Current en Sat Sep 21 17:28:53 IST 2019 heartless-in-hathras <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<i>Caught in emotions, she walked on unaware....waiting in ambush, a wolf lurked somewhere”.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The above lines could have been written for the 19-year-old from Hathras—allegedly raped and brutalised in the field from where she fetched fodder for her cattle.</p> <p>But these lines were not written for her.</p> <p>They are from a poem titled ‘Main Chamaron ki gali tak le chalunga aapko’ (I will take you to the lane of Chamars), by Adam Gondvi, a poet who wrote of dalit oppression and corrupt politicians.</p> <p>In the picture that Gondvi (born Ram Nath Singh) paints of the sweltering dalit life, the search for justice is futile. As far as the template of crimes against women in Uttar Pradesh goes, this is eerily familiar. When caste, power and politics are coded into that pattern, a toxic pit emerges. And justice is buried in its depths.</p> <p>The brutal injuries, the shifting between hospitals, the death, the hurried cremation, the threats, the blocking of access, a frenzied media and a political maelstrom—there are many offshoots of the Hathras crime.</p> <p>In its root lies fear.</p> <p>On September 14, the girl’s brother gave a handwritten complaint to the local police station at Chandpa, the village of which their hamlet is a part. It said that the siblings had gone to the millet fields with their mother. When the brother made a trip home to offload a stack of hay, one Sandeep tried to kill his sister. Read the complaint: “She shouted and my mother responded, ‘I am coming’. Upon hearing the voice, Sandeep ran away. The incident occurred around 9.30 in the morning.”</p> <p>At 10.30am, this complaint was converted into a police report. The sections applied were 307 of the Indian Penal Code (attempt to murder) and section 3(2) (v) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989.</p> <p>The victim was from the Valmiki caste—a people who have traditionally worked as sweepers and scavengers. The kind whom Gondvi’s poem describes thus: “Standing up to Thakurs, they think is child’s playì Such rascals have their bearings not at home, but in jail.”</p> <p>Sandeep and the other three accused—Luvkush, Ravi and Ramkumar—are Thakurs.</p> <p>On September 19, senior Congress leader Shyoraj Jivan Valmiki visited the victim at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Aligarh Muslim University, where she was admitted after primary treatment at Hathras’s district hospital.</p> <p>“The family was scared,” said Valmiki. “The girl was in pain. Custom demanded that I do not speak much to her. But to the father and brother I said, speak the truth, do not be scared, we are all with you. They said she had been raped, but their hesitation over not mentioning it to the police was understandable.”</p> <p>After that visit at 3.30pm, Valmiki called the investigating officer. He was told that the victim’s statement had been recorded at 12pm the same day (September 19) and no mention of rape was made. On September 22, in another statement, the first mention of rape and four assailants was made.</p> <p>The medical report from AMU noted, “Opinion regarding penetrative intercourse is reserved pending availability of FSL (forensic science laboratory) report”. It added: “No secretions present 8 days past assault.” The forensic report read: “There are no signs suggestive of vaginal/anal intercourse. There are evidences of physical assault (injuries over the neck and the back).”</p> <p>These reports that the state has cited to bolster its ‘no rape was committed’ claim are legally tenuous as a dying declaration overrides medical examinations that negate rape.</p> <p>Rajkumari Bansal, a forensics expert from the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College, Jabalpur, said, “Medical reports can be manipulated. It is foolish for the government to believe that people will accept its version.” Bansal stayed with the victim’s family for three days, driven by her desire to “prevent dalits from being systematically prosecuted”.</p> <p>The victim’s brother said, “I was terrified for my sister. She lay in blood without the clothes on the lower part of her body. I just wanted the police to help us get her to a hospital. But they said they would not do it without a written complaint. So, I scribbled something on a paper, adding towards the end our caste.”</p> <p>A pervasive fear of the police is commonplace in Uttar Pradesh where law and order lumbers to the tune of politics. During the previous regime of the Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav’s caste peers were stationed on all posts that involved direct contact with people. Thus, justice or its absence reflected this preference.</p> <p>Under Yogi Adityanath, the man who compared women to unbridled energy that needs control lest it turn dangerous, the police seem unconcerned about crimes against women. When those crimes are against the poor from backward castes, dalits or minorities, they matter even less. And when the state acquires for itself an unaccountable, unquestionable right to search and arrest without warrant through a special force (called the Uttar Pradesh Special Security Force), the fear grows deeper.</p> <p>Earlier this year, a report titled Barriers in Accessing Justice chronicled the experiences of 14 rape and gang-rape survivors in the state. Authored by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives, the study noted, “Survivors faced delay, derision, pressure and severe harassment when they approached the police to report complaints and seek the registration of a first information reportì (They) faced discrimination by the police on the basis of gender and caste, impeding their access to justice at the gateway to the legal system. These experiences amplified the trauma of survivors and affected their mental and physical well-being.” For the marginalised, these burdens are heavier.</p> <p>The 2019 report of the National Crime Records Bureau counted 11,829 crimes against SCs and STs in the state. This accounts for more than one fourth of all such crimes reported in the country. On the charge of assault on modesty of women from these communities, the state beats all others. It also has the highest number of cases being tried in courts for all crimes against SCs and STs.</p> <p>In the victim’s village, the Thakurs and Brahmins are more than two and a half times the SCs. But these upper castes are petrified by the hostile glare of the media and the politicians.</p> <p>Yogendra Singh Gehlot, the Hathras president of the Akhil Bhartiya Kshatriya Mahasabha, one of the organisations speaking for the hamlet’s Thakurs, said, “This case is born out of personal enmity. The victim’s family has been swayed by political forces. All we demand is a fair probe—through whichever agency.”</p> <p>Said Ramkumar’s father, Rakesh (he uses just one name): “Daughters have no caste, they are <i>saanjha </i>(shared). So, this is a crime against my daughter. The police say my son committed it. He is a quiet boy who keeps to himself. At the time of the crime he was at the dairy plant where he works. Check the attendance. If we are lying, hang us all. But do not threaten us in this manner.”</p> <p>His most pronounced point of reference is the Bhim Army. Its volunteers are rumoured to be lying in wait around the village, ready to attack when the police presence is thinner and the attention quieter.</p> <p>Vinay Ratan Singh, the national president of the Bhim Army, said that his organisation was interested in ensuring justice, not in fomenting trouble. To a question on why they had chosen to focus just on Hathras, Singh said, “This case deserves particular condemnation, but we go everywhere such cases are reported.”</p> <p>That everywhere includes Balrampur, where on September 29, a 22-year-old dalit woman was assaulted and allegedly gang-raped. A case just as horrific but one that did not tug at our conscience as sharply. (The state government has since assured the family of quick justice).</p> <p>Uttar Pradesh is strewn with such crimes that are forgotten by those who Gondvi calls “the contractors of religion, culture and moralityì the ministers in states and the government centrally”.</p> <p>In the state’s capital, on September 29, a 19-year-old dalit girl, after much dissuasion by the police, filed a report alleging that she had been kidnapped and repeatedly raped by two named and other unnamed persons. But no political or other indignation followed.</p> <p>Even cases that provoke anger, fade into oblivion.</p> <p>On December 5, 2019, a 23-year-old woman was set ablaze in Bhatan Khera, a hamlet in the Bihar block of Lucknow’s neighbouring Unnao district. Five Brahmin men were accused of the crime. The victim, who also alleged rape, belonged to a caste of blacksmiths. Four days later, the state’s law minister announced the setting up of 218 fast-track courts, of which 144 were to hear rape cases.</p> <p>Yet, the victim’s family waits to record its statements. On October 2 this year, the deceased’s six-year-old nephew went missing. Her family lodged a case of kidnapping, naming, among others, three relatives of the earlier accused.</p> <p>“We have been shunned by almost everyone in the village,” said the victim’s father. “They say we became greedy after my daughter’s death. They will not even talk to us for fear that we will complain to the police. But we are powerless people. Justice is not for us.”</p> <p>In Gondvi’s hamlet of the oppressed, a space that subsumes all of the state, this is expected. For, after all, it must be wondered, “what the world has come to the one beneath our feet till yesterday, have arisen today.” And that must not be permitted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>(Gondvi’s poem as translated by Lucknow-based activist Sangita Jaiswal.)</b></p> Sat Oct 10 11:58:50 IST 2020 house-of-grief <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>I</b>n one of the three rooms of her house, a dazed mother sits on the floor, her <i>pallu </i>pulled over her head. It has been more than a week since her 19-year-old daughter succumbed to injuries after being allegedly gang-raped and brutally tortured some 700 metres from her house in Boolgadi village of Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>The stream of enraged, solicitous visitors—including politicians, reporters, activists, neighbours, district officials, protesters, policemen and investigators—has left her slightly immobilised. She sits with her hand on her head. The need to stitch a consistent narrative around her daughter’s assault has become more than urgent. There is no time to grieve a terrible loss from a horrific crime. Or even erase disturbing wounds from her memory. Because the mother was the first to see her daughter lying stripped, paralysed and maimed amid tall stalks of bajra (millet). Because the mother made desperate attempts to file a first information report, and seek medical treatment from one general hospital after another, even as her daughter flitted in and out of consciousness. Because she fed her biscuits and juice even as the daughter struggled to record her statement and name her assailants from her hospital bed. Because state authorities hastily cremated her daughter on September 30, in the secrecy of the night, without her consent. Because hers is a Valmiki family in a Thakur-majority village and years of accumulated anger over constant subordination can only end in <i>nyay </i>(justice).</p> <p>So, for the sake of an elusive <i>nyay,</i> the mother once again recounts the harrowing details when a political leader from Delhi comes calling on a Tuesday morning. She remembers how she panicked upon finding a single slipper of her daughter lying in the bajra fields, how when she peeked further in she found blood oozing from her daughter’s face, eyes and tongue. “Her spine was broken,” she says, letting out a long, deep wail. She recalls how she quickly covered her daughter’s body with her blood-soaked clothes and rushed to the local police station with her family members. And how the police made them wait even as blood kept dripping from her daughter’s body, how there was disdain on the faces of the policewomen, how she never got any written documents or medical slips, how she was not allowed inside the hospital room when her daughter recorded her statement. At one point, the mother loses her cool. “I am being made to answer the same questions again and again,” she says, before breaking into a searing lament. A group of women huddle around her with words intended to placate: “Calm down. They have only come for you.”</p> <p>Round and round we have circled back to yet another horrific assault onÅÅwomanhood that has triggered national outrage and tapped into a collective grievance. The 2012 Nirbhaya case in Delhi, the 2014 Badaun gang-rape and murder case, the death of an eight-year-old in Kathua in 2018. Or the rape case of Unnao, where the victim was set ablaze on her way to a court hearing last year. Around the same time, the four accused in the gang-rape and murder of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor near Hyderabad died in an “encounter”. The cycle—a group of men asserting power against and instilling fear in a single woman in a deeply hierarchical society—recurs in the same framework with sensational plot twists and rumblings of state apathy. The 24x7 news cycle seems to become sword and shield.</p> <p>Says one of the four siblings of the Hathras victim, “There is a lot of attention from the media now. So we have enough police protection. But once the media is gone, that is when we will need all the protection. I fear for my mother, father and sister-in-law, who might end up suffering a similar fate like my sister.”</p> <p>The brother’s anxiety might remind one of the reports of District Magistrate Praveen Laxkar allegedly issuing veiled threats to the family. He had reportedly nudged them to support the government’s statement, reminding them that the media would soon leave.</p> <p>The brother vividly remembers the day, September 29, his sister died in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. She was brought there from the Aligarh Muslim University medical college. “It was around 11pm that we asked if the postmortem examination had been completed,” he says. “Some said the body had left the hospital, others said it was kept safe. We were being led astray. I do not know how they cremated her body without our permission; I do not know if they used kerosene or petrol or oil. We had said we would cremate her body with all the rituals in the morning. They did not listen to us one bit.” He keeps repeating the last line as his mother continues to recall more grisly details to gasps of surprise and horror from her listeners.</p> <p>Outside this small room, packed mostly with women in masks, there is a melee of male callers around the victim’s elder brother in the courtyard. A neat little segregation of the sexes has organically taken place. There, the victim’s sister-in-law quietly heats milk and tosses chapatis on a clay stove, clutching her <i>pallu</i>. “That day, on September 14, my sister-in-law woke up at dawn, made <i>todi ki sabzi</i> (ridge gourd), kneaded dough and left for the fields to cut grass. In fact, she woke up at the crack of dawn every day and took care of all the household chores. When I gave birth to a girl this August, she stepped in to take care of the house. My children were so fond of her. They never cried in her presence,” recalls the sister-in-law, before drifting off in her thoughts. “If only she had studied or gone to school, this would not have happened. We will not stop repeating ourselves until the truth comes out.”</p> <p>The family and neighbours deny any acrimony with members of the dominant Thakur caste. The five Valmiki (dalit) families live quietly, mind their own affairs and eat the labour of their hands, working on the farms of upper-caste men.</p> <p>“We are Thakurs, they are Harijans. How can we talk to them? We hardly have any interaction,” lashes out 65-year-old Rajwanti, the mother of Ramkumar, one of the four accused. She stays some 200m away from the victim’s home. “I understand the grief of a mother in the circumstances, regardless of caste, but how did my innocent son get stuck in this? Her mother could have shouted and raised an alarm just when she saw her daughter missing in the fields that day. She just went on cutting grass? Why did she not shout? If I was in her place, I would have raised hell. She did not do anything.” Rajwanti demands a proper investigation that would establish her 27-year-old son’s whereabouts on the day of the crime.</p> <p>The plight of the dalits is illustrated through the words of Charan Singh, chairman of the NGO Bharat Vasi Seva Sansthan, set up to handle issues of labour uplift in the dalit community. “Since the BJP government came to power in the state, NGOs like ours hardly get to do any work,” he says. “We are mostly keeping busy doing farm work. Our licence is not getting renewed.”</p> <p>Amid all this, an upper-caste Pandit neighbour sits outside his house in the afternoon heat, wearing a blank expression. He just wants to be left alone, and calls the matter a Valmiki-Thakur dispute. He complains how, since his village came into the spotlight, all farm work has stopped. There are no songs or serials on the television. Just this one news. “I do not understand this circus,” he says. “Aren’t the accounts of a grieving mother and her dead daughter enough to end this?” &nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 09 16:24:55 IST 2020 we-have-not-ruled-out-sexual-assault <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Why was there heavy police deployment at the victim’s house?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>Soon after the incident on September 14, there were intelligence reports that said that certain sections were making deliberate attempts to stir up caste tensions and create communal discord. Based on intelligence inputs, the police were deployed to prevent any kind of threat to the victim’s family. If there had been any untoward incident, [like] a family member of the victim being attacked or certain groups attacking their house or setting it on fire, the police would have been blamed.</p> <p>It is the responsibility of the local police and the local administration to carry out a threat assessment and, based on that, provide safety to the family and the village.</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you think certain groups are trying to stir up caste-based violence?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>If you see the track record of Uttar Pradesh in the past three and a half years, there have been no law and order problems, communal incidents or caste-based violence. So, certain elements and groups are making attempts to disrupt the peace.</p> <p><b>Q/ Why were the last rites conducted hurriedly, in the dead of night?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>It has already been clarified that the decision was taken at the local level by the administration, including the district magistrate and the superintendent of police, taking into account the law and order situation at the time. The last rites were performed according to religious customs in the presence of family members.</p> <p><b>Q/ Why did the police jump the gun to say there was no evidence of rape?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The report based on the sample from the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital in Aligarh, which was sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Agra, said that no spermatozoa was found. These are the facts, but the media has misquoted me saying that I have said there was no rape. I am not saying it is not a case of rape. On the basis of the FSL report and the evidence being collected in the case, the investigating officer will list the offences and prepare his report. Everything will be included in the report and it is the legal duty of the IO to take into account all facts and evidence of the case.</p> <p><b>Q/ When will the report be finalised?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Usually, the investigating officer has to prepare his report and submit it in court within 90 days of the arrest.</p> <p><b>Q/ Does the post mortem by doctors in Delhi contradict the FSL report?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>All reports are on the same page.</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you ruling out the possibility of sexual assault?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Certainly not. We are probing the case and nothing has been ruled out yet.</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the charges pressed against the accused?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The police has registered an FIR and added section 376D of the IPC, which deals with gang-rape, on the statement of the victim; various other charges are being investigated.</p> <p><b>Q/ Why is there a need for a CBI investigation?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The Uttar Pradesh government is open to a fair investigation and it is all for transparency. Now, everyone should cooperate to bring out the truth of the case as the state government has recommended a CBI investigation.</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you identified the groups that were trying to incite caste-based violence?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>An investigation has been launched to probe the larger conspiracy. The UP Police have registered a separate FIR to probe the bigger conspiracy and we have definite leads on groups and individuals trying to cause trouble and disturb social harmony.</p> Fri Oct 09 16:14:17 IST 2020 silent-invader <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>There is an emerging</b> weed problem in north India. No, this one is not star-spangled like the one currently being exposed in Bollywood. The ramifications, however, could be much worse, as it could threaten India’s food security.</p> <p>Two studies in the recent years have flagged the emergence and spread of a hitherto lesser known plant, Emex australis, across the wheat fields of Haryana and west Uttar Pradesh. Both studies warn that, if left ignored, this plant could take over the fields and reduce crop yield.</p> <p>To the untrained eye, E. australis looks like a cousin of the spinach. In fact, in South Africa, where it is a native, its leaves are sometimes used as a vegetable. It is a sturdy plant which establishes itself in thick clusters and can deplete a field of nutrients meant for the crop. The weed has already spread across Australia, edging out both wheat and the sweet pasture grass. Known by various common names like cat’s head, bull head, devil’s thorn, spiny emex and goat head, this weed produces fruits called achene, which have three sharp spines, giving the plant yet another moniker, the three-cornered jack. In pasture lands, these spines can injure grazing cattle. Extremely resilient, the spines attach themselves to tractor tyres, shoes and even bare feet, and thus spread from field to field.ÅThey can even float on water, thus furthering the range.</p> <p>Jyoti K. Sharma, head of Shiv Nadar University’s Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, said that they first noticed the plant during a field trip, when the students were documenting the flora of the area around the university campus in Greater Noida, way back in 2015. Later, they noticed some plants within the university campus, too, around the thematic botanic park that was being made. Soil for landscaping the park had been brought in from the neighbouring areas, and this is how the plant, too, must have come, they guessed.</p> <p>The university then surveyed Chithara village near the campus, where they found the plant to be growing extensively. Sharma, who is also the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s international forestry consultant to several countries in south and southeast Asia, said that the plant was not present in the regions previously; it has somehow established itself in recent years.</p> <p>It is not as if this plant is totally unknown in India. There is literature to show its identification in Bihar sometime in the 1980s. It has also been reported from Jammu and Kashmir since 1987. However, for reasons not yet explained, the plant did not spread itself across the country for decades, despite its innate ability to do so. How and when it reached the Gangetic plains and establishedÅitself are questions that require investigation.</p> <p>In a paper published in 2018 in the <i>Indian Journal of Plant Science</i>—by Sharma, and his colleagues Amit Kumar Tripathi and Mohammad Ahmad—the researchers warn that the plant is adaptable to different climatic conditions, has the potential to become highly invasive, and could edge out native species. It reproduces aggressively—each plant is capable of producing over 1,100 seeds during a lifetime. These seeds are able to persist in the soil for several years.</p> <p>Around the same time as the Shiv Nadar researchers were typing out their research, Virendra Kumar, a plant pathologist and assistant director at the directorate of plant protection, quarantine and storage, stumbled upon a clump of these pesky plants in a field at Chhainsa village near Faridabad. At that time, he was in the insecticide department, overseeing a field test on a new weedicide. “We were testing the weedicide when I noticed this plant, which I had not seen before,” said Kumar. “We sprayed the chemical on it, as well as on other known weeds. A week later, however, when we returned to see the results, the other weeds had perished—some had been chemically burnt, others had collapsed—but this clump was thriving.”</p> <p>Kumar then sprayed the clump with various concentrations of weedicides and studied it for several weeks. The cluster continued to thrive. Following this, Kumar, along with a colleague, assistant plant protection officer E. Kumari, did a survey of 35 adjoining villages and discovered that the weed had comfortably gone native and established itself in varying degrees of density in 25 villages. “Surprisingly, they were even better established than many of the known weeds in the fields,” he said. “This initial study is only a warning bell; agencies like the Indian Council for Agricultural Research should now do more detailed research and look for ways of tackling the problem before it blows up in our face.” Kumar published his discovery in the <i>Journal of Crop and Weed</i> in 2019. The two studies may be small, but they already indicate the spread of the weed across states.</p> <p>Invasive plants are those which come from other lands, their seeds usually riding piggy back on agriculture imports. Since these plants have no known control agents—for instance, bugs that feed on them—in their new homes, they spread rapidly, elbowing out native species. Kumar says wheat harvests can suffer in yield by as much as 62 per cent due to weeds. Almost all countries now have strict plant-quarantining rules, under which such imports are isolated and tested for presence of foreign pests, pathogens and weeds. In some agriculture-intensive countries like Australia, even shoes of passengers are checked to ensure there are no clinging burrs or achenes which could seed local populations of a foreign plant.</p> <p>In fact, in 2004, when Greece hosted the Olympics and decided to evoke the spirit of ancient Athens, it had not reckoned with the bio-security regulations of the modern age. Many countries frowned upon the olive wreaths that were presented to medal winners, mandating fumigation and other pathogen killing processes before being allowed in.</p> <p>Yet, in a mobile world, it is not so difficult for exotic species to infiltrate new lands. One of the most pervasive weeds in recent times is Parthenium hysterophorus or “Congress grass”, which is believed to have entered the country in the 1950s along with the wheat the United States sent to then impoverished India. Like E. australis,ÅParthenium grows densely, choking out any other plant that might even try to grow in the area. Worse, it triggers respiratory allergies in many people.</p> <p>Similarly, water hyacinth, a native of the Amazon, has strangulated water bodies across the country. It is said that the plant came to India because Lady Hastings was enchanted by its beautiful mauve flowers, and planted a few in her garden pond. Over 200 years later, the British Raj may have gone away but the plant has gone native with a vengeance. It is even a mariner’s nightmare as it gets caught in ship propellers.</p> <p>The multi-coloured lantana, too, was introduced to India in the 1800s as an ornamental plant. It became a garden escapee in no time and has overrun even forests now, edging out native species. Cutting down the woody shrub is of little use, as the cut branches begin sprouting leaves and shoots even before they can be disposed of.</p> <p>Prosopis juliflora or vilayati kikar is considered as one of the most hated trees in India. The Mexican import, again through the British, is a desert tree with little commercial use. Yet, it has edged out the kikar, babool and other acacias native to the land, each of which have a host of uses in medicine and other commercial products.</p> <p>E. australis is used for traditional medicine in Africa. However, the uses of the weed are limited, and the damage it can do to the fields is far more serious. In the land of <i>athithi devo bhava</i>, just how well will this uninvited guest thrive? We will know more in the years to come.</p> Fri Oct 09 15:29:44 IST 2020 safety-check <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On September 26,</b> a group of public health experts wrote an open letter to Dr Albert Bourla, CEO of US pharma giant Pfizer, which is developing a Covid-19 vaccine candidate with German firm BioNTech. The company’s mRNA vaccine is one of the world’s leading candidates, and Bourla’s claims of a “clinical answer” to its phase 3 trials by October end has triggered safety concerns among a section of global experts. In the letter, they urge the company to wait until the end of November before seeking emergency authorisation for the vaccine to ensure that rigorous safety standards are followed and public trust and confidence in the vaccine is guaranteed.</p> <p>According to the WHO, 40 vaccine candidates are being clinically evaluated, of which 10 have entered phase 3 trials, which involve testing the vaccine on thousands of people. In that context, the next couple of months will be crucial for regulators, vaccine manufacturers and distributors across the world, and put the world’s best delivery systems to test. With emerging possibilities of emergency use authorisation (EUA) for multiple candidates, safety and immunogenicity data is also being closely evaluated.</p> <p>Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has said that India is considering EUA, too. An EUA allows the vaccine to be used before it is fully licenced, after conducting a risk-benefit analysis based on available data. Normally, the third trial [phase 3] takes about six to nine months. But if the government decides, this period can be cut short through an EUA, Vardhan said. “Any emergency authorisation is always done by adopting reinforced safeguards so that people do not worry about safety,” he said. “A high-level group has been formed to monitor the pace of the vaccine development under the direct guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There will be no shortcut on safety. EUA will be given only if it meets the standards.”</p> <p>Multiple candidates are undergoing phase 3 trials in India. After the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate—currently being tested by Serum Institute of India—the Russian sovereign wealth fund, RDIF, which is backing the vaccine Sputnik V, also announced a tie-up with Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s for conducting phase 3 trials and distributing the vaccine. Bharat Biotech’s candidate, Covaxin, too, will begin phase 3 trials in Lucknow and Gorakhpur in October, according to UP Health Secretary Amit Mohan Prasad.</p> <p>With these candidates being fast-tracked, granting EUA to a vaccine and rolling it out initially to the vulnerable population, and then to the general population, will involve challenges on several fronts including regulation and logistics, experts say.</p> <p>“With any vaccine, monitoring safety and performance pre- and post-licensure is important,” said Dr Gagandeep Kang, professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore. “A vaccine should be used widely in the appropriate population at a point where regulators are convinced (even under an EUA) that the vaccine has a high likelihood of being safe and effective. The best safeguard is a strong safety monitoring system and an impact monitoring system.”</p> <p>According to her, India’s vaccine safety monitoring has improved significantly in the past decade. “But the focus, so far, has been routine immunisation in children. Building safety monitoring in other age groups will be challenging,” said Kang.</p> <p>She added that impact monitoring would most likely require phase 4 studies, or post-marketing surveillance, since there is no other way to monitor vaccine effectiveness.</p> <p>According to a draft note on regulatory guidelines for vaccine development, released recently by the central drugs standard control organisation, a Covid-19 vaccine should have 50 per cent efficacy. “To ensure that a widely deployed Covid-19 vaccine is effective, the primary efficacy endpoint estimate for a placebo-controlled efficacy trial should be at least 50 per cent,” it read. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the note was not final and that comments and feedback were invited.</p> <p>The overall efficacy endpoint is not a matter of concern. “These are first-generation vaccines, and this is a mucosal infection,” said Kang. “First-generation vaccines essentially should protect against disease and then we can think of improving performance through a range of approaches. Mucosal vaccines are unlikely to give perfect protection in any situation, so a 50 per cent requirement is acceptable at this time.” She added that the draft policy is aligned with WHO and FDA guidlines. “But it would be good to know what essential data is to be generated and what is recommended, but not essential,” she said.</p> <p>The draft policy note states that given the “urgent need” to provide a Covid-19 vaccine, clinical development programmes for Covid-19 vaccines might be “expedited”. Vaccine trials proceed in stages, where permission for each phase is preceded by evaluation of data. For an emergency situation such as Covid-19, the regulator proposes adaptive and/or seamless clinical trial designs that allow for selection between vaccine candidates and dosing regimens, and for more rapid progression through the usual phases of clinical development.</p> <p>But it is unclear as to what this seamless approach is in terms of clinical endpoints at the end of each trial phase, said a public health expert who did not wish to be named. For vaccine trials, endpoints would include side-effects, neutralising antibody titres and disease prevention. In the case of drug trials, the endpoints—preventing disease progression and death—are more clearly defined, the expert said.</p> <p>“The policy note also does not define what would happen if there were multiple vaccines with same levels of protection for authorisation,” said the expert. “Aspects such as the liability of a company or other stakeholders in case of a side-effect after vaccine has been administered have not been defined. It is a good start, though.”</p> <p>Vaccines take years to develop. With Covid-19, that time frame is being crunched to months. In a first-of-its-kind plan on vaccine regulation and shortening trials, top experts propose a plan where each phase incorporates parallel processes. For instance, phase 1 of human trials would not mean halting animal studies, rather those studies would continue even after the vaccine candidate has moved on to human trials.</p> <p>“To optimise time in a public health emergency such as the current one, several or all of the clinical evaluation, production planning, distribution strategy and safety evaluation steps of the vaccine development continuum could be conducted in parallel, rather than in a sequential manner,” wrote Dr Amit Kumar Dinda, department of pathology, AIIMS, Dr Santanu Kumar Tripathi, Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine and public health expert Dr Bobby John in the <i>Indian Journal of Medical Research</i>, the peer-reviewed journal of the ICMR. “This telescoped design will enable an earlier submission of safety and efficacy data, allowing for potential regulatory approval for an EUA for the candidate vaccine,” they wrote.</p> <p>Parallel processes also imply that manufacturing and distribution logistics be taken care of, even as several vaccine candidates are being tested. “In other countries such as the US, the UK, Japan and Australia, the level of preparedness is much higher, from pre-booking vaccines to ordering syringes,” said Pavan Mocherla, managing director (south Asia), BD India. “The understanding is that the vaccination would proceed in phases, where vulnerable sections would be administered in phase 1. For that, the requirement for syringes would be an estimated 150 million, and until now, the government has not formally reached out to us for any orders. Though the government must be working on a blueprint, private stakeholders have not been involved yet. Timely involvement of relevant firms would help expedite vaccine delivery.”</p> <p>With the world’s largest manufacturing capacity, India is set to make the Covid-19 vaccine for the world. Its own challenges though remain to be addressed—including making available Rs80,000 crore for mass vaccination in the next year, as estimated by Serum Institute chief Adar Poonawalla.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:59:40 IST 2020 ripples-of-the-ruling0 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Justice is a lonely being,</b> often condemned to trudging long distances in search of an elusive truth which not only seems true but can also be demonstrated to be so.</p> <p>On September 30, it completed a journey of 10,160 days to conclude that none of the 32 accused of having a role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya were guilty. The initial charges were filed against 49 people.</p> <p>To the tunnel vision of justice, the prosecutors had failed to bring such conclusive evidence that proved beyond a shred of doubt the role of those accused—a list which included India’s former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani and former Union minister for human resources development Murli Manohar Joshi. The judgment did not say that the demolition was not a criminal act, or that the accused were not present when it happened. It concluded simply that the evidence did not prove guilt on any of the multiple charges under the Indian Penal Code. These charges included wrongful assembly; causing voluntarily hurt to a public servant in the discharge of his duty; action with intent to incite any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community; and criminal conspiracy.</p> <p>Krishna Kumar Mishra, one of the defence lawyers, said: “The reasons given by the court for the judgment are sterling. None of the evidence presented could be conclusively proven to be valid. The videos of the demolition, for instance, should have been seized, seizure memos prepared and the evidence sent for forensic testing. Instead the agency [Central Bureau of Investigation] randomly picked up evidence available from the market. It was not a failure of the investigating agency, but the circumstances were such that it was impossible to collect evidence in the midst of lakhs of people.”</p> <p>The videos Mishra referred to were those available in the immediate aftermath of the demolition. They had contained grainy images of the domes being hammered by <i>kar sevaks</i> and brought down amid lusty cries of <i>Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do</i> (Give one more push and bring the Babri Masjid down). They remain available in public domain till date under titles such as ‘Shri Ram Janmabhoomi ka Raktranjit Ithihas’ (The blood-soaked history of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi). Also, in evidence were scores of photographs provided by media persons. These were rendered useless by the non-availability of negatives.</p> <p>The judgment throws into question the methods involved in the investigation. At one point it quotes a member of the investigation team as saying that the cassettes with the alleged inflammatory speeches were not sent for forensic examination as it was clear that the incident had happened. At another place it quotes an investigator’s contention that many papers were seized from the house of Shiv Sena leader Moreshwar Save, but a number of these were found not related to the case upon examination later.</p> <p>The judgment dismisses all evidence provided through the media. For instance, in the case of then UP chief minister Kalyan Singh, the judgment says, “…the giving of a statement to a newspaper cannot be treated as acceptance or admission of a crime till strong evidence proves it”.</p> <p>This is not a novel observation. In many cases, courts have held that newspaper reporting, whether correct or not, is hearsay secondary evidence and not admissible unless the reporter is examined or any person before whom the incident has occurred is examined, and facts proven.</p> <p>Though a detailed reading of the judgment would require some time, Syed Mohammed Haider Rizvi, a Lucknow-based lawyer said: “On the face of it, the verdict acquitting all the accused and considering Babri Masjid demolition as a spontaneous incident and not a conspiracy comes in the teeth of the Supreme Court order dated November 9 , 2019, which clearly stated that the destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.”</p> <p>The accused on many occasions, and with pride, claimed their role in bringing the Ram Mandir Movement to its conclusion.</p> <p>In his book <i>Ayodhya 6 December 1992</i> , P.V. Narasimha Rao, the prime minister of India when the demolition happened, wrote: “The BJP took ‘moral responsibility’ for the day’s developments in a statement issued by the party’s vice president S.S. Bhandari. L.K. Advani and M.M. Joshi were among the prominent BJP leaders present in Ayodhya at the time of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. As the <i>kar sevaks</i> chipped away at the structure, BJP-VHP-RSS leaders had pleaded in vain with them to stop.”</p> <p>But as the scales of justice are not tipped by morality, it remained unconvinced.</p> <p>Mahant Raju Das of the Ayodhya’s famous Hanuman Garhi Temple said: “Ram Mandir is only the start. We will adopt constitutional means to free Mathura, Kashi and the Tejo Mahalaya.” The first is a reference to the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple at Mathura, the second to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi and the third to the Taj Mahal in Agra (which some consider to originally be a Shiv temple).</p> <p>Sharad Sharma, the Vishva Hindu Parishad spokesperson in Ayodhya, however, said: “There is no dialogue on Kashi or Mathura. We are only celebrating. The Lord is truly free today.”</p> <p>On the same day, however, in Mathura—which is supposed to be the birthplace of Lord Shri Krishna—a petition made its way through the court of the civil judge, senior division. It asked the court to declare that “land measuring 13.37 acres… vest in the deity Lord Shri Krishna Virajman” and the removal of “construction encroaching upon the land… and to handover vacant possession to Shree Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust….” Those are words with a strong similarity to those used in the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi- Babri Masjid title suit. The “encroachment” is refering to the Idgah Mosque and the parties being asked to remove it are Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board and “Trust ‘alleged’ Shahi Masjid Idgah”. Notice the use of the word “alleged” by the plaintiffs.