the desirability of authoritative war history. Timely publication of war histories would give people accurate account of the events, provide authentic material for academic research and counter the unfounded rumours, the statement added.
C) SAD, BSP to jointly contest Punjab Assembly election.
As the battle for the upcoming Assembly election in Punjab gains momentum, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) on June 12 joined hands to contest the polls due in early 2022 in the State. SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal made an announcement in this regard. As per the seat-sharing arrangement, the SAD will contest 97 seats and the BSP 20, he said here at a press conference. There are a total of 117 Assembly constituencies in Punjab. Mr. Badal said the alliance was not a temporary one and would remain intact as both parties will contest not just the upcoming Assembly poll but other elections together as well. Given the fact that Dalits make up nearly 32% of the total population in the State, the alliance is being seen as critical for the SAD, especially after it broke its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party over the contentious farm laws issue. With the Assembly poll a few months away, parties are aware of the importance of Dalit votes. The SAD had earlier announced it would appoint a Dalit as Deputy Chief Minister if it forms the government. With the announcement on Dr. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, the SAD attempted to convey that it is pro-Dalit.
D) GST Council cuts tax rate on Covid-19 essentials.
The Goods and Services Tax has been waived for two critical drugs against COVID-19 and black fungus, Tocilizumab and Amphotericin B, while tax rates have been reduced to 5% on 14 major pandemic relief goods, including testing kits and hand sanitisers, from prevailing rates in the range of 12% and 18%. Ambulances, which are currently taxed at 28%, will now attract a GST levy of 12%, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Saturday, announcing these concessional rates following a meeting of the GST Council to discuss the indirect taxes levied on COVID-19 supplies. The reduced rates, which Revenue Secretary Tarun Bajaj said were aimed at providing some succour to the people amid the pandemic, will remain effective till September 30, but could be extended further based on later assessments. The 5% GST levied on vaccines was left unchanged, following the recent changes in the country’s vaccine procurement strategy that puts the Union government in charge of augmenting supplies. When it was discussed, it was mentioned that the Centre is buying 75% of the vaccines and will remit the GST on it and the revenue on that will be shared 70% with the States, Mr Bajaj said, explaining that this will have no implications for people as they will receive the vaccine for free. This particular GST Council meeting is a single agenda meeting to discuss the recommendations of a group of ministers (GoM) set up at our last meeting (on May 28) , Ms Sitharaman said, stressing that no other subjects such as compensation to States were discussed. The recommendations of the GoM, led by Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma, were accepted by the Council, except for three items, where its proposed rates were reduced further, she said. This includes electric furnaces used in crematoriums, where the GoM had suggested as 12% GST rate, but the Council has reduced it to 5%. Similarly, for temperature checking equipment, the GoM had recommended an 18% GST which has been slashed to 5%. On ambulances, the GoM had recommended a 28% rate. However, after discussions, because of the crisis and as this is an enduring asset for hospitals, we thought even ambulances should be brought down. So the rate on ambulances has been brought down to 12%, Ms Sitharaman said. For oxygen concentrators, medical grade oxygen and related devices such as ventilators, BiPAP machines, the GST rate has also been brought down to 5% from 12%. The same reduction has been approved in the levies on COVID-testing kits and pulse oximeters.
A) Onus is on Pakistan to create conducive atmosphere: India at U.N.
India has said it desires normal neighbourly relations with all countries, including Pakistan, and asserted that the onus is on Islamabad to create a conducive atmosphere and not allow its territory to be used for cross-border terrorism against India in any manner. The remarks by Counsellor in India’s Permanent Mission to the UN, R Madhu Sudan came at the UN General Assembly meeting on ‘Report of the Security Council for 2020′ on Friday. India desires normal neighbourly relations with all countries, including Pakistan. Our consistent position is that issues, if any, between India and Pakistan should be resolved bilaterally and peacefully, in an atmosphere free of terror, hostility and violence, Sudan said in the General Assembly. The onus is on Pakistan to create such a conducive atmosphere, including by taking credible, verifiable action to not allow any territory under its control to be used for cross-border terrorism against India in any manner, he added. Speaking earlier, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN Munir Akram raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir during his remarks. Mr. Sudan said it is rather unfortunate that Pakistan continued to indulge in theatrics not befitting the forum. It is clear that the international community is not getting fooled by this delegation anymore, he said, adding that the country sought to exploit the UNGA forum and once again raised matters internal to my country. Mr. Sudan asserted that the decision taken by the Parliament of India on Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are matters internal to India. India, currently serving a two-year term on the Security Council as a non-permanent member, further said that as a member of the 15-nation Council it will continue its efforts along with other elected members to pursue reforms in the working methods and for better reporting to the General Assembly.
B) Saudi Arabia says hajj to be limited to 60,000 in kingdom.
Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday this year’s hajj pilgrimage will be limited to no more than 60,000 people, all of them from within the kingdom, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The announcement by the kingdom comes after it ran an incredibly pared-down pilgrimage last year over the virus, but still allowed a small number of the faithful to take part in the annual ceremony. A statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted the kingdom’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry making the announcement. It said this year’s hajj, which will begin in mid-July, will be limited to those ages 18 to 65. Those taking part must be vaccinated as well, the ministry said. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is honoured to host pilgrims every year, confirms that this arrangement comes out of its constant concern for the health, safety and security of pilgrims as well as the safety of their countries, the statement said. In last year’s hajj, as few as 1,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia were selected to take part in the hajj. Two-thirds were foreign residents from among the 160 different nationalities that would have normally been represented at the hajj. One-third were Saudi security personnel and medical staff. Each year, up to two million Muslims perform the hajj, a physically demanding and often costly pilgrimage that draws the faithful from around the world. The hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims to perform once in their lifetime, is seen as a chance to wipe clean past sins and bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims. The kingdom’s Al Saud ruling family stakes its legitimacy in this oil-rich nation on overseeing and protecting the hajj sites. Ensuring the hajj happens has been a priority for them. Disease outbreaks have always been a concern surrounding the hajj. Pilgrims fought off a malaria outbreak in 632, cholera in 1821 killed an estimated 20,000, and another cholera outbreak in 1865 killed 15,000 before spreading worldwide. More recently, Saudi Arabia faced danger from a different coronavirus, one that causes the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. The kingdom increased its public health measures during the hajj in 2012 and 2013, urging the sick and the elderly not to take part. In recent years, Saudi officials also instituted bans on pilgrims coming from countries affected by the Ebola virus. Saudi Arabia had closed its borders for months to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus. Since the start of the pandemic, the kingdom has reported over 4,62,000 cases of the virus with 7,500 deaths. It has administered some 15.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, according to the World Health Organization. The kingdom is home to over 30 million people.