</p> <p>This position runs contrary to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991. The Act prohibits “conversion of any place of worship and… [provides] for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947”. The Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya was the only exception, expressly granted by the Act.</p> <p>Incidentally, the local court dismissed the Krishna Janmabhoomi petition, and the petitioners are now planning next steps. Ranjana Agnihotri, a Lucknow based lawyer who is among the eight plaintiffs to the suit describes herself (and five other co-plaintiffs) in it as “followers of vedic <i>sanatan dharam</i>, worshippers and devotees of Lord Shri Krishna…(who) profess, propagate and perform puja and other rituals of Lord Shri Krishna according to custom, traditions and practices of vedic <i>sanatan dharam</i> from the time of their ancestors”. It is their strong faith and belief that “<i>dharshan</i> puja at Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi is [the] way to acquire merit of salvation”. The first plaintiff in the suit is “Bhagwan Shri Krishna Virajman”. Just as was Shri Ram Lalla Virajman in the Ayodhya title suit—on which the Supreme Court adjudicated in November last year.</p> <p>Agnihotri said: “We are only seeking to correct a long standing wrong. The birthplace of Shri Krishna has special significance and we are within our rights to protect it and demand recovery of lost property”.</p> <p>The implications of the 2,300-page judgment on the Babri Masjid demolition, delivered by CBI judge, Justice Surendra Kumar Yadav, thus lie beyond his court.</p> <p>In justice’s lonely journey, this then could be a temporary halt, not its final destination.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:46:10 IST 2020 ripples-of-the-ruling <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A few months </b>after the BJP’s loss in the 2004 general elections, L.K. Advani became party president for the third time and explained the reasons behind the defeat in his address. “We assumed a direct correlation between good governance and the electoral outcome. We were not entirely correct,” said the 77-year-old leader, referring to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s India Shining campaign. “Unfortunately, good governance in a country as large and diverse as India does not generate a uniform effect.” He then came to the missing ingredient from the BJP’s messaging. “In BJP’s voyage from the fringe to the centre of the political stage, we aroused many expectations, some extremely emotive,” he said. “We were unable to fulfil some of these. The construction of a grand temple in Ayodhya was one such issue.”</p> <p>That was Advani’s call for a return to hindutva as an emotive issue, but it was something that even he did not push hard for. In an apparent bid for an image makeover, a few months later, he termed the demolition of Babri Masjid as the saddest day of his life. This left the BJP cadre confused till Narendra Modi rose to the top in 2014. Modi gave hope to the Hindu voters that he could fulfil their wish for a temple. As the prime minister laid the foundation of the Ram temple on August 5, Advani was missing from the ceremony.</p> <p>On September 30, 56 days after the ceremony, a special CBI court acquitted all accused in the conspiracy to demolish the mosque. The CBI charge sheet of October 1993 named 48 persons including Advani, M.M. Joshi, Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh and Vinay Katiyar; only 32 of them are alive today.</p> <p>“The judgement vindicates my personal and the BJP’s belief and commitment towards the Ram Janmabhoomi movement,” said Advani, 92, after the acquittal. The BJP leaders were accused by many eye-witnesses of encouraging <i>kar sevaks</i> to bring down the mosque. But the court said the evidence produced by the investigating agency was not conclusive.</p> <p>Advani was the prime mover of the Ram temple movement as he brought the issue to the fore with his Rath Yatra. That was 30 years ago, on September 30, 1990, during his first term as party president. The original charioteer of the <i>yatra</i> may have faded from the political scene, but the impact of his initiative has had a lasting impact on the country’s polity and national consciousness.</p> <p>During the BJP rule under Vajpayee, the cause of hindutva was overtaken by the issue of nuclear tests and the Kargil war. The national security issues injected nationalism in large swathes of the population. The 10 years of the UPA government shifted the focus to development and rights-based policy. With Modi’s arrival as an unabashed champion of muscular nationalism, hindutva was back in currency, but with a stronger focus on national security, which was pushed as necessary to save cultural values. It made Modi the biggest beneficiary of the hindutva movement. And, he has delivered on the BJP’s core issues, be it the temple construction or the abrogation of Article 370.</p> <p>The November 2019 Supreme Court verdict to hand over the land in Ayodhya to the Hindu community and the recent CBI court verdict will bring into focus the aspirations of the Hindu majority. All parties, even those opposed to the BJP, have become conscious of the sentiments of the community. Even during the 28 years the court took to decide the matter, no political party pushed for a resolution, given how emotive the issue was.</p> <p>“The conspiracy theory was the handiwork of the then government on the insistence of left-leaning historians,” said BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha. “[The demolition] was not premeditated. The other objective of the episode was to revitalise and legitimise the appeasement theory. There was an attempt to compare the temple movement with violent agitations across the world that were anti-minority. Moreover, it was an attempt to put in the dock the main icons of the hindutva movement by presenting them as majoritarian. The [Ram temple movement] was liberating for the Hindu from the yoke imposed colonially and the Nehruvian definition of secularism.”</p> <p>The Vishva Hindu Parishad, one of the main drivers of the temple agitation, reacted favourably to the judgment. “The Supreme Court judgment of November 2019 unanimously settled that the subject land in Ayodhya does belong to Ram Lalla,” said VHP working president Alok Kumar. “[The latest] judgment has busted the conspiracy theory. It is time to eschew politics, shed prejudices and instead of looking into the past, look forward to work together for the unity and progress of our country.”</p> <p>Within the hindutva ecosystem, the matter had reached happy fruition. There have been many hardline Hindu groups who demand that focus now shift to “liberation of temples in Kashi and Mathura, which were demolished to build mosques”. But even the BJP would not want strife on its hand when the most contentious issue has been resolved, and these temples do not hold same weight as the Ram temple.</p> <p>The BJP is sticking to welcoming the court verdict for now. “The assembly was never declared unlawful by any authority, by any mode as prescribed in law,” said BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav. “The organisers wanted to stop them (<i>kar sevaks</i>). But they were not allowed to go there. The court said the demolition happened in the spur of the moment. The truth has finally prevailed.”</p> <p>The judgments and the start of the temple construction will certainly be trumpeted by the BJP during upcoming election campaigns. The party hopes that the completion of the temple before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections will help create a cultural renaissance.</p> <p>This judgment frees BJP veterans of all charges. Party patriarchs Advani, Joshi and others who have been side lined in recent times will hope that history books will be kinder to them from now on.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:41:42 IST 2020 address-change <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Eminent jurist Fali</b> S. Nariman, in his memoirs <i>Before Memory Fades</i>, recalled his appearance before a judge who had just been promoted from the city civil court to the High Court. Nariman’s opponent kept calling him “Your Honour”. The judge grimaced at what he perceived as an indignity—the practice in India is to refer to judges in High Courts and the Supreme Court as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”. “My opponent had a good case. But he lost! Judges are human,” wrote Nariman.</p> <p>Nariman advised aspiring lawyers to always address a court correctly and said judges in the upper courts must always be addressed as “Your Lordship”. He wrote in brackets: “Believe me, the judges simply love it.”</p> <p>Despite the growing unease with the titles, seen as colonial and carrying feudal overtones (some even say they are against the constitutional principle of equality), Nariman appeared to have been proven correct when Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde objected to a lawyer addressing him “Your Honour”, during a hearing on August 13. The CJI said it was an American usage. The lawyer said there was nothing prescribed by law as to how a judge should be addressed, but Bobde said it was a matter of practice of the court.</p> <p>It is, however, ironic that Bobde should have objected to being called “Your Honour”. In 2014, he was on a two-judge bench with the then chief justice H.L. Dattu which observed that the only expectation the judges had was that they be addressed in a dignified manner. The bench had disposed of a PIL filed by veteran lawyer Shiv Sagar Tiwari seeking a ban on the use of “My Lord” and “Your Lordship”. Tiwari had argued that the titles denoted slavery. The bench refused to ban the honorifics, but said: “When did we say it is compulsory? You can call ‘Sir’, it is accepted. You call ‘Your Honour’, it is accepted. You call ‘Lordship’, it is accepted.”</p> <p>“Your Honour” has been accepted in Indian legal practice as an appropriately modern substitute for “My Lord” and “Your Lordship”. The Bar Council of India on May 6, 2006, had passed a resolution stating that the form of address to be adopted in the Supreme Court and High Courts was “Your Honour” or “Honourable Court” and, in the subordinate courts and tribunals, it was “Sir” or the equivalent in regional languages.</p> <p>The resolution came after the Supreme Court, in February 2006, refused to ban the use of the titles. Disposing the Progressive and Vigilant Lawyers’ Forum’s petition seeking to end the use of the titles, the apex court said it was up to the bar council to resolve the issue.</p> <p>While the Supreme Court has chosen not to specify the correct way to address judges, the Rajasthan High Court, in 2019, issued a notice requesting lawyers and others appearing before the judges not to address them as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”. It asked lawyers and litigants to call them “Sir” or “Shrimanji”. A resolution passed by a full bench of the High Court said the move was meant to honour the mandate of equality enshrined in the Constitution.</p> <p>Judges in their individual capacity have also been asking lawyers to desist from using “My Lord” or “Your Lordship” to address them. The most recent instance of this is Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, who in July, said to officers of the district judiciary and the registry that they should address him as “Sir”.</p> <p>Interestingly, “My Lady” or “Your Ladyship” is not used often in Indian courts. Lawyers are not comfortable using the terms, while female judges are also known to have objected to the usage. A few years ago, in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Daya Chaudhary strongly objected to being called “Your Ladyship” by Advocate General Atul Nanda. Nanda tried to reason with her by referring to the history of the usage of the term. However, Chaudhary was adamant, and Nanda said that he would avoid the usage.</p> <p>While the bar council’s resolution is clear on how the judges have to be addressed, it largely remains on paper. Even in Rajasthan, despite the High Court’s notice, at least 70 per cent of the lawyers still address judges “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”, said Syed Shahid Hasan, senior advocate and chairman of the Bar Council of Rajasthan. “Judges also like to be called that,” he said. “It is high time these titles are done away with. Judges have to be given respect, but they are not God.”</p> <p>Former Supreme Court judge Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan rejected the idea that judges like to be addressed in a certain manner. “I don’t think any judge would insist on being called in a certain manner,” he said. “All that is expected is that the chair is shown respect. ‘Your Honour’ is fine. Even ‘Sir’ is fine.”</p> <p>Lawyers feel the use of the titles has a lot to do with habit and training. The joke that goes around in legal circles is that if the two titles are done away with, majority of the lawyers will not be able to argue since they are so used to starting their argument with “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”. Supreme Court lawyer Sneha Kalita said most litigants use “Sir” to address judges. “They are not used to referring to judges as ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Lordship’,” she said. “It is a habit we lawyers inculcate from the time we are in law college. A certain level of dignity and respect has to be maintained in the relationship between the bar and the bench.”</p> <p>Lawyers also talk about peer pressure as a factor determining the use of the titles—if they opt for “Your Honour” when the opposing lawyer is going for “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”, the judge may think they are trying to act smart.</p> <p>However, Lokenath Chatterjee, advocate, Calcutta High Court, said a majority of the lawyers do not mind using the archaic titles. “It is linked to the majesty of the court and reflects respect towards the institution, and lawyers are a part of that,” he said.</p> <p>Breaking away from this practice will not be easy for Indian courts.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:17:31 IST 2020 unsettled-unsettling <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Virsa Singh Valtoha</b> is a polarising figure in Punjab politics. A two-time MLA, Valtoha, 57, is known as much for his alleged role in Sikh militancy in the heyday of the separatist movement as for the provocative statements he has made after entering the political mainstream. A leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal, he now holds the dubious distinction of being an accused in the oldest pending criminal case against a lawmaker.</p> <p>Valtoha’s claim to notoriety was discovered during the hearing of a public interest petition in the Supreme Court on September 9. A bench headed by Justice N.V. Ramana wanted to know the oldest pending criminal case against a lawmaker. The amicus curiae in the case, lawyer Vijay Hansaria, said it was a 1983 murder case in Punjab in which Valtoha was an accused. The judges were shocked; the proceedings in the case had been hanging fire for nearly four decades.</p> <p>The case relates to the murder of a doctor in Tarn Taran district. The first information report was filed in September 1983, and trespass and murder charges were framed this January 17. In the meantime, Valtoha got bail in 1991 and was twice elected MLA—in 2007 and 2012.</p> <p>The court has asked the state government’s counsel to apprise it of the status of the matter, even as Valtoha says he had been discharged in the case. “I was falsely implicated,”he said. “I was in jail from 1984 to 1991 in connection with other cases, so the question of my not participating in the trial in this case does not arise. The co-accused in the case got acquitted. Some months later, I got bail and was discharged from the case.”</p> <p>Valtoha was arrested in Operation Blue Star in 1984. He alleged that the murder case was being revived for political reasons. “My opponents are targeting me,” he said. “There are many people who cannot bear to see me in mainstream politics.”</p> <p>Valtoha may or may not be guilty, but his case is a prime example of the huge pendency of criminal cases involving incumbent and former legislators. They continue to contest elections and enter legislative bodies, even as cases involving them are stuck in courts.</p> <p>According to a report submitted by Hansaria to the Supreme Court, 4,442 cases are pending against sitting and former MPs and MLAs. In 2,556 of these, incumbent legislators are accused. In as many as 413 cases, the offences are punishable by life imprisonment; 174 of these cases are against sitting MPs and MLAs. In a large number of cases, charges have not yet been framed, and many are still at the appearance stage. In many of the cases, the matter is stuck at the “execution required of arrest warrant” stage. During the hearing in which the Supreme Court bench learnt of Valtoha’s case, a case from West Bengal was also mentioned. It involved charges far less serious, but it predated the Punjab case by two years. The charges against veteran Trinamool Congress leader Sisir Adhikari included rioting, being armed with a deadly weapon, unlawful assembly and endangering life or personal safety of others, and the FIR was filed in 1981. The case was disposed of a few months ago.</p> <p>“Of course, I would have liked the case to get over earlier,” said Adhikari, 79, a former Union minister who has been a Lok Sabha member since 2009. “I mentioned the case in my election affidavits. We know how overburdened our courts are. So I do not want to blame anyone for the time it took for the case to be disposed of. It was only after the court gave an order for the cases to be tried by special courts that the trial gathered pace.”</p> <p>A conviction in the case would not have resulted in Adhikari’s disqualification, since the punishment would have been less than two years in jail. But the case does serve as an example of criminal proceedings against lawmakers moving at a snail’s pace. According to the amicus curiae, the reasons for prolonged pendency include the accused trying to influence witnesses by using money and muscle power. He said the court should direct the authorities to strictly implement witness protection measures.</p> <p>In many cases, non-bailable warrants issued by the trial court for securing the presence of the accused were not executed. “There are serious issues involved in establishing evidence in these cases,”said advocate Sneha Kalita, who helped Hansaria prepare the report. “The accused do not appear before the court. Witnesses either do not turn up or turn hostile. So the case goes into a standstill at the evidence stage.”</p> <p>She also pointed out that there were not enough special courts to hear the cases. There are now 12 such courts, but the Supreme Court wants the Centre to consider increasing this number based on the district-wise breakup of pending cases. “There is also the issue of the investigating officer and the witnesses having to travel long distances to attend trial in the special courts. If more such courts are set up, this problem can be resolved,” she said.</p> <p>The amicus curiae has suggested setting up special courts in every district, giving priority to cases depending on the severity of the crime and punishment involved, reviewing the stay on a large number of cases, providing protection to witnesses, and asking the High Courts to monitor the progress in the cases. A larger issue arising out of this is the criminalisation of politics. What began as a criminal-politician nexus, say experts, has led to the criminal coming to the fore and fighting elections, with dons-turned-politicians like Mukhtar Ansari and Ateeq Ahmed completing the mainstreaming of crime in politics. Nearly half of the winners of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 had criminal cases against them, according to a study conducted by the Association for Democratic Reforms. Of the 539 MPs elected in May 2019, 233 or 43 per cent were named in criminal cases. As many as 112 MPs (21 per cent) were accused of serious crimes. Maj Gen (retd) Anil Verma, head of ADR, said the Supreme Court should not leave it to Parliament to enact laws to clean up politics. “They (parliamentarians) will be the last people to do something about it, considering the large number of lawmakers who face criminal charges, and the prevalence of money and muscle power in elections,” he said.</p> <p>The oft-stated defence of politicians is that most such cases are politically motivated and that they should not be deprived of the ‘innocent till proved guilty’ principle. “Getting named in cases is an occupational hazard,” said Adhikari. “You take part in an agitation, and you risk being named in a case.”</p> <p>In February this year, the Supreme Court directed political parties to publish the criminal history of their poll candidates along with the reason for giving tickets to the accused. The order will be implemented for the first time in the assembly elections in Bihar, due later this month. The Supreme Court has, meanwhile, refused to pass an order to debar politicians facing criminal charges from contesting polls. It had ruled in 2013 that a legislator convicted of a crime and given a minimum punishment of two years in jail would lose his or her membership of the house immediately. Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Rasheed Masood of the Congress lost their seats in Parliament because of the order. The existing law states that convicted politicians cannot contest elections for six years after completing their sentence. There have been demands for barring politicians facing criminal charges from contesting polls, and banning convicted politicians from fighting elections.</p> <p>According to former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, such a ban would be unduly harsh. He said the current minimum ban of eight years—two years of minimum imprisonment, followed by a six-year ban—is enough to kill a political career. A way out, according to him, has three options. “One, political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted,” he said. “Two, the Representation of the People Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of heinous nature are pending. Three, fast-track courts should decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:01:33 IST 2020 opposite-leaves <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nearly four years after her death, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is still struggling to fill the void left behind by former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. The party, which will turn 49 in October, is plagued by a leadership crisis that is deepening by the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 16, as the assembly proceedings came to an end, Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, as party coordinator, wanted to call a meeting of all AIADMK MLAs and senior leaders at the party office. But Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, as joint coordinator, refused to give consent. The tilt in the power equation within the party was for all to see. When the two factions headed by Panneerselvam and Palaniswami came together—brokered by the BJP, following Jayalalithaa’s death—the division of power was clear: Panneerselvam would control the party, and Palaniswami would head the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 17, Panneerselvam, also known as OPS, decided to convene an emergency meeting of party executives at the party office. In a first for the AIADMK, the notice was tweeted. Ahead of the meeting on September 18, there was much sloganeering at the headquarters—OPS supporters hailed him as “future CM” whereas Palaniswami’s aides called him the “permanent CM”. The three-hour long meeting, convened to broker a truce between the two, turned combative and ended inconclusively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The clash between the two factions is not new though. Soon after the merger in 2017, senior party leader V. Maitreyan posted on Facebook: “The factions have merged. Months pass by, but what about the hearts?” Even though there was a clear distinction of power between the two leaders, Palaniswami, aka EPS, started getting more support within the party. As a senior AIADMK leader said, “OPS decided to assert himself and take control of the party, but EPS was always accommodative of everyone.” Also, the 11-member steering committee, which was to be constituted during the merger, was never formed. Sources said that OPS had trouble recommending his aides for party posts as every decision required the joint coordinator’s consent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rift between the two widened this August, when senior ministers took sides on the issue of the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the 2021 assembly elections. While Minister for Cooperation Sellur K. Raju said that MLAs will elect the chief minister post the polls, Minister for Milk and Dairy Development Rajenthra Bhalaji said, “Let us face the election with EPS as the CM candidate.” These statements soon turned into a poster war, which soon spilled on to the streets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 15, Panneerselvam received the Chief Minister’s Best Practices Award for the total computerisation of the finance, treasury, human resources and pension management processes of the state. But soon there was frenetic activity outside the residences of the Panneerselvam and Palaniswami, both of whom live just a few metres away from each other on the Greenways Road in Chennai. Hectic parleys went on till late afternoon on August 16, with a group of ministers acting as interlocutors. The ministers were seen rushing in their cars from one residence to another to deliver messages. Later that day, the two leaders seemed to have arrived at a temporary truce. However, the EPS camp felt that OPS had his way as they could no longer project Palaniswami as the chief minister candidate, while Panneerselvam’s supporters were upset that he still did not have complete control of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Days after the truce, Palaniswami reportedly visited party presidium chairman E. Madhusudhanan at his house in North Chennai. While it was supposedly to enquire about Madhushudhanan’s health, it was no courtesy call. Madhusudhanan, OPS and EPS were co-petitioners in the fight for the party’s two leaves symbol against Jayalalithaa’s close confidante V.K. Sasikala and her nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran. With that visit, the truce reportedly came to an end, and Panneerselvam then tweeted about the emergency meeting on September 16.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Party sources said that as soon as the meeting got under way, a Panneerselvam supporter raised the issue of the delay in constituting the steering committee. While J.C.D. Prabhakar and P.H. Manoj Pandian from the Panneerselvam camp were said to be quite vocal during the meeting, deputy coordinators K.P. Munusamy and R. Vaithilingam tried to keep the peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A minister from a northern district pointed out that the party was being dominated by a particular community from west Tamil Nadu, which consists of the Kongu region—home to the Gounder community. Palaniswami and his lieutenants—S.P. Velumani and P. Thangamani—are from the Gounder community. A few days before the emergency meeting, three ministers from the Vanniyar community, hailing from north Tamil Nadu, had a closed-door meeting to discuss strategies to contain the growing clout of Palaniswami. Sources said that this meeting was convened after a Vanniyar minister was asked to approve a lucrative tender that was against the norms. With the failure of the emergency meeting, the party has called for an executive committee meeting on September 28.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, at a press meet hours before the emergency meeting, AIADMK’s Ramanathapuram strongman Anwar Raja said that Sasikala’s release from prison would have a huge impact on Tamil Nadu politics. On September 20, Dhinakaran is said to have taken a chartered flight to Delhi to meet a senior RSS leader, who is close to the BJP high command. This private meeting triggered speculations that the BJP was trying to merge Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam with the ruling AIADMK. The visit has also led to rumours of his aunt Sasikala’s early release from the Parappana Agrahara prison in Bengaluru. But the state prison department, in a reply to an RTI query, said that the “probable date of release is January 27, 2021”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala’s release and Dhinakaran’s moves gain significance, as party insiders said that only a “single leadership” like MGR’s or Jayalalithaa’s could lead the party to victory in the 2021 elections. And Sasikala, they said, was aware of each party member’s strengths and weaknesses, including those of Panneerselvam and Palaniswami. Sasikala and Panneerselvam belong to the politically powerful Thevar community. And Panneerselvam’s rise in the party, it is said, in the early 2000s was thanks to Sasikala’s recommendations. “Wait for two more weeks. Much more drama combined with hectic parleys will unfold,” said a senior party functionary close to Panneerselvam. “He wants to lead the party and he is not averse to bringing back Sasikala’s family into the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, Panneerselvam is keen on continuing the alliance with the BJP. His son P. Raveendranath Kumar, the party’s lone MP in the Lok Sabha, voted in favour of the farm bills. Rajya Sabha MP S.R. Balasubramoniyan, though opposed to the bills, voted for it, saying, “It is an order to vote for the bill from the party high command.” Sources said BJP state in-charge Piyush Goyal had spoken to Panneerselvam, seeking support for the farm bills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Palaniswami, however, wants to ditch the BJP and go it alone for the upcoming polls. He thinks that the alliance would prove disastrous for the party, like it did in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And, he has been taking on the BJP and its policies at the Centre. In August, he opposed the Centre’s three-language policy, and later prohibited Vinayaka Chathurthi processions in the state. He also got a Bharat Sena member booked under the National Security Act for defacing the statue of social reformer Periyar E.V. Ramasamy in Coimbatore. But Palaniswami has not declared an all-out war against the BJP for fear of raids from Central agencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His actions though seem to have angered BJP leaders in Tamil Nadu, with state BJP president L. Murugan saying, “We can win 60 seats if we contest alone.”</p> Fri Sep 25 19:51:03 IST 2020 innocent-dead <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON SEPTEMBER 18,</b> the Army finally admitted that its personnel had exceeded the mandate of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990 during an operation at Amshipora in Shopian on July 18, in which three “terrorists” were killed. It said that its statement was based on prima facie evidence found in an inquiry into the operation. The evidence also indicated that the “Dos and Don’ts of Chief of Army Staff”, as approved by the Supreme Court, had been “contravened”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Consequently, the competent disciplinary authority has directed [those concerned] to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima facie answerable,” said Srinagar-based defence spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK spoke to the families of the dead and they told the story thus. In March, Abrar Ahmed—a resident of Peeri, Kotranka, in Rajouri district—had returned home from Kuwait. The 23-year-old was excited about building a small, three-room house and catching up with his ten-month-old son.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The construction soon began, but it could not be completed as Ahmed ran out of money in July. As he could not return to Kuwait because of the pandemic, Ahmed decided to go to Shopian, 80km from Rajouri, where his maternal uncle’s son, Imtiyaz Ahmed, a Class 12 student, was working as a labourer to pay his fees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 15, a day before leaving for Shopian, Ahmed spent the night at his aunt and mother-in-law Sifat Jan’s house, also in Rajouri. The next morning, he left for Shopian with Jan’s son, a Class 10 student also named Abrar Ahmed. They took the Mughal Road and reached Shopian in the evening; Imtiyaz was waiting for them. The cousins then rented a room at Keegam for 01,600, and bought some rations. The following day, Imtiyaz called home and said that all three of them were fine. That was the last time their families heard from them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 18, the Army had said in a statement: “On a specific input by 62 RR (Rashtriya Rifles) about the presence of terrorists in the Amshipora area, an operation was launched by them. During the search, terrorists fired upon Army personnel and the encounter started. Later on, the police and the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) also joined. During the encounter, three unidentified terrorists were killed. Their bodies were retrieved from the site of encounter. The identification and affiliation of the killed terrorists are being ascertained.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The statement said that incriminating materials, including arms and ammunition, were recovered from the site of the encounter. It also said that the bodies of the terrorists were sent to Baramulla for their last rites after completing medico-legal formalities, including collection of their DNA. “In case any family claims the killed terrorists to be their kith or kin, they can come forward for their identification,” the statement said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 9, the cousins’ families filed a missing persons’ report; they had not heard from them in weeks. The following day, when photos of the killed “militants” first appeared on social media, they were shocked to see the resemblance. They went to the police and urged them to trace them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army, having heard of the families’ reactions to the photos, said it was investigating the matter. “We have noted social media inputs linked to the operation at Shopian. The three terrorists killed in the operation have not been identified and the bodies were buried based on established protocols,” said Kalia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political parties in Kashmir reacted sharply to the possibility of a fake encounter. In a tweet from the handle of Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti, her daughter, Iltija, said the reports of the “staged encounter” in Shopian showed that the armed forces were operating “with impunity”. She said it explained why bodies were allowed to decompose at unknown locations, and demanded an investigation into recent encounters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader M.Y. Tarigami: “This is shocking and must be probed by a sitting High Court judge in a time-bound manner.” He added that, in the past, too, civilians had been killed in fake encounters for rewards and promotions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The National Conference said it had constituted a team to explore the possibility of moving court to know the truth about the encounter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 18, Kalia said that the Army’s high-level inquiry into the operation was in progress, and that the statements of key witnesses were being recorded. “Additional civil witnesses are being asked to depose before the court of inquiry,” he said. “Concurrently, the Jammu and Kashmir Police have collected DNA samples from Rajouri (on August 14) and sent them for matching with [those of] the terrorists killed on July 18.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The father of Imtiyaz (Sabr Hussain), the mother of the younger Abrar (Jan) and the father of the older Abrar (Muhammad Yousuf) attended the Army hearings. “I testified before the Army and told them that our children had no connection with militancy,” Yousuf told THE WEEK. “I told them they could have arrested them. Why did they kill them?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, he said he was satisfied that the administration and the Army had acted swiftly. “Those who killed our children should be hanged,” he said. “Only then will we have some peace. If we do not get justice, I will hold those responsible for the murder of our children before God on the day of judgment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that his son had brought a new phone from Kuwait, but had been locked out of it; Ahmed had forgotten the screen lock code and had taken the phone with him to Shopian to get it unlocked. “Before he left for Shopian, he told his wife that he would get the phone opened in Srinagar and then put a SIM card in it for her,” Yousuf said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jan told THE WEEK that her son wanted to earn money to pay for his studies. “I want the police to return the bodies of our children,” she said. “We will bury them ourselves, even if it is only a limb.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She said the police must match the DNA and release the results quickly. “Why are they delaying it? This delay is creating anxiety and doubts,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 18, Kalia said the evidence prima facie indicated that the three unidentified “terrorists” killed in the operation were Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Abrar Ahmed, who hailed from Rajouri. “Their DNA report is awaited,” he said. “Their involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the police.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the Army was committed to ethical conduct in all counter-terrorism operations. “Cases where doubts are raised are investigated under due process as per the law of the land,’’ he said. “As the case is under investigation, further details will be shared periodically, as appropriate, without affecting due legal process.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 21, speaking in Parliament for the first time since his release from detention, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah said, “I am happy that the Army has admitted that three Shopian men were killed mistakenly. I hope the government gives [their families] a hefty compensation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He and party MP Hasnain Masoodi stood in front of the Gandhi statue outside Parliament with photos of the three Rajouri youth and Irfan Ahmed, who died in custody in Sopore, to highlight human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Amshipora encounter is the first of its kind after Jammu and Kashmir was made a Union territory last year. And as security now comes under direct control of the Union home ministry, the blame for fake encounters will be laid at its door.</p> Fri Sep 25 19:47:49 IST 2020 woman-of-substance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Meeting Kamala Harris in the flesh is compelling. I experienced it first hand when I saw her take the stage for a fundraiser in New York two years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 500 Indian Americans had gathered to meet one of their own. All of them must have had a Kamala in their circle of family and friends. In her genes and luminous smile, they found echoes of a shared past and ancestry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An Indian and Jamaican by birth, Senator Harris has been anointed vice presidential candidate and Joe Biden’s running mate in the US presidential election, due in November. Harris, 55, is the first woman of colour contesting the election for the second-highest job in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who would have thought that 2020 would be the year that all of America learned that Kamala in Sanskrit meant lotus flower. Most Americans find it difficult to pronounce the name correctly, but the fact that they are trying to do so represents the changing face and multicultural spirit of America.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, according to the Pew Research Center, hers is the face of the future. In a report about multiracial Americans, the researchers noted: “Biden’s selection of Sen Kamala Harris of California as his running mate in this year’s presidential election has sparked a conversation about multiracial identity in the United States. Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, is among a relatively small but growing group of Americans with a multiracial background.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, Harris wrote The Truths We Hold, a memoir that gives insights into her American journey—a rough and tough growing up in Oakland, California, living through segregation and the civil rights movement. She persisted and went on to become the first black and Asian woman to be elected attorney general of California, and the first south Asian woman to be elected to the US Senate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Kamala, as you all know, is smart. She’s tough. She’s experienced. She’s a proven fighter for the backbone of this country, the middle class,” said Biden while introducing her as his running mate in the virtual national convention of the Democratic Party in August. “She knows how to govern. She knows how to make the hard calls. She is ready to do this job on day one.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the convention, Harris showed how strong her Indian roots were by showcasing the biggest influence of her life, her mother Shyamala Gopalan. “She came here from India at age 19 to pursue her dream of curing cancer,” Harris said. “At the University of California Berkeley, she met my father, Donald Harris, who had come from Jamaica to study economics. They fell in love in that most American way—while marching together for justice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In the streets of Oakland and Berkeley, I got a stroller’s-eye view of people getting into what the great John Lewis called ‘good trouble’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Good trouble became a mantra of her life, which Harris has dedicated to fighting injustice and inequality. “My mother instilled in my sister Maya and me the values that would chart the course of our lives,” she said. “She raised us to be proud, strong black women, and she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In her speech, Harris said of her mother: “She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people, to believe public service is a noble cause, and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility.” It led Harris to become a lawyer, a district attorney, attorney general and a United States senator. “And at every step of the way, I have been guided by the words I spoke from the first time I stood in a courtroom — Kamala Harris, for the people,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden’s choice has been well received. As the New York Times noted, “In announcing Ms Harris, 55, as his vice-presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden told supporters she was the person best equipped to ‘take this fight’ to President Trump, making space in a campaign premised on restoring American decency for a willing brawler who learned early in her career that fortune would not favour the meek among black women in her lines of work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harris has been hailed as the female Obama. She represents many different groups that see themselves reflected in her. Her family, too, is multicultural; her husband, Doug Emhoff, is Jewish and her stepchildren lovingly call her ‘Momala’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Impact, a leading Indian American advocacy group, an estimated 1.3 million Indian Americans are expected to vote in this year’s election, including two lakh in Pennsylvania and 1.25 lakh in Michigan, both must-win battleground states. “Kamala Harris’s story is the story of a changing, inclusive America. At a time of rapid change, she ties all our national threads together,” said Neil Makhija, Impact’s executive director. “She represents the future and promise of this country. Her candidacy is historic and inspiring, not only for black Americans but for millions of Asian American voters, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manisha Sinha, professor of history at the University of Connecticut, termed Biden’s decision to pick Harris a “personal gift”. “Not only does she represent the very groups mocked and vilified by Trump—women, black people and immigrants—but also, as a woman of Afro-Indian descent, she might well be the future face of American politics,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Subodh Chandra, a civil rights lawyer and former law director of the City of Cleveland, Ohio, has seen Harris interacting with children and the elderly up close. She once met his elderly parents and immediately took to his mother, addressing her as aunty and interacting as if the two had long been relatives. When she met his three sons—triplets—there was so much hugging, and not of the kind meant for a politician’s photo op. “The sense you get from her is that she is someone who really values family, kids and good cooking,” said Chandra. “On Twitter, you have all these funny videos of her instructing her husband on food preparation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At work, he said, she exudes magnetism and positivity. She can quickly cut to the truth and expose someone who is talking nonsense. “These qualities are going to make her a magnificent candidate and asset to the ticket and the country. And, I think, eventually our first female president,” Chandra said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shelly Kapoor Collins, a venture capitalist who lives in San Francisco, has known Harris since 1998. Four years ago, when Harris ran for the Senate, Collins’s mother gave her a silver Lakshmi coin, saying she would go very far. The blessing seems to have worked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You have to meet her to understand there is something very charismatic about her,” she said. “She is fierce—and I love that in a woman who is so strong and has paved the way for other women. She has a bold vision for the country and you believe her when she talks; her authenticity really comes through.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some feel that Harris is not Indian enough. Collins, however, disagrees with that view. “As Indian Americans, we need to rally around our candidate not because of shared heritage but because of shared values,” she said. “I believe in her vision. I believe in what she wants for America. The Indian American community needs to align itself with values, not just with identities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at 'Lassi with Lavina'.</b></p> Fri Oct 02 12:29:50 IST 2020 sowing-anger <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What happened in the Rajya Sabha on September 20 was unprecedented and against constitutional propriety. Both the government and the opposition agree on this, but for different reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The trouble started when Deputy Chairman Harivansh asked for proceedings to be extended to pass two crucial agriculture reform bills. The opposition resisted. As Harivansh persisted, agitated members of the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party rushed to the well saying the chair was being partisan. Some opposition members tore rulebooks, threw papers and advanced menacingly towards Harivansh before the marshals restrained them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The house eventually passed the two contentious bills with a voice vote. The opposition parties then boycotted the session. On September 22, the house passed another bill, again with a voice vote. “The division (voting) could not have been allowed when there was ruckus inside the house,” said Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. “The deputy chairman asked them to return to their seats 13 times.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farming has always been a sensitive issue in India, especially politically. For instance, parties have often won elections by promising farm loan waivers; the Congress won Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in 2018, and the BJP won Uttar Pradesh in 2017 with a similar promise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one wants to alienate the farmers, and the Modi government knows that. For the first time, the opposition may have an issue that it can use to mobilise crowds against the government; it failed to do so during demonetisation and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, on the other hand, would need a massive awareness campaign to convince farmers that the bills would increase their incomes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vocal about farmers’ interests, and said that the reform bills were “historic”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the bills, the most controversial was the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, which allows a farmer to sell his produce to anyone, anywhere. The existing Agricultural Produce Market Committee-run mandis and minimum support price would be kept intact. The farmer, however, would get the minimum support price only at the APMC mandis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“These bills will give more profit to farmers and ensure greater participation,” said BJP Rajya Sabha member Bhupender Yadav. “The opposition parties do not want more money for the farmers. The lies of the opposition will be exposed. The MSP will stay.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress disagreed. “The MSP will continue, but the government will reduce its procurement [of grains],” said Dr Amar Singh, Congress MP from Punjab and former Food Corporation of India chairman. “History will tell us. If procurement is not reduced, how will PDS (Public Distribution System) supply reduce? If the PDS supply is not reduced, how will the private players come in? The government should assure that procurement will not go down.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politics aside, farmers’ organisations are on the warpath. A group of them has called for a bandh on September 25, and a meeting of all farmers’ unions in Delhi on September 27 to chalk out the course of action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said V.M. Singh, convener of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an umbrella organisation of more than 250 farmers’ unions: “We have the example of Bihar, which had abolished APMC in 2006. There, crops are sold below MSP. The same will happen elsewhere. The AIKSCC warns the government of nationwide unrest if MSP is not guaranteed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh backs, also has asked the government to guarantee MSP, even in the private sector. “The farmers have poor bargaining power,” said SJM national co-convener Ashwani Mahajan. “They could be exploited, and thus need government protection.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mandis are a source of revenue for state governments. In Punjab, for example, sale and purchase of agriculture produce at mandis attract a tax of 6 per cent, along with arhatiya (middleman) commission of 2.5 per cent. This earns the state around Rs4,000 crore a year. The state governments stand to lose this revenue as the new reforms would introduce zero-tax trade areas outside the mandis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another point of contention is that, according to the bill, a farmer with a complaint would have to go to a sub-divisional magistrate for redress. This might discourage the farmers and also burden the magistrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other two bills—the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020—have not faced as much resistance. The essential commodities act, a socialist-era law enacted during the time of food scarcity, had become obsolete. On September 22, the Rajya Sabha passed the bill to remove cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onions and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. This would remove private players’ fears of excessive regulatory interference and would benefit a number of new agri-tech startups. Along with the</p> <p>Rs1 lakh crore agriculture infrastructure fund, this will help create more facilities for farmers.</p> <p>“Earlier, there was no clarity on the rules in different states,” said Karthik Jayaraman, CEO and cofounder, WayCool, a Chennai-based agri-tech startup. “Procuring was tedious. The new reforms will give greater freedom to us to expand, and source farm produce directly from farmers, instead of just the APMC. The farmers will benefit, so will new agri-tech companies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second bill, for empowerment and protection of farmers, gives legal sanction to contract farming. This will allow big companies to sign contracts with farmers and use the land to grow crops of their choice. This is already done in several states. The government has also clarified that the farmer would not be at risk of losing his land, which many parties and farmers’ bodies had feared would happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite disagreements on many aspects of the bills, most people seem to agree that the private sector would gain from them, which would in turn help the economy. The trouble, though, lies in convincing the farmers, and the Modi government will have to work overtime to do so.</p> Fri Sep 25 19:37:32 IST 2020 will-not-allow-implementation-of-the-bills <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>HARSIMRAT KAUR BADAL</b> quit the Union cabinet protesting that the farm reform bills were against farmers. The Shiromani Akali Dal, her party, has been part of the National Democratic Alliance since its inception, and had been the first to support Narendra Modi’s candidacy for prime minister. However, the Akalis could not lend their support to Modi this time as the party’s vote bank is largely made up of the Sikh peasantry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview, Badal explains the factors behind her resignation, and the way forward for her party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Why did you resign from the Union cabinet?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ My party and I are opposed to the three agriculture-related bills which are against farmers. When I could not convince the government, and the bills were going to be passed in the Lok Sabha, I had no option but to oppose the bills. So, I resigned as a minister and opposed the passing of the anti-farmer bills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SAD raised the need to address the apprehensions of farmers through all possible means. First, I raised it while giving my comments during the inter-ministerial consultations before ordinance came to the cabinet. I again expressed my apprehension in the cabinet meeting when it was tabled for discussion. After the ordinances were promulgated, the SAD took up the issue with the BJP top leadership. However, when the NDA government refused to address the matter, I did not have any option but to resign from my post and prepare to battle alongside farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\Other Union ministers say you were present in the cabinet when the bills were approved.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ I have never claimed not being present. Before, during and after the promulgation of the ordinances I continuously raised objections about the bills, and urged the government to address these apprehensions before bringing the bills. I tried for more than two months to make the government agree to critical changes for making the bills beneficial to farmers, but I could not convince them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\The government claims the bills are for farmers’ benefit.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ The cumulative impact of the three legislations will create serious problems. It is going to ruin agriculture of Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the private players get established the state procurement system will first get weakened, and finally [will become] irrelevant. The state mandis and the infrastructure created to procure food grains, which has been established painstakingly over a period of 50 years, will be destroyed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\The SAD has been the oldest BJP ally. Will both parties continue their alliance in Punjab?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ This is a call which the party leadership will take collectively. We will discuss the issue with the party cadre as well as block and district level units before taking a final call on this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\What is your party’s future course of action on the farm reform bills?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ We stand firmly and strongly with the farmers. We will make sure that the anti-farmer bills are not implemented in Punjab. All efforts will be made to stop the implementation of these bills. Akali Dal is a party of warriors. We will lead the fight…. The party has already drawn an action plan to ensure that the voice of annadaata [farmer] is heard by the nation and its government. We have announced a chakka jam (stop the wheels) on September 24, and will hold a kisan march to Mohali on October 1, to hand over to the governor a memorandum for the president, from Sri Akal Takht, Sri Damdama Sahib and Sri Kesgarh Sahib. We will not rest till justice is done to the farmers.</p> Fri Sep 25 19:32:36 IST 2020 uncompromising-position <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PRIME MINISTER</b> Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping are likely to come face to face soon at the BRICS summit in Russia. The summit, which has been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is now expected to take place by the end of October. Modi and Xi have met 18 times since 2014. The 19th meeting is going to be a tough one, given the tense border standoff between India and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military commanders from both countries have been holding marathon deliberations, but they have not yet produced any tangible results. The sixth such meeting held on September 21 was also attended by Navin Srivastava, joint secretary in charge of east Asia at the ministry of external affairs. The MEA sent its representative to ensure that the Army and the political leadership were on the same page on the issue. Srivastava, who has been holding border talks with Chinese diplomats, had accompanied External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during his recent meeting in Moscow with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India went with a bigger delegation for the sixth round of talks, which was the first one after the Jaishankar-Wang meeting. The team led by Lieutenant General Harinder Singh of the Leh-based 14 Corps consisted of commanders of the two divisions responsible for Ladakh, Major General Abhijit Bapat and Major General Padam Shekhawat. Lieutenant General P.G.K. Menon, who is expected to take over the command of the 14 Corps, was also present. The Indian side said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was the aggressor and should withdraw first following the principle of ‘first in, first out’. At the end of the 14-hour-long meeting, the two sides agreed to “stop sending more troops to the frontline” and “refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on ground”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lieutenant General Harinder Singh and Major General Liu Lin of the South Xinjiang military district have now spent nearly 75 hours trying to negotiate a way out of the current impasse. “Such long hours indicate that there are too many differences between the two sides. The Indian side needs to change its approach while negotiating with the Chinese military,” said former northern army commander Lieutenant General (retd) D.S. Hooda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military planners do not foresee any major breakthrough in the coming days. They are, in fact, apprehensive of further violent skirmishes before winter sets in. General (retd) V.P. Malik, who led the Indian Army during the 1999 Kargil operation, said eyeball-to-eyeball situations can escalate quickly. He mentioned the Nathula crisis of 1967 when an accidental firing by a Chinese soldier while setting up a fence escalated into heavy artillery exchange which lasted for four days. “We need to be on our highest level of alertness and should be prepared for winter,” said Malik. Citing the example of the Indian victory in Kargil, he said a robust defence was needed for diplomacy to succeed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military strategists believe that India’s recent tactical gains have made China jittery. Operation Snow Leopard launched on August 29 has given the Indian Army control over the dominating heights in the Chushul region, bringing China’s Moldo garrison under its range of fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Major General (retd) S.B. Asthana, an infantry leader with over 40 years of experience, said the PLA’s operational aim was to maximise its territorial gains on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and gain some tactically significant features crucial to India before the onset of winter. “It will exploit the remaining 30 to 45 days before heavy snowfall for the purpose, and will try not to give away any more critical heights,” he said. “We should raise the cost for the PLA for its gross violation of the LAC, even if it requires a long haul on the border and a few more military options.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the five-point agreement between Jaishankar and Wang in Moscow was nothing more than a diplomatic nicety, and was difficult to implement on ground. “We have had 22 rounds of diplomatic talks on border management, but failed to reach any consensus,” said Asthana. As the LAC is not clearly demarcated, there will be incidents of jostling. “Jostling is not a strategic, tactical or operational action. Talks have very little meaning without proper demarcation, but it requires political will on both sides.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik said there was a complete breakdown of trust between the Indian Army and the PLA. “On the ground, they do the exact opposite of what they discuss during talks, like what happened in Galwan. Armies always hit their adversaries at their weak spots. For proactive defence, we need to look for soft spots on the other side. You cannot guard each and every inch of a high altitude mountainous border,” he said. He also warned about areas where India lacked adequate infrastructure and about posts which were thinly guarded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian military planners think that a pullback from the border will be politically costly for Xi. The PLA, therefore, is unlikely to withdraw and may use the time for negotiation to bolster its logistics and beef up infrastructure support for its forward troops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While India insists on unhindered access to the 15 Patrolling Points in eastern Ladakh currently blocked by China, the PLA wants India to vacate the strategic heights along the south bank of Pangong Tso. But giving up the newly occupied heights will be a strategic disaster for India. “If China does not agree to disengagement, then we should ask the PLA to thin down its troops close to the border. We need to rethink our negotiating position to break the logjam,” said Hooda. Many military strategists are, however, sceptical about the ongoing negotiations. “We should not go for a quick fix solution,” said Asthana. “It will turn into a major handicap in the future.”</p> Fri Sep 25 19:25:16 IST 2020 not-so-fast <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SHIVANI</b> (name changed) from Delhi was allegedly raped by a male acquaintance in 2012. She was purportedly given intoxicant-laced tea by the man, after which she passed out and was sexually assaulted. He threatened to make a video of the crime public if she spoke about it. However, Shivani, now 28, approached the police and a case was registered. It was assigned to a fast-track court (FTC) and the charge-sheet was filed in 2013. However, recording of evidence started only in 2017 and was listed for final arguments in early 2019. The wait for a judgment continues. The case highlights the irony of fast-track courts—set up to speed up the disposal of cases, but failing to provide timely justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Statistics show that these courts take as long as ordinary courts, if not longer, to dispose of cases. For instance, nearly 34 per cent of the cases sent to fast-track courts in Bihar took more than 10 years to clear; in Telangana, 12 per cent of the cases went on for more than a decade. In the same duration, the lower judiciary as a whole cleared 48.75 per cent cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast-track courts are also burdened with substantial pendency. According to figures provided by the Union law and justice ministry in Parliament, as of March 2019, the 581 fast-track courts that were then operational had a sizeable pendency of over 5.9 lakh cases. Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, had over 4.25 lakh cases pending even after the state’s 206 fast-track courts disposed of 4.56 lakh cases from 2016 to 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As on December 31, 2019, 828 fast-track courts were functional. They have been set up to try various kinds of cases, primarily those relating to crimes against women and children, and also criminal cases against MPs and MLAs, mob lynchings, riots, and atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast-track courts were first set up in 2000; the scheme was initially supposed to end in 2005, but it was extended for another six years, and after that their fate was left to the states and High Courts. The brutal gang-rape and murder of a physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012 gave a new fillip to fast-track courts amid a public outcry for speedy justice. A fast-track court that was set up on January 2, 2013, decided that particular case within nine months. However, as statistics show, such speed is rare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation led to the Supreme Court, in December 2019, setting up a two-judge committee to monitor, supervise and make suggestions for speedy trial in cases of rape and crimes under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. As per the law, trials in rape cases have to be completed within two months, and in POCSO cases within a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts say that problems arise from these courts being seen as a temporary arrangement; judges are drawn from the lower courts, and courts lack staff and infrastructure. “The number of judges is insufficient,” said Surya Prakash B.S., fellow and programme director, DAKSH, a civil society group that researches law and governance. “The expectation is that the judge would handle certain cases on a priority basis. But the judge is handling other jurisdictions also. So this becomes another case list for him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Human rights lawyer Olivia Bang said pendency of cases in the fast-track courts do not allow them to expeditiously hear matters. “Even in an FTC, the next date of hearing is often three or four months later,” she said. “And it is not surprising, since even in an FTC, on any given day, there are at least 15-25 matters listed for hearing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The pace of investigation could also be one of the possible bottlenecks,” said lawyer Nimisha Menon. The Supreme Court had in 2019 observed that in more than 20 per cent of POCSO cases, even the investigation was not completed within one year. Menon pointed out that forensic sample reports are also not processed expeditiously and added that setting up labs specifically for the investigation of crimes against women and children would expedite the process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lawyer Eliza Rumthao, who handled one of the first POCSO cases to be registered in Delhi, said that the case, which went to court in 2012, got completed only last year. “The delay is emotionally taxing for the victim,” she said. “In many cases, the family of the victim wants to give up fighting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The examination of witnesses also delays matters further. Assam lawyer Bijan Mahajan, who represents the family of one of the victims in the fast-tracked Karbi Anglong mob lynching case, said: “Witnesses not turning up in the court delays the trial. And witnesses turning hostile damages the prosecution’s case.” Lawyers say that procedural changes need to be made to speed up the recording of evidence, which takes the most time in a case. “You cannot examine a witness in a day,” said lawyer Kamlesh Mishra. “Courts spend seven to eight months examining witnesses. If an alternative mechanism is devised for this, for example, if the registrar or the court commissioner is entrusted with the task of recording evidence, the disposal of cases can be expedited.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, experts say that no specific procedure is prescribed for fast disposal of cases by fast-track courts and they have no special powers. “These courts need a different set of procedural rules and [have to be] given powers such as being able to order a probe if the investigation is found to be lacking,” said Surya Prakash.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government had proposed the setting up of 1,800 fast-track courts for five years between 2015 and 2020 to deal with cases related to women, children, senior citizens and other vulnerable sections of society. The 14th Finance Commission endorsed the proposal that would require funds allocation of 04,144.11 crore to states. In August 2019, the Centre also announced its decision to set up 1,023 fast-track courts for disposal of pending cases related to rape and POCSO, at a cost of 0767 crore. As of January 2020, 195 of them have been set up. Out of the 1,023, 389 will exclusively handle POCSO cases, as directed by the Supreme Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts highlight a fundamental flaw in the scheme. The courts are set up under a Centrally sponsored scheme, but the task of setting up fast-track courts comes under the domain of state governments. “The scheme requires even the state governments to pitch in funds and not all the states have the financial capacity to do so,” said Tarika Jain, research fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. She said that while setting a specific target of clearing 1.66 lakh cases might work for these courts, the scheme does not specify any special training for the judicial officers and it is unclear if any assistance for adequate legal representation for the parties will be provided. Such assistance can help dispose of cases in a timely and efficient manner. Jain added that no provision has been made to digitally record evidence and examine witnesses. “In sensitive cases, it might be critical for the victim to not come in contact with the accused,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a senior law ministry official, a decision has been taken to hire lawyers with up to eight years of practice to work as consultants to implement the scheme. They will be required to coordinate with registrar generals of High Courts to ensure that the timeline of completing the trial is followed. Also, each fast-track court will have one judicial officer and seven staff members, and no existing judge or court staff will be given additional charge of these courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The recruitment of judges has to be carried out by the states. But there is already an alarming dearth of judges in the subordinate judiciary, and it is doubtful how effectively the states and the already burdened High Courts will find judges for these courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The justification offered for setting up the 1,023 fast-track courts is that there are over 2.4 lakh cases relating to rape and POCSO pending. However, experts call for the overall strengthening and reform of the judicial system rather than trying to fix the problem of delays and pendency by setting up new fast-track courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are fundamental problems with the rationale behind fast-track courts, said Alok Prasanna Kumar, senior resident fellow at Vidhi. “The idea that procedure is cumbersome and disposable in some kinds of cases is wrong and must be opposed,” he said. “And directing resources towards some kinds of cases over others creates inequalities in the system.” He said the focus should be on filling up all the vacancies in judges’ positions and providing for more judicial positions in the states where the pendency is heavy, building better courtrooms and equipping the existing judicial infrastructure, using modern technology and software for better court management, and increasing judicial budgets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, while there has been a demand for speedy and time-bound justice in the wake of the Unnao and Hyderabad rape and murder cases, it is also argued that the emphasis should be on timely justice rather than speedy justice as often the timelines set for the disposal of these cases are irrational and suggest that procedure is dispensable in deciding such matters. “Skipping procedural steps in hastening a case will not stand the test of the law,” said Shubhangi, who uses only one name, programme coordinator at the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives. “Timely trial would mean there are no unnecessary delays. And it will give the victims an experience of justice. However, there are no guidelines on timely trial by FTCs, so how can you expect these courts to be any different?”</p> Fri Sep 25 18:23:00 IST 2020 states-and-high-courts-have-to-address-backlog <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>UNTIL DISPUTE</b> resolution is swift, the legal system is not credible. A backlog of around 3.5 million cases is horrendous. There is a long list of what should be done to fix the legal system, with reforms on both demand and supply. The idea of fast-track courts originated with the Eleventh Finance Commission (2000-2005). So, to evaluate the courts, we should consider what the commission visualised: “The demand made to us by the States... including establishment of new courts, sums up to Rs4,870 crores…. It goes without saying that the creation of these new courts would require very large recurring and non-recurring expenditure…. The Scheme is that instead of employing new judges, retired sessions judges and additional sessions judges be appointed as ad hoc judges for disposing of the pending sessions cases. A fixed tenure of two years would be an impetus to them to dispose of the cases early and not to linger on with an expectation of extended tenure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Accordingly, the commission provided Rs502.90 crore for 1,734 fast-track courts. The funding for improving judicial infrastructure was not meant to come through the Finance Commission. Those funds flowed through the Planning Commission. Nor were broader judicial reforms part of what fast-track courts were supposed to do. The purpose was focus—specific money for specific cases. Though not mandatory, there were guidelines. Each judge should dispose of 14 sessions cases per month; 168 cases a year. Five judges per district, with 600 districts, would mean more than five lakh cases disposed of in a year; backlog reduced by two million in four years. At least, that is what the Eleventh Finance Commission thought. It said that if the experiment was successful, the model could be extended to other criminal (non-sessions) and civil cases; the work norm would be 20-25 cases disposed of per month.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Judiciary is reluctant to accept externally determined work norms. But, it is also not willing to evolve norms on its own. One can understand the difficulty of evolving work norms for complicated constitutional cases. But I have not understood why norms cannot be evolved for lower courts, where questions of fact, rather than the law, are involved, and where there is no need to write long and complicated judgments. (Do you remember a recent instance where Supreme Court judges sent back a Himachal Pradesh High Court judgment because they could not understand it? I wish more judges would write judgments like Lord Denning.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Be that as it may, the Eleventh Finance Commission money became additional funds, without work norms, used like a shotgun, in the hope that something sticks. The scheme should have ended on March 31, 2005. It did not, because of the Supreme Court’s judgment on May 6, 2002 (Brij Mohan Lal vs Union of India and Others). If you read the judgment, the tenor is that we need more courts and more judges and, to this end, any additional resources are welcome. The directions said that at least one administrative judge shall be nominated in each High Court to monitor the disposal of cases by fast-track courts. I suspect not much has happened in this direction. So, Union government funding continued till March 31, 2011. After that, in a view upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012, it was left to the states and High Courts to decide how to address the judicial backlog issue best.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 14th Finance Commission said that was the reason states have a higher share (42 per cent) in the divisible pool of taxes. It also said there were 699 fast-track courts which have worked well with a focus (crimes against women, disputes more than five years old). Hence, in 2019, there were 1,023 fast-track courts for rape cases and offences under Protection of Children against Sexual Offences. However, if a state wishes to continue with fast-track courts, these have to be made permanent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Debroy is chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the prime minister.</b></p> Fri Sep 25 18:17:21 IST 2020 fast-track-courts-need-procedural-amendments <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>According to NCRB data for 2018, only 22 per cent of the cases in fast-track courts were disposed of within a year. How do you view this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast-track courts have been set up to dispense speedy justice in heinous crimes against women and children. In 2019, the Supreme Court, in a suo motu case directed that all such cases, especially related to POCSO, be sent to the FTCs. The committee also examined and found that till December 2019, 828 FTCs were functional in 17 states and Union territories, and sufficient funding is available for these courts. The problem is that, even in the pursuance of the Supreme Court directions to set up these courts, the legal procedure for these courts is the same as the ordinary courts. Some suitable procedural amendments are required to allow speedy disposal of cases in these courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It has been observed that these courts suffer from infrastructural deficiencies and the judges are drawn from the already thinly-staffed lower judiciary.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, our committee examined the issue of whether we can provide a special court management system. Artificial Intelligence is being used in various areas. We are looking at whether it can be used in court management, especially focusing on allocation and disposal of cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There are almost six lakh cases pending in these courts.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are various procedural issues that need to be streamlined, for example, examination of witnesses takes a lot of time, and it gets prolonged when witnesses do not turn up, and when medical reports are not submitted on time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How does the committee look at the scheme to set up 1,023 fast track courts to hear matters pertaining to crimes against women and children?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The parliamentary committee also recommended in its report that the impact of the scheme may be evaluated after one year of the scheme to identify the challenges, and the same may be apprised to the committee in the action taken reply filed by the department. Let us wait for the response of the Central government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the committee gone into the progress made under the scheme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The committee examined the allocation of funds under the scheme, and we feel that the government has provided sufficient funds for the setting up of courts. We feel that the setting up of these courts was needed as there is a huge pendency of cases of crimes against women and children, and especially, with regard to POCSO cases, the number of cases has gone up tremendously. But the main issue of how to ensure speedy disposal of cases remains, and it is a challenge before the system. The action taken report will throw more light on the practical difficulties involved in the functioning of these courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some experts question the setting up of fast-track courts. They say fast-tracking certain categories of cases creates inequality and hence is unconstitutional.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reasonable classification is recognised by the law under Article 14. We feel that certain cases are more important than others because of their social impact and hence there is nothing wrong in treating them differently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is also said that instead of setting up fast-track courts, the entire judicial system should be reformed.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to reform our courts. We have entered an era when virtual courts have become a reality. Providing justice that is not just timely but is accessible and affordable should be at the centre of efforts to reform the judicial system.</p> Fri Sep 25 18:14:38 IST 2020 women-on-watch <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AN INSAS RIFLE</b> strapped to her shoulder, T. Lian Khan Ching is clad in military camouflage with a bulletproof vest, helmet, ankle-high service boots and a scarf that doubles as a face mask. Only her eyes are visible. And, they seldom stay still, darting from one woman or child to another as they disembark from vehicles for a security check at Sadhna Pass in Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Ching is part of an all-woman platoon from Assam Rifles deployed by the Army at the strategic Sadhna Pass since July 25. The purpose is to deter smugglers from using women and children to sneak in arms and narcotics into Kashmir from across the Line of Control. Prior to the platoon’s posting, women and children were exempted from security checks. This is the first time the Army has deployed women soldiers near the LoC in Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadhna Pass lies 150km northwest of Srinagar. Located 10,000ft above sea level, it is surrounded by the LoC on three sides and connects one lakh residents of Tangdhar-Teetwal villages with the rest of the Valley. Locally, Sadhna Pass is called Nathi Chapa Gali or the pass that leaves one’s nose numb owing to the icy cold winds during winter; 20ft snow blankets the pass in winters when the temperature drops to -25⁰C. After the 1965 war, when Bollywood superstar Sadhna visited the pass to boost the morale of the troops, it came to be known as Sadhna Pass. Black-and-white photographs of the film star adorn the walls of the meeting hall at the pass alongside photos from the 1965 war and of soldiers in action against tribals from Pakistan who tried to annex Kashmir in 1947. There are also photos of India’s first defence minister Baldev Singh interacting with troops at the pass and at Teetwal after the tribals were pushed back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the nine riflewomen in the platoon hail from the northeast. Deployment near LoC comes with its own set of challenges—Pakistani artillery shelling, inclement weather, inhospitable terrain, minimum amenities and no recreation except watching television. But they have taken it all on the chin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 7, they had their first brush with shelling from Pakistan that killed one civilian and injured six others at Tangdhar. As soon as they heard the shelling, Ching and three others of her platoon—all members are in their 20s—rushed to the underground bunker some distance away from the check-post. “We stayed in the bunker for some time and then resumed our duty,” said Ching, who is from Nagaland. The shelling did not scare her, she said. “This is part of our job and that is what we have been trained for,” she said. She struggles with Hindi but is fluent in English. She applied for a job in the Army with four of her childhood friends, but only she got in. The opportunity to serve near the LoC has been a thrilling experience for her. “I tell myself, beyond those mountains is Pakistan,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Riflewoman Mevish Rongmei from Manipur has been serving in the Army for three years. “But this is the best experience to date,” she said. Her father, also in the Army, inspired her to don the olive greens. While the local people are cooperative, she said they had trouble understanding her Hindi at times. Joining the Army was L. Khongsai’s childhood dream. Her brother is in the Border Security Force, and that made it easier for her to join the Army after class 12, said Khongsai, also from Manipur. The platoon is led by Captain Gursimran Kaur of the Army Service Corps. She regularly interacts with the soldiers and also acts as a guide. To unwind, the soldiers watch television or surf the internet on cellphone. Sadhna Pass has good internet connectivity, thanks to a mobile network line close by.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior Army officer said the women soldiers adapted well to the situation near the LoC. More washrooms were made available in view of their deployment, he said. The platoon’s deployment, he added, had helped curb the use of women and children to smuggle arms and narcotics. They had also addressed “the gender sensitivity concerns of the female travellers,” the officer said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after the deployment of the platoon—on July 26—10kg of brown sugar, an AK-47 rifle, two pistols, 20 grenades and other ammunition were recovered from three persons who were travelling in two vehicles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An Army officer said that the narcotics and arms were seized during a routine checking of vehicles at night. He said the riflewomen work in shifts of three hours, from 6am to 9pm. “After that, all the checking is done by male soldiers,” he said. The presence of riflewomen seemed to have put pressure on the smugglers, he said, and that is why they were trying to smuggle drugs and weapons at night when women and children seldom travel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before deciding to post the women platoon at the pass, there were suggestions to deploy a contingent of policewomen at the check-post. However, the Army decided to bring in women soldiers, till the time the 100 women it plans to induct in the Military Police complete their training.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The women soldiers, meanwhile, are on watch. But guess what they are looking forward to? Snowfall in November. Said Rongmei: “It is going to be fun to witness snowfall here.”</p> Thu Sep 17 19:37:11 IST 2020 spaced-out <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MISSION GAGANYAAN</b> will not take off this year. However, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is still hopeful that the last of the three flights in the mission, the one with Indian astronauts, should make it to the 2022 deadline, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first of the three flights of Gaganyaan was to have taken off this December, followed by another unmanned flight next year. The delay has been conveyed to the Space Commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaganyaan, India’s human space flight mission, is a three-flight programme, with only the third actually carrying the astronauts into a lower earth orbit. Given that India is not sending any animals to space before launching the astronauts, the first two flights are important for testing the organisation’s capabilities, including the life-support systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of astronauts, the first two flights will have on board Vyommitra, a “half humanoid” (as she does not have legs) to help check the systems in the crew module in situ, including temperature, pressure levels and oxygen availability. She will have some level of autonomy to communicate with the ground station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>ISRO’s launch calendar has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, and there has been no launch from its spaceport, Sriharikota, this year. In fact, the only ISRO launch this year was G-SAT 30, but it was carried by a French rocket, Ariane, which took off from French Guiana on January 17. Although officials confirm that there may be around three to four launches before the year is over, they admit that the deadlines of several launches planned for the latter half of this year may slip into the next calendar year. This could have a cascading effect on the next year’s plans, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are hopeful that the final manned mission will take off as per the planned schedule, since we still have some time cushion for it,” said Vikas Singh, spokesperson, ISRO. At the time the project was announced in 2018, chairperson K. Sivan had said that it was possible to do the mission even earlier, given that the organisation had already done enough R&amp;D on it, and developed prototypes. However, that confidence had not taken into consideration the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought work to a complete halt initially, and even now, it is not business as usual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Gaganyaan, ISRO was scheduled to launch Aditya, its first probe to study the sun’s corona, too, this year. Chandrayaan-3 is listed for next year. This apart, there are several routine satellite launches, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>S. Somnath, director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, said that two rockets were already at the space port in Sriharikota, waiting to take off since March, but with lockdowns and restricted movement, it has been impossible to do anything. One of these is the first Geo-imaging satellite (GISAT 1), which was to be launched upon a GSLV rocket. The other is a PSLV.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The GISAT is the first of the earth observation geostationary satellites. So far, India has only had polar satellites for earth observation. It is meant for continuous, real time observations, and has applications for weather forecasts, disaster management, as well as military uses. The launch, scheduled for March 5, was called off mysteriously a day before, with ISRO citing technical reasons, and not specifying anything else. The secrecy over the cancellation led to a number of conspiracy theories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The technical issues are resolved,” Singh said. “We are just waiting for travel to become easier.” Almost all of ISRO’s centres are involved in a launch, and it takes a minimum of a month’s work at the spaceport to “integrate” a rocket for take off—stacking the satellite, evaluating, testing and then when the countdown starts, fuelling. The components come from various places—rockets come from Thiruvananthapuram or Mahendragiri. The satellites are manufactured in Bengaluru, while the payloads may come from various other centres. “This requires the travel of officials to Sriharikota in various batches, across weeks, from different states. Sometimes, we also need international travel to our ground stations in Brunei and Indonesia,” explained Somnath. For weeks, the rocket manufacturing centre at Thiruvananthapuram itself was under triple and critical lockdowns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While ISRO managed to shift a lot of its research to the work-from-home schedule, there are certain things that simply cannot be done from home. Launching a rocket is one of those. Interstate restrictions was one hurdle, the fact that many of the organisation’s own staff is affected by the infection, or in quarantine, creates further problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somnath said that the rocket for Gaganyaan’s first flight is almost ready. However, other technologies are not in the same phase of readiness, yet, say sources. A lot of the hardware manufacturing contracted to the private sector, too, has been affected by the pandemic. In fact, even the four test pilots of the Air Force, who were sent to Russia, for astronaut training in January, had to twiddle their thumbs for weeks with Russia itself under lockdown. The training has, since, resumed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, from other spaceports across the earth, some very interesting launches have happened. China has so far had 22 missions since January and reports say it is aiming for a record 40 launches by December. Its best year was 2018, with 39 launches, the highest in the world. China’s most prestigious mission, this year, was the July 22 launch of its Martian probe, Tianwen 1. This probe includes an orbiter, lander and rover.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The United Arab Emirates, too, sent a probe to Mars, the Hope Orbiter, from Japan in July. NASA launched its Mars 2020 mission, which included the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter, the first to attempt rotor blade flying in an alien atmosphere. All three spacecrafts are expected to reach Mars next February. They took advantage of a short window that happens every 26 months, when the two planets are closest to each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier in June, NASA and private player SpaceX&nbsp;did the first human space flight from the US since 2011, sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has just announced that the next SpaceX flight to the ISS will take off in late October, taking seven astronauts to the 20-year-old orbital laboratory. In October itself, NASA plans to send a probe to the asteroid Bennu, to return to the earth with a sample.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Russian space agency Roscosmos, too, launched a Proton rocket with two satellites from its Baikonur spacedrome in July and is planning, among other things, a flight to the ISS in September.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts say that unlike other countries, where facilities are in one place, India’s space centres are spread across several states, and the lockdown restrictions have made it impossible for such heavy interstate transport of components and humans. The European Space Agency (ESA) has not been able to do any launches, officials point out, since its spaceports are far away from the headquarters in Paris and their launches will require international travel, even more difficult in these times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh added that a lot of work has resumed in various centres as the country has begun unlocking in phases, and unless there is no other unforeseen event, ISRO should manage three to four launches by the year end. However, he said it was not possible to say which these launches would be, since they are all being readied simultaneously. It would depend on which gets ready, and also on the scheduling.</p> Thu Sep 17 19:37:53 IST 2020 heights-of-tension <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SIX MONTHS INTO</b> his tenure as the commander of Leh-based Fire and Fury Corps (XIV Corps), Lt General Harinder Singh faced the biggest challenge of his career—the Chinese transgressions at the border. Since May, he has engaged with his Chinese counterpart five times, without much success. But, after the Army’s latest offensive action, which gave it control over dominating heights in the region, Singh has more bargaining power in his negotiation with the Chinese. However, the tension on the border is unlikely to be resolved by the end of his tenure; normally, a corps commander’s tenure is 12 months. Negotiations hardly yield immediate solutions to military stand-offs. It took nearly six years to resolve the Sumdorong Chu incident (1986), where India and China had come close to war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harsh Pant, head of strategic studies at Observer Research Foundation and professor of international relations at King’s College London, said: “India has wrested military initiative from the Chinese forces on the ground for the moment, but Chinese forces will be waiting for their turn,” he said. “There is going to be lots of turbulence going forward.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, after External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met on September 10, on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in Moscow, there is absolute calm on the border. A senior Army officer termed this “unusual”, given the experience of the past four months. There is apprehension that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is desperate not only to dislodge the Indian Army from strategic heights, but also to attempt to gain leverage in talks by taking other areas. As a result, Indian Army formations are on highest alert all along the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One major development post Jaishankar and Wang Yi’s meeting is that China’s statement, quoting Wang Yi’s remarks to Jaishankar, does not say “responsibility entirely with India”; earlier, this had been a key part of China’s stance. However, the joint statement does not mention “status quo ante”, either.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The eight fingers of Pangong Tso, where slopes of barren mountains jut into the lake (tso), has been a bone of contention between India and China since the early 1960s. Traditionally, India claims the territory till the easternmost Finger 8. But, both sides reached an understanding that India would control Fingers 1-4 and China 5-8. In the last fortnight, the Indian Army took control of dominating heights in the Fingers area, along with at least six other strategic positions; this would enable India to oversee Chinese movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An officer said that the action was in response to the PLA taking control over the ridgelines of Finger 4. “Indian Army climbed tough heights at the altitude of 19,000ft,” he added. This is nearly the altitude of some of the highest posts on Siachen—the world’s highest battlefield.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During talks, Chinese military had agreed to withdraw from Finger 4, but nothing has materialised. In the absence of a major breakthrough in the talks, the Indian military is prepared to face the harsh winter in Ladakh and, indeed, all along the Line of Actual Control. For the Chinese military, it would be the first experience of the difficulties of high-altitude deployment in sub-zero temperatures during winter. There is a belief that China may turn to cyber operations and a battle of perception in the winter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lt Gen (Retd) S.L. Narasimhan, member, National Security Advisory Board, told The WEEK: “Disengagement should be the immediate process, followed by de-escalation, which seems to be distant at the moment.” He added that it was evident both sides do not want escalation or war. But, he said, the number of troops the Chinese have brought into their depth areas and the Indian Army also mobilising equal numbers is worrisome. “Unless the complete de-escalation takes place in the depth area, one cannot be really sure of the situation,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant said that given the trust deficit between the two sides, it will be a long haul both at the border and in the broader normalisation of bilateral relations. “India has stood up to China in ways that Beijing perhaps was not expecting,” he said. “And India is likely to make decisions assuming the worst about China.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military planners believe that the mutual scramble for high ground and tactical advantage and the reports of warning shots being fired—the first gunshots along the LAC since 1975—indicate that the crisis is entering a more dangerous phase. Frank O’Donnell, non-resident fellow, Stimson Center South Asia Program, said that with firing of guns now becoming normalised, and tensions running high, the potential for an exchange of fire and casualties is increasing. “This in turn raises the risk of larger offensive military actions,” he said. He added that Chinese President Xi Jinping had publicised that there is an active military stand-off with India, meaning the political costs to him are high if he cannot hold the ground China has seized in perpetuity or exchange it for political or territorial concessions elsewhere. And India will not accept that, said O’Donnell. “This means China has very little room to back down from the position it is now in,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lt Gen (Retd) Anil Ahuja, former deputy chief of integrated defence staff, believes that while Xi can signal intent, military operations of the magnitude that would be required even for a full-scale sectoral offensive require much mobilisation and preparation. “The professional acumen of the Indian military and political leadership lies in being able to realistically evaluate his build-up capability, monitor it and assess what he can do with that,” he said. “He is unlikely to be able to take any substantial punitive action against India with any degree of guaranteed success.” He added that Xi could assure the plenum (meeting of the Chinese Communist Party’s central committee) of holding India on tenterhooks till the next campaigning season and then attempt to “teach India a lesson”.</p> Thu Sep 17 19:38:54 IST 2020 trick-or-treat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON SEPTEMBER 6,</b> Kerala Health Minister K.K. Shailaja reportedly endorsed a study which said that homoeopathic prophylactics were effective against Covid-19. It said that only a few of those who had taken the prophylactic contracted Covid-19 and they, too, recovered soon. The study was carried out in Covid-hotspot Pathanamthitta district, where Arsenicum Album 30C was distributed among 90 per cent of residents. The study aimed to assess the efficacy of the said homoeopathy medicine as an immunity booster. Shailaja later clarified that she neither said that homoeopathy medicines could be used to treat Covid-19 nor stated that the study had been scientifically proven. But by then, the damage was done—it had created a rift in the state medical community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the state unit of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) opposed Shailaja’s initial statement, homoeopathy practitioners came out in her support. The row has put the spotlight on the debate over the efficacy of alternative medicine to allopathic medicine in the fight against Covid-19, especially at a time when cases are rising and restrictions are being relaxed to open up the economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi had repeatedly asked people to follow advisories issued by the ministry of AYUSH, which suggested a range of home remedies to boost immunity, including consumption of turmeric, honey, ginger and other concoctions. AYUSH treatments have often been questioned over their safety and efficacy, especially given the lack of robust, empirical studies in their defence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 15, the ministry launched a three-month campaign, aimed at increasing awareness about affordable and easy practices that can be adopted for enhancing immunity and preventing any disease. Yet, more than six months after the first case of Covid-19 hit the country, acceptance for AYUSH practices, at best, remains divided on the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, Dr Amol Rawande, a homoeopath based in Nanded in rural Maharashtra, believes that homoeopathy can help fight Covid-19. He said that he had prescribed homoeopathic medicines to more than 400 Covid-positive patients. “In the case of a mild to moderate symptomatic patient, Ferrum Phos 6X, Bryonia Alba and Veratrum Viride help in preventing the onset of a cytokine storm, a severe immune reaction,” he said. “I believe homoeopathy is apt to fight Covid-19 as it works with the immune system, which is most at risk from the virus.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But back in Mumbai, Dr L.M. Parashar, ENT surgeon at Apollo Spectra Hospital, had a different tale to tell. “Before lockdown, about two to three per cent of OPD patients were suffering from mouth ulcers. Post lockdown, there has been an increase in patients with symptoms such as redness of the mouth, burning sensation and itching,” he said. This is because people are constantly drinking homemade concoctions, made without proper ingredients, instead of water, he reasoned. “This has led to the rawness of oral mucosa,” he said. “The point is not to completely ignore or reject alternative medicine, but to consume it correctly and in conjunction with the correct diet and lifestyle, which people are not doing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem with accepting the efficacy of AYUSH remedies, said paediatrician Dr Amol Annadate, was that none of the claims had been proved. “There are no trials conducted either for ayurvedic kadhas or homoeopathic medicines like Arsenicum Album 30C,” said Annadate, who also owns and runs an ayurveda medical college in Aurangabad. “But the role of AYUSH essentially comes into the picture either as pre-Covid [precautions] or at the recovery stage, which can take between two to three months. These are not used as treatments for Covid-19 under any circumstances.” He does believe that homoeopathy can help in reducing mortality rate. “But there should still be trials to prove it,” he said. “My ayurvedic consultants are definitely prescribing ayurvedic solutions to patients.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as modern medicine continues to be the mainstay of Covid-19 treatment, experts call for an integrated medical approach between the different disciplines so as to better manage the impact of the disease in the long term. Annadate, however, questioned the credibility of the task force set up in May to plan and suggest treatment for asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients through the use of ayurveda, unani, homoeopathy and yoga. “They haven’t conducted trials that can prove their efficacy. Scientific evidence is the only thing that will shut up the naysayers,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Gaurang Joshi, director of Atharva Multispecialty Ayurveda Hospital in Gujarat’s Rajkot, recently tweeted that his hospital has been “successfully running online OPD for Covid-19 patients and providing ayurveda treatment at their home”. He added that more than 50 patients had “turned Covid-negative with their pure ayurveda treatment with home quarantine”. “I totally stand by my conviction that ayurveda can treat Covid-19,” he asserted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Dr P. Gopi Kumar, state secretary, IMA Kerala, questioned the scientific validation of the alternative medicines proposed to treat Covid-19 or even serve as immunity boosters. “The ministry gave directions for the use of Arsenicum Album 30C as an immunity booster without citing any evidence whatsoever,” he said. “In a pandemic like this when millions are getting infected and undergoing serious complications, no such drug must be used for which one has no idea about its credibility, authenticity and side effects. So, all these immunity-boosting concoctions and drugs cited by the AYUSH ministry and the state health minister are definitely questionable.”</p> Thu Sep 17 17:32:21 IST 2020 noisy-neighbours <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This summer, if the conflict in the Galwan region brought out simmering hostilities with China, fault lines also became visible in India’s ties with other neighbours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nepal has been in a blame-India-for-almost-everything mood. Bangladesh is having friendly conversations with Pakistan, even as it denied an audience to India’s high commissioner in Dhaka. To the west, Afghanistan’s peace process with the Taliban is narrowing the space India has there. Investments for an alternate route to Afghanistan, via Chabahar in Iran, are also facing an uncertain future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a world where the dynamics are changing rapidly, with a new cold war emerging between the US and China and countries having to recalibrate ties as multilateralism crumbles, a combination of wrong timing, India’s domestic developments and the China factor have made the neighbourhood rather slippery for India. “The rise of China poses new threats in the immediate neighbourhood, though we have extended our Neighbourhood First approach to Together We Grow,” said Ram Madhav, BJP national general secretary at a virtual discussion. Farash Uddin, economist and former governor of Bangladesh Bank said: “In international politics, there are no permanent enemies. China opposed our independence, but now wants to befriend us. We have limited funds and India should not mind if China does projects with us.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, no doubt, is an important player in India’s neighbourhood; its chequebook-outreach is only one of the many strategies in its diplomacy. Beijing’s open involvement in Nepal’s internal politics, as it tried brokering peace between rival factions of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, was another example of China’s assertion this side of the Himalayas. China is certainly interested in seeing the elected communist government complete its term under K.P. Sharma Oli. Observers say that even Bangladesh’s new bonhomie with Pakistan—a phone call between prime ministers Imran Khan and Sheikh Hasina and in-person talks between Bangladesh foreign minister Abdul Momen and Pakistan’s envoy to Dhaka, Imran Siddiqui—were at China’s prodding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has managed to win over the Maldives after Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took over last year. It recently announced a slew of financial help projects for the archipelago nation, including an undisclosed amount as financial assistance to deal with the pandemic. This is the first and only financial aid India has given for the pandemic to any country. India had, however, committed $1 billion to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for pandemic management.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nonetheless, India may not be able to counter Chinese influence everywhere in the neighbourhood. Also, as Manjeev Puri, India’s former ambassador to Kathmandu said, while the China factor is important, equally significant are rising aspirations and development needs of these countries. India, despite good intentions, cannot meet all these needs, especially those requiring massive funds. The neighbourhood will not just turn to China, but also South Asia and the west. Already, Bangladesh is in talks with China to finance a project on the River Teesta. Significantly, India and Bangladesh have not managed to seal the Teesta water sharing pact, because of objections from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Sri Lanka has also reached out to China for a $500 million development loan, despite past experience of falling into the Chinese debt trap; it had to lease out Hambantota port for 99 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, over the decades, India’s neighbours have worked hard at building identities distinct from India. They are not going to shed this new found image in a hurry. So where then, does India’s Neighbourhood First policy stand? Have the investments of recent years gone to waste? And where exactly did India’s calibrations go wrong?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is only one solution for India, say observers. Do more for the neighbours, even when they are grumbling or calling names. Introspection on whether precious funds have gone waste in investments which have not yielded diplomatic dividends are pointless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been able to use its soft power effectively, helping friends and neighbours with capacity building and training. But the track record with larger projects, specially infrastructure ones, is not always that good. India has promised rail links in Nepal and Bangladesh, a port development project along with Japan in Sri Lanka. Recently, India also promised to fund the largest infrastructure project in the Maldives, the Greater Male Connectivity Project comprising a $100 million grant and $400 million line of credit. These need to be delivered in time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Myanmar, India promised funding the $484 million Kaladan Multi Mode Transport and Transit Project, connecting the two countries by sea (Kolkata and Sittwe) and land (highways through Mizoram and Rakhine and Chin provinces). The project has moved slowly, with concerns even emerging over its completion. Meanwhile China is planning a China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), along the lines of the one it has with Pakistan. CMEC will give China access to the Bay of Bengal and thereby, the Indian Ocean. Madhav noted that India’s growth was towards its eastern littoral. The delay in projects like Kaladan, therefore, belie the emphasis India places on its Act East policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also a certain decision-making tardiness which often rankles neighbours. Deep Kumar Upadhyay, Nepal Congress leader and former ambassador of Nepal to India, said India was missing the opportunity to make prompt diplomatic responses and bilateral engagement on agreed-upon disputes over boundaries and issues important to Nepal—trade deficit, water management and power. Sri Lanka, in deep financial distress since the Easter bombings last year, has repeatedly asked for postponing repayment of a $960 million soft loan; India has not yet taken a decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Iranian side is to be believed, there was a similar dragging of feet over the 628km Chabahar Zahedan railway line in Iran, which the Indian Railway Company was to build. India says the delay was on the Iranian side. Whatever the reason, the project is out of Indian hands. Though Iran claims to develop the link (which goes up to the Afghan border) alone, $400 billion Chinese funding is keeping Tehran financially secure. Iran has also eliminated India from developing the Farzad B offshore gas field, though the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation was involved in discovering gas reserves there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Iran, the whole equation is upset because of India’s vigorous friendship with the US. “How we salvage our ties with Iran, and negotiate space for ourselves in Afghanistan will depend not just on us, but also on developments in the world,” said Kriti Shah, researcher, Observer Research Foundation. The outcome of the US elections in November is one factor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several domestic policies in recent times have also had impact across borders. The CAA upset Bangladesh, and even Afghanistan, though it prudently kept quiet. With new attacks on Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan, it later facilitated the transfer of Afghan Sikhs to New Delhi. “Afghanistan will get Talibanised,’’ said Kanwal Sibal, former foreign secretary at a discussion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new political map of India after abrogation of Article 370 upset Nepal, which was looking for a reason to deflect attention from its internal political mess. In the appropriation of disputed territory, and in quickly bringing out a new map of its own, Nepal found a populist nationalist cause. India called the move a cartographic aggression, but did not offer much comment as Nepal sent armed guards to patrol border posts, stopped flood prevention work along the Bihar border, ranted about the birthplace of Ram and the Buddha and sundry irritants.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farash Uddin said: “Our friendship is on very solid ground and irritants cannot shake it.” But he added that irritants like Indian leaders calling Bangladeshi immigrants termites could be avoided. Concerns over the CAA and National Citizenship Register are palpable in Dhaka, and even the inauguration of a Ram temple in Ayodhya caused a frown, though Bangladesh has steadfastly called it India’s internal matter. Madhav said there is a mistaken understanding of the CAA. This only means India needs to work harder at explaining its position, say observers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to SAARC nations for joint pandemic handling has had mixed results. While the gifts of medicines and therapeutics and capacity building of health trainers is the kind of soft power India excels in, the arrest of nationals from neighbouring countries who attended the Tablighi Jamaat conference in Delhi negated much of the good work. Delhi Police had charge-sheeted 956 foreigners from 36 countries who attended the event. Though many were given bail, the slow pace of investigations and the conditions under which they were kept are a diplomatic headache, and positioned India as “intolerant”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>New Delhi is now gradually enhancing relations with its neighbours, a step that observers felt would right many perceived slights. The Independence Day call between Modi and Oli lasted 15 minutes, and was the first conversation since their SAARC Covid-19 virtual meet in March. Two days later, Indian ambassador to Kathmandu held a virtual meeting with a Nepali delegation headed by its foreign secretary S.D. Bairagi to review Indian projects in Nepal. New Delhi underplayed the meeting, calling it routine. But in Kathmandu, which was clamouring for attention for weeks, these talks are regarded as the beginning of a thaw.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As observers say, Nepal knows the limitations of baiting India. Even if Nepali leaders talk about revisiting the pact for recruiting Nepali soldiers into the Indian Army, the fact remains that India spends Rs4,000 crore annually on the salaries and pensions of Nepali citizens in the Indian Army. The loss in remittances alone will be a big blow for Nepal. Nepal is also aware of its limited importance to China. Connectivity projects through landlocked Nepal, for instance, will lead to nowhere for China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Foreign secretary Harshvardhan Shringla’s recent visit to Dhaka to meet Hasina is significant. He is the first foreign dignitary to visit after the country after the pandemic hit, and this keeps the bilateral firmly in its “sonali adhyay (golden phase)”. Shringla may next head for Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has decided now that its future is with the east. Thus, the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) bloc is important, as is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In fact, Madhav believes India should still keep a window open for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, “since the future of the world is in the Indo Pacific region”. Yet, ironically, it was India’s diplomatic outreach towards its west that has reaped recent dividends. Modi wooed the Gulf with enthusiasm, the countries responded with equal vigour. Thus, when Pakistan recently pouted at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation platform for not calling out India over Kashmir, and threatening to form a parallel Islamic cohort, Saudi Arabia frowned and withdrew a much-needed financial loan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The immediate neighbourhood may not be at its best right now, but this is not the first time India finds itself in such a situation. As T.C.A Raghavan, author and former envoy to Islamabad said at a lecture, the present international scenario has similarities with the late 1980s and early 1990s. In a globally dynamic backdrop—breakdown of the USSR and reunification of Germany—India had its own backyard issues with Nepal, Sri Lanka, and even China. The difference now is the emergence of China as a superpower, while then, the world was becoming unipolar. Lessons from then should not go waste.</p> Fri Sep 11 20:44:54 IST 2020 frightening-faith <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A Christian sect founded in China and banned by the Chinese government as a dangerous cult, is spreading fast in northeast India, say alarmed church leaders. The growing popularity of the Church of Almighty God, also known as Eastern Lightning, has forced various Baptist groups, the predominant Christian denomination in the region, to formally warn their flock and fellow church leaders countrywide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cult—established in 1991 by Zhao Weishan, a former physics teacher from Henan province in central China—says Jesus Christ has returned to earth in the form of Zhao’s wife, Yang Xiangbin. Zhao and Yang fled to the US in 2000 after the cult was banned and its members were targeted by the Chinese government. Chinese officials say Zhao and Yang have turned billionaires and live in a palatial bungalow in New York, spending millions of dollars to advertise their cult across the world, especially in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Yang is said to be protected by her female devotees and usually does not meet men. Her words are considered to be scripture by members of the cult.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it was banned in 1998, the cult had close to three million followers. Members would conduct door-to-door campaigns, collect information about potential followers and, sometimes, “force” them to join the group. The campaigns sometimes turned violent like it did in 2014 at a McDonald’s outlet in Shandong province in eastern China. A woman who refused to join them was beaten to death by members of the cult. Two of the killers were sentenced to death for the crime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cult, which now has an active social media presence, is said to be spreading its influence in India’s northeastern states. In Nagaland, church leaders say it is becoming popular at a time when peace talks between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) and the Union government seem to be on the verge of collapsing. The church, which is working hard for the success of the talks, finds itself constrained by the challenge posed by the cult.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the cult first entered Nagaland has been a cause of worry for the church, given the state’s past China connections. In the 1970s and 80s, Naga insurgents used to frequent China for ideological as well as arms training. Chinese influence among its cadre was so strong that the NSCN had to clarify in its constitution that although its preferred ideology was socialism, it would follow the theological principles of Christianity. The church now foresees another challenge from China, but a spiritual one this time. Zelhou Keyho, general secretary of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council, says the church is more worried about the growing influence of the cult among Christians in Nagaland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This cult is aggressive, dangerous and can tempt young minds through its teachings. Its members are fundamentalists who do not believe in the Bible, but in violence,” says Keyho. He has written warning letters about the cult to churches across the entire northeast and also to church bodies in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, cities with a sizeable presence of young believers from the northeast. “We have asked them not to fall into the trap laid by the Chinese cult. It could destroy them,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya are the three Christian majority states in the northeast; Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, too, have significant Christian populations. According to the Baptist council, the Chinese cult is active through social media in all these states, although it is yet to find any evidence about physical congregations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They have created several chat groups on social media. In Nagaland, our study failed to find any physical congregation. But we fear that somewhere in the northeast or in the mainland, the cult has created a congregation,” says Keyho.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alarmed by Keyho’s letter, the Council of Baptist Churches in Northeastern India, an umbrella organisation of the Baptist churches in the region, has started assessing the threat posed by the cult. Keyho says the non-Christian-majority states have been slow to respond, but are now stepping up their efforts. “Manipur has swung into action already, sending alerts,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>W. Konghar, general secretary of Manipur Baptist Convention, says a similar cult based in South Korea was found to be active in the state last year. “That cult, too, was quite belligerent and propagated an unusually aggressive concept. I wrote about the danger it posed and asked people to stay away,” he says. South Korea is a popular destination for students from Manipur and Nagaland, and Korean cuisine is popular in the region. Such cultural influences, church leaders fear, could allow cult members to attract and cultivate vulnerable youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Church of Almighty God was banned by China, many of its members took refuge in South Korea and Japan. Some moved to the US and Europe. After social media became popular and accessible, members based abroad started preaching to people back home, posing an ideological challenge for the Chinese government and the communist party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Critics of the Chinese regime believe that the cult and its popularity is a reaction to the relentless oppression of Christians in China. They feel that the cult would have died a natural death but for the systematic persecution, including torture chambers—called shelter homes by the authorities—where arrested cult members were imprisoned for life. The harsh measures appear to be a message to Chinese Christians as a whole, to demonstrate that China will never tolerate the practice and propagation of Christianity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Wati Aier, eminent scholar and Baptist church leader from Nagaland, “Christianity has always had a stake in China from the time of Chairman Mao. Persecution of Christians is nothing new. But there is an attempt to link the banning of this cult with the persecution of propagators of Christianity. The two, however, are completely different.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Keyho says the Baptist council sympathises with the oppressed Christians in China. “Underground churches in China are facing a difficult time. But we have to differentiate between a cult and the church. We are against China’s aggression against Christianity and we demand that it stop persecuting churches. But that does not mean we will support an anti-Christian cult like the Church of Almighty God.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Keyho and other church leaders believe that the cult sees India as a soft target as teams based in South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, the US and the UK are actively engaged in targeting Indians. “My colleagues told me that they had received chat requests from cult members. They sound very loving initially and there is no aggression when they approach you first,” says Keyho.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the situation becoming alarming in Nagaland, the governor has been apprised of the potential crisis. “If needed, we will ask the Central government to ban such disturbing websites and chat apps in the northeast,” says Nagaland Deputy Chief Minister Y. Patton, referring to the social media campaign of the Chinese cult.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Keyho says the biggest problem with the Church of Almighty God is that it prefers to use force to make people accept its philosophy. “The cult is completely against our faith and beliefs and even contradicts the philosophy enunciated in the Bible,” he says. “It preaches something called the third testament (some reports say the cult wants the Bible to be replaced by the third testament revealed by Yang). That is completely wrong. When it cannot force someone ideologically, it unleashes violence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mizoram, another Christian majority state in the northeast, has adopted a wait-and-watch policy. “We are yet to start any investigation on whether the Church of Almighty God is having any effect on our state,” says K. Lalrinthanga, president of the Baptist Church of Mizoram. “But yes, we have observed that some of our youth are quite indifferent to our church activities. As of now, we are not seeing much trouble. But, of course, we will take up the issue once the Covid-19 pandemic gets over.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Baptist church in Arunachal Pradesh says the state is unaffected by the influence of the cult so far. “The Baptist council has taken up the matter seriously. So we will be cautious. We have been spared so far because of our limited internet connectivity,” says Changa Chippo, general secretary of the Arunachal Pradesh Baptist Council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aier says the cult has spread all over northeast and it is not something new. “The only new thing is that we have now taken serious note of it,” he says. He says such cults are formed with a small group of people, but have charismatic leaders. “It is emotionally exciting and the members can be swayed,” he says. Aier says such cults from China can spread across the world and wants church leaders to step up and educate society about their dangers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“China is a communist state and it requires all its citizens to owe allegiance to communism. So, not only Christianity, but other religions are also getting persecuted,” says Wongkhar. “But, in India, it is our duty to see that our boys do not approve of this kind of Christianity. Such cults are alien to our country.”</p> Fri Sep 11 20:37:18 IST 2020 himalaya-war-horse <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS A</b> bittersweet moment for Jampa La, 83. He was moved to tears on hearing chants of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Jai Tibet’ as the mortal remains of Nyima Tenzin, wrapped in the Indian tricolour and the snow lion flag of Tibet, were brought to Leh on September 7.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jampa is one of the first paratrooper commandos to be trained by the Indian Army as well as the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States. During the 1962 India-China war, the US helped India create a covert unit, comprising mostly Tibetan soldiers, called Special Frontier Force (SFF), also known as 22 (two-two) or Establishment 22. Jampa and 900 other Tibetan commandos were its first recruits who soon became masters of guerrilla warfare and mountain warfare. They were the first paratroopers in the Indian Army—one of the best in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Jampa could not achieve what Nyima, 51, has. Nyima lived as the son of two civilisations but died as the patriot of one. Nyima died reportedly in a landmine blast on August 30 on the south bank of Pangong Tso during an operation to thwart fresh attempts by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to transgress into Indian territory. Another SFF fighter, Tenzin Loden, 24, was injured; he is admitted in the Army hospital in Leh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the night of August 29, the SFF foiled the PLA’s ploy by occupying a dominant position near Thakung in southern Pangong Tso. It is with the help of the SFF that Indian troops have occupied heights close to the lake and Rechin La, giving them a dominant position over Chinese posts in that area for the first time since the fresh Indo-China conflict started in April.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are fighting a double war,” said Loden’s father, Yeshi Tenzin, who was an SFF commando for 22 years. “We are fighting not only to defend India’s border, but also to defeat China in Tibet. It is a golden opportunity for us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China’s biggest weakness is its occupation of Tibet. If India recognises Tibet as an occupied country, it will dislodge the very basis of China’s territorial claims in the Himalayas. What makes Nyima’s sacrifice and Loden’s valour unique is that for the first time in 58 years, India has openly declared that Tibetans are on its side and are ready to fight China. “The PLA being confronted by a Tibetan soldier standing in India’s defence on the Himalayan heights is signal enough to Beijing that there is real danger ahead,” said a senior government official in New Delhi. The presence of BJP general secretary Ram Madhav at Nyima’s funeral in Leh was a clear signal from New Delhi that there will be a cost to Beijing’s every action. Nyima was not an Indian passport holder and proudly carried the Tibetan identity card, but he was given a guard of honour by the Indian Army in full public view. The civil society gathered to recognise his sacrifice and laid wreaths, singing Tibetan national songs and the Indian national anthem as well.</p> <p>“Tibetan soldiers have been making sacrifices for 58 years but because of a more confident approach of the Modi government and internet facilities at its disposal, India has been able to recognise them this time,” said Yeshi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notwithstanding the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” approach, the Tibetan freedom struggle is being led by commandos like Yeshi, Loden and Jampa, whose motto is do or die. Living in a Tibetan settlement for war veterans, located along a highway in Dehradun, Jampa remembers an eventful past. “We lived in a big house in Kongpo, nearly 380km east of Lhasa,” he told THE WEEK. “My parents owned large tracts of farmland. But the Chinese soldiers looted everything. I lost my family.” His parents Tsering and Tsering Youdon, elder sisters Sithar and Shilok and younger brother Tsewang Tamding had all died in Chinese captivity. “But my younger sister Tsamchoe survived the massacre and so did my wife Palden and son Tseten. They are still in Tibet,” said Jampa, whose family name was Kongpo Chhankar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One night in 1960, Jampa fled to India along with the husband of his elder sister. “We lived so close to the Indian border that it was a straight route,” he said. Jampa first came to Sikkim. “Unable to return to my country, I decided to join Establishment 22 when the Indian Army started recruiting Tibetans,” he said. “We were the first few recruits who were trained by Americans. I did not know Hindi at that time but I remember some of the Americans knew Hindi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With its base in Chakrata in Uttarakhand, the covert unit continues to be under the administrative control of the Directorate General of Security, which comes under the Research and Analysis Wing; its operational control lies with the Indian Army. The Tibetan commandos wear the maroon beret, trademark of India’s Special Forces, and are trained as parachute commandos. Their skills in guerrilla and high altitude warfare are unmatched.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our lung power is unmatched,” said Jampa. “In these altitudes, mountain climbing and fighting the enemy go hand in hand. Scaling heights comes easy to us.” Jampa, like Nyima, rose through the ranks to become a company commander. During the 1971 war, he scaled more than 16000ft to secure the Line of Actual Control. In 1984, the SFF played a crucial role in taking control of the Siachen glacier. During the 1999 Kargil war, the unit declared victory at Tiger Hill. The Tibetan soldiers, therefore, are stationed at Siachen and Ladakh, securing the LAC and protecting their “home in exile”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jampa remarried in India, but the wife, Tsering Bhuti, died in 2000. He has three children—his elder daughter is in Canada, son is a Thangka art teacher in Dharamsala and his younger daughter recently got married and lives in Shimla. “My children were born Indians but we still hold our Tibetan identity. Both are our strength,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, the SFF has around 10,000 soldiers. Of these, 6,000 are Tibetan refugees (around one lakh Tibetans live in exile in India); the rest are Gorkhas from Nepal. Since 2009, there has been some hike in salaries and pension benefits of SFF soldiers, but they are still not on par with those in the Indian Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Central Tibetan Administration, which is running the Tibetan government in exile, located next to the Dalai Lama’s abode in Dharamsala, is aware of the sacrifices being made by Tibetan soldiers along the LAC. There is an unsaid understanding that peace and resistance can co-exist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Tibet is my fatherland and India is my motherland,” said Lhagyari Namgyal Dolkar, member of Tibetan parliament-in-exile. “But many Indians question whether China is attacking India because of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans. We want to tell them that we are not a burden, instead we are your frontier force. China wants to control Ladakh just like it controlled Tibet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dolkar’s uncle was also an SFF commando. “We will sacrifice our lives for India because it is our motherland, but we will also defeat China because we are fighting for Tibet,” said Dolkar. “We relate to the Indian freedom fighters because our emotions are still raw. We are not in history books yet, we are living a freedom struggle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the newly created Union territory of Ladakh faces threat from across the LAC, it is these Tibetan soldiers who know how to tease the dragon. SFF veteran Sonam La, 57, said that Tibetans were well aware of China’s tactics and strategies. “The Chinese fooled Tibetans saying they were building roads in Lhasa and slowly captured Tibet,” he said. “So, we can tell their game when they build roads along the LAC.” Sonam was an instructor at the training centre in Chakrata, where the Indian Military Academy recruits undergo training in mountain warfare and rock climbing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonam’s parents had entered India through Tawang. His father joined the SFF and fought in the 1971 war. “My father got shot in the leg. He retired in 1974 on medical grounds,” said Sonam. “That is when I decided I will complete the mission my father had set out on. And that was to free Tibet.” After convincing his mother, he joined the covert unit in 1982.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SFF’s appeal for equal pay and benefits is in court now. But there is hardly any hue and cry over it. “We are neither fighting for economic gains, nor fearful of any discomfort,” said Sonam. “Some, like my father, earned Rs400 as salary with no pension benefits, others like me get a pension of Rs28,000 per month.”</p> <p>But Tibetan poet and activist Tenzin Tsundue said that to truly celebrate Nyima’s sacrifice, India must officially recognise the SFF for its 58 years of service as India’s Himalayan war horse, and immediately give equal pay scale and rank promotions for SFF soldiers. He also said that India must officially come out in support of Tibet. “This will not only help secure Ladakh but also help Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar protect their territorial integrity from Chinese aggression,” he said. “India must take the lead.”</p> Mon Sep 14 21:48:38 IST 2020 staying-on-top <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON AUGUST 29,</b> when Indian troops thwarted an aggressive move by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the southern bank of Pangong Tso, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying used a Chinese proverb to explain what happened. “A guilty man protesting conspicuously his innocence,” she said. Hua’s attempt to put the blame on India betrayed Beijing’s nervousness about India’s latest ‘offensive’ along the Line of Actual Control, the disputed Sino-Indian border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China once again tried to paint India as the aggressor a few days later. On September 7, shots were fired on the LAC for the first time since 1975 and China blamed India for attacking its guards patrolling the Mukhpari area in Ladakh’s Chushul sub sector. India denied the charge and said it was the PLA which fired in the air to intimidate Indian soldiers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PLA appears to be in a state of consternation, especially after Indian troops managed to occupy a few critical heights in the Chushul sub sector, giving them the capability to engage the enemy’s artillery guns, anti-tank guided missiles, rockets and other weapon systems. Indian units, reinforced by a regiment of T-90 battle tanks, have been deployed in strength in the region, from where they can defend the vulnerable Spanggur pass.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>General (retired) V.P. Malik, who led the Army during the Kargil war, said the latest moves on the LAC indicated a distinct change in how India dealt with China. “It is no longer a static policy,” he said. India has the edge on at least six positions in the region including the strategic heights south of Pangong Tso and close to Spanggur Tso, Reqin La, Rezang La, Thakung and Magar Hill. There are about 30 dominating heights along the 800km-long eastern Ladakh section of the LAC, and if Indian troops manage to capture those heights, it will give them a definite advantage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It may trigger some kind of realisation among the Chinese that India is not going to accept the status quo and it may prompt them to come to the negotiating table,” said former northern army commander Lieutenant General (retd) D.S. Hooda. He said the continuing standoff was not acceptable to Indian military planners. South Block officials said repeated military and diplomatic negotiations had failed to yield much as the PLA was against returning to the status quo ante of April.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As China continues to violate existing rules of engagement on the LAC, India has resorted to ‘offensive posturing’ in an attempt to seize the initiative and force China back to the negotiating table. The Army’s new strategy is to capture the unoccupied heights in the region to enhance its bargaining power, something Indian military planners have advocated for a long time. They believe that the quid pro quo option will work for India as other tactical offensive measures like trying to dislodge the Chinese from their occupied territories could lead to an escalation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Colonel (retd) Sanjay Pandey, an officer who had served in the mountains for almost two decades, said in mountain warfare, victory and failure depended on keeping the heights. “If you are dominating the heights, the entire area is yours. We have taken control of the ridgeline in the Chushul area, which allows our forces to dominate the Chushul bowl on our side and the Moldo sector on the Chinese side,” said Pandey. “The entire Moldo garrison of the PLA is under our observation and it has rattled the Chinese. It also gives us a clear line of sight to the Lhasa-Kashgar highway, a critical artery for the PLA’s logistics supply.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An officer said the mountains of the Himalayas were thick, sharp, high and steep, making any movement impossible, other than sticking to the valleys. India controls a 45km-long dirt track extending from the western bank of Pangong Tso to its southern bank near Chushul. The sector also contains a small plain which is nearly four kilometres wide, where the Indian Army has deployed its artillery guns, howitzers, infantry fighting vehicles and armoured tanks. It offers a clear view of the Spanggur gap, which China used in 1962 to launch its attacks. “Every army in the world is mortally scared of artillery. And, a range of 27km in deserts or in plains for howitzers can go upto 40km in higher altitudes. By capturing these dominating heights, vast areas controlled by China are now under the range of Indian artillery guns,” said Pandey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the 1962 war, the PLA had vacated some of these heights, as it was difficult to maintain them in harsh winters. With the availability of better infrastructure, the PLA has been planning to reoccupy those heights. But it was outwitted by the Special Frontier Force of India, which made a preemptive strike and took control of some of these heights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Taking control of these heights allows the Indian Army to destabilise the PLA. But it requires close to two divisions (40,000 troops) to sustain control, with adequate reserves to counterattack,” said an officer. Surviving the winter will be an additional challenge. “If you are short of winter stocks, then your victory over the heights will go in vain.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With winter about to set in and with no resolution to the crisis in sight, both sides appear to be preparing for the long haul. “At the military level, there is a great deal of mistrust between the two sides,” said Hooda. “In the past, there never was no difference in perception about the LAC in Chushul. We never heard of any transgression in Chushul. Incursions used to take place in other areas of Ladakh like Depsang, the northern bank of Pangong Tso and the Chumar area. So there was no requirement of holding each and every height. But now the Chinese have built up forces in the area. So there is nothing wrong in capturing those heights.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hooda said the solution to the ongoing crisis depended on China as it was the PLA which was unwilling to compromise. With its new-found advantage in the heights of Ladakh, the Indian Army is preparing to stay put even in winter, when temperatures often drop below minus 30 degrees Celsius. “Staying in winter will be difficult, but not impossible,” said Hooda. “We continue to stay on the Siachen glacier, which is much more difficult.”</p> Fri Sep 11 20:28:08 IST 2020 plasma-puzzle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT IS A CENTURY</b>-old way of treating viral diseases. In Covid-19, though, the use of antibody-rich convalescent plasma (CP), has been controversial given the lack of strong evidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Ours is the world’s largest trial [of its kind] on plasma therapy,” Dr Balram Bhargava, director-general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said in response to THE WEEK’s query on the plasma therapy (PLACID) trial. “The trial has been conducted on 464 patients, where 235 patients with moderate Covid-19 disease were given plasma, the rest were given best standard care. This was done in 39 hospitals across India, and we looked at whether it led to severe disease or death over 28 days.” The results of the open label, randomised controlled trial (RCT) published as a pre-print (peer-review pending) suggest that there was no difference in 28-day mortality or progression to severe disease among those studied.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The study also indicates that the key point here is the high titre [levels] of neutralising antibodies for it to work, if at all,” said professor Sunit K. Singh, head, molecular biology, Banaras Hindu University. “Besides, we have to be sure that the donor does not have any viral RNA in their blood.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The results of the PLACID trial only prove the doubts that have prevailed in the scientific community over the enthusiastic use of plasma therapy across the world. In August, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorisation (EUA) for plasma therapy amid a sharp debate around sufficient available evidence around its benefits.&nbsp;After experts like Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Francis Collins argued that the data supporting its efficacy were too weak, the agency temporarily halted the approval, only to resume shortly after, presumably caving in to political pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, CP therapy was approved for clinical trials in April, and the Union health ministry’s clinical management of Covid-19 protocol lists its use under “investigational therapies”. It allows for CP therapy to be considered in patients with moderate Covid-19 symptoms, who are unable to improve despite the use of steroids.&nbsp;Doctors have to ensure that the donor plasma matches with that of the patient and that neutralising antibody levels are appropriate, and patients are closely monitored for transfusion-related adverse events,&nbsp;it says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The EUA by the US FDA was based on the&nbsp;encouraging results of the US-based Mayo clinic-led plasma therapy trial. But the trial, suggest independent experts and the latest ICMR study, is not impressive, despite being a large one with 35,000 patients. “It was only an observational study, and not an RCT that is the gold&nbsp;standard in evidence-based medicine,” said Dr S.P. Kalantri, department director-professor of medicine, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Sevagram, Maharashtra. “In this open-label trial, the therapy was tested on the sickest of patients. The researchers found that plasma therapy was associated with a decline in death rates, but only if the therapy was used in the first three days. However, since an observational study lacks a control group, we do not really know if the benefit was due to the therapy or some other reason.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides Kalantri says that a patient lands up in the ICU or is put on ventilator after the cytokine storm has set in. “This typically happens in the second week of illness. So how did half the patients land in the ICU within three days of admission?” he said. To know if a drug or therapeutic intervention works, one needs an RCT, which is not difficult to do, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although plasma is hugely popular and many hospitals are offering it, Kalantri says most centres administering plasma therapy in India do not have the facility to test the levels of neutralising antibodies. “It is like not knowing how much antibiotic is present in an injection before giving it. Unless we know for sure the precise concentration of neutralising antibodies, how do we know if it is enough to block the virus?” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the lack of strong evidence, the WHO, too, advises the therapy only in clinical trial settings. In the wake of the EUA authorisation, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist, WHO, said that the available evidence was “low-quality”. The treatment, she told the media, is difficult to standardise since people produce different levels of antibodies and plasma must be collected individually from recovered patients.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The WHO has also warned of the numerous side effects ranging from a mild fever and chills to more severe lung-related injuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Sumit Ray, head of critical care, Holy Family Hospital, Delhi, said that both RCTs on plasma therapy done in India and China showed no significant benefit. Besides, Ray points to the issues in selecting patients for administering the therapy. “Once a patient gets a severe disease, they are experiencing a cytokine storm, where the virus has been cleared, but the immune system has gone into overdrive. Giving antibody-rich plasma may just worsen the disease. Though the therapy may benefit one subset of patients, where it can be given early, how does one select those patients? That aspect still needs to be studied,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The side effect of the therapy can be severe, causing transfusion-related acute lung injury, too, besides the dangers of blood clotting that has been a major issue in Covid-19, said Ray. Instead of using resources to finding a donor, filtering the antibody-rich plasma and monitoring for side effects, crucial resources should be diverted to improving critical care units, ensuring skilled manpower and conducting good trials, Kalantri said.</p> Fri Sep 11 19:39:03 IST 2020 year-of-bugs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC</b> has marked the beginning of an era where surveillance is the new normal. China is using camera-fitted smart helmets and drones, and facial recognition technology, to identify potential patients. Hong Kong is tracking people using electronic wristbands; Singapore has launched a contact-tracing app; and Israel is carrying out phone surveillance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In April, India launched Aarogya Setu, a smartphone app that alerts people when they come into contact with Covid patients. When privacy concerns emerged, the government declared Aarogya Setu an open-source application that allows developers and cybersecurity experts to inspect the app and its vulnerabilities. “Aarogya Setu is a powerful companion that protects people. It has a robust data security architecture,” said Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the record of governments targeting dissidents, surveillance tools do not enjoy public confidence. In 2019, the Toronto-based Citizen Lab exposed how Pegasus, a spyware designed by the Israeli firm NSO Group, had been snooping on 1,400 people in 45 countries, including India. Pegasus had hacked into cell phones that had WhatsApp, the multimedia platform owned by Facebook.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>WhatsApp has 400 million users in India. The security breach raised fears of state surveillance, after NSO Group said it sold Pegasus to government agencies only. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, along with more than 100 activists, lawyers and journalists who were targeted by the spyware, accused the government of snooping on citizens. Last November, the activists wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah demanding an inquiry into the breach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In June this year, a joint investigation by the Citizen Lab and Amnesty International revealed that some of the activists targeted by Pegasus were also victims of phishing attempts. “I have been the target of a coordinated spyware campaign,” Shalini Gera, a human rights lawyer in Chhattisgarh, told THE WEEK. “My WhatsApp and email were being monitored to keep tab on my movements and communications. It was a complete breach of my privacy. Since we have reasons to believe that a Central or state agency was behind this illegal surveillance, we did not register any first information report, as that can lead to more harassment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union home ministry has not responded to the letter sent by the activists. On November 20, the parliamentary standing committee on information and technology, chaired by Shashi Tharoor, MP, of the Congress, decided to take up the matter. “The committee held one meeting with some of us, but we have not heard from them again,” said Gera. “It has been almost a year and we don’t know which agency was behind it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ankit Grewal, a Chandigarh-based lawyer who represented activist Sudha Bharadwaj in the Bhima Koregaon case, was a Pegasus target who deposed before the parliamentary committee. He said he had not heard from the committee after that. “It is the prerogative of the government to investigate the matter,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi-based rights activist Vidhya, who helps survivors of sexual violence, said she was targeted because she was part of a larger group of activists who fight for democratic rights. “I am not scared of scrutiny,” she said. “But the reason why surveillance is disturbing is that it is not just my personal space getting compromised, but also the identities and privacy of hundreds of survivors who are in touch with me. Their cases get compromised in the process.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Officials in Delhi said there had been no unauthorised surveillance. WhatsApp, however, is suing NSO Group, which told a US court that it sold Pegasus to law enforcement agencies only. John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at the Citizen Lab, termed the Pegasus case in India as “extremely troubling”. “The Indian government has not contacted us,” he told THE WEEK. “If they would like to [investigate], they certainly have the resources to do so.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2018, the Union government issued an order authorising 10 Central agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing, to monitor and intercept internet traffic and calls under the Information Technology Act. The order said state law enforcement agencies could exercise similar powers only after the state home secretary approves it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Pegasus case has raised questions about the safeguards against government misuse of surveillance technologies. “The advent of a public health emergency in the form of Covid-19 should not serve as an excuse for countries to engage in surveillance,” said Pavan Duggal, founder and chairman of the International Commission on Cyber Security Law. “Countries and citizens have to be careful of this trend, as it is likely to be further strengthened.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, laws concerning surveillance need to be strictly interpreted and implemented. “Governments need to ensure that checks and balances under existing laws continue to be respected. Courts need to ensure that governments do not use surveillance as a wonder tool to respond to all kinds of exigencies,” said Duggal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, the wonder tool is helping fight Covid-19. In July, camera-mounted smart helmets were introduced in Mumbai for thermal scanning. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal said the helmets scanned 200 people per minute. “No data or images are stored in them. It is very useful in segregating suspected Covid patients in containment zones and slums,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Safeguards and assurances aside, vulnerabilities continue to be exposed. On June 6, a Citizen Lab report uncovered a massive “hack-for-hire” operation codenamed Dark Basin, run by a Delhi-based technology firm called BellTroX InfoTech Services. The report said BellTroX had targeted government officials in Europe, gambling tycoons in the Bahamas, and well-known investors in the US, including private equity giant KKR &amp; Co and investment firm Muddy Waters. Dark Basin targeted thousands of individuals and organisations in six continents, including politicians, journalists, CEOs and rights organisations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Citizen Lab said BellTroX’s co-owner, Sumit Gupta, had been indicted in a 2015 hacking case in the US, in which two private investigators admitted to paying him to hack the accounts of marketing executives. Gupta was declared a fugitive in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BellTroX, which was incorporated on May 1, 2013, is owned by Gupta and his wife, Veenu. According to the Citizen Lab, BellTroX and its employees used euphemisms—like psychology transcription, vulnerability assessment, malware analysis and penetration testing—to advertise their illegal services. BellTroX’s small office in a crowded area in Delhi was shut when THE WEEK visited it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Scott-Railton said India’s hack-for-hire industry is making the world insecure. “I am concerned that it tarnishes the reputation of India’s talented and vibrant cybersecurity sector,” he said. Advocate Prashant Mali, who specialises in cybersecurity and privacy, said Indians remain most vulnerable to digital security breaches because India does not have proactive privacy laws. The data privacy bill, introduced in Parliament last year, is still pending.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Mali, there are no examples of Indian laws punishing a cybersecurity violator. “There is a need to make the state accountable for surveillance and snooping,” he said. “But I am not hopeful that the final draft of the bill would make the government accountable.”</p> Fri Sep 04 12:29:23 IST 2020 we-are-looking-at-what-approach-the-Indian-government-takes-in-cases-of-security-breach <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN SEPTEMBER 2018,</b> John Scott-Railton co-wrote the Citizen Lab’s report on how Pegasus, a spyware developed by the Israeli tech company NSO Group, helped governments spy on WhatsApp users. In June this year, he exposed a large-scale mercenary hacking operation run by BellTroX, a Delhi-based digital security company, which was targeting government officials across continents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our concern is that governments that purchase surveillance technology end up using it to not just target criminals, but also target political enemies, journalists and other members of the civil society,” he told THE WEEK in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What kind of targets and trends emerged from your WhatsApp investigation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We found a trend of abusive targeting with Pegasus that was not limited to India. When we started investigating that case, we found over a hundred cases like that. WhatsApp is currently suing NSO Group. This is a very muscular, unprecedented defence of users in India and around the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has NSO Group contacted the Citizen Lab?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Citizen Lab has been sending letters to NSO and its owners for years now. The responses have been incomplete or misleading.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why were the responses misleading?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For years, the Citizen Lab, as well as researchers at Amnesty International and other organisations, have gathered evidence of abuses by Pegasus. Instead of admitting these issues, and taking constructive action, NSO consistently seeks to discredit our work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you feel the Indian government needs to probe the WhatsApp breach case?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am curious about what steps will be taken. The WhatsApp case in India is extremely troubling. So is the case of BellTroX, and so is the case of phishing that Amnesty International reported last year. So now we have three perplexing, troubling cases that call for serious investigation. We all will be looking at what approach the Indian government takes in these cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the concerns about the tracking apps launched during the Covid pandemic? The Indian government developed Aarogya Setu.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Researchers have looked into many Covid-19 tracking apps and found that security and privacy are not always a priority. The apps may be intended to help in epidemiological purposes, but they may not be well-designed from a privacy or cybersecurity point of view. In some cases, even the epidemiological justifications are shaky.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How can we counter the threats from new apps and technologies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of the problems in the last decade have occurred because we connected faster than we secured. That has to change for governments and industry. There has to be pressure from stakeholders, investors and consumers. Unfortunately, consumers and businesses largely have imperfect information about security and safety. They may not know what to ask for. Even the governments may have imperfect information. Until there are very serious consequences for those who intentionally engage in unlawful and abusive surveillance, problems will persist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Citizen Lab recently exposed a massive hack-for-hire operation. How was BellTroX targeting thousands globally?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We believe that the targeting was commissioned by private individuals and companies. In other words, BellTroX was acting as hackers for hire. What is interesting is that a substantial fraction of targets were journalists and members of civil society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Who were the targets?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone you can think of, and some you probably wouldn’t guess. We found divorce cases, legal fights, journalists, lots of financial institutions, banks, small businesses, and a few governments. We have seen BellTroX targeting senior officials in multiple governments around the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you know identities of private individuals who hired BellTroX?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is one of the biggest challenges of the investigation. There is a federal investigation in the US into BellTroX and those who hired it. One individual, a private investigator accused of hiring BellTroX to target people, is already in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did the Indian government approach the Citizen Lab after the expose?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the scale of the wrongdoing we uncovered, we have been somewhat surprised to have not received any official communication from the Indian government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The report says the owner of BellTroX, Sumit Gupta, was indicted in the US. Yet he was operating freely in India.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given that Gupta was indicted in the US for hacking for hire in 2015 and is currently wanted by the US government, it is remarkable that he can openly run a company with a front door that engages in these illegal activities. It’s remarkably brazen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are Indian mercenary hackers becoming a global concern?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even Google recently wrote specifically about the threat posed by Indian hack-for-hire groups, which signals that there is a special problem in India that really needs to be addressed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is investigating BellTroX an uphill task for Indian agencies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people behind BellTroX are easy to find. A failure to investigate and pursue prosecutions would raise questions in many international legal, diplomatic, law enforcement and cybersecurity quarters. And BellTroX is bad for business, too. Many major international companies are among its targets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your report that WeChat was analysing user content is alarming. What is the threat from popular apps from China?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is an unfortunate history of apps developed for the Chinese market having built-in censorship, and in some cases, surveillance [capabilities]. It is the scale of users that makes it so troubling. This kind of surveillance was normalised and globalised by China. There are serious national security concerns for other countries that use products emerging from the Chinese market.</p> Fri Sep 04 12:27:57 IST 2020 two-tweets-and-a-storm <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<b>I QUITE REALISE</b> how hard it is to resist, with sage silence, the shafts of acid speech; and, how alluring it is to succumb to the temptation of argumentation where the thorn, not the rose, triumphs. In contempt jurisdiction, silence is a sign of strength since our power is wide and we are prosecutor and judge,” wrote Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in a Supreme Court order that dropped contempt proceedings against a top editor in 1978.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the three-judge bench, comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari, took a different approach in the Prashant Bhushan case. It held Bhushan guilty of contempt of court and levied a fine of Rs1, failing which he would be jailed for three months and debarred from practice for three years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two tweets made by Bhushan this June that raised questions over the functioning of the judiciary, the court concluded, “are scandalous and are capable of shaking the very edifice of the judicial administration and also shaking the faith of the common man in administration of justice”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Legal experts, however, said that the Supreme Court overreacted and ended up getting entangled in a peculiar situation where the case could be perceived as a stand-off between the court and an individual. Bhushan’s counsel, too, had urged the court not to punish him as that would make him a martyr. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, while disagreeing with Bhushan’s pressing into service various “objectionable statements” made in his pleading, appealed to the magnanimity of the court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Supreme Court lawyer Shilpi Jain said that the court should have ignored the tweets. “I don’t think public sentiment was swayed to such a great extent by the tweets so as to conclude that they would shake the common man’s confidence in the judiciary,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Attorney General’s interventions in court seemed to have facilitated the middle path that was seen in the ruling that levied a token fine despite the guilty verdict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You go through the motions and impose a symbolic fine of 01 despite the fact that Bhushan was recalcitrant,” said senior advocate Dinesh Dwivedi. “You tried to find a middle way. The attorney general’s views were a big factor. The court entangled itself in a situation of its own making.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The alternative sentencing of imprisonment and debarment, said former additional solicitor general Bishwajit Bhattacharyya, was not only meaningless but also legally flawed. In the Supreme Court Bar Association vs Union of India case in 1998, the apex court had disapproved of a bench that debarred from practice a contemnor—advocate V.C. Mishra. The court said that the bench, within its powers, had punished him by suspending his licence, but without giving the Bar Council of India an opportunity to deal with it. It is not permissible for the court to “take over” the role of statutory bodies, said the court, and “perform” their functions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhushan described the case as a “watershed moment” for freedom of speech, saying it had encouraged many people to speak up against injustice. But others in the legal fraternity said that the case would have major repercussions on freedom of speech. “History will look at the case as a very low point in the country’s jurisprudence, and this is certainly not a judgment to be celebrated,” said senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan. “It is a poor judgment. It is effectively telling us that we cannot make any statements questioning the judiciary. It is a severe blow to free speech.” According to Jain, the big issue arising out of the case is the need to do away with the legal provisions for criminal contempt.</p> Fri Sep 04 12:18:01 IST 2020 we-continue-to-ensure-that-the-indian-ocean-region-remains-open-and-free <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>VICE ADMIRAL ANIL KUMAR CHAWLA</b> took over the reins of the Southern Naval Command in July 2018, two months after the US military renamed the Pacific Command—its largest and oldest unified combat command—as the Indo-Pacific Command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diplomatically, the name change was largely symbolic, done “in recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans” and India’s growing importance in “maintaining regional stability”, as US defence secretary Jim Mattis put it. But it has raw implications in maritime matters. China has been widening its footprint in the Indian Ocean region, increasing India’s geopolitical relevance for the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the Indian Navy, challenges are now manifold. As the SNC’s commanding-in-chief, Chawla is also in charge of training all Navy personnel to meet these challenges. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he spoke about the Navy’s plans for sustaining its maritime edge, its growing role as a regional stabiliser, its response to Covid-19, and why “hot wars” have given way to cold, tactical manoeuvres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You recently inaugurated a training lab for the Naval Communication Network—a secure, captive grid that will give the Navy digital supremacy over its rivals. What are the processes involved in building NCN and how will it achieve its objectives?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ NCN was sanctioned by the (Union) government many years ago. In exchange for the spectrum held by the armed forces, we were given a set of landlines, so that the (spectrum) would be of better use to the civilian population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, a [land-based, military] communication backbone is being laid out countrywide. The Army and the Air Force, too, have networks of their own. This backbone will enable us expand our operations and improve processes. NCN is a terrestrial network; it would be connected to ships through satellites. It is an advanced communication solution, with a higher level of classification (security).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Navy’s Signal School in Kochi trains all our communicators. The school will also train personnel for NCN.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Covid-19 has significantly impacted seafarers, because of the compact environment and ventilation systems in ships. How has the Navy addressed these challenges?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a particular challenge for ships and aircraft. The closed-loop system of air conditioning is required because of the electronic systems and (to ensure) comfort of the personnel. So, we have evolved safety protocols.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People are quarantined for 14 to 21 days and then tested before they go on board. They have to stay on board until their duty ends; no contact with outside parties at all. Similarly, any item that comes from ships is disinfected. We have set up a few mechanisms for that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Like the indigenously-made, ultraviolet-germicidal chamber for sanitising baggage.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, there are a number of innovations, like foot-operated doors for bathrooms on ships. Ultraviolet cabinets for sanitising small items; bags are irradiated and sprayed with sanitiser in tunnels with conveyor belts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another interesting innovation is the aerial evacuation pod. Patients can be evacuated from remote areas like islands in these sealed pods. We have supplied these pods to the Army and the Air Force, the Nagaland government and ONGC, and also to countries like Iran, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka. But we do hope these pods will never have to be used (smiles).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Indian Ocean region is increasingly becoming a geostrategic focal point. For example, the US renamed its Pacific Command.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The US has realised that the economic growth in Asia—10 of the top-20 economies today in the world are in Asia—[depends] on trade, energy and security, and on the traffic between the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean regions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian Navy believes that the Indian Ocean region is a place where we need to be a major force—for good. India is a democratic country; we never had expansionist designs. We have excellent relations with everybody, except for a couple of countries. We have fundamentally strong relations with the entire Africa, southeast Asia, countries in the Persian Gulf, the island countries in the Indian Ocean region, Australia and, of course, with the US, Russia and the European Union. All these countries have accepted that the Indian Navy is a stabilising force, not an aggressive force.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Navy will continue to keep the Indian Ocean region open and free for navigation for all countries, and ensure that the rule of law is maintained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have the maritime challenges in the region increased in recent times?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Historically, there have always been challenges. World War I, the colonial era, World War II, the post-colonial era, the Cold War, the Gulf war….</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, challenges today are manifold. New powers are emerging, new economic interests are shaping up. There is a challenge [because of the rivalry] between the entrenched powers and the new powers. Challenges like global warming and Covid-19 can cause huge dislocation of populations and massive economic disruptions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Resources are drying up on land, so there is a lot of pressure on the seas. It will become a security issue at some stage. Take fishing, for instance. Some years ago, there was a ban on fishing in the North Sea, imposed by the UK; there is a ban now imposed in the South China Sea by China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You mentioned World War II. Is the situation becoming as conflict-ridden as it was before the war?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is not a world of hot wars now. Weapons have become too destructive to be used indiscriminately. So, it is now more a war of deterrence; a war of minds; of information campaigns; of economics. The ambit is much larger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Policymakers (must look at) major factors that are shaping the security environment, and then see the threats we face, and plan how to respond to them. The simple answer for everything is that we need to be strong and self-reliant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Navy has long been trying to become self-reliant. Seventy-five per cent of the components on the indigenous aircraft carrier were made in India. But if you look at the other Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean powers, India’s naval expenditure is quite low—15 per cent of its total defence budget. The US spends 30 per cent; Australia and Japan spend around 25 per cent each. Are budgetary constraints affecting the Navy’s ambitions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The government can give only as much money as it has. We can always say that more money will help. But we are also aware of the government’s constraints. As professionals, our job is to try and meet our requirements with the money we have.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the saying goes, when you are poor you think [about how to spend the money well]. The Navy is not poor, but we do have to think about cost-effective (choices).</p> Fri Sep 04 11:45:15 IST 2020 war-without-arms <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>As China continues</b> to maintain an aggressive posture in Ladakh, New Delhi has also opened up non-military fronts to strike back. Lieutenant Governor R.K. Mathur, the former defence secretary, has been tasked by New Delhi to implement the strategy. He is being assisted by his adviser, 1989-batch IAS officer Umang Narula, Ladakh divisional commissioner Saugat Biswas and other senior officials. The Union home ministry is closely monitoring the developments, including disbursal of funds.</p> <p>Late last year, at UNESCO, India had claimed that the 2,500-year-old traditional medical system called Sowa-Rigpa was part of its “intangible cultural heritage (ICH)”. After China challenged the Indian claim at the ICH meeting held last December in Bogota, Colombia, a final decision was deferred till the end of this year.&nbsp;China, supported by Pakistan, cited territorial dispute with India over Jammu and Kashmir, including the Ladakh border.</p> <p>“As per UNESCO guidelines, China cannot raise territorial disputes at the forum,” said Dr Padma Gurmet, director in-charge at the Leh-based National Research Institute for Sowa-Rigpa. “We have submitted a lot of evidence in the form of Buddhist literature to prove that Sowa-Rigpa originated in India and was introduced to the trans-Himalayan region around the 8th century.”</p> <p>Amitabh Mathur, former adviser to the home ministry on Tibetan matters, added, “The Tibetan Buddhist traditions are regarded to be a continuation of the Nalanda tradition. While China is trying to show that it is a Tibetan invention, the fact is that Buddhism was introduced into Tibet by great Indian masters like Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava.”</p> <p>China, meanwhile, is said to be using Sowa-Rigpa to fight Covid-19. “As per reports, the Beijing Hospital of Tibetan medicine has prepared the ‘nine-flavour epidemic formulation’and distributed it to the affected areas,” said Gurmet, who has approached the AYUSH ministry to incorporate Sowa-Rigpa medicines as prophylactics in the fight against the pandemic. The ministry has constituted a five-member team, with Gurmet as its convener, to suggest Sowa-Rigpa interventions, to invite research proposals and to prepare guidelines for its practitioners.</p> <p>If India wins at UNESCO, Ladakhi families which have continued the Sowa-Rigpa practice for over nine generations will benefit. It will help the Boto, Changpa, Drogpa, Gara and Balti tribes of the western Himalayas and the Bhoto, Lipcha and Tamang tribes and communities of central and eastern Himalayan regions.</p> <p>China’s attempts to usurp trans-Himalayan Buddhism can be detrimental to India’s interests. One way to checkmate this, Mathur said, is to make the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies in Leh a university; now it is a deemed university. “It will allow students from the rest of the country and also from abroad to join the institute,” he said.</p> <p>He also referred to Bakula Rinpoche, the great nationalist and champion of Ladakh, who established close relations with Mongolia while serving as Indian ambassador and became a revered figure there. “These cultural links with Mongolia, which practices a pure form of Tibetan Buddhism, can be deepened by inviting Mongolian monks to study in Ladakh. It will strengthen the objective of national integration and make Ladakh a base for extending India’s soft power of Buddhism.”</p> <p>The Ladakh administration is also reaching out to the Changpa nomads who rear pashmina goats. These families frequent the pastures along the Line of Actual Control, thereby acting as the first line of defence. They are often the first ones to spot Chinese incursions and infrastructure upgrades. But these nomadic families have been moving away over the years, because of lack of adequate remuneration for their produce, absence of educational facilities and tough weather conditions.</p> <p>Former Ladakh BJP chief Chering Dorjay said Indian troops, too, often challenged the grazing rights of the nomads. “If these nomads of the Changpa tribe go away, we will lose our first line of defence,” said Sonam Tsering, general secretary of the All Changthang Pashmina Growers Cooperative Marketing Society in Leh. “‘There are around 2,000 families who own sheep and goats, but the actual number of nomadic families is 1,200. The rest keep their livestock with other families and pay shepherds (to care for them).”</p> <p>After government intervention, the price of raw pashmina has gone up from Rs400 for a kilogram to up to Rs3,000. But it is still nowhere close to what cleaned pashmina fetches—Rs10,000 for a kilogram. Tsering said cooperative societies were trying to fix a minimum price for raw pashmina. “We are also trying for value addition and have started producing yarn and finished products on a trial basis,”he said. New textile units, better machines and transportation are huge challenges which the new administration has to surmount in order to capitalise on its assets. This can only happen if road and air connectivity is improved.</p> <p>Biswas said road connectivity was being upgraded, with a focus on rural roads. The public works department recently completed the first double-lane bridge on the Indus at Choglamsar, a Tibetan refugee settlement and a centre for the study of Tibetan culture and history. Improving connectivity within Leh will benefit not only the economy, but also the Army.</p> <p>Since Ladakh’s economy depends heavily on tourism, Biswas said the administration was considering introducing chopper services, gondolas and winter sports. The local economy is facing a major crisis with the Covid-induced lockdown; six months of harsh winter will make things worse. Hence, the push to make Ladakhis direct beneficiaries of the Centre’s flagship schemes like the National Rural Livelihood Mission, which allows women self-help groups to avail bank loans. “I am earning enough money to support my family and to pay my children’s school fees. When the women of the village come together, we are able to sort out so many problems,’’ said Zahra Bano, a self-help group worker.</p> <p>But, more employment and more tourists will also bring more waste, which will pollute the scarce natural resources of Ladakh. The heavy troop deployment on the borders is already adding to the strain. The administration’s Project Tsangda aims to address this problem. The PWD and the Border Roads Organisation are using waste material for road construction; waste is also being used to make biofuel bricks. “While the assets have always been there in Ladakh and in the Himalayas, vested political interests have prevented the region from getting due recognition,” said Tenzin Tsundue, writer and Tibetan activist.</p> <p>So while New Delhi rolls out its pushback policy, it needs to remember that the main source of strength on the borders is not only the Army, but also the local people. A major challenge that remains is building trust and synergy between the two major districts of Ladakh—Leh and Kargil. “The trust deficit that Ladakh had with Jammu and Kashmir can now be seen between Leh and Kargil,” said a senior official in Delhi. While Buddhist-dominated Leh is the capital of the Union territory, the Shia-dominated Kargil seems to be feeling left out. But, if the soft, cultural assets are nurtured well, India might be able to project Ladakh as the seat of national integration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 27 19:00:44 IST 2020 family-comes-first <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Mistrust seems</b> to have been the defining sentiment at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee on August 24. At the fourth virtual meeting of its highest decision-making body in Covid times, the Congress switched from Zoom, the videoconferencing app which the CWC had used for the first three meetings, to Cisco Webex so as to make it more secure.</p> <p>That, however, did not stop real time leaks of the proceedings to the media. An infuriated Ahmed Patel, Congress treasurer and a close confidant of the party’s interim president Sonia Gandhi, paused the discussion and asked the participants to either keep away their phones or switch them off.</p> <p>The mistrust was further evident as senior leader Kapil Sibal, not a CWC member, jumped the gun based on media leaks and posted a strongly-worded tweet reacting to remarks attributed to former party chief Rahul Gandhi. Reportedly, Rahul had said at the meeting that the 23 signatories of a letter sent to Sonia seeking sweeping changes in the party were acting in cahoots with the BJP. Sibal, who was among the signatories, withdrew the tweet when Rahul called him and categorically denied having said anything like that.</p> <p>If Sibal created a flutter with his tweet, four signatories of the contentious letter who were present at the meeting—Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada—were treated with suspicion by the vast majority of the participants. The intent behind the missive was questioned. It was interpreted as a challenge to the leadership of the Gandhis. And the ‘dissenters’ were attacked for leaking the letter to the media even before the party could take it up.</p> <p>The letter stated that the party needed a full-time and visible leadership. It sought sweeping reforms in the organisation, including a system of collective leadership, elections at all levels and decentralisation of decision-making.</p> <p>However, the letter, parts of which got leaked a day before the CWC meeting, read more like an indictment of the leadership of the Gandhis, especially for the party’s first family and its supporters. Some of them termed it an insult to Sonia. It was also felt that the letter betrayed an unease with the idea of Rahul making a comeback as party president.</p> <p>“The letter is very disturbing,” said Manickam Tagore, Lok Sabha MP from Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu. “They say there should be a full-time president. Are they saying that Sonia Gandhi is not working full-time? They say there should be consultations. But we do have mechanisms for consultations. For example, we have regular strategy meetings in Parliament, of which many of the letter writers are members.”</p> <p>The endeavour was crushed in a predictable manner. Sonia offered to resign ahead of the meeting, which was followed by pleas from chief ministers, state Congress presidents, MPs and MLAs and other leaders from across the country that they needed her leadership. Many of them also said for good measure that Rahul should take over the reins of the party if Sonia did not want to continue.</p> <p>This overwhelming show of support for the Gandhis, which critics would call sycophancy and say is the party’s tragic flaw, set the stage for the meeting, where leader after leader reposed faith in the leadership of Sonia and voiced support for Rahul. The authors of the letter were cornered.</p> <p>By the end of the day, the letter writers were at pains to prove that they had not questioned the authority of the Gandhis. They had to reiterate that they were life-long Congressmen with impeccable credentials and that the well-being of the party was at the heart of their effort.</p> <p>“Many of us have served the party for more than two or three decades or even half a century. We have made sacrifices. We worked with Indiraji when she was going through a politically difficult time. All we want is that the drift in the party be arrested,” said a former Union minister, who was among the letter writers.</p> <p>The CWC meeting showed that there can still be no challenge to the authority of the Gandhis, despite the unpopularity of dynastic politics and the family’s declining vote-catching ability. As if responding to the demand in the letter for a full-time and visible leadership, the CWC resolution said Sonia and Rahul had been at the forefront of taking on the Narendra Modi government.</p> <p>“It is very easy to tell your leader what needs to be done. But the leader needs a team that will work on the ground,” said Sushmita Dev, president of the Mahila Congress and a special invitee to the CWC. “We have all been given some responsibility. We should concentrate on that and hit the ground. Also, we need to resist the temptation of going public just for the sake of getting publicity. That will only harm the party.”</p> <p>Although the leaders who sent the letter were castigated, their concerns have been acknowledged by the leadership, which shows that there is a realisation that the issues raised by them have a certain resonance and cannot be brushed under the carpet. Also, the profile of these leaders, with a proven track record of service to the party and a rich experience in governance, has to be taken into account.</p> <p>The CWC resolution specified that the correspondence formed the basis of the meeting. While there was a strong rebuke for the authors in the form of a warning that no attempt to weaken the party or the leadership would be allowed, Rahul himself suggested that a committee be set up to assist Sonia in carrying out her duties as party chief. The resolution also authorised Sonia, who agreed to continue as interim chief till a new president was elected, to carry out organisational changes necessary to meet the current challenges. This could be read as a response to the call for sweeping reforms demanded in the letter.</p> <p>“It is now acknowledged that we did not question the leadership. The idea behind the letter was to reorganise the party and make it battle-ready before the 2024 elections. We are hopeful that our concerns will be addressed,” said former Union minister M. Veerappa Moily, one of the signatories of the letter.</p> <p>If the optics was of the Gandhi family loyalists overwhelmingly outnumbering the letter writers and making them look insignificant, the Gandhis have reached out to them nevertheless, displaying a certain willingness to address their concerns. In her closing remarks, Sonia said she bore no ill will towards them and that they were all one large family. Rahul, even as he condemned the timing of the letter and made the emotional pitch that it was sent to an ailing Sonia, was prompt in calling up Sibal to soothe ruffled feathers.</p> <p>Also, if Rahul’s supporters saw in the letter clear signs of an unease with the former party chief making a comeback, the letter writers were effectively let off with a warning, despite some leaders at the CWC meeting calling for disciplinary action against them.</p> <p>The flutter created by the letter may have had the unintended impact of hastening the comeback of Rahul, who has so far been reluctant to don the mantle. It is learnt that in the meeting, Rahul agreed on the need to call an All India Congress Committee session within six months to decide on the leadership issue. This, coupled with his silence, as opposed to a categorical ‘no’ in the past, in response to entreaties that he should now take charge of the party, is seen as a sign that he is now ready to come back. Also, the overwhelming support for the Gandhis has made it clear that a non-Gandhi option cannot be considered for president.</p> <p>“No matter what we do, unless the AICC session happens and Rahul Gandhi comes back, this feeling that all is not well will linger on,” said a CWC member close to Rahul.</p> <p>Congress leaders feel that the timing of the AICC session will depend not just on Rahul’s readiness for the top job, but also the coming round of assembly elections, with Bihar kicking off the poll season later this year, to be followed by elections in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu in April-May 2021.</p> <p>If nothing else, the letter episode has come as a wake up call for the Congress leadership to get things going. </p> Thu Aug 27 16:38:43 IST 2020 asymptomatic-infectionmay-lead-to-greater-immunity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Monica Gandhi, professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at the University of California at San Francisco, discusses for the first time the hypothesis that universal masking reduces the 'inoculum' or dose of the virus for the mask-wearer, leading to more mild and asymptomatic infection manifestations. Asymptomatic infections, she says, maybe harmful for spread but could be beneficial if they lead to higher rates of exposure. In a world where more than two crore people have been infected with the novel coronavirus, what struck Gandhi was why so many more escaped practically unscathed, including those who had come in close contact with people who contracted COVID-19. Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. You say that a high rate of asymptomatic infection is a good thing</b></p> <p>Yes, a high rate of asymptomatic infection in COVID-19 can be a good thing. This virus has very protean manifestations, ranging from having no symptoms to severe disease and death. The Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US in mid-July estimated the rate of asymptomatic infection with COVID-19 to be 40 per cent. Although the asymptomatic infection can be a problem, since people who are well but infected can still spread the disease, a high rate of asymptomatic infection can be a good thing for individuals. Getting infected but never getting sick is a good outcome for a patient. Moreover, if individuals develop immunity to COVID-19 after asymptomatic infection, that helps slow down the spread of the disease since higher population-level immunity will lead to decreased spread. There is accumulating evidence that cell-mediated immunity develops after asymptomatic infection. There are two arms to the immune response – antibodies and cell-mediated immunity. Cell-mediated immunity provides long term protection and, if this develops to asymptomatic infection, is a very good outcome.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. You talk of universal public masking for pandemic control</b></p> <p>The main finding of our study is that there are increasing bodies of evidence in three domains- virologic, epidemiologic, and ecologic – that masks reduce the viral inoculum or dose someone inhales in, lessening the severity of the disease. For COVID-19, it means that masks protect the individual and drive up the rate of asymptomatic infection. This is good since we want less severe disease and a more benign course for COVID-19. The virologic evidence is outlined in the article but we have papers dating back to 1938 on the relationship between viral inoculum and severity of the disease. More the virus gets in a host, the sicker the host gets. This has been shown with influenza A in human volunteers in 2015. In a hamster study, animals given higher inoculum of the virus had more severe disease than those given lower inoculum of the virus. In a recent study simulating masking for hamsters, the hamsters who got exposed to COVID-19 who ‘masked’ were less likely to get COVID-19 and, if they did, they got a mild disease. The epidemiologic evidence in settings that mask (like cruise ships) show that masking drives up the rate of asymptomatic infection. For instance, in cruise ship outbreaks from the beginning where we didn’t know about masking, the rate of asymptomatic infection was 18 per cent. In an Argentinian cruise ship where all the passengers and staff masked, 81 per cent of those who became infected were asymptomatic. And in countries that mask, the rate of severe disease is very low. Therefore, masking is one of the most important pillars to fight the pandemic – they protect you and they protect others. In India, if there are very crowded environments, wearing comfortable facial masks (simple cotton masks) at home would have benefit in reducing the frequency of severe illness. Finally, I think one of the most important things in this study is that driving up the rate of asymptomatic infection may also lead to greater immunity to the infection. Facial masks seem to reduce the viral inoculum or dose to which the wearer is exposed, leading to more and more asymptomatic infection. Benefits of masking against asymptomatics are to protect others because people without symptoms (asymptomatic) with COVID-19 can shed virus from their nose and mouth at high rates even when they feel well. To decrease the rate of getting the virus from blocking viral particles to getting into your mouth and nose. The third reason is what we talk about in terms of viral inoculum.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. It is said that the virus has a mild impact on children. What do you think that is telling us?</b></p> <p>This is an interesting virus in that it seems to have a milder impact in children than in adults. Children are much less likely to become ill, possibly due to reduced expression of a receptor (called the ACE2 receptor) in the lining of their noses that takes in the virus. Children’s immune responses may be better equipped to fight the virus. I believe the milder impact on children means we should protect the adults around them, specifically teachers, by universally facial masking teachers and students as we open schools.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Do age and genetics play a role, in some showing no symptoms at all while others dying from the illness?</b></p> <p>Disease manifestations from a virus is always an interplay between host and virus. Individuals who are older or have certain blood types or who are immunocompromised may be more likely to get ill from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, we have been researching how the viral “dose” or inoculum seems to matter a lot when explaining how sick someone gets from this virus which is why facial masks— which filter out a majority of the viral particles— likely leads to less severe disease if the person becomes infected. Facial masks thus protect the mask-wearer ad those around him/her.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. So does this mean that some humans have immunity against the virus right from the beginning when it was termed as a novel virus?</b></p> <p>Yes. Emerging data is showing us that many individuals may have T-cells (or a cell-mediated immune response) that developed in response to other common coronaviruses that cause the common cold. These T-cells, which emerged in response to another virus, seem to have a “cross-reacting” potential or ability to fight off this novel coronavirus, the one which causes COVID-19. Therefore, there is a certain segment of the population that seems to have some natural immunity to SARS-CoV-2, leading them to have a more mild disease or asymptomatic infection if they become infected with this novel coronavirus.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. Is there something called as pre-existing immunity in certain individuals that keeps them from the virus?</p> <p>Yes, the idea is that – by being exposed to other viruses in the past (like the virus that causes the common cold)—we have developed T-cells or immune cells that can partially protect us against this new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Moreover, our research is compiling data that getting even asymptomatic infection with COVID-19 may allow cell-mediated immunity to develop, leading to greater population-level immunity to this new virus, which will naturally slow down the spread.</p> Thu Aug 27 17:16:46 IST 2020 lankan-labyrinth <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AROUND THE TIME</b> Sri Lankans gifted the Rajapaksa clan a landslide victory in the national elections in early August, the Tamil Nadu Police were hot on the trail of a crime story with roots in the island nation. Investigators suspect that a Sri Lankan history-sheeter, with links to the underworld and ambitions of being an actor, had been hiding in India for about three years. He was apparently running his drug network in Sri Lanka through WhatsApp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all started on July 3, when a Pradeep Singh died of cardiac arrest in Coimbatore. Curiously, even the police seemed to have been ignorant about the life and death of Angoda Lokka, originally Maddumage Lasantha Chandana Perera, until a journalist raised a question at a briefing, quoting a Sri Lankan newspaper. Lokka, aka Pradeep Singh, was reportedly living in a rented house at Cheran Ma Nagar on the outskirts of Coimbatore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He was here for the past one-and-a-half years,” Inspector General of Police (Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department) K. Shankar told THE WEEK. “The investigation is going on. We have taken Amani Thanji and Sivakami Sundari, who were with him, into custody. We will have to ascertain the facts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He added that Sri Lankan officials had not sought any details about Lokka yet. “Once they request, we will definitely share it,” he said. Sources said that investigators have asked Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies for Lokka’s fingerprints and DNA samples.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the CB CID, which has formed seven special teams for the case, the Research and Analysis Wing is also involved, and has held marathon meetings with the police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to case details THE WEEK accessed from Angoda, Lokka’s hometown just outside Colombo, the 35-year-old was a drug peddler and an underworld operative with several murders to his name. His first arrest was on January 18, 2011, for a murder committed within Wellampitiya police station limits. Several other murder cases followed. Then, in 2017, after a bus shooting in Kalutara that he was suspected to have engineered, Lokka went missing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after Lokka went missing, the Interpol issued a Red Notice against him. “We could not trace his whereabouts,” said a source in the Sri Lankan police. The source said that he had fled the country on a fake passport. It is not clear if he came to India directly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 25, 2019, history-sheeter Konda Tharaka was shot dead at Hanwella, about 30km from Colombo. The shooters were allegedly Lokka’s associates; police suspected that he stayed in touch with them through WhatsApp calls. “He is the prime suspect in the Tharaka murder case,” said Deshabandu Tennakoon, deputy inspector general of police, Western Province.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After arriving in India, Lokka stayed in Bengaluru for a few months and then in Madurai. His final stop was Coimbatore, where he first lived in Saravanampatti and then in Cheran Ma Nagar. He had been living in the last location for at least three months, police sources said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He landed first in Bengaluru with his fake passport and forged documents,” said a police source. “He took the help of T. Sivakami Sundari, a lawyer from Madurai. He was referred to her by a Sri Lankan friend living in Dubai.” He then moved to Tamil Nadu. Sivakami, who had friends in the Sri Lankan refugee camp near Madurai, reached out to a Thiyaneswaran for help; together, they got Lokka an Aadhaar card and other documents under the alias Pradeep Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lokka then moved to Saravanampatti. Thanji, 27, began flying in from Colombo to visit him here. Reportedly, she was married to one of Lokka’s rivals, whom he had allegedly bumped off years ago. When Thanji’s visits made neighbours suspicious, the duo moved to Cheran Ma Nagar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thiyaneswaran helped them rent a house owned by an NRI living in the US. They moved in in March 2020. Thiyaneswaran had apparently told the owner that the two were from Dubai and were stuck in Coimbatore because of the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said Lokka was earning a living in Coimbatore by supplying protein supplements to gyms in the city. And, unlike in Saravanampatti, no one noticed the couple in Cheran Ma Nagar, largely because of the lockdown. However, a few neighbours had seen Lokka smoking and talking on the phone in his balcony, and walking the quiet streets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 3, however, Lokka reportedly had a cardiac arrest. Thanji and Thiyaneswaran took him to the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital (CMCH), where he died. His name was recorded as Pradeep Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The following day, Sivakami rushed to the Peelamedu police station, identified herself as Singh’s relative and took the body for cremation in Madurai. By this time, the Sri Lankan police had been tipped off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Coimbatore City Police found that the Aadhaar card was fake and they arrested Sivakami, Thiyaneswaran and Thanji. The local police seized all electronic devices used by them, and handed the case over to the CB CID. The police, however, said that Lokka’s phone and laptop had been wiped clean.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Sivakami and Thiyaneswaran have been remanded to judicial custody, Thanji is in Puzhal prison near Chennai. In a twist, Thanji was first taken to the CMCH; she was two months pregnant, and the pills taken to terminate it had caused profuse bleeding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Sri Lankan police said that Lokka had recently undergone rhinoplasty, ostensibly to get acting gigs, the Coimbatore police dismissed it as speculation. They also said it was difficult to establish whether he did go under the knife and even whether the man who died was indeed Lokka. The CB CID might isolate his DNA from blood samples collected during autopsy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Sri Lankan authorities said they have approached Indian authorities, seeking more details about Lokka and his aides. “Our state intelligence officials,” said Tennakoon, “have approached the Indian High Commission in connection with Lokka’s death.”</p> Thu Aug 20 18:17:16 IST 2020 trust-deficit <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JANUARY 29,</b> Thuingaleng Muivah, the 86-year-old general secretary of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, left the group’s headquarters in Camp Hebron for Chumukedima, a tourist village in Dimapur district. It was a long, bumpy ride through dusty, potholed roads. So Muivah rested that night and joined a team of negotiators of the NSCN(IM) the following morning. Together, they met R.N. Ravi, the Union government’s interlocutor for Naga peace talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi had facilitated the signing of a framework peace agreement between the Union government and the NSCN(IM), the largest of the Naga insurgent groups, in 2015. The final agreement was to be signed before October 31, 2019 last year, but talks had reached a stalemate and the deadline passed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The meeting at Chumukedima was meant to iron out differences and help finally conclude the peace talks that had been going on since 1997, when the NSCN(IM) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. But it did not go as planned. Ravi wanted the NSCN(IM)’s negotiators to accept that the peace talks under the framework agreement were being held “within the framework of the Indian Constitution”. The NSCN(IM) negotiators were dismayed; they said the framework agreement had provided for a “new relationship” between India and Nagaland, outside the Constitution’s purview.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Matters went downhill fast. The NSCN(IM) accused Ravi of having “manipulated” the peace process. Ravi reportedly said even “Class 7 students” could understand that accepting the Constitution was part of the framework agreement. Foul words were exchanged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muivah felt Ravi had broken his trust. Under the framework agreement, the two sides had agreed to hold talks based on “mutual respect and understanding” to end the decades-long insurgency. After the meeting, though, the NSCN(IM) said peace talks were “coming to a nauseating end because of the mischief of the interlocutor”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trouble has been brewing since last July, when Ravi was appointed as Nagaland governor even as he held on to the post of interlocutor. NSCN(IM) leaders alleged that the deadline set by him for signing the peace deal was never part of the framework agreement. According to them, “shared sovereignty” was the only way forward to end the conflict. For his part, Ravi accused NSCN(IM) of imputing “imaginary content” to the framework agreement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muivah, who has been camping in Delhi, wants Ravi to be removed as interlocutor immediately. According to sources, the Prime Minister’s Office has asked two directors in the Intelligence Bureau to reach out to the NSCN(IM) and sort out differences. Security agencies worry that the tension could kickstart a fresh wave of insurgency in Nagaland. That Ravi is absent from the talks in Delhi shows the Union government’s declining confidence in him as an interlocutor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi was not always disliked. In fact, Naga Hoho, the apex tribal body in the state, and the seven-member Naga National Political Groups (NNPG) were initially happy with the signing of the framework agreement and the progress of the peace talks. “Ravi took initiative to bring the NNPG on board by signing the 2017 Agreed Position or Preamble with them,” said Elu Ndang, general secretary of Naga Hoho. “The Naga people want a solution. But before arriving at it, Ravi was made governor. That dual role has created a huge problem.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In June, Ravi wrote to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio that the “scenario in the state is grim” and that “law and order has collapsed”. He alleged that the state government remained a mute spectator as “armed gangs” operated freely in the state. “The same people [the NSCN(IM) and the NNPG] whom the government had been talking to for 23 years were termed by Ravi as armed gangs,” said Eu Ndang. “It was uncalled for. Ravi also insisted that the state government make government employees declare their links with Naga political groups. What was the need for him to term it as a law and order problem?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NSCN(IM) recently released what it claims to be a copy of the framework agreement, which had been kept confidential by mutual consent since 2015. The copy says the agreement “will provide for an enduring, inclusive new relationship of peaceful coexistence of two entities”. According to the NSCN(IM), the word ‘new’ is absent in the “doctored” document allegedly prepared by Ravi. “‘New relationship’ strongly indicates [that the agreement is] outside the purview of the Indian Constitution,” said an NSCN(IM) leader. “When that word is removed, there is room for misinterpreting it as being under the Constitution.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union home ministry has decided not to release the framework agreement under the Right to Information Act. The decision has been upheld by the chief information commissioner, who ruled that the disclosure can affect India’s security and strategic interests. So the question of whether the agreement was doctored is not likely to be resolved soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naga groups are now split over the future of peace talks. The NNPG openly support Ravi, saying the agreement he had signed with them in 2017 gave “fresh impetus to the stagnant talks”. Alezo Venuh, coordinator of the NNPG’s working committee, said the NSCN(IM) had destroyed the Naga people’s relationship with their neighbours in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>P. Chuba, former president of Naga Hoho, however, said Ravi’s divide-and-rule policy had precipitated the present crisis. “After two years of consultations with the NSCN(IM), Ravi was trying to sideline the group,” he said. “No inclusive settlement can happen with a divide-and-rule policy. It will intensify bloodshed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>H.D. Deve Gowda, who was prime minister when the NSCN(IM) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1997, issued a statement saying the progress made in the last 23 years should not be forsaken now. “I sincerely hope,” he said, “that the distrust is put aside, talks continue, and a peace accord is reached at the earliest.”</p> Fri Aug 21 12:50:17 IST 2020 all-core-naga-political-and-historical-matters-resolved-in-principle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/Why do you think the NSCN(IM) is raising the issue of breach of trust after five years of negotiations with interlocutor R.N. Ravi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/You have to ask the NSCN(IM) and the interlocutor why after such a warm handshake on TV five years ago, there are accusations flying thick and fast. Issues that were supposed to have been resolved in the first few rounds of negotiations are being touched upon in the 23rd year of talks! Nagas have been taken for a ride! What were the grounds and conditions that (led to) mistrust between the NSCN(IM) and Ravi are known to them. Both are accusing each other. Let it not spill into Naga society as a debate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The NNPG signed the ‘agreed position’ in 2017, two years after a ‘framework agreement’ between the Centre and NSCN(IM). What is the difference?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The framework agreement is known (only to) NSCN(IM) and the government of India. Except for a single page and media exercise, they have not disclosed anything to the Naga people and so I cannot comment on it. With the working committee of NNPGs and the government of India, the ‘agreed position’ signed on November 17, 2017, clearly gave a fresh impetus to the stagnant talks. Naga people got new hope, and after three years of negotiations we have resolved all issues in principle—without compromising Naga history, identity and political right. As things stand now, Naga tribes are happy with the practical approach. They have confidence in the process adopted by the working committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Are you satisfied with the negotiations with the interlocutor?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The working committee of the NNPG believes the Indian prime minister has a degree of confidence in the vast knowledge and understanding of the Naga political issue at the disposal of Ravi. As such the interlocutor cannot go beyond the parameter set by the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NNPG, too, had tough times during negotiations with the interlocutor. But we have experienced that Ravi as interlocutor talks straight, and in any matter put across logically, whether it is a political matter or concerning inter-governmental policy, he has agreed on both sides and made amendments in the considerations. It will be unfortunate if anyone blatantly rebukes him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The stand-off with the NSCN(IM) can affect the peace process.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The stand-off is on positions that the NSCN(IM) might have entered into with the government of India. That has no bearing on the agreed position between the NNPG and the government of India. Both are along two different political considerations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I feel there should not be any stand-off because on October 31, 2019, all entities had agreed, in principle, that all matters had been resolved. Naga history, distinct identity and political right have been entrenched and so we are looking forward to peaceful coexistence through honourable and acceptable political settlement. Working committee of the NNPG and Nagas in general believe that the present central leadership has courage and commitment to resolve the protracted Indo-Naga political conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are the positive developments in the negotiations so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/All core Naga political and historical matters were resolved in principle. The working committee has made it clear that Naga people and their lands are in different administrative areas in Indian states but our principle is that we will not give up common Naga interest irrespective of the state boundaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naga identity, heritage, culture must be allowed to flourish in all the ancestral domains be it in Manipur, Assam or Arunachal Pradesh through concrete political process. Towards this, the working committee has reached out to Naga neighbours such as Ahoms, Meiteis and Kukis. How can Nagas or any community live in constant fear of a neighbour?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NSCN(IM) destroyed centuries-old brotherhood in the neighbourhood. We are rebuilding the bridge with our neighbours. This is a fact and a positive development.</p> Thu Aug 20 18:07:10 IST 2020 knotty-ties <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>In the run up</b> to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Hindustan Awam Morcha chief and former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi played hardball with the opposition grand alliance, demanding five seats for his party. After weeks of suspense and repeated threats of crossing over to the National Democratic Alliance, he settled for three seats. The bitter infighting within the grand alliance was one of the reasons why the NDA swept the polls, winning 39 of 40 seats in the state. After a brief lull caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, political activity has picked up in Bihar, with assembly elections due later this year. And, the grand alliance is once again beset by internal woes.</p> <p>Manjhi had set July 10 as the deadline for forming a coordination committee to sort out issues regarding seat-sharing and to decide on the alliance’s chief ministerial face. It failed to work after Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav made it clear that anyone questioning his leadership was free to leave the grand alliance. Former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha, who heads the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, is another alliance partner who is not getting along well with the young RJD leader. The Congress, meanwhile, is working overtime to keep the alliance intact.</p> <p>“I have met all the allies in Patna,” said Shaktisinh Gohil, former Union minister and Congress’s Bihar in-charge. “Bihar is a large state which is politically vibrant and diverse. Things take time. But I am hopeful that issues will be resolved soon.”</p> <p>Gohil has his task cut out. Manjhi has again sent overtures to the BJP, but when he broke ranks with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and joined hands with the saffron party in 2015, he could win only his own seat, although his party had contested 21 seats. Sources close to Manjhi said he would make his decision in the next few weeks. Kushwaha said the delay was sending the wrong message. “These things, however, happen, when there is such an alliance. But even in the NDA, all is not well,” he said.</p> <p>The RJD demands a lion’s share of the seats, banking on its support among the Yadavs, who constitute over 14 per cent of Bihar’s population. The party had won 80 seats in 2015, when it was in alliance with the JD(U). The Kushwahas constitute seven per cent of the population and the Mushahars—to which Manjhi belongs—1.8 per cent. The Muslims, who constitute 17 per cent of the population, have often sided with the RJD in the past and occasionally with Nitish. The grand alliance is betting on the RJD’s Yadav-Muslim combination, while the Congress can bring in the upper caste and dalit votes. Both alliances keep these calculations in mind while allotting seats and forging new partnerships. The BJP is expected to push for a hindutva-based campaign, along with Modi’s appeal, so that caste loyalties get subdued. The strategy is crucial for the BJP because despite having a vote share of 24 per cent in 2015, it could win only 53 seats.</p> <p>The grand alliance, meanwhile, is hampered by the RJD’s unilateral decision to project Tejashwi as its chief ministerial candidate. Although he is recognised as the political heir of his father, former chief minister Lalu Prasad, the 30-year-old is the youngest among the alliance leaders. He is working hard to build on the perceived anger among the electorate by criticising the election campaign launched by the BJP and the JD(U) and wants the elections to be postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.</p> <p>“People should stay away from the BJP and JD(U)] which are spreading the disease. Many of their state leaders have been infected,” said Tejashwi. “This is not the time to hold elections.” Several BJP leaders, including state president Sanjay Jaiswal and some MLAs, have tested positive for Covid-19. The sudden spurt in cases has again forced a lockdown in the state.</p> <p>The immediate strategy of the RJD is to push for the postponement of the elections so that it can build on the sentiment that the state is beset with multiple problems like the return of the migrants, lost livelihoods and floods. The Election Commission agreed to the demand of various parties to do away with postal voting for people above 65 as it could have led to use of coercion in a state infamous for electoral malpractices. The EC has created an additional 34,000 polling stations—45 per cent more than the usual number—which will increase the total number of polling stations to around 1.06 lakh. “This would entail formidable logistical challenges of mobilising an additional 1.8 lakh polling personnel and other resources including the requirement of a much larger number of vehicles,” said EC officials.</p> <p>But the allies are not with the RJD on the issue of postponing the polls. Kushwaha said it was better to vote out the NDA government at the earliest. “So long as this government is there, the state cannot control Covid-19. It is the responsibility of the government and the Election Commission to ensure that the fight against Covid-19 continues and that fair elections are also held,” he said. RJD sources said discussions were on with the alliance partners and something concrete might emerge in the next few weeks.</p> <p>With a friendly government in the neighbouring state of Jharkhand, Lalu, who is lodged in a Ranchi hospital, is managing the negotiations and is also seeking to mollify miffed party members after senior leader and long-time associate Raghuvansh Prasad Singh quit the RJD. Lalu’s aim is to convince allies to accept Tejashwi as their chief ministerial candidate.</p> <p>While Tejashwi is fighting to keep his father’s legacy alive, Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan has the difficult task of filling his father Ram Vilas Paswan’s shoes. Chirag has been vocal about the differences within the NDA, but BJP leaders believe that it is nothing more than an effort to get more seats for his party.</p> <p>The grand alliance partners are trying to finalise a common agenda. “Apart from raising issues like the failure of the BJP and the JD(U) to fulfil their promises like the prime minister’s special Bihar package, we will go to the people with a positive agenda. The 38 districts of the state are divided into nine divisions. For each of these divisions, we will raise separate issues,” said Gohil.</p> <p>Another issue before the opposition alliance is whether to bring the Left parties, which have their own pockets of influence and have three seats in the assembly, into its fold. CPI leader and former JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar had been attracting large crowds in his rallies before the pandemic struck. Former Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha is also planning to contest elections. Unless the grand alliance can stay united and find a way to bring together such players, it will be advantage NDA in the polls.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 18:50:09 IST 2020 winter-is-coming <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The line between</b> disorder and order lies in logistics, wrote Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. The observation is quite relevant for India today. With no immediate de-escalation between India and China in the Ladakh sector, the Indian military now faces the challenge of getting crucial supplies to the nearly two lakh soldiers and support staff deployed there.</p> <p>On August 11,Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat told a parliamentary committee that the military was ready for a long haul on the LAC and for deployment in harsh winter.</p> <p>No other army deploys as many soldiers at such heights, and the Leh-based XIV Corps carries out the world’s largest winter stocking exercise annually. The Army spends an estimated 015 lakh a year to keep a soldier on heights ranging from 15,000ft to 18,000ft. The cost excludes weapon and ammunition, information on which is classified.</p> <p>Retired Major General Amrit Pal Singh, former chief of operational logistics of the XIV Corps, said that, usually, about two lakh tonnes of supplies are transported and stored before the winter sets in October, cutting Ladakh off from the rest of the world. This is called Advanced Winter Stocking (ASW), which serves the forces for about six months. “But with additional deployment, you require at least double the logistics,” he told The WEEK.</p> <p>Ladakh is connected by road through the Manali-Leh road and the Jammu-Srinagar-Kargil-Leh route. During winter (October to March), passes on these routes are closed. So, in the window between April and September, the Army dispatches about 100 trucks a day with rations, engineering and medical stores, weapons, ammunition and equipment, clothing and vehicles. There are about 80 items stocked for soldiers, including vast amounts of kerosene, diesel and petrol, which provide heat and fuel vehicles.</p> <p>Singh said that a Srinagar and Leh round-trip for a truck that can carry 10 tonnes of supplies costs around 01 lakh. With a C-17 Globemaster military aircraft, which can carry up to 50 tonnes, an hour-long flight would cost roughly 024 lakh. A helicopter sortie of 45 minutes costs around 04 lakh. Multiple transport aircraft usually carry 200 to 250 tonnes of supplies every day from Chandigarh to Leh.</p> <p>He also said that, by this time every year, about one lakh tonne of supplies would have been dispatched. “But we still need to send nearly three lakh tonnes in the next two months,” he added. “In the best-case scenario, if we use 400 trucks a day, we can send 4,000 tonnes by road. [But] maintaining the road for peak transportation capacity is the need of the hour. We find slush on roads due to [heavy traffic] of trucks.”</p> <p>He also pointed out that Leh was just the first stop. There, the Army needs transit shelters for truck crew and support staff. Not everything can go by air; heavy material has to go by road. Though Zoji-la and Rohtang are the main passes, the road gets tougher from there. There are two more passes on the route—Baralacha La and Thanglang La—which are at a higher altitude than Rohtang.</p> <p>Retired Lieutenant General D.S. Hooda, former northern Army commander, said that the advanced winter stocking is usually a well-planned exercise, but with additional deployment, the issue was not only transportation, but also procurement and supply. For instance, the Army would need pre-fabricated shelters, which cost at least 015 lakh apiece, to accommodate 20 troops each. “Shelters have be to procured, transported and constructed before winter,” he said. “It is almost next to impossible to carry out any construction in winter. Planning for construction of shelters usually takes place over two seasons. Now we have taken the decision to remain on those heights, [so] we need to speed up the process. The window is small now, and I see it as a big challenge.”</p> <p>Reportedly, the Army, through its defence attaches in embassies in the US, Russia and Europe, is hunting for makers of warm clothes and snow tents. Additionally, the Ordnance Factory Board has been asked to speed up deliveries of extreme cold climate (ECC) clothing.</p> <p>Military observers said that, with the temperature dipping to minus 40 degrees Celsius, it is going to be a battle of who lasts there. The soldier has to negotiate three elements—the weather, his health and, of course, the enemy across the border. With better infrastructure and an easier terrain in Tibet, the Chinese can continue to mobilise from deep areas. However, it costs the People’s Liberation Army four times as much to sustain a soldier on the Tibetan plateau than in the plains.</p> <p>“Besides the temperature, the chilly winds in Galwan, Gogra and Hot Springs do the maximum damage,” said a serving Army officer, adding that it was the extreme cold and low level of oxygen that had claimed most of the 20 lives lost in the Galwan clash of June 15. “When you are in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation, you prepare yourself for any eventuality. Unlike in Siachen, troops on these friction points have to be on the highest level of alertness throughout winter.” He also said that the low temperature affects equipment, ammunition and artillery guns, which need special storage.</p> <p>Military planners said that “mirror deployment” throughout winter would come at a huge cost. “All your perspective plans go for a toss if you do mirror deployment. Money and material meant for capability-building in some other areas is going to be diverted to Ladakh,” said Singh.</p> <p>Instead of mirror deployment, he added, India should have done deterrent deployment, which means holding your forces back and putting them in places opposite to the enemy’s vulnerable areas. If this had happened, the Chinese would not have even moved to places like Galwan or Depsang, he said.</p> <p>“Now, we are only committed and reactive,” he said. “Being reactive, you only pay in cost. We have lost an opportunity to be pro-active. With the absence of a mountain strike corps, the Indian Army is missing its offensive capabilities.”</p> <p>Said Hooda: “Massive deployment, up to three division-level strength on those heights through the winter, will incur a huge cost. And if the situation does not improve, it will continue into the next year.”</p> <p>The military thinkers seem to believe in Napoleon’s quote: “Amateurs discuss tactics; professionals discuss logistics.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 18:46:55 IST 2020 line-of-defence <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Recent Covid-19 </b>sero-surveys done in major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad indicated that a large number of people have already been infected in each of these densely populated cities. In Delhi, the numbers suggested that 22.86 per cent people had already encountered the virus; in Ahmedabad it was 49 per cent. Mumbai results showed a wide variation of 16-57 per cent in non-slum and slum areas.</p> <p>Large numbers of infections, mostly asymptomatic and relegated to specific areas within these cities, have triggered a debate over its implications for Covid-19 management, as well as the optimistic, wishful scenario of attaining herd immunity.</p> <p>So, are those in large cities at least closer to being immune?</p> <p>In Delhi, the infection had spread fast in a couple of months, according to results of the two sero-surveys, said Dr Jugal Kishore, head of community medicine, VMMC and Safdarjung hospital. The first all-India sero-survey done by ICMR indicated 12 per cent people had antibodies in the month of May, and the one in July suggested 22.86 per cent had antibodies in June, Kishore said.</p> <p>Kishore said that herd immunity was a possibility, given the extensive spread of the disease. But he added that in a city like Delhi, the number of cases were coming down, indicating that the city had crossed its peak. Other factors such as innate immunity may need to be studied to understand the disease better.</p> <p>“If the infection continues to spread across the country at this rate, and the vaccine comes after six months from now, the question of whether our population should be immunised will have to be addressed,” said Kishore. “In the case of H1N1, the vaccine came after the peak had passed, and many people, including doctors, did not take it. The vaccine was underutilised.”</p> <p>Immunologists, however, say that it may still be too early to read too much into the sero-survey data. “Herd immunity is not a goal; it is an outcome. We cannot plan for it, but we can certainly plan for mass vaccination programmes,” said Dr Satyajit Rath, faculty member, IISER, Pune and former immunologist with the National Institute of Immunology. Rath said that those trying to make sense of the sero-survey results were at risk of “over-interpreting” what was essentially insufficient data. “Complex questions of immunity and disease spread are being interpreted politically and geographically, in terms of sero-survey results,” he said.</p> <p>A sero-survey essentially looks for a certain kind of antibody (IgG) and sero-positivity only confirms that an individual has encountered the virus in the past. But Rath said it was hard to say whether these antibodies could also offer protection. “Besides, we know that from a study on 90 people in the UK that there is evidence of waning antibodies in three months,” said Rath. Antibodies could also help enhance the disease, as in the case of the dengue virus antibodies, he added.</p> <p>Dr Vineeta Bal, professor, IISER, Pune, says that sero-surveys give credence to the hypothesis that a majority of the infected being asymptomatic had sailed through the infection and are now unlikely to spread it further. “In a city like Delhi, 50 to 60 per cent of people would have to test positive before herd immunity could kick in,” she said. But Bal says that vaccination is a better approach to attain the robust immunity levels, given the uncertainty around antibodies.</p> <p>Waning antibodies, however, did not imply that the body's immune response is not at work. Immunologists across the world are studying the role of cellular immunity, or T-cell immunity in Covid-19. Immunity, say experts, can either be innate (quick, non-specific), or adaptive (long-term, specific). “Results of the Oxford vaccine phase two trial indicate that the vaccine has shown antibody and T-cell responses,” Rath said.</p> <p>Tests used during the sero-surveys only measure antibodies, but not the T-cell responses. T-cell responses are also difficult to test, require expensive equipment and are resource intensive, experts say.</p> <p>Herd immunity varies for different infections in terms of immunological correlates. “For instance, we can have a herd immunity against measles virus in a population when almost 90 per cent of the population has gained immunity,” said Dr Sunit K. Singh, professor, molecular immunology, Banaras Hindu University. “For SARS-CoV-2, however, experts think that it can be achieved once about 70 per cent of the population is infected. With other infections, it is also normal that neutralising antibody titers [the level of protective antibodies in a person’s blood] go down once the pathogen gets cleared but the immunological memory remains, and the levels go up again once the body encounters the pathogen again.”</p> <p>A top health ministry official involved in sero-surveys conducted by the Central government told THE WEEK that questions from longevity of the antibodies to immune responses were still not understood fully. “This virus is too new for us to make these assessments,” said the official, also an expert in infectious diseases, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He said that the policy implications of sero-surveys were significant. “In Delhi, we are past the peak, and now, if we get to know that the infected population is about 40 per cent, we know we are on the right track,” he said.</p> <p>“Does that mean herd immunity is being achieved? There are too many factors, starting with how the situation may change over the next few months,” said the official. “Then again, each city has a different texture, so sporadic data from certain areas cannot be used to make sweeping assessments. In my view, the only way to tire out the virus is by taking all necessary precautions.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 18:38:43 IST 2020 lasting-impact <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>It was on</b> the eighteenth day after he was first diagnosed with Covid-19 that Dr S. Chatterjee resumed work. But later that day, he rushed home; he felt giddy, very weak and had a variable pulse rate. A battery of tests revealed that he had myocarditis—an inflammation of the heart muscle.&nbsp;The Covid-19 literature has been peppered with reports about myocarditis accompanying the disease. “It took a slightly longer time for me to recover,” says Chatterjee, internal medicine specialist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in Delhi. “This virus kind of pulls you down.” He is back on his feet now, with his PPE suit on for seven hours straight and handling patients inside the Covid-19 ward.</p> <p>Being infected with the novel coronavirus is akin to facing a boxer’s punch, say experts. The pugilist walks away, but the victim is left reeling from the bout for months on end. “It takes time for the body to come back to the baseline after testing negative, and whether it will bounce back to its original self at all remains debatable,” says Dr Rahul Pandit, an intensivist at Fortis hospital in Mulund, Mumbai.</p> <p>Medically, a patient is said to have recovered from Covid-19 once he or she tests negative. But the actual recovery may take days, months and even years, say doctors. “The signs and symptoms we see in patients in the recovery phase, which is long after they first tested positive, is what we term as the post-Covid syndrome,” says Pandit.&nbsp;</p> <p>Acute weakness, fatigue, low-grade fever and changes in blood pressure are a few common symptoms observed in patients four to six weeks after they test negative. There are also reports of&nbsp;symptoms like diarrhoea and vomiting that continue for days after the patient tests negative. “Covid-19 continues to impact the heart, lungs, nerves, kidneys and the psyche for weeks after the patient has tested negative,” says Chatterjee. “Right now, we have a Covid-19 patient who showed symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome (rare disorder in which one’s immune system attacks nerves) after&nbsp;almost three to four weeks.”</p> <p>Ganesh Shah, 53, spent 33 days at Bhatia Hospital in Mumbai; he had pneumonia and later tested positive for Covid-19. But even now, his lungs are inflamed and any strenuous activity leaves him gasping for breath. “The doctors have said it will take at least another two months for recovery. I exercise a little every day and have stopped going to work altogether,” says Shah, who works at a jewellery firm in downtown Mumbai. “I hope to recover completely, but I am not sure if it is possible.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome are advised to continue with oxygen therapy once back home from hospital, says Dr Samrat Shah from Bhatia Hospital. Those with ARDS, he says,&nbsp;are on oxygen&nbsp;support inside the hospital, as their respiratory muscles have gone into fatigue because of overwork and the lungs undergo certain fibrotic changes. “So, after a prolonged stay of 45-60 days inside the hospital, patients are asked to continue oxygen therapy at home for at least one or two weeks until the lungs get their capacity back to help the patient perform day-to-day tasks,” he says.</p> <p>Recovery, however, differs from person to person. Satish Katke’s recovery has been speedy, “without any leftover signs”. Katke and his family of six had tested positive for Covid-19 in April. Today, Katke feels “fit as ever”. A resident of Dharavi, he recently donated his plasma at a drive organised by an NGO.</p> <p>A majority of Covid-19 patients also show a tendency to develop blood clots. “We are now putting these patients on at least three to four weeks of blood thinners,” says Pandit. “Even at discharge, the blood tests done suggest that there could be a tendency to clot.”</p> <p>In patients with pre-existing comorbidities, the dosage of drugs for those conditions may change. For instance, a patient whose sugar levels could be controlled through tablets earlier might have to take insulin owing to the rise in blood sugar levels during Covid-19 treatment. Blood sugar levels could rise because of the use of steroids in Covid-19 treatment, say doctors.</p> <p>Hospitals are now planning to start post-Covid outpatient departments, offering medical and psychological counselling and support. “I know how depressing it was to stay inside the isolation ward of the hospital for 14 days,” recalls a 33-year-old woman. “I was all by myself and had frequent bouts of anxiety, depression and a constant fear of what will happen next.” Issues related to stress and depression are being reported increasingly now, especially with patients who have long recovered from Covid-19. Pandit, who, too, had tested positive for Covid-19, says that the trick is to never let one’s guard down.</p> <p>Yet, with the disease being relatively new and the knowledge about it being limited, doctors say it is too early to estimate the long-term impact of Covid-19 on a patient’s health. Most doctors recommend complete rest even after being discharged from hospital. “Rushing back to work is just not possible and it takes at least three weeks to recover well,” says Dr Harshad Limaye, senior consultant, internal medicine, Nanavati hospital. “We have had incidents (less than one per cent) where patients have gone home with negative reports and come back with positive report after a couple of months. Whether this was re-infection or persistence of the virus remains open for debate.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 18:31:11 IST 2020 script-gone-sour <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The mystery</b> surrounding the alleged suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput is getting deeper by the day. Three investigating agencies—the Mumbai Police, the Bihar Police and the Enforcement Directorate—are examining whether there was any foul play, while the Central Bureau of Investigation is all set to take over the probe.</p> <p>Sushant was found dead at his Bandra residence on June 14. It was reported as a suicide as he was found hanging in his room. The initial controversy surrounding the death was about nepotism and bitter rivalries within the Hindi film industry. There were reports about how certain influential names exerted control over the careers of newcomers, especially those without any industry background. The Mumbai Police recorded statements of filmmakers like Aditya Chopra of Yash Raj Films, director Mahesh Bhat and Apoorva Mehta, who is the CEO of Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions.</p> <p>Sushant’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty subsequently approached Union Home Minister Amit Shah for a CBI probe into the actor’s death. The tragedy turned into a political controversy after Sushant’s father, K.K. Singh, expressed his unhappiness over the investigation carried out by the Mumbai Police and registered a zero first information report (an FIR that can be filed at any police station irrespective of the place of crime and area of jurisdiction) in Patna on July 25, accusing Rhea and her family of mentally and financially harassing Sushant and driving him to suicide.</p> <p>With Bihar heading for assembly elections, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi accused the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra of not investigating the case thoroughly. “Uddhav Thackeray is under pressure from the Congress-funded Bollywood mafia and is bent on saving all the elements responsible in the case,” tweeted Sushil Modi.</p> <p>On July 30, Atul Bhatkhalkar, BJP legislator from Kandivali East constituency, wrote to Shah, requesting a CBI inquiry into Sushant’s death. “An Nationalist Congress Party leader like Parth Ajit Pawar has demanded a CBI inquiry,” said Bhatkhalkar. “Parth’s father is Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. The home minister belongs to the NCPì. Sushant’s sister has complained that the deputy commissioner of police carrying out the inquiry did not record her statement. Considering all these aspects, people also say that a young minister in the Maharashtra government has a vested interest in the case. The Bihar government has launched its own investigation. It would be difficult to reach a conclusion if police forces of two states are investigating the same case. Hence I would like to request you to hand over the investigation of the case to the CBI.”</p> <p>Bhatkhalkar’s letter stirred up a hornet’s nest, with the needle of suspicion pointing towards Uddhav’s son Aaditya. It was said that Aaditya had attended a party with Sushant just a few days before his death. Sushant’s former manager Disha Salian, who committed suicide a few days before Sushant’s death, had also attended the party.</p> <p>On August 4, former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane who is now a BJP MP, said Sushant was murdered, while Salian had been raped and murdered. Aaditya felt compelled to issue a statement defending himself. “As grandson of the late Balasaheb Thackeray, I assure you that I will never do anything that will bring shame to my Thackeray name, the Shiv Sena and the state of Maharashtra. Bollywood is a big industry which provides employment to thousands of people and there is nothing criminal in having good relations with the many who are associated with the industry. This mudslinging at me and the Thackeray family is the result of frustration and political despair because our government is working well and is very popular,” said Aaditya.</p> <p>Sena leaders including Transport Minister Anil Parab, MPs Sanjay Raut and Priyanka Chaturvedi rushed to Aaditya’s defence. In his weekly column in the Sena mouthpiece <i>Saamna</i>, Raut wrote that Sushant’s relationship with his father was not cordial as the actor was not happy that his father had remarried. Raut challenged the BJP to openly name Aaditya in the case.</p> <p>A Sena insider told THE WEEK that Aaditya was just 30 and was yet to fully grasp how his authority and power could be exploited by certain elements in the film industry for their ulterior motives. “Balasaheb Thackeray also had friends in Bollywood, but nobody would dare use his name for ulterior motives. Uddhav knows everyone, but prefers to maintain a safe distance from these people,” he said. “Now that Aaditya is in politics full time, he should maintain a safe distance from friends and acquaintances who could misuse his name.”</p> <p>He said the BJP was using the case for electoral gains in Bihar and to destabilise the Maharashtra government. “By attacking Aaditya, they want to bring us to the negotiating table so that a Sena-BJP government can be formed again. The BJP is putting out feelers about breaking our ties with the Congress and the NCP. It will accept the post of deputy chief minister now and will take the chief minister’s post two and a half years later,” said the Sena insider.</p> <p>The Union government has, meanwhile, handed over the case to the CBI following a recommendation by the Bihar government. Nitish made the recommendation as he felt that the Mumbai Police was not cooperating with his officers. For instance, Vinay Tiwari, superintendent of police, Patna City (Central), who was sent to Mumbai to monitor the investigation, was quarantined by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, citing Covid-19 protocol.</p> <p>Rhea has now filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the transfer of the case from Patna to Mumbai. Aaditya’s role in the case came up during the arguments in the apex court on August 11 when senior advocate Maninder Singh, who was appearing for Bihar, said, “It is the Maharashtra CM’s son who is involved in the case, [and it has] nothing to do with Nitish Kumar’s insistence on filing the FIR.” Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Maharashtra, said the desperation of the Bihar government to take over the investigation was fuelled by the upcoming assembly elections. “I don’t know whether Sushant’s death was murder or suicide, but I can say that the murder of the Criminal Penal Code is being attempted here,” said Singhvi. “After the election, you will not hear of this case.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 18:05:24 IST 2020 quality-education-requires-constant-reinvestment <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Former chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation K. Kasturirangan was tasked with heading an eight-member panel to draft the National Education Policy (NEP) in 2017. With the changes that have taken place in education over the past decades, the existing policy was inadequate, so the new one seeks to reorient towards the new normal. Kasturirangan and Leena Chandran-Wadia, member of the drafting committee, spoke to THE WEEK about the way forward. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What, according to you, is the cornerstone of NEP 2020?<br> </b></p> <p>A/ The policy is an end-to-end roadmap for the country, flexible yet integrated, with a singular focus on quality education - quality educational institutions, curriculum and pedagogy, and teachers who are empowered with training and support.</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ Are there any major recommendations which the committee suggested but which do not reflect in the NEP 2020?</b></p> <p><br> &nbsp;A/ The policy in its final form reflects the recommendations of the committee, both in letter and spirit. Some details are different, of course, but as the policy went through major reviews by different groups of stakeholders from the Central and state governments, and eventually by the Prime Minister himself a few times, the fact that it is still preserved, speaks volumes about our efforts. We are very satisfied and happy with the outcome.<br> <br> <b>Q/While most have welcomed the policy changes, they voice concerns over implementation. Your comments.</b><br> <br> A/ Implementation of this policy at the size and scale of effort that is needed has not been attempted previously. However, in the past four decades, we have taken up several initiatives in other sectors, for example, space sector, where we have put in considerable investment, been ambitious, taken risks, and succeeded. This clearly shows that we can do it. We will need a change of mindset and culture among all &nbsp;stakeholders so that we can attend to everything – the need for human resources, infrastructure, management, finances. &nbsp;<br> <br> Given India’s projected economic strength of becoming a ten trillion-dollar economy by 2030-32 and taking its place as the third largest economy in the world, we are confident that over the coming ten-year period, we will be able to invest substantially into education. The policy sets out an ambitious vision and provides a flexible framework within which all stakeholders – governments, management of institutions, faculty, researchers, educators, educationists and civil society – anyone who cares about education, can step forward to work together and ensure the desired outcomes. &nbsp;<br> <br> <b>Q/&nbsp;With the multidisciplinary approach to subjects in school, will the content for entrance exams to professional courses like NEET and JEE also have to change presently?</b><br> <br> A/ The prerogative of changing the content of entrance exams rests solely with the institutions that conduct these examinations. That said, it is very likely that they will respond to the important changes that are coming in due to the implementation of the policy. Students will always be able to opt for the subject combinations they need to help them compete in these exams. The number of students taking these two entrance exams, put together, is only a small fraction of the total number of students passing out of Grade 12 (approximately 25%). The remaining students can benefit enormously from the choice of courses they will have.<br> <br> <b>Q/</b>&nbsp;<b>The private sector feels that the policy should have also allowed for private funds to be injected into education, apart from the PPP model and philanthrophic model. Your comments.</b><br> <br> A/ There is already considerable private sector investment in education. Nearly half of all students in school education, over 120 million students, study in private schools. Over 45 percent of these are in budget schools and pay less than Rs 500 per month. In higher education, the participation is much higher, with private sector accounting for 78 per cent of all institutions and 69 per cent of all enrolment. All of these institutions are working under the non-profit model as per law, but we know that they use well known ways to extract profits. It is important to highlight that the education sector is not really amenable to the for-profit model. Quality education requires constant re-investment into academics - upgradation of laboratories, libraries and other infrastructure, introduction of new courses, investments in training of teachers, funding for research and more. If the re-investment is not done, quality suffers, as it is doing in India. This is also evident from countries such as the United States, where for-profit institutions co-exist with the non-profit institutions and the latter far outstrip the quality of the former. &nbsp;<br> <br> <b>Q/&nbsp;Will the traditional three-year degree continue along with the four-year BLA, or will the three-year degree system ultimately be phased out?</b><br> <br> A/ No there is no such thinking within the policy. The three-year degree is being offered by all higher educational institutions now, and many may decide to continue with it since it is likely that this will be an attractive option for a large number of students. Each year of undergraduate education adds to the costs that has to be borne by parents. The four-year degree has therefore been introduced as an additional option that some institutions may be willing to offer.<br> <br> <b>Q/</b>&nbsp;<b>How long do you think it will take for the new curricula in schools and colleges to roll out, and how long will it take to retrain teachers for their new roles?</b><br> <br> A/ The new National Curricular Framework for School Education (NCFSE) and a similar National Curricular Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE) are both already under preparation.<br> <br> The NCFTE is being prepared by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) and is expected to be ready by 2021.<br> <br> The NCFSE will be prepared by National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) is likely to be ready by 2022-23.<br> <br> The curriculum for school and teacher education will follow only after each of these frameworks is ready, so we are looking at an interval of 2-3 years at the earliest. In the meantime, the NCF 2005 can continue to be used since it embodies the core principles articulated in this policy.<br> <br> We don’t need to wait for all this to be ready to initiate retraining of teachers. We can begin immediately, because teachers need to understand and assimilate the spirit and the content of this policy.<br> &nbsp;<br> <b>Q/</b>&nbsp;<b>What do you see as the biggest stumbling block in achieving the objectives of this new policy?<br> </b><br> A/ There are several stumbling blocks, but the biggest challenge comes from the present mindset and the culture among the people who are involved in education. There is a large gap between the approach and attitudes of people, relative to what the policy implementation requires it to be, and this gap needs to be bridged at the earliest.<br> <br> There are a variety of roles and responsibilities, also in governance/ administration of education, that needs to be approached with a ‘can-do’ attitude. Everyone will need to re-look at the way we teach and shape the lives of students, evaluate them, govern/administer institutions, and discard entrenched viewpoints that have not worked so far and do not belong in the future. The success of policy implementation will depend on all concerned stakeholders - officials in government departments at the Centre and the states, management of institutions, and teachers – being willing to adopt a new way of thinking, guided by the spirit of the policy.<br> <br> Leadership is a critical part of this. We need a large number of teachers and leaders to work towards such a mindset change and to carry along everyone who cares about education, so that a movement is created towards bringing out the best in each individual student. The flexible framework of the policy has room for experimentation and exploration of new ideas from everyone. For instance, Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) &nbsp;is the starting point of the reforms in school education and it is imperative to get this done correctly in all aspects such as curriculum, pedagogy, re-training of teachers. Not succeeding in ECCE will have a cascading impact on all the later stages.<br> <br> <br> <br> <b>Q/&nbsp;Do you think the NEP will be able to control the paralled industry of commercialisation of education &nbsp;– the coaching classes and private tuitons?</b></p> <p><br> A/ Coaching classes thrive on the paucity of good opportunities for students, forcing them to compete very hard. NEP is aiming to raise the overall quality of education offered by most institutions. This will ensure that an adequate supply of good opportunities is created reducing the excessive competition.<br> <br> The NEP is also trying to do away with rote learning and focus on education that helps students discover their own interests/ passion and develop them , while also picking up critical competencies such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration, and multiple additional literacies (such as financial, ICT, scientific, cultural and civic literacy). When the teaching methods and concomitant evaluation strategies change so much, coaching will also become redundant. Students who receive such an education will not just be employable but will also have the opportunity to become entrepreneurs.<br> <br> <br> <b>Q/&nbsp;Although the policy work may have started ahead of the pandemic, how much have lessons of the pandemic been incorporated into the policy?</b><br> <br> A/ Two big challenges that arose due to the sudden shift towards online education were: i) the lack of adequate internet connectivity and access to devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, and ii) the readiness of teachers for making the shift. Many teachers themselves do not have good quality access and many have not received any training for teaching online.<br> <br> The Policy already contains several important recommendations for addressing this:<br> 1) Providing internet access and devices to educational institutions, teachers&nbsp;and students</p> <p>2) Training and support to teachers for preparing rich content and for sharing&nbsp;them through content repositories.</p> <p>3) The creation of a National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) to help&nbsp;educational institutions select the platforms, software and tools that can be&nbsp;used by them and their teachers</p> <p>4) Provision for making content available in regional languages.</p> Fri Aug 07 11:39:27 IST 2020 rendezvous-with-ram <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Part resilient, part frail—faith is a strange being. It is also a magical being, and it must be poured into the foundation of the proposed Ram Mandir, for it to be the embodiment of the many symbols that would lie beneath its promised grandeur. These symbols have shaped politics, society and culture in myriad ways. To burnish them, the temple needs to be invested with the faith of a generation that was not born when the mandir movement began gaining momentum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Uttar Pradesh, one in four voters is aged between 18 and 29 years. It is a generation that does not have tangible memories of the most visible flashpoints of the movement—the firing on kar sevaks in 1990 and the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. It is a generation that did not gape at television screens as the domes came down. It did not hear the bloodied calls that exhorted the faithful to step out in service of Lord Ram. It did not weep over the deaths that followed, and it did not live through the dark fear of those days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This generation will only grow bigger. For those who belong to it, the movement and its symbols are stories bequeathed—often embellished or toned down depending on the narrator’s convictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deepa Singh Raghuvanshi, 28, heard her stories from those who were intimately involved in the movement. A folk artiste in Ayodhya, Raghuvanshi was six months old when the masjid was demolished. Her home is close to the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas Karyashala, the workshop where columns for the temple are carved. The workshop was set up the year she was born. So for her whole life, Raghuvanshi has had a ringside view of the tasks that went on quietly and persistently even when the mandir seemed a mirage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has also seen the unbridled devotion of visitors who prostrate before the pillars, as if they were in the presence of Ram himself. “Since childhood, I have spent hours in the karyashala,” said Raghuvanshi. “I have heard many stories from artisans. The hopes and pains of those who chiselled these stones have seeped into me. Many who worked in those initial years are gone, but today I feel as though I bear their happiness as well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Would she then vote for the political party that claims credit for that happiness? She thought for minutes and said, “There are other important qualities one looks for in leaders. The Ram Mandir will be at the back of my mind, though.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arun Kumar Choubey, 33, state convenor of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, said there was no need to drill Ram and hindutva into the youth, because there was already an “innate” bond. “We grew up listening to the stories,” said Choubey. “No picture or book is necessary to foster that connection. The bhumi pujan (stone-laying ceremony), however, is a great opportunity to reinforce our core messaging. We don’t look at it as a chance for the organisation to grow, but as a chance to do more in service of the nation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Viswa Hindu Parishad, which spearheaded the mandir movement, is not leaving anything to chance, though. It has tasked itself with a massive youth connect programme to ensure that the relationship goes beyond social media campaigns, which are often amorphous and simplistic and do not yield movements in the real world. One example: The hashtag #ProfileForRam, which gained popularity on the night of August 4. Users were asked to change their display pictures or post their favourite picture of Ram. In the accompanying messages, some shared stories of family members performing kar seva; others asked when these relatives were returning and how they could join in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The kar seva in Ayodhya is not a continuous process, of course. No fresh calls have been made. And the seva is not as simple as getting to the town, helping around, taking a few pictures and leaving.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahendra Pathak, associate professor in the department of ancient history at K.S. Saket Postgraduate College in Ayodhya, was a postgraduate student when the movement began to intensify. In 1986, when the main entrance to the site was unlocked, Pathak felt a “distinct excitement”. In 1990, when hundreds of kar sevaks were arrested, he walked out of his home, clutching the hand of his five-year-old son, to give himself up to the police in protest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This sense of service was not born in a day,” said Pathak. “I became an RSS member when I was seven and was studying in a missionary school. My devotion is to the dhwaj (the saffron RSS flag) and the values it represents. The dhwaj is consistent. So is my devotion. The youth of today are different. Their first question would be: ‘What is in it for me?’ That is not an emotion that drives movements.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rohit Pal, 24, a student of tourism and hospitality at Dr Rammanohar Lohia Avadh University, has a deep emotional connection with Ayodhya. His social media page is filled with pictures and stories about the town of winding lanes and countless temples. “I cannot imagine myself living elsewhere,” said Pal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is, however, unsure about whether he can call himself an Ayodhyawasi (resident of Ayodhya); according to his postal address, he said, he lives in Faizabad. Interestingly, Pal seemed oblivious to the fact that the Uttar Pradesh government had renamed Faizabad district as Ayodhya in 2018. The memory lapse may be a minor detail, but it holds a mirror to the amorphous nature of the bonds that Pal and his peers have with Ayodhya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pal’s political preferences are tied to development. “I want to make a career as a photographer and storyteller of Ayodhya,” he said. “All that needs to be done to develop the tourism sector must be done soon.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shikhar Kapoor, 25, is the director of one of the oldest hotels in Ayodhya. It is a family property. A graduate in hospitality management, Kapoor was offered a job after he completed the course. “I was in a dilemma, but I chose the safe way,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That safe way was the absence of competition in Ayodhya and the relative ease of work. With the government’s focus on developing the area as a pilgrimage circuit—complete with an international airport—that perceived ease has vanished. Yet, Kapoor says he is so immersed in Ayodhya’s pace of life that he would be a misfit elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I would never consider getting involved in any movement. It is all too easy to identify troublemakers now. I keep my head down and work. I do not want any jhamela (nuisance),” said Kapoor, who last visited the temple site when he was in school.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will the grand bhumi pujan capture the imagination and faith of youth like Kapoor and thereby yield political dividends? Ajit Kumar Pandey, professor of sociology at Banaras Hindu University, believes that it has the potential to draw the youth away from the values enshrined in the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Think of the state as an elder. It is from this elder that the young draw their examples and inspiration,” he said. “The [title suit] has been resolved—rightly or wrongly. A mature, peaceful state need not make propaganda out of it. This is not in consonance with democratic values, and is likely to influence young minds into thinking that such displays by the state should be acceptable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But faith—that wavering being—does not always accede to logic. That is its charm and challenge.</p> Thu Aug 06 19:49:57 IST 2020 breaking-holy-ground <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A barely </b>palpable excitement courses through Ayodhya as it readies itself for the <i>bhoomi pujan</i> (ground breaking ceremony) of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple on August 5. Municipal corporation vans weave their way through the narrow lanes, asking residents to participate in a quick beautification of the town that is readying itself for the biggest event since the demolition of the Babri mosque.</p> <p>While Covid-19 has scaled back the celebrations, there is muted criticism among Ayodhya’s seers of the way things are panning out. A new body, the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust (SRJTKT), is managing the show, while older ones such as the Nirmohi Akhara have been pushed to the background.</p> <p>It is a disappointment that is not voiced directly. Ambrish Singh, regional organisational secretary, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), said that while his organisation’s focus is the Ram temple, it has many other tasks to carry out such as the protection of cows and stopping religious conversions. “We will initiate a mass contact programme to ensure the emotional connect of Hindus with the <i>mandir</i> as decided by the trust,” said Singh. But it papers over the fact that the VHP old guard, which has long been at the forefront of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, has been sidelined since the formation of the SRJTKT.</p> <p>This body was announced on February 5, as directed by the Supreme Court judgment on the title suit. According to the gazette notification on the formation of the SRJTKT, it bears powers ‘including construction of the temple and all necessary, incidental and supplemental matters thereto’.</p> <p>Champat Rai, vice president, VHP, is the general secretary of this new trust. Rai was blooded into the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a child and has been an active member of the VHP and the temple movement since 1991. He is the authorised spokesperson for the SRJTKT, but rarely speaks to the media and his communication with the old guard of the temple movement is also erratic. As a result, rumours about the temple—for example, one about a time capsule being placed in the temple’s foundation, which Rai later shot down—float freely. A member of the old guard said: “We know only as much is out in the newspapers. All the manpower and material power now rest with Rai. We are nothing.”</p> <p>Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, chairperson of the SRJTKT and head of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, a trust formed in 1993, was not part of the original list of appointees to the new trust. He had openly questioned the need for a new trust. This stemmed from the guiding principle of the temple movement that went: <i>Mandir wahin, masjid nahin, jin patharon ko santon ne sweekar kiya unse hi mandir nirman</i> (the <i>mandir</i> there, no mosque, the <i>mandir</i> to be built from the stones accepted by the seers). Though Das’s current position as chairperson is held to be largely ceremonial, he dismisses any talk of discontent. “All this is just a figment of malicious imagination,” he said.</p> <p>The proposed temple is bigger than the one that was planned earlier. It will have one <i>shikhar</i> (spire) surrounded by four <i>mandaps</i> (congregation halls). It will be 161ft high, as against the initial height of 128ft. The area of the temple was to be 140ft by 268.5ft. This will now be 235ft by 360ft. While the original structure required 1.75 lakh square feet stone, the requirement is now 3.5 lakh square feet.</p> <p>While no one denies the need for a grander temple, many fear they will not live to see it. Among them is Anant Rai, who is in charge of the Nyas workshop, where the pink sandstone pillars rest. Rai, now 80, has been at the workshop since 1990, living in the cramped quarters on its premises. “We have enough pillars for one floor,” said Rai. “Those for the second were to be carved when the first would be constructed. Now there is double work to be done. The only way that will happen in my lifetime is if the work is contracted elsewhere.”</p> <p>Ayodhya is undergoing a limited facelift ahead of the <i>bhoomi pujan</i>. The pillars and beams of the railway overbridge at Naya Ghat have been painted brightly. Shiv Narayan Singh, a local artist, said he had chosen Hindu symbols such as conch shells and chakras against a background of rainbow colours. “I have not painted any deities as the pillars will be desecrated by animals and humans,” he said. Singh is also tasked with a few other paintings for the town but is unsure of how much he will be able to complete. “I have not been paid since March, so work has been even more difficult,” he said.</p> <p>The overall charge of priming the Janmabhoomi has been given to Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University in Faizabad. Manoj Dixit, vice chancellor, said that a rangoli of flowers will be made at the site and 1.25 lakh diyas will be lit there and at other prominent spots. “We will create a three-dimensional effect with the diyas, maybe write Bhaye Pragat Kripala Dindayala (The Lord has appeared from the Ramcharit Manas) with them,” he said.</p> <p>About 25km away from the temple site, on a dirt road that leads to the village of Dhannipur is the five-acre plot that was given to the Sunni Central Waqf Board. The land houses a shrine to a local seer called Sharda Baba. Abdul Majid, who runs a sweetmeat shop in front of it said that he has not seen anyone visit the site since the allotment. “Some weeks ago, government officials came and planted rice on it,” he said. In Dhannipur, residents are firm in their belief that no prayers offered to the seer go unanswered. Every April, the death anniversary of Sharda Baba draws devotees from afar.</p> <p>Syed Mohammed Shoeb, CEO of the board, said they were yet to get physical possession of the land. On July 29, in a sudden move, probably prompted by the <i>bhoomi pujan</i>, the board announced the setting up of the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF) “for building the mosque and other facilities for the benefit of the general public”. The plan, it said, is to construct a mosque the same size as the demolished one, along with medical and health facilities, a community kitchen, a research centre, a museum, a library and a publishing house.</p> <p>Minor irritants to the <i>bhoomi pujan</i>, which will be beamed live by Doordarshan, have sprung up. One is in the form of Kunwar Mohammed Azam Khan, who leads a body called the Muslim Kar Sewak Manch. “Ram is our seer as well for we have converted from Hinduism,” he said. “Muslims have as much stake in the <i>mandir</i> and this should be recorded so that years from now controversy does not erupt. The temple should be a symbol of communal harmony. If not invited to the <i>bhoomi pujan</i>, I will drown myself in the Sarayu.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, an undeterred Ayodhya ambles towards its big date with a destiny that has eluded it for years. </p> Thu Jul 30 17:29:38 IST 2020 30-years-in-the-making <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Chandrakant Sompura, chief architect of the Ayodhya Ram temple, was reluctant to change the temple’s 30-year-old design. But, considering the improved connectivity and the increased importance now attached to the temple, he agreed to make some modifications to it. He spent three months during the pandemic making changes to the original design.</p> <p>“I have no words to express my feelings,” said Chandrakant, an Ahmedabad native. “My effort of 30 years is going to take shape.” Designing grand temples is in his blood; his grandfather, Prabhashankar, was the architect of the Somnath temple in Gujarat and his father, Baldev, too, was a renowned architect. Chandrakant followed in their footsteps and has designed more than 100 temples.</p> <p>On August 5, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi lays the foundation stone for the temple, the 77-year-old will not be able to attend owing to Covid-19 protocols. His sons Nikhil and Ashish will make presentations on the design. “I have worked with Modiji on many projects like the Ambaji Temple and 51 Shaktipeeth; I will miss this occasion,” said Chandrakant.</p> <p>Ashish said the ground floor’s area was increased after studying 10 temples with the most footfalls, like the Golden Temple. Three mandaps (stages) have been added and the height was increased for aesthetics. “Minor detailing, like the iconography, is yet to be done,” he said. “It also depends on the kind of marble that is to be used for flooring.”</p> Thu Jul 30 17:24:23 IST 2020 the-doctor-is-out <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Dr Yogesh Jain </b>does not mince words as he analyses the impact of Covid-19 on health services in the country. “I fear there may be large-scale desertion by doctors and nurses from most public hospitals if the surge continues. We are going to have a tough time from August to October,” said Jain, cofounder of the Jan Swasthya Sahyog.</p> <p>The situation at Thane, India’s worst Covid-19 hotspot with over 80,000 positive cases, seems to confirm Jain’s worst fears. “Fifty per cent of general practitioners in Thane have shut their clinics since the pandemic began,” says Sandip Malvi, deputy commissioner, Thane Municipal Corporation. The Maharashtra government recently issued an order&nbsp;making&nbsp;it mandatory for doctors to treat Covid-19 patients for at least 15 days in a month. Of the 25,000 private practitioners in Mumbai and Thane, only 2,000 have signed up for Covid-19 duty. Several civic and health bodies in the country have warned of action against doctors refusing duty, under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. Eight doctors of the Patna Medical College Hospital were suspended in May for refusing Covid-19 duty.</p> <p>“Some doctors are paranoid and are genuinely scared,” said Dr V. Mohan of Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, Chennai. When the lockdown restrictions were eased and the clinics opened, a few of his doctors refused to resume duty. “They said: ‘The risk is too much. Even if you pay us full, we will not come. We are not going to come anywhere near the hospital,’” he said. “They simply refused. We have doctors who have elderly parents, grandparents or toddlers at home. If they get infected, the outcome can be grim.”</p> <p>In Bengaluru, 25 hospitals and nursing homes have shut down because of staff shortage since March, according to Dr R. Ravindra, president, Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association. Dr Nagaraj H.N. of Deepak Hospital, a multispecialty hospital in Bengaluru, said that during the initial days of the outbreak, he managed to keep the morale of doctors and nurses high, and admitted all patients. “But within a month, doctors started getting scared and many ran away without even informing us,” said Nagaraj. “Even doctors who worked with us for 20 years started disappearing.” The 55-bed hospital that had 22 doctors and 67 nurses on its rolls till recently is now left with just three doctors and eight nurses.</p> <p>Fear has gripped health care workers like never before. “Patients complain of health care workers hesitating to check pulse or perform physical examination,” said Jain. “In cities like Mumbai and Delhi, there is a wide gap between the proportion of people who require respiratory support and those who actually get it. Many doctors maintain a lot of distance from patients.”</p> <p>Health care workers also have to deal with apathy and hostility. When an orthopaedic in Chennai died of Covid-19, local residents protested the cremation of the body citing that the virus could spread through the air.&nbsp;“The government should have intervened,” said Nagaraj. “When a person dies, the energy within the cells dies within two minutes&nbsp;and the&nbsp;tissues cease to function.&nbsp;The virus cannot survive in a dead body.”</p> <p>Those working in Covid-19 wards often find themselves in precarious situations. A non-Covid-19 patient contracting the infection can prompt violence. At Hyderabad’s Gandhi Hospital, an on-duty doctor was attacked with an iron stool by the relatives of a deceased Covid-19 patient. After the family vandalised the hospital, 300 doctors who were treating Covid-19 cases refused to resume duty.</p> <p>Preeti Sudan, health secretary of India, said that no government staff has refused Covid-19 duty. “They have gone beyond duty,” she said. “We are grateful to our doctors, nurses, lab technicians, surveillance officers, ASHAs and field staff for this exemplary selfless service.”</p> <p>According to Dr Ranjan Sharma, president, Indian Medical Association, 93 doctors who were on Covid-19 duty have died as on July 13 due to the infection. Of the 1,279 doctors who tested positive, 771 were younger than 35. Because of the shortage of physicians, even specialists are being asked to treat Covid-19 patients.</p> <p>“Medical personnel should not work for more than six hours in a PPE kit,” said Rohit Mundhada, a surgical oncology resident at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, who is currently admitted in an isolation ward. “But in India, they put in eight to ten hours in a Covid-19 ward, by choice, wearing PPE.” Many doctors are working tirelessly with scant regard for personal safety, he added.</p> <p>That holds true for states such as Bihar. Besides health centres being heavily understaffed, the lack of protective gear and ventilators are causes for concern. Microbiologists and sample collectors are also contracting the infection. Doctors who die on Covid-19 duty have no health insurance coverage, said Dr Diwakar Tejaswi, a physician based in Patna. “They are middle-class people and their families have nothing to bank on,” he said.</p> <p>Dr Vithal S. Salve, who holds an MD in physiology, said he suffered burnout and quit his job at Shaheed&nbsp;Hospital,&nbsp;a 150-bed maternity hospital&nbsp;in Dalli Rajhara, Chhattisgarh. Before the outbreak, Salve would visit his family in Maharashtra once a month. “From February 21 to June 23, I did not take a single day off,” he said. “The hospital was short staffed and overburdened. We were open 24x7, and during that period we had almost 200 deliveries a month, besides some emergency surgical operations.&nbsp;The working hours ranged from eight to 22 hours a day.”</p> <p>Despite these circumstances, Nagaraj points out that doctors and nurses have a responsibility. “How will the common man survive if we shy away from our responsibility?” he asks, as he continues to hope that his doctors would return.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 30 16:40:25 IST 2020 departure-lounge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>At the Congress</b> Working Committee meeting held shortly after the party’s humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections last year, Rahul Gandhi hit out at three senior leaders for putting their children before the party’s interests in the polls. While he did not name them, it was clear that one of them was Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, in whose state the party’s tally was an embarrassing zero and he had failed to ensure even his son Vaibhav’s victory from home turf Jodhpur.</p> <p>In the aftermath of the Lok Sabha debacle, this was exactly the line adopted by the camp of Gehlot’s bete noire Sachin Pilot, a young leader belonging to the Rahul brigade which has been at odds with the party’s old guard. Leaders close to Pilot raised questions about Gehlot’s leadership and demanded a change of guard.</p> <p>The Lok Sabha disaster was an opportunity for Pilot to hit back at Gehlot, who he believed had snatched the chief minister’s post from him. Pilot, who was state Congress president from 2013, had worked hard for the party’s victory in the assembly elections and was hoping to get the top post, but had to be content with that of the deputy.</p> <p>The campaign against Gehlot, however, fizzled out as the same CWC meeting marked a major change in the power dynamics in the party. At the meeting on May 25, 2019, Rahul announced that he was stepping down as party president, and this led to Sonia Gandhi taking over as interim president a few months down the line. Thus began the process of the old guard, sidelined during Rahul’s tenure, making a comeback and consolidating its hold over the party.</p> <p>The ripples of the changed dynamics were felt in Jaipur. Gehlot went on to systematically establish his position and simultaneously clip Pilot’s wings. “Not just for the Congress workers, even in the eyes of the public, Pilot was instrumental in taking the Congress from just 21 seats to being a party in power. But he was treated unfairly and pushed to the wall,” said Congress leader Rajendra Chaudhary.</p> <p>Ministers from the Pilot camp often complained about the high-handedness of the bureaucracy, an apparent reference to officials dominating the affairs of the government at Gehlot’s instance. Pilot himself is learnt to have been aggrieved about Gehlot not allowing him to have officials of his own choice in the departments under his charge. The chief minister took major policy decisions without taking his deputy into confidence.</p> <p>Gehlot also brought six BSP legislators into the party fold, which increased the Congress tally in the 200-member house to 106. And, the support of 12 independent MLAs, who were Congress rebels, provided him with the crucial buffer. The party had won 99 seats in the elections and one later in a byelection.</p> <p>Pilot’s grouse was that Gehlot had cornered all the important portfolios, leaving him with the charge of PWD, rural development, Panchayati Raj and statistics. He was also upset that Gehlot was not willing to share the limelight. While 025 crore was spent on publicity and advertising for the chief minister, the expenditure for the deputy chief minister was zero.</p> <p>The Pilot camp says Gehlot was also preparing the ground for removing him as state party president by pushing for the ‘one man-one post’ formula. The last straw was the notice sent to him by the Special Operations Group of the Rajasthan Police for recording his statement in connection with the allegations of the BJP trying to bribe MLAs supporting the government.</p> <p>Pilot is said to have communicated to the Congress leadership that it had become a question of his dignity and self-respect, and that there should be an assurance from the high command that the party would go into the next elections under his leadership. The high command’s message for him was that time was on his side, and soon he could have the state to himself.</p> <p>The Gehlot side, however, claims that Pilot had been talking to the BJP for several months. The chief minister, they said, averted a mishap in the run-up to the Rajya Sabha elections by sealing the state borders and sequestering the MLAs of the ruling side. “We have evidence to prove that horse trading was being done in Jaipur. If we had not kept our MLAs in a hotel for ten days, the same thing that is happening in Manesar now would have happened then (at the time of Rajya Sabha polls in June),” said Gehlot, after the Congress sacked Pilot as deputy chief minister and state Congress president. Pilot, however, has denied talking to the BJP.</p> <p>The developments come as a major blow to the Congress, especially at a time when Rahul appears to be on a comeback trail and is increasingly engaging with issues of importance. Also, demands have been raised by many leaders to clinch the leadership issue. Sonia completes one year as interim chief in August.</p> <p>The restlessness within the party is exacerbated by the spectacle of a seemingly stable government tottering on the edge, and yet another young leader going public with his ire about being side-lined. It is being asked if the leadership vacuum is harming the party as it is not responding in time to internal issues. In the case of the Gehlot-Pilot clash, it is felt that the high command let the differences fester. It had set up a coordination committee in Rajasthan in January in a bid to reduce friction amongst the state leaders, but it met only once.</p> <p>“These are all cliches, to say that no individual is larger than the party or that the party does not cease to exist with the exit of one person,” said Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam. “Every individual worker and leader contributes to building a party, and hence every such individual should be given importance.”</p> <p>Pilot’s rebellion and the action against him, coming just months after Jyotiraditya Scindia defected to the BJP and pulled down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh, brings into focus the gen-next leaders being sidelined in the power matrix of the party. “Many other young leaders are likely to follow suit,” said a young leader who quit as PCC chief a few months ago. “A fine balance had been put in place by Rahul between the young leaders and the veterans, which has been disrupted.”</p> <p>There has been a steady stream of such leaders leaving the party, including Pradyot Deb Barman, who was party president in Tripura, and Ashok Tanwar, who was president in Haryana. Since Scindia’s exit, there has been intense speculation about the plans of the other young leaders who have been restive and have struck discordant notes at regular intervals. A widespread feeling is that Rahul was not responsive to their concerns, and the senior leaders were able to convince the high command that their demands were disproportionate to their achievements and that they could not cause much damage to the party.</p> <p>Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, however, said the young leaders needed to show patience. “I fail to understand why he was upset,” he said about Pilot. “He was deputy chief minister. He was president of the state Congress. If there were any issues, he could have spoken to the central leadership and a way out could have been found. The Congress gives opportunity to everyone. Opportunities were given to both Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia.” Singh was identified by Scindia as the villain of the piece when he quit the party.</p> <p>By now it is an all too familiar story in the Congress—restive youth, the old guard unwilling to yield and a central leadership failing to bridge the gap. &nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 16 19:17:57 IST 2020 expensive-bargain <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Tuesday, July 14<b>,</b> brought with it a cloudy morning. Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commanding officer of the Leh-based XIV Corps of the Army, boarded a military chopper to Chushul for disengagement talks with China. The meeting with Major General Liu Lin of the People’s Liberation Army was the fourth in a series of negotiations between the two armies. Though the first meeting on June 6 resulted in a consensus for disengagement, it was breached with the Galwan valley clash on June 15.</p> <p>The ongoing phase of negotiations is likely to have a significant and long-term impact on maintaining peace on the Sino-Indian border. Troops from both sides have reportedly begun stepping back from friction points in the Galwan valley, Hot Springs and Gogra by creating buffer zones. Military sources said the discussions were focused on reducing the number of troops, artillery and armour units. Both commanders also spoke about the tricky finger areas of Pangong lake and Patrolling Points 10 to 13 in the Depsang sector.</p> <p>The PLA has deployed nearly 30,000 troops on multiple locations in eastern Ladakh by setting up permanent bunkers, pillboxes and observation posts. With the disengagement process progressing slowly, both sides are preparing for the upcoming winter deployment. The XIV Corps has already cancelled all leave till November and nearly a lakh soldiers have been deployed on the Ladakh border. In Galwan, Gogra and Hot Springs, troops are being pulled back only for about three kilometres, while the artillery and armoured units are staying put.</p> <p>Both sides have agreed to create a buffer zone of nearly three kilometres at all friction points till the de-escalation process is over. A military officer based in Leh said the buffer zone was created only to prevent another Galwan type incident. “It is only for the next few weeks, till the complete pullback from in-depth areas. It will be out of bounds for both sides and no foot patrol is allowed.”</p> <p>Sources said the Indian side showed urgency to disengage after the death of 20 of its men in the Galwan valley. According to an officer privy to the ongoing developments, the negotiations for disengagement, at least to an extent, have gone in China’s favour. For instance, on Patrolling Point 15 in Hot Springs and Patrolling Point 17 A in Gogra, China has intruded into the Indian perception of the Line of Actual Control by about three to four kilometres. “But major loss is in the Galwan valley, where the LAC has been shifted towards our side,” said the officer. He cautioned that the buffer zone should not become the new normal as it would undermine India’s presence and control in the area.</p> <p>A military observer said the PLA followed the strategy of advancing 10km and retreating six kilometres. In places like Galwan, Gogra and Hot Springs, buffer zones are currently well within Indian territory. The Galwan valley, which was never contested and where India has been patrolling for decades, saw Chinese soldiers intruding more than three kilometres into the Indian side of the LAC. Now both countries have agreed to withdraw one and a half kilometres even as China claims the entire valley and the surrounding heights. Similarly, 1,500 PLA soldiers intruded nearly three kilometres inside Indian territory at Patrolling Point 17.</p> <p>There is no reduction in the number of troops that the PLA has concentrated on its side of the LAC. “China has moved nearly 40,000 troops and weapons from 2,000km away to position them close to the LAC,” said the observer. “So the PLA cutting back one and a half kilometres for the buffer zone has very little meaning. Intentions can change quickly as the capability is there.”</p> <p>China wants to go back to the 1959 version of the LAC, suggested by former premier Zhou Enlai. It will force India to withdraw up to 20km from the existing LAC.</p> <p>The Indian Army has made it clear that it is monitoring the pullback by the Chinese with utmost caution. It plans to maintain additional troops on the border even during winter, like it did after the Kargil war. It has approached local monasteries for the use of their premises for housing additional troops during acclimatisation before deployment, while the Navy is being roped in to upgrade patrolling infrastructure in Pangong lake. “I am told that the Navy is sending a dozen high-powered, bigger capacity, top-of-the-line steel boats to match the heavier Chinese vessels,” said Tsering Gyalpo, former senior superintendent of police.</p> <p>The government has sanctioned Rs589 crore to enhance border infrastructure in the Ladakh sector as against Rs72 crore allocated last year. Authorities in Ladakh are reviving a 2014 proposal for allocating Rs650 crore for the development of border areas, aimed at supporting the nomadic tribes and preventing their migration from the region. The presence of locals in the border region is crucial in keeping the enemy out. For instance, it was a local resident who first flagged the latest round of Chinese incursion in Ladakh. On April 27, Urgain Chondon, chairperson of the Nyoma block development council, had uploaded photos and videos of PLA vehicles moving along the Chinese-occupied Tashi Gang area near Demchok. Hence, a multi-pronged military strategy, which also takes locals into confidence, could be the best way to maintain peace and security on the border.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 16 16:18:22 IST 2020 imperfect-prescription <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SWAPAN GHOSH</b> chose to run a small sweet shop in Kolkata, although he was from Singur in Hooghly district, one of the most fertile regions in West Bengal. The 55-year-old, however, had to shut his shop and return to his village following the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 26 to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. He was back in business a few weeks later, after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee permitted the reopening of shops, especially in Kolkata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the unlock process began, Kolkata residents perhaps let down their guard. From pakora joints to paani puri stalls, all shops were crowded. Ghosh’s shop, too, was packed. A few days after reopening his shop, he started having intermittent fever, cough and cold. On June 30, a local doctor asked him to get tested for Covid-19. Ghosh got himself tested at a Covid-19 hospital on July 2 and died the next day, before the results came. As the hospital did not issue a death certificate, his body could not be cremated. As the morgues were full, it was kept in his shop. Corporation officials took the decomposed body away for cremation after his test results came back positive. Ghosh’s worried customers are now trying to get themselves tested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in Singur, Ghosh’s family has no clue about how he contracted the infection. His wife and two children are inconsolable. “We will help the family financially if required. They are already getting free ration,” said Mahadeb Das, block president of the Trinamool Congress. He said infections were going up in Singur. “All are caused by migrant workers. We are finding it hard to stop the disease from spreading,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seventy-year-old Prashanta Bose (name changed on request) from Amherst Street in Central Kolkata, too, fell ill around the same time. His family consulted a local doctor, who came wearing personal protective equipment. “He gave some medicines and ordered a Covid-19 test,” said Bose’s nephew. The family contacted Calcutta Medical College, the nearest testing facility. Bose took the test on June 29 and, like Ghosh, died the next day, while waiting for the results. The family could not find a morgue; they kept the body in a hired ice cream freezer. “We paid 020,000 for it,” said a family member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His family blames the system which, it feels, has made the detection of Covid-19 a complex issue. “Although he had a cough and shortness of breath, he never thought of getting tested as no one thought he could contract the infection. Even the local doctor who treated him was not sure that he had Covid-19. But we got worried as he came wearing PPE,” said Bose’s nephew.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Corporation authorities came to take the body away for cremation on July 2, after the test results returned positive. Atin Ghosh, deputy mayor of the Kolkata municipal corporation, said the corporation did not want to put its staff at risk. “There are rules for handling such bodies. The blood report was more urgent,” he said. Now the entire Bose family is being tested and have been placed under quarantine for 14 days. Also, tests are being intensified in the area near the Bose residence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the precautions adopted by the corporation and health officials, people are dying at homes and families are finding it tough to get death certificates and a slot in the morgue. On July 4, a 72-year-old resident of Sodepur in North 24 Parganas district was admitted to a hospital in Barrackpore. As her condition deteriorated, she was sent to Kolkata. But when the patient reached the city hospital, she was sent back. Her son, Biswajit De, made an emotional appeal to the health department to save his mother; she was admitted to a private hospital after the department intervened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is pathetic and careless. We are facing a grave situation,” said Dr Amitava Nandy, former adviser to the Indian Council of Medical Research and former consultant to the World Health Organisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nandy said the ICMR was following guidelines prescribed by WHO-approved international journals like gospel truth, without assessing their impact across different geographic locations. “The ICMR was under tremendous pressure from Central and state governments to act. But science cannot function like that,” said Nandy. Calling the home quarantine destructive, he said such methods accentuated the spread of the virus in India. “The ICMR failed to understand that what is good in Europe may not be good for India, where common people are not that much literate,” he said. “Also, it brought technology and kits without standardising them to suit India’s geographical situation. So we had bad kits and bad methods of testing and then bad methods of safety. Everything went against us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nandy said the Central and state governments tried to reap political benefit out of the situation, and some businessmen made huge profits. “While the governments wanted to downplay the epidemic by not circulating enough information, many companies started producing fake safety kits and masks,” he said. He said the rushed declaration of a vaccine was yet another example of the ICMR allowing itself to be put under pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Nandy, because of the inadequate preventive measures, patients are dying and hospitals are running out of beds, forcing people to get treated at home. “How can such infectious patients be treated at home? They are bound to infect others, including children and the elderly who have comorbidities,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nandy said the way Ghosh and others died showed that people were being forced to conceal the disease. “They are afraid of being stigmatised,” he said. “Even doctors cannot enter their apartments after coming back from duty. Covid-19 has become a social curse in Bengal and perhaps in many other states.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Covid-19 numbers in West Bengal have been rising steadily, although the number of tests remained low at 5,000 tests per million people. The return of migrant workers has added to the crisis. Random rapid antibody tests done in and around Kolkata have shown an infection rate of 14 per cent. The conclusion is that asymptomatic patients must have infected the people at home during the lockdown, including the elderly and the vulnerable. Experts said the government failed to announce basic information like the lists of Covid-19 hospitals and the number of beds available in each place at any given time. WHO-empanelled molecular virologist Partho Sarathi Roy said only 5 per cent of Covid-19 patients would require critical care in hospitals. “It is disheartening that the government is finding it hard to give such a small number of people proper hospital facilities,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nandy said the government had missed the bus. “Yes, only five per cent would require hospital care,” he said. “Today, the rate of infection is around 15 per cent. But when it reaches 70 per cent, that 5 per cent will be a big number. The Central and state governments fear that such a situation will hit them politically if they fail to provide treatment to such a big number.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That fear was perhaps the reason why Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the free ration scheme till November. The Centre has also offered other freebies such as direct money transfer worth 01,000 crore and free cooking gas cylinders for people below poverty line. After Modi’s announcement, Mamata said she would extend the free ration scheme till June 2021. But the West Bengal government is already finding it difficult to fund its ambitious schemes. Finance Minister Amit Mitra said the Modi government had not given West Bengal even “a single rupee” to tackle Covid-19. “What they are saying is untrue. We have had to arrange our own money to fight the pandemic,” said Mitra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Government sources, however, indicated that money would not be a problem for Mamata’s grand schemes, especially with assembly elections due in 2021. “We have no shortage of food, as we buy rice directly from farmers,” said Food Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick. “We will feed the people of Bengal freely.”</p> Mon Jul 13 16:55:13 IST 2020